It’s time. Finally, after two months of vigorously projecting over 260 players for the upcoming fantasy season, I was able to come up with my first set of rankings for the 2014 fantasy season. Along with that, you should expect all kinds of content coming out to prepare you to win your league. First will be my positional previews for each position. Inside of each you will find rankings using tiers, a couple of my favorite sleepers and busts, and some strategy tips to give you a leg up on the opposition this season.
It would be most appropriate the start with the signal-callers. More valuable in the actual NFL then fantasy football, where you decide to take your quarterback will have a profound impact on the rest of your draft. This year’s crop of quarterbacks is deeper than ever, which you will see below:
Tier 1 – The Elites
1. Peyton Manning, DEN – Coming off of a record breaking 5,477/55 season, even a 15% drop in production might leave him as the top quarterback in fantasy.
Mr. Softee Aaron Rodgers, GB – Only followers of the JamSportz podcast will get that reference, but I digress. Rodgers saw his 2013 season interrupted by a collar bone injury, but was on pace to finish as QB3 before that. With Davante Adams in the fold, a fully healthy Eddie Lacy, and a potential regression from Drew Brees, I like Rodgers as a rock-solid #2 quarterback.
Tier 2 – I Won’t Be Shocked if He Finishes as Top Dog
3. Drew Brees, NO – Brees has been the picture of consistency since he became a Saint in 2006, but I think we are going to see his worst fantasy season since 2010 when he finished 6th. The Saints could be gearing towards a more balanced approach this year, and even a small drop in volume can have major fantasy implications.
4. Andrew Luck, IND – Best young quarterback in football; this is the year he arrives in fantasy. Indy threw the ball 62% of the time in the last 10 games of the season and Luck is armed with a boat load of weapons after the signing of Hakeem Nicks and drafting of Donte Moncrief in the off-season. His ability to score points with his legs is an added bonus.
5. Nick Foles, PHI – Chip Kelly did wonders for Nick Foles last season as he was incredibly efficient, throwing 27 touchdowns on just 317 attempts. He probably will not keep up that kind of pace, but it is clear that the third year pro has found his comfort zone in the Kelly system.
6. Matt Stafford, DET – The Lions went from pass-happy Scott Linehan to former Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi as offensive coordinator. This points Stafford’s arrow straight up as the passing volume should remain relatively consistent, and if Lombardi can do what Linehan could not (i.e. improve Stafford’s mechanics) a Brees-like season is not out of the question.
7. Colin Kaepernick, SF – I thought last season was the year and I got burned for it, but this, THIS, is the year for a Kaep breakout. With Michael Crabtree fully recovered from injury, the addition of Stevie Johnson from Buffalo, and a defense that is not as dominant as in years past, the 49ers should finally take the shackles off of what Kaepernick can do with the offense. An already accomplished runner, even a mild increase in pass attempts should take the young QB to the next level for fantasy.
8. Robert Griffin III, WAS – 2013 was a disaster for RG3 after he presumably came back too soon from knee surgery. As a rookie, he used his legs to earn a top 5 quarterback finish. Now with Jay Gruden running the show in Washington, Griffin should have a healthy volume of pass attempts to go along with his leg work.
9. Cam Newton, CAR – Detractors will say that his weapons and offensive line are terrible, but only one of these things is different from last season when he finished as QB4. He is the quarterback with the best chance to rush for 10+ touchdowns, and that alone makes him a potential fantasy gold mine.
Tier 3 – Not Elite Upside, But I Would Start Them
10. Matt Ryan, ATL – The return of Julio Jones and a healthy Roddy White should help Ryan return to his 2012 form. His lack of rushing ability caps his upside.
11. Tony Romo, DAL – The aforementioned Scott Linehan will be calling the plays in Dallas this year. Expect a high volume passing offense for the Cowboys, with Romo being the primary benefactor.
12. Jay Cutler, CHI – It cannot be understated what Marc Trestman did for the Bears offense in 2013. Cutler was looking like a top-notch fantasy quarterback before a groin injury derailed his season, and he has the luxury of throwing to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
13. Johnny Manziel, CLE – Manziel will play in the same Kyle Shanahan offense that led RG3 to a top five quarterback finish as a rookie. That kind of upside is more important to me than “security” at an incredibly replaceable position.
14.Russell Wilson, SEA – He would be a lot higher if Seattle threw the ball more, but there have been no indications that they will exceed the 420 pass attempts from 2013 by very much. Wilson makes up for some of this with his rushing totals.
15. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT – Big Ben’s pace through the final nine games of the season would have made him a top five quarterback last year after Todd Haley decided to integrate more no-huddle into the offense. The addition of Lance Moore, growth of Markus Wheaton, and a fully healthy Heath Miller should give him a solid receiving core.
16. Tom Brady, NE – It’s pretty simple: When Rob Gronkowski plays, Brady is a top notch fantasy quarterback. When he doesn’t, he’s barely startable. With his upside capped by a lack of rushing, I’ll let someone else take that risk.
17. Philip Rivers, SD – Rivers had a great comeback season in 2013. However, the Chargers remain a ball control, run dominated offense, making him a touchdown dependent player.
Tier 4 – Matchup Plays
18. Alex Smith, KC – Performed great against his own division last year. Smith’s weapons is perhaps the biggest thing holding him back from being a regular starter.
