Don’t Draft Lamar Jackson: Draft The NEXT Lamar Jackson
Owning Lamar Jackson in 2019 was a great experience; he was the main player we told you last year to draft to win your league! Owning Patrick Mahomes in 2018 was an equally joyous experience. Finding breakout quarterback seasons in the later round of your redraft fantasy football leagues is an almost unparalleled feeling in fantasy sports. Some are tempted to keep those good times rolling and simply draft that amazing quarterback again the next year, which, well, is just a horrible idea. QB regression in terms of TD ratio, YPA and other factors are some of the easiest regression projections in the world.
Lamar Jackson had a touchdown rate of 9.6% last season, while the league average was closer to 5%. His 36 touchdown passes are more likely to be something closer to 25 or 26 in 2020. His rushing rates will probably remain the same and he is going to be an awesome fantasy asset but you’ll also have to pay through the nose for him. As of February 20th (very early), Lamar has an ADP of 22nd overall. It is simply not mathematically prudent to take quarterbacks that early. You know it, I know it and every good fantasy football player knows it.
The solution to this problem? Draft the next fantasy football version of Lamar Jackson.
Enter: Kyler Murray
Despite negative reviews of the Arizona Cardinals offense last year, Kyler was a lot better than you remember. He scored the eighth-most fantasy points at the quarterback position but only recorded 93 rushing attempts. Of those 93 rushing attempts, 29 of them were graded as “scrambles” by Pro Football Focus which means that 25% of his rushing attempts weren’t even really rushes in the traditional sense. Compare that to Lamar who scrambled 41 times on 176 attempts. Kyler actually ran fewer times as a rookie NFL quarterback in 16 games than he did in his final, Heisman-winning season at Oklahoma.
While Lamar started only seven games a rookie, the per-game numbers make them in the same bucket as prospects. Lamar averaged 7.1 adjusted yards per attempt; Kyler averaged 6.9. Lamar had a Passer Rating Index of 92; Kyler had a Passer Rating Index of 94. Holistically, you would reasonably say that Lamar was a better runner and Kyler was a better passer.
These are Kyler and Lamar’s rookie numbers, in totality:
The point of comparing the two isn’t to say “Kyler and Lamar are the exact same quarterback”. Both the #EyeTest and the numbers would suggest that Kyler is more accurate and better at straight-up throwing the football. The two also play in very different passing offenses. Comparing the 2018 Ravens passing offense to the Cardinals 2019 is very apple to oranges but the comparison puts in a helpful spot. This demonstrates that 1) Kyler was a better passer than you thought and so was Lamar on a per attempt basis and 2) that while Kyler Murray wasn’t a “running quarterback”, he was still very good at running when did run.
Another useful tidbit on Kyler is that his rushing attempts picked up in competitive games and later on in the season. In the first month of the season, Kyler topped four rushing attempts only once. Then in wins against the Bengals, Falcons and Giants, he rushed for 10 or more times in each game. This should be a pretty logical sequence. There isn’t much reason for the coaching staff, or Kyler himself, to put him at risk of injury in games where the outcome is determined already (or not important). NFL coaches probably don’t think that way on a 1-to-1 level but there was a clear trend in Kyler’s rookie season of him rushing more in games that the Cardinals won or were competitive in (the 49ers games for example).
Age 22 or younger rookie seasons with AYA > 6.5 in entire NFL history:
KYLER MURRAY pic.twitter.com/A29jg98ICK
— Davis Mattek (@DavisMattek) February 19, 2020
So after one year of NFL football, this is what we know for sure about Kyler Murray: he performed above average for his age with subpar wide receivers and pass blocking. He ran for 1,000 yards in college and over 500 yards as a pro, becoming the first QB to ever pass for 3,500 or more yards and rush for 500 or more yards. The history of first-round quarterbacks who immediately performed well is full of mostly positive fantasy football indicators. Most importantly, we know that quarterbacks who run acquire a disproportinate amount of fantasy points relevant to their non-rushing peers.
We can establish a few things about Kyler and his early 82nd overall ADP: it doesn’t reflect the ceiling of what he can become if the Cardinals loosen the reigns and let him run in the neighborhood of what we just saw Lamar Jackson do. Is it nearly as much of a layup as what Lamar was last year? Of course not. We don’t have as much trust in Kliff Kingsbury and as much organizational buy-in and the cost isn’t free the way that Lamar was to begin the offseason. Markets are smarter than ever and more importantly, even the most casual of fantasy football players knows that running quarterbacks are the best way to gain advantages at the position.
Trade for Kyler in dynasty fantasy football. Bet on him to win the NFL MVP at 44/1 or better (as I just did this morning, which prompted the writing of this article). I really kicked myself last season for not being invested in Lamar in every way possible. I don’t own him in EVERY dynasty league. I did not bet ENOUGH on his player props at various sportsbooks. If Kyler’s 2020 season goes along a normal development curb, in which the Cardinals surround him with better players, he marginally improves as a passer and the team calls more designed running plays, this is going to be the “cheapest” you will be able to acquire various Kyler Murray shares (redraft, dynasty, sports betting) for the rest of his career. One of our primary goals of the 2020 football season is to be LONG Kyler Murray.