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Breakout Candidates: Quarterbacks

Identifying players who could potentially be essential fantasy assets at the quarterback position in 2016

Tennessee Titans v New York Jets Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Marcus Mariota

Twin MCL tears were the story of Mariota’s rookie season. Those injuries forced him to miss four games and the majority of another. In total, he played about 11 full games. Despite being held back by a vanilla offense and Harry Douglas, as well as missing those games, he finished as the 22nd quarterback in fantasy points, just behind fellow injury-plagued Ben Roethlisberger. If we were to average out his fantasy points per game and add that average to his lost five games, he would’ve finished as the 8th-best quarterback. Obviously, football doesn’t work like that, and surely you can’t assume that he would’ve averaged 21.6 points per game in all of those games. But it goes to show that Mariota had a very effective rookie year from both a real-life and fantasy perspective.

This second season provides a healthy start for Mariota to show off the potential that made him a legend at Oregon. He flashed it in plenty of his games during his rookie season. Though he made plenty of mistakes, fumbles being his main vice, his explosive ability was immensely apparent. Ken Whisenhunt refused to move him around, forcing him to hone his craft as a pocket passer. Mariota showed he was more than capable of winning from the pocket, but interim coach Mike Mularkey allowed him to flaunt his rushing prowess more frequently once he took over. That should continue this year, but don’t expect a huge leap in the rushing category, as the Titans will still be looking to protect their prized investment. There should be enough rushing output from Mariota to provide him with a solid fantasy floor. Add in acquisitions Rishard Matthews and DeMarco Murray out of the backfield, and Mariota now has two more reliable options that can reel in his passes. Here’s to hoping that Mularkey doesn’t hold him back too much.

Ryan Tannehill

It can be argued that Tannehill already broke out. In 2014, he finished as the 9th-highest scoring quarterback. He was consistent and dependable, providing a solid rushing statistical floor when he failed to do much through the air. Last year was an entirely different story. The offense, and the whole team if we’re being honest, went through a nightmarish transition among different front office staffs and coaches. While his non-fantasy skeptics have solid arguments against his overall play, he has been a pretty good fantasy quarterback since coming into the league.

2015 presents an exciting new opportunity for the polarizing Tannehill, both in fantasy and in real-life. New head coach Adam Gase is a bit of a quarterback guru, engineering the offense that resulted in arguably the best season for a quarterback in NFL history (Peyton Manning in 2013) and finally getting consistent, efficient play from Jay Cutler last season in Chicago. Miami’s position players set up nicely for Gase’s offense, which relies on a big bodied receiver (DeVante Parker), a smaller possession-type receiver (Jarvis Landry), and running backs that can catch out of the backfield (Arian Foster/Kenyan Drake). Miami will probably have to throw more this season, given the loss of Lamar Miller and an unclear situation at running back. The weapons and opportunity are there for Tannehill to establish himself as a solid QB1 in fantasy.

Teddy Bridgewater

Teddy Ballgame was a popular breakout pick last offseason after he went on an impressive stretch run towards the end of his rookie season. He was getting Adrian Peterson back from suspension, Cordarrelle Patterson was set up for a bounceback season, and Mike Wallace was going to add a new dynamic to an emerging offense. Boy, did that backfire. Peterson had a great rushing season, leading the NFL in yards and scoring 11 touchdowns. The passing offense, however, took a two-rows-back seat to the rushing offense. Wallace was atrocious, Patterson was lucky to stay on the team due to his return abilities, and Kyle Rudolph gave us his perennial stat line of 500 yards and five touchdowns. While many put the blame on Bridgewater for the lack of success through the air, he actually graded out as a top-15 quarterback per Pro Football Focus’ metrics.

What Bridgewater may lack in the form of a competent deep ball, he makes up for with impressive pocket movement and impeccable accuracy in the intermediate range. Mike “Stonehands” Wallace is no longer on the team, and he didn’t fit Bridgewater’s game anyway. First round draft pick Laquon Treadwell does, as he is big-bodied and can shield himself from defenders on 50-50 balls. Second-year rising star Stefon Diggs is set to build on a surprising rookie season that saw him lead the team in catches and yards. Jarius Wright is an underrated slot receiver and backup running back Jerick Mckinnon is an electric passing down specialist. The supporting cast is there for Bridgewater’s strengths to be highlighted. Along with a bit of mobility (400 yards and four touchdowns in two years, Teddy Ballgame can really come into his own in his third year from a fantasy perspective.