Fantasy Football ADP – Draft Ryan Tannehill or Tom Brady?


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

Our first quarterback discussion of this series features one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL and, well, the best quarterback to ever play the game. 

Both Ryan Tannehill and Tom Brady are two fantastic options if you pass on the consensus top five at the quarterback position in drafts, and a lot of drafters will have to choose between the two. There is a lot to like about both veteran signal callers in fantasy but who should be under center for your fantasy rosters in 2021?

Let’s get after it.

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The case for Ryan Tannehill

Tannehill took over the starting job for the Titans back in Week 7 of the 2019 campaign. Since then, only one quarterback in all of football is averaging more fantasy points per dropback than Tannehill’s (0.68) — that would be Lamar Jackson. That is how good and efficient Tannehill has been with Tennessee, and yet he continues to be overlooked.

During his time with the Titans over the last two seasons, Tannehill has tossed 55 passing scores to just 13 interceptions, while adding 11 rushing touchdowns in that same span. His efficiency has been off the charts, completing 67% of his passes, despite averaging 8.4 and 9.5 intended air yards per pass attempt, placing him inside the top-three among all qualified passers during those two seasons.

I’ll admit it: Heading into last season, I questioned whether Tannehill would be able to keep this up. But the veteran answered the call, finishing as the QB7 and once again ranking top-three in fantasy points per pass attempt (0.66). The glaring knock on Tannehill is his lack of volume, as he’s ranked 18th and 29th in pass attempts per game with the Titans. However, it wouldn’t shock me if Tennessee threw the ball a bit more in 2021.

Yes, this offense will continue to run through Derrick Henry. But Arthur Smith is now in Atlanta, which is a very interesting wrinkle. Smith has been a run-heavy coordinator during his career, especially with the Titans. Tennessee sported the third-lowest passing play percentage last year (49.7%) and even when they were trailing in games, the Titans only sported a 57% passing rate, which was also a bottom-three rate in the league. My colleague Derek Brown fully broke down what to expect from this Titans offense in his coaching and coordinator series. Especially with Julio Jones being added to the mix, it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see Tennessee’s passing rate climb a bit in 2021. But if that does happen, I really hope the play-action aspect remains intact. That has been a staple of Smith’s offenses over the years and while it might come down a bit, the Titans would be wise to implement it very often.

In 2019, nearly 30% of Tannehill’s pass attempts came out of play-action, while his 76.7% completion percentage off the play type was the third-best mark among qualified signal callers. Fast forward to 2020 and Tannehill finished third in play-action pass attempts (170), while his 1,646 yards via play-action led the league. Having Henry in the backfield obviously helps set up that play-action and while Arthur Smith isn’t calling plays for the Titans anymore, Henry is still there, which makes it very likely that the team continues to operate out of play-action. And although new OC Steve Downing doesn’t have the track record that Smith does, I think Tennessee hiring from within the organization tells me that they don’t want their offensive philosophy to change too much. 

Tannehill has been both very good and involved when rolling out of the pocket. In fact, per FTN’s Premium Stats, 60% of his passes that came from outside of the pocket occurred due to a designed roll out, good for the second-highest rate among all quarterbacks. Meanwhile, his seven passing touchdowns from outside the pocket were the sixth most in the NFL. Now add the fact that Tannehill will be rolling out looking for both A.J. Brown and Julio Jones and I really don’t see how his efficiency skyrockets too much in 2021. And if the efficiency does come down a bit, I believe an uptick in pass attempts will help balance that out. 

The case for Tom Brady

Do I really need to make a case for the greatest quarterback of all time?

In his first season outside of New England, Brady posted fantastic numbers, throwing for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns. In this Bruce Arians’ downfield passing attack, Brady got to air it out more and show that even at 43-years old, he can still sling it. His 87 pass attempts of 20 yards or more led the NFL, while 13.8% of his pass attempts were of the deep variety, the third-highest rate among signal callers with at least 150 pass attempts. Volume was on Brady’s side with Tampa Bay, as he finished second in the league with 610 passing attempts, averaging just over 38 per game, second to only Matt Ryan of the Falcons.