Quarterback: the fantasy position of the new millennium, or the change you receive from a buck when you purchase a Snickers bar at your local Wal-Mart? With peanuts in every bite the Snickers bar theory is intriguing, but let’s assume the former rather than the latter.
The NFL has become a pass-happy league, no doubt about it. Defenses have found themselves shackled and handicapped by the league offices and owners through rule changes and increasingly heavy fines for hard hits on the aforementioned QBs and their respective receivers alike. No matter how we may feel about it–I remember coming unglued the first time I saw a DB get flagged 15 yards for a good clean hit on a “defenseless receiver” coming across the middle–the rules are in place, for better or for worse.
Just as the changing of the rules precipitates the way defenses must play on the field, those same changes also force us (at least those of us who wish to stay competitive) to rethink our fantasy strategies to keep pace. The NFL has moved on. Where I used to think drafting running backs with the first two picks was the best way to go, I think the time has come for me to move on. For the record, I remember losing in championship games two straight years with that strategy to owners who had chosen Peyton Manning with their first pick.
So assuming that QB is “The Elite” position in fantasy football, the time inevitably comes when one must decide who the best option is at the position. Just looking at the elite won’t do either, there are only a handful of elite QBs, and they will be gone early in the first round with a few notable exceptions IE; Megatron and Arian Foster, however, the top is the place to start. For the purpose of this article, I will limit the elite status to just 5 names: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Stafford. Although your picks and order may vary slightly, I feel a tremendous degree of confidence that at least four of these names are on it, the numbers simply will not allow for anything else. I won’t bother you with the stats just yet, that will come later as we examine the top players individually. Even for those of us in keeper leagues, very little changes here; both Brady and Brees are getting older, but both are still on top of their games and neither plays running back, so I expect they have a few good years left. All of them have stud receivers and other reliable options. These men are the current quarterback royalty of the league, but unless you draw a good number in the draft, let’s say in the top seven picks, they’ll probably be off the board before the draft gets around to your neighborhood.
This takes us to the second tier of QBs, a list that is longer and much more subjective than the first. This list would include former elite list members Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and Phillip Rivers among others–like I said, subjective. Who else do we throw on this list? Giant fans will scream for Eli to be on it, and hundreds of pro football analysts would consider Michael Vick toward the top of this list. I’m sure that we could find some Matt Ryan supporters, Joe Flacco believers and throngs of Big Ben fans who believe their guy is at home among this group. I’ll bet we could even find at least four people who think Jay Cutler belongs in this group (Brandon Marshall, Jay’s parents and Jay himself), and if the dynamic duo’s reunion in Chitown produces another hundred connections, that number is likely to grow. There are more I could list, if I missed your guy, I’m sorry, I’m winging it here.
It used to be you could get these guys (I mean the second tier group) in the 4th, 5th and sometimes even the 6th and 7th rounds, but now you cannot count on that. I noticed in my last couple of drafts that the tendency for guys to draft a second QB high was beginning to creep in. With the league moving toward a “pass don’t run” philosophy, I see no reason why this trend will not continue.
What does it all mean? I don’t know. What I do know is that there is no way that I want Sam Bradford or Matt Moore for my number one. Can you imagine going into the season with Blaine Gabbert or Jake Locker as your best option? I’m not saying that any one of these guys can’t have a breakout year and perform at a top tier level, I’m just saying that I wouldn’t want to be in a position where I had to depend on them to post respectable fantasy numbers to give me a chance to win. You may feel differently, and that’s okay, sports’ prognosticating is subjective, and everyone can have their druthers.
With that said, here is my analysis of my top five quarterbacks:
5. Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions
Stafford’s 2011 numbers were staggering with over 5,000 yards and 41 TDs. He played in all 16 games and threw only 16 picks in 663 passing attempts. Those numbers are some of the best in the history of football (The stuff we see in MADDEN, really). He’s young, 24 and tough (remember the one shouldered two point conversion in the shootout against Cleveland his rookie year?), and he has a receiver known as Megatron who seemingly cannot be covered by anyone not named Clark Kent. The only thing that gives me a little trepidation with this kid is the injuries that hit him his first two seasons; the aforementioned shoulder injury of his rookie campaign and the fact that he played in only 3 games in 2010. Still, like I said, he is tough and played in every game last year. With the positives he has going for him, he mustn’t be overlooked.
4. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton spent the entire 2011 campaign spiking the ball in the face of his naysayers (present company included) as well as in the end zones of opposing defenses. I wasn’t a believer, but I have now seen the light. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 21 TDs, ran for another 700 and 14 more scores. He seems to have put the pep back in Steve Smith’s step, and unless you subscribe to the notion of the sophomore jinx, should be able to put up even more impressive numbers this season. Throughout his career, in junior college, the NCAA and now in the NFL, he has managed to play at a level that makes his Superman act seem appropriate. He simply plays football like a man on a mission. He has no history of injuries and he just turned 23. His upside is unlimited and I can see no downside to drafting him, especially for keeper league owners. He did throw 17 picks in 517 attempts, but remember he was a stone cold rookie. Phillip Rivers threw 20 last season and Eli Manning 25 the season before. Don’t sleep on Cam this season; he can’t be stopped without a chunk of Kryptonite.
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
With 5,476 yards last season, Mr. Brees finds himself alone at the top of the record books. He has thrown for 4,000 plus yards for 6 consecutive seasons and for at least 30 touchdowns in 4 straight. His career QB rating of 94.0 is tarnished only because of two very lean years at the start of his career while with San Diego. This guy is quite simply the epitome of the quarterback elite. Doubters might bring up the distraction of “Bountygate” or his recent contract negotiations. They may cite that without Sean Payton for the entire season or interim head coach Joe Vitt for the first six weeks that Brees will struggle, but I’m not buying it. I expect Brees to excel as a player/coach this season. Maybe that is not his official title, but he will perform in that capacity, and I don’t see Drew as a “ground and pound” kind of guy, do you? With Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston in his posse, Drew is probably as sure a bet as one could place in fantasy football this season.
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
What can I say about Tom Terrific that you don’t already know? He won the three rings early with respectable but definitely not elite numbers. For the majority of his career, Tom has been a good, but not great, fantasy QB. Tom is 35 now, but the last 2 years he has played off the charts. 9,135 yards and 75 TDs, with only 16 picks in over 1,100 attempts. And he doesn’t fumble either, losing only 3 fumbles in the last 2 seasons. He is an example of efficiency at the position, now owning three (count ‘em 3) of the greatest statistical seasons in league history. And what made the difference in 2007 (when he erupted to the tune of 50 TDs) and the last two seasons? It was the play of his receivers. Randy Moss and Wes Welker stepped up in 2007, and although Randy has moved on, Wes has become the best slot option in history and Gronk, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Floyd now compliment the best group of targets Brady has ever had. I’m excited to see what he does this year. It’s going to be good.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
For the last 3 seasons, Aaron Rodgers has finished 1st, 2nd and 1st in fantasy scoring. That alone qualifies him as a number one pick. In his career (he has started for just four seasons, remember Brett Favre?), he has thrown for 132 touchdowns and only 38 interceptions. He has the highest QB rating, 104.1, in the history of the game. Last season he threw 46 touchdowns and only 6 picks to go along with his 4,600 plus yards in route to setting the single season QB rating record at a mind boggling 122.5. The scary thing is he did all that in only 15 games and with only 502 passing attempts. He ran the Packers offense so efficiently that there was no need to throw the ball an additional hundred times like many of his counterparts. His receiving corps does nothing but catch TDs. In this group Jordy Nelson had 15, Greg Jennings, 9, Jermichael Finley, 8, James Jones, 7 and Donald Driver, 6. They are as good as any fleet in the league. You can add to this compliment the speedy Randall Cobb and it is easy to see why the Packers are able to almost completely ignore the running game. My fantasy advice on Aaron Rodgers is simple, don’t expect to get a “discount double check” on him, if he is available take him, he is simply the best.
About the Author
Written by Steve Massey
Steve Massey is the author of Grid Iron Audible at @prosportsblogging.com, a weekly column covering all things NFL related. He is originally from California, but now resides in Northern Arkansas with his beautiful wife and best friend, Debbie. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveMassey9