Fantasy Football Preview 2013: Quarterback Rankings

USA TODAY Sports Manning, Brady, Brees

It’s that time of year — the time of year when snakes, auctions, ADPs, keepers, and sleepers start to rule our football hearts and minds. This season, last year’s Fantasy Island contest winner, Matt Borcas, will be providing some fantasy insight, starting with the tools you need for a league-winning draft. First off, a look at this year’s quarterbacks.

32. Mark Sanchez
31. Geno Smith

Two years ago, who would’ve thought that Sanchez’s signature accomplishment would be a DiMaggio-like streak on SportsCenter’s “Worst of the Worst” segment? Dude can’t seem to catch a break — his offseason has consisted of releasing an unrated Butt Fumble sequel on Vine, getting blown off by Smith at the not-so-vaunted “Jets West” camp, and this headline. Needless to say, the Sanchize’s fantasy value is comparable to that of a sick child. My heart goes out to you if you actually have salary-cap space committed to him in a keeper league. Get a therapist, stat.

Smith is obviously a significantly better long-term fantasy (and real-life) proposition, but that’s like saying Ben Roethlisberger is a significantly better motorcycle operator than Bobby Petrino. Despite having two early first-round picks and a decent amount of cap room to work with, Jets GM John Idzik flatly refused to add any offensive playmakers this offseason. Whoever starts will be throwing to the frail Santonio Holmes (he’s still rehabbing from a Lisfranc injury and will probably begin training camp on the PUP list), the unproven Stephen Hill, and tight end Jeff Cumberland, who’s more fit for one of Brett Favre’s Wrangler-promoting pickup games than the NFL. The Jets clearly plan on bottoming out over the next year or two, so look elsewhere if you want to take a flier on a young quarterback.

30. Matt Flynn

Flynn became the prize of the 2012 free-agent class thanks to one performance in a meaningless Week 17 tilt. If a rookie baseball player gets a hit in his first career at-bat, we don’t assume he’ll finish his career batting 1.000, yet that’s exactly (OK, kind of) what the Seahawks did when they inked Flynn to a $26 million deal. Fortunately, Seattle also drafted Russell Wilson and was able to emerge unscathed from the Flynn experiment by way of a trade with the quarterback-needy Raiders.

In Oakland, Flynn will be surrounded by mediocre receivers and brittle Darren McFadden. Ron Jaworski recently called Flynn the league’s worst starter, a bold statement when you consider that the Jets technically have to start someone. The Raiders would be better off with Terrelle Pryor, or Tyler Wilson, or The Ghost of Andrew Walter under center. As would your fantasy team.

29. Brandon Weeden

Save for Josh Gordon’s codeine trip and resulting two-game suspension, this offseason was a godsend for Weeden. Hiring a semi-competent gorilla to replace Pat Shurmur would have constituted a head coaching upgrade, but Rob Chudzinski should prove to be more than that, especially from a fantasy perspective. Remember, he made Derek freaking Anderson productive for a season. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner (an irrefutable upgrade over Brad Childress) likewise plays to Weeden’s “strength” as a downfield passer. Slot ace Davone Bess won’t hurt, either.

BUT … Weeden finished 2012 with a lower QBR than Brady Quinn, Chad Henne, and Matt Cassel. Even if he improves by a factor of infinity, he’ll still be undraftable.

28. Christian Ponder

Pros: Our final image of the 2012 Vikings was Joe Webb stinking up the joint on wild-card weekend, which made Ponder look bound for Hall of Fame enshrinement by comparison.

Cons: The 2013 Vikings might be the first team in NFL history with a 1:0 run-pass ratio; PERCY HARVIN IS GONE.

Advantage: Cons.

27. Jake Locker

He’ll benefit from a massively retooled offensive line, but not enough to warrant one of your precious roster spots. Thus concludes my thoughts on Locker’s nonexistent fantasy value.

26. Alex Smith

An unwritten bylaw of every league I’ve ever been a part of is that Smith will ALWAYS be available on the waiver wire, no questions asked. It’s downright infuriating how consistently average the man is; I guess his lot in life is to be the living embodiment of an Olive Garden entrée. (This would also help explain Andy Reid’s interest.) Anyway, my point is that I’ve never seen a situation dire enough to justify Smith’s inclusion in a starting lineup, and even if such a situation existed, his upside is so soul-crushingly low that spending a Sunday tracking his performance would qualify as a form of self-flagellation.

25. Matt Schaub

PASS. (Although rookie DeAndre Hopkins will provide a much-needed presence opposite Andre Johnson.)

