Brady still best, but value found elsewhere at quarterback position
It is going to be an interesting month if you're an NFL quarterback. You are not one, since you're reading this, but you care almost as much for fantasy football season.
Yes, it's almost here! And, yes, it is almost as big as life itself.
If the NFL represents life for Americans, QBs represent the heart and soul.
Once the lockout is lifted, there is going to be a quick trade and free-agency session that should move players at a record pace. You should expect NFL teams to focus first on the position that matters most.
A lot of fantasy values are going to change as the projected signal callers do.
It won't just be the quarterback rankings that are shuffled when one goes off the board. The wide receivers and tight ends of teams will be affected directly. The running backs can be impacted indirectly and some kickers might even before more relevant.
Heck, a good QB can turn a whole franchise around and make a bad defense more viable. Admit it: You have started the Colts D/ST before in fantasy.
In this pass-happy league, teams start with the QB and fantasy fates are determined by them, even if running back is still the keystone spot on rosters. The NFL and its fantasy world revolve around the center of every offense.
We already went through an NFL Draft in which talks of the quarterbacks dominated. Cam Newton (Carolina), Jake Locker (Tennessee), Blaine Gabbert (Jacksonville) and Christian Ponder (Minnesota) went in the top 12 picks and each could compete to start. All of them could have a stopgap veteran acquired to slot ahead of them.
Then there is Andy Dalton (Cincinnati) picked in Round 2 and already rumored to be in line to start over erstwhile Bengal Carson Palmer, who wants out and already sold his home in Cincinnati. Palmer could be a big-time upgrade for sleeper teams seeking a QB, like Miami, Arizona, Minnesota, Seattle, Washington and perhaps Buffalo, Tennessee or Oakland.
More veterans look to be on the move, as well. Kevin Kolb is too valuable as trade bait to remain a mere backup to Michael Vick (although we will argue the other way around below). Donovan McNabb almost certainly won't be returning to Washington -- not to be a backup. Matt Hasselbeck is on the block out of Seattle. Kyle Orton appears to be excess with the emergence of Tim Tebow. Vince Young is out of Tennessee and a viable starter someplace. Marc Bulger is rumored to want to start somewhere away from Joe Flacco's shadow in Baltimore.
Adding it all up, almost half of the teams in the NFL are unsettled at the QB position. And, frankly, the Cowboys should be in that group, too (again, see below).
Here is a first glimpse at SI.com's fantasy football rankings by position, starting at the highest-scoring QB spot. But know that it is certain to change as the face of the franchises do.
1. Tom Brady NE
You can toss all five of these gems up in the air and be happy with any one of them. Any of these five can potentially go in the first round, although it is the belief here only the first two should.
Vick is No. 1 on some boards, maybe even a candidate for No. 1 overall after his 2010 breakthrough. He is an awesome talent as a threat through the air (with a great supporting cast) and on the ground (with his own legs).
It is the latter point that makes him merely No. 5 for us. Rodgers, Brady, Manning and Brees are mostly pocket passers who will be protected from taking hits. Vick won't. It makes him the biggest injury risk of the bunch.
He is going to put himself in danger, coincidentally, by the very ability he has to escape it in the pocket.
As for the choice of Brady over Rodgers at No. 1: Brady outscored Rodgers a year ago and his receiving cast is only going to get better; Rodgers' is getting older, even if he is getting his RB (Ryan Grant) and TE (Jermichael Finley) back from injury. If Finley has a big training camp, though, we reserve right to flip-flop those top two.
6. Philip Rivers SD
While the elite five all will be outstanding, the best strategy may be to skip those passers, all of whom likely will be off the board by the end of Round 2. This next trio might be just as good at a cost of a few rounds later.
Ryan is the breakthrough candidate at the position. Yes, he is coming off a big third season, but his supporting cast could elevate him into the elite territory as a 30-plus touchdown passer with less than 10 interceptions. He is Brady without the price tag. Yeah, we just compared Matty Ice to the No. 1 at the position, all while ranking him No. 7.
9. Eli Manning NYG
This is generally the tier that provides the best value for fantasy owners. If you load up on RBs and WRs early and wait to be the last one to pick a starting QB, you should be happy with one of these guys.
Manning should be an elite passer with his receiving corps, but he just makes too many errors. If he cuts those, he could jump into the second tier. Roethlisberger is one of the game's stars, but he is held back by his team's conservative approach. He has his biggest years when the defense is down and Steelers need to throw more. The same can be said for Flacco.
Romo and Cutler are the enigmas. For some reason, so many fantasy football analysts slot Romo in the second tier. He is a big-time bust at that price.
Cutler, meanwhile, might be a sleeper because the stigma of his postseason is dragging him just out of the top 12, which basically makes up the "starters" in a standard one-QB fantasy format.
14. Josh Freeman TB 4
Freeman is coming off a great year, but we list him outside of the "starters" because you can expect some regression against a tougher schedule. While he should continue to improve professionally, the statistics will come less impressively against a contender's schedule. Also, Cassel got a solid WR in the draft, but he is expected to have a one-man receiving show initially.
Palmer and Kolb are great sleepers, but they are the first of a large group of passers whose values are going to be dramatically affected by the events of the next few weeks. Palmer would be a Tier III option if he landed in a place like Arizona, Miami or Minnesota.
Kolb could be a Tier II passer as a starter. The Eagles should keep him on board, though, when -- no, if -- Vick gets banged up. Staying in Philly will drop Kolb a couple of tiers.
18. Matthew Stafford DET 5
There is obviously talent here, but it's too unproven for any of them to be considered a fantasy starter to open the year. All of them could finish that way, though.
22. Donovan McNabb WAS 6
Save for the fate of Palmer and Kolb on the trade market, this is the tier that stands to change the most.
McNabb would be a great fit in any place away from Washington. Young could be interesting as a starter, a poor man's Vick. And Orton was a beast in the first half last season when he wasn't getting pushed by Tebow. Orton could be interesting in Arizona or Miami.
You don't want to be counting on any of these guys, but they do represent an potential as bye-week replacements.
30. Colt McCoy CLE 7
These players shouldn't be drafted in standard leagues. They are merely late-round options in two-QB formats.
If you're looking at the top rookie picks, Dalton or Ponder have best chance to start immediately, while Locker or Newton might be the best talents long term.
38. Jimmy Clausen CAR 8
These scrubs are listed only because they are potential starters for their teams. They are going to be bad -- and temporary -- ones. Ignore them in fantasy.
We have to figure the coming weeks of movement will render them useless to their teams, too.