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Fantasy Tropes: The Low-End QB1 starring Kirk Cousins and Daniel Jones

Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Our fantasy football world is full of tropes. We humans are, to keep it simple and avoid fancy-type psychology words, good at bundling up people into groups. Sometimes it helps to take a step back and look at what exactly we mean when we say something, and sometimes it’s nice to actually look at the group and see if someone doesn’t fit into it.

When I think of the term “low-end QB1,” which is a fairly common thing we throw out in blurbs, first I rule out the obvious great quarterbacks. Your Patrick Mahomeses and Justin Herberts and what not. Then, crucially, where my mind goes first is “this quarterback must not contribute in both the running game and the passing game.” The reason I put it that way is that I don’t picture Daniel Jones as an “upside QB1" despite his running ability -- which isn’t necessarily a slam on Jones talents and is more a statement of how the Giants use him. Jones threw for over 228 yards three times this past season, counting the playoffs, and attempted more than 35 passes just three times. To me, Jones still fits as a “low-end QB1" -- despite the fact that anybody who started him in Week 16 last season likely came into quite a bit of money for their rationale.

Your low-end QB1 is a guy who could be benched in a matchup with a low over/under. Outside of Jones, most of these guys are pocket passers who deliver the occasional touchdown with their legs in the red zone but otherwise don’t run much. Let’s tap on the pipes that make up the “low-end QB1" agendas for a few players, and see how their stock has risen or fallen this offseason.

Kirk Cousins

The offseason tidings:

What has the patron saint of the low-end QB1s been up to this offseason? Well, the Vikings have introduced an element of chaos into the proceedings by not giving him an offseason extension. He’s entering the final year of his contract, and Minnesota’s lone backup Nick Mullens is more depth chart stop-gap than anything that would keep the Vikings from drafting a quarterback. As Cousins is entering his age-35 season, this has created an obvious schism in which the team is too far away from the best prospects in the draft, but also has a long-term need at the position that keeps drawing them into the Hendon Hooker Could Be A First-Rounder Complex.

The team around Cousins has been fairly untouched. Dalvin Cook‘s future appears to be up in the air as the team goes into the draft, but if he left that would probably be a lateral move at worst for the Vikings unless they somehow get Bijan Robinson to fall to the 23rd pick. Adam Thielen was released and not really replaced, but he mostly functioned as an underneath chains mover anyway, and Minnesota will just use KJ Osborn as the third piece of the receiving game behind Justin Jefferson and TJ Hockenson.

The story I’m telling myself: I think this sets up fairly well for Cousins to be a top-of-the-line low-end QB1 yet again (yes, I did enjoy how that train of thought came together). If they wind up with Hooker, he’ll likely only be deployed late in the season after a torn ACL limits his camp duties. The move to Kevin O’Connell‘s offense suited Cousins well. From Week 12 to Week 16, Cousins put up four 20-point games, including a Week 15 34.4 that tilted some leagues. I still like him at cost and don’t see obvious non-injury threats to his time.

Daniel Jones

The offseason tidings: Jones got a huge new contract, if you hadn’t heard. The Giants paid face value for his wildly successful 2022 season. And hey, maybe it works again for them! I can’t rule anything out. Meanwhile, Saquon Barkley is on the franchise tag. The biggest problem for the Jones agenda this year, to me, is New York’s inability to reel in a reputable WR1. They brought back Darius Slayton, who was great down the stretch, but instead of bringing in a DeAndre Hopkins or Odell Beckham, the Giants did their offseason wideout shopping at Costco. They added Parris Campbell. They brought back Sterling Shepard. They draw in Jamison Crowder. Isaiah Hodgins is back. Wan’Dale Robinson should be a factor at some point this season. They’ve been heavily linked to the wideout class with the 25th overall pick.

It’s hard to blame the Giants for how they’ve attacked the position, but the lack of a real difference-maker probably means this offense operates about the same as it did last year. Unless, of course, the Giants hit gold with 25 and someone is able to step in and win one-on-one at some point in 2023.

