Fantasy football has changed a lot in the past four years. The name of the game used to be stockpiling running backs early and looking for solid values at quarterback in the middle rounds.
But these days, it's tough to win a fantasy title if you don't get elite production from the quarterback position. Last season alone, the top six fantasy performers were all quarterbacks, and that was in a season where Adrian Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards.
In other words, you don't want to get your quarterback selection wrong. With my list of the top 10 options at the position, you won't.
(Note: All fantasy rankings from last season are from ESPN standard-scoring leagues.)
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
I love Wilson's combination of steady play as a passer and his ability to run the ball when the play breaks down, but I still can't shake the notion that he's a game manager on a run-first team. I don't think Wilson quite cracks the top 10 this year.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
People may say Romo isn't a winner, but one thing he continues to be is a solid fantasy quarterback. With at least 4,100 passing yards and 26 passing touchdowns in three of the past four years, you know what you're getting with Romo—a solid mid-round option.
Eli Manning, New York Giants
Will the real Eli Manning please stand up? After an epic 2011 season, Manning saw his yards, touchdowns and completion percentage all drop. A healthy Hakeem Nicks will help, and Manning's upside is still very high for fantasy owners, but he's a major risk.
Andrew Luck may have the most well-rounded skill set for a quarterback I've ever seen. Yes, I said ever.
He's big, surprisingly athletic, has a strong arm, can stick a ball in a tight window with precision, and has a natural feel for the game and the intelligence to break down an opposing defense on every snap.
He's a hard worker, model citizen and comes across as a humble guy. If you were to build the prototypical quarterback for the modern game, you'd pretty much just build Luck.
It remains to be seen how he'll deal with the loss of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians—and Luck doesn't have the elite weapons that several other players on this list boast—but he finished ninth among quarterbacks in fantasy points last year, and I don't see him regressing this season.
When a player throws for at least 4,900 yards in consecutive seasons, you pay attention. And when that same player goes from throwing 41 touchdowns in 2011 to just 20 in 2012, well, you have to ask yourself a serious question:
Which version of Matt Stafford will we see this season, the 2011 or 2012 edition?
I tend to believe it will be the former. The Detroit Lions aren't going to become a ground-and-pound offense anytime soon, and new running back Reggie Bush should actually be a major weapon in the passing game. Plus, Stafford has seemingly put his injury concerns behind him, starting 33 straight games for the Lions.
Frankly, it seems far more likely Stafford will be closer to 41 touchdowns than he will be to 20 touchdowns this season. And after last year, he'll probably be available in the middle rounds, meaning you could get a stud at a great value.
Colin Kaepernick started seven games during the regular season last year and finished with fewer than 18 fantasy points just twice. He continued to play well in the playoffs, passing for 798 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing for 264 yards and another three scores.
For those of you keeping track at home, that's about 31 fantasy points per contest. Not too shabby.
Whereas some dual-threat quarterbacks are prone to injury, Kaepernick has a better shot at staying healthy because of his size and frame. And the San Francisco 49ers have a plethora of weapons, meaning Kaepernick will have a versatile attack at his disposal.
Yes, the Niners will likely run the ball quite frequently, limiting Kaepernick's chances downfield. But rest assured, he's going to have a big, big year for fantasy owners.
The only reason I have Cam Newton a slot higher than Colin Kaepernick is this—Kaepernick holds the reins of a talented Niners offense.
And Newton is Carolina's offense.
Look, I know he'll never be an exceptional passer. But the fact remains that Newton has rushed for at least 700 yards and eight touchdowns in two straight seasons. He's a beast of a man, so you shouldn't worry about the wear and tear slowing him down.
If he repeats those rushing numbers, that's an additional 118 fantasy points to whatever he accumulates as a passer. And remember, despite seeing his passing yards, passing touchdowns and rushing touchdowns decrease last year, he was still the fourth-best performer in fantasy football.
I don't like doubting Tom Brady. It makes me twitch nervously, considering he's won three Super Bowls, thrown for at least 4,300 yards in three of the last four years and tossed at least 34 touchdowns the past three seasons.
