Fantasy Football Preview 2013: Top 5 Quarterback Breakouts

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Fantasy Football Preview 2013: Top 5 Quarterback Breakouts
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Whatever it is that might be clouding fantasy drafters' view of Matt Ryan as an elite fantasy quarterback, they should look through it.

This fantasy football preview should go over a lot easier for the masses. People love to hear great things about the next big thing(s). They hated to see their favorites picked apart in the Top 5 Quarterback Busts. People just love positive stories: daisies and ponies, daisies and ponies.

This is the Top 5 Quarterback Breakouts edition of Bleacher Report's Fantasy Football Preview 2013. Here come the rainbows and unicorns, kiddos.

We will define breakout here as anyone who is poised for a career year statistically—in fantasy terms. In order to be a candidate for this list, a player cannot be past his prime (age 27-32), his best statistical year cannot be behind him, and most importantly, he has to be able to outperform his fantasy-draft position.

You will notice some overlap with the Top 5 QB Sleepers. A sleeper is slightly different than a breakout because a sleeper is anyone who outperforms his draft position—a late-round veteran like Carson Palmer can do that. Palmer won't break out and enjoy a career year, though. A breakout is someone special who, regardless of where he is drafted, takes the next significant step in fantasy value. 

Now that we have adequately defined the parameters, let's outfit your fantasy team with a top-five quarterback breakout for 2013:

 

1. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

 

Three-year average: 4,200 yards, 30 touchdowns
Career year: 2012 (4,719-32)
ADP: Yahoo (47.2) | ESPN (36.7) | CBSSports (41.3) | SI Top 300 (33)

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Ryan's appearance at the top of our list is a statement to the fact you can enjoy multiple breakouts—even in successive years. Ryan went from a decent fantasy starter in 2011 (4,177 yards, 29 touchdowns) to a good one in 2012. Now he can blow the top off his expectations in addition to blowing the cover off defenses.

This will be Ryan's coming. With Julio Jones primed to erupt into a 1,500-yard, 15-touchdown beast, Roddy White steady with his usual 1,300-8 and Tony Gonzalez hanging on with his perennial 800-8, Ryan has the weapons to move into the Aaron Rodgers-Drew Brees-Peyton Manning-Tom Brady legendary club of 5,000-40 with less than 10 interceptions.

Ryan has the most talented/elite set of targets in all of football, and that includes Manning's trio of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker.

Ryan will be picked multiple rounds after Rodgers and Brees, but unlike those two early-round aces, Ryan has more elite targets and is just now entering his physical prime at age 28. Manning and Brady are great too, but Ryan is a much better value with his age, and his arrow still pointing up. Consider Ryan too good to pass up at his current ADPs.

 

2013 statistical ceiling: 5,000-45

 

2. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

 

Three-year average: 4,374-23* (this was his only year)
Career year: 2012 (4,374-23)
ADPYahoo (79.6) | ESPN (68.5) | CBSSports (62.8) | SI Top 300 (57)

We already chronicled Luck's value as a sleeper, but we feel obliged to call him a breakout as well. As impressive as he was as a rookie, he is only scratching his statistical surface for fantasy owners.

Sure, Reggie Wayne is a real injury risk at 34, but second-year receiver T.Y. Hilton showed flashes of fantasy awesomeness, Darrius Heyward-Bey could finally tap into his talent, and second-year tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener could take over for Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as the best combo in football.

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Luck, directing one of the most pass-happy offenses in football, looks born and raised to be a 4,500-yard, 30-touchdown passer annually. It wouldn't take much for him to reach that level already, especially because the Colts have a defense that will force them into a lot of shootouts in Year 2.

You should be thrilled if you are the last one to pick a starting quarterback on draft day and you wind up with this future MVP on your roster. ADP suggests it can certainly happen, especially with all the love for read-option guys like Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III who dominated B/R's Top 5 Quarterback Busts.

 

2013 statistical ceiling: 5,000-35

 

3. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

 

Three-year average: 3,126-15
Career year: 2012 (3,702-21)
ADPYahoo (131.6) | ESPN (132.8) | CBSSports (132.7) | SI Top 300 (176)

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Built Ram tough: Sam Bradford has gone through some growing pains, but his time to levy payback on defenses is coming.

