Fantasy Football Rankings 2014: Early Breakdown of the Top-15 QBs
Next Monday, grills across America will simultaneously ignite in celebration as people everywhere gather for the Memorial Day cookouts that signal the unofficial start of summer.
For most people, summer means swimming pools, fishing and trips to the amusement park. For fantasy football fanatics, however, it means something very different: fantasy draft season.
It's never too early to get started on the sort of advanced preparation that will give you a leg up on the competition, and with that in mind, here's a look at the top-15 fantasy options under center for the 2014 season.
Note: Scoring based on CBS Sports default fantasy scoring, which awards one point for every 25 passing yards, six points per passing touchdown and subtracts two points for every interception.
The Fringe Starters: No. 15-11
You want evidence as to just how deep the quarterback position is in fantasy football in 2014? Consider that these players didn't even crack the top 10. In some leagues, these guys are backups.
15. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson's a great young quarterback from an NFL perspective, and he has the mobility that often makes fantasy owners weak in the knees. However, as last year's 12th-place finish in fantasy points per game shows, the Seahawks just don't ask Wilson to do enough to be a dependable weekly fantasy starter.
14. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton's third-place finish among fantasy quarterbacks last year (behind only Drew Brees and Peyton Manning) was one of the season's biggest surprises at the position, but the 26-year-old is going to be hard pressed to repeat that finish in 2014.
13. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
A strong defense, great offensive line, solid running game, good receivers, the ability to rack up yardage with his legs—everything's there for Colin Kaepernick to post top-10 (or even top-five) fantasy numbers. However, Kaepernick was also prone to being wildly inconsistent a year ago, and a stinker at the wrong time can tank a fantasy season.
12. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Yes, we've reached a point where the "Golden Boy" himself is barely a starter in 12-team fantasy football leagues. Like it or not, the Patriots are much closer being to the run-based teams of early in Brady's career than the grip-it-and-rip-it squads of Brady's fantasy heyday at this point.
11. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Rivers was one of fantasy football's most pleasant surprises in 2013, throwing for almost 4,500 yards and 32 scores en route to a top-five fantasy finish. One good year doesn't completely erase the two bad ones that came before it, but fantasy owners who wait to draft a quarterback could certainly do worse.
10. Robert Griffin, Washington Redskins
2013 Stats: 3,203 PASS YDS, 16 TD, 12 INT; 489 RUSH YDS (13 games)
2013 Fantasy Finish: QB19
The fantasy gods giveth, and the fantasy gods taketh away.
In 2012, Robert Griffin may well have been the fantasy MVP at his position, posting top-five numbers in fantasy points per game as a rookie. Then came an ACL tear in the playoffs, an offseason of rehab and a miserable sophomore season that saw Griffin benched for the last three weeks of the season.
With that said, hope springs eternal in the nation's capital in 2014.
Griffin is healthy and will get a whole offseason to work with new, offensive-minded head coach Jay Gruden. There's also a new wide receiver in town in DeSean Jackson.
Griffin's playing style makes injury a real risk ("Vick Syndrome," if you will), but the pieces are also in place for a season that would blow this ranking out of the water.
He is a risk/reward option all the way.
9. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
2013 Stats: 3,828 PASS YDS, 31 TD, 10 INT (15 games)
2013 Fantasy Finish: QB9
Ah, Antonio Ramiro Romo, the Rodney Dangerfield of quarterbacks.
Every year, fantasy owners can bank on two things from Romo: First, there will be a game where Romo throws a game-sealing pick late in the fourth quarter, but fantasy owners won't care because of the 400 yards and four scores that came before it. There will also be a game where that interception will "cause" a loss in a close fantasy game, at which point Romo will get blasted with the same unreasonable criticism that Dallas fans like to heap on him by the truckload.
Tony Romo can choke in Week 17 games until the end of time and it won't matter one bit in fantasy football; the season's over in most leagues by that point.
And in the weeks that come before it (the ones that do count), Romo has put up numbers worthy of a top-10 fantasy finish among signal-callers in six of the past seven seasons.
