This week I’ll cover the top 15 fantasy quarterbacks. When deciding the rankings, I rate each player in 20 different categories. The categories range from consistent experience, weapons surrounding them, scheme of the offense, mobility, injury history, average yards per attempt, and much more.
After each QB’s score is tallied up, I tweak the scores based on my opinion of possible growth vs wear & tear. It’s obviously not an exact science, but it will give you a firm base on the direction that you should be headed when your fantasy team is on the clock.
2012 Top 15 Fantasy Quarterbacks
*Completion % on passes over 10 yards & Average Yards per Pass Attempt
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1. Aaron Rodgers - (56% – 9.25) Rodgers had less pass attempts than any other quarterback on this Top 15 list, with the exception of the few that missed extended time. He still managed to complete over 68% of his passes for 4,600+ yards and was second in touchdowns (45) to only Drew Brees (46), despite having 155 less attempts. Those 155 extra attempts would have equated to another 5 full games of passing for Rodgers. Aaron also had less picks than anyone else on this list that played in at least one game last season. Rodgers also had more rushing yards than every other quarterback on this list, except for Cam Newton and Mike Vick. The only quarterbacks with more rushing touchdowns on this list were Newton and Josh Freeman. He’s the best quarterback in the game and the fact that the Packers didn’t add a game changing back this off-season, leads me to believe that we can expect more domination in 2012.
Fear Factor: My only fear would be that the Mayans were right. That seems to be the only obstacle standing in Aaron Rodgers’ path. He will continue to celebrate the luxury of facing NFC North secondaries. Last year he recorded 1/3 (15) of his 45 touchdown passes against the Bears and Vikings.
2. Tom Brady - (51% – 8.57) It’s scary to think that Brady could have better options this year in the passing game, but he has just that. Brandon Lloyd flourished in this offense under Josh McDaniels in Denver. Now, Lloyd has Brady throwing the ball to him and defenses have to worry about Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, and Aaron Hernandez as well. Tom will have running backs that are better suited to create mismatches for the opposing defenses. What those backs can do in the receiving game, blended in with the addition of Lloyd, will be scary. The biggest area of improvement for Brady has already been halfway fixed. Out of Brady’s 12 interceptions in 2012, all 12 were thrown against the AFC East and the NFC East. He didn’t throw a pick to any team outside of those two divisions. The Patriots’ schedule has rolled over from the NFC East to the NFC West this season. That just leaves the AFC East. He will need to improve against his own division and especially Buffalo. The Bills corralled in almost half of Brady’s 12 picks, racking up a total of 5 interceptions in two games.
Fear Factor: The biggest decrease in Brady’s production could come in the maturity of the running backs. Danny Woodhead has already cut out his niche over the last few seasons. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen could take a huge step in their second season. If Bill Belichick decided to rely heavily on the young backs and steer away from the shootouts like we saw last season, then Tom’s stats could take a minimal decline based on a time of possession offense that looks to improve the defense by keeping them fresh. It’s like what the Broncos did with Tebow at quarterback.
3. Drew Brees - (59% – 8.34) There is a lot stacked against Brees. Almost all of it’s been off the field stuff or increased by the media, due to the down months of a sport that is heavily covered year round. Over the last four seasons, Brees has averaged a completion rate of 69%, 4,888 passing yards, 37 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. I wouldn’t bet against a falloff in his production this year, but even if his stats dropped by 20%, he would still put up numbers similar to 56% comp, 4,000 yards, 30 TDs, and 13 INTs. I’d take my chances with Brees after Rodgers and Brady went off the board.
Fear Factor: Robert Meachem and Carl Nicks are gone. While they replaced Nicks with Ben Grubbs and have receivers ready to step up for Meachem, it’s hard to deny the chemistry and comfort Brees had created with these former teammates. Two of the most reported stories out of the NFL this off-season have surrounded the Saints. There is no telling how the bounty reports and Drew Brees’ holdout will affect his on-field play this year.
4. Cam Newton - (45% – 7.84) I love what Cam Newton did last season. The way he came in and played at an NFL level right out of the gates was nothing short of amazing. Even though he had the best rookie season of any quarterback, the puzzle isn’t complete. Everyone was ready to crown Josh Freeman as the second coming after his stellar sophomore campaign. Here are their numbers side by side:
Newton- 60% 4,051 pyds, 21 ptds, 17 ints, 84.5 QB rating, 706 ryds, 5.6 avg, 14 rtds.