But from a fantasy standpoint, he's making me nervous. He won't have Wes Welker or Aaron Hernandez in the passing game, and Danny Amendola has serious injury issues. Brady turns 36 years old on August 3. And quietly, the New England Patriots rushed for the seventh-most yards in the NFL last season.
What does this all mean to me? The Patriots are going to lean more on the running game this year.
Brady should be an excellent option for fantasy owners once more and you certainly shouldn't shy away from picking him, but I don't think he'll be a top-five quarterback this year.
I truly believe the Denver Broncos will run the ball more this season, leaning heavily on the duo of Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. The Broncos aren't dumb—they know the more they throw the ball, the more chances their 37-year-old quarterback will have to get hit and injured.
That said, Peyton Manning has always been famously hard to sack given his quick release and even quicker ability to read the defense, and he was amazing in 2012, throwing for 4,659 and 37 touchdowns. Plus, he now has Wes Welker to go along with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
What do you get when you pair arguably the best quarterback in NFL history with the best trio of receivers in the league?
You get big numbers, that's what. Manning is risky given his age, sure, but he'll still produce in a big way.
I probably have Matt Ryan ranked higher than most folks, but I think this is the year the Atlanta Falcons quarterback enters elite status for fantasy owners.
His touchdowns, yards, 300-yard games and passer rating have all increased over the past three seasons, culminating in a 2012 campaign that saw him finish seventh in fantasy points among quarterbacks.
So why the jump into the top echelon of fantasy passers now? Well, he has one of the most dynamic young receivers in the game (Julio Jones), two veteran studs he can rely on (Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White) and running backs in Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers who are both threats in the passing game.
Plus, the Falcons opened up the offense last season, throwing the ball 62 percent of the time after going with a much more balanced attack in seasons past. With a 13-3 record last year, it's hard to see that trend reversing. Atlanta is a passing offense now, folks, and Ryan is about to blow up.
Don't miss out on him when he does.
With all indications pointing toward Robert Griffin III opening the season for the Washington Redskins—even if he'll be held out of the preseason—it's time to move RG3 back into the top five in all fantasy rankings.
Yes, he's an injury risk. Yes, he's unlikely to run the ball 120 times for 815 yards and seven touchdowns again, or at least the Redskins would be crazy to let him.
But the thing about Griffin is that he is only going to grow as a passer. He'll probably exceed 3,200 passing yards and 20 passing touchdowns this season. The playbook will be more open. And Griffin can handle it—he completed 65.6 percent of his passes last season (fourth in the NFL) and threw just five interceptions.
Combine more leeway in the passing attack with the fact that he's one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL when he has the ball in his hands, and you have a player who should do huge things in 2013.
If Fred Davis and Pierre Garcon can stay healthy and opposing defenses consistently stack the box to slow Washington's running game, Griffin could have a gigantic season as a passer and be this year's fantasy MVP.
Drew Brees has been with the New Orleans Saints for seven seasons and has thrown for at least 4,000 yards in each one. He's also thrown for at least 5,100 yards and 43 touchdowns the past two years.
He's Mr. Consistent, folks, having missed just one game in the past seven years. He's the type of player you start each week without having to worry about a thing.
Brees is going to slow down at some point, but he actually seems to be getting better with age. And with plenty of weapons to utilize, it's hard to see him dropping off this season.
Aaron Rodgers has thrown for at least 30 touchdown in three of the past four seasons. He's thrown for at least 4,000 yards in four of the last five. He's thrown single-digit interceptions in three of the past five years. He's missed just two games since 2008.
Oh, and he's rushed for 1,395 yards and 18 touchdowns in the past five years, which averages out to an additional 49.5 fantasy points per season.
What I'm trying to tell you is that Rodgers is as safe as it comes when talking about fantasy quarterbacks. He's basically a guarantee to throw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, and he's in his prime. And don't worry about Greg Jennings signing elsewhere—he missed 11 games the past two years anyway, and Rodgers still has Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley.
For the safety he represents alone, Rodgers is worth a top-five pick in your draft and should be the first quarterback off the board.