We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
There have been five different fantasy QB1s in the last five seasons: Cam Newton (2015), Aaron Rodgers (2016), Russell Wilson (2017), Patrick Mahomes (2018) and Lamar Jackson (2019). Overall, only Rodgers (x4), Daunte Culpepper (x3), Peyton Manning (x2) and Drew Brees (x2) have posted multiple seasons as the top fantasy QB since 2000.
There's a lot of turnover at the QB position in terms of top-fantasy dog. Plenty of the aforementioned names obviously went on to have numerous highly-prolific seasons, but they also carried heightened fantasy draft capital after already posting their best season yet. Both 2018 Patrick Mahomes (QB15 ADP) and 2019 Lamar Jackson (QB11) weren't even selected among fantasy's top-10 signal callers during their respective QB1 campaigns.
High-producing fantasy QBs can come out of nowhere. This year's crowd-favorite candidate is Cardinals QB Kyler Murray. The 2019 No. 1 overall pick is plenty worthy of being in this conversation.
Murray's rookie season consisted of more ups than downs
Murray finished his rookie season as fantasy's QB8 overall and QB12 in fantasy points per game. This was great! Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson and Murray are the only rookie QBs to finish among the position's top-12 fantasy performers since 2010.
The bad news: a closer look at Murray's statistics through the air shows that he was largely an average to below-average passer regardless of the situation:
- Completion rate: 64.4% (No. 17 among 42 QBs to throw at least 100 passes in 2019)
- TD rate: 3.7% (No. 32)
- INT rate: 2.2% (No. 23)
- QB Rating: 87.4 (No. 24)
- Yards per attempt: 6.9 (No. 25)
- Adjusted yards per attempt: 6.6 (No. 26)
- Adjusted net yards per attempt: 5.6 (No. 28)
- Pass yards per game: 232 (No. 24)
- Deep-Ball Rating (PFF): 94.5 (No. 16)
- Under Pressure Rating (PFF): 62.1 (No. 21)
- Kept Clean Rating (PFF): 94.8 (No. 32)
Obviously this wasn't all on Murray. He was sacked on a league-high 48 occasions, 2019 was Kliff Kingsbury's first year as an NFL head coach, and the Cardinals offered arguably the worst group of skill-position talent in the league. It's safe to say natural progression and the decision to acquire DeAndre Hopkins should at the very least provide a boost to the man that averaged more yards per attempt in a single collegiate season than anybody else from 2000-2019 (min. 300 attempts).
I wrote that the 2020 Cardinals have a 2019 Browns vibe shortly after the Hopkins trade due to their holes on the offensive line, unproven defense, and decision to add a highly-decorated WR via trade. I'm still not convinced the offensive line will be anyone's idea of even an above-average unit, but their decision to draft OT Josh Jones in the third round at least theoretically should somewhat help matters.
Luckily, there's already one aspect of Murray's game which is already elite and should cement his status as a high-performing fantasy asset regardless of how many wins the Cardinals wind up racking up in 2020.
The rushing floor here is gigantic
Murray converted his 93 attempts into 544 rushing yards and four scores as a rookie. The only rookie QBs in NFL history with more rushing yards: Robert Griffin, Cam Newton, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen and Vince Young.
Murray's average of 34 rushing yards per game ranks sixth among all QBs to start at least 16 games in NFL history. What made the performance so interesting was the manner in which Murray picked up these rushing yards, as he actually finished ninth among all signal callers in rushing yards on scrambles, but the dual-threat talent managed to pick up more yards on designed runs than anybody other than Lamar Jackson. In fact, only Jackson and Newton have gained more yards on designed runs in a single season than Murray among all QBs over the past five years (PFF).
Murray allegedly ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.3-second range at Oklahoma. Throw in his advanced repertoire of agility moves and you get one helluva problem for defenses to deal with
Add it all together and ...
Murray's ceiling is the roof in 2020
I won't pretend to know what "it" is, but there were certainly plenty of times last season that Murray functioned as the best player on the field. Yes, his passing metrics were hardly elite. Also yes, we saw more than enough evidence that he's capable of making pretty much any throw on the field.
QBs with Murray's rushing workload usually don't function as anything other than high-end fantasy assets.
Kingsbury and Murray were expected to light opposing defenses on fire with the league's first true air-raid attack. This didn't happen in 2019, although they were one of just 11 teams to rack up at least 24 points on 10 separate occasions. The consistent threat of Murray getting the edge helped the Cardinals average a league-best 3.3 yards before contact per rush in 2019 (Pro Football Reference).
This rushing attack was already lethal in 2019, while natural progression and the addition of Hopkins should certainly lead to a nice year-two leap for Murray as a passer. The rising second-year signal caller is presently the QB5 in average draft position. It's hardly a discount, but the rushing floor involved, combined with the potential for this passing game to take a major step forward, makes Murray more than worthy of his top-five ranking ahead of next season.