With September just around the corner, the NFL season, but more importantly, fantasy football, is almost here. In the first of a four-part series, we'll be looking at the quarterbacks. For each position group, I'll rank the top several players, as well as sleepers and potential busts. Each player is also given a power rating up to 10, based on how high his ceiling is and how risky it would be to draft him.
1. Aaron Rodgers—10
ESPN knocks Rodgers for his tendency to hang on to the ball too long, but let's chalk that up to his relative youth and inexperience for now. He threw for more yards and fewer picks than Brees and ran for five TDs as well. Expect the two to put up similar numbers this year, but it just seems that Rodgers has a touch more upside than Brees.
2. Drew Brees—10
If Rodgers is No. 1, Brees should be more like No. 1A. Although not quite the individual playmaker Rodgers is, Brees has arguably better weapons around him and set the NFL single-season record for completion percentage last year. Still, the Madden Curse got both Fitzgerald and Polamalu last year, so watch out. If you want to take Brees instead, I won't argue, but you know what they say about karma.
3. Tom Brady—9
Coming off knee surgery, Brady set a career high for yards even with an injured Wes Welker. Brady looked jittery in the pocket last season, but expect that nervousness to be long gone. The year before he blew out his knee, Brady threw for 50 TDs. He's healthy, Welker is healthy, and the Pats still don't run the ball. Just as he was drafted too high in '08, Brady will likely go far too low for his production this year.
4. Peyton Manning—9
Just when it seems like someone has finally stolen Peyton's mantle as the best active QB, Manning reminds us all why he's in the discussion for best EVER. Manning is only 34 and coming off back-to-back MVP seasons, and like the Pats, Indy typically ignores the run game. However, Reggie Wayne is slipping and although Garcon and Collie picked up the slack left by Anthony Gonzalez' injury, Brady has significantly better toys to play with in Moss and Welker.
5. Tony Romo—8
The Cowboys added another playmaker to their already elite receiving corps. Dez Bryant is a superstar in the making, and along with Austin, Williams, and Witten, Romo clearly has the best group of targets. If you throw out the rushing stats, Romo looks a lot like Aaron Rodgers in terms of production. However, Romo simply isn't as clutch as the top four. Expect a very good year from Romo and the Cowboys, but Dallas' run game actually hurts him in this situation.
6. Matt Schaub—8
He has the best WR on the planet to throw to, and proved that he can be a star, throwing for over 4,700 yards and 29 TDs. Houston's running back situation is a mess, but expect whoever plays back there to catch the ball as well. Kevin Walter is no Wes Welker, but throw Owen Daniels into the mix and Schaub seems to be heading toward another big year. Still, the injury bug has bitten him in the past and he has yet to prove that he has "it" on a more consistent basis.
7. Philip Rivers—7
Like the rest of the Chargers, Rivers is a bit of an enigma heading into this season. With LT out the door and Vincent Jackson surrounded by question marks, it's hard to predict a monster year for Rivers. Nevertheless the Chargers are still the class of the AFC West and Rivers has the ability to lead them deep into the playoffs if the run game clicks. There's a drop off between Schaub and Rivers, but an even bigger one between Rivers and the rest of the league.
7.5 Brett Favre—7
He says he's playing if the ankle holds up and he had a huge year last season. Maybe he just wants to avoid two-a-days, but waiting this long to announce his intentions is extreme even for Favre. He has plenty of weapons around him, and has top five QB potential. But another candle on the cake and questions about the ankle make drafting him a gamble even if he suits up.
8. Eli Manning—6
Eli was good but not great last year, putting up top 10 QB numbers in an otherwise up and down season for the Giants. Expect a better year here as his young receiving corps begins to emerge and the Giants bounce back into the playoffs.
9. Joe Flacco—6
The Ravens went out and added Anquan Boldin, giving Flacco the big-time target he was lacking. With weapons like Boldin, Derrick Mason, Stallworth, and Rice, don't be surprised if Flacco makes the leap much like Romo and Schaub did last year.