Freeman- 61% 3,451 pyds, 25 ptds, 6 ints, 95.9 QB rating, 364 ryds, 5.4 avg, 0 rtds
Obviously, Newton was a rookie and Freeman was in his second year and those 14 rushing touchdowns are jaw dropping. The point isn’t to demean the season Cam had. It’s to warn of the risk that’s associated with overpraising young quarterbacks. I believe Newton will have another great season, but I do believe that the Panthers have a different plan of attack prepared for him.
Fear Factor: In the Panthers’ 6 wins last year, Cam had a 64% comp, 8 passing and 6 rushing touchdowns, 0 interceptions, a 107 QB rating, & only passed for an average of 191 yds a game. In the Panthers’ 10 losses last year, Cam had 58% comp, 13 passing and 8 rushing touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 76 QB rating, & passed for 291 yds a game. Fantasy owners prefer the Cam Newton from the losses, but the Panthers will play him towards the patterns of the victories. Carolina has one of the best one-two running back punches in the NFL. They added Mike Tolbert this off-season. Tolbert is a short yardage / goal line back. I believe that the team’s goal is to get Cam less involved in short yardage carries, including at the goal line. This will cut into his rushing touchdowns. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both averaged 5.4 yards a carry last season and the team was more effective when Cam was asked to do less. That may be and should be the plan for 2012.
5. Philip Rivers - (51% – 7.95) I talked earlier about the great numbers that Drew Brees has averaged over the last four years. Now let’s look at the man who replaced him in San Diego. Rivers has averaged around 4,400 yards, 30 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a 65% completion rate over the last four years. The Chargers have a better blend of wide receivers for Rivers to throw to this year. Malcolm Floyd, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, and Vincent Brown all do different things well. Rivers needed the diversity last year, but the team was lacking. If Antonio Gates is healthy and the line can hold up, then Philip will have an ideal supporting cast to bounce back from a down 2011 season that still saw him pass for over 4,600 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Fear Factor: Philip played horrible under pressure last season. When the Chargers were either trailing or tied, he matched his 17 touchdowns with 17 interceptions. That’s not a good recipe for a comeback. However, he was much more comfortable with the lead as he threw for 10 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. The AFC West is set for another competitive 8-8 divisional winner. Rivers will be in a lot of close games and will have to overcome the situation to perform at a higher level than 2011.
6. Mike Vick - (50% – 7.81) I think we all got carried away with Mike Vick’s 9 rushing touchdowns in 2010. His lone rushing touchdown last season was actually closer to the norm, than the nine the year before. Out of his 9 NFL seasons, he’s only finished with more than 3 rushing touchdowns, three times. It’s another reason we should pump the brakes on Cam’s 14 from last year. I wonder if the Georgia Dome ruined Vick. Last year he threw 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions when he was playing outside in the elements, but had a much more impressive showing indoors, with a total of 6 touchdowns and 1 interception. Vick has one of the best weapons coming out of the backfield in LeSean McCoy and had to suffer through a disgruntled DeSean Jackson last season. Now, with DeSean happy, Vick should have a much better season. He needs Jackson’s big play ability to continue to stretch defenses so that he may check down to McCoy in open space and just watch him work.
Fear Factor: Can he stay healthy? He’s 32 years old and seems to miss action every year. It’s hard to draft a quarterback early that has a good chance of missing 25% of the season. Vick will have to see the whole field better this season. Out of Mike Vick’s 14 interceptions in 2011, only 1 was thrown to the right side of the field. The other 13 were over the middle or to the left.
7. Tony Romo – (53% – 8.02) This may surprise some people. I’ve never been a big Tony Romo backer, but his stats show that he’s actually better in the fourth quarter and trailing situations than common belief. I’m well aware of his mental lapses and key mistakes, but that rarely affects your fantasy team. Romo is good for somewhere around 4,000 passing yards, 28-32 touchdowns, 10-12 picks, and usually around 65% in completions.
Fear Factor: He has to protect the ball on his side of the field. Last year he threw 8 interceptions when he was on his side of the 50. After crossing midfield, he only threw 2 interceptions for the entire year. Dallas needs to get the running game going early on in drives or give him safe, high percentage throws. He becomes more comfortable after he gets his feet out of his own territory and as the drive progresses. Another huge fear is the receiver depth. If Dez Bryant or Miles Austin goes down again, it becomes real slim in talent out wide.
8. Eli Manning - (47% – 8.38) Eli gets better as the game goes on. He also played at his best when the Giants were losing last year. Eli answered a lot of critics last season. He also threw more than he ever had before. Along with that came a lot of big plays. The lack of a running game actually helped the growth of Eli and allowed him to take his game to the next level. As a fantasy quarterback though, he still falls in that low second tier. He’s set to have another good season, but he will need Hakeem Nicks to come back strong, Victor Cruz to keep working as if he was still fighting for a roster spot, Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan to take that next step, and it would be huge if Rueben Randle could come in ready.
Fear Factor: Eli always makes mistakes. He’s only had one season since his rookie year that he stayed below 14 interceptions. Last year he almost made 600 passing attempts. That number should drop drastically due to an increase in the running game.
9. Matt Stafford - (47% – 7.60) Stafford did some great things last year. The most important one was staying healthy for a full season. He had a 5,000 yard season and 40+ touchdowns. Not to take anything away from him, but he did have Calvin Johnson and the lack of a running game forced him to pass 663 times. Reminds me of Matt Schaub’s 2009 season, when he almost had 600 passing attempts for close to 4,800 yards and was playing with Andre Johnson at the peak of his career. The Lions will need to play to Stafford’s strength this year and the way they do that is by getting out to an early lead. Matt didn’t throw any interceptions and had 12 touchdowns when the Lions were playing with a lead.
Fear Factor: It seems as if everyone is now worry-free of Stafford’s injury history. I hope that he can stay healthy and would like to see what type of season that he could follow 2011 up with. But, I still fear that he may suffer through an injury-plagued career. I also would like to see better play against the top competition. Last season Stafford took advantage of the weak AFC West. Unfortunately for Detroit, they won’t get to face the AFC West again this year. In 2011, Stafford lit them up for 331 yards a game, 14 touchdowns, and 1 interception. The fear comes from what he will do against the teams he has to face twice a year, every year. Matt Stafford has to get much better versus the Packers and the Bears if the Lions plan on making the playoffs again. In 2011, he threw 10 interceptions against these two teams alone.
10. Matt Ryan - (46% – 7.38) Matt Ryan could easily be higher up on this list. I don’t think Atlanta has given him full ownership of the offense and this has kept him from reaching his max potential. This year could be very impressive. The lockout slowed the Falcons chemistry in 2011. Last September and October, Ryan’s stats were an unimpressive 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. After the team had a few months together, they began to gel. From November on, Matt Ryan passed for almost 2,500 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. All he has to do now is pick up where he left off. It doesn’t hurt matters that he dominated his division in 2011. Ryan passed for 1,643 yards, 11 touchdowns, and only 2 interceptions against the NFC South. On the flip side of that, he’ll be glad to not have to face the NFC North, who he threw 5 of his 12 picks to last year.
Fear Factor: He’s a solid performer and there isn’t too much that scares me about his game. The team has limited him in the past and Michael Turner is such a huge part of the offense. Jacquizz Rodgers will have to become more involved in the offense this year as well. If they decide to move him out wide some, then it could only help Ryan. If they go vanilla, I fear that we may never see Ryan’s ceiling.
11. Peyton Manning - It just seems odd having Peyton Manning outside of the top 10. Truth be told, I had to move him up from 13. My thinking was that, fantasy owners should look for less risk with their number one quarterback, but jump on him as the first backup off the board. I realize that many people are ready to accept Peyton as being back 100% or say that at 80% he’s better than most quarterbacks at 100%. I’m not buying that. Not with the 10 quarterbacks listed above. Forgive me if I take a few neck surgeries serious. Manning may turn out to have the best season of any quarterback in the league, though highly doubtful. He also has a bigger chance at landing on injured reserve. The risk of taking him over the top 10 guys listed doesn’t have a big enough pay off versus their production.
Fear Factor: Neck, neck, neck. If you need some extra fear for Peyton, here it goes. DeMaryius Thomas drops entirely too many passes. Eric Decker will be Manning’s top receiver, but lacks separation. The tight ends will play a huge role for Denver and Joel Dreessen will become a household name. Denver will waste the full season looking for running back talent at the top of their roster in Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno, and Ronnie Hillman and may never realize that it’s buried on their depth chart.
