Fantasy Football Tiers Of Joy: QB Edition
Fantasy football is a game of value, and the way to maximize your bang for your buck is to create a tier list for each position. This gives you a sense of when to reach for a player (last player in a tier) and when to wait another round (middle of a tier) as well as an idea of when position runs are going to take place. Here is a look at what my tier rankings look like at the QB position for this season.
Tier 1: “Elite quarterbacks who need to put up huge fantasy numbers for their NFL team to succeed.”
Aaron Rodgers – If there was any doubt that 12>4 from a fantasy perspective, it ended last season as Rodgers offers all of the upside with almost none of the downside that the ex-Packer signal caller did. He has tossed 28 scores and only four interceptions against the NFC North over the last two seasons, a trend that could lead to a massive two month fantasy stretch (five of his divisional games come in October and November).
Drew Brees – His interception total is typically higher than other top notch QB’s, but can you really complain with a player who has averaged over 300 yards per game in his Saint career (seven seasons) and has thrown 89 touchdowns over the last two years? He’s averaged nearly four scores per interception at home since 2011 and has come up big for fantasy owners down the stretch in each of the last two years. Brees recorded a quality start (300+ passing yards with at least two more TD’s than interceptions) in each of the final seven weeks of 2011 and the final three weeks of 2012.
Tom Brady – He no longer has great weapons around him and the health at the TE position is a concern, but when was the last time an investment on Brady hurt you? He has averaged 4,590 yards and 34.3 touchdowns since tearing his ACL in 2008 (OK, he hurt you that year, but it’s safe to say that was an exception) with and has done so with a fluid receiving core. In 2010, for example, Brady tallied 3,900 yards to go along with nine TD’s for every pick (36:4) and only one player had more than 50 catches. In fact, it was Brandon Tate who had the third most catches by a WR that season (24), and he almost had as many kick returns as pass targets. Brady is on the top shelf when it comes to fantasy production until proven otherwise.
Peyton Manning – No longer the top player at his position, but he is certainly easy to fall in love with from a fantasy perspective. His age (37) and health (four neck surgeries) would be red flags for most players, but he proved last season that he is still the same old Manning we knew and loved in Indianapolis. He has developed Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas into dangerous options (especially when it comes to finding the endzone), making the addition of safety blanket Wes Welker a perfect fit. The talk last year at this time was if Manning could perform outdoors, something he answered by averaging 295 yards and almost five TD’s per interception outside. The Broncos have a handful of capable running backs and I think they run the ball a bit more this year (partly because Manning takes what the defense gives him and it is hard to imagine more than six or seven players in the box), but as long as he’s healthy, Manning is going to produce.
Tier 2: “Trending upward, young, and very talented quarterbacks who have at least one spectacular season under their belt: the next generation of elite quarterbacks.”
Matt Ryan – He had a career year in 2012, setting career highs in attempts, completion percentage, touchdowns, and QB rating. The standout season was not a fluke as Julio Jones is emerging as a great receiver, Roddy White strung together his fifth consecutive 80+ catch and 1,150+ yard season, and Tony Gonzalez agreed to return for another run at a title. The Falcons added a more than capable pass catching running back in Steven Jackson (had a 90 catch season, 20 more catches than Michael Turner has for his career) and have a poor man’s version of Darren Sproles in Jaquizz Rodgers (caught 53 of 59 passes throw his way last season) to help bail out Ryan if nothing is open down the field. My lone concern is that a 68.6 completion percentage (tied with Manning for the top mark in the league) is going to be difficult to repeat for a QB whose career mark was 60.8% entering last season.
Cam Newton – The argument could be made that no QB in the NFL has the physical tools of Newton, but his consistency has been an issue over his first two seasons. In 2011, Newton came out of the gates blazing and was on pace for 4,786 passing yards through the first half of the season. He slowed down considerably as the season progressed and saw his passing yards per game drop by 44.3%. Similar story in 2012, except he started slow (four interceptions for every three touchdowns thrown) and finished strong (3,936 yard pace with 13 passing touchdowns and four interceptions over his final eight games). If you combine the two strong halves (4,360 yards and 27 touchdowns through the air, not to mention another 713 and 11 on the ground), it is easy to see why owners fall in love with Newton’s ceiling. I don’t love the weapons he has in Carolina, but this offense is built around him doing everything, and fantasy owners can’t complain about that.
Robert Griffin III – All reports indicate that RGIII looks good in rehab and could be ready to go Week 1. He displayed great awareness and poise in his first season out of Baylor, something I expect to see more of this season. Is it possible that Griffin runs less this year in an effort to stay out of harm’s way? Of course. But with a healthy receiving core (Fred Davis and Pierre Garcon were both banged up last season) and a running back in Alfred Morris that is going to demand attention, I have very little reason to doubt that Griffin can be a pass first QB with mobility, as opposed to a running quarterback who can pass. He threw the ball 393 times (that was 90 fewer attempts than Christian Ponder), a number that is almost certain to increase this season. If he throws 500 passes, a number reached by great signal callers like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Weeden last season, and completes 60 of those extra 103 attempts (completed 65.6% last season) at the same efficiency level (12.4 yards per completion), you’re looking at roughly a 4,000 yard season through the air. The highlight running plays may decrease this season, but 4,500 total yards with 30-35 scores is well within reach for RGIII.
