This article is about QB breakouts for the 2023 season. What’s a breakout? The Foo Fighters’ seminal 1999 hit will illuminate this for us:
I don’t wanna look like that
I don’t wanna look like that
Know you make me breakout
Make me breakout
Believe it or not, Dave Grohl was thinking about Kurt Warner’s 1999 breakout season when writing this song. Warner, former arena football QB, cut by the Green Bay Packers, a clerk who stocked shelves at Hy-Vees at night just to make ends meet. He didn’t wanna look like that, and it was the Greatest Show on Turf that made him break out.
This, kids, is the quintessential breakout: a man who steps forth from relative fantasy obscurity to being a household name. When you think of Warner you think of the ’99 Rams, the Mike Martz offense propelled by Air Coryell, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Tory Holt, and Az-Zahir Hakim. Warner went from breaking down pallets of Campbell’s soup to breaking out on fantasy teams. He went from being cut by Green Bay to the QB1 overall within the course of a year. That is a breakout. A top-tier quarterback. That is what we are looking for in this year’s draft. Here are the quarterbacks best suited to breakout:
Fantasy breakout quarterbacks for 2023
1. Justin Herbert (LAC)
It’s odd having him here because I do feel like he has broken out. At least to some degree. He has thrown for 5,000 yards and 35 touchdowns in a season. Everyone acknowledges he is very talented and is particularly skilled when going through his progressions.
However, (and there’s always a however with these yet-to-breakout quarterbacks) there seems to be another level he can reach. There’s a very good chance we have not seen the best of Justin Herbert, and if he’s already thrown for 5014/38, that next level is dangerous/very exciting. This next level is hoped to be unlocked by new OC Kellen Moore, a man chased out of Dallas because he tried to “light up the scoreboard.” Couple that with a wide receiver chosen in the first round and a now-healthy offensive line and there’s a breakout primed here.
Do keep in mind that it’s the goal of all 53 men on the team, the staff, the owner, the GM, et cetera to win games. They don’t care about our fantasy teams. For the Chargers it’s more than that: they need to win games and get to the playoffs and show they can make a run. Part of that is looking around the conference and seeing the Chiefs and the Bills and the Bengals, noticing the Jaguars are ascending and the Jets added Aaron Rodgers and that Miami seems to score at will, oh and there’s this guy named Lamar Jackson in Baltimore who can put up points as well.
The Chargers defense is not going to be able to hang around all of these teams, and therefore it’s imperative to improve offense output. With Herbert they have the engine to do that—he just needs to take that next step.
2. Trevor Lawrence (JAC)
In case you didn’t know, the Jaguars are fully invested in their offense. After playing Oprah and gifting free agents bags and bags of gifts in the prior offseason, they traded for Calvin Ridley and spent their first three picks on bolstering their offensive line, a tight end, and a running back. This after it was decided last season that their defense was a problem.
Bear in mind that they have a gantlet of a schedule—they have to play the Chiefs, the Niners, the Bills, the Bengals to name a few—and you can bet these won’t be defensive battles won in the trenches. Points must be scored!
All that aside, Lawrence could possibly make the leap to an elite quarterback this year. He has the pedigree, the athleticism, the ability, and the awareness. He had a comeback win in the playoffs and almost knocked off the current world champion. His arrow is pointing up, and he looks primed to be a steady fantasy force this season.
I cannot help but think of the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles here and draw some similarities. The second year on the staff for a young, highly-picked quarterback paired with Doug Pederson, who is also in his second year. They surprised a lot of people that year. 13-3, a Super Bowl win. But for fantasy purposes, it was Carson Wentz who was catapulted to a top-performing quarterback and finished QB2 in points per game. Why couldn’t this be Lawrence in 2024?
3. Sam Howell (WAS)
I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Sam Howell a 5th-round draft pick and currently battling… Jacoby Brissett…for the starting role. Capped by a head coach who wants to plod down the field with a run game that will give his defense time to rest. Nothing would excite Ron Rivera more than a 16-7 win.
There’s no way a breakout quarterback can rise from these ashes.
And yet…. he has talent all around him. Terry McLaurin and Johan Dotson can take the top off defenses and work them underneath. Antonio Gibson is excellent at catching the ball. The tight ends are better than you think. New OC Eric Bienemy comes from several years under Andy Reid to implement an offense that should be more explosive than Scott Turner’s, and Howell has the arm to make those deep throws to the fast playmakers on this offense. The offense very well could revolve around Howell’s strengths, as they closely match Bienemy’s scheme.
Keep this in the back of your mind when I tell you that Sam Howell is a very good runner. Underrated, even. The man can fly down a field, and he is not afraid to put his shoulder down and try to barrel through a safety, a cornerback, DeMarcus Lawrence. Go watch highlights of him in college and his one game against the Cowboys last year. He is shifty. He is fast. He is fearless.
You hear this every year from everyone writing a fantasy football column, but I am going to mention it again: quarterbacks who can run are the fantasy football cheat codes. We need this cheat code more than ever today. Fantasy football players are wiser, better prepared, and much more attuned to how to win than they ever were. This has become a game of inches.
So, if I am writing to you today about a 5th-round quarterback who is fighting for a starting job against Jacoby Brissett it’s only because, as the freaking last pick of your draft, you could have a quarterback that wins you weeks because of this universal cheat code. Think Taysom Hill with downfield accuracy and facial hair. Think Tim Tebow with a much better arm and a sense of mental stability.
It will not feel good selecting him in your draft. It will feel wrong. Someone may/definitely will laugh at you. That’s how these breakouts enter public consciousness though. They come out of nowhere to a surprise, just like Kurt Warner did. Perhaps Dave Grohl will write a song about him too.
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