The Never-Too-Early 2013 QB Rankings
To those who say it's too early to rank players for the 2013 fantasy season, I have one word for you: Balderdash.
For fantasy football junkies, it's never too early to look ahead. As the casual fantasy player finds something else (family, career, contributing to society, etc.) to focus on for the next six months, we'll be ranking and re-ranking each position over and over until the 2013 drafts are complete. With that in mind, here is a snapshot of how I view the quarterback position right now. I'll rank the players in tiers, so don't get too caught up in the rankings within any given tier -- those will be pretty fluid.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Rodgers finished with 4,303 yards and 41 total touchdowns versus just eight interceptions. He has finished as a top 2 QB in five straight seasons. Even though his 2012 season wasn't as mind-bogglingly efficient as his 2011 numbers, it's a bit strange that he's not even in the conversation for league MVP (yet Peyton Manning is). Considering he lost Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson for a combined 12 games, Rodgers had quite the season.
2. Drew Brees, Saints
In a down year for the Saints as a team, Brees was still wildly productive, throwing for 5,177 yards and 43 TDs and he even rushed for another score. He did throw 19 picks, which weighted down his fantasy totals a bit. He should benefit from the return of head coach Sean Payton, so expect more of the same from Brees in 2013. He has finished as a top 2 fantasy QB in four of the last five seasons.
3. Tom Brady, Patriots
Throwing for 4,827 yards and 34 TDs in 2012, Brady has finished as the #3 QB in three straight seasons and is a good bet to crack the top 5 for the fourth year in a row. What he lacks in rushing yards, he makes up for in TD sneaks (seven rush TDs in the last two seasons).
4. Cam Newton, Panthers
Early in the 2012 season, there was talk of a sophomore slump for Newton, as he had only accounted for eight total touchdowns (five pass, three rush) in his first seven games after averaging 2.2 total TDs per game in 2011. Starting in Week 9, he scored 19 TDs in his final nine games, a 2.1 TD per game average, and was the top fantasy QB of the second half. He should continue to progress as an NFL quarterback in 2013.
5. Peyton Manning, Broncos
After sitting out the entire 2011 season due to a scary neck ailment, Manning returned to good form in 2012, throwing for 4,667 yards and 37 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions. He doesn't have the same zip on the ball, but he's still extremely accurate. Not counting 2011, Manning has finished in the top 6 in three straight seasons.
6. Matt Ryan, Falcons
The pieces that made Ryan a success in 2012 should stay mostly in place in 2013. OC Dirk Koetter is staying with the team and Julio Jones and Roddy White will be back. The only question mark is Tony Gonzalez, who has been threatening to retire for the last five years. Thanks to the return of Peyton Manning and the arrival of Robert Griffin III, Ryan's 8% jump in fantasy points only resulted in a one spot improvement from 2011 (QB8) to 2012 (QB7).
7. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
In 10 games as the starter, Kaepernick averaged 241 passing yards and 1.4 TDs (vs. 0.5 INTs) to go along with 50 rushing yards and 0.5 rush TD. That all adds up to 21.7 fantasy points per game which would have placed #2 among QBs in 2012 over the course of a full season. The main concern is that teams will have a chance to study his tendencies in the offseason, and that could impact his production in 2013.
8. Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Overshadowed by Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, Wilson had arguably the best season of any rookie QB (ever) not named Cam Newton. He accounted for 30 total TDs (26 pass, four rush) and rushed for the third-most yardage among all QBs in 2012. Like the other rookies and first-year starters, there's always the possibility that defenses will be able to scheme against them, and Wilson's average passing yardage (195 per game) won't help his fantasy value weather a regression in touchdowns. The addition of Percy Harvin at WR helps a lot.
9. Andrew Luck, Colts
Luck broke Cam Newton's rookie record for passing yardage and threw the third-most TDs of any rookie QB in the history of the league. One concern with Luck is his late-season swoon in yardage -- he averaged just 195 yards in his last four games, all against mediocre to bad pass defenses. He also played significantly better at home in terms of taking care of the ball. He threw 13 picks on the road versus just five at home. He should improve in this area as he progresses as an NFL QB.
10. Matthew Stafford, Lions
Stafford took a big step backward after his stellar 41-TD effort in 2011 by throwing just 20 touchdowns in 2012. His various release points actually became almost comical as the season wore on, as he would often throw sidearm or use a 3/4 release when it was completely unnecessary. (That sounds like the makings of a drinking game.) It might explain his drop in accuracy (63.5% in 2011 to 59.8% in 2012), or maybe Stafford is just a 60% thrower. In his defense, he had to deal with major injuries to his receiving corps -- Nate Burleson, Titus Young, Ryan Broyles and Brandon Pettigrew all missed significant time for one reason or another. Even with all of this adversity, Stafford finished as the #11 fantasy QB, so we've probably found his floor. As we learned in 2011, he has top 5 upside.
11. Robert Griffin III, Redskins
Griffin turned in a wonderful rookie season, racking up 27 total TDs (20 passing, seven rushing) to go along with 3,211 yards passing and 833 yards rushing. RG3 belongs in the top tier when he's playing, but like Michael Vick before him, his lack of bulk and propensity to take hits make him an injury risk. Keep an eye on that knee injury -- he may not be ready to start the 2013 season.
