The Case for Kyler: Why he should be the QB1
The top of the Qaurterback fantasy landscape is dominated by high efficiency passers with mobility upside. Between Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, and Lamar Jackson, you'll find a variety of analysts ranking the top 4 differently. As of right now, the top 10 consensus QB's in fantasy are below...
As of now, Mahomes is standing atop the mountain followed by Allen and Murray, but is this really indicative of what we saw last year? I'm not trying to shed any doubt on Mahomes or his natural abilities. I think we can all agree he's one of the best, if not the best, QB in the NFL, however, that doesn't mean he's the best fantasy QB in the league.
Mahomes has been a starting QB since 2018 when he finished as the QB1, but he has not finished at that spot since then. In 2019, he was the QB8 and last year, he was the QB4, yet in every year since 2018 he's been the consensus #1 QB going into drafts. I know he's the wonderboy of the league right now and his consistency is top notch, but I feel you're leaving points on the table by taking Pat as the first QB off the board. After his dynamic 2018 season in which he threw 5,097 yards and 50 TD's, Mahomes was plagued by injuries in 2019, still clearing 4,000 yards but cutting his TD's in half with 26. Last year he was finally healthy again but only managed 38 TD's (still impressive, but not near his 2018 campaign). He's also been widely viewed as a QB with mobile ability, however, he's never rushed for more than 308 yards or 3 TD's in a season so he also fails to capture that full rushing upside that the top tier, dual threat QB's today deliver in fantasy. Again, this isn't a referendum on Mahomes or to discredit him from being a top level QB1 in fantasy. He's all of that and more, but he isn't the QB1, nor do I agree with experts always plugging him in to that top spot. Digressing from Mahomes, let's take a look at Allen, who's also being ranked ahead of Kyler at the #2 expert consensus spot... Allen exploded on to the scene last year, delivering 4,454 yards and 37 TD's through the air while adding another 421 yards and 8 TD's on the ground. To put it simple, he was outstanding for fantasy owners last year. He was the QB5 in both total yards and TD's and the QB7 in rushing yards. It was a great balance of both rushing and passing that created the high end consistancy fantasy owners drool over.
In what's been deemed his "breakout" season, it appears on the surface that Allens rushing ability really came out and delivered this year. I'd be remissed to say otherwise, but I was also very surprised to find that he actually regressed in that catagory from his 2019 season. Althought he was still a top 5 rushing QB in 2020, he was actually the QB2 in rushing attempts per game in 2019 right behind Lamar and the QB3 in rushing TD's. He rushed for almost 100 fewer total yards in 2020 and 10 less yards per game. Now this isn't to say he's not efficient on the ground anymore as this regression is quite minimal, but it's important to note the Bills adjusted to lean on Allens passing game this past year and with the addition of Sanders and the chemistry we saw with Beasley and Diggs, it's quite possible we see another regression in rushing this year.
The point is that rushing is an inherent health risk to QB's and a team will avoid it if they find they can still get results and win games through the air. Allen is a great QB and I have him slated to finish as the QB3 this year, but I still believe both Kyler and Lamar finish ahead of him and, if you haven't noticed by the direction of this article, it's all about the rushing productivity. Let's get in to why I believe Kyler is going to stand atop the mountain this year.
