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In my recent article that examined the most effective draft strategy for your QBs, I discussed the seismic shift in philosophy regarding how quickly you should target a signal caller in your upcoming fantasy drafts. It provided an approach that was decidedly different from one year ago, when this column consistently recommended that you draft Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Drew Brees in the latter half of Round 1. That advice included an enormous amount of statistical evidence to support that premise.
But last season’s reemergence of Peyton Manning, combinedwith the arrival of RG3, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck, and the enticing options that previously existed to supply fantasy owners with a larger selection of highly productive QBs than ever. Which altered this season’s strategy toward ensuring that you have fortified the RBs and WR positions on your roster before selecting your QB.
It has been well chronicled that an increasing number of signal callers are throwing with greater regularity, and connecting with their targets for expanding yardage totals, and more TDs. The numbers in every major category continue to demonstrate just how significantly passing in general has increased in recent seasons, resulting in an all-out assault on the record books.
From 2000 through 2006, no more than nine QBs attempted 500 passes in any one season, and in 2005 and 2006, just three attained that number. But last season a grand total of 18 signal callers launched 500 throws, with six QBs attempting at least 600. That has created a lengthy list of QBs who will have opportunities to accumulate favorable passing stats, while delivering highly coveted fantasy points in the process. Plus, rushing numbers will once again be a factor when making your choices, as Griffin, Wilson, Kaepernick and Cam Newton all ran for over 400 yards last season, while Griffin, Newton, Kaepernick and Luck all scored at least five times on the ground. When you mix in this expanding collection of QBs who can adeptly gain yardage on the ground, you are now presented with a plethora of options at the position. Making it plausible to refrain from drafting your QB with the degree of haste that has existed in years past.
We will examine the QBs that comprise the top 15 rankings, including an in-depth analysis for each. As you would expect, this list will be updated as needed while you prepare for your upcoming drafts. And make sure that you read our updated RB rankings from my colleague Greg Brosh, along with the newest WR rankings from Ray Tannock, before making your first draft selections.
Nothing has really changed regarding Rodgers’ status in recent weeks, as there are still countless reasons to feel confident in making him the first QB selected on draft day. He has now generated over 3,900 yards for five consecutive seasons, and has averaged 34 touchdowns TDs with just nine INTs during that span. Rodgers has also amassed 18 rushing TDs, which enhances his value even further. Plus, he managed to attain these numbers without the benefit of an effective rushing attack. That should change as rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin force opponents to respect the ground game. Which will make the Packers’ offense even more dangerous, without depleting Rodgers’ numbers. Because he will still be asked to spearhead an unwavering aerial assault, and he will locate his collection of capable targets with great efficiency once again. If you are determined to secure the top QB for your roster, that will require you to temporarily eschew other positions on your roster, in favor of investing a second round pick on Rodgers. But there is no question whatsoever concerning his ability to produce for you.
2. Drew Brees
Brees also remains solidly in his slot, after leading the NFL with 43 TDs and 5,177 yards last season. He has now surpassed 4,300 yards in each of the past seven years, while averaging 38 scoring passes during the last five. The lone concern from here is that those averages will be tough to replicate, due to the massive push by his NFC South rivals to fortify their defenses. Particularly in Tampa Bay, where the additions of Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldston should prohibit Brees from duplicating the eight TDs and 684 yards that he generated against the Buccaneers last season. Still, he will locate Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Darren Sproles with enough regularity to amass very favorable yardage and TD totals. As a result, his situation is similar to Rodgers on draft day. Because you will need to select him before the end of Round 2 in order to have him on your roster.
