A lot of fantasy players get caught up in preseason rankings. They toil away, scouring the Internet for position rankings & “Top 300” lists, thinking that this is the type of homework that will result in a sure-fire winning team. This is only partially true.
The real key to winning fantasy championships (that’s right… plural!) is to maximize the value of each selection you take on draft day. If you’ve already read my draft guide, you know that I am not a big practitioner of taking a QB early. This doesn’t mean that drafting one of the premier signal callers early is without it’s perks, I just feel that QB is one of the positions in the NFL that, from a fantasy perspective, has a wealth of valuable talent that doesn’t need to be taken in the first two rounds.
Think about it like this. I can name five RBs (Adrian Peterson, Jamal Charles, Doug Martin, Ray Rice, and Arian Foster) that I would absolutely love to have on my team. Guys that I feel confident in starting week-in-and-week-out without worrying about a decline in touches or production. After those five, there are about ten guys that I would consider “second tier”, and then it’s a huge drop-off. Wide Receiver is the same way. You have your “Big 5”, ten or so guys you’d like to trust, and then a ton of boom-or-bust players.
Quarterback is a different animal. Perhaps it’s the way most leagues score QBs, or maybe it’s the level of coaching in the NFL, but at the moment there is an exceptionally high level of competency among the position. I can think of at least ten guys that I would put in my “love to have” category, and another ten in the “serviceable” group. In a standard scoring single QB league, nearly every team should be able to roster at least one quality signal caller. With that in mind, shouldn’t you value the positions that have less elite talent more than those with an even disbursement? My answer would be yes.
I also like to rank QBs a little different than others. Again, if you read the draft strategy (seriously, you should scope it out!), you would know I am a proponent of knowing your scoring system… everyone should be! Just so we recognize the importance of this, let’s do some quick math:
League A scores 1 point for every 20 passing yards and 4 points per TD. League B scores 1 point for every 25 passing yards and 6 points per TD. For the sake of keeping it simple, let’s assume that neither league rewards fractional points. Ok… your QB throws for 260 yards & 3 TDs.
In League A, your QB would score 25 points, nothing to sneeze at. In League B however, the same QB would score 28 points, which, for those that may not be as sharp as others, is more that 25. This might seem like a minor difference to some, but any fantasy player that has spent Monday night praying a kicker misses the game-winning chip-shot FG will tell your, sometimes 3 points is all it takes to win.
So I try to keep in mind the values that my leagues will be rewarding when drafting a QB. Do you want a guy the who will give you high yardage totals every game, or the guys that will put up a couple of TDs each week? To make it easier on myself, I group them by similar skill sets. I hope that these groupings make sense to you and help to maximize your pick.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
I don’t think there is any debate about the guys that should make this list. I feel that four players make up this group. These are the best-of-the-best, TD heavy, elite passers in the NFL. Not only will these guys deliver with the yardage totals, you can typically count on the to deliver two touchdown strikes per game.
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos.
I’ve already caught some heat for putting Peyton at the top of my list, but I don’t care. It is my list after all. But I have my reasons, and I like to think they are pretty good ones. First, Peyton is entering his second year with a young talented receiving corps that has only improved since last season. The presence of super-slot man Wes Welker should allow for Demarius Thomas and Eric Decker to stretch the field more this season, something that both young wideouts excelled at when given the opportunity last year. Couple that with the fact that Manning was sacked only 21 times last season, second fewest among all full-time passers, and you have a recipe for the destruction of an NFL secondary.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints.
Surprise, surprise… still not Rodgers. Brees led the league last season in both passing yards and touchdowns. The one blemish on his otherwise impressive season was the 19 interceptions he threw, which was the second highest total of his career. I don’t think that he gets back to the 5,000 yard mark this season, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he gave it a serious run. Oh yeah… and Sean Peyton is back. While Brees put up career numbers without his head coach last season, he will only get better with Peyton calling the shots.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers.
