We All Need Someone to Lean on, Part Six: 2020 Rookie Quarterbacks

David Willsey

Editor’s note: This is the sixth and final piece in a six-part series. Be sure to check out to read the previous pieces linked below!

READ: Part One: Young Quarterbacks and the Dispersal of Targets | Part Two: Kyler Murray’s 2020 Outlook | Part Three: Daniel Jones‘ 2020 Outlook | Part Four: Drew Lock’s 2020 Outlook | Part Five: Dwayne Haskins’ 2020 Outlook

In the final installment of our series on first and second-year quarterbacks, we are going to focus on three teams that have a chance of starting a QB for the first time in their career in 2020. All three selected a quarterback with a top-six draft pick in 2020.

Here are the year one metric averages for the top three targets from 2014-2019.

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If you remember from part one of this series, the number two target in a quarterback’s offense was a wide receiver the lowest percentage of the top three options at any point in the first two seasons. This could help explain the lower yard per target and reception values above. Rookie quarterbacks throw more passes to running backs, tight ends, and likely a lot of receivers who play a large percentage of their snaps in the slot.

The number one option will generally receive volume all over the field and it appears the third option is more of a deep threat. This is also clear when we look at the average catch rates. The second most-used target with the shorter target range has the highest catch rate while the top option is slightly lower and with the deeper option, the lowest percentage of targets are caught. There has been a consistent theme with 2019 as we have gone through – they are ahead of schedule…

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We can still see some similar trends in the target distance but the third option actually had the highest average catch rate while the top option had the highest target distance overall. One thing is clear though: 2019 rookies were more accurate, further down the field. Maybe this will continue in 2020 with some of the best prospects to come out in recent memory.

Here is where this year’s top quarterbacks – Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert are going in the first round of your superflex startup draft – via the DLF Rookie Draft App – to give you an idea of what you may need to invest in. All have a chance to go in the first so if you must have one of the three, you will likely have to invest a pretty penny.

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Cincinnati Bengals

With Andy Dalton not getting any younger and Ryan Finley, a fourth-round selection in 2019, unable to produce anything with the Bengals offense, Cincinnati selected Burrow, the LSU quarterback coming off a National Championship run with one of the best offenses we have ever seen. There is concern that he is a one-hit-wonder, a fifth-year senior, and a transfer but the production in that conference is very hard to argue. Burrow threw 60 TDs in 2019 following a season with just 16.

Team Breakdown

(Note: Team Breakdowns are based on per-game averages and a-16 game pace. Fantasy points may look high for second and third options due to this.)

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Above are the per-game averages and corresponding 16-game prorated averages for the Bengals top three targets per game in 2019. We know this is a bit skewed because of AJ Green’s injury that cost him the season.

The last time we saw Green on the field, he put up an average of 5.1 receptions on 8.6 targets for 77.1 yards, and 0.7 TDs per game (16-game pace: 82-137-1,234-11). Per Rotoworld, Green is looking for a long-term deal from the Bengals and if he plays the 2020 season under the franchise tag, the 31-year-old will make over $17 million. It is understandable that a player as good as he is would want to be paid fairly for all the money he brought in all those years he was the only show in town.

Having Green in the huddle would be a huge boost for any young QB. Andy Dalton made a career out of throwing the ball to this man.

Tyler Boyd will likely stay as the team’s top option if for some reason Green is not on the field. Boyd averaged nearly ten targets per game in 2019 which is definitely WR1 type volume but remember that with a rookie quarterback in year one, the average targets for a primary option are 7.66.

John Ross, it appears, will never be any kind of target hog and injury never seems far behind this man but he has been extremely efficient on the volume he has garnered over the past two seasons (not in terms of his catch rate – just 43.0%). Where Ross has been able to excel is scoring. A touchdown once every 10.8 targets and 4.6 receptions is likely going to be tough to maintain but the third-year wideout did fall back to earth considerably last season and still caught a TD once every 9.33 receptions. If the speedster can manage to stay healthy, a best ball format could be the perfect place to draft him late.

The Rest Of The 2020 Draft

The Bengals went mostly defense with their draft after Burrow but with the 33rd overall selection, they took Tee Higgins. Higgins finished second on the Clemson Tigers in receptions (59) in 2019, for the second straight season, behind only Justyn Ross (66) and caught passes from who many believe to be the top selection in 2021, Trevor Lawrence. It is only fitting he will catch passes from this year’s number one. Higgins hauled in 32.5% of the passing touchdowns for the Tigers last season and 32.4% of the TDs in 2018.

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Stats from the DLF Market Share App.

Remember from the year-one averages, the third leading target sees a larger share of the yards and touchdowns than the second leading receiver with a larger yard per target and per reception but lower catch rate. This would fall in line with the current makeup of the receiving corps.

