TIER ONE: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees
I understand why everyone projects Aaron Rodgers above Tom Brady, but would it really be shocking if Brady finishes the season as the top ranked signal caller? Personally, I am leaning that way. Last year was just too perfect for Rodgers, everything went right. If he was a baseball pitcher, we would be saying he was a prime candidate for regression. His percentage of touchdowns per pass was off the charts. He threw only six picks all season. His completion percentage was a career high. Basically, if Rodgers has exactly as many attempts as 2011, his numbers will not be as stellar, at least if you believe in the power of regression (which I do). Brady, on the other hand, sported component metrics right in line with his career usual marks, he just threw the ball a ton more. So his rate of performance is not likely to change, the question is whether the Patriots will air it out as much as last year. Simply put, why wouldn’t they? Their primary addition is Brandon Lloyd, who is quite familiar with Josh McDaniel’s playbook. Stevan Ridley is a nice replacement for Benjarvus Green-Ellis, but he is not going to fill the role Antoine Smith and Corey Dillon did during the Pats’ Super Bowl run, meaning Brady is going to continue to chuck the pigskin. Plus, don’t you think that after last season, New England may be playing with a similar edge they did in 2007? I foresee a take no prisoners campaign in an attempt to put an exclamation point on a heckuva run, putting to bed the calls of “but they haven’t won the Super Bowl since 2004”. Brees’ 2011 season was a lot like Rodgers in that his skills were better than his career level, so he too could regress. Please note when Rodgers and Brees regress, I am not saying they will be a bust, they are still going to be one of the Big-Three, just maybe not Number One is all. They are still in a class by themselves. It is just going to be hard for Brees to repeat his career best completion percentage, touchdown percentage and yards per game. If your strategy is to take a QB early, you’ll be fine with any of the troika. My personal ranking (which is the order I would take them if all available) is Brady, Brees, Rodgers.
TIER TWO: Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning
I’ve always wondered about something with respect to fantasy football rankings and that is how quarterbacks with two top receivers rank. This stemmed from the admittedly anecdotal observation that I have felt that if a team had two top-twenty fantasy receivers, their quarterback should be ranked high, but this has not always been the case. I realize two receivers are only part of the corps that catches passes, but this still has always bothered me. So it took my writing a quarterback review to finally investigate this and here is what I found. Using standard scoring, 15 times over the past five seasons a team has had two receivers end the season in the top-twenty. In all 15 instances the QB finished in the top-ten, averaging 6.5. However, nine of these times the rank has been seven or above. From that basis, probability is against the fact I am putting Ryan and Eli in my top-six but I’m doing it anyway. Truth be told, I believe Stafford is a notch above the other two, but I didn’t want to put him alone in a tier. Despite making it through the 2011 campaign unscathed, the concern with Stafford remains health, though the lack of an established #2 to support Megatron is also worrisome. Should anything happen to Calvin Johnson, Stafford’s potential is seriously damaged. If I had him as a keeper, I’d be happy, but I would look to back him up with an upside play like Sam Bradford, Andrew Luck, Jake Locker or Christian Ponder. Eli is firmly established as a top-eight QB but makes my top-six as I give points for reliability. His concern is the health of Hakeem Nicks and the fact that loose balls seemed to find Victor Cruz last season. It seemed like every other week Cruz caught a deflected pass and took it to the house. As such, I am leery about Cruz but this is a QB review. As for Matty-Ice, my site partner-in-crime Lawr will be pleased to know I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE him this season. Ryan, that is, though my feelings for Lawr are pretty strong as well, but in a manly sort of way. I just think this is the season Ryan hones his accuracy, which is really all that separates him from the elite. If Ryan is available for me in round five of redraft leagues, I am taking him every time. And, depending on who is still on the board in terms of running backs and receivers, I may jump in the fourth. My ranking here is Ryan, Stafford and the younger Manning.
