The process of finding value at the quarterback position has likewise changed over the years. Rather than simply hunting for the signal-caller most likely to lead the league in passing touchdowns, value can exist even for more modest passers who contribute meaningfully with their legs. With more QBs capable of threatening defenses as a runner, the position has become muddled outside the top few options.
Looking for sleepers for fantasy football doesn’t mean uncovering players no one knows — that doesn’t happen anymore. Rather, finding sleepers in the modern sense involves highlighting players that should outplay their average draft position (ADP). Accordingly, instead of using the term “sleeper,” we instead use “value” to underscore the point.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Over the past 10 seasons, rookie quarterbacks have routinely become league-tilters despite the modest Year 1 expectations. Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III each burst onto the scene with tremendous first campaigns and, more recently, Justin Herbert became a sensation shortly after becoming a surprise Week 2 starter.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have perhaps the next signal-caller to follow in that tradition: 2021 No. 1 overall selection Trevor Lawrence. Unlike most top picks, Lawrence joins a team that has a semblance of a functioning offensive line and weapons all around. The Jaguars already had D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault Jr., and James Robinson on the roster and added electric tailback Travis Etienne and veteran wideout Marvin Jones Jr. in free agency. By all accounts, Lawrence has the refinement as a passer to take advantage of those weapons as well as the athleticism to create value as a rusher, all of which bodes well for his first run through the NFL.
At present, Lawrence’s ADP places him as a backup quarterback in fantasy. If he stays healthy, he should outperform that investment.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have garnered more attention this offseason for what they’ve lost than what they’ve gained. Wideout Julio Jones, one the best players of his generation, departed Atlanta via trade in June, leaving the team without its most talented veteran playmaker.
Even so, the Falcons will return to the offense that made Matt Ryan the MVP in 2016 with the arrival of head coach Arthur Smith. That scheme, one predicated on outside-zone runs and play-action shots built off of them, should allow the still-capable Ryan to return to his comfort zone. Ryan twice finished top-2 among quarterbacks in fantasy points in other versions of the system and has plenty of gifted receivers at his disposal: Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, and Kyle Pitts.
Ryan’s current ADP places him as a backup in fantasy in part due to concerns stemming from Jones’ departure. But Smith’s offense should make life easier for the former MVP and help him outperform his draft position.
Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
For years, countless NFL analysts have wondered aloud how dominant longtime Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford would look playing for a different team in a different offense. After more than a decade in the Motor City, they will find out, as the Los Angeles Rams acquired the star signal-caller in a massive trade earlier in the year.
Stafford joins a team with a cavalcade of talented receivers — Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, DeSean Jackson, and Van Jefferson — as well as a solid offensive line. He will also enjoy the benefits of head coach Sean McVay’s offense, a system that made even Jared Goff appear scary for a time. If everything comes together in Los Angeles, Stafford could have the best season of his career and easily outperform his ADP, currently sitting on the border between fantasy starter and backup.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
A season-ending knee injury and the rise of Herbert overshadowed Joe Burrow’s impressive rookie year, factors that continue to limit his perception in fantasy. The former No. 1 overall pick currently sits on the fringe of fantasy starter territory as managers have largely looked elsewhere in their search for a quarterback.
But Burrow’s outlook seems better than his ADP suggests. The Cincinnati Bengals added Jamarr Chase — the top wideout prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft — and return Joe Mixon following his opt-out season. While the offensive line remains on shaky ground even with the addition of Riley Reiff and some rookies, Burrow has a significantly better supporting cast than a season ago. With the signal-caller reportedly on track for training camp, he offers plenty of value.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
It comes as no surprise that Aaron Rodgers, when healthy, can deliver elite-level production at the quarterback position. The veteran signal-caller comes off his third MVP campaign and has all his major weapons back from an offense that led the NFL in scoring last season.
However, Rodgers’ ongoing standoff with the Green Bay Packers has scared away fantasy managers, at least for now. His current ADP places him eighth among quarterbacks, far below his typical place in the fantasy hierarchy.
While Rodgers has reportedly threatened to retire if the Packers don’t trade him, that seems unlikely at this stage. While the situation still looks precarious, Rodgers returning to Green Bay for the 2021 season remains on the table. If and when that happens, Rodgers should considerably outperform his present draft position.