We’ve finally made it.  Here we are at everybody’s favorite position, the quarterbacks.  Oddly enough, I may have saved the easiest ranking for last.  Quarterback is generally one of the more predictable positions in fantasy football, and one of the deeper ones as well.  This brings me to one point of advice.  Often, the best pick in the draft is finding the upper-mid level quarterback who will exceed the expectations surrounding him, rather than the tried and true studs from the early rounds.  Whoever drafted Matt Schaub in 2009, or Michael Vick in 2010 probably had a leg up on their competition because they were able to spend their high draft picks on other positions, while still getting elite production from the quarterback position.  I’ll try to point out the guys who I think could fill that role this season, but this is something where you really need to go with your gut.  All the stats in the world will only give you some of the picture, think about other factors that could lead to a break out year.  It may be a free agent receiver coming into the fold, a new offense that will throw the ball more than previous seasons, an easy schedule, or something as mundane as the quarterback putting in more time this offseason.  Whatever the reason is, trust your instincts and pick with confidence.  If it backfires you’ll only be made fun of by your friends for the next year.  Now, let’s get to the rankings.

 

1.  Tom Brady, NE:  Michael Vick is the trendy #1 pick for most experts this year, but I’m not taking that bait.  In fact, I find it hard to believe that more people aren’t on the Brady bandwagon.  Without any viable deep threat last season Brady led the league in touchdowns with 36 and threw for 3,900 yards on top of that.  What’s more impressive is that in 492 attempts last season Brady only threw 4 interceptions.  You read that correctly, 4.  That means that less than 1% of Tom’s passes ended up in the other team’s hands.  That is just mind boggling.  Now you add a solid big-play receiver in Chad Ochocinco and I only see Brady’s being just as good.  I think he’ll be around 4,000 yards again this year, anywhere between 34 and 38 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions.  One word of caution, however:  Brady is not very mobile and can tend to take some very hard hits.  He doesn’t get injured often, so I may be overly cautious here, but it is certainly something to watch.

 

2.  Aaron Rodgers, GB:  In only 14 ¼ games last season Rodgers managed to throw for 3,922 yards and 28 scores.  Not to mention his 356 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns.  In fact, his ability to use his legs actually gave Rodgers a higher fantasy point total than Tom Brady last season, despite 8 fewer touchdown passes.  Now that Rodgers appears to have learned how to slide, I think he’ll actually play 16 games this season and should put up some monster numbers to rival Brady’s.  The fact that Rodgers has better weapons and better running ability than Brady would lead many to believe he’s the superior fantasy commodity.  There’s only one problem with that, his offensive line.  The Packers’ line has been sub-par the last 2 seasons, and doesn’t look to have gotten any better this year.  I expect Rodgers to get hit a lot again this season, which could result in more interceptions than he would otherwise throw if he had the kind of time that someone like Peyton Manning generally gets in the pocket.  Rodgers is still one of the best, but I like him just slightly less than Brady.  Look to pick him up in the late 1st round after the elite running backs are off the board.

 

3.  Drew Brees, NO:  I need to get this out of the way first.  Why was there so much hate for Brees last season?  All he managed to do was throw for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns.  Sure, he did throw 22 interceptions, and that isn’t exactly a number you’d like to see from your stud quarterback, but he wasn’t the bust so many are trying to make him out to be.  Furthermore, those who are complaining about the INTs apparently didn’t do their homework.  Of his 5 years in New Orleans, Brees has thrown 17 or more interceptions 3 times.  So if his owners had actually been paying attention, the 22 picks, although higher than usual, wasn’t exactly unexpected.  I would be confident in drafting Brees high this year, and expect around 4,000 yards, 34 touchdowns, and only about 15 interceptions this time around.  He should be available early in the second round, and if he’s still available by the end of the 2nd round you really should snatch him up.

 

4.  Philip Rivers, SD:  He deserves to be rated higher than this, he really does.  He was incredible last season, exploding for more than 4,700 yards and 30 touchdowns, while only throwing 13 picks in 541 attempts.  This really just goes to show what kind of value you can get as the draft progresses at the quarterback position.  Rivers probably won’t have quite as gaudy of numbers this time around, but he won’t be any slouch either.  I have him pegged for about 4,600 yards, 28 scores, and 15 interceptions.  To think, you can get this kind of production as late as the end of the 3rd round in some drafts, it may make you reconsider your entire draft strategy.

 

5.  Michael Vick, PHI:  That’s right, I have most people’s number 1 QB down all the way at 5.  Why?  I want to see Vick reproduce what he did in 2010 before I jump on that bandwagon.  Look at the 4 players ahead of him, what do they all have in common?  They’ve all been fantasy elites for more than 1 year.  What’s more, I find it hard to believe that the Michael Vick I knew in Atlanta will have another season where he only throws 6 interceptions.  I could be wrong, and he could be a completely changed quarterback, but I want more proof before I go proclaiming him the top quarterback for fantasy owners.  My final problem with Vick is the way he has to play.  His biggest strength is his legs, which means he’s going to take a lot of big hits.  I will be amazed if Vick starts every game this season, and having your starting QB miss more than just his bye week is a recipe for trouble, especially if the injury occurs during the fantasy playoffs.  Vick will probably be drafted in the 1st round by some overeager GM, and it may prove to be a good move.  I just know it won’t be me.