TIER THREE: Cam Newton, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, Michael Vick
Yes, I meant to put Newton here and not higher. Too much of his potential lies in rushing touchdowns, and I just don’t see him scoring another 14 in that manner. And while he is more than just a running quarterback, Newton’s 21:17 TD to interception ratio is quite pedestrian, even given that he was a rookie. Take away the running, and we’re talking about a QB2. Of course, you can’t take away all the running, only some of it so Newton is still a starting QB1, just not elite, to me anyway. Like Stafford, if I had him in a keeper, I would not complain at all, but I would look to back him up. Vick’s wart is health, which is why I won’t be taking him, regardless of how far he falls. Rivers has always been a bit of a conundrum for me. This could be one of the goofier analogies you’ll ever read, but he’s the Hunter Pence of football. Both of them look like actors trying to portray an athlete, but at the end of the day, they both get the job done at a high level. I have seen Rivers play in person a couple of times and every time he throws the ball, it looks like the defense has a chance to pick it. There’s little zip on the ball and there is usually a little wobble to its flight. But more often than not, it hits the receiver right between the numbers so I have to give him credit. I just don’t have to draft him on my fantasy team because I’d prefer Romo. If Miles Austin and Dez Bryant were as healthy and reliable as some of the wide receiver duos possessed by the quarterbacks ranked in the first two tiers, Romo would be borderline, if not a tier one guy. If only one were healthy now, he’d be a tier two option. But alas, both are nicked so Romo is downgraded. That said, if he is discounted, I will take him for the upside and pair him with another solid option.
TIER FOUR: Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Freeman, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning
In my Draft Strategy essay, I described how I fancy utilizing a quarterback by committee approach; as such this is what I call the “Committee Tier”. Worst case scenario, I want two from this group and I’ll play matchups to build a hybrid QB that ends up with production commensurate with a QB1. Ideally, I’ll pair one from this group with Ryan or Romo but if I don’t, I’ll be fine with two from here though I would likely avoid pairing Schaub and Peyton since they are both health concerns. Promise me Schaub and Andre Johnson are both on the gridiron for 16 games and Schaub is a tier three guy. His metrics are right there with the top QB’s, he just misses too many games. While I respect the heck out of Peyton and love his commercials, I need to see how he melds with a new team, since so much of his success was timing and being on the same page as his wide outs. Not to mention, he is still an injury concern. Fitzpatrick is the wild card from this group as he has shown glimpses of greatness, though his inconsistency makes it impossible to predict when he’ll got for 350 yards and 4 TD’s and when he’ll throw for fewer than 200 with 3 picks. Cutler is getting some serious love and with Brandon Marshall in tow, deservedly so. Assuming no one else jumps Cutler up their board too much, I can easily see the Bear’s signal caller as part of my QB Committee. I have a feeling Cutler’s completion percentage is going to see a sharp increase this season in an offense more tailored to his strengths with Marshall opening things up, especially for Matt Forte out of the backfield. Freeman is the sexy choice at the position mainly since the Bucs will line up Vincent Jackson across from Mike Williams, but I need to see some success before I count on it. That said, Freeman is the perfect second QB in my committee assuming I have an established option already secured. Big Ben has quietly been one of the more reliable fantasy options in recent season, albeit at a slightly lower level than the top guys. Some are citing the Steeler’s injury woes at running back to suggest this is the season Roethlisberger finishes with the elite, but it’s still Pittsburgh and even know they throw the rock more than Steeler squads of yesteryear, it’s still Pittsburgh and they’ll continue to at least try to establish the run. My picking order for this tier is Cutler, Fitzpatrick, Roethlisberger, Freeman, Schaub and Manning.
TIER FIVE: Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin III, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer, Alex Smith
Someone from this tier is going to emerge and be a QB1, but damned if I know who. RGIII will be the popular choice, but a lot of that is based on running and has been discussed, rushing touchdowns from a QB are a crapshoot. A couple of years ago, I had Sam Bradford and Stafford as equals so it would not shock me if it were Bradford that takes the step and emerges as a solid option, especially if Brian Quick can develop quickly as it appears Danario Alexander is not going to be the field-stretching complement to the sure handed Danny Amendola. Flacco is a poor man’s Roethlisberger without the playoff success and could emerge with Torrey Smith as his primary weapon. Alex Smith earned some points with last season’s playoff run, but I don’t see the 49ers airing it out enough to make him anything more than a bye-week option. Dalton is interesting since A.J. Green has the makings of a stud receiver, but I need to see more support before considering Dalton anything more than a break-out candidate. Palmer is the tier’s wild card. Like Fitzpatrick, he is going to put up some weeks with 400 yards and 4 TD’s but others where he stinks the joint out. He’s a great guy in a format where your roster is determined after the week ends based on that week’s numbers, but he isn’t someone I would want to have to decide to start. My drafting order from this lot is Flacco, Dalton, Bradford, Griffin, Palmer and Smith
TIER SIX: Mark Sanchez, Matt Flynn, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Matt Cassell, Ryan Tannehill and everyone else
I’m going to be honest, I don’t have a whole lot of pithy things to say about this group other than I’d much prefer to throw my dart at Cassell, Flynn, Locker or Ponder than anyone else remaining as I see them with the most upside. If you want some more detailed analysis on this group, I suggest checking out the coverage by our friends over at KFFL.com. They are as good as it gets, and it’s all free.