Audibles aside, coming off an historic season in which he threw for 5477 yards and 55 touchdowns, Manning is unsurprisingly my number one quarterback coming into 2014. I have a dynasty football draft coming up during June, and I'm more than a little interested to see where he's drafted. He is 38 years old after all, and his neck still concerns me. But if he can throw even 40-45 touchdowns, he should again finish as the top quarterback in 2014. The dynasty draft will be a tasty blog in itself, so today we will focus on ranking the top QBs for just the 2014 season.
1. Peyton Manning (Den) - As I mentioned in the intro, Manning can regress somewhat substantially and still finish as the top QB in fantasy. The loss of Eric Decker is going to hurt, no doubt, but Manning is just so damn good he could take just about any scrub and make him a thousand yard receiver. The Broncos did sign Emmanuel Sanders to fill the hole Decker left, which, while still a downgrade, should still present enough of a threat to keep the defense honest and give Peyton plenty of room to sling the ball around. Another 5K yard season isn't out of the question.
2. Drew Brees (NO) - Even as the Saints went a little more run-heavy last year than they had in years' past, Brees is such an efficient passer, and the Saints' offense such a potent one that I still love him in fantasy. Even thought his pass attempts were down a bit last year (to 650 last year from 670 in 2012), he still had the third most attempts in the league. The loss of Darren Sproles really concerns me, but head coach Sean Payton is as brilliant an offensive mind as there is in the NFL, and the Saints did address their need for weapons in the draft, taking Brandin Cooks with the 20th overall pick. He projects to be a big part of the offense right from the jump, and the Saints should really be able to stretch the field. Have I mentioned they still have Jimmy Graham? Well they still have Jimmy Graham, and he's as good a red zone target as you can ask for. If anyone is going to challenge Peyton for most productive QB in fantasy in 2014, it's Drew Brees.
3. Aaron Rodgers (GB) - I've been a bit cooler on Rodgers that the general consensus over the past couple years. Not to say that he's not arguably the best QB in football, because he is in that discussion, but because the Packers have really focused on improving their running game to take some of the load off Rodgers and help protect him since they've had such porous offensive lines. I expect a massive year (assuming health) for Packers RB Eddie Lacy, and I expect Green Bay to run him a LOT inside the 5-yard line. This is what separates Brees and Manning from Rodgers in my eyes - those guys have nice, big tight ends to target in Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas, whereas Rodgers has to rely mostly on a quick slant to Cobb here or a corner end zone lob to Nelson there to get his passing touchdowns near the goal line. He does have good legs though, and prides himself on his athleticism and rushing ability, so he will rush for a few scores on his own, helping to prop up his value. I do worry about his receiving corps' health as both Cobb and Nelson have missed multiple games over the past couple seasons, but assuming health, Rodgers lines up as a top-tier quarterback for 2014.
4. Andrew Luck (Ind) - Ol' Neckbeard himself! Second-year OC Pep Hamilton has hinted this offseason that the Colts may turn into more of a pass-first team. Trent Richardson gave them as close to nothing as possible last year, dropping into possible bust territory. So what? The Colts have Andrew Luck. Let him loose. The Colts acquired Hakeem Nicks in the offseason, a move that I am not high on, to "bolster" their receiving corps. From what I saw of Nicks last year, he's washed up, but if he can at least draw attention away from an old Reggie Wayne coming off a season ending ACL tear and their burner T.Y. Hilton, that should at least be something, right? I probably won't own any Colts receiver in my leagues this year, but I'm still high on Luck due to his talent throwing and running the football. Last year Luck ran for 377 yards and 4 touchdowns on 63 carries, numbers I could see him repeating. There aren't a lot of QB's that can do that on the ground and still have a possibility of throwing 4000+ yards and 30 TD's - in fact, I think Griffin and Luck are the only two that have that ceiling.