Tier 3A: ”Forget massive upside, you know what you get with these QB’s. Flaws exist, but they accumulate numbers through quantity not quality, something that bothers NFL fans but results in solid numbers for fantasy owners.”
Eli Manning – He isn’t going to get you 5,000 yards or 40 touchdowns, but he is a near lock to finish in that 4,000 yard 30 touchdowns range. He should benefit from the addition of Brandon Myers (79 catches last year) and inserting the explosive David Wilson as the starter can only help. A healthy Hakeem Nicks would increase Manning’s yardage potential (4,933 passing yards in 2011), but I expect Manning to be return solid production for where he is currently being ranked. Last I checked, Manning still plays his home games at MetLife Stadium, where he has registered 4,658 passing yards and 34 touchdown tosses over his last 16 games.
Tony Romo – You may not trust him in the postseason or think he is worth anywhere near $108 million, but when it comes to your fantasy team, he is worth the investment. Romo has averaged at least 261.5 yards per game (4,184 yard pace) for six straight seasons, and with the 2013 version of Dez Bryant potentially the best WR Romo has ever had, I see little reason why he can extend that to a seventh straight season. He’ll give you the occasional stinker (nine of his 19 interceptions came in two games last year), but he constantly gives you the numbers when all is said and done. In the final four weeks of the fantasy season last year, Romo gave his loyal owners 10 touchdowns and only one interception, making him as “clutch” as he needs to be for you.
Matthew Stafford – He may not throw the ball 727 times again but he should rank among the league leaders in pass attempts, a very appealing quality given many of those passes (28.1% last season to be exact) are thrown to the game’s best receiver. Joique Bell (52 catches) and the newly acquired Reggie Bush provide strong pass catching options out of the backfield, giving Stafford the ability to expose a variety mismatches against linebackers. A healthy Ryan Broyles and a bounce back season from Brandon Pettigrew could land Stafford into the top of this tier or the bottom of Tier 2, but the potential for Mikel Leshoure to score double digit touchdowns could threaten that upside.
Tier 3B: “Has an incredibly high ceiling and could finish in the top five. Also could regress a bit in year two of their NFL career as defenses adjust to film. All three will likely round out the top five or six sooner rather than later, but not quite yet.”
Andrew Luck – In college he felt like the next Peyton Manning and with a strong rookie campaign, the comparisons have yet to slow. Manning had his worst TD: INT ratio in his first season as a pro but responded by maintaining his TD total and dropping his INT rate by 46.4%. He also raised his yardage total by 10.6% despite throwing 7.3% fewer passes. Obviously no comparison is perfect, but Manning’s baseline provides a reasonable expectation for a top overall pick that is a cerebral QB on a team that has put its faith in his hands. If Luck were to follow Manning’s progression, a 4,838 yard 23touchdown and 10 interception season would be in store for 2013, and that doesn’t include his well above average rushing statistics. Luck seems to have developed a connection with T.Y. Hilton, forming a nice tandem with the wily veteran Reggie Wayne (35 years old). Hilton peaked as his rookie campaign progressed, increasing his yards per catch by 31.8% and his YAC by 98.1% in the second half of the season.
Russell Wilson – I buy Wilson as a strong NFL quarterback that can lead a team to a deep playoff run, but is he going to do the same for his fantasy owners? I understand the fan fare around a potentially revolutionary signal caller that can run and pass the ball in an effective manner while standing only 5’11”, but fantasy football is a game dominated by opportunity, something Wilson figures to lack in given the success of the teams elite run game. Ranked ahead of him are the seven most pass happy QB’s from a season ago, and besides Newton and Griffin (both who are more physically imposing and dynamic when outside of the pocket), each QB ranked ahead of Wilson on this list attempted at least 143 more passes than the rook last year. I have no problem with picking your spots to throw, but given the fact that 46.6% of his passes were thrown 10 yards or less downfield, his passing upside doesn’t nearly make for his lack of attempts. For what it’s worth, his running stats last year were average at best until a strong conclusion (ranked a mere 1.6 fantasy points ahead of Aaron Rodgers via the ground game after 14 weeks), and the Buffalo Bills aren’t on Seattle’s schedule this season.
Colin Kaepernick – As far as dual threat QB’s in this tier go, the ceiling of Kaep appears to be the highest given his MLB level arm, wide receiver build (Calvin Johnson clone), and combination of speed/strength. That being said, the loss of Michael Crabtree this preseason severely dampens my expectations this season. The addition of Anquan Boldin is nice, and the late season emergence of Vernon Davis a very positive step, but Crabtree’s ability to stretch the field is a void that will be near impossible to fill. Frank Gore (along with a healthy Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James) proved capable of carrying a heavy workload last year (357 carries), something that aided the 49ers late season surge. Kaepernick’s success in 2012 was no fluke, but expecting a spike in production without his top target is unreasonable. I’ve got him just a tick below Wilson simply based on the playmaking ability of Harvin. I believe Kaepernick has the bright fantasy future, but his weapons have be downgraded (minus Crabtree) since last year and the league will have some film on what made him so successful.
Tier 4: “Useful in a two quarterback league, but generally lack the upside to be considered a starter in most standard formats.”