By Tony Meale
By now, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “The NFL is a passing league.” This is not news. Having an elite signal-caller who can win you the game in crunch time is essential for any NFL franchise.
But that’s not the case in fantasy. Fantasy is about numbers, not a clutch gene.
Admittedly, I’ve used first-round picks, not to mention bundles of auction bucks, investing in top-fight quarterbacks (think Tom Brady and Drew Brees) – and I’ve had success doing it. But this year is different. Why?
Because the 2013 quarterback class is the deepest in fantasy history.
That’s right. The deepest, ever, in history, period.
In addition to the aforementioned quarterbacks, we’ve got the usual cast of elite characters: Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan, among them. That’s five quarterbacks – half of the starting QBs in a 10-team league and almost half of the starting QBs in a 12-team league.
That’s before we get to dual-threat quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. That’s before we get to Tony Romo, who threw for a career-best 4,903 yards last year. That’s before we get to Matthew Stafford, who has finished in the top three in passing yards each of the last two seasons. Heck, that’s even before we get to three Super Bowl winners (Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco), two Wild Card (Michael Vick and Jay Cutler) and a rising star (Andrew Luck).
Note that I’ve made no mention of Josh Freeman and Carson Palmer, both of whom finished in the top ten in passing yards last season (Palmer will also be throwing to Larry Fitzgerald this year – a significant upgrade over Brandon Myers). I’ve also made no mention of Andy Dalton and Philip Rivers, who finished seventh and ninth, respectively, in passing touchdowns.
In short, the position is stacked. How stacked? Unless you play in a two-quarterback league, you’re better off shunning Brady and Brees in the early rounds and focusing your attention elsewhere, particularly on running backs, wide receivers and Jimmy Graham.
But, because you came here for rankings, here are my top 12 quarterbacks for 2013. I can probably guarantee I won’t own any of the top six or so quarterbacks on this list in any of my leagues, but here goes:
1) Drew Brees, Saints
He’s finished first in the league in both passing yards and passing touchdowns each of the last two seasons. Plus, he gets his head coach back. Seriously, what more do you want?
2) Peyton Manning, Broncos
Yes, I know he’s 37, and yes, I know center Dan Koppen is out for the season. I also know Manning finished third in the league in touchdown passes (37) – despite the fact that Denver ranked among the top 10 in both red zone rushing attempts and red zone rushing touchdowns. With Willis McGahee gone, I expect Denver to air it out in the red zone a little more this season, especially with the addition of Wes Welker. The floor is 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns. The ceiling? Probably 5,000 and 45.
3) Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Rodgers, the No. 1 quarterback according to most analysts, returns his top four pass-catchers from last season, including Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson. Most drafters would prefer Rodgers over Brees and Manning, and that’s fair. I just see Brees and Manning as having slightly more upside, if that’s even possible (and yes, I realize I’m splitting hairs here). And while Greg Jennings is by no means a crippling loss, it’s a loss nonetheless. If given the choice, I’d rather add Welker than lose Jennings. Just saying…
4) Matt Ryan, Falcons
Last season, Ryan threw for 108 yards and two touchdowns fewer than Tom Brady. Tom Brady will be without his top five pass-catchers from last season. Matt Ryan returns his top six. You do the math.
5) Cam Newton, Panthers
Newton has accounted for 3,800+ yards, 700+ rushing yards and at least 27 total touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. He’s also yet to miss a game.
6) Tom Brady, Patriots
Most analysts have Brady ranked higher. I respect the heck out of him, but from a risk-reward standpoint, this is as high as I can go.
7) Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
Kaepernick started only seven games during the 2012 regular season, and yet he led the 49ers to within a fourth-and-goal of the Super Bowl. If you extrapolate his regular-season numbers to 16 games, you’d have 3,500+ passing yards, 500+ rushing yards and 30 combined touchdowns. With an entire offseason to prepare for his first full season as an NFL starter, the 25-year-old should only get better. In fact, if you took Kaepernick ahead of Brady, I wouldn’t be mad about it.
8) Robert Griffin III, Redskins
Griffin said he will wear a brace on his surgically repaired right knee all season, and as a fantasy owner, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Don’t bank on Griffin running for 815 yards again – either this season or in general – but it’d be disappointing if he didn’t exceed his rookie output of 3,200 passing yards. In the end, 4,000+ total yards and 30+ touchdowns are feasible.
9) Matthew Stafford, Lions
How does a guy throw for 41 touchdowns one season and just 20 the next? Simple. He has a receiver get tackled on – or inside – the 5-yard line a league-leading 23 times. If even half of those go for scores, we’re looking at Stafford as a top-five fantasy quarterback this season. But forget the scores. Stafford has finished among the top three in yards each of the last two years and came within 33 yards of posting back-to-back 5,000-yard seasons. Draft with supreme confidence.
10) Tony Romo, Cowboys
You might want to sit him in do-or-die games for the Cowboys, but Romo has finished in the top seven in passing yards in three of the last four seasons and in the top three twice. Yes, the league-leading 19 interceptions hurt, but he also finished sixth with 28 touchdown passes and still has one of the best receiving corps in all of football. Romo can be maddening in big moments, but his stats – and that’s all fantasy football is, remember? – merit a spot in the top 10.
11) Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Wilson would be a couple of spots higher if Percy Harvin didn’t need hip surgery, but Harvin does and Wilson isn’t. Still, Wilson averaged 23.2 fantasy points over the final six games of last season – this after averaging 11 points in his first six games of last season. In short, he improved, and at 24, it’s hard to imagine Wilson – with or without Harvin – not taking a step forward in 2013.
12) Andrew Luck, Colts
Going from chuck-it-downfield Bruce Arians to West Coast disciple Pep Hamilton hurts, but Luck threw for 4,300+ yards as a rookie and tossed in five rushing touchdowns for good measure. He has top-ten potential.
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