The story I’m telling myself: I’ve done this stuff long enough that I’ve realized that my lean needs to be buttressed some. My gut is screaming to avoid Jones based on standard regression -- there will be more tape on Brian Daboll‘s offense this offseason, and Jones has never had a season as good as he did in 2022. Where I wind up in fighting myself on this is just that I like Jones around the bottom of this tier instead of near the top like he would be if he simply repeated last year’s statistical output. Jones has always been good enough to stave off being a bottom-rung starter, and I don’t think he’s going to be unplayable for a month-long stretch in fantasy football. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he wound up in the Ryan Tannehill situation from last year where you’re never actually going to project him high enough to start him unless the matchup is great.

Jared Goff

The offseason tidings: The Lions didn’t do much this offseason on offense outside of swapping Jamaal Williams out for David Montgomery. Marvin Jones is here as a depth piece. Graham Glasgow replaces Evan Brown on the offensive line, potentially as a starter if Halapoulivaati Vaitai can’t shake his injuries from last season. The stability is not a bad thing. We’re projecting some growth for Jameson Williams in his second season after his College Football Playoff torn ACL is fully in the rearview mirror.

The Lions have been quiet on the franchise quarterback front. They have visited with C.J. Stroud and Hendon Hooker, but neither GM Brad Holmes nor coach Dan Campbell have committed to actually spending the pick on that. I think they have, low-key, one of the best trade-up scenarios on the board if the Texans are trading out of the No. 2 overall pick. No. 5 is high enough for the Texans to still wind up with a top-tier defensive player. And as the Jameson Williams trade proved last season, the Lions are not opposed to the big splash if they actually believe in somebody. Moreover, the Detroit depth chart at quarterback has been barren behind Jared Goff, Nate Sudfeld is the current backup quarterback. The Lions have not exactly committed to a real backup in the era, but unlike some of these other situations we’ll get into, at least the spot is clearly open. It’s also possible Detroit lands on another wideout, especially at the No. 18 pick, but the pecking order looks well-established here.

The story I’m telling myself: Even if the Lions do find their way into a Stroud-level prospect, I expect he’ll sit early in the season. I don’t have a strong negative feeling about Goff next season, and the addition of Williams to the proceedings gives him (in theory) an upper-level deep threat. I think there’s a fair chance that Goff will be one of the better low-end QB1s in 2023. The matchups will dictate a lot though, as the Lions are happy to bite kneecaps and run all over bad defenses, while Goff struggled when Amon-Ra St. Brown was hurt in the early going of last year. It truly does take the perfect little box to get Goff to a QB1 finish, but the Lions have done an admirable job creating that world. The idea that Goff could be challenged by a real draft pick should keep his draft stock a little tanked in best ball until after the draft.

Geno Smith

The offseason tidings: Signed to a three-year deal that essentially creates three one-year deals, Smith follows Goff in a mostly-settled situation with some draft-pick upside attached. Evan Brown replaced the retired Austin Blythe at center. All the tight ends are back. Smith has D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, and there’s some potential that Seattle uses the 20th overall pick on a wideout to supplant oft-injured Dee Eskridge as the main slot receiver.

Smith’s outstanding 2022 season was both one of the most inspiring late-career breakouts I’ve ever seen -- up there with Tyrod Taylor‘s Buffalo years -- and also something that appears to have left many saying “huh?” Keep in mind that Smith averaged 18.5 fantasy points per start last year, which would be eighth among all qualifying starting quarterbacks. Yet at the same time, he’s routinely a QB2 in Best Ball drafts. I understand the idea that Smith will falter based on him never having a season this good before, but he also never really had a chance to have a good year. Smith’s last two starting seasons came almost a decade ago, under a head coach who is so old school that he’s only fit to be in a broadcast studio today. (Hello, Rex.)

The Seahawks could draft a quarterback, and they’ve been very good at posturing about the idea ... but they also made it a point to bring back Drew Lock as their backup. And most NFL teams do not carry three quarterbacks they’ve invested real money into. It’s also, despite the history with Russell Wilson, not exactly a cinch that a highly-drafted rookie QB would start for this team this year.

The story I’m telling myself: I don’t really understand why Smith has been so devalued in fantasy circles this offseason. It feels like a continuation of two weeks into last season, three weeks into last season, when we as a country decided Ah, It’s Probably Just A Fluke. Geno Smith started a playoff game a few months ago! Look it up! I think he’s a credible low-end QB1 at the very least. What happens if the Seahawks draft another wideout to help them spread the field? What happens if the young offensive line grows even more? Seattle’s run-heavy identity will keep Smith from ever being a top-tier, locked-in QB1. But I could easily see him challenging for the spot at the top of this tier and perhaps pushing into middle of the QB1 pack rather than the lower end.

