Fantasy Football: 2014 QB Rankings (Part 1)

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Football season is just under a month away and fantasy draft season right around the corner, so I’m starting my fantasy rankings series today with quarterbacks and should have all the fantasy positions done over the next week.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to viable QB strategies. You can either spend $30+ (late 1st-2nd round pick) on one of the top 3 QBs (or 4 if you are a Brady apologist) or you can wait and take one of other 8-10 QBs who have had similar value over the last few seasons. Spending between $15-$25 or a 3rd-5th round pick may be a common strategy, but it’s not a good one as I’ll try to explain in a bit.

Peyton Manning had a historic season last year (466.98 points¹) and if you think he has another one in the tank, he is definitely worth top dollar at the QB position. Drew Brees was a clear #2 last season and Rodgers put up similar fantasy stats in 2012 (-16 points) the last time he made it through a full season. Outside of those top 3 players there was only a 37 point difference between #4 and #12, which is roughly 2 fantasy points per week. So does it make sense to pay $15-20+ for Cam, Stafford or Brady when you can get similar production from a guy like Rivers, Romo or Cutler for around $5? The names aren’t as excited, but at the end of the day it’s about numbers not names and saving $10-15 has considerably more value than 1-2 extra fantasy points per week.

Last year’s stats are worth studying, but it’s a mistake to draft based on previous performance. Statistics from last year are a good starting point when figuring out your tiers but predicting who is going to move up or down a tier is the key to success. There are a few players who have the potential to move into the top tier, a couple more who are about to fall out of the 4-12 range, and a couple QBs who are ready to make the leap into fantasy relevance. Here is a breakdown of my preseason tiers:

Fantasy QB Rankings

1st Tier: Elite

QB is a very deep fantasy position. In a 10 or 12 team league you are going to end up with a quality starter regardless of where you pick or how much money you spend, but if you want a sure thing these three guys are as close to a lock as you can get for 20+ fantasy points a game. That’s not my style, but I’m not knocking it. There is value in knowing that you have a consistent 20+ from your QB every week. After suffering through the Stafford / Kaepernick roller coaster in most of my leagues last year, I am starting to come around on the elite QB idea. Be ready to open your wallet though because there are a lot of proponents of the elite QB strategy, so it will cost you a pick in the first two rounds or $30+ in an auction.

1.) Peyton Manning, Broncos – Manning was so good last year (5,477 yards, 55 TDs) that people forget he was almost forced to retire before the season. His neck is still an issue and I don’t think Manning is going to risk his long-term health once doctors tell him to hang up the cleats. I have a gut feeling that this is Manning’s last season and he is going to go all out to try and win one more Super Bowl before he retires. The Broncos lost Eric Decker (1,288 yards, 11 TDs) but replaced him with Emmanuel Sanders (740 yards, 6 TDs) and promising rookie Cory Latimer, plus Manning still has Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, and Julius Thomas. There is no shortage of weapons for Manning and if he stays healthy there is no reason to think his numbers will be any different than they were last year. If you are set on getting a top-tier QB it’s worth spending a few extra bucks to get the best one.

2.) Aaron Rodgers, Packers – Rodgers averaged 1 fantasy point per game less than Drew Brees last year despite injuries to his receiving core (Cobb, Finley) and offensive line. Rodgers should have a full complement of receiving weapons this year, a more experience RB and an improved offensive line. It seems he’s been around forever but Rodgers is only 30 and still in his prime. If there was one guy that I thought could give Manning a run for the #1 QB it would be Rodgers, the talent and offensive weapons are there.

3.) Drew Brees, Saints – Saints coaches are preaching about a more balanced attack in 2014 and a power running game, but I will believe it when I see it. The Saints have finished in the top 4 in pass attempts for 4 years in a row, so even if they run the ball a little more I still think Brees’ numbers will be in the top 3. Brandin Cooks is the most talented receiver that Brees has had in his Saints career and finally gives Brees a receiver that can take a slant route to the house. Brees has averaged right around 390 fantasy points (24 per game) the last three years and I don’t think this year will be much different.

On the cusp:

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4.) Andrew Luck, Colts – If you watched the Colts comeback victory over the Chiefs in the playoffs last year, then you saw a glimpse of what Luck is capable of. His numbers last year were good (60%, 3,822, 23), but not elite. He was also playing without his #1 WR (Reggie Wayne), his #1 TE (Dwayne Allen), a competent running game or a decent O-line. Watching Luck when his team was down 38-10 in the 3rd quarter, I was impressed by his calm demeanor. There was no panic, no forced throws… Luck looked like he knew they were going to come back and win despite being down 28 in the 2nd half. Those are the moments that earn teammates’ trust and lay the ground work for a player to leap from good to great. The Colts get Wayne and Allen back to team with last year’s breakout WR TY Hilton (82, 1083, 5), they added high upside WR Donte Moncrief in the draft, beefed up the O-line (Mewhort, Thomas, Cherilus) and signed Hakeem Nicks in the offseason. RB Trent Richardson should have a better grasp of the offense after a mid-season trade last year and the improved O-line will help him as well. Basically this is the most talented offense Luck has ever had and coming into his third year I expect a significant statistical leap. Luck also finished tied for 2nd in the league for QB rushing TDs with 4 and 7th in QB rushing yards (377).  This will be Luck’s 3rd year in the league and the year he makes the leap into the elite tier. The best part is he will probably cost less than Tom Brady.