NFL Fantasy 2013: Top 5 Quarterbacks Set for a Decline in Production Next Season

Eric Balkman@EricBalkmanCorrespondent IMay 30, 2013

NFL Fantasy 2013: Top 5 Quarterbacks Set for a Decline in Production Next Season

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    While running backs and wide receivers seem to hog most of the attention, having a good starting quarterback can make a good fantasy team dominant.

    Conversely, drafting a quarterback too early can derail a team. Recognizing the fantasy land mines among quarterbacks this year could be all the difference for some owners, whether they're trying to win bragging rights or hundreds of thousands of dollars in national contests.

    This article will look at five fantasy quarterbacks (along with a few honorable mentions) to avoid this year because of a decrease in production from 2012. It should be noted that these quarterbacks should not be labeled as “busts” for 2013—many of them will have good seasons.

    However, in fantasy football, it’s all about value. And the following players will not be able to produce enough to justify where owners will have to take them in 2013 drafts.

Honorable Mentions: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Alex Smith

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    Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers could be construed as minor fantasy busts this year because of the new focus on the ground game for each franchise.

    The Falcons upgraded over plodding running back Michael Turner by signing former St. Louis Rams and potential Hall of Fame RB Steven Jackson. And Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson selected two rookie backs in the NFL draft in March. Second-round pick Eddie Lacy and fourth-rounder Johnathan Franklin represent the Packers' rededication to the rushing attack.

    Yet, Pro Football Focus ranked Atlanta’s offensive line 17th in run-blocking in 2012, so Steven Jackson won’t find many more holes in the south than he did in St. Louis. Ryan’s arm will of course still be what butters the Falcons bread in 2013.

    Green Bay lost wide receiver Greg Jennings but retained tight end Jermichael Finley. Also, receivers Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones (who led the league in touchdown receptions last year) are all back. When coupled with the fact that former league MVP Aaron Rodgers is in his prime, it's safe to expect that Rodgers’ numbers won’t be adversely affected enough to warrant a spot among the top five on this list.

    New Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith will take the keys to head coach Andy Reid’s new offense in Kansas City. However, Smith will no longer be throwing to vertical threats like wide receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis like he was in San Francisco a year ago.

    Smith will indeed have the luxury of a dynamic pass-catching running back in Jamaal Charles. But that along with wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and a host of unproven tight ends like Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce and Tony Moeaki will not be enough for Smith to duplicate his 2012 numbers (before he ceded the job to current starter Colin Kaepernick).

    Now, onto the actual list. Let's start with a guy who had the best season of his career last year.

5. Joe Flacco

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    The 2012 postseason run for Baltimore Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco was one of historic proportions. Against some of the NFL's toughest defenses, he threw for 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, which was good enough for a 117.4 quarterback rating—good enough for Balitmore general manager Ozzie Newsome to give Flacco a six-year, $120 million contract.

    But since Flacco's performance was an extremely small sample size (four games), and it is the freshest in the minds of fantasy owners, he is being drafted more so on that performance rather than on what his career norms have been.

    Flacco's deal briefly made him the highest-paid player in the league, and with that comes the self-added pressure of wanting to prove that he's worth it. And he'll have to attempt to do that without his leading receiver from last year, Anquan Boldin, who was traded to the 49ers.

    The next quarterback on this list also has something to prove to the rest of the NFL. However, it's not a contract that he's trying to justify.

4. Robert Griffin III

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    When quarterback Robert Griffin III went down with an ACL tear in the Washington Redskins' playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks last year, the hearts of many fantasy owners sank. Griffin put up terrific rookie stats in 2012, notching more than 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns combined passing and rushing.

    But instead of looking to put up even bigger numbers in 2013, Griffin now is just focusing on getting back on the field for Week 1 of the 2013 season. While RG3 is furiously rehabbing his knee, he's not the only Redskin trying to get healthy.

    Washington's big-ticket wide receiver Pierre Garcon is recovering from a nasty Week 1 foot injury that caused him to miss six games and play at far less than 100 percent when he did come back.

    Garcon, who said he may not be at 100 percent again this season because of the foot, also had offseason labrum surgery. Fred Davis, Washington's top tight end, is coming off a torn Achilles tendon—an injury that prevented him from signing a lucrative deal in free agency.

    If Garcon and Davis—Griffin's most dangerous weapons—are not at full strength in 2013, RG3 will be forced to sling the ball to the inconsistent Josh Morgan, an aging Santana Moss and a rookie tight end in Jordan Reed—all while making sure his own knee is sound.

    Another quarterback who also got his first starting NFL gig last year is next.

3. Colin Kaepernick

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    In the same way Flacco overperformed his 2013 fantasy value in the 2012 postseason, Kaepernick will also be overdrafted this season, even though his march through the playoffs last season was downright epic.

