This week I'm going to do a preliminary ranking of the quarterbacks heading into the 2013 season. The theme so far in mocks appears to be waiting on picking a quarterback, as there seems to be a lot of depth at the position this year. Here are my top-15 fantasy quarterbacks for the upcoming season as of now.
1. Aaron Rodgers - I'm pretty sure he's cemented himself as the consensus top quarterback. All he's done over the last two seasons is throw for just under 9,000 yards and 84 touchdowns. He's also good for 250-plus rushing yards every season along with a few rushing touchdowns, something that a lot of quarterbacks don't get. When Chris Liss and I interviewed Adrian Peterson last Friday, Rodgers was the first non-running back AP said he would take in a fantasy draft. That's good enough for me.
2. Drew Brees - When looking at some of the stats, there's a strong argument that Brees should be the top quarterback taken. He led the position in 2012 as far as fantasy points per game in most formats and became the first quarterback to throw for back-to-back 5,000-yard seasons. The difference between Brees and Rodgers for me is Rodgers' rushing ability, along with the amount of interceptions the pair respectively gives up; Brees has thrown 19 more picks over the last two seasons. While some think the return of Sean Payton will help his cause, keep in mind that the Saints shouldn't play from behind as much this season since the defense has to be better than what they were last year.
3. Cam Newton - Somehow I feel like this guy is extremely undervalued in fantasy circles. It's no secret that the key to Newton's value is his rushing ability after he topped 700 rushing yards in 2012 for the second straight season. As expected, his rushing touchdowns fell from 14 to eight last season, but he should be a yearly threat to rack up double-digits in that category. If there's some cause for concern here, it's the addition of offensive coordinator Mike Shula. He hasn't put a strong emphasis on the read option and therefore there's the chance Newton doesn't run quite as much. However, this also means he could throw more this season, perhaps aided by the additions of Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn.
4. Peyton Manning - Manning put to rest any worries about his neck and had the second-best fantasy season of his career in 2012. He enters this season with what could arguably be the best receiving corps he's ever had to work with (with all due respect to Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison) in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. It's typically hard for me to recommend a 37-year-old quarterback, but don't be surprised if Manning tops last season's stats.
5. Colin Kaepernick - This is a pretty aggressive ranking, but the numbers don't lie. Obviously the loss of Michael Crabtree is going to hurt, but he'll still have Vernon Davis (who hopefully can continue the run he had during playoffs) as well as the newly acquired Anquan Boldin. Looking at his per game stats is misleading, as Kaepernick played a limited role early in the season and it wasn't until after the 49ers' bye week that he was their starter. Including the playoffs, he started eight games, so doubling his stats would give you an idea of what he might be capable of over the course of a full season. Using that math, Kaepernick would have had over 3,600 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, over 800 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. The rushing potential is why he lands in the fifth spot for me.
6. Tom Brady - To start with, Brady will be working with a completely retooled set of receivers come Week 1. Meanwhile, there's the Aaron Hernandez situation, and who knows when Rob Gronkowski will return? In addition, Wes Welker's replacement, Danny Amendola, has only played 12 games over the last two seasons. All of that being said, I would never bet against Brady or Bill Belicheck. The concern for me here is that maybe the Patriots offense switches over to being more run-heavy, which would end up costing Brady some stats.
7. Matt Ryan - Ryan's increase in stats last season was a result of a slight increase in his efficiency (7.7 YPA) and having 49 more pass attempts. He still has one of the best wide receiver tandems in Roddy White and Julio Jones and the organization was able to convince TE Tony Gonzalez not to retire. I think there's one more step (albeit a small one) for Ryan to take while White and Jones are in their prime. He's not the sexiest pick at the position, but including the playoffs he had nine games with at least three touchdown passes.
