By James LoPresti
Lead Fantasy Writer
Who carried owners to fantasy championships last year? If you thought Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Ray Rice, or any running back not named Adrian Peterson, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Quarterbacks win titles. In the NFL, the quarterback position plays a gigantic role in a team’s success. In fantasy football, they are just as important. Having a top-tier fantasy quarterback is almost a must – seasons as amazing as Adrian Peterson’s don’t happen often.
Picking a top quarterback is safer than a top-tier running back. It’s all about injuries. According to ESPN’s 2012 running back rankings, LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte, and DeMarco Murray were ranked as first or second round picks. Peterson ranked 10th for running backs. Doug Martin? 27th. As for quarterbacks, Michael Vick (ranked 7th) and Philip Rivers (ranked 10th) were the only ones who failed to live up to projections. I’ve been saying this for years, it’s safer drafting a quarterback early. Drafting a running back in the early rounds is hit-or-miss. I’d rather get the consistent player first, then worry about running backs who may or may not stay healthy all season.
*These projections are based on standard 12-team leagues.
LoPresti Locks – Can’t go wrong here. Anything less than 30 touchdowns is a disappointment.
Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan: I’d draft Rodgers or Brees in the late first round, early second. No question. Manning and Brady – late second, early third. The hardest one to put on here is Ryan, simply because I absolutely hate the Falcons (full disclosure: longtime Bucs fan). However, he has probably the best wide receiver, tight end combo in the league – Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez – and now has Steven Jackson, a great pass-catcher, in the backfield. I can’t stand Ryan, but I’d be a fool not to draft him.
On The Cusp – Not quite top-tier, but solid options after the first few rounds.
Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson: Outside of Stafford, these quarterbacks add rushing stats which really boost their value. I expect a slight sophomore slump for Luck and Wilson, but what they provide on the ground will make up for any drop in passing stats. If last year was any indication, the Detroit Lions will allow Stafford to throw eleventy-billion times – and not all of them will go to Calvin Johnson! Maybe.
High Risk, High Reward – These guys could be studs…or, they might flop.
Robert Griffin III, Michael Vick, Ryan Tannehill: As I mentioned above, Vick was ranked the 7th best quarterback entering 2012 by ESPN. I see no reason why he can’t be a top-10 quarterback in a Chip Kelly offense. For RGIII, it comes down to how much Coach Mike Shanahan and his staff trust how healthy Griffin’s knee is. I think he’ll be fine, but I’m weary the coaching staff will limit his running considerably, thus hurting his fantasy value. Tannehill is a wildcard. The addition of Mike Wallace is a huge boost to an offense which lacked a true deep-threat last season. I also expect Tannehill to run a bit more as he gets adept to reading coverage. He has a high ceiling, but remember that he’s a converted wide receiver, still with just 34 career starts between college and the NFL.
The Middle Ground – They’re not flashy, but they get the job done.
Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman, Andy Dalton: I foresee these guys with 20-25 touchdowns and 10-15 interceptions. Despite his late-season disappointments, Romo is the most consistent of the bunch. Outside of an injury-plagued 2010, he’s thrown at least 26 touchdowns every season since 2007. Flacco and Roethlisberger fall victim to being solid NFL quarterbacks, but inconsistent fantasy ones. They’re merely fantasy backups in my book. Flacco, Freeman, and Dalton are on the up-swing, but I need to see one more solid year before I completely trust them as a QB1.
Best of the Rest – Strictly backups and injury plug-ins.
Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, Philip Rivers, Alex Smith, Brandon Weeden.
Draft a quarterback early and save yourself the grief of choosing between two or three running backs who may pan out, or may get injured Week 1.