 

6.  Peyton Manning, IND:  If it weren’t for the neck I would have him above Michael Vick on this list, but as it is there are too many questions to put him in the top 5.  Let me say this first:  I think that Manning will play in week 1.  The signing of Kerry Collins can’t make fantasy owners happy, but those close to the Colts seem to really think that Manning will be good to go.  However, just because he plays may not mean he’ll be 100% mentally.  A neck injury is a VERY serious concern, and nobody would blame Manning if he were a tad gun-shy in his first few games of the year.  Now, if anybody would come back and not worry about his neck it would be Peyton, the guy is much tougher than he’s given credit for being.  I just tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to fantasy.  That said, I think Manning will end up with 4,100 yards passing this season, with around 30 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions.  If you have some skittish fantasy owners in your league you may be able to score Manning as late as the 4th round.  If he’s still hanging around by that point snatch him up and don’t look back.

 

7.  Tony Romo, DAL:  Here is my ultimate value quarterback for 2011.  I can guarantee that many owners will have forgotten about Romo this season due to his injury last year.  He has tons of weapons to play with in Dallas and has shown ample talent in the regular season.  I honestly expect Romo to throw for 4,300 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions.  For a guy that may still be around late 4th to mid 5th rounds, these kinds of numbers are the ones that may win you a championship.  If you’re a risky drafter you can start filling other slots on your roster hoping that nobody else is trying to get their hands on Romo.  It’s a dangerous strategy, but with how deep quarterback is in 2011, it won’t be the end of the world if you don’t get him.

 

8.  Matt Schaub, HOU:  Case in point that the QB crop this season is deep.  We’re ¾ of the way through the 12 quarterbacks that would start in a standard fantasy league, and we run into a guy who threw for over 4,000 yards last season.  Schaub took a tiny step backward last season, but that should have been expected once the Texans realized you are actually allowed to hand the ball off, and don’t need to throw every single down.  This year I think thatHouston will strike a good balance with Arian Foster, Schaub, and Andre Johnson making opposing defenses lose lots of sleep in the week leading up to playing the Texans.  I think Schaub will throw a few more passes this year and end up with around 4,400 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions.

 

9.  Josh Freeman, TB:  Now this is a guy where you may rightfully be able to say that I’m “drinking the Kool-Aid.”  He burst onto the fantasy scene last season with some stellar numbers:  3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions.  I have no clue if those numbers were aberrations, but after watching many of his games on replays this offseason, I’m convinced that he’s the real deal.  He has some very nice young weapons around him, and I expect him to improve on his numbers from last year.  I think he’ll be around 3,800 yards and 30 touchdowns.  However, he should throw more picks as I expect him to attempt around 80-100 more passes this season, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 interceptions.

 

10.  Eli Manning, NYG:  I swear, he won’t throw 25 interceptions this year.  You can trust me…..I think.  Eli has always been prone to putting up big numbers, coupled with almost as many big mistakes.  I just have a strong feeling that he won’t make as many big time errors in 2011.  If you’re drafting the younger Manning you have to expect some costly turnovers, but you can’t dwell on them.  Instead, keep in mind that he threw for 4,002 yards and 31 touchdowns last season.  If he can keep his interceptions in the high teens he should be a solid fantasy option in nearly all formats this year, and could be available as late as the 6th or 7th round.

 

11.  Matt Ryan, ATL:  Matty Ice has probably the coolest nickname in all of sports, but isn’t as hot of a fantasy commodity as many would assume.  After the Falcon’s sparkling regular season in 2010, many fantasy owners started jumping on Ryan’s bandwagon.  I think the sky is the limit for Ryan, but two major problems hang over his head.  First, the Falcons pride themselves on being able to run the ball consistently.  That means he will never get into the mid 600s in terms of attempts akin to the “one-man-show” offenses like those found in New Orleans or Indianapolis.  If he had those type of attempts I could see him putting up numbers like Drew Bress or Peyton Manning sometime in the near future, but as it is he just won’t see enough throws to be an elite fantasy quarterback.  Second, he really only has one threat, Roddy White, to catch his passes.  Without a second option, Ryan won’t be able to find enough receivers downfield to become one of the best of the best in terms of fantasy football.  He’ll still be a great value pick somewhere near the 6th or 7th rounds, however, should you choose to wait that long to pick your quarterback.

 

12.  Ben Roethlisberger, PIT:  Want to know a dirty little secret?  The Steelers are a pass-first offense.  Shocking, I know, especially with how the media portrays them as an old-school “3 yards and a cloud of dust” style team.  In only 12 games last season Big Ben threw for 3,200 yards, 17 scores, and only 5 interceptions.  While those numbers aren’t eye popping, even when extrapolated out to a full season, they are more than adequate to win you quite a few fantasy football games.  If you don’t put a very high priority on quarterback for your fantasy team, Roethlisberger may be just the player for you.  And he should come cheap, falling as far as the 9th round in several mock drafts in which I’ve taken part alongside other fantasy football fanatics.