8. Robert Griffin III - If I'm drafting today, I have no problem taking Griffin this high and I'd be tempted to gamble on him over Ryan or Brady. RGIII was the fifth-highest scorer at the position on a per game basis that was fueled by over 800 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. The knee is something of a concern and even if he gets the green light for Week 1, we may not see the Redskins call his number in the run game as often. In the passing game, he should have a healthy Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis to throw to this season. Perhaps Griffin's most impressive stat last season was his total of five interceptions in 393 passing attempts. This shows that he not only has accuracy, but good judgment as well.
9. Matthew Stafford - Volume, volume, volume. Stafford ranked 21st in YPA among starters, but threw 727 passes, a number that was 57 more than Drew Brees, who was second. Calvin Johnson, getting all of those tackles near the goal line, didn't help Stafford's touchdown total and he should be able to improve on his 20 passing touchdowns. One stat that is likely also fluky was his four rushing touchdowns and I wouldn't count on a repeat of that number this season. If Stafford ever improves his efficiency, a top-3 effort could be in his future.
10. Andrew Luck - Tony Romo actually had a better 2012 fantasy season than Luck, but I would go with Luck's upside over Romo this year. Luck should be much better in his second professional season and has been given a nice receiving corps to work with. His two young tight ends won't be rookies anymore, while the Colts signed Darrius Heyward-Bey to give Luck another deep threat. Meanwhile, it doesn't appear that Reggie Wayne has lost “it” yet. Unlike Stafford, Luck's five rushing touchdowns and 255 rushing yards are very obtainable numbers again this season.
11. Russell Wilson - Quick, how many 300-yard passing games did Wilson record during the 2012 regular season? The answer is zero, although the Seahawks brought him along slowly, something they don't need to worry about this season. Wilson averaged two touchdown passes over his final 11 games and six of his 10 interceptions came over his first five games of the season. This shows he steadily improved as his rookie season went on. His running ability adds notable fantasy value and the addition of Percy Harvin helps his value as well. It's a tough division, but I still think there's another significant level Wilson can get to.
12. Michael Vick - If you've waited this long to get your quarterback, it's time for a gamble. I'm skeptical that Chip Kelly's offense will translate well to the NFL, but we've seen what Vick can do in the past with an offensive-minded coach. Vick has missed 13 games over the last three seasons and Nick Foles could provide some competition. If Vick wins the job, he should come close to doubling his 62 running plays last season and should be able to easily eclipse 500 rushing yards. He may not get back to nine rushing touchdowns, but it's not out of order to pencil in five or six either.
13. Tony Romo - Believe it or not, Romo has finished in the top-10 for the QB position in fantasy points per game in each of the last two seasons. Last season, he benefited from the breakout of Dez Bryant and his favorite target - Jason Witten - set the single-season reception record for tight ends. The reason Romo drops this low for me has to do with the volume of work he saw last season. His 648 pass attempts were 126 more than the previous season, which led to a career-high in passing yards with 4,903. It's likely he doesn't sniff that number again, as the Cowboys will likely try and get back to running the ball more.
14. Eli Manning - Manning finished the 2011 season as the seventh overall quarterback in terms of fantasy points per game. Last season was something of a disaster, considering Hakeem Nicks was banged up and Victor Cruz was very inconsistent. Both of those players are primed for bounce-back campaigns and Rueben Randle should play a bigger role in his second season. I don't see Manning going back to throwing for over 4,900 yards, but somewhere around 4,400 with 30 touchdowns is a reasonable expectation.
15. Alex Smith -This pick is more about backing Andy Reid than how much talent I believe that Smith has as a quarterback. Time and time again we've seen Reid get the most out of his quarterbacks and make them fantasy relevant. Smith probably has the best receiver he's ever played with in Dwyane Bowe, plus Jon Baldwin could break out in his third season. He'll also have three serviceable tight ends - Travis Kelce, Tony Moeaki and Anthony Fasano - and Smith can run the ball if needed. Again, this selection is all about Andy Reid and his offensive genius.
Any thoughts, agreements or disagreements? Did I miss someone obvious? Hit up the comments.