5. Matthew Stafford (Det) - Ah, The Staff. How has he played so many years in the NFL and still doesn't have a consistent arm slot? He drives me nuts. Stafford has been a strong fantasy option for fantasy players in years past, if for no other reason than he throws the football more than almost anyone else in the NFL. You might remember he attempted an NFL record 727 passes in 2012. That had nowhere to go but down, and it went way, way down in 2013, as he attempted 634 passes, good only for fifth in football. I expect another slightly more balanced attack in 2014 for the Lions, albeit still pass-heavy. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell are both excellent pass catchers out of the backfield, and the Lions signed Golden Tate to hopefully (finally) be a solid number two receiver opposite Calvin Johnson. The Lions also splurged in the first round of the draft on tight end Eric Ebron. The Lions did extend Brandon Pettigrew, so I don't expect either tight end to be particularly fantasy relevant, but they both present decent targets for Stafford to spread the ball around to and draw attention away from Megatron. Stafford is nowhere near the runner that an RG3 or Luck is, but 4500+ yards and 30 TD's should be very attainable for the chubby 26 year old.
6. Matt Ryan (Atl) - 2013 was a year to forget if you're a Falcons fan. Or a Falcon. Or a fan of Showtime's Dexter. Jesus, what a horrible ending to that series. Everyone associated with that show should be embarrassed. Anyway, basically every offensive threat got hurt last year for Atlanta, and coupled with an awful offensive line lead to a mediocre statistical season for Ryan and an abysmal year for the Falcons franchise. While I'm scared of Julio Jones' injury history and Stephen Jackson's advanced age (and now injury history as well) things should be better for Matt Ryan in 2014. I think Roddy will bounce back a bit, and third receiver Harry Douglas proved last year that he can be more than a number three if he has to. Losing Tony Gonzalez is massive, but if White, Jones and Douglas can stay at least mostly healthy, Levine Toilolo is a massive target that can fill in at tight end and if nothing else draw attention from the defense. Atlanta also attended to their needs on the offensive line, drafting OT Jake Matthews sixth overall. While not an elite option, Ryan should bounce back and be a solid pick for the middle rounds of drafts, offering 4500 yard/30 TD potential.
7. Tony Romo (Dal) - Continuing on with the tier of QB's that I'd wait on until the last guy that falls in my draft, Romo is the next man up. The back issues do concern me, but he's taken hits and been fine thus far. The receivers are about the same as they were a year ago, with Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams on the corners and the wee Cole Beasley manning the slot. The loss of Miles Austin is negligible since he barely played the last few years anyway with his balky hamstrings. Jason Witten shall continue to be Romo's security blanket, a solid TE option in PPR leagues. Romo should have even more time than usual in the pocket after the Cowboys drafted G/T Zack Martin to solidify their O-line. In fact, their line may be one of the best in the league now, and this really could be the first year as a Cowboy that Romo won't have to run for his life on every dropback. With new OC Scott Linehan and a horrendous defense, the Cowboys will be forced to throw more than they want to this year, padding Romo's passing stats. I wouldn't rule out 4500 yards and 30+ scores.
8. Robert Griffin III (Wash) - I've dropped RG3 all the way from 4th after a pretty miserable preseason. He's still taking hard hits, and seems flat-out confused in Jay Gruden's new offensive scheme. His ceiling is still sky-high, but at this point in the preseason he just presents too much risk to draft in the top 5 of quarterbacks.
9. Tom Brady (NE) - Brady has been outstanding this preseason, and getting Gronk back (still uncertain for Week 1) will only help. With Vereen, Gronk and Edelman as superb high completion percentage options and Thompkins and Dobson stretching the field, Brady could be in for a fine bounce-back year.
10. Jay Cutler (Chi) - His lack of consistency is maddening, and his injury history is growing. He's got a studly receiving corps in Brandon Marshall and Alshon "The Alien" Jeffery, Forte is a good receiving option out of the backfield, and Martellus Bennett is an inconsistent tight end but will end up with 4-7 scores by years' end. If he can keep the turnovers down and actually play 16 games (which he hasn't done since 2009) he has the upside, really, to be a top 5 QB. More likely though, he will finish around 3500 yards and 30 scores.
