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Make the Case: Rushing QBs Will Be the Late-Round Fantasy Football Picks of the Year

Forget shelling out early-round picks for big-arm passers. Guys like Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott could be just as valuable—for a fraction of the draft capital.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

It’s early August, which means it’s time once again to argue about fantasy football. Who should you take with the no. 1 pick? Which offenses and players will surprise you? Which draft picks will completely tear your office apart? Welcome to “Make the Case,” a series in which Ringer staffers answer the most pressing fantasy questions heading into the 2019 season. We’ll help you game your way to a championship—or at least avoid drafting like David Gettleman.

Fantasy experts say it every year: Don’t reach for a quarterback. Where viable fantasy options at the running back, wide receiver, and tight end positions can dry up quickly, decent quarterbacks are almost always available late in drafts—or even on waivers. So as tempting as it may be to take Patrick Mahomes early, don’t grab him unless he falls dramatically. The same goes for Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, and virtually every other QB who is currently going in single-digit rounds of mock drafts.

Patience will especially be a virtue when it comes to drafting passers this year. There are a handful of QBs I’m targeting for 2019 that have three things in common: First, they’re young; second, they have rushing potential; third, and most crucially, they’ll be available late in fantasy drafts. Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott, Mitchell Trubisky, and Josh Allen all fit that description and could easily be full-time starters in fantasy. Plus, they won’t cost you much in draft capital. Here are the reasons to bet on one of them. Or two—these are late-round picks we’re talking about:

Kyler Murray, Cardinals

2018 Stats: N/A (rookie)
ADP: 103rd overall, QB12

On Tuesday, my colleague Robert Mays broke down the fantasy opportunity that Arizona’s new spread offense presents. Under coach Kliff Kingsbury, the Cardinals will run a ton of plays and should pass on a vast majority of them. No one’s expecting Arizona to transform from the league’s worst offense to one of the best overnight, but volume should be there for Kyler, and in fantasy football, volume is king.

Rookie QBs aren’t often primed for fantasy success, but it’s not unheard of—especially for quarterbacks who also have a rushing component to their game. The three highest-scoring rookie quarterbacks in fantasy football history are Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, and Dak Prescott. Together, those three averaged 601 yards on the ground and nine rushing touchdowns in their first seasons.

The fourth-best rookie quarterback was Russell Wilson in 2012, who rushed for 489 yards and four scores. Fifth is Andrew Luck: He had 255 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Sixth is Jameis Winston, with 213 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. You get the idea: If you’re going to bet on a rookie passer, bet on one who can make things happen with his feet.

Murray definitely fits that bill. Last season at Oklahoma, he rushed for 1,001 yards and 12 TDs on 140 carries. That skill will certainly help him in Arizona, where he’ll be saddled with one of the worst offensive lines in the league.

That situation might sound risky, but Murray will also be playing with a skill position group that’s better than you think. With Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, David Johnson, and rookie Andy Isabella, Kingsbury has the tools to run the system he wants to. Add it all up—a dynamic young passer, tons of volume, and decent pass catchers—and Murray is worth his ADP.

Lamar Jackson, Ravens

2018 Passing: 1,201 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs
2018 Rushing: 147 carries, 695 yards, 5 TDs
2018 Fantasy Points: 157.5 (28th among QBs). 9.8 (31st—minimum nine games played)
ADP: 129nd, QB18

Jackson started only the final seven weeks of the 2018 season, but his addition to the starting lineup completely transformed the Ravens. With him under center, a pass-first offense turned into one of the most run-heavy schemes the league has ever seen. Here’s how the stats he accumulated over his seven starts would prorate to a 16-game season:

Passing: 2,546 yards, 11 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: 272 carries, 1,271 yards, 9 TDs

Those rushing numbers are absolutely mind-boggling. Only one running back got more than 272 carries last year (Ezekiel Elliott), and only two recorded more than 1,271 yards on the ground (Elliott and Saquon Barkley). Just six running backs recorded more than nine rushing touchdowns. Jackson is already one of the most prolific rushers in the league, regardless of position.

If for no other reason than simple regression to the mean, the Ravens will likely scale back Jackson’s rushing attempts. But the quarterback is still poised to break every rushing precedent set by a QB. He already owns the all-time single-season record for rush attempts by a QB—his 147 attempts in 2018 broke Newton’s previous record of 139. And in July, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said he would “take the over” on Jackson’s rushing attempts this season.

Even with all that rushing upside, though, there are some major concerns. Namely, and there’s no delicate way to say this: Those passing numbers suck. Improving on those will be priority no. 1 for 2019. The good news is that—and take this with a heaping serving of salt—Jackson has received universal praise for his development as a passer in training camp. He’s reportedly been “on the money,” has “made huge strides,” and “looks very comfortable.” If that progress is real, it could be a boon for Jackson. In his seven starts last season, he averaged 18.6 fantasy points per game, which would have ranked 12th among quarterbacks across a full season. With a little more passing consistency, he could easily leap into the top 10.

