If you step outside and notice an eerie calm falling over your town, it's the silence that comes from fantasy football preparations. This may sound trivial to outsiders who don't understand sports, but you know that it takes a lot of work to win a championship and get precious bragging rights.
While running backs will always be the top priority in fantasy football, the evolution of quarterbacks in recent years has closed the gap significantly. While once there were maybe two signal-callers going in the first 10-12 picks, it's easy to see a handful going in the first round now.
However, just because quarterbacks are all the rage in fantasy and real football doesn't mean you have to be locked into one early on. In fact, the pass-happy nature of the NFL has made it easier to get value later in the draft.
Instead of being beholden to one player who may cause you to sacrifice real value elsewhere, take a look at these rankings of the top 20 quarterbacks, as well as projections for the 2014 season. In addition, we have some notes on three different players to watch.
|Player Ranking||Season Projection|
|1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers||4,600 yards, 40 TDs, 6 INTs, 230 Rushing Yards|
|2. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos||4,900 yards, 41 TDs, 14 INTs|
|3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints||4,800 yards, 37 TDs, 17 INTs|
|4. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts||4,200 yards, 26 TDs, 10 INTs, 330 Rushing Yards|
|5. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons||4,600 yards, 31 TDs, 14 INTs|
|6. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers||4,100 yards, 31 TDs, 12 INTs|
|7. Tom Brady, New England Patriots||4,400 yards, 28 TDs, 10 INTs|
|8. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers||3,100 yards, 22 TDs, 13 INTs, 650 Rushing Yards|
|9. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys||3, 700 yards, 32 TDs, 12 INTs|
|10. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles||3,500 yards, 24 TDs, 10 INTs|
|11. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions||4,300 yards, 31 TDs, 19 INTs|
|12. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers||3,300 yards, 25 TDs, 10 INTs, 550 Rushing Yards|
|13. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks||3,300 yards, 25 TDs, 9 INTs, 400 Rushing Yards|
|14. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins||3,600 yards, 26 TDs, 12 INTs, 350 Rushing Yards|
|15. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears||3,500 yards, 27 TDs, 15 INTs|
Overrated: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Overrated is a relative term when you are discussing Peyton Manning. He's still one of the very best fantasy options available at quarterback, but people will draft him on the basis of what happened in 2013.
That's where you make mistakes. Manning is another year older, and the Denver receivers made Manning look better than he was last year with a league-leading 2,751 yards after the catch, more than half of his 5,477 yards.
Another problem for Manning, as far as repeating last year's performance, is his schedule gets a lot tougher in 2014. The Broncos have to play the NFC West, including a Super Bowl rematch in Week 3 at Seattle.
Des Bieler of The Washington Post noted, no quarterback has more power in fantasy football than Manning because he's so good at spreading the ball around:
Speaking of Manning, he exerted an unparalleled influence over the early rounds. Not only was Peyton the fifth overall pick, his top RB (Montee Ball) was ninth, his top WR (Demaryius Thomas) was 14th, and his top TE (Julius Thomas) was 23rd.
However, that is putting a lot of faith in a 38-year-old who has undergone major neck surgery and clearly doesn't have the arm strength he once did. Accuracy has always been Manning's best friend and will continue to be, but eventually you have to put the ball through a window to beat the kind of rough defenses the Broncos will see this season.
Manning won't fall off a cliff overnight—he's still the No. 2 quarterback on my board—but drafting him expecting another one of the great seasons in fantasy football history is asking too much.
Underrated: Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
If Colin Kaepernick is ever going to become a true No. 1 quarterback in fantasy football, it will happen in 2014. We know he can change a game on the ground with his legs, but the San Francisco 49ers have surrounded him with the best receiving corps the team has had in a long time.
Anquan Boldin fit right into the offense with 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns. Vernon Davis is Kaepernick's favorite red-zone option. Michael Crabtree is, by Kaepernick's own admission to Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News, explosive once again.
Which quarterback will be the biggest fantasy disappointment, relative to their draft position, in 2014?
New addition Stevie Johnson has the potential to be a great No. 3 option, according to ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson (h/t ESPN.com's Bill Williamson):
"I would say he is one of the very best 3rd receivers in the NFL," Williamson said. "He has a proven track record. [At 28], he's still more or less in his prime. He doesn't have anything close to elite talents, but gets the most out of what he has."
Last year wasn't a bad season, by normal standards, for Kaepernick. His passing did regress compared to 2012 by completing 58.4 percent of his passes, but his group of receivers last year, including Boldin, lacked speed to take advantage of his arm strength.
Now, with Davis, Crabtree and Johnson all in tow, as well as rookie speedster Bruce Ellington, Kaepernick has all the tools to become a star in fantasy football.
The one thing that will keep him out of elite territory is the 49ers employ a run-heavy offense, so Kaepernick won't throw the ball as much as the top-tier guys because that's not what he's asked to do.
Expect Kaepernick's yards to hover around the 3,500 mark and touchdowns jump to around 25. When you combine that with his ability to make plays with his feet, the 49ers quarterback will be a valuable gem.
Worth a Flier: Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
I will, however, admit that Cutler intrigues me as a high-end No. 2 fantasy option this season, even inching toward a No. 1. Injuries knock him down a peg, as the 31-year-old has missed at least five games in two of the last three years and hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2009.
Some of that can be attributed to the Bears having a dreadful offensive line for a long time, as Cutler was sacked 113 times from 2010-12 despite missing eight games.
Now, while there are still issues up front in Chicago, the Bears have offset that by giving Cutler two huge receivers who can just snatch the ball out of the air. Marshall has been a star for years, first with Cutler in Denver and again when they were reunited after the receiver's two-year stint in Miami.
Alshon Jeffery had a breakout season in 2013 with 1,421 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Those two receivers were able to get Josh McCown, an 11-year backup quarterback, a two-year contract and a starting job in Tampa Bay.
Last year, Cutler was having his best season by completion percentage (63.1) and yards per game (238.3) since 2008 in Denver when he threw for 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns. Interceptions are always going to be a part of his game, so you can't trust him each week.
With the weapons at Cutler's disposal—without even mentioning Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett—there's tremendous potential for him as a fantasy quarterback this season.
Stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
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