All of those numbers are available at a discount no less, because he can't get no respect.
8. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
2013 Stats: 2,891 PASS YDS, 27 TD, 2 INT; 221 RUSH YDS, 3 TD (13 games)
2013 Fantasy Finish: QB11
There wasn't a bigger surprise at the quarterback position in the NFL in 2013 than Nick Foles.
It isn't the fact that Foles eventually supplanted Michael Vick as the starter in Philly that is of note here. It's that once that happened, Foles threw 27 touchdowns against a staggeringly low two interceptions and led the Eagles to the NFC East title. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he finished with a higher passer rating than Peyton Manning.
Oh, and Foles ranked third in fantasy points per game among quarterbacks.
Other than that though? Meh.
It's completely unrealistic to expect those sorts of numbers over 16 starts in 2014, especially with DeSean Jackson gone. However, Foles could backslide a bit and still represent a solid draft-day value in this slot.
Especially given the fact that he plays in Chip Kelly's offense, Foles isn't falling much farther than this.
7. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
2013 Stats: 4,515 PASS YDS, 26 TD, 17 INT (16 games)
2013 Fantasy Finish: QB13
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons would very much like a mulligan on the 2013 season.
One year after going 13-3 and coming within a game of the Super Bowl, the Falcons were devastated by injuries en route to a 4-12 implosion.
Ryan wasn't immune either; his 17 interceptions were a career high, and his 13th-place fantasy finish among quarterbacks was his lowest since 2009.
With that said, though, the Falcons aren't a 4-12 football team. Ryan will have Roddy White and Julio Jones back, and Harry Douglas (one of last year's few bright spots) emerged as a viable slot threat in 2013.
Ryan is the poster child for waiting to draft a starting quarterback in 2014. There are a handful of mid-level options like Ryan who can be had fairly cheaply but are also capable of producing a top-10 fantasy season, with a top-five campaign being a real possibility as well.
Load up on wide receivers and running backs early, and grab that elite tight end you want. But wait on a quarterback and get one of these value players later.
6. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
2013 Stats: 3,379 PASS YDS, 24 TD, 13 INT; 585 RUSH YDS, 6 TD (16 games)
2013 Fantasy Finish: QB5
Of all this year's top-10 fantasy quarterbacks, there may not be a bigger risk/reward pick than Cam Newton.
On one hand, Newton is coming off the most successful season of his brief career, leading the Panthers to the NFC South title a season ago. Newton also hasn't finished lower than sixth among quarterbacks in fantasy points over his first three NFL seasons.
However, for the all the success the Panthers had as a team last year, Newton's passing and rushing yardage totals were both career lows.
The Panthers' receiving corps was also decimated by free agency this offseason. The team added Kelvin Benjamin in the 2014 draft, but outside of Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen the cupboard in Charlotte is pretty bare.
Newton's ability to pick up yardage (and fantasy points) with his legs is a big boost to his fantasy value, but this ranking slots Newton a lot closer to his fantasy ceiling than his floor.
5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
2013 Stats: 3,822 PASS YDS, 23 TD, 9 INT; 377 RUSH YDS, 4 TD (16 games)
2013 Fantasy Finish: QB7
Given the size of the shoes he had to fill with the Indianapolis Colts, it's remarkable what Andrew Luck has accomplished in such a short time. In his first two years, Luck has taken the Colts to the playoffs twice, and last year he won his first career postseason game after leading the Colts to a wild comeback win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Luck has also posted top-10 fantasy numbers in each of his two NFL seasons, but there's reason to believe even more could be in store in 2014.
Luck did most of his damage last year without his top target after Reggie Wayne tore his ACL. However, Wayne is back up and running, and teammate T.Y. Hilton recently told Kevin Bowen of the team's website that Wayne is “going to shock the world. I saw him the other day and he looks great, like he never left.”
In Wayne, Hilton, free-agent addition Hakeem Nicks and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, Luck has one of the NFL's deeper stables of receivers at his disposal.
What the Colts don't have is a consistent running game, and if Indy is heading back to the playoffs, it will be on the strength of Luck's right arm.
