Fantasy Football: How will rookie quarterbacks impact NFL offenses they're joining?

With six quarterbacks taken in the first 12 picks of the 2024 NFL Draft, Matt Harmon examines the fantasy football impact the rookie QB class will have on the offenses they're joining.

The tide is turning in Chicago as Bears faithful can have all the hope in the world that Caleb Williams is the long-awaited answer to their quarterback dilemmas. He’ll walk into the building as the Day 1 starter in a situation that isn’t quite like most No. 1 overall picks.

The Bears didn’t earn the selection to take Williams, that’s a courtesy of the Carolina Panthers' misery, and their roster shows it. The defense caught fire in the back half of 2023 following the Montez Sweat trade and the offense already had an established top receiver in D.J. Moore. Chicago only further stocked the latter unit by adding D’Andre Swift to the backfield and, most notably, veteran Keenan Allen and rookie Rome Odunze to the wide receiver room.

The fact that the defense was as good as it was at the end of last season (sixth in EPA per play allowed) means Williams won’t have to be the sole reason they win games. His talent, combined with an excellent wide receiver corps of Moore, Allen, and Odunze, means he’ll be plenty capable of being the reason they win games. That’s an enviable position for any rookie.

From a pure production standpoint, it’s going to be difficult not to get over our skis with Williams and the receivers. Early best ball ADP has all three of these wideouts in the top 35 at the position, with Moore all the way up at WR16, Allen at 25 and Odunze at 34. So, we're already getting close to over our skis.

Just take, for example, the Seahawks offense last year. It’s not a perfect comparison because Odunze is a better prospect than Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Williams has a much higher ceiling than Geno Smith. Still, there are some connections here, including offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. Smith finished with 3,624 yards, 20 touchdowns, and nine picks in 15 starts. If Williams has a season like that as a mere rookie, it’ll be considered a raging success. But basically, anyone who drafted a Seahawks wide receiver in fantasy last season came away, perhaps not with a huge bust, but mildly disappointed.

This wide receiver room will be excellent this year, and Odunze specifically has all the traits I am looking for in a future superstar wideout. But the math still has to work out this season. From a projections standpoint, it’s tough to get them all to high-end numbers in 2024 if Williams even just has a “normal good” rookie season. Someone will lose out here and I don’t have conviction on who it will be. The veterans are extremely established but Odunze is gifted enough to shake up the rotation from Day 1.

That said, I still don’t mind taking shots at these players this season because I have faith in Williams to thrive in this ecosystem. Most critically, all three of the wideouts have contingent value if one of them gets hurt and misses time.

Jayden Daniels will start right away for the Washington Commanders, and his inclusion in the offense will instantly impact the entire ecosystem.

For starters, Daniels’ ability to run will make him a viable fantasy quarterback, regardless of where he stands as a passer.

Daniels ran the ball 135 times last season at 8.4 yards per clip. He may not be that voluminous or efficient in the pros, but he’s an athletic marvel that Kliff Kingsbury will want to take advantage of immediately. Expect some designed rush attempts and more importantly, Daniels’ instincts to scramble under pressure will create big plays.

We’ve seen throughout recent history that mobile quarterbacks create mismatches that favor the traditional run game. The Commanders have two quality backs, Brian Robinson and Austin Ekeler, who could benefit. The latter is less likely to see his usual reception workload tied to Daniels and that will be a tough committee overall to figure out, but we have all summer to uncover clues.

I also think Daniels’ passing ability maps well to the top two receivers in Washington. Terry McLaurin is a vertical X-receiver who separates at all levels. Much of Daniels’ work along the boundary with Brian Thomas Jr. and his over-the-middle throws to Malik Nabers overlaps with where McLaurin wins. Jahan Dotson is far better than his 2023 production would indicate and he should line up in the slot more often with Curtis Samuel gone. Dotson was a fantastic vertical slot prospect coming out of Penn State, which is a position we’ve seen work in Kingsbury’s offense before, and Daniels destroyed defenses in the SEC on slot fades.

The only thing that could obliterate all of this optimism is pass-protection concerns. Washington’s offensive line struggled last season and could not come away with a tackle in the NFL Draft. That could be a concern that sinks Daniels’ efficiency and holds back the entire offense.

Other than that, this is a strong situation for Daniels to find early career success. The questions will mostly linger around whether he can sustain and build off what should be a dynamic rookie campaign.

Drake Maye stands out among the top-three quarterbacks in this draft regarding his Week 1 status. While Williams and Daniels will moonwalk into starting gigs with little resistance, the Patriots shouldn’t feel forced to start Maye immediately.

Head coach Jerod Mayo said that "the best player will play" in discussing the Week 1 starter, which points to a legitimate competition with veteran Jacoby Brissett. It would probably stun most to know Brissett ranks seventh in EPA per play among quarterbacks the last two seasons combined. That includes his starting stint with the Browns and some cleanup duty with Washington. There’s plenty of evidence to show that Brissett is a viable NFL quarterback who can hold down the fort for the Patriots until Maye is ready.

This offense is not set up with either the weaponry or the protection to incubate a rookie quarterback like some of the other teams in this exercise. New England should be cautious in tossing Maye out too early as he’s liable to acquire some battle scars that don’t heal over time playing in this situation before he’s ready. It sounds like the team knows that, and I believe they’re comfortable rolling with Brissett for an extended stretch.

There aren’t many skill-position players we’re worried about being elevated in New England. I like the wide receiver duo they drafted, but they’re more so future bets worth monitoring for now.