11. Cam Newton (Car) - Initially I had Newton ranked at 6. The more I thought about it though, what's there to love this year? His passing yards have dropped every year since he was a rookie, as have his pass attempts, as have his rushing touchdowns. The loss of Steve Smith isn't a huge one, but who does he really have to throw to? Greg Olsen? Yuck. The Panthers are going to be a very run-heavy, defense first sort of team. The only reason Newton is even this high is due to his rushing ability. Despite his attempts and scores being down last year, he still did have 585 yards and 6 TD's. That seems like his absolute floor to me to be honest, and I'd expect a rebound to around 700 yards and 8 scores. The touchdowns may settle in around 5-6 for the short-term if Carolina continues to hand off at the goal line rather than call Cam's number. But still, if you sprinkle that on top of 200 yards and 1-2 passing scores per game and you have a nice but inconsistent QB1 in standard leagues. UPDATE: Newton has a fractured rib and still isn't 100% from his offseason ankle surgery...buyer beware.
12. Russell Wilson (Sea) - Wilson's been on fire this preseason, rushing all over the place and generally being brilliant. He had a fluky-low one rushing TD last year, and if he'd rushed for even the 4 he had in 2012 he'd have been a top-5 QB. He's still going to be inconsistent week to week, especially if Seattle gets out to an early big lead and spends the game playing defense and killing the clock with the run. He's shown so much control of the field though that it's hard to discount him at this point, and I'd much rather wait to nab Wilson in the 9th round of my draft than have to grab Cam in the 5th.
13. Nick Foles (Phi) - I expect a lot of regression from Foles this year. His best receiving threat, Desean Jackson, departed for ol' D.C. and left Foles with the oft-injured Jeremy Maclin, documented racist Riley Cooper, and TE duo Zach (I constantly have to look up how to spell the "Zack's". I never know if it's Zack or Zach. Life is hard.) Ertz and Brent Celek. I'm not thrilled with the receiving corps, but the backfield stiffens my nipples. LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles should see a lot of targets out of the backfield, and they can do as much damage as anyone when they get some space. I think there will be some growing pains this year for Foles, but Head Coach Chip Kelly really seemed to like to throw the ball in the red zone last year, and if that trend continues, the possibility remains that Foles could throw 30 touchdowns this year.
14. Philip Rivers (SD) - Rivers climbed from the sludgy depths of mediocrity in 2013 and returned to fantasy relevance, tossing 32 scores and 4478 yards en route to winning Comeback Player of the Year honors. Our Fantasy Amateur brother Jesse Jordan drafted him as his starting QB in the 12-team Inebriation Association league last year, and while I literally laughed at the buy on draft day, Rivers springboarded Jesse into the playoffs in that league. Keenan Allen emerged as a legitimate number one NFL receiver, and newly acquired Danny Woodhead caught a whopping 76 passes out of the backfield, helping Rivers' completion percentage reach a career high 69.5%. Malcolm Floyd and Eddie Royal are very capable 2's and 3's, and while Antonio Gates is nearing the end of his career, backup TE Ladarius Green should be a capable replacement if and when Gates goes down with an injury. I haven't even mentioned Vincent Brown or Ryan Matthews, who can help Rivers as well. At 32 years old Rivers' career is winding down, but with these tasty offensive weapons en tow, Rivers could very well come close to replicating his 2013 success with around 4000 yards and 25 TD's.
15. Colin Kaepernick (SF) - Heading into 2013 people were going nutty over Colin Kaepernick, and understandably so after he embarrassed the Packers in the 2012 playoffs for 181 yards and 2 TD's rushing on 16 carries (not to mention throwing for 263 yards and another two scores as well). After showing what he can do in that game he really disappointed fantasy owners that drafted him in the ensuing 2013 season, throwing only 3197 yards and 21 touchdowns in 416 attempts. He did run for 524 yards and 4 scores, but after we were tantalized by his upside in 2012, even that seemed like a disappointment. The thing to focus on here is the 416 pass attempts in 2013. The 49ers are a very run heavy team, focusing on defense and ball control, much the same way the previously mentioned Panthers do. If HC Jim Harbaugh decided to let Kaep loose, we could see a Michael Vick-like run where he electrifies the field, slicing and dicing defenses with his feet and his arm. I believe his upside is that high, as high in fantasy as any quarterback in the league. Even with Michael Crabtree back for hopefully a healthy 2014 campaign, the shackles will still be on Kaepernick, as the 49ers play defense and run the ball. Kaep marks the point on this list where I really wouldn't want to be stuck starting him every week, and that goes for every other guy from this point on.
