In a new age of passing in the NFL, fantasy quarterbacks can be critical to the success of your squad. How you draft your signal callers can be as varied as the position is deep.
While some may struggle to avoid the elite quarterbacks in the first round or two, there is value to be had later and plenty of upside from guys who are on the verge of potential breakout. Below are the top 25 quarterbacks as I see them in redraft leagues for 2012. For my top 30 running backs, click here.
1. Aaron Rodgers, GB. Is there any debate here? He orchestrates arguably the highest octane offense in the league and does enough with his feet to keep him ahead of the others on this list. The bonus is that he doesn’t run around so much that he risks excess injury.
2. Tom Brady, NE. I have always been the one predicting the inevitable decline in Brady. Every year he responds by putting up a billion fantasy points. This year, the team has added Brandon Lloyd to an already solid stable of weapons – can you say overkill? Kind of like hunting sparrows with bazookas.
3. Matthew Stafford, DET. Now we can start debating. Stafford came into his own last year, finally avoiding the injury bug long enough to show us how stellar he truly can be. The Lions have added some new weapons of their own.
4. Drew Brees, NO. After a record-breaking season, Brees is ripe for a letdown. After an offseason scarred by Bounty-gate scandal and suspensions, Brees is ripe for a letdown. After signing a mega contract, Brees is ripe for a letdown. However, he still is the main weapon on an offense tailored to his pass-happy ways and he’ll have a longer leash to make plays with Sean Payton indisposed this season. Sure, that stuff I mentioned will have an effect, but it wasn’t like I would have ranked him ahead of Rodgers or Brady anyway. So how did I account for that inevitable letdown? I dropped him from third to fourth!
5. Michael Vick, PHI. While Vick hasn’t been able to go a full season without injury in a dog’s age (yes, he’ll forever be tied to that), he is still able to produce big numbers when healthy. The Eagles as a whole were mired in molasses for stretches last year, but Vick did show improvement as the season went on – especially for the three weeks after he returned from injury. Over the final three weeks, he totaled 902 yards passing against fairly good defenses. Extrapolate that over a full season, and he’d have more than 4,800 yards. His six passing TDs during that stretch would extrapolate out to 32 for a season. And we know what he can do on the ground. Vick is going late enough to be a value in many drafts this year, especially if you are wise enough to handcuff him to a solid QB2.
6. Cam Newton, CAR. Ranking him after Vick is partially due to my expectations for Vick more than a decline for Newton. However, I do worry some about a sophomore slump for Newton. Look closely at the game log for last year’s games and you’ll see a steady decline in his passing yardage. If you graphed the numbers, it would show a drastic decline as the season went on. Plus, there is little chance he repeats 14 TDs on the ground again this next year. I would expect his rushing numbers to slowly roll back across the board. Of course, as he matures in the NFL, and as he soaks in his first full offseason of preparation, you’d expect his accuracy and passing numbers to increase. Time will tell.
7. Matt Ryan, ATL. Don’t take him here in drafts … you’ll get him in rounds 5 or 6 if you’re lucky. Personally, though, I wouldn’t want anyone else further down this list over Ryan. He’s maturing as a passer. Julio Jones is maturing as a stud receiver. Roddy White is as rock solid a target as you could ask for. Tony Gonzalez is still there and the team plans more passes out of the backfield, too.
8. Peyton Manning, DEN. Some major risk-reward obviously here. So much change during the offseason, including a new system, home city, etc. So much we don’t know about the durability of the nerves in his neck. But this is still Peyton. He’ll have young receivers and a familiar face at tight end to whiz the pigskin to. Don’t expect him to be a top-5 QB and you’ll be content when the dust settles.
9. Eli Manning, NYG. Finally came into his own last year, Eli has more than enough weapons to keep producing solid numbers, despite some concern of week-to-week consistency.
10. Philip Rivers, SD. Something happened on Rivers’ way to becoming the next uber-elite QB option. Actually, two things happened. First, he threw a career-high 20 interceptions (nine of those passes were intended for Vincent Jackson, who is gone). Secondly, the rest of the QB field took its game to the next level. Both scenarios make Rivers a sneaky value option later in drafts as long as he reduces his interception rate, something I feel confident he will. Why? Fourteen of his 2011 picks were thrown in the first eight weeks of the regular season. He threw just six interceptions in the final eight games of the regular season – a trend that should continue into 2012.
11. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT. Back in May, I stuck my neck out by suggesting that Big Ben was a top-three quarterback. I still think he has that potential, highlighting the depth at the position and why you won’t find me drafting a QB too early in most draft situations. However, his comment about having a “little” rotator cuff tear has me somewhat concerned for a QB who does have a checkered injury past. I’m not sure how you have just a “little” cuff tear – you either have one or you don’t. The extended Mike Wallace saga has also tempered my expectations somewhat.
12. Tony Romo, DAL. Over the past five seasons, Romo has developed a pattern of following a healthy season with one where he misses time to injury. If that trend continues, this would be another injury-shortened campaign. Even without the injury, Romo just seems to exude mediocrity. With hugely talented weapons in Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten last season, Romo finished seventh in both yards and overall fantasy points among all QBs. This season, we’re already seeing some behavioral and dedication red flags for Dez Bryant and injury red flags for Miles Austin. Call me critical, but I just don’t see the upside being as exciting as the others on this list so far.
