Just in case you somehow missed it, we'd like to remind you that in each of the past two seasons the NFL MVP has been a second-year quarterback. Both award winners produced all-time fantasy performances, too. Patrick Mahomes was only 23 when he became the second QB ever to exceed 400 fantasy points in a season. Lamar Jackson was 22 when he became the third.
This year, if you're looking for the young quarterback most likely to continue the trend, the favorite is pretty clear. With all due respect to Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins, and Drew Lock, the player to bet on is Arizona's Kyler Murray, the reigning offensive rookie of the year.
High expectations are definitely reflected in Murray's average draft position (51.7 at Yahoo, 46.6 at NFC), so he won't be quite the bargain that Jackson was last season or Mahomes was the year before. But when we're discussing players with league-winning upside, ADP is less of a concern. Jackson would have been a steal at almost any cost in 2019.
The case for Murray as a serious 2020 MVP candidate (in both reality and fantasy) begins with a concept we've mentioned several times around here ...
Any team attempting to make substantial personnel or scheme changes in this hellish offseason is facing an extreme challenge. That's not really a worry for Murray and the Cards. He's entering Year Two in the same fantasy-friendly offense, under the same head coach and surrounded by familiar faces in his supporting cast. This season more than any other, it's hugely beneficial for a team to simply run it back, building on the prior year's foundation.
Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury described things this way in a press session last week:
“The biggest step [Murray] is gonna take is decision-making. Everything was happening for him really fast at times last year. Second year in the system, very familiar with his O-line, his running back, his receivers. I just feel like some of those negative plays taken early in the season are gonna be erased and it’s really gonna help us on offense.”
The one significant upgrade the Cardinals did make to the offense was just too absurdly good to pass up ...
DeAndre Hopkins is Arizona's new No. 1
Last year, Arizona's leading receiver was a 36-year-old in his 16th NFL season. Larry Fitzgerald is clearly an inner-circle Hall of Fame player, arguably the best receiver of his era, but his 1,400-yard years are behind him.
DeAndre Hopkins, however, is at a very different stage in his career. Nuk is 28, coming off three straight All-Pro seasons and in his absolute prime. His seasonal averages over the past six years in Houston are outrageous: 97 receptions, 1,300 yards, 9 TDs. And remember, those numbers include the weird, wasted season with Brock Osweiler at QB.
Despite the abbreviated offseason, we still have to view Hopkins as a tier-one fantasy receiver for 2020. He's dominant in all aspects, capable of catches that seem entirely impossible. Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk can of course remain fantasy-relevant in secondary receiving roles; Arizona's offense put the ball in the air 554 times last season while starting a rookie at quarterback. Hopkins' presence on the field for the Cards makes life easier for everyone else, and he should accelerate the improvement from Murray that everyone already expected ...
Murray’s first-year passing numbers were promising
As rookie seasons go at the quarterback position, Murray's 2019 was exceptional. His 3,722 passing yards were the seventh-best by a first-year passer and his completion percentage (64.4) was the fourth-highest of anyone with 300 or more attempts. Murray and Cam Newton are the only rookies to open their careers with back-to-back 300-yard performances.
Arm strength and accuracy? Kyler has 'em:
LARRY LEGEND— NFL (@NFL) September 8, 2019
Kyler Murray goes deep and @LarryFitzgerald comes down with it for a gain of 45 yards in OT! @K1 #RedSea #DETvsAZ
📱: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch on mobile: https://t.co/PoZiStO3mL pic.twitter.com/DhVhSUnYbZ
Murray only threw 12 picks on 542 attempts (2.2 percent), which is clearly a promising sign for a 22-year-old QB. His full-season touchdown rate (3.4) was well below league-average, but it jumped to 5.2 percent over his final eight games. If he can carry that rate into 2020 on the same passing volume, we'd expect 28 touchdowns. With an elite talent like Hopkins now in the mix, it's not crazy to think 30-plus.
For fantasy purposes, Murray's passing may not even be his best trait ...
Kyler's rushing ability is rare
Lamar Jackson is at a level above the rest of the league's QBs (and most of its RBs) as a runner, but Murray is a badass, too. Here's a reminder:
He's dangerous when improvising and unfair in read-option. Murray and Cam (again) are the only two rookie quarterbacks in history to pass for 3,500 yards and run for 500. Kyler had the second-most rushing yards among all QBs last season (544) and the second-best yards per carry average (5.8). Considering how frequently and efficiently he ran, we might reasonably have expected him to score more than the four rush TDs he delivered last year.
All things considered, it's really not much of a stretch to believe Murray can produce 35 or more combined touchdowns in a healthy season as a second-year pro. It wouldn't even require the startling sort of leap that Jackson made from 2018 to 2019. With even a small measure of luck and natural development, plus a Hopkins bump, he's a viable MVP candidate — if not in real-life, definitely in fantasy.