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Cardinals are comfortable with Drew Stanton as Plan B to Carson Palmer
1:32 | NFL
Cardinals are comfortable with Drew Stanton as Plan B to Carson Palmer
Thursday June 30th, 2016

Draft season is still a few months away, but fantasy football—and football in general—is once again pervading conversation across the country. Over the next few weeks, we’ll present you with our early top 10 lists at every position. Their makeup may change by time draft season really arrives, but it’s time for us to kick it off with our quarterback rankings.

For years now, you’ve heard about the benefits of waiting on a quarterback in fantasy drafts. That strategy remains axiomatic, even with the NFL as pass-friendly as it has been in its history. Running backs are in ever-shorter supply, and elite receivers rule the day. As Cam Newton, Blake Bortles, Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton proved last year, you can always find a capable quarterback in the middle rounds or later of any draft, and so the fantasy league where someone wants to use a first- or second-round pick on a quarterback is nearly extinct. Still, with all that being said, as the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees get pushed further and further down draft boards, it's actually beginning to make more sense to be the first person to dive into the quarterback pool. We still wouldn’t recommend it, but the argument for it is more cogent than it was just a few seasons ago. Who’s the one you should aim for? Our rankings are below.

Four quarterbacks have thrown at least 30 touchdowns in both of the last two seasons. They are Rodgers, Brees, Tom Brady and the younger Manning. Not only is Eli now officially the best Manning in the NFL, he’s also one of the most undervalued quarterbacks in all fantasy formats. Manning has the luxury of throwing 160 or so passes to Odell Beckham Jr., one of the best receivers in the league, plus the Giants added rookie Sterling Shepard out of Oklahoma in the second round of the 2016 draft. That gives Manning two receivers he can lean on for the first time since the halcyon days of the Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks pairing. The Giants’ run game remains a work in progress, which means it will probably be another 600-pass-attempt season for Manning. You won’t be disappointed if you wait on the position and end up with Manning as your primary signal caller.

Bortles put together a monster fantasy season in his second year in the league, finishing fourth among quarterbacks in total points and fifth in points per game in standard-scoring formats. Of all the players on this list, though, he might be the one most likely to fall outside of the top 10 by the time draft season rolls around. Bortles threw 606 passes last year, the sixth most in the NFL. 10 quarterbacks attempted at least 570 passes in 2015, with Brady’s Patriots and Rodgers’s Packers the only teams among them that made the playoffs. The Jaguars took a few necessary steps toward getting back to the postseason for the first time since ‘07, adding cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack with their first two picks. They, along with last year’s first-round selection Dante Fowler, should improve a defense that was ideally terrible for Bortles owners. The team also added Chris Ivory in free agency, pairing him with T.J. Yeldon to beef up the run game. Bortles has an enviable stable of weapons in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas, but he could throw 100 fewer passes this year. He grades as QB1 for now, but it’s no slam dunk.

It’s hard to know what to do with Brady, especially at this point of the summer. For now, we have to assume he’ll be suspended for four games. At the same time, we saw this movie play out last season, and it ended with a triumphant Brady starting all 16 games for the Patriots. By the time we’re all sitting down around draft tables at the end of the summer, we’ll know whether or not Brady will miss any time this season. Even if you budget him for 12 games, however, he remains a likely QB1. The important factor to consider is just how easy it is to find a replacement quarterback for four weeks. There are plenty of players who didn’t make this list, like Tyrod Taylor, Kirk Cousins, Andy Dalton, Derek Carr, Tony Romo, Marcus Mariota and Philip Rivers, just to name a few. Any of those players, or a combination of streaming options, can start the first month of the season for you before handing off the reins to Brady. The bigger concern with Brady is the health of Julian Edelman (foot) and Dion Lewis (knee). With those two in good shape and Rob Gronkowski at his disposal, plus a new off-season’s worth of perceived outrages to avenge, Brady remains a safe bet.

Everything came together for the Cardinals last year, with the offense flowing from the brain of Bruce Arians and right arm of Carson Palmer. The 12-year veteran enjoyed the best season of his career, setting new personal standards in yards (4,671), touchdowns (35), YPA (8.7) and quarterback rating (104.6). It seems trite to say, “If he stays healthy…” with respect to a football player, or really any professional athlete. Given Palmer’s injury history, however, he has a greater-than-baseline risk for injury, and that’s why the qualifier applies here. If he does stay healthy, though, last year’s numbers are well within reach. He has an excellent, well-rounded trio of receivers at his disposal in Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown, while running back David Johnson is ready to handle a workhorse load for the entire season. Arizona features one of the best offensive lines in the league, as well as one of its finest offensive coaches in Arians. Palmer could be limited from a fantasy perspective by a team that is too good, and thus lets the offense take the foot off the gas every now and again, or by Johnson’s presence in the backfield. Those are first-world problems, though. Palmer is in line for another great year.