13. Matt Schaub, HOU. I see a big dropoff from Romo to Schaub and while I could survive as Romo as my starter fantasy-wise, I would be very nervous about tackling a full season with Schaub as my fantasy signal caller. The Texans have become excessively run-heavy. Andre Johnson is aging faster than Lindsey Lohan. There are no enticing WR2s to draw coverage. Schaub has a checkered injury past and is coming off Lisfranc surgery.
14. Jay Cutler, CHI. Perhaps one of the more undervalued QBs in drafts this year, Cutler’s improved receiving corps should help him bounce higher in the grand scheme of rankings. The only think holding me back is the Bears potential to run first and foremost with Matt Forte and the newly acquired Michael Bush.
15. Josh Freeman, TB. Many people on draft day will only look at last season when they make their round-by-round decisions, and Freeman had a shaky 2011 thanks to 22 interceptions after just six during his freshman campaign. I personally saw it more as a sophomore slump. Even Peyton Manning had one of those back in the day. This year, the Buccanneers added some talent at WR and a back who can catch balls out of the backfield. The new coaching regime will be more run-dominant than passing-heavy, but Freeman’s ability to scramble should help keep him involved. He has the potential to climb this list considerably if he can bounce back.
16. Robert Griffin III, WAS. As uninspired as I feel about a few of the previous QBs listed here, Griffin III excites me. Perhaps it is just the afterglow of Cam Newton’s big rookie season. Griffin has much fewer playmakers around him than Newton did a year ago, but if you figure Griffin should get bonus points with his legs, the potential is there for him to shoot up these rankings.
17. Carson Palmer, OAK. I know, the “experts” all say I should be putting guys like Flacco, Dalton and Alex Smith here, but I just don’t care. I love the upside Palmer provides this late in drafts with young receivers who can burn defenders regularly. With a full offseason under his belt in the Oakland system, Palmer will be even more ready to utilize those weapons effectively.
18. Ryan Fitzpatrick, BUF. Another undervalued QB among the “experts” that I’d love to have as my QB2, Fitzpatrick had an excessively hot start to 2011 before some cracked ribs and subsequently diminished mechanics derided his season. Fully healthy, working on those mechanics with David Lee and quarterbacking an aerial-based Chan Gailey attack, Fitz should pay immediate dividends.
19. Joe Flacco, BAL. A model of consistency, Flacco has turned in 3,600-yard seasons each of the past three years and notched between 20 and 25 TDs during those campaigns while averaging just under 12 interceptions. How far from that baseline will Flacco deviate this year? The Ravens are allegedly going to be a more pass-heavy team from early offseason reports, and young speedster Torrey Smith is practicing in different routes that suggest he may break out this year. However, I just find it hard to believe that the Ravens will commit to a pass-happy style of play when they still have one of the best running backs in the game and some questionable WR depth after Torrey and the plodding Anquan Boldin.
20. Andy Dalton, CIN. The young Dalton showed flashes of fantasy brilliance last year, and then stretches of mediocrity. It helps that he has budding superstar A.J. Green and upside tight end Jermaine Greshem to throw to. Still, Dalton doesn’t come across as the type of QB who will light up the fantasy scoreboard – especially on a consistent basis.
21. Alex Smith, SF. I used Smith a couple of weeks last year after a series of injuries to guys like Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub left me struggling. Smith was an OK stopgap, and while the Niners did add some offensive weapons this season, it is hard for me to think Smith will make a big enough leap to break him free of this tier (with Dalton and Flacco) of fantasy QB.
22. Andrew Luck, IND. It is very, very tempting to put Luck up higher than this after his big performance this past weekend. Of course, it came in the first round of preseason action against a less-than-stellar squad. Still, Luck has gobs of potential and the Colts will likely be passing a good deal to stick with a few of the higher-powered opponents on their schedule this year. At this point, you start to draft for upside, and Luck has plenty of it.
23. Jake Locker, TEN. While not officially the starter yet in Tennessee, Locker is close to being dubbed top dog for the Titans. In small samples last year, we saw some flashes from Locker in the role, offering more of a down-field, exciting style of play. Even if Kenny Britt doesn’t play a down this year, Locker has ample weapons in Kendall Wright, Jared Cook and Chris Johnson to do some serious damage.
24. Matt Cassel, KC. Another guy who doesn’t thrill me but could get the job done as a QB2 is Cassel, who was putting together a nice season last year before injuries derailed the momentum. The biggest bonus for Cassel is his receiving corps, with Dwayne Bowe leading the way and the young Jonathan Baldwin taking steps in the right direction. Bowe’s contract situation is a little worrisome, but it should get worked out in time for things to count.
25. Sam Bradford, STL. After much fanfare, Bradford has yet to turn in a season that really turns our collective fantasy heads. Some blame the lack of a truly dominant receiver. Some blame the changing offensive schemes since Bradford has entered the league. I’d imagine it is some of both.
Who are your top quarterbacks? Want to debate my order? I’ve love to hear your comments in the section below.