There ya go! He’s finally on the list. “Rodgers is the third best QB in the league?” you might ask… well no, but in my eyes he is the third best fantasy option. Sure, he was second in the league in TDs with 39 last year while throwing only 8 picks, but he was also sacked a league high 51 times! Sheesh. That is twice the amount of sacks as any of the other QBs in this grouping. I will say that the inability for any Green Bay RB to stay healthy last season didn’t help Rodger’s time in the pocket, as most defenses were simply gunning for the passer, but 51 sacks is a lot. The losses of tackle Bryan Beluga to a season ending ACL tear and wideout Greg Jennings to free agency can’t be a good sign for the master of the “discount double-check”, but it’s still Aaron “friggin” Rodgers… he’ll be ok.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots.
Let’s face it… God loves Tom Brady. He has an insanely hot wife, three Super Bowl rings, and is the greatest draft steal in the history of… EVER! The Pats have had a rocky offseason (perhaps you’ve heard?) and have lost multiple weapons in the passing game, but that hasn’t stopped Brady before. The emergence of a reliable running game will only help Brady’s case this season. I am thoroughly convinced that ANY passer can have success in New England with Bill Belichick. Don’t believe me? Two words… Matt. Cassel. I rest my case.
LIVE BY THE RUN, DIE BY THE RUN.
Running QBs can be a great asset to your team. Not only will they give you passing points, but they will also chip in some rushing yards, and if you’re lucky a TD or two. However, the knock on these guys is two-fold. First, because of their ability to run, these guys typically wont’ be high yardage passers. While this new crop of mobile passers is more than capable of throwing the ball, the yardage totals are often inconsistent. Second, and this is the big one, the scrambling quarterback is almost ALWAYS a high injury risk. So keep that in mind when drafting one of these guys; is the risk worth the reward?
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers.
Kaepernick has everything going for him by the bay. He has a great head coach, an amazing offensive line, skill players that can create open looks and generate production after the catch, and a running game that can alleviate quite a bit of pressure. When you consider all that, the young signal caller seems to be primed for a fantasy breakout. If Kapernick can pick up where he left off last season, the sky is the limit. However, this year is unlike last season, as the pressure of returning to the playoffs rest squarely on his shoulders. Watching how he deals with the pressure of his first full season as the starter should be interesting.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers.
If it weren’t for the fact that his supporting cast was so middle-of-the-road, Newton could easily top this group of guys. He’s one of the few mobile QBs that doesn’t make me wince every time he takes a shot, and he has got a hell of an arm. But, if Brandon LaFelle can have the breakout year that many thought he would have last season, there might be a chance for a higher TD total from Newton who only recorded multiple passing TDs in 6 games last season. Newcomer Domenik Hixon could also be a valuable option for Newton, though it might take some time for the two to gel.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins.
Oh sweet, frail Robert. I do love you. Your blinding speed and Olympic caliber hurdling ability will continually astound. What’s ever more amazing is the consistency of his arm. RGIII was 4th in the league last year with a completion percentage of 65.6%, behind only Manning, Rodgers, and Matt Ryan. While the passing yards could have been higher, he threw for 3,200 yards, Griffin only had 5 interceptions. Durability is the big concern here, as Griffin will be putting his surgically repaired knee on the line once again. Couple that with the news that he could miss the entire slate of preseason games as a “precautionary measure”, and you have a recipe for a slow start to what should be an equally impressive sophomore showing.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks.
I found it hard to put Wilson into this group, because he’s not your typical mobile QB in terms of rushing yardage totals, but I think that might change this season. Percy Harvin was brought in to be the #1 guy in Seattle and to compliment Sydney Rice, but the injury bug once again bit Harvin as he will be out of commission until at least November following hip surgery. This leaves Seattle in the same predicament as last season. They do not have a clear #2 option. Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate will try to fill this role, but until Harvin returns, Wilson’s options might leave him scrambling for yards. Fortunately, Wilson has a superior running game and O-line, so I don’t think he’ll be left out to dry too often.
