The case for Anthony Richardson as fantasy football QB1

Anthony Richardson typically goes as the QB5 or QB6 in drafts, but he's my top-ranked fantasy quarterback entering 2024.

Fantasy points per dropback is one of the best future indicators, and Richardson just recorded the most FP/DB since Lamar Jackson's historic 2019 season. Richardson averaged 29.2 fantasy points per four quarters (the most ever) as a rookie and matched C.J. Stroud in weekly top-five finishes despite missing most of the season. Richardson continued to show a strong ability to avoid sacks like in college, and he got 8.1 YPA over his final two games.

The Fantasy QB Paradox

Of course, Richardson's incredible rushing ability is his fantasy cheat code — last year's full-season pace would've led all quarterbacks in rush yards (925), rush TDs (26!), attempts (170) and designed runs (111). He had three carries inside the five-yard line (and ranked top-20 in red-zone rush attempts among QBs on the season) during 10 quarters of action. AR averaged an NFL-high 7.0 YPC during designed runs and doesn't plan on changing his playing style in year two.

Richardson is in the fantasy sweet spot of his career, as there's no way he runs this frequently once he eventually develops into a better passer/processor down the road. In other words, while Richardson is sure to become a better QB for the Colts in the future, this is what a fantasy apex might look like (48% of his fantasy production came from running as a rookie!).

Injury Risk

If Richardson's shoulder soreness lingers into August I'll re-evaluate my QB1 ranking, but he's expected to be fully recovered for 2024. He's 6'4" and now up to 255 pounds after adding serious muscle during the offseason — that's 30 pounds heavier than the average NFL quarterback while running a 4.34 forty. Richardson is 22 years old and quite literally an athlete the QB position has never seen before.

All running quarterbacks carry extra health risk (to go along with more fantasy upside), and Richardson’s is baked into an ADP that’s two-to-three rounds after QBs with lower ceilings (more on that later).

Given his running, it's easy to project Richardson to score the most fantasy points per game among QBs this season, so health is the main issue here. It can't be understated how much every player carries real injury risk when discussing health and trying to predict future injuries. There's an opportunity cost at Richardson's ADP, but it's not an especially early pick like De'Von Achane, and the replacement value will be there.

If Richardson misses any games in between league-winning spike weeks, quarterback is the easiest position to add depth (assuming not Superflex). There's a player who just posted the best YPA season in NFL history on an offense projected to score the most points in the league who's not being drafted as a top-12 fantasy QB in many leagues, and there's a rookie with top-five upside going even later. Quarterback has never been deeper.

Moreover, "injury-prone" players don't always stay that way.

Small-Sample Concerns

All those impressive stats admittedly came in a small sample, but AR plans to continue to run and is in the right situation to succeed. Shane Steichen is a true QB whisperer (Gardner Minshew isn't good), and the Colts play indoors and were top-five in plays per game (69.7) with Richardson last season. Indianapolis has one of the league's best offensive lines, a star at running back and is quietly loaded at wide receiver.

Reception Perception is extremely high on both Michael Pittman Jr. and Josh Downs. Pittman is being taken very early in fantasy drafts, while Downs was held back by injuries and Minshew last year and is underrated. Rookie Adonai Mitchell slipped in the draft presumably because of character concerns, but the Colts now have another first-round talent in their wide receiver room. Tight end Jelanie Woods has impressed during camp and is another big-time athlete for Richardson to target.

Richardson already held impressive traits avoiding sacks, and he'll improve his ability to process during his second year in the league. He gained meaningful experience even while sidelined last year, and it's important to remember Richardson just turned 22 years old two weeks ago.

He’s six months younger than Caleb Williams!

The Fantasy Competition

Richardson carries injury risk, but Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson also have concerns at a higher Yahoo ADP.

It's not easy speaking ill about someone from Firebaugh, but Allen must overcome a run-heavy OC and the loss of Stefon Diggs. The Bills ranked first in Rush% and last in Pass% after Joe Brady took over play-calling last season, and that was before Diggs departed. While that style helps Allen's rushing stats, his splits with Diggs have been dramatic. Allen has averaged 27.4 fantasy points, 264.8 passing yards and 2.06 passing touchdowns over 67 career games with Diggs on the field; he's averaged 19.7 fantasy points, 183.9 passing yards and 1.07 passing TDs over 27 games without Diggs (RotoViz).

Allen is a beast and a better QB at this stage of his career (compared to before Diggs), and the Bills added weapons (although rookie Keon Coleman had the second-lowest YPT among all WR draft prospects), but it shouldn't go unnoticed the top drafted fantasy QB lost an alpha WR and his clear favorite target. BetMGM set Allen's passing yards over/under at 3,615.5, which is just 212.7 yards per game.

Allen averaged 7.6 rushing touchdowns over five seasons before getting 15 last year despite running for far fewer yards than the previous two years, so that figures to regress in 2024. Allen hasn’t missed much time, but he suffered turf toe in 2021, a partial elbow tear in 2022 and played through a shoulder injury last season.

Hurts regressed down to just 7.2 YPA after losing Steichen (who left for AR) as his OC last season, when he would've finished as fantasy's QB16 without the tush-push touchdowns. That's misleading of course, but 13 of Hurts' 15 rushing touchdowns came from inside the three-yard line; Jason Kelce has retired, and the Eagles added Saquon Barkley during the offseason. The big loss of Kelce combined with the addition of Barkley should lead to less running by Hurts, especially with the team's incentive to keep him healthy for a playoff run.

Hurts was playing through an injury (as usual), but his carries and designed runs per game dropped noticeably last season. He's battled injuries late in the season throughout his career, with last year being the first Hurts didn't miss multiple games (since becoming starter). He'll also be learning an entirely new offense in 2024.

Mahomes is the GOAT, but he was just the QB13 in fantasy points per game last season, and the Chiefs are most concerned about becoming the first team to win three straight Super Bowls (with the help of an elite defense). Defenses have forced Mahomes to rank 33rd in air yards per attempt (6.5) last season, and Kansas City enters 2024 with continuing questions at wide receiver and left tackle. Rashee Rice could be suspended indefinitely, and Travis Kelce will turn 35 years old this season. Newcomer Hollywood Brown is one of the most injury-prone receivers in the league, while rookie Xavier Worthy is 165 pounds and injured his hamstring during camp. Mahomes also lacks the rushing upside compared to the other elite fantasy QBs.

Jackson averaged 21.1 fantasy points during his MVP campaign last year — a mark that would be considered a disappointment for Richardson in 2024. Jackson's designed carries dropped to a career-low last year, and that trend figures to grow with the addition of Derrick Henry. Jackson missed 10 games over 2021-2022, so he too carries health concerns.

Allen, Hurts, Mahomes and Jackson are all terrific players worthy of having high ADPs, but they also enter 2024 with questions.

In Conclusion

With salivating rushing ability and the right coaching staff and roster around him, Richardson’s unmatched fantasy potential outweighs his health risk.

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