The Ravens have designed their entire offense around Jackson this offseason. That’s a major departure from last year, when Baltimore had to redesign on the fly when Joe Flacco got hurt (and was eventually benched) and Jackson got the nod. But now the Ravens are all in on their unique system—their backups are Robert Griffin III and Trace McSorley, two QBs who are both adept runners—and that should help Jackson’s growth in Year 2.

Dak Prescott, Cowboys

2018 Passing: 3,885 yards, 22 TDs, 8 INTs
2018 Rushing: 75 carries, 305 yards, 6 TDs
2018: 285.9 points (10th). 17.9 per game (12th)
ADP: 139th, QB17

Entering his fourth season in the league, Prescott is the most experienced passer on this list. And he’s also been a consistently relevant fantasy quarterback, ranking sixth, 11th, and 10th in fantasy points among QBs in his first three seasons. In each of those campaigns, he’s recorded between 282 and 357 yards on the ground with exactly six rushing touchdowns—a model for reliable ground performance. Now he enters 2019 with a majorly upgraded receiving corps, but is being drafted as the 17th quarterback off the board. He’s a sure bet to outperform that spot.

With all respect to late-career Dez Bryant, Amari Cooper may be the best wideout Prescott has worked with yet. Dak’s numbers dramatically improved once Cooper came to Dallas midway through the season. He averaged 16.0 fantasy points per game without Cooper, but jumped to 19.3 in the nine weeks they shared the field together. That latter number would rank 10th among all fantasy quarterbacks. Cooper and Dak connected on 53 passes for 725 yards and six touchdowns, and though Cooper has been prone to inconsistency throughout his career, the 25-year-old is just now entering his prime and has had an offseason to get more comfortable with his new quarterback.

Add in some expected improvement from Michael Gallup, who recorded 507 receiving yards as a rookie, and the return of center Travis Frederick after he missed the entire 2018 season recovering from Guillain-Barré syndrome, and the Dallas offense is looking rather peachy. Of course, the team will always emphasize Ezekiel Elliott’s touches (as long as the running back gets a new deal or ends his holdout), so Prescott has less of a rushing upside than many of the other passers on this list. But he still has a reliable floor and should easily be a QB1 in 2019.

Mitchell Trubisky, Bears

2018 Passing: 3,223 yards, 24 TDs, 12 INTs
2018 Rushing: 68 carries, 421 yards, 3 TDs
2018 Fantasy Points: 263.0 (15th), 18.8 (10th)
Current ADP: 135th, QB19

Trubisky played in only 14 games last season, so his overall fantasy totals are down somewhat. But his per-game numbers have him as a top-10 fantasy QB. He found that success last year in a brand-new offensive system with all-new pass catchers. Now, Trubisky is entering his third year in the league and his second in Matt Nagy’s offense, with mostly the same offensive weapons around him. So why is he being drafted like he’s barely worth a fantasy bench spot?

The simplest explanation is that many people don’t seem to think Trubisky is Actually Good, an opinion I’m also guilty of holding. And he had trouble stringing together consistent performances last season: More than 30 percent of his total fantasy points came from just two games (Week 4 against Tampa Bay and Week 10 against Detroit). Many also judge Trubisky’s progress against that of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, who were both taken after him in the 2017 NFL draft. And matched up against those two, Trubisky is a fantasy afterthought and a disappointment.

Still, everything about Trubisky’s situation projects growth in 2019—and you can get him for next to nothing. Compared with the other guys in this article, he has the fewest question marks surrounding him and has already shown the most on-field potential.

Josh Allen, Bills

2018 Passing: 2,074 yards, 10 TDs, 12 INTs
2018 Rushing: 89 carries, 631 yards, 8 TDs
2018 Fantasy: 208.1 (21st). 17.3 (18th)
ADP: 152rd, QB22

Josh Allen gave us our first real glimpse of his rushing prowess in Week 3 last season when he straight up hurdled Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr:

Still, it took a couple of months for that reality to set in. He recorded just 155 yards rushing in his first six games, but after missing time due to an elbow injury, he came back and turned on the jets.

Allen had 99 rushing yards in Week 11 against the Jaguars, and running became a clear emphasis for him down the stretch. From that point through the end of the season, he averaged 79.3 rushing yards per game and recorded five touchdowns on the ground. He also averaged 24.2 fantasy points per game in those final six weeks, which would have ranked second throughout the entire season, just behind Mahomes.

That pace is almost certainly unsustainable. Allen is surrounded by a below-average receiving group and offensive line, and the offense as a whole is reportedly “still struggling” in camp. If good news out of training camp is always worth treating with skepticism, bad news is always worth taking seriously. And it seems like Allen could fall back to earth in 2019.

Even so, his rushing ability gives him the potential to explode in at least a few games. He’ll need to develop his passing to get the high floor that’s preferable for fantasy QBs, but with an ADP in the 150s, he could even be available after the draft in many leagues. He has more upside than the other fliers you’ll find at the bottom of the QB barrel.