Quarterback is the most important position in football, but it’s not treated that way in fantasy football. It’s an age-old strategy to draft running backs early and often, and in recent years, picking WRs early in the draft has become more popular. But rarely have even the best quarterbacks ascended into first-round picks, and only a few ever go in the first few rounds of traditional single-QB leagues. Should that change? Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes have as good of cases as any to start new trends after all they’ve accomplished in the past two seasons.
There’s a lot that goes into the decision to pick a QB early, though. First, you have to decide whether it’s Jackson or Mahomes you want to take. Then, you’ve got to decide if that player’s relative value makes it worth taking them as early as you have to, likely in the second round.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2020 cheat sheet
We’ve gone into all those details below. We compare Jackson and Mahomes, then we look at the pros of picking QB early versus the pros of waiting on quarterback. Hopefully this helps you come up with the draft strategy that works best for you.
2020 STANDARD FANTASY RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Superflex | Top 200
Who’s the No. 1 Fantasy QB: Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes?
Waiting on a quarterback is a viable strategy, but first we have to approach this as a binary choice: You want a QB in the first two rounds of your fantasy draft, and all you need to do is decide between Jackson and Mahomes. What’s the right call?
For us, Jackson is ranked ahead of Mahomes. A big reason why is obvious yet also important: Jackson’s rushing. In 2019, Jackson averaged seven fantasy points per game more than Mahomes did. And on average, Jackson put up 8.7 more fantasy points per game (FPPG) via his rushing than Mahomes did. Perhaps a better comparison is what Mahomes did in ’18 when he threw for almost 5,100 yards and 50 TDs. That season, Mahomes averaged 26.1 FPPG; last year, Jackson averaged 28.1. If Jackson had never run, Mahomes would’ve had a better scoring average. Once Jackson put up the rushing numbers he did, his fantasy stats crushed Mahomes.
Now if you’re using a second-round pick on a quarterback, maybe you’re concerned about Jackson’s injury risk with all his running. That’s not unfair, but Jackson is so one-of-a-kind in the history of NFL quarterbacks that it’s not that simple. He evades defenders and avoids big hits as well as anyone. He even seems to have a good sense of how to fall to the ground in the least harmful way possible. Once you have those types of injuries out of the way, the biggest risk comes from an unexpected hit on a plant leg, but with the way Mahomes moves around, that’s just as likely to happen to him while throwing as it is to Jackson while running.
There are reasons to believe in Mahomes more than Jackson, though. Mahomes protected the football better last year than he did in his historic ’18, and he didn’t see a major dip in his yards per pass attempt. But his touchdown rate was much, much lower, falling below two passing touchdowns per game. For a quarterback as gifted as Mahomes with the weapons he has around him, he should at least eat into that differential from Jackson in ’19 with more touchdown luck in ’20.
Maybe Mahomes leapfrogs Jackson and takes back the crown of No. 1 fantasy quarterback back for himself, but with Jackson’s week-to-week rushing floor, you’ll always feel good about him no matter who your opponent’s quarterback is — even if it’s Mahomes.
DRAFT STRATEGY AND RANKINGS TIERS:
Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End | D/ST
Pros of drafting Jackson, Mahomes in early rounds
In 2018, Mahomes averaged four more FPPG than the closest competitor at any position in standard leagues. Last year, Jackson was more than six FPPG clear of second place among QBs and more than five points clear of Christian McCaffrey’s fantasy points per game. Maybe they don’t both have their peak seasons at the same time in 2020, but the math is pretty simple when it comes to hoping for optimal Mahomes or Jackson: They can outscore everyone else in fantasy football.
With a few weeks until the season, FantasyPros ADP data shows Mahomes going 19th among all players and Jackson going 20th. Whether in a 10- or 12-team league, that equates to a second-round selection. If you’re at the late turn in the first round, you’ll have to take one of those QBs earlier than that if you want them because they will be gone before the third round.
In one sense, you can equate selecting Mahomes and Jackson after 18 players are already off the board as an immense value. The object of fantasy football is to score more points than your opponent, and you know that on average, they will likely score more than anyone taken ahead of them. If you want to maximize points early in your fantasy draft and make up the difference at other positions later, taking Jackson or Mahomes by the middle of the second round is a totally fair call.
2020 PPR RANKINGS:
Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Superflex | Top 200
Pros of waiting on QB
For the case for waiting on a quarterback, let’s pick out some sample combinations of players based on ADP data.
If you’re picking 18th overall (in the second round) in your draft, ADP suggests the top player available is Chris Godwin, followed by Mahomes and Jackson. Godwin is our WR6, for what it’s worth. In one draft, an owner decides to pick Godwin and not the QBs. In another, at that same spot, an owner takes Jackson.
Let’s say the wait-on-QB owner really wants Josh Allen, whose overall ADP is currently 68th. That’s right between Jarvis Landry and A.J. Green. The first owner ends up with Allen as his starting QB and Godwin as his top WR. The other has Jackson and Landry as part of his roster. You can already make a case for the Allen/Godwin pairing above the Jackson/Landry pairing.
But there’s also a trickle-down effect. The owner who takes Jackson in the second round doesn’t get a WR1 or RB2 there. Instead, they get pushed back a round on each of those selections. Instead of getting Godwin in the second round, they might get Mike Evans in the third. And then instead of getting Austin Ekeler in the third round, they get someone like Chris Carson in the fourth. Sure, they’ll be able to grab an extra skill-position player later on when other owners are drafting QB, but picking quarterback early does lead to slight downgrades throughout the rest of your starting lineup.
2020 FANTASY SLEEPERS:
6 QBs | 16 RBs | 14 WRs | 10 TEs | 5 D/STs | One from each team
So, there’s your choice: Take the most overall points at each pick when you can grab them early, or try to build as strong an overall starting lineup by positional ranking at the skill spots before filling in a sleeper quarterback or two later on. There’s no one right choice, but like we said above, Jackson is our No. 1 QB if you decide to take quarterback early. In a standard league, there are so many options at the position that waiting isn’t a bad decision, either.
It’s also important to know your league format for this decision. In a six-point per passing touchdown league, Mahomes is a lot closer to Jackson and could be the preferred choice as an early QB (but such a format might lend itself even more to waiting on the position). If your league has a Superflex or is a two-QB format, Mahomes and Jackson will go off the board in the early first round and still might be worth it.
Regardless, you probably can’t go totally wrong with either Jackson or Mahomes, but you should make sure to have a good sense heading into your draft as to whether you’ll target them early or not think about quarterback until much, much later.