United Kingdom

Do these backup QBs offer hope or feel hopeless?

Tommy DeVito #15 of the New York Giants hands the ball off to Saquon Barkley (26). (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

We’ve spent some time here this season evaluating player performances that surprised us, pleasantly or infuriatingly, with the hope of sorting out what can be trusted and what we need to let go of.

Given that quarterback is the backbone of an NFL team — and most fantasy teams — we’ve scrutinized this position more than others.

In the majority of leagues QB evaluation is pretty straightforward by now. You have your stud starter (Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, Dak Prescott, C.J. Stroud, etc.) and, until bye weeks or a devastating injury derails him, it’s easy to coast through the season. Or, you know you’re a QB streamer and use relevant data to scoop up the best of the waiver wire each week. No one needs me to tell them that whoever faces Washington is a strong QB option.

What we haven’t done though, is take a hard look at the impact those “bottom of the barrel” QBs have on the skill players languishing on our rosters. Just because you’re not starting these quarterbacks doesn’t mean they don’t affect your fantasy team. As we head toward the 2023 fantasy playoffs, we need to figure out whether bad QB play makes a team’s running backs, wide receivers and tight ends obsolete.

We’ll bin them according to whether there is some hope — or whether the whole situation is hopeless.

There is hope!

Cincinnati Bengals: Jake Browning, QB30 (two games) | Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Mixon

OK, losing to the Steelers isn’t a complete ringing endorsement, but Browning finished the day with a respectable QB rating of 96.2 (11th-highest in Week 12) and a 73.1% completion rate (third-highest in Week 12). His 227-1-1 line was mediocre, and he won’t be a running QB cheat code, but the real question is whether Ja’Marr Chase can survive this changing of the guard.

Chase was targeted six times, catching 4-81 yards in Week 12. It wasn’t ideal, but he had worse lines with Joe Burrow at the beginning of the season. Expect Browning and Chase to improve their rapport, so make sure you keep Chase in lineups no matter what. He has some potentially fantasy-friendly games coming up with Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Minnesota.

The case for Joe Mixon isn’t as clear. The expectation was that he might get more work with the inexperienced Browning at QB, but he had a measly eight carries for 16 yards and two catches for 44 yards. Mixon hasn’t surpassed 100 rushing yards all season and has scored in only five games (four rushing, one receiving). If you just got Kyren Williams back and have a WR to slot into your flex, Mixon is no longer an auto-start. Per FantasyPros, he also has one of the worst remaining RB schedules.

Tennessee Titans: Will Levis, QB26 (five games) | Derrick Henry, DeAndre Hopkins

Derrick Henry has been more down than up lately, but he’s coming off a terrific game with 76 rushing yards and two touchdowns. It was against Carolina and took 18 carries to get there, which in itself is kind of encouraging since it was the most work he’s seen since Week 8. With the Colts, Dolphins, Texans and Seahawks coming up, Henry gets one of the best remaining schedules in the league. Levis and the offense seemed to recognize the mismatch in this game and let Henry do his thing. Fingers crossed that wisdom prevails.

I’m still not trusting the receivers from this Titans team as anything but a Week 13 desperation play. The memory of that Levis four-touchdown game back in Week 8 refuses to let all hope for DeAndre Hopkins die out. Still, you’ll have better options most weeks.

New York Giants: Tommy DeVito, QB24 (3 games) | Saquon Barkley

As one of those people who thought the Giants were ready to make the leap into fantasy goodness last summer, this has been a tough season to swallow. I invested in Daniel Jones, Darren Waller and Isaiah Hodgins (he finally saw a target!) in Superflex leagues, so, no, there are no Giants currently on my roster. It’s been ugly through and through, but DeVito is actually a better player for fantasy than Jones was. He’s thrown at least one touchdown in every start he’s made since Week 9 and his overall 7:3 TD:INT ratio is not awful, especially if you consider he’s thrown zero picks in the last three games vs. Dallas, Washington and New England.

The Giants’ offensive line has been brutal all year and is not doing Saquon Barkley any favors either. Barkley is really the fantasy player of interest in New York, and he’s weathered the storm as you might expect: up and down. Despite not having a rushing touchdown since Week 2 — his only one — Barkley ranks sixth among running backs in red-zone attempts. He is RB9 in half-PPR scoring. You’ve got to keep trusting him after the bye vs. Green Bay, but I’m not optimistic about him in Weeks 15 (New Orleans) or 16 (Philadelphia).