THE YARDAGE GUYS
This group of guys is really the last group I would consider taking in the first half of your draft. This isn’t because I think the players after these groups are crap, I just don’t think the consistency is there with those guys versus this group and the players we discussed earlier. I consider the yardage guys the QBs that will consistently give you a run at 300 yards in a game, but their TD volume changes drastically week-to-week.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons offense is just sick. I think we can all agree on that. They have two #1 caliber wideouts, a future Hall-of-Fame tight end, and a formidable rushing attack. Barring injury, I would consider this one of the most potent fantasy offenses to draft from. But, the arrival of Stephen Jackson could poach a few of those precious TDs from Ryan. A lightened load for Jackson in Atlanta should put him in good position to get some goal line looks, and when he gets it inside the 5 its over. Ryan will be great once again this season, but don’t count on multi-TD games every week.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions.
The Lions throw… a lot. Stafford set an NFL record last season with 727 attempts, over 50 more than Drew Brees and the pass-happy Saints. And can you blame them? They have Calvin Johnson. Stafford’s TDs were way down last year, and a ton of fantasy guys are citing the stat that Megatron was tackled at the 1-yard line six times last season, but I think that excuse is lame. Anyone who has watched any Lions football knows that a 1-yard to goal situation doesn’t mean quit passing. It wasn’t as if Stafford didn’t have the opportunity to convert those situations, fact of the matter is, he just couldn’t capitalize. The arrival of Reggie Bush could boost those TD numbers, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys.
I’m pretty sure Tony Romo’s talent is fueled by haterade. Despite the consistent hecklers and haters, Romo continues to deliver year-after-year, all the way until it matters. Tony is a prime example of how a mediocre football player can be a fantasy stud. He has the weapons, he has the ability, but if you want consistency you should look elsewhere. Romo is a steal in some drafts, but all too often I see him go too early. Be wise with where you take him.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts.
Am I the only one that is pissed about this? How do the Colts go from having arguably the greatest QB of our generation to having the guy who might be the next “great” one? Sure, they had to endure one shitty season, and shitty it was, but then it’s back to relevance. Screw you Indianapolis! Either way, that doesn’t take away from the fact that I think Luck is worth a pick. It will take a season or two more for them to build this offense around Luck, there are still a lot of vestiges from Peyton, but it will happen. Indy still lacks a solid rusher, but improved offensive line play should help clear some gaps. It will all click sooner than later for Luck, and when it does, we will be putting him at the top of our rankings.
Alright, let’s not let the dramatic title fool you, this group of guys are competent QBs that should be weekly starts in most leagues. BUT, I wouldn’t be targeting these players to be your starter. If you are forced to start the season with one of these guys as your #1, don’t feel bad, but do realize that you could have done a little better. It’s ok… we all understand that you have low standards.
Eli Manning, New York Giants.
Three times. Three! That’s the number of times Eli surpassed the 300 yard mark last season. Sure, injuries severely hampered the WR corps last season, but Peyton’s little brother has made chicken salad out of chicken shit before. The issue isn’t the competence of Eli, or even the depth at WR, the issue is that the Giants like to run the ball. Manning will deliver in the touchdown department, but don’t rely on a ton of yards.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
If you were to ever say that the Steelers were in a rebuilding year, this might be the year to say it. Maybe Mike Wallace knew it. Of course, Big Ben has been known to be a playmaker, I just don’t think he can make this many scrubs look good around him. He’ll have some flashes, but I feel that the loss of Wallace will weigh heavy on this offense.
Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
You guys remember when Matt Schaub was good? That was cool. The lack of a healthy Andre Johnson hurt Schaub’s performance last season, but even with Johnson in the line-up Schaub looked like a glorified game manager at best. We all know that the bread and butter of this team is the run game. Sure, Schaub will rack up a ton of yards on passes to the flats, but you don’t get points for handing it off to your RB inside the 10.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
It’s really hard for many to understand how the reining Super Bowl MVP could fall so low in my fantasy opinion. One word. Consistency. In five games last season, Flacco failed to reach the 200 yard mark. Oh, and he lost two of his favorite targets over the offseason. When the mediocre get worse, I am not inclined to buy into the post Super Bowl hype. He’s a great example of how a good football player can be a bad fantasy player.
Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
Sure… Vick can run. Sure… he had that “redemption” season. But are you really gonna trust him? Be it inconsistency, turnovers, or injuries, Vick will leave you high-and-dry. He’ll have a few monster games, but not enough to warrant your faith. Besides, there is an outside chance that Vick doesn’t win the starting gig. Time to break it off. Sorry Mike… it’s not you, it’s me.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green is a freak. But who else you got? Maybe this is the year that Jermaine Gresham takes the next step. I doubt it though considering the Bengals spent a 1st round selection on another TE. The run game was better last year, and it should continue to improve this year, but Dalton struggled mightily down the stretch last season. I think that carries over to this season. He did throw for 27 TDs last year… just sayin.
In case you haven’t noticed, these break downs have gotten shorter and shorter as the list goes by. I’d like to think that it mirrors my faith in the players. With that being said, here are the guys that, if you draft them as your starter, you had better be packing some heat in you skill positions.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears.
I’m tired of waiting for that “potential” to pan out. How bout you? The Bears have a new Head Coach and a new Offensive Coordinator, and allegedly they are going to start utilizing Matt Forte more in the passing game (like they should have this whole time!), but I’m not hitching my wagon to this donkey (see what I did there?).
Phillip Rivers, San Diego.
Welp, everyone’s hurt. Guess we can just mail this one in huh guys? I didn’t like Rivers to begin with, then he has the great turnover debacle of 2012, and now he has two wideouts with bum knees and the ghost of Antonio Gates to throw to. No thanks Pip… stay classy.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams.
The Rams suck. Period. I kinda think that’s all I want to say about that.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins.
This is a very popular “sleeper” pick this year. I don’t care. I’m not a fan of trying to get a sleeper for a starting QB. IF Tannehill has a breakout year, which seems unlikely to me, I would prefer he do it as my QB #2. By all means, draft him, but have a plan B.
SNAKES IN THE GRASS
Ok, so I just said I wouldn’t draft a “sleeper” as my starting QB, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a flyer on a guy. You do, after all, need someone to cover your bye week. Here are few guys I think could work out nicely. Who knows, maybe one of them will be this year’s steal.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Bucs
He quietly had a 4000 yard season last year, seems to have developed a good rapport with Vincent Jackson, and has a dynamite young running back. He’s mostly a matchup play, but he’s got a lot of upside.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals.
Everywhere Carson Palmer goes, he has to throw a lot. Perhaps it’s because every team Palmer plays for sucks. Either way, he has a new team and a new toy to play with in Larry Fitzgerald. I know this passing attack was terrible this year, but sooner or later the talent of Palmer and Fitzgerald will come through. Let’s just hope it’s on a week you decided to start him!
Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs.
Maybe it’s the homer in me, but I have a good feeling about Smith this season. He has a new team, a new coach, and a huge chip on his shoulder. Not to mention he will be running a west coast offense that is tailored to his strengths. The issue with Smith is the lack of depth at wideout. He should utilize his tight ends well, but the focus of this attack will be the backs. He’s a boom-or-bust player if I ever saw one, but he’s certainly worth a late-round flyer.
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans.
There are a lot of ifs here, but if Chris Johnson returns to form and his WRs stay healthy, then Locker could be poised to take a big step forward this season. He looked serviceable last year with a terrible offensive line, their improvement should aid his.
So there it is, my breakdown of this year’s QB crop. If they aren’t listed, I don’t think they’re worth drafting. I really feel that the depth at the position is ridiculous this season. So be wise with your draft picks. You can put together a really good corps of RBs and WRs while the rest of your league is fighting over the “Elite” signal callers. Trust me, a competent passer will be there in 6th-8th.