The quarterback position is the most important position in the NFL and can be the difference between a championship contender and an also-ran. As a result, rookie quarterbacks are the first year players that receive the most attention going into each season. But are rookie quarterbacks worth drafting in fantasy football?
Let’s take a look at the recent performance of first year signal callers from a fantasy perspective and what makes a rookie quarterback a good investment in fantasy. We’ll also break down the most promising rookie QBs going into the 2022 campaign.
When determining who is the best rookie QB for fantasy football, the number one key is identifying quarterbacks who are likely to see the field. As no fantasy leagues that we know of currently award points for holding a clipboard, any quarterback on your roster needs to see the field to earn points. Since there is only one quarterback on the field per play in football, finding snaps for rookies can be a challenge for most teams.
There are some cases where rookies are clearly being selected with the intention of them starting in their first season, as was the case with Trevor Lawrence in 2021. But many teams at least go into a rookie QB’s first season with the intention of giving them time to sit and learn from the sideline. Figuring out which teams have which intentions with their first year quarterbacks is essential before your draft.
Along with getting snaps, the protection around a rookie quarterback has a huge impact on how they play from the start. Quarterbacks taken at the top of a draft, like Joe Burrow or the aforementioned Lawrence, are being drafted to teams with the worst records in the NFL. Those records typically reflect some kind of roster shortcomings. If those shortcomings are on the offensive line, even the best rookie quarterback might struggle at the start of their career.
There are several angles to look at when diagnosing the offensive line that a rookie quarterback will work with. Looking at the volume of sacks and pressures allowed by that offensive line the year before is a good starting point, along with what players were acquired or lost in the offseason at those positions. While offensive line play does not receive as much media attention as skill position play, doing this research can help identify which rookie QBs to draft in fantasy and which to avoid.
Playing quarterback in college football is so different from playing quarterback in the NFL. Defenses tend to lack the speed and physicality in college that make scoring more difficult in the pros. As a result, quarterbacks run more read option plays and can get by without needing to be great at making reads and throws. That isn’t the case in the NFL.
When projecting which quarterbacks will be the best in the professional ranks, fantasy owners will want to look at which quarterbacks had success in more pro-style offenses in college. Offenses that require quarterbacks to go through progressions and hit timing routes are the best offenses for preparing a quarterback for the next level. While pro-style quarterbacks can still falter at the next level, this type of offensive preparation has the potential to create productive quarterbacks out of the gate.
Fantasy owners should also look for how reckless or conservative a quarterback is with the ball going into their rookie season. Turnovers can be more plentiful in the NFL, where every player at every position was gifted enough to rise above the college ranks and into the pros. While you do not want a quarterback that is overly conservative with the football, turnovers result in lost fantasy points, and owners should avoid quarterbacks that are turnover prone.
There have not been many rookie quarterbacks that have made huge impacts from a fantasy perspective over the last three seasons. From 2019 to 2021, only seven rookie QBs have finished in the top-25 in fantasy points by quarterbacks in their first season. Per NFL.com, here is a look at the list of quarterbacks that fit that description.
Outside of Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray, no other rookie quarterback has finished in the top-15 in fantasy points among quarterbacks. Given that only a handful of rookie quarterbacks see the field for significant periods of time each season, it is not surprising that rookie running backs and wide receivers have broken into the top-25 in their position rankings more frequently. Barring some surprises in the 2022 rookie class, that trend is set to continue in the season to come.
Going into the 2022 NFL season, fantasy football owners looking for a quarterback will want to know who is the highest rated rookie fantasy QB. This quarterback class is unique, as there was only one quarterback taken in the first two rounds of the draft. But these first year players are among those with the best chance to make an impact as quickly as possible for fantasy owners in 2022:
The first quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL Draft was Kenny Pickett out of Pittsburgh, who impressed in a high-powered ACC offense during his collegiate career. Going into this season, he is behind Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph on the Pittsburgh Steelers depth chart. But Trubisky has struggled elsewhere as a starter in his career, while Rudolph has struggled as a backup for the Steelers in the past, which could open the door for Pickett to get some snaps.
Will any rookie QBs start in 2022? Based on the current depth charts around the NFL, there is no indication that they will. But Pickett has one of the best chances to get on the field for some games, given that the Steelers are in the middle of a transitional period at the position. If Trubisky is unable to be effective in Pittsburgh, Pickett could see enough time to at least make some kind of impact for fantasy owners.
Desmond Ridder led the Cincinnati Bearcats to the College Football Playoff last season, and was taken by the Atlanta Falcons in the most recent draft. Ridder is thought to be a quarterback that will not be an immediate impact player, as he goes from the American Athletic Conference to the NFL. But the current quarterback situation in Atlanta could see Ridder get on the field in 2022.
Ridder is listed as the backup to Marcus Mariota in Atlanta, who has a history of injuries during his previous stops in Tennessee and Las Vegas. If Mariota is ineffective or suffers from another injury, Ridder could play more than expected in his rookie campaign. As the Falcons enter their first year in quite some time without Matt Ryan, Ridder could be worth stashing away on the bench early in the season.
Malik Willis is another quarterback taken in the third round that is not expected to play right away. Drafted out of Liberty, Willis is known for his ability to make plays with both his legs and his arm. Willis is on a team where Ryan Tannehill is the current starter, but Tannehill’s postseason performances over the last couple of seasons could loosen his grip on the starting job in Tennessee in the long run.
If Willis does get on the field this season, he has plenty of tools with which to work on the Titans roster. Derrick Henry is built to make things easier on a young quarterback with his ability to force opposing defenses to focus on the running game. And with a promising rookie receiver in Treylon Burks being drafted by the Titans in the first round, Willis would have some solid weapons from the start.
Last season at Ole Miss, Matt Corral put up big numbers with his arm and with his legs in the SEC. He, like the other names on this list, is not expected to start this season for his new team. But the Carolina Panthers have proven over the last few years that any quarterback on the roster could get a shot at starting some games.
Carolina brought in Baker Mayfield to join Sam Darnold and Corral at quarterback. However, this Panthers team has started names such as Kyle Allen and P.J. Walker, whose greatest professional football success came with the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks, over the last few seasons. As long as Corral remains on the Panthers roster, he has a chance to see some action and help fantasy owners in the process.
This time last year, Sam Howell was considered one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy as the quarterback at North Carolina. His season did not go as planned, as he and the Tar Heels fell short of expectations after being ranked at the start of the season. Now, Howell joins the Washington Commanders after being selected in the fifth round.
Howell is third on the depth chart for the Commanders entering the 2022 campaign, sitting behind Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke. Wentz can be turnover prone, though, as he enters his third season with a third different team. If Howell can progress beyond Heinicke on the depth chart at some point, Wentz’s issues could lead to calls for Howell to lead the Commanders.