    The "Kaeptain" tallied 1,062 total yards and seven total touchdowns in just three games. While he should be able to put up numbers suiting a top-12 fantasy quarterback in 2013, he will have his work cut out for him.

    Given the success of read-option quarterbacks over the past couple of years (Griffin, Carolina's Cam Newton and Seattle's Russell Wilson), defensive coordinators are under more pressure than ever to stop those types of offenses. With the rest of the NFC knowing that the road to the Super Bowl will go through Seattle and San Francisco in 2013 (the NFC spent nine picks in the first round alone in this year's draft on defenders), Kaepernick will not be able to slice up defenses with the same ease this season.

    Also, wide receiver Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon in OTAs earlier this month, knocking him out of action until late November, at the very earliest. That means for most of the fantasy regular season, Kaepernick will have to put up QB1 stats throwing to the likes of an old veteran (newly acquired Anquan Boldin), a sporadically producing tight end (Vernon Davis) and a host of green pass-catchers (wide receivers A.J. Jenkins and rookie Quinton Patton and rookie tight end Vance McDonald).

    Wide receiver Mario Manningham is recovering from a torn knee ligament and tight end Delanie Walker signed with the Tennessee Titans, making Kaepernick's supporting cast much different than that of 2012. Asking for immediate elite fantasy production may be asking too much of a player who has made only seven regular season starts.

    No. 2 on this list is also a quarterback who has had only a year's worth of NFL seasoning. 

2. Andrew Luck

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    On the surface, Indianapolis Colts' quarterback Andrew Luck looks like a great fantasy buy for 2013. He's been somewhat overshadowed by the outstanding performances of other young quarterbacks (Griffin, Kaepernick, the Seahawks' Russell Wilson).

    He was a rookie last season and should make significant strides this year. Plus, he gets improved protection (two of the Colts' first three draft picks were spent on offensive linemen).

    But a closer look at the 2013 Colts shows a few changes that will work against Luck's fantasy value.

    Wide receiver Reggie Wayne will turn 35 this season, and he is due very soon for a talent drop-off. If Wayne can't fight off the bruising that comes with being an NFL receiver in the twilight of his career, then Luck will have to rely on second-year receivers T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazil, along with former Oakland Raiders' first-round bust Darrius Heyward-Bey.

    Tight ends Dwyane Allen and Coby Fleener are both adept pass-catchers, and they also took a step forward at being good NFL blockers during their rookie seasons last year. Coupled with the improved offensive line, the Colts may put more of an emphasis on running the ball with Vick Ballard, Donald Brown and rookie Kerwynn Williams.

    While taking the pass-rush pressure off Luck, the ground game will also prevent Indianapolis from getting into so many fantasy-rich shootouts that Luck owners benefited from last year. The Colts focused on getting some defensive playmakers in the NFL draft this year as well (like first-round pick Bjoern Werner), which will also aid in shootout prevention.

    The biggest schematic change for Luck will be the shift away from Bruce Arians' aerial attack. Now that Arians is the head man in Arizona, Luck's downfield opportunities will be much more limited under new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Luck will rely on accumulating yardage via more intermediate routes and less "9" routes in 2013.

    While Luck may be the top quarterback in the NFL one day, the number one player on this list is a signal-caller who has already worn that crown multiple times in his career. 

1. Tom Brady

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    This may come as a shock to many veteran fantasy football players, but 2013 has a good chance of being the season that New England's Tom Brady finally comes back down to earth (or as close to earth as a legend like him can come).

    It hasn't been a great last four months for Brady since his Patriots lost the AFC Championship to the Ravens. He took less money from the Patriots so New England could still retain talented pieces—like wide receiver Wes Welker—in order to get back to the Super Bowl.

    Well, the Patriots let Welker sign with the team that presents the biggest threat to them this season, the Denver Broncos. The Pats then replaced Welker with former Rams receiver Danny Amendola, a wideout who has only been healthy enough to play 12 games in the last two years.

    But the injury bug doesn't stop biting there. Brady's top two tight ends are also battling significant injuries as well.

    Rob Gronkowski just underwent his fourth surgery on his troublesome forearm and is scheduled to undergo his second back surgery in June. Aaron Hernandez is coming off April shoulder surgery and could begin training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Behind them on the depth chart is Jake Ballard who missed all of 2012 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

    Wide receiver Julian Edelman hasn't been able to shake a foot injury and New England decided not to bring back wideout Brandon Lloyd. That leaves unproven rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce to shoulder the load.

    (And the Patriots have not exactly been stalwart in drafting good receivers, either. Chad Jackson, Taylor Price or Brandon Tate ring any bells?)

    Running back Stevan Ridley has already bulked up this offseason and Shane Vereen looks ready to take another step forward as well, so more plays dedicated to rushing will surely be in the cards for New England.

    Those owners who draft Brady early may not be able to recover from the loss of pick value that selection would cause.