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2021 Best Ball Rankings For QBs: Draft Tiers & Strategies

2021 Best Ball Rankings For QBs: Draft Tiers & Strategies article feature image

Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts

Editor’s note: The following was written before the Falcons traded star wide receiver Julio Jones to the Titans, subsequently impacting the rankings of Matt Ryan and Ryan Tannehill. Read about how Sean Koerner’s projections have changed for both quarterbacks (and other key players) here.

With exactly 100 days until the 2021 NFL regular season as of June 1, it’s time to kick off fantasy football draft season with my initial best ball tiers.

The highest-scoring players automatically compose each week’s starting lineup in best ball, meaning it requires no in-season management. Instead, best ball is all about the draft, making it the perfect format to get some early reps in with.

While these tiers are based on my very early projections, I’ll still be refining them over the coming months, so it’s important to understand that these particular tiers are a starting point.

In addition to my early projections, these tiers also factor in Best Ball Points Added (BBPA), which is a metric I created to evaluate which players offer the most value in this format. Each point a QB scores more than a given week’s QB12 is counted toward their season-long BBPA score while any QB13 performance or worse in a given week is scored as a zero since “dud” (or even missed) games don’t have as big of a negative impact in best ball. (Click here to skip ahead to BBPA scores for every QB.)

Instead, the main goal in best ball is to maximize your team’s ceiling. You can achieve this via a few different methods when it comes to the QB position specifically, so let’s run through a few potential draft strategies then dive into my tiers.

More Best Ball Tiers: RB | WR | TE

Best Ball Draft Strategy: QBs

1) Target volatile QBs who have a high weekly ceiling.

Cam Newton was a perfect example of this in 2020.

He scored 23 or more points in five games and fewer than 13 points in six games, which made him a nightmare to own in season-long head-to-head leagues because you had to guess when he would have a productive game and take the duds when they came. But in best ball leagues, you were more likely to benefit only from Newton’s productive games and not be hurt by his duds, as long as another QB on your roster had a better week.

2) Take a gamble late in the draft.

Once we get past the top 25-30 QBs in Average Draft Position (ADP), there are QBs who we’re not sure how many games they could start but could pay big dividends. While this does make them risky picks considering you won’t be able to manage your roster in-season, you could have a huge advantage if you’re able to hit on one of these fliers.

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A perfect example of this in 2020 was Justin Herbert, who was the 35th QB off the board.  I’ll highlight a couple QBs below who are worth taking a gamble on (although it’s unlikely that we see anyone pay off like Herbert did last season).

3) Stack your QB with 1-2 pass catchers from the same team.

When you incorporate team stacks on your roster, it naturally raises your team’s ceiling. For example, if I draft A.J. Brown or Calvin Ridley early in Round 2, once we get to Tier 5 at QB, I would lean towards either Ryan Tannehill (if I have Brown) or Ryan (if I have Ridley).

It’s essential to not “reach” for players too much to achieve this, though.

Note: All ADP data is via Best Ball 10s.

Best Ball Rankings: QBs

Click this dropdown to preview the full set of QB tiers
Tier QB
1 Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
Josh Allen, Bills
Kyler Murray, Cardinals
2 Lamar Jackson, Ravens
3 Dak Prescott, Cowboys
Russell Wilson, Seahawks
4 Justin Herbert, Chargers
Tom Brady, Buccaneers
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Jalen Hurts, Eagles
5 Ryan Tannehill, Titans
Joe Burrow, Bengals
Matt Ryan, Falcons
Matthew Stafford, Rams
Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars
6 Deshaun Watson, Texans
7 Kirk Cousins, Vikings
Carson Wentz, Colts
Daniel Jones, Giants
8 Baker Mayfield, Browns
Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington
9 Justin Fields, Bears
Trey Lance, 49ers
Derek Carr, Raiders
Sam Darnold, Panthers
10 Jameis Winston, Saints
Zach Wilson, Jets
Jared Goff, Lions
11 Cam Newton, Patriots
Taysom Hill, Saints
Mac Jones, Patriots
Teddy Bridgewater, Broncos
Drew Lock, Broncos
12 Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
Andy Dalton, Bears
Tyrod Taylor, Texans

Tier 1

Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
Josh Allen, Bills
Kyler Murray, Cardinals

I have no issue with drafting Mahomes or Allen as the first two QBs off the board. However, Murray is coming off the board 20 picks after Mahomes, which makes Murray an enticing option.

Murray led all QBs with a 96 BB score in 2020, thanks mainly to a breakout season on the ground (133 carries for 819 yards and 11 touchdowns). We have yet to see him reach his ceiling as a passer, but that could be coming in his this season (Allen had his breakout season in Year 3).

I believe Murray has the highest ceiling of all QBs and is a steal at his current ADP (53.3).

Tier 2

Lamar Jackson, Ravens

Lamar Jackson posted a mind-blowing BBPA score of 136 in 2019 — 59 points more than the next QB! It was unreasonable to expect him to come anywhere near that number in 2020, but his ultimate score of 57 (ninth) was a huge letdown.

