Could Joe Burrow Be the QB1 for Fantasy Football in 2023?

Since entering the NFL, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has improved every year. He’s undoubtedly one of the five best QBs in the league. The question now is whether Burrow has that truly transcendent season in him. Is there a path to Burrow finishing as the overall QB1 fantasy football in 2023?

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Is Overall QB1 in Joe Burrow’s Range of Outcomes?

It’s always tricky when evaluating a player’s range of outcomes because, technically, the threshold is merely, “Is it possible?” For most incredibly talented players — like Burrow — the capability of putting together an all-time season exists.

So, is overall QB1 in Burrow’s range of outcomes? Of course. But that doesn’t really help anyone. What we really need to determine is if it’s in his plausible range of outcomes. To do that, we need to figure out how Burrow ends up as the best quarterback in fantasy football.

First, we need to look at what it usually takes to finish as fantasy’s top quarterback. To do that, I looked back at every overall QB1 since the great quarterback boom of 2011, which is the unofficial start of the NFL transitioning to the modern, pass-happy version.

There were three numbers I was interested in: the highest-scoring QB1, the lowest-scoring QB1, and the average QB1. Here is what I found.

The best single-season performance over that span (and ever) was 2019 Lamar Jackson, who averaged 28.1 fantasy points per game.

The lowest-scoring top QB was 2017 Russell Wilson, who averaged 22.4 ppg. It is worth mentioning that Deshaun Watson was averaging 25.3 ppg through seven games before he tore his ACL. Even so, there were two other overall QB1 finishes below 23.0 ppg.

On average, over the past 12 seasons, the average of the top fantasy QBs was 25 ppg.

Last season was the best of Burrow’s career. He averaged 22.7 ppg, finishing as the QB4. He did so while throwing for 4,475 yards and 35 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. We need to find a way for Burrow to get another 2.3 ppg.

The obvious answer to how he gets there is touchdowns. We’ve seen the truly elite quarterbacks have extremely outlier touchdown seasons. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Patrick Mahomes have each had 50-touchdown seasons. With Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins at his disposal, it’s not impossible for Burrow to do it, too.

Of course, we’ve also only seen three 50-touchdown seasons in the history of the NFL. If Burrow throws for 4,800 yards, 48 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, that’s 22 ppg in just passing alone.

Burrow averaged 16.1 rushing yards per game last season. If we give him that over a full season, we get 273 yards. Let’s throw in three rushing scores. That bumps Burrow up to 24.6 ppg, still short of the 25 ppg we’re looking for.

In this exercise, we’ve already projected Burrow for a substantial increase in production to outlier levels, and we still can’t get him to 25 ppg. Why?

The Importance of Rushing for the Modern Fantasy QB

Peyton was able to amass 26.2 ppg without a shred of mobility in 2013 because he broke the single-season passing yards and touchdowns records, throwing for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns.

Other than Manning, if you look at all the overall QB1s that were able to reach 25 ppg, they all have one thing in common: mobility. More specifically, look at the top-scoring fantasy QBs in each of the past five seasons: Mahomes, Jackson, Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Jalen Hurts.

Jackson and Hurts are already two of the greatest rushing QBs of all time. Allen has averaged 40 rushing yards per game in his career. The least mobile of the bunch is Mahomes, who has averaged over 20 rushing yards per game each of the past three seasons and scored eight times on the ground over that span.

Burrow’s career rushing yards per game average is just 12.3. His 16.1 from last season sure looks like the outlier, especially considering it was at 7.4 the previous season.

Even in 2016, Aaron Rodgers averaged 23.1 rushing yards per game. You have to go all the way back to 2013 Manning, who broke records, and 2012 Drew Brees, who only averaged 22.8 ppg, to find an overall QB1 that had less mobility than Burrow.

Last season, Burrow threw for 33 more yards per game and 0.72 more touchdowns per game than Hurts. Yet, Hurts averaged 2.9 ppg more than Burrow.

Burrow quite literally doubled Justin Fields’ production in passing yards and passing touchdowns. Yet, he averaged just 2.2 ppg more than him.

How Likely Is Joe Burrow To Finish as the Overall QB1?

Burrow is awesome. I’ve got him projected for 21.0 ppg. He’s ranked as my QB4 on the season. But the biggest selling point of Burrow is his extremely high floor.

We know the big three consist of Mahomes, Hurts, and Allen. Beyond those guys, Burrow is the least likely to let you down. It’s highly unlikely that Burrow finishes any lower than QB6/7. Even that would likely be the product of other quarterbacks performing well as opposed to Burrow disappointing. 20 ppg feels like his floor.

The problem is Burrow’s lack of true mobility limits his ceiling. I would still take Burrow ahead of guys like Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence, Fields, and Watson. However, I’d consider all four of them more likely to finish as the top-scoring fantasy QB than Burrow.

Ultimately, I can’t go so far as to say there’s a 0% chance Burrow finishes as the overall QB1. We could see down years from the big three combined with a career year for Burrow, allowing him to finish at the top with a lower ppg average.

With that said, I do not believe a 25 ppg season is within Burrow’s realistic range of outcomes. As a result, I don’t think Burrow can be the overall QB1 in fantasy football this season.

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