10. Kevin Kolb—6
While he was good in the limited time he saw the field, Kolb is still a relative unknown. He has plenty of weapons in DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek, but McCoy is a bit of a question mark in the backfield. At the very least, we know he won't provide the safety valve McNabb had in Westbrook for all those years. This ranking is based more on the Eagles' talent than on Kolb's, but he showed enough to be a reliable fantasy starter, if not necessarily a desirable one.
11. Chad Henne—5
For a while it looked like Al Davis was running things in Miami too. The Dolphins finally found Henne a receiver with hands in Brandon Marshall, and although they lack the deep threats Henne enjoyed in college, expect a mini-leap from Chad at the least. He still won't throw it as much as the guys ahead of him on this list, but the Dolphins are a bubble playoff team, and the Henne-Marshall combo can propel them into a wild-card spot.
12. Donovan McNabb—5
Washington doesn't have nearly the talent to surround McNabb that the Eagles did, but Santana Moss gives him a legitimate deep-ball target that he never really found in Philly. Nevertheless, McNabb has a lot of pressure on him to push the Skins to the next level, and he lacks the wideouts and run game to get them there.
13. Matt Ryan—5
After a disappointing end to what looked like a breakout year for Ryan, things are looking up, but only slightly. The Falcons still don't have a No. 2 receiver to take some pressure off Roddy White. Tony G is a reliable pass-catcher, but Michael Turner is not. At this point, the Falcons look like an 8-8 team with a solid starter at QB. Unfortunately for Matt Ryan, solid NFL starters typically only make solid fantasy backups.
14. Jay Cutler—5
The Mike Martz offense should open things up for Cutler and the Bears much like it did for Jon Kitna in Detroit. However, Cutler already throws a lot of INTs, and is on record saying he's likely to throw more. The Bears have a lot of interesting pieces around Cutler, but not enough proven guys to keep him from winging the ball all over the field on 3rd and long.
15. Ben Roethlisberger—5
This is based on what Roethlisberger will give you over the entire season, not on his weekly potential. Once he's back from his suspension, expect Roethlisberger to have another stellar year. However, Santonio Holmes is gone and coach Mike Tomlin wants to get back to pounding the football. Roethlisberger is an elite QB, but the circumstances make it difficult to draft him ahead of anyone else on this list.
1. Carson Palmer
Adding another headcase to a team already full of them seems like a bad idea on paper, but TO surprisingly seems to get it as a Bengal. He'll never be the threat he was early in his career, but he provides another dangerous weapon for Palmer. With Ochocinco on the other side, the Bengals have an intriguing pair of targets for Palmer, to say the least. While Cinci is still a run-first team, things should open up a little in the passing game.
2. Matthew Stafford
After a predictable rookie season filled with interceptions, Stafford should take a step toward fulfilling his No. 1 pick status. With a healthy Calvin Johnson and some more nice pieces in Burleson, Scheffler, Best, and Pettigrew when he returns, Stafford is a solid fantasy backup with some nice upside.
3. Alex Smith
A deep sleeper to start the season, Smith has some weapons around him with Crabtree and Vernon Davis. While the 49ers won't throw it a ton, the opportunities will be there for Smith. It's up to him to make the most of them and answer questions about his accuracy. SF has the defense and the run game to take some of the pressure off, though, so don't be surprised if he throws for 2,600 and 20 TDs.
1. Mark Sanchez
The Jets don't throw the ball and they don't have enough targets for him anyway. Sanchez simply won't have enough attempts to make drafting him worth it. You really only need one QB, and there will be better options for you in free agency to cover your starter's bye week.
2. Vince Young
Regardless of Young's new leadership skills, this is clearly Chris Johnson's team on the field. Like Sanchez, VY won't throw it enough to be anything more than a decent fantasy backup at best. His accuracy issues are well-documented, and the Titans lack a go-to-guy on passing downs.