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images. Pictured: Lamar Jackson

His passing production dipped between 2019 and 2020, falling from 265 completions for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns to 242 completions for 2,757 and 26 touchdowns, so much Jackson bounces back this season will depend on his passing output. Adding veteran pass-catcher Sammy Watkins and rookie wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace to the mix will certainly help, but will those additions be enough to trust Jackson as a Tier 1 QB? Probably not.

My initial ranking for him is right in line with his ADP as the QB4.

Tier 3

Dak Prescott, Cowboys
Russell Wilson, Seahawks

Prescott posted the 11th-best BBPA score in only five games last year thanks in large part to a few massive games with 29, 38 and 40 points, which just goes to show how valuable big games are in best ball.

The market is drafting Dak right alongside Kyler and Lamar, which seems too high. Prescott will continue to air it out with arguably the best wide receiver trio in the league in Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup, but I have a couple of concerns that could lower Prescott’s ceiling:

  1. The Cowboys defense allowed 36 points per game in Prescott’s five starts last season, which resulted in game scripts that led to him attempting 47, 57 and 58 passes, but we can’t expect the defense to allow that many points again this season. (They allowed only 26.6 points per game in the 11 games after losing Dak to injury.)
  2. Prescott has already hinted that he will run less this season due to his season-ending ankle injury a year ago.

Because of these concerns, Prescott falls into Tier 3.

Then there’s Russell Wilson, who had a tale of two seasons in 2020. When the Seahawks let him cook in Weeks 1-8, he posted 30 points per game. Then Pete Carroll’s conservative approach took over in Weeks 9-17, when Wilson averaged only 18 points per game.

Alika Jenner/Getty Images. Pictured: Russell Wilson

Wilson was vocal about his frustrations about that change this offseason, which should increase his chances of “cooking” for all 17 games this season The Seahawks also have a new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, who comes from the Sean McVay coaching tree and could bring the innovation needed to shield Wilson from Carroll’s need for “balance.”

Wilson is worth targeting at his 71.2 ADP.

Tier 4

Justin Herbert, Chargers
Tom Brady, Buccaneers
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Jalen Hurts, Eagles

Given the ongoing trade rumors, drafting Aaron Rodgers obviously comes with some risk, but I’m not too worried about his value if he is traded away. He’ll make any offense around him better, not the other way around.

The real risk in drafting Rodgers lies in the slight chance that he ends up sitting out this season (due to tensions with team ownership) or decides to retire. While I wouldn’t set the odds of either happening at higher than 5-10%, Rodgers is the only QB with this built-in risk.

Speaking of trades, the Eagles dealing Carson Wentz to the Colts has made Jalen Hurts a big winner of this offseason. Not only did the Eagles choose not to add a quarterback in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft, but they traded up to draft WR DeVonta Smith.

Hurts should have this season to audition as the Eagles’ long-term solution at QB. Regardless if he remains the starter beyond 2021, his rushing ability offers the weekly upside you need in best ball.

Tier 5

Ryan Tannehill, Titans
Joe Burrow, Bengals
Matt Ryan, Falcons
Matthew Stafford, Rams
Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars

I would be perfectly satisfied having any QB from this Tier as my QB1. And ideally, it would be whichever QB fell to me later in the draft.

Burrow may not be ready to play by Week 1 as he is still recovering from ACL/MCL surgery, but he’s worth the risk considering how much upside he’ll provide once he is at 100%. The Bengals’ first-round draft pick, former LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, gives Burrow one of the NFL’s best WR trios.

Jason Miller/Getty Images. Pictured: Joe Burrow

Stafford gets a boost in Los Angeles and will benefit from playing under McVay. I would be careful spending too much for Stafford, though — the lack of rushing stats limits his weekly ceiling enough for me to shy away from his QB11 ADP.

Lawrence is the real deal and is worth targeting at his QB15 ADP, though. A Justin Herbert-type rookie season is well within Lawrence’s range of outcomes, and he offers the ideal blend of passing/rushing upside I like to target in best ball. I would love to end up being overweight on Lawrence and D.J. Chark stacks heading into the 2021 season.

Tier 6

Deshaun Watson, Texans

This situation is a total unknown. Whether you draft Watson depends (in part) on how much risk you’re willing to take on. Based on his current ADP (QB17), I would think of it this way:

  • Do you think he’ll play 11 or more games? Aim to roster him in more than 10% of your leagues.
  • Do you think he’ll play in 10 or fewer games? Aim to roster him in fewer than 10% of your leagues.

Tier 7

Kirk Cousins, Vikings
Carson Wentz, Colts
Daniel Jones, Giants

There’s sneaky upside in this tier.

Wentz could regain his top-10 potential with a change of scenery while playing under Frank Reich again in Indianapolis.And Jones ranked sixth in BBPA his rookie season (2019) despite playing only 12 games.

I’m willing to overlook Jones’ disappointing 2021 season, considering he’ll have Saquon Barkley back and has new weapons in the Giants’ big free-agent acquisition Kenny Golladay and first-round rookie Kadarius Toney. Overall, Jones also offers the type of upside I like to target in best ball and is incredibly cheap given his 163.7 overall ADP.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images. Pictured: New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.

Tier 8

Baker Mayfield, Browns
Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington

Mayfield, Roethlisberger and Fitzpatrick provide a nice safety net as low-end QB2 options. They lack the type of ceiling you need to win in best ball, but one way you can counter that is to stack them with a pass catcher from the same team. If you were to draft Mayfield along with Odell Beckham, Big Ben along with Chase Claypool, or Ryan Fitzpatrick along with Terry McLaurin, it would raise your team’s ceiling.

Tagovailoa carries the most risk and upside in this tier. He had a disappointing rookie season but could break out in Year 2. The Dolphins also added veteran wide receiver Will Fuller and first-round rookie Jaylen Waddle, who can help unlock a QB1-caliber season from Tua.

Tier 9

Justin Fields, Bears
Trey Lance, 49ers
Derek Carr, Raiders
Sam Darnold, Panthers

Carr and Darnold are high floor, low ceiling options. That makes them less desirable in best ball, but they’re still decent fallback options if you want to take your QB2 late.

Fields and Lance are the high ceiling, low floor players we want to target in this range. The issue is that we’re not sure how many games they will start as rookies.

My best guess as of writing is that we’ll see Fields take over as the Bears’ starter around Week 3 or 4 while Lance will take over as the 49ers’ starter around Week 6 or 7. Those predictions should be taken with a grain of salt because it’s early, but we can at least assume that once either of them take over as their team’s starter, they’ll remain so the remainder of the season. Because of this possibility, it makes sense to stack them with QBs who have their bye week over the second half of the season. In theory, that should lower your chances of taking a “0” that week if either rookie is still the backup.

You could also take a cautious approach and select a third QB if you take either rookie.

Tier 10

Jameis Winston, Saints
Zach Wilson, Jets
Jared Goff, Lions

Winston has a wide range of outcomes heading into 2021. He has a chance to replace Drew Brees as the Saints’ starting QB, which comes with QB1 upside. However, Winston could be on a short leash with Taysom Hill as the backup.

We do want to target upside in Best Ball, but the downside is too much to ignore with Winston. I would much rather take a flier on Hill later in the draft.

saints starting qb-odds-jameis winston-taysom hill-2021
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Taysom Hill, Jameis Winston

Tier 11

Cam Newton, Patriots
Taysom Hill, Saints
Mac Jones, Patriots
Teddy Bridgewater, Broncos
Drew Lock, Broncos

Newton and Hill are worth fliers toward the end of the draft if you’re interested in a third QB who could end up crushing their ADP.

Now for your annual reminder about just how valuable rushing stats are to fantasy QBs: Newton’s passing stats were comically bad last season — he threw for 2,657 yards with eight touchdowns to 10 interceptions, and still managed to finish QB13 in BBPA thanks in large part to his rushing stats.

There’s hope for Newton’s passing production to improve this season, too, considering that the Pats injected a ton of pass-catching weapons via free agency, including tight end Jonnu Smith and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. There’s also a very real chance that Newton will be able to hold off rookie Mac Jones for 10 or more games and post top-15 numbers again this season at a very low price.

As for Hill, he has a chance to be the Week 1 starter for the Saints.

In that scenario, Hill’s rushing ability alone would give him a solid chance to post top-15 numbers. And even if Winston wins the QB competition in camp, he’s very volatile and could still lose the job in-season to Hill. Part of best ball is buying a player’s ceiling, and Hill offers that for cheap at the end of drafts.

As for Bridgewater and Lock, they’ll either be battling it out to be Denver’s Week 1 starter or Rodgers’ backup. This situation has too much uncertainty and not enough upside to be investing in right now.

broncos starting qb-odds-drew-lock-teddy-bridgewater-2021
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images. Pictured: Drew Lock

Tier 12

Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
Andy Dalton, Bears
Tyrod Taylor, Texans

Garoppolo and Dalton should be considered heavy favorites to start Week 1 for San Francisco and Chicago, but it will only be a matter of time until they get benched for their team’s rookie. Right now, I’m projecting Jimmy G to start 7.0 games and Dalton to start 3.5 games.

I can’t think of a good reason to draft either QB in best ball. Taylor, though, is worth a late-round flier if you want to bet on Watson missing all or most of the 2021 season

Tier 13

Jordan Love, Packers
Davis Mills, Texans

Neither of these QBs are draft-able, but depending on how either the Rodgers or Watson situations unfold, Love and/or Mills could end up making the majority of starts for their team in 2021.

They’re only worth a flier in deeper best ball contests/leagues.

Best Ball Points Added: QBs

“Duds” represent weeks that a QB finished outside of the top 24 at the position.

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