Murray took the league by storm in his sophomore season and was on fire for over half the year before he was dealt a debilitating shoulder injury in week 11. Leading up to his injury, Murray was the QB1 on the year and it wasn't even close. He had an incredible 291 total points averaging almost 30 points a game 65% of the way through the season. It was almost a cheat code to have him in your QB slot and it was all because of the massive rushing opportunity he was given. A common rebutle is that Lamar had an insane rushing season in 2019 but failed to deliver the hype in 2020. Though I agree with that sentiment, it's important to note that Murray offers similar rushing output while also being productive through the air, something Lamar has struggled with. Let's take a little more of a dive between the two QB's stellar seasons in just rushing efficiency. LAMAR 2019 KYLER 2020 RUSHING YARDS 1,213 819
ATTEMPTS PER GAME 11.7 8.3
YARDS PER ATTEMPT 6.9 6.2 RED ZONE CARRIES 27 25
RUSHING TD'S 7 11
It was clear that Lamar had a more standout season in 2019 than Murray did in 2020, but a very important factor is that since Murrays week 11 injury, his output declined dramatically. From weeks 12 on, Murray only rushed 5 times a game and failed to exceed 31 yards in any of them (a stinging cutoff from the 62 yards a game he was averaging before). It's hard to not associate the decline with the shoulder injury as the drop off in performance almost perfectly corrolated with the injury timeline. What I was curious about, however, was Murray's pace and what his season could've looked like had he stayed healthy those final 6 games. Based on his season totals against the remainder left in the season, I've recreated the above table to again compare him and Lamar had Murray sustained his 11 week pace through week 17. LAMAR 2019 KYLER 2020 RUSHING YARDS 1,213 1,052
ATTEMPTS PER GAME 11.7 9.7
YARDS PER ATTEMPT 6.9 6.7 RED ZONE CARRIES 27 32
RUSHING TD'S 7 17 As you can see Kyler nearly catches Lamar in yards and attempts per game, but averages almost identical YPA and more than doubles the TD output which is where your fantasy gold lies. To add to the incredible pace Kyler was on, he also threw for 844 more yards despite having a bad shoulder for 40% of the season. He was on pace to score 482 fantasy points (4pt TD), not only far exceeding Lamar's 2019 finish of 415 but blowing the roof off of the all time record for a single season which was Mahomes in 2018 with 417.9. Despite his injury and decline in production, Murray still finished the year with 390 fantasy points as the QB2 and barely got beat out by Josh Allen's 405. Where Murray really finds his fantasy value is with how much of the teams rushing and red zone share he gets. Out of his 69 total red zone attempts he had last year, 25 of those were rushing. Compare that to Kenyan Drakes 54 red zone rush attempts, that means that 1/3 of every red zone rush was given to Murray, by far the highest ratio in the league. During his astonishing 11 week pace, Murray was racking up so many yards on the ground that he was the RB9 in total yards. Not the QB9...the RB9.
At the end of the day, you can extrapolate the data and calculate the pace but you simply can't predict injuries. It was unfortunate Kyler got injured last year as he was on his way to making fantasy history, but going in to 2021 it's all going to boil down to 2 things: - Kyler stays healthy - Kyler retains his utilization As I said, it's impossible to predict injuries, I'm looking at his total history to try and place my odds on the future. Murray has been relatively healthy during his football career, aquiring only 3 total injuries. In 2015, he had a hip strain; in 2019, he had a hamstring strain; and in 2020 he had the shoulder injury. Based on his past injuries, his odds of injury per game are 0.9% and his odds of suffering an injury at all this year sits at 14%, with a predictable games missed of 0.2. I'm a numbers guy and I'll take history based odds over guessing any day which is why I feel confident Murray will have a healthy go in 2021. As far as the utilization goes, there haven't been any major changes or acquisitions to suggest their game plan is changing. Kliff is the still the coach and offensive coordinator; they haven't made any upgrades at RB; and the only noteworthy new receiving weapons are rookie Rondale Moore and an aging AJ Green who's on the tail end of his career. Murray was the Cardinals recipe for success because of how quick and dangerous he was with his legs and I don't see his utilization taking much of a hit this year. To sum it all up, my case for Kyler being the QB1 is this: He was on pace to have the greatest fantasy season of all time before a shoulder injury forced a reduction in his rushing utilization. He provides similar rushing upside to Lamar without sacrificing efficiency through the air and is given more red zone rushing opportunities than any QB in the league. Due to his overall minor injury history, Kyler has good odds of seeing a full, healthy year and coupled with his aforementioned rushing utilization, he could end up miles ahead of Lamar, Mahomes, and Allen in overall fantasy points.