12. Jay Cutler - (53% – 7.39) Jay Cutler is set up for his best season. He’s always had great chemistry with Brandon Marshall and has always had Marshall’s ear as well. That’s the second receiver on this team that has a past with Cutler. Earl Bennett earned Cutler’s trust back when they were playing together at Vanderbilt. Cutler even threw at Bennett’s pro day. They’ve been creating a bond in Chicago’s offense, but Earl was being asked to do too much. Now, with Marshall aboard, the pieces fall into place, especially if Alshon Jeffery can stay in shape and motivated. The Bears are going away from the seven step drops and last year’s first round pick Gabe Carimi will finally get to show his worth. Cutler protected the ball better as a whole last year, but it was the red zone that really caught my eye. Jay Cutler threw 0 red zone picks in 2011 and 8 touchdowns before his injury. Last time he did that was 2007, when he had 16 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in the red zone.
Fear Factor: Cutler received injuries last year and 2010. The line should protect better and the short drop backs should hopefully keep him upright and less susceptible to injuries. Speaking of injuries, Matt Forte is coming back from one as well and he’s also looking for a little extra change in his pocket. Forte has been an amazing receiving back. Jay would be effective without Forte, but he wouldn’t be able to reach anything close to his ceiling for this year.
13. Josh Freeman - (41% – 6.52) I spoke earlier about Josh Freeman’s 2010 season. I feel that Freeman is definitely closer to what he showed in 2010 than the travesty we watched last year. Last season had more to do with the team as a whole, than it did one individual. Now, the Bucs have an offensive line to be envious of and a running back duo that seems more on par with the rest of the NFC South. That’s not the only new toys that Freeman received this off-season. He’ll get to throw to Vincent Jackson as well. The V-Jack addition is so huge because it allows the other receivers on the roster to move down a spot. Mike Williams wasn’t comfortable in being the “man”. He can now learn from Jackson and doesn’t have to face constant double teams. The receivers that fall behind the main two are now perfect in their roles as compliments as well. Adding Dallas Clark to the young tight end Luke Stocker will work perfectly for meshing Stocker into Freeman’s security blanket.
Fear Factor: As great as the blueprint is set up for his success, I wonder how much of those mental mistakes will stick with him. If you take out his stellar 2010 season, then you have a guy that combined for only 26 touchdowns, but 40 interceptions in two years. Worrying aside, I feel that the team will mesh and this offense could become explosive.
14. Carson Palmer - (47% – 8.39) This is one of my biggest risk picks. There are still several solid quarterbacks available and Palmer has a lot of questions surrounding his abilities. The weapons he has in Oakland are perfect for him. Darren McFadden has the ability to be the NFL’s best back, if he could stay healthy. The Raiders have always had speed, but with the addition of Juron Criner and the emergence of Darrius Heyward-Bey, teams have to stay tight in coverage across the whole field. If Oakland lines up Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford out wide at the same time, it’ll put the fear of God in defenses. Palmer had instant chemistry with Ford last season, before Jacoby went out with an injury. Then he connected with Moore. DHB made a surprising jump in ability last season. I had left him for dead, but his hands were much improved. Criner had the biggest hands in the 2012 NFL Draft and has great size in addition. The last key ingredient is the frequently forgotten about, Marcel Reece. I have a feeling that he will have an increased role this season and he’s fully capable of it.
Fear Factor: There’s plenty of fears associated with Palmer. Every season in which he’s played more than 4 games, he’s thrown between 12-20 interceptions. He also hasn’t had a season in which he’s thrown more than 26 touchdown passes since 2006. He’s been average for a while, but I think he’s about to put together a season similar to 2006.
15. Matt Schaub – (57% – 8.49) Schaub is coming off another injury. The last three years he has performed very well. If he can stay healthy, I don’t see any reason why he can’t pass for another 4,000 yards. He needs Andre Johnson to stay healthy as well. Arian Foster and Ben Tate have made this team a run first oriented offense. Schaub won’t pass for another 4,700 yards, but if one of the young receivers steps up and Owen Daniels can get back to his old form, he’s more than capable of putting up 250 yards and 2 touchdowns a game. Lestar Jean will be a much needed upgrade over the departed Jacoby Jones.
Fear Factor: Schaub has been injured and had his seasons cut short in three of his five years in Houston. Matt has never played well under pressure filled situations. His quarterback rating in the 4th quarter last year was 30 points lower than any other quarter. 66% of Schaub’s touchdowns came in the 1st half and 50% of his interceptions came in the 4th quarter.