Even with how the NFL caters to quarterbacks these days, some signal callers had trouble putting up decent numbers for fantasy football owners last season.
Now that the NFL has gone from a run-first to a pass-first league, quarterbacks have become much more valuable in fantasy leagues, especially in ones where each team has to start two quarterbacks each week as opposed to just one.
So it is not as simple as drafting Aaron Rodgers and sticking him in as your starting quarterback every week. Fantasy owners need to be more diligent about acquiring solid second and third QBs. And one way to find good options is to draft quarterbacks who had off-years last season and should turn things around this season.
Here are three quarterbacks whose fantasy values will turn around in 2014:
Eli Manning, New York Giants
Peyton Manning set an NFL record with 55 touchdown passes in 2013. Peyton’s little brother, meanwhile, led the NFL with 27 interceptions. I hope for Peyton’s sake that if he was in a fantasy league this past year that he drafted himself instead of his brother.
Eli seemed out of sorts all season long, and for good reason. His offensive line was in shambles from the start, leading to Manning having to rush and force throws as he faced an unusual amount of pressure on pass plays.
Manning’s running backs also suffered more injuries than the UFC’s roster. David Wilson injured his neck, Andre Brown fractured his foot and Brandon Jacobs sprained his knee. It all added up to Manning having no running game to keep defenses honest and keep double coverages off his top targets.
But the last time Manning threw a ton of interceptions (25 INT in 2010), he rebounded with the best fantasy year of his career. He threw for 4,933 yards in 2011, which remains his personal best and over 900 yards better than any other season, along with 29 touchdown tosses.
So why not think Manning can repeat that feat?
Manning will still have the dependable Victor Cruz sitting in the slot and flashy youngster Rueben Randle, who appears primed to take his game to the next level, on the outside. And third-year man Jerrel Jernigan started coming into his own at the end of last year, so Manning will have a receiving corps that will only improve at route running and understanding defenses next season.
More importantly, he won't have to deal with two elements that held down his fantasy value and bumped up his interception total—Nicks will surely take his dwindling talents elsewhere, and the Giants will probably upgrade their line through the draft and free agency.
Manning could provide fantasy owners with 4,600 yards, 30 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions in 2014, easily getting him back in their good graces.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Tannehill’s 2013 numbers appear decent on paper. He finished 10th in the league with 3,913 passing yards and was tied for 12th in touchdown tosses with 24. Considering it was only his second NFL season, fantasy owners had to be pleased with what they got from him.
What bugs fantasy owners and Dolphins fans, though, is that Tannehill could have had a much better season. The box scores and overall stats do not show the wide-open receivers and big plays that Tannehill routinely missed throughout the season.
Tannehill had as much chemistry with high-priced deep threat Mike Wallace as President Obama had with Bill O’ Reilly during their Super Bowl interview. Tannehill misfired on 20-yard-plus passes to Wallace week in and week out. Wallace did not have trouble getting open downfield, Tannehill just had trouble putting the ball in his top target’s hands.
But there was a reason why Tannehill struggled on longer passes, and it was not because of 40-mph winds or him having Ryan Leaf-like accuracy. Miami’s offensive line was pitiful and allowed the spry Tannehill to get sacked more often than any other quarterback in the league.
Even when starters Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin were on the field before their season-ending bullying situation, the unit was the worst in the NFL. Tannehill was running for his life all season long and never had enough protection to sit in the pocket for seven seconds while Wallace got open deep.
The line has nowhere to go but up, and the play calling should improve for Tannehill now that Mike Sherman has been relieved of his offensive coordinator job. The Dolphins’ offense had no rhyme, rhythm or reason under Sherman, and Tannehill suffered because of it.
If Tannehill can start connecting on long passes to Wallace, get more protection from his line and sidestep the problems the dysfunctional Dolphins organization put in front of him, he should continue to improve and could supply fantasy owners with 4,300 passing yards and 28 touchdown passes in 2014.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Super Bowl hero to fantasy zero—that is how far Flacco fell in a year’s time.
While fantasy owners should not have expected Tom Brady or Drew Brees-like production from Flacco after he signed a contract that paid him the same rate as those fantasy demigods, they probably figured he would do better than throw more INTs than TDs.
Thanks to a porous offensive line that allowed him to get hit more than usual, a Ray Rice-led running game that could not keep linebackers anywhere close to the line of scrimmage, an underwhelming receiving crew decimated by injuries and free agency and an offensive scheme that was haphazard, Flacco had about as much help as LeBron James has on nights Dwyane Wade rests his knee.
Flacco threw 19 touchdown passes, his lowest total since his rookie season back in 2008, and threw 22 interceptions, easily the highest total of his career. He had never thrown more than a dozen picks in a year up until last season’s dubious debacle.
Flacco forced more balls into coverage than ever before, likely because he felt the pressure of having to be a one-man offense.
Flacco has never been confused with Brady or Brees when it came to fantasy worth. He has always been viewed as a No. 2 QB on fantasy rosters, never a No. 1. He has not thrown for 4,000 yards or 26 touchdowns in any season. But every other season, he at least deserved a spot on fantasy rosters. Last year, however, Flacco was virtually worthless because of his TD-to-INT ratio.
Look for Flacco to return to normal in 2014. Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome is a master at acquiring talent for the right prices. The offensive line will be retooled and the receiving corps will be restocked for Flacco, and that will help his usual yearly numbers return.
Could 2014 be the year Flacco has his first 4,000-yard, 26-TD season? Do not be surprised if it is.