We kick off our draft coverage by taking a look at the Quarterbacks. The position is undergoing a metamorphosis in the NFL right now and this forces us fantasy-owners to make adjustments or suffer the consequences on draft day. Prior to last season just two QB’s in the NFL’s history had ever thrown for 5,000 yards passing in a single season (Dan Marino with 5084 yards in 1984 and Drew Brees with 5069 yards in 2008). Last season there were THREE 5,000 yard passers (5476 yards for Drew Brees, 5235 yards for Tom Brady and 5,038 for Matthew Stafford). It is also worth noting that Aaron Rodgers would have joined this club as well had he played Week 17 and gotten the yardage total that backup Matt Flynn had in that game and Eli Manning was just 67 yards shy of the 5000 yard milestone. WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR!? Nothing too surprising actually. You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the NFL is moving to a pass-first league and that teams are paying more than ever to retain the franchise quarterback as well as to develop the wide receiver talent around them.
The Top Three
Rodgers, Brady and Brees have essentially established a new tier for Quarterbacks in fantasy football. The “second tier” of QB’s for this coming season are every bit as valuable on draft day that the “top tier” was at last year. It is because of this that I am now advocating 3 QB’s being taken in the first 5 picks of EVERY draft, regardless of scoring. That means that I am saying that Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady should go #1 and #2 in every single draft with it also being unacceptable for Brees, even with the turmoil in New Orleans, to be taken after anyone but my top two Running Backs (Rice and Foster) Here is my reasoning; First round picks are SUPER DANGEROUS! The first round is never where I want to reach for a player that I am personally very high on, despite no track record of consistent production. Many people will tell you, and I am one of them, that you can not win your league in the first round… only lose it. These three QB’s are the guys with the longest track record of consistent, elite-level production.
Rodgers has seemingly perfected the art of Quarterbacking over the past two seasons and in 2011, he never once tallied single digit fantasy points and the only time he was below 20 was in week 14 vs Oakland (17 points). It is also worth noting that despite playing just 16 games and not making the 5000 yard club, he was still the highest scoring player in the NFL for fantasy owners due to his rushing statistics and just six interceptions on the year (Brees had 14 and Brady 12).
Brady is definitely below Rodgers in my book but it isn’t by much at all. Brady has Josh McDaniels back as his offensive coordinator and when these two were together previously, Brady set numerous records. McDaniels brought Brandon Lloyd with him after the two apparently developed a significant bond during their time together in Denver and St. Louis. Lloyd is the best deep threat Brady will have had to throw to since the departure of Randy Moss and because of that, his upside hasn’t been higher in a long time.
Brees falls down in my rankings because of bountygate taking the primary play-caller off the team for the year and the impact that simply moving him up to the coaches box had last season when Sean Peyton got injured. He still has Darren Sproles, Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston though so I am happy to leave him in the top 3.
The Starting QB’s
Spots 4 through 12 on my rankings are the rest of the guys that will be used as a “starting QB” in almost every league. They are as follows:
Matthew Stafford has had just one full season of elite numbers so he remains a late first round pick at best in my book. I’m not super concerned with injuries going forward with him but I could certainly see a scenario where the Lions take a step backward this season and his numbers dip some.
Michael Vick would be an elite guy if I could see much of a scenario where he played 16 games but, I can barely even imagine it. You can expect plenty of great weeks from Vick but I can’t take a QB in the first round who has so much risk to not start for me in the playoffs.
Eli had 20 turnovers eating away at his fantasy point totals last season and I have concerns about whether or not he can repeat his yardage totals, even with such a talented WR duo.
Cam Newton is a bit of an anomaly as a rushing QB. Typically we can’t rely on rushing TD’s to repeat but the difference here is that Newton actually gets these plays CALLED for him to run on the goal line and that will continue. You should expect his rushing stats to dip after the Panthers added Mike Tolbert, another solid back who is especially effective in the red zone. There is also likely to be a lot more passing attempts on the goal line however because Tolbert is a very effective target in the passing game as well.
Peyton Manning has always been an “elite performer” but after a year off, he is pretty likely to have a slow start on a new offense. Manning is also historically not quite the same guy outdoors and the Broncos play just one game inside a dome and that is in Arizona in Week 4.
I think that if you get stuck in a spot without one of the top 3 guys, there aren’t many safer bets than Romo. With DeMarco Murray giving the Cowboys a rushing attack and the talent that the Cowboys have at receiver, Romo should do just fine statistically this year. I could easily see him over 4,500 yards this season.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense appears to be migrating to the pass-first style of the rest of the NFL. Michael Turner has not churned out the production that Atlanta signed up for and with Julio Jones proving to be a serious threat in the passing game late last season, they will almost certainly be airing the ball out a lot more from here on out. I’m not 100% that Ryan can handle this style of offense and put up top 5 numbers so he comes in at #10 in my rankings.
Vincent Jackson and Mike Tolbert were two of Rivers’ top targets over the past couple of seasons but last year they were both pretty inconsistent as far as drops are concerned. Now they aren’t on the team and Rivers’ value will be determined by the chemistry he can develop with his new receiving corps. Vincent Brown has a very promising rookie campaign and is looking to fill the void that VJax left behind with Malcom Floyd and new acquisition Robert Meachem.
Ben Roethlisberger will remain a big-play machine but consistency is a big problem and so is health. Only one QB who is currently on an NFL team has been sacked more than Ben and that is Matt Hasselbeck, who we can all agree is a fair bit older than Ben and yet he has only been sacked 14 additional times.
The Best Backups
The end of my QB rankings is a little different than most that I have seen and is as follows:
|Robert Griffen III|
Clearly I have no love for RG3 as he is at 23rd in my rankings. He has some value as a backup in the event that you do not get one of the elite guys this season because there is an outside chance that he has a Cam Newton-esque rookie campaign and winds up being a top 10 guy anyways. I however, cannot let this tiny chance force me to spend very much at all for him on draft day and since SOMEONE is going to reach on him, I won’t be owning the Redskins’ new Quarterback at all this season.
Jay Cutler has by far the most potential among this group, with Brandon Marshall rejoining him in a new place this time. Cutler will be quick to get back into rhythm with his old favorite target and Marshall is immediately the most talented receiver on the Bears offense. Forte still provides a dynamic and unique threat that offensive coordinator Mike Martz has had a lot of success utilizing thus far. I expect the Bears offense to take a big step forward and would love to have Cutler as my #2 guy for the 2012 season.
It is a little weird to list Schaub as a back up but after his late-season injury and the continual injuries of Andre Johnson, the Texans are sure to lean heavy on their VERY successful running game. Schaub is also sure to be limited in his movement capabilities and he also may have some minor pain issues early in the year.
If you have an elite guy on your roster, then I think you should target Carson Palmer as your backup. You can probably scoop him up at the very end of your draft and I think he has a serious shot at being a top 15 fantasy QB for the second half of the season. Expect a slow start and hold him on your roster unless you get ravaged by an injury and he hasn’t turned it on yet. But take a look at his numbers over the 2nd half of last season,