24. Josh Freeman

Does anyone realize that Freeman has 56 career starts already? It seems like the world is still taking a wait-and-see approach with him, as if he entered the NFL two years ago. I’d say we’ve formed conclusive opinions on every other quarterback from the 2009 draft class (Matthew Stafford = good; Mark Sanchez = bad; Pat White = R.I.P.D.), so it’s about time for Freeman to PUT UP OR SHUT UP.

23. Andy Dalton

Insofar as a ginger from Katy, Texas, can be exactly like a Palestinian hip-hop hitmaker, Dalton is exactly like DJ Khaled in the sense that his success is 100 percent due to the dudes surrounding him. Dalton, like Khaled, is totally content to mooch off his more-talented colleagues, and it’s proven to be a savvy career move. With Randy Moss clone A.J. Green, ascendant second-year wideout Mohamed Sanu, explosive rookie Giovani Bernard, and the best tight end duo in the NFL, Dalton has quite the assortment of options at his disposal. If only he was better at getting them the ball! As ESPN’s handy draft kit notes, Dalton boasts an embarrassing “26.3 completion percentage when his attempts travel more than 20 yards in the air” — good (bad?) for 30th in the league. He’ll undoubtedly put up pedestrian numbers again in 2013, leaving us to lament what a real quarterback could be doing with all of those playmakers.

22. E.J. Manuel
21. Ryan Tannehill

Hear me out! If we know anything about (mobile) rookie QBs, it’s that they’re adjusting to the NFL faster than ever. If we know anything about Manuel, it’s that he’s got the size and speed of Cam Newton. If we know anything about the criticisms being levied against Manuel about his accuracy, it’s that they sound a lot like the grievances folks were raising about Colin Kaepernick’s game two years ago. And if there’s anything we know about presumptive Bills first-stringer Kevin Kolb, it’s that he won’t be starting for long. Manuel is worth a late-round flier on potential alone; remember, no fantasy team reigns victorious in December because of Schaub or Dalton.

I have Tannehill ranked ahead of Manuel because he’s Miami’s unquestioned starter. Mike Wallace’s blazing straight-line speed is the perfect complement for Tannehill’s cannon of an arm, which was wasted on Bess, Brian Hartline, and a bunch of guys you’ve already forgotten about. For what it’s worth, Tannehill (who played receiver at Texas A&M before switching to quarterback) has also hinted at running “a little read option” in 2013. To put it mildly, I, like everyone else with a functioning mind, hold some reservations about how effective a Tannehill-led read-option offense would be, but maybe he’ll be good for a few rushing yards too. Crazier things have happened!

20. Carson Palmer
19. Philip Rivers

Here’s a list of things cooler than drafting Palmer or Rivers:

  • Going to a petting zoo on a Friday night
  • Wearing a rugby shirt to a basketball game
  • Attending a 98 Degrees reunion concert
  • Clipping your toenails in a public park
  • Getting high with your mom
  • Getting high with your grandma

Clearly, Palmer and Rivers aren’t earning your team any style points. Fortunately, style points are rarely tallied in standard scoring leagues.

Think of Palmer and Rivers with the adage “buy low/sell high” in mind. They are currently really shitty stocks that used to be semi-desirable, but each is in a new situation that appears to be a step up from their previous one. Palmer hasn’t had weapons like Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd since the Riverdance heyday of Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Rivers wasn’t a great fit in Norv Turner’s offense, and should fare much better with the ever-adaptable Mike McCoy. Rivers is ranked higher because McCoy >>> Bruce Arians (more on this in our head coaches power rankings, coming soon!), but at least we know Arians will pass the ball a lot. If you end up with Palmer/Rivers on your roster and he happens to get off to a relatively hot start, flip him immediately for a RB/WR/TE, because nothing gold can stay.

18. Sam Bradford

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Give him Tavon Austin and you feed him for a lifetime.

That might not be entirely accurate, but newcomers Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Jared Cook will make life easier for Bradford this season. Additionally, second-year wideout Brian Quick is poised for a breakout campaign, and Jake Long should help keep Bradford off his ass, assuming Long’s surgically repaired triceps doesn’t snap in two. Then again, the Rams still have to face the Seahawks’ and 49ers’ daunting defenses a combined four times, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has a disturbing history of sucking the fantasy value right out of his players (see: SANCHEZ, Mark). Consider me cautiously, cautiously optimistic about Bradford’s prospects for 2013.

