Fantasy Football

Fantasy Football History: Both Caleb Williams and Jayden Daniels could pay off in Year 1

Fantasy Football History: Both Caleb Williams and Jayden Daniels could pay off in Year 1

The NFL Draft is just a few weeks fresh in our minds, and with that, I thought it was a good time to dig into Pro Football Reference and see just how well certain positions have performed as rookies in the fantasy era. The series started with the tight ends. Now, let's go with the quarterbacks.

The 2024 NFL Draft went down as a draft dominated by quarterbacks. There were six of them selected in the first round, so they'll be linked together forever.

Caleb Williams. Jayden Daniels. Drake Maye. Michael Penix Jr. J.J. McCarthy. Bo Nix.

The fantasy community is expecting big things from Williams and Daniels right away; Williams currently carries the QB14 rank in Yahoo ADP, with Daniels just two slots behind. The other four quarterbacks are fantasy afterthoughts in early drafts, as it's not clear when any of them will be allowed to start. Penix, of course, might have to wait a full season or two behind Kirk Cousins. Ah, those wacky Falcons.

So, the immediate focus is on Williams and Daniels, and I think most fantasy players see exciting upside in both cases. Williams stepped into a Chicago offense that's unusually stocked for a team that held the No. 1 overall pick, and Daniels has the rushing chops to be a fantasy-relevant player right away.

With that, I wanted to see what the best rookie quarterback seasons were in the modern fantasy era (2000-to-present). What's possible? What does history tell us about the reasonable range of outcomes for Williams (a pass-first guy) and Daniels (an electric runner)?

There have been plenty of immediate fantasy hits with a quarterback taken first overall. Cam Newton, Kyler Murray, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston and Baker Mayfield all were fantasy-relevant quickly. It also speaks to how the NFL has changed, but consider those five quarterbacks are the five best-scoring rookie QBs from the No. 1 overall, slot all-time. Peyton Manning (the No. 1 pick in 1998) is a distant sixth.

Newton was the QB3 and the fifth-best Value-Based Drafting scorer in 2011, throwing for 21 touchdowns and 4,051 yards and tacking on a shocking 14 rushing touchdowns. He was a top-five fantasy QB in five different years, and the No. 1 guy in 2015, his MVP season. Newton probably won't make the Hall of Fame, but man, he was a comet.

Murray's QB8 rookie season was also sparked by rushing production; all of his efficiency passing metrics were below league average. But he scampered for 544 yards and four touchdowns, and he also played a full season, which helps. That was five years ago; now we wonder if his career can perk up again, sparked by the arrival of ballyhooed rookie WR, Marvin Harrison Jr.

Luck checked in as the QB10 in 2012, despite passing metrics that were mostly below code. Volume was his friend — 627 pass attempts, 23 touchdowns, 4,374 passing yards. Luck played in four Pro Bowls and eight playoff games before shockingly retiring from the NFL shortly before the 2019 season.

Does anyone else miss Winston playing? I know I do. Maybe we'll see some Winston in Cleveland this year. Winston was a carnival for most of his Tampa Bay time, starting with his rookie year (22 touchdowns, 15 picks, 4,042 yards, QB13). His magical season was the 30-for-30 circus in 2019 (33 touchdowns, 33 picks; led the league in attempts, passing yards and interceptions; finished as the QB5). That absurd season, fittingly, ended with a pick 6 in an overtime loss to Atlanta, his seventh pick 6 of the year. Nobody kept both teams in the game quite like peak Jameis Winston.

Baker Mayfield had to wait a couple of games before Cleveland gave him a relief chance in 2018 — he led an inspiring comeback in Week 3. It led to a solid QB16 season, and 27 touchdown passes — at the time, a record for a rookie quarterback.

If we open up the board to all rookie quarterbacks of the 2000s, there have been 18 players to score 200 or more fantasy points in that freshman season. Justin Herbert climbs up to No. 2 on the list (31 touchdown passes, QB9). Robert Griffin III was a revelation in 2012 (317.5 points, 28 total touchdowns, QB5). Russell Wilson was nearly as good (QB9) that same year on lower volume; he was a difference-maker in the fantasy playoffs when the Seahawks started trusting him more. Dak Prescott was the QB6 in his debut season. C.J. Stroud was the QB9 last year, instantly transforming a downtrodden Houston team into a playoff club.

We're not going to detail everyone from that 200-point club. You know the ups and downs of Mac Jones and Daniel Jones. Carson Wentz has given us a strange career. Josh Allen was more athlete than quarterback as a rookie; he's a star now. I thought Vince Young was a star back in 2006; I was certainly wrong. (Trevor Lawrence — another "jury is out" player these days, missed this rookie list by a single point. Joe Burrow easily cruises past 200 points in 2020 if not for injury.)

Some quarterbacks were ordinary in Year 1 but picked it up soon thereafter, guys like Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Ryan Tannehill, Ben Roethlisberger, Alex Smith. Meanwhile, Carson Palmer, Phillip Rivers, Patrick Mahomes, Chad Pennington, Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love — those guys all had to wait (if Rivers signed on time, we may never find out how good Drew Brees really was). Deshaun Watson was great for two months as a rookie, then got hurt. Lamar Jackson did a lot in seven freshman starts, while Jared Goff looked lost in his seven turns. Matthew Stafford had to wait for help to arrive. Michael Vick only made two starts.

I don't know how to categorize Jay Cutler, so he gets his own section. He only started five games as a rookie. Johnny Manziel and JaMarcus Russell probably weren't mature enough to succeed.

And then there are the other busts, the Joey Harringtons and the Josh Rosens, the Tim Tebows and the Christian Ponders, the Mitch Trubiskys and the Blaine Gabberts. Jason Campbell never really made it. Kyler Boller. Brady Quinn. J.P. Losman. There are others. We might never find out just who Trey Lance really is. Ditto Sam Darnold.

Assuming Daniels can handle the physical rigors of running proactively, he might have a higher initial floor than Williams in 2024. So many of the rookie smashes at quarterback (Newton, Griffin, Murray, Wilson) were sparked by resourceful running. But Williams is also set up to succeed right away, and we've seen plenty of throw-first quarterbacks light up the sky in a debut season. Maybe Williams can challenge the type of production Herbert, Luck and Stroud gave us right away. Even the Winston or Mayfield production would probably go down as a win.

I'm human, I'll admit some FOMO comes in. Sure, I play in a lot of leagues. Some are one-quarterback, some are Superflex. I will make sure I'm not shut out on Williams or Daniels. Plausible upside is in play.

The draft was a blast, but it's just the appetizer. The proof is in the pudding. I wish opening day were this weekend. The future is unwritten.

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