3. Cam Newton
While his distinctive ability to accrue yardage and fantasy points with his arm and legs has never been a source of debate, his statistical domination of opponents during the latter portion of 2012 was eye-opening. There are conflicting viewpoints regarding how extensively new OC Mike Shula will utilize the zone read in comparison to predecessor Rob Chudzinski. But Shula is undoubtedly aware that Newton’s number’s vastly improved once Carolina became less reliant upon it last season. 13 of his 19 TD passes took place during that stretch, and his QB rating rose by 16 points as a result of the alteration in strategy. Newton also exploded for 12 TDs, and 1,309 total yards from Weeks 12-15, which served as a reminder that his prolific rookie season was far from an aberration. His numbers through the air might not quite match the league’s most proficient passers, but the enticement toward drafting him remains his effectiveness as a duel threat. He has bolted for over 700 yards and 22 TDs during his brief career, and remains fully capable of stockpiling fantasy points on the ground once again. It would have been helpful if Carolina had secured a stronger arsenal of receivers beyond Steve Smith. But that won’t prohibit Newton from becoming an increasingly dominant force in his third season.
He regained his spot among the elite in 2012 by delivering the 12th 4,000-yard season of his career, while finishing third among all QBs with 37 TDs. He also produced at least three scoring passes in nine different contests, yet limited his INT total to 11. His capabilities as a leader and game tactician remain extremely sharp, and he remains one of the games most effective play callers. Plus, he will now have the luxury of possessing Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker among his many options. That will create nightmarish matchup issues for nearly all opposing defenses, and help Manning accumulate a mammoth number of fantasy points. Even though he will be taking snaps at age 37, you can safely wait at least one more season before entertaining any significant concern regarding a potential drop-off in production. But if you covet his services for your fantasy team, you should plan on expending an early selection. As he will disappear from your draft boards before the end of Round 3.
5. Tom Brady
Brady is suddenly facing the very real possibility of entering the 2013 regular season without his five most productive targets from last year. The arrest and subsequent release of Aaron Hernandez was just the latest development to hasten this possibility. And if Rob Gronkowski’s offseason surgeries sideline him for New England’s season opener, then it will come to pass. Despite what you might read or hear elsewhere, the Patriots’ current collection of WRs and TEs cannot magically step onto the field and begin stockpiling receptions and TDs in the same manner as the weapons that they are being asked to replace. And that has necessitated a slight drop in the rankings for Brady, who will be 36 when the season begins. He will remain one of the league's most prolific signal callers. But at a position that possesses sizable depth, he certainly will not have the same arsenal of dynamic weapons that some of his counterparts can now rely upon. Brady’s success will be largely dependent upon Danny Amendola’s ability to avoid injury. And the same principle applies with Gronkowski. If that tandem remains in the lineup, and Shane Vereen can seamlessly assume the role that Danny Woodhead executed so effectively, Brady chances to accrue desirable numbers will improve sizably. He remains a top five signal caller, who will not last beyond Round 4 in your drafts.
6. Matt Ryan
I strongly considered lifting Ryan into the fifth slot, and the difference between Brady and the Atlanta signal caller is razor thin. Ryan prospered in OC Dirk Koetter’s high octane attack last season, and generated the best numbers of his five-year career. He established a new career high with 32 TD passes, which was the fifth most among all QBs. He also achieved a new career best with 4,719 yards, which was also the NFL’s fifth highest total. He has now generated at least 4,000 yards and 29 TD passes in two consecutive seasons, and has an excellent opportunity to replicate those results once again. As he will again have the luxury of utilizing the dynamic Julio Jones, the always proficient Roddy White, and the perpetually reliable Tony Gonzalez. Plus, the presence of Steven Jackson should compel opposing defenses to regard the rushing threat more seriously, and expand Ryan’s passing lanes. Fantasy owners will be making a wise investment, by snatching him in Round 4.