 

13.  Kevin Kolb, ARI:  This is a type of guy that you may want to take as a risky backup that could become very valuable trade bait.  If you’re drafting Kolb as your starter, I think you’re probably playing fast and loose with your success this year, as there’s no real proof that Kolb will be a viable fantasy option, even as a backup.  However, I’m ranking him this highly because I have faith that Larry Fitzgerald can help him become at least a serviceable quarterback in the NFL, if not a very good one.  Kolb appears to have all the tools, a strong arm, good size, and good accuracy.  With a weapon like Fitzgerald on the outside, he could really do some damage if he taps into that potential.  Kolb’s ceiling this year is probably 3,000 yards, 28 touchdown, and 15 interceptions, with a floor of 2,600 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions.  That’s a huge disparity in fantasy points, so draft him carefully, but he may just be worth the risk as you could convert him into several other contributors for your team.

 

14.  Matthew Stafford, DET:  Seriously, Lions fans, don’t get carried away by his preseason numbers.  They’re certainly very good, but that doesn’t mean you should be drafting him as your starter just yet.  As it is,Stafford should serve as a very capable backup this season, with the potential to absolutely explode and, like Kolb, be great trade bait.  However, he’s like Kolb in another aspect, he’s never actually produced at the NFL level.  Sure, they’ve both shown flashes of brilliance at times, but neither has been on the field enough to fully show what they can do.  I thinkStafford plays in more games this season, but until I see that he can stay healthy, I can’t recommend taking him anywhere before the later rounds.  However, if he does stay healthy I expect him to put up numbers somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,500 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions.  While those numbers won’t win you a championship on their own, they are great for a bye week fill-in, and should provide some nice trade bait for a desperate competitor.

 

15.  Matt Cassel, KC:  He played a weak schedule last season, but he certainly took advantage of it. Cassel threw for more than 3,000 yards last season, 27 touchdowns, and only 7 interceptions.  Now the tough part, I really don’t think he’ll repeat those numbers.  The Chiefs face a much tougher road this season, and that will have to take its toll onCassel.  I expect him to be around 3,000 yards again, but with around 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.  Still very good numbers for a backup fantasy quarterback, and he is absolutely worth owning in all fantasy formats.

 

DEEP SLEEPER

Sam Bradford, STL:

It may not be fair to call a first overall pick a deep sleeper, but I thinkBradfordhas the potential to have a Josh Freeman like breakout performance this year.  He showed numerous glimpses of his talent last year, and I think that theSt. Louisstaff should take then reigns off a little bit this season and see whereBradfordcan take them.  He should be a nice backup for a fantasy team this year, with the potential to explode.  Best case scenario:  3,400 yards, 28 touchdowns, 12 interceptions.

 

Colt McCoy, CLE:

If you want to look like a genius this year, McCoy may just be your guy.  Coming out of college many trashed McCoy as being undersized, with too weak of an arm, and too slow to be a running quarterback.  All of those things have been said before…about Drew Brees.  We’ve all seen how that turned out.  Now, I obviously don’t expect McCoy to come out this year and put up numbers like Brees, if you think that you should have your head examined.  However, I do think he may be ready to take a step forward and start to live up to some of the potential I see in him.  If the reports are correct, his teammates love him inCleveland, and so does the organization.  With that kind of support I only see good things in McCoy’s future.  Look to pick him up in the very late rounds where he’ll be a low risk/high reward type of guy.

 

FOOL’S GOLD PLAYERS

Donovan McNabb, MIN:

If you watched any amount of football last season, I don’t need to tell you this.  But I can guarantee you that someone in your fantasy league will draft McNabb based purely on name value alone.  He should be languishing on the waiver wire after your draft is over, but sadly I just don’t think that will happen.  How about this for semi-bold predictions:  Not only will McNabb not be a viable fantasy commodity in 2011, I think he will start less than 10 games forMinnesotathis year.  Not because of injury, because his skills have eroded that far.  If you draft McNabb, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  At this point he’s the fantasy equivalent of a Bruce Lee kick to the jaw.

 

Jay Cutler, CHI:

I can just see the Bears’ fans now, probably throwing things around the room and cursing me to eternal anguish and sorrow.  Actually, after how many Bears fans went after “Ol’ One Leg” (I swear I’ll get that nickname to stick) after the NFC championship game last season they may just be nodding their head in agreement.  Anyway, I just don’t see it in the guy.  The fire never looks like it’s there, his risky throws make Brett Favre look like Ben Stiller’s character from Along Came Polly (if you haven’t seen that movie, do it now), and the Bears’ offensive line allowed Cutler to get sacked a disturbing 52 times last season.  With taking that much abuse it’s a wonder that Cutler even decided to come back for 2011.  I’ve seen plenty of owners who have taken Cutler to be there starter this year, don’t let it be you.