4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
2013 Statistics: 4,650 PASS YDS, 29 TD, 19 INT (16 games)
2013 Fantasy Finish: QB6
The Detroit Lions fell completely to pieces over the second half of the 2013 season, but from a statistical perspective quarterback Matthew Stafford had another solid year. For the third straight season, the 26-year-old topped 4,500 yards through the air, and his 29 touchdown passes were the second-highest total of his five-year career.
Yes, the high interception totals can be a downer with Stafford, and the youngster doesn't have the week-to-week consistency of the so-called "elite" fantasy options on this list. Also, head coach Jim Caldwell told Kyle Meinke of MLive.com back in January that his offense will be "committed to the run."
However, the Lions added weapons like wideout Golden Tate and tight end Eric Ebron this offseason, and they will both add to a passing game that already features running back Reggie Bush and some guy they call "Megatron."
In a pass-happy NFL, Matthew Stafford will get his, and it will be at a significantly lower cost for his fantasy owners than the quarterbacks ranked ahead of him on this list.
3. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
2013 Stats: 5,477 PASS YDS, 55 TD, 10 INT (16 games)
2013 Fantasy Finish: QB1
Well, this should warm the comments section up pretty quickly. After all, all Peyton Manning did in 2013 was re-write the record books at the position, setting NFL records for touchdown passes and yardage in a season.
Oh, and he finished as fantasy football's top quarterback by over 75 points.
So what's the problem?
Well, for starters, far too many fantasy owners expect a repeat of last year, if not more. That, in turn, is going to drive up his price faster than the markup from Big Lots to Pottery Barn.
And about those expectations, seasons like Manning's are so eye-popping for a reason; they just don't happen very often, and repeats are even rarer.
The year after Manning set the single-season record for passing touchdowns with 49 in 2004, his total plummeted to 28, and he also threw for over 800 fewer yards. The season after Tom Brady broke the record in 2007, he tore up his knee in Week 1.
It won't take much of a regression in 2014 to make the first-round pick it will cost to land Manning in many leagues look like a bad decision in hindsight.
Yes, Manning has the NFL's best cadre of receivers and a ceiling that no other fantasy passer can match. However, he's also a 38-year-old quarterback who carries a higher sticker price and more risk that players like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
2013 Stats: 2,536 PASS YDS, 17 TD, 6 INT (9 games)
2013 Fantasy Finish: QB22
OK, so things didn't go according to plan for the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers in 2013. A broken collarbone cost Rodgers seven games, and for many fantasy owners losing the 30-year-old for half of the fantasy season was too big of a blow to overcome.
However, there's ample reason to expect a bounceback. Assuming Rodgers can avoid sacks that look like WWE finishing moves, his risk of re-injuring the collarbone is relatively low, and Rodgers remains a brutally efficient quarterback in the prime of his career.
Yes, the Packers' running game is stronger than it has been in the past, James Jones is gone and Jermichael Finley may never play again, but Rodgers still has plenty of weaponry at his disposal.
There's little reason to think Rodgers won't return to the elite fantasy status he enjoyed from 2009-2012, when he posted four straight top-two finishes at his position.
1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
2013 Stats: 5,162 PASS YDS, 39 TD, 12 INT (16 games)
2013 Fantasy Finish: QB2
Mind you, Drew Brees isn't my top-ranked fantasy quarterback because I expect him to be the first signal-caller drafted. In fact, much of the reason why Brees tops this list is that he probably won't be.
Let the other fantasy owners in your league chase Peyton Manning's record-setting numbers from a season ago. Let someone else hope that Aaron Rodgers' injury-marred 2013 was a one-shot deal and not the result of bigger problems in front of him.
Yes, Brees may not have the astronomical fantasy ceiling of Manning, and he's a fair bit older than Rodgers, but Brees has topped 5,000 passing yards three years running, averaging over 42 touchdown passes a year over that stretch as well.
He also hasn't finished lower than second among fantasy quarterbacks over that span, and he has only one fantasy finish outside of the top five at the position since joining the Saints—in 2006.