Fantasy Football: 2014 QB Rankings (Part 1)

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2nd Tier: Elite Potential / Bad Defenses

This tier is where you can find the best value. I already mentioned the minimal point differential between QBs 4-12; You can fill your RB, WR, and Flex spot and then get a QB who is similar in value to the QB your competition took 5 rounds earlier. The key is predicting which guys will be in the top of the 2nd tier. Every year there are players who out perform their career norms and ones that fall below it, but for the most part you know what you are getting with veterans QBs (except Eli). I broke up the 4-12 ranks into three tiers because I think there are a few guys who could make a leap this year and be closer to the top 3 than the rest of the pack.

5.) Robert Griffin III, Redskins – People have already forgotten how good RG3’s rookie season was. He finished as the 5th best QB and 7th best fantasy player overall in his first NFL season. Last year was a down year for RG3 but he rushed back from an ACL injury and clearly wasn’t 100% healthy. He looked tentative, didn’t have the same burst when he ran and his accuracy was all over the place. Griffin was shut down early to try and recover for this season and all reports say that he is 100%. RG3 may not run as much this season, but if he has his speed back he will still tuck and run when things break down and the Redskins have much better weapons around him (D-Jax, Garcon, Reed) than they did in RG3’s rookie season. Also former Bengals OC Jay Gruden is running the offense and if he could make a mediocre talent like Andy Dalton into a fantasy star, imagine what Gruden can do with an elite physical talent like RG3. I was tempted to put him in the “cusp” category with Luck, but I need to see him healthy before I rank him that highly. Of all the running QBs, he is the best passer and he has the potential to join the elite ranks if he can stay healthy in 2014.

6.) Matt Ryan, Falcons – After two excellent seasons in ’11 & ’12 with an average of 4,448 passing yards and 30.5 TDs, Ryan was considered one of the safest bets at QB coming into last season. No one could have predicted the utter collapse of the offensive line and the Julio Jones / Roddy White injuries. Ryan had little time to throw and only Harry Douglass and an ancient Tony G as targets most of the season. All things considered, his numbers were predictably bad with his lowest TD output in 5 years (26 TDs) and a career high in interceptions (17 INT). To Ryan’s credit his completion percentage and yards passing were in line with his career norms (67%, 4,515 yards). This season he will have a healthy Jones & White back and an improved offensive line bolstered by 6th overall pick LT Jake Matthews, the return of mediocre T Sam Baker, and solid free agent acquisition G Jon Asamoah. The O-line should keep Ryan clean, the return of his favorite wide receivers and the improvement of Harry Douglass should give Ryan plenty of weapons, and the Falcons suspect running game and potentially awful defense should force Ryan to air it out often. As bad as Ryan was last year, he was still ranked 31st overall and in the top 12 QBs. I think a 4,500 yards, 35+ TD season is well within Ryan’s grasp this season.

7.) Tony Romo, Cowboys – For some reason Romo is never ranked in the preseason top 10 fantasy QBs, despite finishing in the top 10 three seasons in a row. He is getting up there in age (34) and coming off fairly serious back surgery but if healthy this could be one of Romo’s best seasons . With a defense that might be the worst in the league and probably give up 30+ points a game, Romo will be airing it out from the 2nd quarter on. Dallas also has plenty of weapons on offense (Bryant, Murray, Witten, Williams), possibly the best O-line in the league and a new OC, Scott Linehan, who called more pass plays for the Lions over the last three seasons than any other team in the NFL. Romo has averaged 30 TDs and over 4,00o yards passing the last three seasons and has only missed 1 game over that stretch. He should be even better this season and could finish in the top 5 QBs.

8.) Matthew Stafford, Lions – When I see Stafford ranked in the top 5 QBs overall I wonder if anyone watched the Lions last 6 games of the 2013 season. He may have been the worst QB in the league over that stretch. I am a little bitter since he sunk two of my best fantasy squads, but if a QB has the potential to be that disastrously bad over a 6 week stretch does he deserve to be mentioned in the top 5? Over the course of six games (weeks 11-17) Stafford threw 8 TDs and 11 INTs and completed only 57% of his passes as the Lions went 1-5 down the stretch blowing what seemed to be a lock for the NFC North title. Stafford has had stretches that make him look like the best QB in the game, but the possibility of a Gabbert stretch makes me wary of spending the money or relatively high pick it would take to get Stafford. You may think it’s a fluke but he also finished 2012 with a 5 TD / 6 INT performance over 6 games as the Lions went 2-4 to end the season and miss the playoffs again. So basically the last two seasons, Stafford has choked during the fantasy playoffs and killed the title hopes of the Lions and anyone who owned him in fantasy. It’s a testament to Stafford’s talent that he has finished in the top 10 the last two years, despite disappearing for a 3rd of the season. The Lions did add some weapons on offense (WR Tate, TE Ebron) but lost pass-happy OC Scott Linehan, which I consider a wash. The Lions also didn’t do much to upgrade one of the worst secondaries in the league, so Stafford will be forced to throw often to keep the Lions in the game regardless of who is calling the plays. If Stafford manages to avoid a late season collapse this year he could finish near the top 5 overall, but I’m not counting on it.

9.) Tom Brady, Patriots – Brady has had an amazing career, but he is 37 years old and coming off his worst fantasy season since 2006. Brady apologists will point to the fact that he had nothing to work with last year, but guess what? He is working with the same receiving core this year. There might be some improvement from Dobson / Thompkins / Boyce, maybe Amendola and Edelman stay healthy all year, and maybe Brandon LaFell finally breaks out in his 5th year in the league…That is a few too many maybes for me. I originally had Brady ranked at 12, but reports are that Gronk is 100% and that is a game-changer for Brady. With Gronk on the field I think Brady can still be a top ten fantasy QB, without him I think he ends up around where he did last year (13th). I think it’s very possible that Brady, at 37 years old, is entering the twilight of his career as a fantasy asset at least. Brady is clearly still draftable and should put up top 15 QB stats even without a full season of Gronk, but he isn’t worth a big investment and I would make sure to back him up with a reliable QB if/when Gronk goes down.

On the cusp:

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

10.) Jay Cutler, Bears – His total stats don’t look that impressive last year (2,621 yards, 19 TDs, 12 INTs), but he missed 6 games and had his best completion percentage (63.1%) since his Pro Bowl season in ’07 (63.8%). Extrapolating Cutler’s numbers over a full season comes out to 4,193 passing yards and 30 TDs which would have put him in the top 10 overall whatever your scoring preferences. The Bears scored the 2nd most points in the league last year (behind Denver) and could be even more explosive this season. In year 2 of Marc Trestman’s system with a solid O-line and an impressive collection of offensive weapons,  this could be Cutler’s best year in Chicago and he should be a fantasy steal at his current ADP ($2, 102.3). If you combined Cutler and McCown’s numbers last season, you have a top 5 fantasy QB.