Luck is the forgotten man after various injuries, including a ruptured spleen, limited him to seven games last season (though he’s a newly-paid man as well, as the Colts just handed him a hefty extension). Volume can be a quarterback’s best friend, and that has certainly been the case with Luck during his career. His efficiency has left a bit to be desired, but so long as he can overwhelm that with pass attempts, it won’t much matter in fantasy leagues. Luck has a strong pair of receivers in T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief and an offense that is built around his strengths. He may not have the same mandate to run that he has had in the past, which could limit his fantasy ceiling, but that’s one of the few drawbacks you’ll find for him in Indianapolis. The Colts spent most of their draft resources upgrading the offensive line, most notably by selecting center Ryan Kelly out of Alabama with the 18th overall pick. The team also didn’t do much to address the run game, sticking with Frank Gore as the starter. That means Luck should be in line for 600-plus pass attempts this season.

The following is a non-comprehensive list of events that took place the same year that Brees was last outside the top-six fantasy quarterbacks: YouTube had its first ever video upload, “Crash” won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy and George W. Bush was sworn in for his second term as president. The year was 2005, and Brees had the audacity to finish seventh among quarterbacks in standard-scoring leagues. Since then, he has been a top-three fantasy quarterback six times, and the No. 1 passer in two seasons. Brees is as bankable as they come. He has done it with big names like Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, and he has also done it by piecing together a weapons cache out of spare parts. In Brandin Cooks, he likely has his best receiver since Colston’s best seasons, and he’s got a decent stable of options behind him in Willie Snead, Michael Thomas and Brandon Coleman, as well as a shiny new tight end in the form of Coby Fleener. No one has ever won a fantasy title betting against Brees. This year won’t be any different.

Everyone wants to knock Roethlisberger for his durability, an understandable impulse when ranking a quarterback who too often gets himself into injury trouble. Is it possible, however, that the concern is overstated? Roethlisberger played 16 games in 2014 and 2013, and 15 in 2011. He has never missed more than four games in a season, and is at the head of what could be the league’s best offense, with arguably the league’s best receiver. Remember, Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell did not play an entire game together all of last season. If Bell and Antonio Brown are as good as the entire fantasy community believes they will be this season, how can Roethlisberger not follow? There’s a logical disconnect between the individual rankings of those three players that shrewd fantasy owners can use to their advantage by getting Roethlisberger at a discount on the retail price.

Wilson is coming off his best season as a pro, in which he set new career highs in yards (4,024), touchdowns (34), YPA (8.33), completion percentage (68.1) and quarterback rating (110.1), all while throwing just eight interceptions. Wilson has never been a running quarterback, but rather a quarterback who runs. He’s determined to keep passing plays alive, getting the majority of his rushing yards on designed runs. He carried the ball 103 times last year for 553 yards, but just one touchdown. Since the merger, there have been 21 quarterback seasons with at least 100 rushing attempts and 500 rushing yards. Those quarterbacks, not including Wilson last year, averaged 6.5 rushing scores per year. If Wilson matches his attempt and yardage output, his touchdowns will come up. If his rapport with Doug Baldwin was a portent of things to come, he’ll remain efficient and explosive through the air. It’s possible we have yet to see his fantasy best.

Chances are if you had Newton last year you were, at the very least, one of the best teams in your league, if not its champion. Newton threw and ran his way to a unanimous NFL MVP award, and was likely the fantasy MVP as well, especially when you consider his depressed average draft position. Like the No. 1 choice on this list, Newton did it without his best receiver, as Kelvin Benjamin missed the entire season with a torn ACL. While Newton may still be getting better as a real-life quarterback, is it even possible for him to do so in the fantasy realm? He threw for 35 touchdowns on 495 attempts last year, a 7.1% touchdown rate that was the 18th highest in a single season since 1984. Newton also ran for 10 touchdowns and 636 yards. That marked the ninth time since the merger that a quarterback ran for at least eight touchdowns and 500 yards, and just the third that one hit 10 scores and 600 yards. The other two seasons belong to Newton and Daunte Culpepper. All of this is to say that Newton essentially maxed out his production last year. He’s undeniably great, but don’t expect a repeat of 2015.

The King doesn’t give up his throne because of one substandard season, especially when he was without his best receiver for the entire year. It was borderline remarkable what Rodgers was able to accomplish last season with the weapons at his disposal. Despite lacking a true deep threat or anyone who could consistently create separation, Rodgers threw for 3,821 yards and 31 touchdowns against eight interceptions. His YPA cratered to 6.68, a direct result of Jordy Nelson’s absence. In 2014, Rodgers put up 10.06 YPA on balls thrown to Nelson, and the duo hooked up for 19 passes of at least 20 yards. Now that Rodgers has his true No. 1 receiver back in the fold, there’s nothing to stop him from getting back to the top of his position this season.

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