The Never-Too-Early 2014 QB Rankings
Think it's too early to start ranking players for the 2014 fantasy season? If so, get out of here -- I can't even stand to look at you. Go on, get out.
Still here? Good, you are my kind of fantasy owner. Always grinding.
I’m going to start with quarterbacks and rank the position by tiers, so don’t get too caught up with a player’s ranking within a particular tier. These rankings are fluid and will inevitably change as free agency, the NFL Draft, injuries and other factors shape the fantasy landscape.
Once again, the position is shaping up to be extremely deep in 2014.
Note: Any reference to fantasy points assumes a standard scoring format.
Peyton Manning was far and away the best QB of 2013 and although he’s getting up there in age (turning 38 in March), he’s still playing at a very high level. The Denver offense looks like a juggernaut, so barring bad news when he has his post-Super Bowl checkup on his neck, he’ll very likely be a top 3 pick along with Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Since 2005, the #1 QB has finished 5th, 3rd, 60th (Tom Brady’s injury year), 2nd, 2nd, 11th (Michael Vick missed three games), 1st and 23rd (Rodgers in 2013) in the following season. The only QB to repeat a #1 finish in that span was Rodgers in 2012.
Brees has finished as the #2 in back-to-back seasons and outside of some mediocrity on the road, he’s about as safe as they come. Rodgers posted the #4 PPG in 2013 despite a broken collarbone that knocked him out early in his first matchup with the Bears. He should bounce back in a big way in 2014. I might end up ranking these three based on how their fantasy playoff schedules/locations look once the league-wide schedule is released.
Nick Foles posted the #3 PPG in 2013 and in 11 starts (including the playoffs) he averaged 23.1 FP, which was second only to Peyton Manning. The only question mark is his limited body of work. Sometimes quarterbacks take a step back in their second year, though Foles played at such a high level that even with a step back, he should still be a solid QB1. For his part, Newton has finished in the top 4 in three straight seasons, though his PPG has dropped from 22.9 to 20.6 to 18.7 in that span. That’s a bit worrisome. So is his receiving corps.
6. Andrew Luck, Colts
7. Matthew Stafford, Lions
8. Russell Wilson, Seahawks
9. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
10. Tom Brady, Patriots
11. Philip Rivers, Chargers
12. Matt Ryan, Falcons
13. Tony Romo, Cowboys
14. Robert Griffin III, Redskins
This is the toughest (and most important) group to rank. It’s hard to argue with Andrew Luck sitting on top given his back-to-back #8 finishes in PPG in his first two seasons. Tom Brady (with the return of Rob Gronkowski), Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan are candidates for bounce back seasons, though Stafford’s season (as a whole) was actually pretty good from a pure fantasy standpoint.
Now to the “running” QBs: Russell Wilson was steady in 2013, while Colin Kaepernick surged with the return of Michael Crabtree. (Kaepernick scored 16.1 FP in 11 games without Crabtree and 19.3 FP in eight games with his WR1.) Robert Griffin III figures to benefit from another year removed from ACL surgery, but he’ll have to deal with a new offensive scheme under HC Jay Gruden.
Finally in the “pocket passer” category, Philip Rivers (#7 in PPG, #5 overall) should remain in the QB1 conversation along with Tony Romo, who has posted back-to-back #11 QB seasons in both total points and PPG. I’d love to see these two run the 40-yard dash.
In total, these first three tiers contain 14 signal callers, so savvy fantasy owners will once again be able to wait until the middle rounds to get a quality QB. To put this depth in perspective, Michael Vick was the 14th QB selected in 2013 and he was going in the 9th round. Owners should be able to get Rivers, Ryan, Romo or RG3 at that point in 2014 drafts.
Jay Cutler was the #6 QB through the first six weeks, but finished with the #22 PPG on the year. I’d wager his early season play is more representative of his potential in Marc Trestman’s offense, assuming he can stay injury-free. He has a ton of talent around him and Trestman loves to throw.
Ben Roethlisberger had another solid season, finishing in the top 16 in PPG for the fifth straight year. If he loses Emmanuel Sanders, it would hurt. As for Andy Dalton, he finished #4 overall but given his playoff meltdown and loss of OC Jay Gruden, he’ll be hard pressed to finish that high again in 2014.
Alex Smith posted the #12 average (17.3 PPG) on the season. Prior to the Chiefs' Week 10 bye, he averaged 213 yards and 1.0 TD. After the bye (and including the playoffs), he averaged 253 yards and 2.6 TD. That's 22.7 PPG -- for reference, Drew Brees averaged 22.6 PPG in 2013. Smith is likely to be a great value on draft day. Eli Manning was pretty dreadful for several different reasons, but prior to his #21 finish in 2013, he had finished in the top 15 for eight straight seasons, so he’s a definite bounce back candidate.
Through the first 15 weeks, Ryan Tannehill was the #12 QB in fantasy. Unfortunately, he stunk it up in the final two weeks of the season, posting just 286 yards to go along with one TD and three picks in the final two games combined as the Dolphins skidded out of a playoff spot. Josh Freeman’s 2012 late-season swoon was similar, but the Dolphins seem more committed to Tannehill than the Bucs were to Freeman.
Sam Bradford posted the best PPG of this tier, but Carson Palmer and Joe Flacco actually played a full season, so they had more value as part of a QB streaming strategy. Flacco should benefit from the return of a healthy Dennis Pitta, but needs the running game to get going to open up things downfield. As for Palmer, he was the #22 QB through eight weeks, but was #6 from Week 10 to Week 17, after the team’s Week 9 bye. Still, it’s hard to get too excited about Palmer as anything more than a committee type given the fact that one-quarter of his schedule consists of matchups against the Seahawks and 49ers.
These three rookies had their moments in 2013, but consistency was a major problem. Take Geno Smith, who was the #14 QB through the first five weeks. After that solid start, he only had one touchdown pass from Week 6 to Week 13. E.J. Manuel struggled with an injury, but managed four multi-TD games in 10 starts.
Mike Glennon should be the best of this bunch given his solid receivers and his #17 ranking since Week 6, but there is a new coaching staff in town so there’s no guarantee that his job is 100 percent safe. Given his 18-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he should be back under center in 2014.
Quarterback has never been deeper than in recent years, and that trend should continue in 2014. While it definitely pays to get the right QB early in fantasy drafts — just ask any Peyton Manning owner — there’s no reason to reach when a solid QB or duo can be had in the 9th/10th rounds. QBs tend to go later in leagues with more experienced owners, so sometimes the right move is to draft Cam Newton in the 6th round. It all depends on your particular draft and how QBs are valued in your league.