17. Ben Roethlisberger
16. Michael Vick

With the influx of young quarterbacks into the ELITE tier, Roethlisberger and Vick are now firmly entrenched as fantasy backups. Problem is, neither can be relied on to stay healthy, which is pretty much the most important quality a backup can have (aside from not sucking). Roethlisberger loves to do two things: (a) throw deep, and (b) scramble like hell, so he’ll suffer more than most would from the loss of burner Mike Wallace and the questionable health status of preferred security blanket Heath Miller.

As someone who loved the 2002-04 version of Vick, I’d like to think Chip Kelly’s offense will usher in the dawn of a new Michael Vick Experience. Realistically, though, it’ll just hasten his trip to see Dr. James Andrews. Of course, it goes without saying that you should sell high on Vick if he gets off to a hot start (as you would with Palmer or Rivers), because the magic is guaranteed to run out.

15. Eli Manning

Sure, he’ll have games like this one, where he posts 510 yards and three touchdowns and reminds fans of his two legendary playoff runs. But he’ll also have his share of clunkers — there were plenty of them in 2012 — where he inexplicably looks like the mutant love child of Jake Delhomme and Joey Harrington. To put it in Manning family terms, Eli has his Peyton games and his Cooper games, and there are simply too many of the latter to start him on a weekly basis.

14. Jay Cutler

Remember when I mentioned that style points generally go uncalculated in standard leagues? That’s a damn shame for Cutler owners, because Mr. Kristin Cavallari is, hands down, the coolest dude in the NFL. Marc Trestman’s hip Canadian offense will only bolster said coolness, as well as Cutler’s fantasy value. To get an idea of the effect Trestman might have on Cutler, look at what Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo did when Trestman arrived in the CFL in 2008. It is Canada, but Calvillo instantly became a more efficient and prolific passer, despite being old as hell. Trestman’s NFL pedigree is impressive, too, and think how liberated the man must feel after being constrained to a measly three downs in Montreal! Moreover, Trestman likes using his running backs as receivers (a role that suits multipurpose back Matt Forte perfectly), which will further enhance Cutler’s numbers. If everything goes right, Cutler has top 10 potential.

13. Joe Flacco
12. Tony Romo

Both Flacco and Romo possess traits that hurt their teams in real life but simultaneously work to their advantage in fantasy. With Lord Flacco, it’s his desire to be the highest-paid player in NFL history. His massive new six-year, $120.6 million deal made it basically untenable for the Ravens to retain any of their defensive players who hit the open market in March. They’ve lost six of the 11 starters from last season’s Super Bowl team, plus pass-rushing specialist Paul Kruger (who didn’t start in the Super Bowl but nonetheless amassed nine sacks in the regular season and 4.5 in the playoffs). Therefore, it stands to reason that the once-illustrious Baltimore D will take another step back this season, causing Flacco to encounter even more passing situations. And of course, passing situations = fantasy points! Combine the Ravens’ probable defensive woes with the natural progression Flacco will make as a quarterback (especially coming off such a stellar playoff run), and you have a potential bona fide fantasy starter on your hands.

With Romo, it’s his Favre-ian tendency to attempt the most ridiculous passes imaginable, often resulting in backbreaking pick-sixes, but also generating a fair share of touchdowns. In fantasy, the touchdowns help more than the interceptions hurt. Choosing to ride with Romo is to accept his occasional multi-interception game, knowing full well that he’ll come through for you more times than not.

11. Matthew Stafford

The craziest stat I’ve seen in some time, courtesy of the aforementioned ESPN fantasy draft kit, is that Calvin Johnson was tackled on an opponent’s 1-yard line six times last season. This partially explains Stafford’s regression as a fantasy player from 2011 (333 fantasy points) to 2012 (263), and it’s a sign that we’ll see an uptick in points in 2013. Also worth noting is the fact that Stafford has, somewhat shockingly, started 16 games in consecutive seasons, which means that either (a) miracles DO happen, or (b) he’s about to be implicated in the Biogenesis scandal. Here’s hoping for the former.

10. Robert Griffin III
9. Andrew Luck
8. Colin Kaepernick
7. Russell Wilson

Like Texas Hold ’em, fantasy football is a game of skill that still requires a shitload of luck. Case in point: Say you drafted RG3 last season. Based on value alone, this was the smartest possible pick you could’ve made in the entire draft, as his ADP hovered around 80, yet he managed to rack up a whopping 303 fantasy points by season’s end. While lesser leaguemates scrambled to get Rodgers, Brady, Brees, etc., you were able to land some sweet RBs/WRs/TEs and form a pretty formidable squad. RG3 subsequently leads you to a playoff berth, and maybe even a no. 1 seed. Of course, he suffers a knee sprain near the end of Week 14’s 31-28 victory over the Ravens (his only injury of the regular season), causing him to miss Week 15, which just so happens to be when your league’s semifinals take place. You proceed to lose in epic fashion, because fantasy football is an unforgiving monster.

