Age isn’t everything in dynasty football. Sometimes players can be perceived to be older or younger than their actual ages. For example, I’ve often thought LeSean McCoy to be in his early thirties, but it turns out that he is only 29 years old. But if you asked McCoy how old his body feels, I’d be willing to bet that his answer would be much older than that. And then you have players who seem to defy their ages year after year. Perennial performers like Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch immediately come to mind.
In this series of articles, we are going to look at the youngsters in the league and whether they’re on the rise, establishing themselves, or struggling. Part 1 will focus on the league’s young quarterbacks. Keep in mind that these players are all under the age of 25, which is why this list excludes Carson Wentz.
Deshaun Watson (22 years old)
Last season was quite an interesting ride for Houston’s rookie quarterback. Watson’s first three performances were nothing inspiring. He had just three passing touchdowns and one rushing with three interceptions, all while accumulating just 528 passing yards in those contests. But the next four games were the polar opposite. Despite throwing five interceptions, Watson astonished with 16 passing touchdowns, one rushing, and 1,171 passing yards.
In his seven games played last season, Watson accounted for 21 total touchdowns in 26 quarters of gameplay and had four straight weeks in which he finished as the first or second-highest scoring fantasy quarterback. Then in a flash, Watson tore his ACL during practice, and his season was over. With an entire offseason to prepare, look for defensive coordinators to lock down the former Clemson stand out.
Watson will need to work on his efficiency, as he was off-target on a league-worst 24 percent of his throws. He has the weapons to become better though. Wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller will help stretch the field, and Watson’s legs will also help him keep plays alive. Despite tearing his ACL twice in three years, Watson will be a high-potential second-year quarterback to monitor.
Jared Goff (23 years old)
What a difference a year makes! Goff went from a disaster in his rookie season to an efficient quarterback in his second. His numbers were remarkably better while working under Sean McVay. According to ESPN, Goff’s passer rating increased from 63.6 as a rookie to 100.5 in his sophomore year, making him the most improved quarterback that attempted at least 200 passes in each of the past two seasons.
Goff also made statistical leaps in completion percentage (54.6 to 62.1), yards per attempt (5.3 to 8.0), touchdown to interception ratio (0.7 to 4.0), and total QBR (18.3 to 52.0). His 28-7 touchdown to interception total in particular was a significant turnaround, as Goff had thrown for two more picks than he did scores in his rookie season, finishing 2016 with a miserable 5-7 touchdown to interception total.
On top of his development as a quarterback, Goff is surrounded by youth in key offensive skill positions. Todd Gurley at running back will keep defenses honest, and his receiving corps includes Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Josh Reynolds. His tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett can both block and catch, and all these players are under 26 years of age. While not all may remain in Los Angeles, Goff has a strong supporting cast for the time being. As long as he continues to make strides, Goff has a bright future ahead.
Dak Prescott (24 years old)
Prescott had a down year in 2017 after performing at a high level during his rookie season. He amazed in 2016 with 29 total touchdowns and a sixth-place fantasy finish. At the start of 2017, Prescott was sailing through the first half of the season, posting seven top-12 fantasy finishes in his first eight games. Then Ezekiel Elliott served his suspension, and the offensive line got banged up. Prescott posted just one weekly finish better than 16th the rest of the way and would finish the season as the QB34 in terms of points per game. The second half of Prescott’s 2017 season was disastrous to say the least.
Was it all on Prescott though? With Elliott out, the threat of Dallas’s run game disappeared. Left tackle Tyron Smith struggled through multiple injuries, and Dez Bryant was a shell of his former Pro Bowl self. Now with Bryant gone in 2018 and Jason Witten retired, the Cowboys’s offense could be in even more trouble. Even with Elliott back, opposing defenses will focus on stopping the run and force Prescott to beat them with his motley crew of receivers.
The silver lining here is that Prescott threw the ball relatively well and finished with an above-average 62.9 completion percentage, though it was down from 67.8 percent in 2016. A healthy offensive line should help facilitate an increase in yardage and touchdowns, and if Elliott can return to being the home-run threat that he was two seasons ago, Prescott will have more room to operate. While a lot will hinge on how well Dallas’s new receiving corps performs, Prescott should produce closer to his rookie numbers than what we saw from him last season.
Jameis Winston (24 years old)
Watching Winston is like watching a pot boil. Great things can happen, and every once in a while the pot makes noise, but eventually you get tired of waiting for it to boil over. The same could be said about whether Winston will ever live up to his lofty pre-draft expectations.
That said, Winston passed for 3,504 yards in just 13 games last year and likely would’ve broken the 4,000-yard mark had he played a full season. While Winston’s 19-11 touchdown to interception total was the worst of his career, the combined 2017 passing yardage total between Winston and his backup Ryan Fitzpatrick would’ve been a league-best 4,607 yards, surpassing even the 4,577 that MVP Tom Brady threw for last season. Winston’s 2017 stats were impressive despite his mediocre fantasy finish. He had a career bests in completion percentage (64 percent), off-target rate (17 percent), interception rate (2.5 percent), and yards per attempt (7.9), all while throwing downfield more often (10.6 average depth of throw).
And unlike Prescott, Winston doesn’t have to worry about his receiving weapons. Both Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson will be returning, and there’s optimism that both sophomores Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard could develop and have breakout seasons. Tampa Bay’s running game should also click up a notch with explosive rookie running back Ronald Jones in the backfield. A healthy Winston could make the jump to the next level, and he’s currently being drafted late in most startups.
Marcus Mariota (24 years old)
In his 42 regular season games thus far, Mariota hasn’t quite performed to the level one might expect for a prospect that Tennessee selected second overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. His play has been inconsistent, and as a fantasy quarterback, Mariota has been far from reliable. Injuries have also derailed his progression as a passer, as he has missed at least one game during each of his first three seasons in the league.
The highest that Mariota has ever finished in fantasy was as the QB13 in 2016. Despite that impressive sophomore season, he regressed and had a forgettable performance last year, finishing as the QB19. Although Mariota is an athletic quarterback that’s capable of producing fantasy points from rushing (661 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground during the past two seasons), he’s failed to make strides as a passer. In 2017, Mariota threw 13 touchdowns and a ghastly 15 interceptions, which is almost as vomit-inducing as Goff’s rookie totals.
It’s certainly possible that Mariota can improve on his passing stats with the coaching change, as Matt LaFleur is a protege of two innovative offensive minds, having worked under both Kyle Shannahan and Sean McVay. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if Mariota finishes as a top-15 fantasy quarterback this season if he can pair his lofty rushing production with even a slight increase in passing production, but I’m skeptical that it’ll happen this year. He needs to show a much better handle on making his reads and throws before his fantasy production will improve.