When/if we see Maye this year, the primary goal will be to simply note how he handles the NFL game and who he connects with, between Ja’Lynn Polk and Javon Baker. The time for these young Patriots players will be 2025 and beyond, not this season.

The Atlanta Falcons' drafting of Michael Penix with the eighth overall selection this year, mere months after giving Kirk Cousins $90 million in fully guaranteed money, was the most shocking draft pick I could remember. It’ll be tough to top that stunner in future seasons.

For this exercise, there isn’t much to say about Penix. In an ideal world, he won’t see the field at all this year, and Cousins will establish himself as a quality starter who can elevate the young talent on the Falcons roster.

Of course, as we know, situations often don’t always go according to plan in the NFL, and chaos reigns supreme. That’s where, from a pure fantasy perspective, Penix’s selection can actually be good news for the players on this roster.

I have my questions on Penix as an overall prospect and how he’ll translate to this specific Rams-style offense brought over by Zac Robinson. However, if he’s even half the player the Falcons brass clearly thinks he can be, he’ll be a sizable upgrade as a backup quarterback.

We’re all dealing in hope, optimism and theory regarding Cousins’ play this season and how he’ll impact guys like Drake London, Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson. He’s still a 36-year-old quarterback coming off a serious injury who has sustained plenty of punishment over the years. If he suffers a setback or deals with another injury throughout the year, at least Penix will be waiting in the wings to keep the ceiling hopes for this offense alive.

I do think there will be some level of a training camp battle between J.J. McCarthy and Sam Darnold for the Week 1 starting gig. Given that we all know who Darnold is at this point, my guess is that McCarthy would have to come in and look woefully unprepared not to be the odds-on favorite to win the job.

McCarthy is a young player who wasn’t asked to carry his college team. It would be a stretch to assume that he’s ready to come in and be the central figure of his pro offense right from the start. Some development needs to take place.

That doesn’t mean he can’t be a viable NFL starter early in his career. While the quantity of attempts is lower for McCarthy compared to other top prospects in this class, the quality of those throws and how they’ll translate to the league is much cleaner.

So much of what McCarthy did at Michigan applies to the NFL, specifically Kevin O’Connell’s offense in Minnesota.

Based on his college film, we should have a solid degree of confidence that McCarthy can work from under center out of heavy formations and accurately rip tight coverage throws over the middle. It is a non-negotiable in today’s NFL that a high-end quarterback sift through zone coverage and have the arm talent to rifle balls over the intermediate middle of the field. McCarthy did that when called upon in Michigan. That makes me think he can survive as an NFL starter early in his tenure with the Vikings.

That’s good news for fantasy managers because there are many players in Minnesota we’d like not to see wasted for a season. Most notably, Justin Jefferson, who was the consensus 1.01 pick last season.

Jefferson is frequently tasked with working that intermediate middle of the field as the team’s primary X-receiver on digs and crossing routes off play-action. McCarthy fits well and can handle feeding him immense volume. Any wideout working with a rookie quarterback is unlikely to hit his ceiling but Jefferson can still produce a WR1 season with McCarthy given his strengths on the back of a bevy of first-read targets.

The rest of the pass-catchers may not fair as well, even if I like McCarthy’s long-term outlook in this well-stocked ecosystem. It’ll be a tall task for this rookie passer to push Jefferson's monster volume while still supporting Jordan Addison as a clean weekly projection and getting T.J. Hockenson to his statistical averages when healthy. We should expect the Vikings to be fairly run-heavy in neutral situations as McCarthy eases in, which will mean plenty of work for newcomer Aaron Jones with a sprinkling of holdover Ty Chandler.

If forced to give an overall sentiment about Bo Nix going 12th overall in the NFL Draft, I’m undoubtedly skeptical about whether he was “worth” that selection. That said, he’s not a terrible prospect.

Particular aspects of his recent college tape would lead you to believe he can be an NFL quarterback. His statistical synopsis is as gaudy as any member of this quarterback class and it sounds like that was a big part of what sold Sean Payton on Nix.

His resume and Denver’s obscene need at the position is what hoisted him up the board. However, it’s worth noting that Nix is a strong system fit for Payton’s offense.

Nix is a quality distributor in the short and intermediate areas. He gets the ball out on time and has the type of ball placement you need to maximize run-after-catch opportunities in the play-action section of this playbook.

More importantly, while Nix doesn’t have the most talented arm in the world, and his film is littered with popgun passes, he was an effective deep passer when he took those shots.

Overall, I think Nix, at his best, can give you a viable floor as an NFL starter — especially early on, given his experience level. I won’t be shocked if at some point, Payton and the Broncos feel like they’re bumping up against a ceiling with Nix, a la Sean McVay and Jared Goff, but that doesn’t matter for his Year 1 projection.

The Broncos were 23rd in neutral situation pass rate last season with a quarterback the play-caller did not trust. I’d expect them to be about the same in Nix’s rookie season, relying heavily on their committee backfield (13th in EPA per rush last season). As the year wears on, they’ll likely ask more of Nix. For now, the pass-catcher corps is not strong enough around Nix to truly open things up.

None of the receivers, beyond Courtland Sutton, project to be very fantasy-relevant. Sutton himself is still the subject of trade rumors. Should he stick on the roster — they’d have the worst receiver room in the league if he left — Nix’s accuracy working the middle of the field fits well stylistically for the non-contested boundary routes that Sutton works best on.