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Fantasy Football ADP – Draft Justin Herbert or Russell Wilson?

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(All summer, Adam Pfeifer will be putting the tightest fantasy football picks under the microscope in our ADP Decisions series.)

There appears to be a clear top-five at the quarterback position for fantasy football in 2021. And while those five signal callers have immense upside in fantasy as we’ve already seen, there are a handful of passers in the second and third tiers that still not only present upside but value, too.

Russell Wilson and Justin Herbert are usually being selected as the sixth and seventh quarterbacks off draft boards (check the FTN Fantasy ADP tool), usually around the sixth round. Herbert is the emerging young star who set the league on fire last year while Wilson is the veteran who has produced, well, since he’s been in the league. So should you roll with the sophomore from Los Angeles or the future Hall of Famer from Seattle?

The case for Russell Wilson

If the regular season ended in Week 8 last year, Wilson would have been the clear-cut, no-doubt-about-it NFL MVP. After teasing the idea for a while, the Seahawks finally gave Wilson the apron and let him cook. During the first eight weeks of the season, Wilson led all quarterbacks in touchdown passes (26) and fantasy points (210), while ranking second in 300-yard games (4) and sixth in passing yards (2,151). In that same span, Wilson was averaging a strong 37 pass attempts per game, while Seattle was among the league leaders in first down passing rate, which truly showed that they were finally playing through their best player. 

And things were going well. Seattle started the season 6-1 and was one of the top offenses in all of football, averaging just over 31 points per game during that stretch. And again, Wilson averaged 37 pass attempts per game during the first half of the season, while the Seahawks were third in the entire NFL in neutral-script pass rate at 63%, behind only the Bengals and Texans. They were also among the league leaders in passing rate on first down, right up there with the pass-happy Buffalo Bills offense. Seattle was also part of multiple shootouts, as the defense struggled, allowing over 28 points per game. But the second half of the year wasn’t as pretty, as Seattle went back to establishing the run. Their neutral-script pass rate dropped to 58%, putting them 15th in the league, while Wilson’s pass attempts dropped by around five per game during that span. As a result, he was the QB11 in Weeks 9-17, ranking 14th in passing yards (2,061) and 10th in passing touchdowns (14).

Going into 2021, the Seahawks have a new offensive coordinator in Shane Waldron, who was the passing game coordinator with the Rams. There have been talks of the Seahawks continuing to run the football at a high rate, as head coach Pete Carroll is quite fond of pounding the rock. However, there have also been rumors that Seattle will finally open up the offense for an entire season for Wilson, while Waldron apparently wants to play fast. 

Regardless of the offense, we know one thing about Wilson — he is going to remain efficient. Wilson has finished inside the top-six in fantasy points per dropback in three of his last five seasons, while his completion rate has always been around that 66% mark. A huge reason behind his efficient play is his amount of end zone throws, which help make up for underwhelming volume. Wilson led all quarterbacks in both end zone throws (59) and end zone touchdowns (29) last season, while his 45 pass attempts from inside the 10-yard line ranked sixth in football. Seattle also called pass 51.1% of the time from inside the 5-yard line, which was good for the ninth-highest rate in the NFL. 

Wilson ultimately finished the year as the QB6 in fantasy, and given his talent, his efficiency and the receivers around him, he will pretty much always be a top seven or eight fantasy signal caller. However, if Seattle’s pass attempts and pace improve under Shane Waldron, Wilson truly has the potential to rival the consensus top-five at the quarterback position. I’m warming up to him in the seventh round of drafts.

The case for Justin Herbert

Herbert didn’t open the season as the Chargers starting quarterback but once he took over, he didn’t look back.

It took an incredibly odd injury to TyRod Taylor to get Herbert under center, but the rookie was fantastic, tossing 31 touchdowns and 10 touchdowns in 15 starts, adding 234 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He set the NFL record for most touchdown passes (31) and completions (396) by a rookie, while finishing as the fantasy QB9. Herbert threw for at least 300 yards in eight different games, while throwing at least two touchdown passes in 10 contests. He was absolutely fantastic throughout his rookie season, despite the Chargers offensive line really struggling. Herbert was under pressure on 36.8% of his dropbacks, which was the 10th-highest rate among qualified quarterbacks. Los Angeles, however, continues to address the offensive line, adding center Corey Linsley and Rashawn Slater during the offseason. Linsley was PFF’s top-graded center in football last season. Slater, meanwhile, opted out in 2020 but when we last saw him in 2019, he was dominant, allowing zero sacks and just six pressures in over 350 pass-blocking snaps. This offensive line truly has a chance to step into the elite territory in the league, which will obviously be great for Herbert’s potential. As a result, I think we see Herbert have more time in the pocket, which will lead to more deep attempts. Only 10.4% of his pass attempts traveled 20 yards or more down the field last season, which ranked just 19th in the league. 

Let’s talk a bit about the Chargers offense. Joe Lombardi has joined the team as the offensive coordinator, which should mean plenty of pass attempts for Herbert and the Chargers. During two seasons as the offensive coordinator with Detroit, the Lions ranked seventh and first in passing play percentage (62.4%, 65.6%). Given the makeup of this Chargers offense, I expect Lombardi to rely on the pass quite a bit once again, which means 600-plus pass attempts for Herbert is firmly in play. Finally, Herbert is going to provide some solid rushing production on top of everything else. During his rookie year, he rushed for 234 yards and five touchdowns, as his eight carries from inside the five-yard line ranked third among all quarterbacks. He was also fifth at the position with 20 red-zone carries, giving him the upside of scoring four or five touchdowns on the ground.