Aaron Rodgers

The offseason tidings: Listen, if you waded through 1000 words of talk about Geno Smith and Jared Goff, I’m going to bet that you have some idea about what’s happening to Aaron Rodgers. Call it a hunch.

The story I’m telling myself: I don’t know if you had to start Rodgers down the stretch in any leagues last year, but I did and it was absolutely painful. Rodgers did not have -- and this is true, you can look it up -- a single 20-point fantasy game last season. He only had one three-touchdown game, period. Now he’s (we’re all assuming as if this will be settled without any more drama) going to be on a new team, with only one receiver he has any chemistry with after that was a major excuse point for his problems last season. And there’s already talk about him skipping OTAs and generally taking it easy. Betting against Aaron Rodgers has absolutely torched my priors before, when I gave up on him after 2018. And I believe in his ability to do that. I do understand why he’s still being drafted as high as he is.

But ... I’m going to have to let him torch me again. He was giving me whiffs of “I don’t actually care” last season. Now he’s going to just show up here, under one of the worst head coaches of 2022, and suddenly light it up again after missing offseason time? I’m finding myself as a fade on Rodgers at low-end QB1 prices, even understanding it could burn me.

Derek Carr

The offseason tidings: Carr, like Rodgers, finds himself in a brand new locale. He was eating Chcik-fil-A after his last big contract, and now he’s on Chipotle.

I find myself hard-pressed to call this a talent upgrade as he’s leaving Davante Adams behind in Las Vegas, but the Saints do have an established offensive identity that aspires to more than “Josh McDaniels Spams Run In Tecmo Super Bowl,” so I’m not completely poo-pooing the idea that the Saints could hit some big fantasy numbers with Carr in charge. That does rely heavily on Michael Thomas, rather than The Idea Of Michael Thomas, coming back and playing well in 2023. It’s hard to read too much into the offensive identity of the Saints given how many quarterbacks they’ve used in each of the last two years, but you might be surprised to learn that the Saints finished sixth in intended air yards per attempt despite starting Checkdown Andy Dalton for most of the year. Chris Olave opened up a lot for this offense right away, and Rashid Shaheed provided some much-needed lightning strikes.

There are two open questions for Carr. The first: Will the Saints take a wideout at 29th overall? That would be a big help to a receiving corps that has been Tre’Quan Smithing for an awful lot of the last few seasons. And secondly, what does Alvin Kamara‘s 2023 season look like? He’s going to have offseason court dates and there’s the potential of NFL discipline.

The story I’m telling myself: Here’s my problem with Carr as a low-end QB1 this year: The NFC South is low-key becoming a bruiser division. The Panthers will be starting a rookie quarterback and just invested big capital (for a running back) in Miles Sanders. The Buccaneers are built in a way that only Todd Bowles could love -- they managed to make Tom Brady and Mike Evans become boring last season, and Baker Mayfield will only make them more boring. That team lives to win 19-17. And then you’ve got Arthur Smith‘s snooze crew in Atlanta who would run the ball 40 times a game if they were allowed to. The game scripts in that division don’t seem fantasy-optimal.

Despite that, I do have enough upside on the Saints themselves to where I can understand devoting a small segment of the bankroll on Carr in Best Ball. They’ve been a top offense in the not-too-distant-past and a lot of that brain trust is still in the building. I’m just less excited about Carr than I am about some of the earlier players in this article.

Two guys where I stared at their stats and best games for hours trying to decide if they were low-end QB1s or not

Tua Tagovailoa is good enough and in a good enough support system that I think he’s probably a legitimate QB1 if he’s healthy. The question is just going to be how healthy he is. I think he’s closer to a high-end QB1 than a low-end QB1 assuming the health -- he certainly showed the flashes last year.

Brock Purdy I think is legitimately in the low-end QB1 conversation if he indeed is the opening day starter for the 49ers. That’s mostly, again, about the supporting cast the 49ers have assembled and Kyle Shanahan. The lingering “Buts” are ... is he going to recover from his offseason UCL surgery in time for Week 1, and is he going to hold off a deep room with Trey Lance and Sam Darnold?