With the 2023 NFL draft behind us and teams approaching on-field work in OTAs and minicamps, let’s set the early stage for the quarterback position in fantasy football this season.
Below, I’ll give you my draft strategy at the position, including the traits I look for in today’s quarterbacks that lead to proven fantasy production. Plus, I’ll hit on some of the storylines to follow in the 2023 season, from Chicago’s upgraded pass game for Justin Fields to the overall volume with Josh Allen in the Bills’ offense. My quarterback tiers are in here, too, along with some potential fantasy breakouts for good measure.
Quarterback draft strategy
Waiting on the position has always been my draft strategy. Sit back, load up at running back and wide receiver before landing a quarterback late, one with the pocket traits to produce in a schemed NFL pass game. But given how we score rushing production with quarterbacks in fantasy, I’m changing my draft day philosophy. Yes, I’m targeting mobile quarterbacks with enough arm talent to make the throws required in a pro offense. And they go early.
Last season, the top three quarterbacks in fantasy points per game — Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes — were all drafted in the first six rounds. And they were also among the first six to come off the board. But for those of us who waited, myself included, opting for a Tom Brady (QB16 in points per game) or Aaron Rodgers (QB24 in points per game), it meant more time working the waiver wire and using matchup-based streamers. Not great there.
So, this season, I’m using a new plan: the 25-25 Club. Quarterbacks who rush for 25 yards and attempt 25 passes per game. Over the past four seasons, this has been done 17 times. And during that span, eight of those quarterbacks finished as top-five scorers in points per game, with 15 of the 17 finishing 11th or better.
Looking at my current quarterback rankings, they are loaded with mobile quarterbacks. In addition to Mahomes, Allen and Hurts at the top, Lamar Jackson is in here. Justin Fields, Daniel Jones and Trevor Lawrence, too. Rushing production at this position is gold in fantasy football. Designed carries and scramble attempts. And with enough throwing volume on a weekly basis, it’s time to draft quarterbacks early if you want to win your fantasy league.
Top 2023 Fantasy football Storylines
- Let’s start in Chicago with Justin Fields, who finished as QB6 in fantasy last season. Fields has game-changing ability as a ball carrier. He rushed for 1,143 yards in ’22, but the addition of wide receiver DJ Moore should boost the passing totals for Fields. Middle-of-the-field targets and boundary verticals. Fields has a true No. 1 target now, which gives him top-three upside.
- Russell Wilson in Denver with new head coach Sean Payton. The Broncos upgraded that offensive front. And we know Payton can set up his quarterbacks to get the ball out with rhythm and timing. Does Wilson — who is a very instinctual thrower — produce QB1 numbers again? He finished as QB18 in points per game last season.
- Lamar Jackson now has a detailed route-runner who can make himself available in Odell Beckham Jr. to pair with tight end Mark Andrews (and the team drafted WR Zay Flowers, as well). The Ravens will also feature a new system under coordinator Todd Monken, who can scheme for Lamar in the pass game, in addition to the designed carries for the Ravens’ quarterback.
- Do the Bills reduce the rushing volume for Josh Allen this season? In the NFL’s most quarterback-centric offense, Allen had 567 passing attempts last season, to go along with another 124 carries on the ground. The addition of Damien Harris — an early-down runner with physical, north/south traits — could lighten the load for Allen in the rushing department.
- We saw some veteran player movement this offseason, with Aaron Rodgers being traded to the Jets and Derek Carr signing in New Orleans. While both will be QB2s in my rankings, their arrivals should bump the fantasy profiles of wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. There’s real upside there.
- Who is the starter in San Francisco? In one of the NFL’s most heavily schemed pass games under Kyle Shanahan — with high-level catch-and-run targets — Trey Lance, Brock Purdy or Sam Darnold could emerge as a viable fantasy starter.
Breaking down the fantasy QB tiers
I see 10 quarterbacks who must be targeted in the top two tiers of fantasy drafts. The top tier is as expected — Mahomes, Allen and Hurts — quarterbacks with explosive offenses, versatile systems and the ability to create rushing totals both inside and outside the structure of the playcall. They will go in the top five rounds of fantasy drafts.
In my second tier, where I expect to see a midround run on quarterbacks, it starts with Joe Burrow given his receiving targets in Cincinnati, plus his pocket movement and the ability to escape pressure. Lamar Jackson is next in this tier, followed by Justin Fields — two dynamic players at the position with potential top-three upside if the passing game jumps. Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence, Daniel Jones and Dak Prescott follow as quarterbacks who can produce from the pocket and use their legs to create on second-reaction plays or designed carries.
The third tier can get a little cloudy. Deshaun Watson has QB1 potential in his second season with the Browns. We know Kirk Cousins can produce breakout games, but the lack of consistent week-to-week production keeps him in this tier. Tua Tagovailoa is in this mix, with Rodgers, Wilson, Jared Goff and Carr. These are QB2s with starting potential based on weekly matchups.
Potential breakouts … and concerns
I see three quarterbacks with breakout potential. Lawrence’s growth last season in Doug Pederson’s offense — he finished as QB7 — showed his ability to read it out with speed and throw with both timing and location. Plus, we know he can get on the edges as a runner. With Herbert, I see the Chargers and new coordinator Kellen Moore opening up the playbook with more vertical passing elements and situational designed runs to utilize Herbert’s physical tools. I already mentioned the QB1 potential of Watson, so let’s include him here in Year 2 of Kevin Stefanski’s offense. We know he can work inside/outside the pocket, and he has the movement traits to pick up rushing totals. The Browns added another receiving target in the trade for Elijah Moore, too.
The concerns I have start with Jones, even as a Tier 2 starter. I love the offensive system under Brian Daboll in New York. And the Giants added tight end Darren Waller. He can be a seam stretcher/play-action target for Jones here. But will we see week-to-week QB1 production? Jones had five games with 20 or more fantasy points last season, but also six marginal games of fewer than 15 fantasy points. I have to mention the injuries with Tua, plus his lack of rushing production (24 carries, 70 rushing yards in ’22). And even with Rodgers playing in a familiar system under coordinator Nathaniel Hackett in New York, he’s not a priority target for me in fantasy drafts due to his playing style at this stage of his career, which has severely limited his rushing totals.