Assuming Green plays for Cincinnati in 2020, he would be the top option with Boyd the second option with the higher catch rate and shorter target distance. Higgins could come right in and take over that third role with the higher yardage and TD upside, yet, some boom-bust potential.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins selected the second QB off the board with the fifth overall selection of Tua Tagovailoa. The Alabama quarterback who is coming off of a season-ending hip injury. The production on the field is elite but the injury history for Tua could be an issue in the future. That production though is fantastic and the 2018 National Championship runner-up is not a bad deal just a year after winning the game and the MVP as a freshman.

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Statistics from sports-reference.com.

Team Breakdown

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The Miami Dolphins are an interesting case to look at. They had an undrafted free agent WR who broke out in year one (Preston Williams), a fifth-year long-awaited breakout (DeVante Parker), and a TE who finally came around and showed he was not just an athletically gifted thing to look at (Mike Gesicki). All with a very well-traveled quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick), a second-year bust they traded for (Josh Rosen), and a mid-season move that sent their best running back (Kenyan Drake) to Arizona. Yet they still produced and showed us all that if the management wanted to tank, the players were still going to play.

What we need to think about with the Dolphins is what about all this was real and what was maybe a product of lack of target competition and a QB who is willing to chuck it like no other. Fitzpatrick can turn into a pumpkin at any time but when he is on, Fitz can be magic. Did Parker really break out? What about Gesicki? Or, was their increased volume simply a product of a better receiving threat going down? Also, what happens to these weapons if Fitz becomes tragic? He has one year left on the $11 million contract signed in March of 2019.

This was already a suspect offense and they did not add any real pieces to the receiving corps outside of seventh-rounder, Malcolm Perry. Last season, there was little running game to speak of. Throwing the ball was all they had. It may be best to not throw your chips in on these guys unless you are getting a good value. If you tend to err on the side of caution, a wait-and-see approach may be the better option.

As for Tagovailoa, he is likely going to sit as long as possible but a situation could present itself where Miami can not wait anymore. Jordan Howard (free agent) and Matt Breida (whom the Dolphins acquired from San Francisco for a 2020 fifth-round selection) have been added to the roster so the running game should be a little easier to come by in 2020. This would also help to relieve the pressure on the young quarterback who as far as the reports have told us, is healthy.

The top three targets may remain the same with Tagovailoa under center but two and three may switch. The number two target in the rookie QB averages is the shorter-range, more reliable target which would suggest Mike Gesicki getting a bump. With Fitzpatrick under center, the WRs would likely remain at the top.

Los Angeles Chargers

Our third QB and situation to look at is the sixth overall selection, Herbert. He may have landed in the best overall situation of the three quarterbacks. The ex Oregon quarterback, who just had the best statistical season of his career, was overshadowed by the two quarterbacks who we covered above and landed at number three in the class. There were far more concerns brought to light in 2020 regarding his completion percentage and fumbling issues despite the better statistical season.

Herbert had gained some top five-to-ten buzz last year and he does have the arm strength required but the concerns are there.

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Statistics from sports-reference.com.

Team Breakdown

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Above, it was stated that this may be the best situation for a rookie QB. Los Angeles has weapons at each of the three skill positions. They also throw the ball to each of the skill positions as we can see above but Tyrod Taylor has a very similar deal to Ryan Fitzpatrick and is set to make $5 million this year.

With the quality weapons and Taylor’s ability to protect the ball by not being the biggest risk-taker, there is a chance that if he does, in fact, start the season, Taylor could finish it as the starter. LA also has a second-year QB on the roster in Easton Stick, a fifth-rounder in 2019. The keys will be handed to Herbert eventually because of the investment but it may be later than expected. Or it may be from day one. We will not know until we know.

With the type of weapons the Chargers do have, a young QB likely will not be asked to throw the ball downfield a ton which could help the growth and address Herbert’s accuracy concerns. Three of the top receiving options on the current roster are going to do the majority of their damage in short to intermediate areas (Keenan Allen – slot WR, Hunter Henry – TE, Austin Ekeler – RB).

LA also threw the ball to Melvin Gordon 55 times in 12 games in 2019 and even though Mike Williams, who is the deep threat on the team, did not have the greatest season, he is still a good contested-catch option around the goal line. The Chargers drafted running back Joshua Kelley out of UCLA but he is likely there to play the first and second down role when on the field.

They also selected Joe Reed in the fifth-round – a six-foot, 224-pound WR from Virginia with 4.47 speed who should compete for that third WR role – and KJ Hill in the seventh, the all-time leading receiver for Ohio State (201 receptions).

Wrapping It Up

As with any statistics-based assessment and pulling from historical averages, this is not a perfect evaluation of each individual situation. But, there were some pretty clear trends that we can monitor and use to help add to the evaluation of a specific situation.

This season will be an interesting case with the current issues worldwide making the gathering of information far more speculative than fact-related and the players receiving limited actual time on the field leading up to the 2020 season. We shall see…

Happy drafting to you all and stay safe and healthy.

Thank you for reading this six-part series. You can see more of my work at dlfstg02.dynastyleaguefootball.com or find me on Twitter (@willson8tor).

david willsey