You might not have noticed, but Bradford did take a step forward last season. It just didn't move the needle in fantasy football because so many other young and old quarterbacks outperformed him by a good margin.

It should be noted, though, no one was given the added weapons Bradford was this offseason. The Rams add physically gifted tight end Jared Cook to bust apart the seam, first-round Tavon Austin to work out of the slot—if not the backfield—and Austin's college teammate Stedman Bailey to provide depth behind emerging young receivers Chris Givens, Austin Pettis and Brian Quick. 

There are a lot of different targets here to help Bradford become a viable low-end fantasy starting quarterback. Also, allowing Steven Jackson to depart to Atlanta this winter puts the keys to this offense in Bradford's right hand. Running back committee Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy won't combine to keep this a run-first team any longer.

Because the talent is unproven, Bradford still is a mere late-round pick, but his NFL progression can lead him to some serious fantasy-worthy numbers on the cheap.

 

2013 statistical ceiling: 4,500-30

 

4. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

 

Three-year average: 2,875-18
Career year: 2008 (4,526-25)
ADPYahoo (125.5) | ESPN (130.5) | CBSSports (121.7) | SI Top 300 (147)

It is awfully easy to forget the young prodigy Cutler was in Denver, running a rhythm-passing system. Under Lovie Smith, a defensive-minded head coach in Chicago, Cutler had become a mere game manager—and a terrible one—as opposed to a gunslinger.

Marc Trestman brings West Coast offensive principals to the Bears and Cutler now, so it is entirely feasible to believe this 30-year-old returns to his once fantasy-starter-quality numbers. That 2008 career year above was his last in Denver and his last in a pass-friendly system.

Cutler is back in one now, and it comes at the perfect time for him: He is entering a contract year. He also happens to have one of the best high-volume receivers in football in Brandon Marshall, not to mention an emerging Alshon Jeffery in Year 2 and seam-buster of a tight end in Martellus Bennett, who is the self-proclaimed "black unicorn." Unicorns are truly rare (fictional) breeds, and Bennett has some rare athleticism at the position.

This is a perfect storm for Cutler to provide a huge bang for the late-round buck in fantasy this year.

 

2013 statistical ceiling: 4,750-30

 

5. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

 

Three-year average: 2,206-14
Career year: 2011 (3,150-17)
ADPYahoo (118.9) | ESPN (130.3) | CBSSports (135.5) | SI Top 300 (196)

Smith isn't entering a contract year, but he is entering a make-or-break one. One of the most accurate short passing quarterbacks in the NFL (over 70 percent completions a year ago) is now working in a West Coast system that works high percentage routes and throws to the running backs.

Andy Reid has coveted Smith for awhile because this type of heady and precise quarterback is a perfect fit for his system. Michael Vick sure wasn't, and Donovan McNabb didn't always excel with quick-read progressions.

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Smith was forced out of San Francisco, but his modest late-round draft position makes him a better fantasy value than the quarterback who replaced him, Colin Kaepernick. Seriously.

Smith has superior threats in Jamaal Charles out of the backfield, Dwayne Bowe as a workhorse go-to man and the unproven but talented likes of Jon Baldwin, Dexter McCluster (contract year) and Donnie Avery.

Even the tight ends are solid and deep: Tony Moeaki (contract year), Anthony Fasano and rookie Travis Kelce. This was a pitiful offense with Matt Cassel and company in recent years, but an accurate and consistent Smith can make it a very productive one for fantasy owners.

With all those weapons, you could see Smith go undrafted in some leagues and yet perform like a fantasy starter week in and week out. Reid will certainly put the ball in Smith's hands to prove himself viable.

 

2013 statistical ceiling: 3,500-25

 

If you want a deeper, wider-angle view of the quarterback position, check out the quarterback primer at SI.com. Also, you can hear this writer chat about the nuances of the position on his Fantasy FatCast: QB rankings.

Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter @EricMackFantasy, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.

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