12. Tony Romo, Cowboys
Romo has finished in the top 11 in five of the last six seasons, and that includes his injury-shortened 2010 season. He has a very nice receiving corps that includes the emerging Dez Bryant and the sure-handed Jason Witten, and it appears that the Cowboys intend to lock him up to a long-term deal even though he's signed through the 2013 season. He's going to offer low-end QB1 value in the middle rounds (5th/6th) of 2013 fantasy drafts.
13. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
On a per game basis, Big Ben was QB12 in 2012 and QB13 in 2011, so as long as he stays healthy -- which isn't a sure thing these days -- he's likely to provide fringe fantasy starter numbers for owners in 2013. However, if big-play wideout Mike Wallace signs elsewhere, it's going to have an adverse effect on his production, and Roethlisberger will likely drop to the next tier.
14. Andy Dalton, Bengals
There was no sophomore slump for Dalton, who finished 12th in total fantasy points and 13th in points per game. He has one of the best receivers in the league in A.J. Green and emerging weapons (Jermaine Gresham, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Andrew Hawkins) elsewhere in the passing game. He's a solid low-end starter or member of a QBBC, but he only cracked 220 yards passing once in his final six games, which is worrisome.
15. Eli Manning, Giants
Will the real Eli please stand up? After throwing for 4,933 yards and 29 TDs in 2011, Manning regressed to 3,948 and 26 in 2012. Those numbers were more reflective of his averages from 2008-2010, so maybe that's the real Eli. Then again, he certainly was affected by a knee injury to Hakeem Nicks, who wasn't himself in 2012. If Nicks can get (and stay) healthy, Manning should return to low-end QB1 status. That's a big "if," however.
16. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
Through Week 14, Freeman was averaging 1.9 touchdowns and just 0.6 interceptions, but he finished the season on a very sour note, throwing nine picks and only two TDs in his final three games. It's not like the closing schedule (NO, STL, ATL) was super difficult, either. His play down the stretch was so bad that his head coach, Greg Schiano, said that he plans to bring in competition next season. Yikes. Freeman is an NFL starter and will likely start for the Bucs next year, but he proved in December that he hasn't quite yet turned the corner.
17. Michael Vick, TBD
Vick obviously had a rough season, but still averaged 236 yards passing and 1.2 TDs per start, while rushing for another 35 yards per game. He needs another fresh start, but it's likely that he'll be the starting QB somewhere in 2013.
18. Sam Bradford, Rams
After throwing for 3,702 yards and 21 TDs in 2012, It seems like Bradford's career is back on track after a rough second season. The stability of Jeff Fisher certainly helps and the emergence of rookie Chris Givens in the passing game gives Bradford a viable deep option. Over his final eight games, he averaged 238 yards and 1.6 TDs.
19. Carson Palmer, Raiders
Palmer is under contract for at least two more seasons, so he's expected to remain the starter in Oakland for the time being. Palmer averaged 1.7 TDs through Week 14, but he didn't play well against the Chiefs in Week 15 and was injured against the Panthers in Week 16. He is capable of putting up good numbers in favorable matchups, which makes him an ideal fit for a QBBC.
20. Joe Flacco, Ravens
Flacco was much better at home (295 yards, 1.9 TDs, 0.6 INTs) than he was on the road (182 yards, 0.9 TDs, 0.6 INTs), which wasn't an issue in 2011, but was a factor in 2009 and 2010. He was even mediocre in good matchups on the road (9.3 FP @ PHI in Week 2 and 6.6 FP @ HOU in Week 7), so until he starts playing better on the road, he should only be used in a QBBC when playing at home.
21. Matt Schaub, Texans
Schaub was up-and-down in 2012 with six multi-TD games to go along with five zero-TD games. The problem is the Texans don't throw the ball consistently enough (34.0 PA per game) to make Schaub a viable weekly option.
22. Philip Rivers, Chargers
After four consecutive top 10 seasons, Rivers fell to 20th in total fantasy points and 22nd in PPG. This can be partly attributed to the departure of Vincent Jackson and the fact that Antonio Gates simply isn't a dominant tight end anymore. Rivers is no longer an elite QB who can overcome a talent drop off, but he is capable enough to post good-to-great numbers if he's surrounded by good players. The Chargers need to retain Danario Alexander and hope he can stay healthy. Upgrades elsewhere would help Rivers' fantasy value.
24. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins
By most accounts, Tannehill looked like a starting NFL QB in his rookie season, even with one of the least talented receiving corps in the game. The addition of a top free agent WR (like Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings) would improve his situation considerably.
25. Jake Locker, Titans
Locker played only 10 games, and threw 10 TDs against 11 INTs. His rushing yards made him a decent spot start depending on the matchup. Expect more of that in 2013. Maybe more, if Kenny Britt gets back to his explosive self.
26. Brandon Weeden, Browns
Weeden showed promise early on, throwing for nine TDs in his first seven games, but only threw five more in his next eight games. We won't have a read on his value until the Browns' coaching situation is settled.
27. Christian Ponder, Vikings
Ponder had 2+ TDs in six of his 16 games, but failed to throw a TD in five games. If the Vikings can re-sign Percy Harvin it will certainly boost Ponder's limited fantasy value.