Like spotting a rogue robin on a semi-warm late winter day, I noticed the first fantasy football magazine on the local grocery store newsstand. Typically these magazines bring happy thoughts—that soon training camps will be popping up like dandelions in the back yard.
Except, we’re in mid-July. Fantasy football magazines typically populate the local rack in mid-June. The timeline is just another reminder of the black cloud following NFL football this year.
And the magazine, a Sporting News special, still sits on the rack with the college football guides and Country Samplers. That’s because when this lockout does end, and free agency and trading light up the sports section transactions list, any and all fantasy sources that were published during the lockout lull will be null and void.
But there are some things that shouldn’t change too drastically between now and the season, regardless of the myriad of moves coming soon.
One of which is how I view the top 15 fantasy football quarterbacks for the coming season (from a redraft standpoint). The following are my “early” redraft QB rankings for 2011 (in order of how I see them finishing, not how they’ll be drafted later this summer).
1. Aaron Rodgers, GB: It is impossible not to like Rodgers from a fantasy standpoint. He can do things with a football that most people could only dream about. He has a super-great supporting cast that is only going to improve with Jermichael Finley back and the running back corps healthy.
Rodgers also adds pointage from the ground and proved two years ago when the Packers O-line was as holey as Swiss cheese that he can take a beating and keep on playing.
2. Peyton Manning, IND: Laugh all you want. I know Peyton is coming off a “down” season. But even a disappointing statistical haul for him last year was much better than you’d find with many others in the NFL. The reasons for Peyton’s “struggles” were many. Slipshod O-line in 2010 now has two premier rookies at its disposal (Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ilajana).
Peyton’s security blanket in the receiving game, Dallas Clark, was lost for a good part of the season. He’s healthy for 2011. Austin Collie, who broke out when healthy, also dealt with a series of concussions. Those are allegedly behind him, too.
And Manning dealt with some pain of his own. Offseason neck surgery allegedly went well and, while the lockout has limited some of his workout abilities, Manning should be full force on Week 1. Colts president Bill Polian recently said that he fully believes Manning will have four more elite years at the NFL level. I’m banking on at least one.
3. Michael Vick, PHI: I make this choice with trepidation. I was totally ready to put Philip Rivers ahead of Vick. Same with Brees and Brady, too. That’s because Vick is a lot like the song from the play Oklahoma! titled “All or nothing.”
Vick, when healthy and on the field, will give you his fantasy all. He can rip off 30 or 40 fantasy points in any given week.
My concern is that Vick plays in a style that opens himself up for injury. It is OK to run with the football—Aaron Rodgers and Josh Freeman prove that. But how much is too much for an NFL quarterback? At what point does the extra beating lead to time on the sideline? There’s a reason that the running back has such a short average NFL career when compared to standard quarterback.
The question isn’t whether Vick gets hurt or not; I think it is nearly inevitable he misses at least one game this season, if not more. The question is, will that time off come at a bad time for your fantasy team? Will it come late in the season when you are pushing for the title? Will his overall season stats make up for some of the “nothing” spells that will pop up?
4. Philip Rivers, SD: Rivers has been quietly one very consistent and productive NFL signal caller. He produces fantasy stats regardless of who’s on the field. Last year, he was a fantasy star throwing the ball to guys like Seyi Ajirotutu and Randy McMichael at various points during the season.
This year, he gets a healthy Antonio Gates and a full season of Vincent Jackson—not to mention the underrated rookie Vincent Brown.
5. Tom Brady, NE: Every year, Brady is that guy who should realistically fall off. Last year, especially, as his receiving options seemed to continue to disappear, Brady somehow rose to the occasion even more.
This season, there is still a lack of a true playmaking receiver in that offense. Brady doesn’t care. Should we?
6. Drew Brees, NO: Despite a disappointing overall fantasy season in 2010, Brees was still a solid option during certain weeks. This year, he’ll have his full cast back along with a rookie running back (Ingram) who will likely help open up the passing lanes as defenses have to do some damage control out of the backfield.
7. Matt Ryan, ATL: Some are skeptical that Ryan is afraid to make big throws down the field; that he doesn’t want to take risks. However, he has proven each year that he can produce decent fantasy numbers and that was with a somewhat limited cast outside of Roddy White.
This year, Julio Jones will be the piece that makes the offense stretch the field. He’ll demand coverage that will open up Roddy White. He’ll give Matty Ice another option downfield to beat coverages and boost the young QB’s confidence.
I also believe that Jason Snelling, or another pass-catching RB option, will take over more of the backfield duties from the stone-handed Michael Turner. There was no doubt that when Snelling played in place of Turner at points last season that the offense was that much more dynamic.
8. Tony Romo, DAL: Romo’s injury last year let us see some things that make Romo’s 2011 outlook much brighter.
For one, Jon Kitna excelled in the QB slot in Romo’s absence. Not taking anything away from Kitna, but Romo brings more to the table and should easily carry over that momentum.
Also, Dez Bryant found ways to emerge last year as a rookie receiver, even though Kitna was under helm. Bryant and Miles Austin and Jason Witten form one mean trio of firepower. The lack of a stud RB only means that the passing game will be that much more instrumental.
9. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT: Big Ben was able to weather a rocky offseason last year and remain productive from a fantasy standpoint. It helped that Rashard Mendenhall morphed into a reliable running force to keep defenses honest. It also helped that Mike Wallace emerged as a true weapon.
10. Matt Schaub, HOU: There is more drive than ever for the Texans to get over the proverbial hump and become a playoff-bound squad. They have arguably the game’s best receiver in Andre Johnson. They now have a solid pass-catching running back in Arian Foster. This year will be a big one for Schaub and company. They either make it work or face another long offseason.
11. Josh Freeman, TB: After a breakout 2010 campaign, Freeman faces high expectations in 2011. Some worry that he’ll crumble under the pressure.
However, he offers a good mix of passing and running elements. Consider that he was dwarfed by just Vick in rushing yards last season and yet never found he end zone. That is quite a fluke that is bound to turn around.
And, Freeman has some emerging young talent across the board to mature and produce with.
12. Joe Flacco, BAL: While the Ravens remain a run-heavy team, the squad added some more dynamic passing with Anquan Boldin last year. Now, Torrey Smith adds yet another needed passing weapon. Flacco is developing into a nice fantasy option.
13. Eli Manning, NYG: Quietly underrated among fantasy circles, Manning has an emerging stud WR in Hakeem Nicks and some other quality options. He continues to score fantasy points, although the excess interceptions from last year need to be dealt with.
One thing to keep in mind is that the NFC-East plays the NFC-West this year, meaning QBs like Eli will have games versus the Rams, Niners, Seahawks and Cardinals.
14. Matthew Stafford, DET: Could easily find his way much higher on this list if he can escape the injury albatross that has hampered him the past two seasons. The Lions are progressively going in the right direction on both sides of the ball, and Stafford could have a big season if he can stay on the field.
15. Sam Bradford, STL: Another young QB on a team that is showing signs of offensive life, Bradford showed us a lot during his rookie season. While some sophomore slumpage should be expected, don’t expect him to wallow in it too long, unlike other QBs who come off a hot rookie season.
Want a way to show the NFL your frustrations over the lockout, how about this idea?
Also, one chinstrap ninja debates why he thinks Christian Ponder is a bad dynasty pick.