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Should Top QBs Be Taken Higher?

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On fantasy draft day, most elite quarterbacks take a backseat to even average running backs. Peyton Manning will usually last until late in the first round or early in the second, and other top QBs such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Marc Bulger and Carson Palmer will often drift into the third. Owners are following the conventional wisdom that running backs rule fantasy football. But is that wise? A look at the last three seasons of fantasy production shows that elite quarterbacks deserve more respect.

First, understand this point: Top QBs outperform top RBs. Since 2004, 28 of the 50 highest single-season fantasy point totals have been by quarterbacks -- compared with 20 by RBs and two by WRs. Twelve of those 28 were tallied by Manning, Brees, Palmer, Brady and Bulger. LaDainian Tomlinson's astounding effort in '06 was only the third-best single season over the last three years.

But, the argument goes, aren't quality running backs harder to find, while quarterbacks are a dime a dozen? Why blow a high pick on a QB when you can get a decent one later? Indeed, most fantasy league teams employ two or three running backs and only one quarterback, seemingly creating a glut of QBs and a shortage of runners. But shrewd fantasy owners know that quality is more important than quantity. Once you get past the quintet of passers mentioned above, you're left with less-than-inspiring choices such as Jon Kitna (inconsistent), Donovan McNabb (injury prone), Vince Young (weak supporting cast), Matt Hasselbeck and Eli Manning (inconsistent, and weak supporting cast), Philip Rivers (inexperienced) and more unproven options. One or two of those QBs could put up big numbers in 2007, but not many more.

The second tier of RBs -- every starter not named LT, Steven Jackson or Larry Johnson (who has his own issues) -- includes 26 running backs who gained 1,000 rushing yards and/or scored 10 or more TDs last season, and at least three strong rookies. This means you can make an aggressive move for a top quarterback and still land a decent second running back later on. -- David Sabino

The choice is among Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Carson Palmer (with Marc Bulger and Donovan McNabb , in my view, not far behind them). All have their strong points. Brady can put up big numbers with just about any receiving corps, and now he's got Randy Moss, Donté Stallworth and Wes Walker to throw to. Brees also has a strong receiving corps -- plus Reggie Bush, who can turn a five-yard dump-off into a 50-yard gain. Then there's Palmer, who plays with one of the league's best one-two receiving punches in Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. You can't go wrong with any of these quarterbacks, but I rank them in this order: Brees, Brady and then Palmer. I give Brees the slight edge because the weak Saints defense will give up points and keep the offense in situations in which New Orleans will still be throwing the ball late in games; in New England, Brady is more likely to be handing off in the fourth quarter to run down the clock. Palmer slips behind the two because of the lack of a strong third receiver in the first eight games of the season during Chris Henry's (nine TDs in '06) suspension. Also note that while Manning is the clear No. 1 QB, the step down to these three really isn't all that far. -- James Quintong