7. Colin Kaepernick
Once Kaepernick ascended into the starting role last November, he elevated the entire San Francisco offense to new levels of explosiveness and success. All 10 of his regular season TD passes occurred from Weeks 11-17, and only three of his 192 attempts during that span were intercepted. He was far more adept at connecting on deep throws than predecessor Alex Smith, and his outstanding mobility enabled him to bolt for 415 yards on 63 attempts (6.6 YPC), while scoring five additional TDs. But despite the overwhelming evidence of Kaepernick's playmaking ability, there was unnecessary concern regarding his value after Michael Crabtree’s torn Achilles. It was Kaepernick who was responsible for Crabtree’s success, as the fourth-year WR’s numbers soared once Kaepernick began launching accurate, deep throws. Kaepernick is fully capable of remaining highly productive this season by utilizing his remaining weapons. Not only should he benefit from the presence of dependable veteran Anquan Boldin, but Vernon Davis appears primed to experience the perfect convergence of supreme talent and opportunity, toward delivering the best numbers of his career.Kaepernick will also supplement his passing success with favorable rushing numbers, providing owners with excellent value as a fourth round selection.
8. Robert Griffin III
He now appears within the top 10 for the first time, although his ranking remains entirely contingent upon his ongoing recovery from ACL and LCL surgery in January. Which of course results in great uncertainty concerning his availability, and how effective he will be initially when he does return. We have already observed the exceptional output that RG3 can achieve when he is healthy, as he amassed 3,200 yards and 20 TDs in 15 contests during 2012. He also limited his INT total to five, and finished with the NFL’s fourth best completion percentage (65.6). Plus, RG3 led all QBs with 815 rushing yards, and finished second at the position with seven TDs on the ground. While it is still premature to conclude how proficient he might be when the season commences, there is increasing evidence that it is safe to include him in your draft day rankings. He would currently require a sixth round pick if you wish secure him, and his ADP will continue to evolve. Just make sure to also select a viable alternative in case he is unable to take the field on September 9. And continue to monitor his status closely.
9. Russell Wilson
To say that Wilson started slowly as a rookie is putting it mildly. Not only did he manage just five TDs and six INTs in his first five contests, but he averaged only 16 YPG on the ground through Week 8. But from that point forward, the Seahawk offense evolved from a conservative game plan, toward one that allowed Wilson more latitude to be a playmaker. That in turn unveiled his true capacity as a duel threat passer and rusher, enabling him to generate 18 TD passes in his final nine contests, while bolting for 45 YPG in his last eight. His subsequent performance in the postseason further solidified his legitimacy as a QB1. Not only will he continue to find success through targeting Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, but Wilson’s statistical ceiling should be elevated even further with the addition of Percy Harvin. Wilson’s proficiency as a pocket passer should enable him to locate the dynamic Harvin, and allow his new teammate to generate big plays. I believe that Wilson is currently being undervalued in fantasy drafts, as he is currently being selected in the seventh round. He will remain an outstanding option for those are willing to exercise patience when selecting their QBs, even if his ADP improves over the summer.
10. Matthew Stafford
Just 12 month ago, Stafford was the fourth QB selected in fantasy drafts, with an ADP of 16. Now, he barely maintains a slot within the top 10. Plus, his current ADP of 65 is clearly a sizable plunge from one year ago, when fantasy owners snatched him in the second round. That is understandable, since his TD total declined precipitously from 41 to a mere 20, as 18 other signal callers produced more scoring passes. His 17 INTs were also alarming, as it represented the NFL’s fifth highest total. However, there is still reason for encouragement. First, Stafford launched 727 passes, which was the NFL’s highest total. That enabled him to generate nearly 5,000 yards (4,967), and finish second to Brees in that category. And he also possesses the league’s most prodigious target in Calvin Johnson, to which 205 of those passes were intended in 2012. That helped the tandem connect on 122 throws, and amass a remarkable 1,964 yards. Stafford will be attempting to locate Meagtron early and often once again. Plus, the addition of Reggie Bush supplies Stafford with another dynamic weapon, who should manufacture sizable yardage after garnering his receptions. While Stafford’s other receiving options remain underwhelming, he will produce another massive yardage total, and function as a satisfactory QB1
11. Andrew Luck
As I mentioned in my recent AFC Prediction article, the Colts were extremely reliant upon Luck to throw the ball during his rookie season. As a result, he ultimately launched 627 passes, which was the NFL’s fifth highest total, and established a record for rookie QBs. It also helped Luck finish seventh among all signal callers with 4,374 yards, and broke the passing mark for rookies that had been set just one year earlier by Cam Newton. Those accomplishments become even more impressive, considering that he did not have the benefit of an effective rushing attack, as the Colts ranked just 22nd, and were led by Vick Ballard’s 814 yards. But the addition of Ahmad Bradshaw supplies Indianapolis with a significant upgrade at RB. Providing that the two-time 1,000-yard rusher can avoid being sidelined by the chronic foot issues that have plagued him. Meticulous efforts were made to upgrade an offensive line that allowed 41 sacks last season. Plus, Luck will reunite with OC Pep Hamilton, who held that same position at Stanford during Luck’s tenure at the school. There are numerous reasons to be confident in drafting Luck, who should deliver QB1 numbers to those who exercise patience when selecting their QBs.
