Fantasy Football: Ryan Fitzpatrick Boosts Washington's Floor in 2021

Signing Ryan Fitzpatrick ensures competent quarterback play in Washington next year. How does that impact the fantasy football outlook for Antonio Gibson, Terry McLaurin, and Logan Thomas?

In terms of real football, the Ryan Fitzpatrick signing in Washington is the definition of "fine." He makes the team better than they were last year, but you won't get the gains you could have gotten with more aggressiveness in the trade market.

For fantasy, though, it's a different story. Fitzpatrick takes what was previously a risky offense and raises the floor of each piece within it.

Let's dive into the impact of the Fitzpatrick signing now, outline what it does for guys like Antonio Gibson, Terry McLaurin, and Logan Thomas, and see how we can apply that to where they're going in early drafts.

A Definitive Upgrade

Passing efficiency is a key cog in projecting fantasy output. More efficient offenses score more points and accumulate more yards, and it's hard to rack up fantasy goodness without those two things. The outlook there is much rosier than it was previously.

Here's a comparison between what Fitzpatrick did last year and what Washington got out of its quarterbacks. The number listed is each player's Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, numberFire's passing efficiency metric that includes deductions for expected points lost on negative events such as sacks, incompletions, and interceptions. The data here includes numbers from both the regular season and playoffs.

In 2020 Passing NEP per Drop Back Drop Backs
Ryan Fitzpatrick 0.22 281
Alex Smith -0.08 274
Dwayne Haskins -0.10 261
Kyle Allen 0.10 94
Taylor Heinicke 0.10 66

This was a brutal passing offense last year, and had they gone into the year with Taylor Heinicke as the starter, it would have been reasonable to expect continued struggles. With Fitzpatrick, we're eliminating that from the range of outcomes.

Fitzpatrick isn't an elite quarterback. He's a journeyman entering his age-39 season, and his $10 million in guarantees reflects that. He's not going to turn them into a top-tier passing offense, and it's tough to project them to even be league-average. But the odds they're basement-dwellers for the second straight year went down, and that matters.

As a result, we should boost the floor expectations for everybody in this offense. Their worst-case scenario is less bleak now than it was previously, even if it means they won't get a ceiling scenario where Washington trades for someone like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson. Given how unlikely those outcomes were in the first place, this is an acceptable reality.

Justifying Early ADPs

If you were to identify one downside of this signing, it would be that the public was already expecting some sort of move at the position. The average draft positions (ADPs) for their three main skill guys were not in the bargain bin. Here's the average pick for Gibson, McLaurin, and Thomas in 12-team Bestball10 drafts during the month of March.

Antonio Gibson23.94
Terry McLaurin37.06
Logan Thomas101.81

Gibson's going at the turn between the second and third rounds with McLaurin a round after that. Thomas is 10th among tight ends. Clearly, people were not expecting this offense to be a slug.

Because of this, the trio doesn't immediately become players we must scoop at all costs. Fitzpatrick has his limitations, and there's a possibility they add pass-catchers in the draft. That would ding McLaurin and Thomas, who thrived largely because they were the only attractions in town last year.

As a result, the biggest benefactor here (and the one we should be most interested in at current cost) is likely Gibson. Gibson showed he could be a viable fantasy target last year even without getting a ton of work as a pass-catcher, which was his assumed strength coming out of college. If he adds more targets while being the clear lead back in a non-terrible offense, the upside he holds is enticing.

If you were to seek out any of the Washington skill players, Gibson should be the guy. He's going in a range with other running backs with red flags, and his red flags are less concerning now that we know he should have competent quarterback play. It's stock up on Gibson, making him easier to justify at the end of the second.

For McLaurin and Thomas, it moreso just makes them viable options in their respective ranges. The targets they do get will now be more efficient, and the offense operates at an above-average pace. If they maintain their target shares, they'll certainly be productive players. The risk of potentially increased competition for targets, though, prevents them from being priorities at the current going rate, even with a boosted level of quarterback play.