As George W. Bush once tried to say, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Keep that in mind with respect to RG3, who has a history of ACL trouble going back to his sophomore year at Baylor. There are safer options on the board than him, including the other three members of the Gang of Four (© Bill Barnwell), who will provide a relatively similar level of production with way less injury risk.

Luck’s new offensive coordinator is Pep Hamilton, whose job title at Stanford was the “Andrew Luck Director of Offense.” He’s supposedly less aggressive than Arians (who isn’t?), naturally has a great rapport with Luck (and Coby Fleener), and has been drawing rave reviews. Kaepernick was thrust into the starting job midseason and continued to improve throughout the playoffs; I expect him to keep trending upward after a full offseason of first-team reps. The 49ers lost Michael Crabtree for at least part of the season, but Anquan Boldin and 2012 first-rounder A.J. Jenkins (who essentially redshirted last year) will suffice as replacements. Finally, Wilson scored 259 fantasy points last season while passing the ball a mere 393 times; his attempts should increase in 2013 with the addition of Percy Harvin.

6. Matt Ryan

In the NFL, no news is almost always good news, at least in the spring and summer months. This was a largely newsless offseason for the Falcons. Even the expected news (Tony Gonzalez’s retirement) ultimately didn’t come to fruition. The only news was the signing of Steven Jackson, and that happened to be great news. Ryan will pick up right where he left off in 2012 — as the most efficient passer in football.

5. Cam Newton

Newton is definitely a Tim Tebow All-Star, a designation I just created to honor players who manage to have great fantasy performances even when they play crappy in real life. Newton scored the fourth-most fantasy points out of all QBs last season, yet placed 16th in QBR. That takes real skill. Additionally, while the Gang of Four receives all the attention, Newton’s fantasy potential dwarfs theirs. Unlike RG3, he’s durable; unlike Kaepernick, we’ve seen a lot of him; unlike Wilson, his team will likely be down often enough for him to chuck it all over the yard.

4. Peyton Manning
3. Tom Brady

I’ve forever scoffed at lists that claim to rank the top five or 10 receivers in the NFL, yet include Wes Welker on them. To be sure, Welker was terrific in his role in New England, but the idea that he belonged in the same rarefied tier as Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and others was always a stupid one. Almost as stupid, in fact, as the idea that Brady won’t be perfectly fine without Welker at his side — particularly with the additions of Welker clone Danny Amendola and legitimate downfield threat Aaron Dobson. Of course, the Aaron Hernandez loss will be felt, but Brady was plenty prolific before Hernandez arrived in Foxborough, and he’ll continue to be so now that he’s gone. The lack of faith in Brady is honestly quite jarring (fortunately, some believers remain among us), to the point where it’s easy to get the sense that it’s mostly just the result of widespread (albeit misplaced) contempt for the Patriots. We’ve seen enough to know that Brady could have a tremendously productive season with a receiving corps comprised exclusively of undrafted free agents from the Arena Football League. If you pass on Brady in favor of Manning or one of the read-option whippersnappers, you’ll be just like 31 NFL teams not from New England — ruing the day you didn’t draft him.

By the same token, Welker will certainly help out Manning this year, but not enough for him to leapfrog Brady in fantasy production. Of course, I’d still love to have him on my fantasy team, and you should too.

2. Drew Brees

Let me get this straight — Brees led all players in fantasy points last season, despite bearing the burden of an interim head coach for 10 games and an interim-interim head coach for six? Expect more of the same, especially with a revenge-seeking Sean Payton back on the sideline. From an offensive standpoint, the 2013 Saints have serious 2007 Patriots potential, in that they might never take their foot off the gas pedal.

1. Aaron Rodgers

The only — and I mean ONLY — risk involved in drafting Rodgers is that he might forfeit his salary because of some stupid tweet he sent out in February 2012 and be forced to join another line of work. (Personally, I think he’d make a great valet!) He’s the surest bet in fantasy, and will be supported this season by an actual running game (rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin) — a novel concept in Green Bay.

Filed Under: Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Fantasy Football, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Tony Romo