Fantasy Football Rankings 2012: Breaking Down Tom Brady and the Top 20 QBs
As was aptly demonstrated last year, the National Football League is more driven by quarterbacks than ever before, with more passers eclipsing the 5,000-yard mark in 2011 than had done so in every other season of the NFL's existence put together.
That increased production from the quarterback position has trickled down to fantasy football as well, and with the 2012 preseason off and running, here's a look at the top 20 quarterbacks in fantasy football for the upcoming year.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots: The 13th-year pro topped 5,200 passing yards in 2011, and with an improved wide receiver corps and two of the NFL's most dangerous tight ends it wouldn't be surprising to see Brady make a run at Drew Brees' passing yardage record this season.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: Rodgers threw 45 touchdown passes last year against only six interceptions, posted a quarterback rating of over 120 and directs one of the NFL's most potent offenses.
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees was the runner-up among fantasy quarterbacks last year on the heels of an NFL-record 5.476 passing yards, but the uncertainty in New Orleans this year is just enough to drop Brees behind Brady and Rodgers.
4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Stafford finally showed what he was capable of when healthy in his third NFL season, going over 5,000 passing yards and throwing 41 touchdown passes while leading the Lions to the playoffs.
5. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: No player was a bigger surprise last year in fantasy football than rookie quarterback Cam Newton, who passed for over 4,000 yards and set an NFL-record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 14.
The 23-year-old will be hard pressed to match those gaudy rushing numbers with fullback Mike Tolbert now in Carolina, but as Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com recently observed Newton's skills in the passing game appear to be improving.
Big-armed quarterbacks often have trouble varying ball speed. Newton has made major progress from his rookie season in this area. During practice, he eased off the gas on underneath throws and his accuracy improved as a result. When he did need to fit the ball into a tight window down the field, he was able to crank up the velocity, but he's beginning to understand that the fastball isn't always required.
6. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles: Vick is something of a risky fantasy bet given his propensity for missing time, but as he showed in 2010, Vick is also capable of easily posting top-five fantasy numbers if he can cut down on the turnovers.
7. Eli Manning, New York Giants: The younger Manning narrowly missed joining the "5K" club himself last year with 4,933 passing yards, and the 31-year-old may actually be something of a value play given his cost in fantasy drafts relative to the players ranked ahead of him.
8. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys: Romo has been a top-seven fantasy quarterback in two of the past three seasons, and if he can stay healthy there's an excellent shot he'll make it three years out of four in 2012 given the offensive weaponry at his disposal.
9. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: 2011 was an up and down season for Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers, but even with tossing a career-high 20 interceptions, Rivers still finished as a top 10 fantasy option at his position.
10. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: There may well have been no more talked about player in either the NFL or fantasy football this offseason than Peyton Manning, whose neck injury and lost 2011 season led to his departure from the Indianapolis Colts.
If Manning's neck truly has healed he could be a steal in this spot given that he hadn't finished lower than sixth among quarterbacks in fantasy points prior to last season. For his part, Manning says he's ready to go, and he recently told the Associated Press via The Washington Post that he's eager to get the exhibition season underway.
“We’d like to get a drive or two going,” Manning said. “I’ve always said you love to get a bit of everything in the preseason if you can. You love to get some short-yardage work, some third-down conversions, you’d love to get some red zone, goal line. In all four games, if you can get all the situations that we work on out here, that would be ideal."
11. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears: Injury cost Cutler six games in 2011, but a reunion with wide receiver Brandon Marshall in the Windy City could be enough to vault Cutler back into the top 10 for the first time since 2008.
12. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: The ninth-year pro missed one game and was limited in several others last year, but with questions surrounding the Pittsburgh running game, "Big Ben" may be forced to air it out more behind an improved offensive line.
13. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Ryan has cracked the top 15 in three of four NFL seasons and the top 10 each of the past two years, and while he may not have the highest ceiling, Ryan doesn't have a low floor either.
14. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans: Matt Schaub was a top 10 fantasy option at his position two of the past three years, and while durability and Houston's run-first offense are concerns, the 31-year-old is a serviceable low-end starter or "platoon" option.
15. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (R): The top rookie option at his position this season, the Washington Redskins traded up in April's NFL draft to make Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin their franchise quarterback of the future.
Sure, there will undoubtedly be growing pains as Griffin acclimates to the National Football League, but his mobility only adds to his fantasy value, and as offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan recently told CBS Sports, the Redskins are working on improving Griffin's passing skills.
“He's learning each day to where I'm real excited about it and happy with him because he works at it,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “It's just a matter of time. Some days are better than others and that's how it is for everybody, especially rookies. He just needs more opportunities and it's a matter of time with him.”
16. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: Dalton's 3,400 passing yards and 20 passing scores in his rookie year were far from eye-popping, but the youngster is a smart signal-caller who has already developed a fantastic rapport with fellow newcomer A.J. Green.
17. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills: After a hot start led to a fat contract extension, Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick cooled off considerably in the second half of last season, and while the eighth-year veteran is a quality fantasy backup, I wouldn't want to count on him on a weekly basis.
18. Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders: More than a few fantasy pundits have Carson Palmer pegged as a "breakout" candidate, but I have a hard time getting excited about Palmer given his questionable receiving corps and the fact that he threw more interceptions than touchdown passes last year.
19. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Freeman and the Buccaneers suffered through a disastrous 2011 season, and although new head coach Greg Schiano loves to run the ball it's not unreasonable to expect a mini-bounceback from Freeman this season.
20. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens: The fifth-year pro has more seasons outside the top 20 in fantasy points than he does years inside the top 12, and a run-heavy offense in Baltimore just limits his fantasy upside that much more.
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