16. Andy Dalton (Cin) - Oh, Andy. If you just look at the numbers, he should probably be higher than this. After all, he threw for 4296 yards and 33 TD's in 2013, his third year in the NFL. He's got one of the game's premiere wide outs in the game in A.J. Green that he can basically just throw the ball up to and odds are he's gonna come down with it. But if you've watched Andy Dalton play, you would know why he doesn't get much love from the football community: he's just not very good. He consistently over/underthrows his receivers, makes bad decisions and turns the ball over far too frequently (read: 49 interceptions in his 3 seasons) for an NFL quarterback, particularly one on a NFL team with Super Bowl aspirations. But those are real life problems Nate, shut up. Who cares as long as the numbers are there at the end of the year? Fair point. But those turnovers count as negative points in almost all leagues, and there's a good chance the Bengals turn to a more run heavy offense now that Jay Gruden high-tailed it out of town and Cincinnati drafted RB Jeremy Hill in the second round of the 2014 draft to complement Giovani Bernard. I'd expect him to drop to closer to 3500 yards and 20-25 TD's.
17. Geno Smith (NYJ) - I've got a sneaking suspicion Smith could be a great value at the end of drafts this year if you reeeeeeeally want to cheap out at QB. Decker is a great addition, Chris Johnson should get some good targets out of the backfield and Smith offers upside with his rushing.
18. Ben Roethlisberger (Pit) - Big Ben surprised a lot of people last year, throwing over 4200 yards and 28 touchdowns. He's a guy that's always an injury concern despite his linebacker size though, and his receivers aren't anything to behold, as it's basically Antonio Brown and whoever else puts on a uniform that week. I don't expect another 4000 yards this season, and I think they'll try to use second year back Le'veon Bell on the ground early and often, although he proved in his rookie season he's a very capable pass-catcher out of the backfield. If Roethlisberger can surpass 3200 yards and 20 TD's, I'll be impressed.
19. Eli Manning (NYG) - "Oh, what sad times are these when passing ruffians can say "Ni" at will to old ladies." That is the quote (from the almighty Monty Python and the Holy Grail, shame on you if you didn't know that) that comes to mind when I think of the sad times that have befallen Peyton's younger brother Eli. I mean, just think of the crap that Peyton has to give him when the cameras aren't on. If I were Eli I'd fight back and brag about his sweet hairline though, and his less than a quarter-mile forehead. And then Peyton accurately throws a slice of Papa John's pizza right on Eli's mouth-breathing face. What's going on here again? Fantasy advice? Whatever. Will Eli bounce back to his former self, or is he just done? I think he's done. He could certainly have a bounce-back campaign one of these years, but it wouldn't take much to consider said campaign a "bounce-back" when you're coming back from a year in which he threw 18 TD's and 27 picks. There's no doubt in my mind that it will help replacing Hakeem Nicks with first round draft pick Odell Beckham. Keep an eye on Manning during the preseason, and if Beckham is wowing everyone (not that things get blown out of proportion in New York, right?) he's worth a late-round flier on the off-chance he gets back to his 4000 yard, 30 TD ways.
20. Ryan Tannehill (Mia) - I liked Tannehill last year, but it's a good thing everyone talked me out of him because he was a model of inconsistency, and he never got on the same page with the Dolphins' big free agent acquisition Mike Wallace. Even though he wasn't a fantasy stud, he still threw for 3913 yards and 24 TD's, albeit with 17 picks. Running back Knowshon Moreno is the only real new addition in Miami, but if Tannehill can find some consistency and progress, as well as find a rapport with Wallace, he could make for a top-notch bye week or injury replacement for your fantasy squad.
Next week, we will tackle (metaphorically) the running backs.