New York Jets: Tim Boyle, QB45 (two games) | Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall

As far as early 2023 picks go, Garrett Wilson is far from the worst. His ability to make something of nothing has been showcased again and again, amounting to a highlight reel of irrelevance for the most part. With Boyle under center, Wilson caught his first touchdown pass since Week 2 in addition to catching seven of his 10 targets. The volume and inherent skill set make Wilson a must-start every week and the increased reliance Boyle showed on Wilson as the Week 12 game went on could be construed as a positive looking forward.

Breece Hall was another small bright spot for Boyle with seven catches on nine targets Sunday, a season-high in receptions for him. The negative for both skill players remains turnovers, with Boyle throwing two picks against the Dolphins, a team that is at the bottom of the league in takeaways even after the Week 12 interceptions. Wilson gets a couple of neutral upcoming matchups with Atlanta, Houston and Miami again so he should be in lineups. Same for Hall, but expectations should be kept in check vs. the Falcons this weekend. Luckily the Jets will face Washington in Week 16, basically ensuring that both Hall and Wilson can help your fantasy team advance to the finals … if you make it that far.

It’s (mostly) hopeless!

Cleveland Browns: PJ Walker, QB42 (three games) | Amari Cooper, Jerome Ford, David Njoku

Since Dorian Thompson-Robinson is in the concussion protocol, I’m going to project Walker as the Week 13 starter. He had his chance previously in Weeks 6-8 before ceding the job back to Deshaun Watson, who then ceded it to DTR. The QB carousel in Cleveland is famous, but even by their standards this has been a crazy season.

During his time starting, Walker targeted Amari Cooper an average of nine times per game, but Cooper managed only 12 total receptions in that span for a dismal catch rate of 44%. No Browns WR caught a touchdown pass in Walker’s tenure. David Njoku was slightly more successful than Cooper under Walker, catching 12 of 21 targets, including one touchdown in Week 8.

After failing to thrive in good-to-great matchups, Jerome Ford can’t be fully trusted as you head into the fantasy playoffs … with the possible exception of Week 15 vs. Chicago. Let’s hold our judgment until we see if Walker can keep him involved in the pass game this week in LA against the Rams.

Njoku has been producing valuable TE numbers since Week 7 and should continue to be the Browns’ best option for fantasy going forward.

Atlanta Falcons: Desmond Ridder, QB25 (10 games) | Drake London, Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith

To be clear, Bijan Robinson is not the fantasy option in question here and it was nice to see him get back on our good side with two scores in Week 12. The Falcons have tried just about everything at QB this year, including a stint of Taylor Heinicke. With Ridder, they’ve gone pass-heavy (47 attempts in Week 6) and, more regularly, pass-averse (18-21 passes in Weeks 1, 8 and 12). It’s a game plan that is crushing the fantasy appeal of all Falcons receiving options. Adding insult to injury, Ridder’s turnover problem didn’t disappear entirely, as he threw two more interceptions in Week 12.

Drake London is a guy I’d prefer to bench this week vs. the Jets, but he could be useful as a WR3 or flex play in deeper leagues after that. Not that it needs to be said at this point, but Kyle Pitts and Jonnu Smith are absolutely unstartable in standard-sized leagues. On the bright side, Robinson should be fantasy gold in Weeks 15-17, with games against the Panthers and Bears for the playoffs.

New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB35 (11 games) | Demario Douglas, Hunter Henry

Against one of the league’s worst defenses, Jones and Bailey Zappe combined for zero touchdowns, three interceptions and a combined 2.7 fantasy points. No one is starting a Patriots QB, even in Superflex leagues, though some people have been holding out hope for Demario Douglas or even Hunter Henry. It’s apparent now that those hopes were unfounded.

Whoever has the QB job in New England has organized little more than dead-end drives ending in punts or turnovers. The Patriots’ time of possession is the fourth lowest in the league — Seattle, NY Jets and Arizona are worse — which has certainly contributed to them being the second-lowest scoring team in the league (barely edged out by the Giants). Rhamondre Stevenson is the only Patriot who belongs in fantasy lineups.