12. Tony Romo
He will soon begin his 11th season as a Cowboy, has thrown for 25,737 yards, amassed 177 TDs, and has attended multiple Pro Bowls. Unfortunately, his statistics have been offset by an indelible series of unfathomable errors during crucial moments. His performance throughout 2012 provides a perfect illustration, as he generated the NFL’s third highest yardage total (4,903), and finished sixth with 28 TD passes. Yet, he also led the lead with 19 INTs, and the specific highs and lows that were contained within were indicative of the unpredictability that his owners often endure. However, Romo has generated over 4,000 yards in four of the past six seasons, while producing at least 26 TD passes in five of his last six. His top target will be Dez Bryant, whose could easily become the NFL’s second most prolific wideout behind Megatron. Blend in Jason Witten and Miles Austin, and you have the ingredients for another highly effective season by Romo. His numbers will be sufficient to be a low end QB1. But it won't make him a top 10 producer of fantasy points at his position. And you should be prepared to accept positive and negative results throughout the regular season.
13. Eli Manning
Only five QBs were selected before Manning in the majority of leagues prior to the 2012 regular season, and Manning initially rewarded them with 10 TDs in his first five games. But his owners suffered through unpredictable performances throughout the remainder of the year. Including a dreadful five game stretch with just two scoring throws. His overall numbers failed to match his production from the 2011, as he tied for ninth among all QBs with 26 TD passes, which finishing just 12th in yardage with 3,948. The arrival of young, multi-threat signal callers, the reemergence of his own brother, and his memory of his wildly erractic 2012 combine to push Eli outside the top 10 at his position on draft day.
14. Joe Flacco
It is exceptionally difficult to ignore what we witnessed from Flacco during the playoffs, as he was truly outstanding. Not only did he accumulate 1,140 yards and 11 TDs, but he also avoided tossing an INT with his 126 postseason throws. Yet, it is also important to remember what occurred during the regular season. While he did generate a career high 3,817 yards, that was just the NFL’s 12th highest total. And his 22 TDs only tied him for 15th with Matt Schaub and Carson Palmer. He has proven that he can perform in the most important contests, and he is worthy of accolades for being the Super Bowl MVP. And he possesses a better chance to succeed with Jim Caldwell settled into the task of calling play. But it is difficult to rank him above any QB who you’ve previously read about in this column.
15. Jay Cutler
While I am not advocating the selection of a QB in the initial two rounds this season, I also am not among those who believe that you should wait until the late rounds. But if your preference is to delay a choice of QB until Round 12 or so, then Cutler provides you with the most desirable upside among options who should be available at that point. You can certainly be assured that he will rely heavily upon Brandon Marshall, as they have already combined for 4,098 yards and 24 TDs in their collective careers. Marshall also collected the NFL’s second highest number of targets (194) last season, and should garner a similar number in 2013. Not only will Cutler amass respectable numbers by employing Marshall, but he should benefit from helpful innovations in Marc Trestman’s offense. If you have missed out on the other signal callers that were previously mentioned, then you can do far worse than Cutler during your draft process.