19. Jake Locker, TEN – If Ken Whisenhunt can work his magic with Locker, he could finish as a QB1 this year. He posted a couple of big games last season.
20. Carson Palmer, ARZ – The entire Cardinals offense was much improved after the bye last season. We could be looking at Kurt Warner 2.0 with Palmer in 2014.
21. Ryan Tannehill, MIA – Bill Lazor brings the same offense he was a part of in Philadelphia last season to Miami. If Tannehill can be 75% as good as Nick Foles, there will be at least a couple of big weeks to be had from him.
22. Andy Dalton, CIN – Dalton was great last year playing for pass-happy Jay Gruden. However, with Gruden now gone for Washington and the more balanced Hue Jackson coming in to run the offense, I don’t think the volume will be there for Andy this season.
23. Geno Smith, NYJ – Geno was a terrific fantasy asset down the stretch last season once the Jets let him run the ball more. I’m still not sure how I feel about him as an NFL quarterback, but he is oozing with fantasy potential.
24. Eli Manning, NYG – Oh how the mighty have fallen. It was just three years ago that Eli finished as a top five quarterback, but it is clear that his play has fallen off the last couple of seasons. A new offense gives fantasy owners some hope for consistency.
25. Josh McCown, TB – The Bucs have a few huge targets at receiver and tight end for McCown to throw to. If Jeff Tedford throws the ball more than expected, he could finish much higher.
Tier 5 -Leave Them on Your Waiver Wire
26. E.J. Manuel, BUF – The second year quarterback struggled both to stay on the field and to play well while on it in 2013.
27. Joe Flacco, BAL – New OC Gary Kubiak loves to run the ball and dump it to the tight end. There is not much upside to be had here.
28. Sam Bradford, STL – We still aren’t sure if Sam Bradford is any good, and Jeff Fisher should keep the offense on the ground.
29. Teddy Bridgewater, MIN – I think he will get the start from day one, but the offense will run through Adrian Peterson.
30. Ryan Fitzpatrick, HOU – Who knows if he starts the whole season. More serviceable as an NFL backup than fantasy starter.
31. Chad Henne, JAC – Could be supplanted by Blake Bortles at any time. Also has a lot of rookie targets.
32. Derek Carr, OAK – I think he unseats Matt Schaub sooner rather than later, but that won’t make him fantasy relevant.
33. Matt Schaub, OAK – Even if he can hold off the rookie, I expect next to nothing from Schaub after a dreadful 2013.
Strategy for 2014
As you can see, quarterback is deep. I don’t mean deep end of the swimming pool deep, I’m talking about 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea deep. With that in mind, I advise waiting for value at the position in drafts (assuming its a one quarterback league), even if there is a quarterback you really like towards the top. I think Peyton will be great again and Luck has a great chance to finish as the top QB, but I won’t take either unless they fall at least a round or two from their current ADP. Do you know what the startability percentage was for QBs who finished in the top 5 last season? 61.25%. That means that over a third of the time, if you had a top five quarterback last year, you did not receive production inside the top 12 at the position. And that included the aforementioned Manning, who was startable 87.5% of the time in a record breaking season.
This also makes quarterback a great position to stream, so don’t be afraid to ride matchups with the guys in tier 4 if a strong value doesn’t present itself with any of the quarterbacks before them. The startability percentage for quarterbacks who finished 18 through 25 last season (by points per game) was 43%. That’s less than a 20% drop in the probability of getting a quality start, and you have the advantage of picking and choosing which player you want based on matchups and other factors. Combine that with the fact that you don’t need to use up very much draft equity to acquire these players, and it seems like a slam dunk strategy to me.
Sleepers (All ADP’s From Fantasy Football Calculator)
Colin Kaepernick, SF
Current Rank: 7
Current ADP: 11 (8.04 Overall)
I touched on this earlier, but Kaepernick has a lot of things going his way towards a break out season. The return of Michael Crabtree will be paramount to his success. According to the RotoViz Game Splits App, Kaepernick has averaged 45.07 more passing yards and .15 more touchdowns per game in starts where Crabtree has played. That’s over 38 more fantasy points over a full season, about 2.4 per game. Furthermore, after losing Donte Whitner in free agency, NaVorro Bowman to injury, and Aldon Smith for at least a couple games due to suspension to go along with the continued aging of Justin Smith, the 49er defense should take a step back in 2014. That could easily lead to more pass attempts than the league worst 417 that San Francisco had last year. If he can get his regular season rushing average (32.4 YPG) to look anything like his playoff rushing average (84.5 YPG), he could be in line for a monster season. It would not surprise me to see Kaep finish in the top three at quarterback this year, and you can snag him as the 11th QB off the board in the 8th round. That is an opportunity I am buying on.
Johnny Manziel, CLE
Current Rank: 13
Current ADP: 18 (12.02 Overall)
For a player with plenty of upside, Manziel certainly can be had a discount. Potential drafters of Johnny Football should not fear a ball control offense after the (presumed) loss of Josh Gordon. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan ran the ball 519 times with the Redskins in 2012, good for third in the NFL, and Robert Griffin III still finished as a top 5 quarterback. Was RG3 a better prospect than Manziel? Definitely, but the skill sets are similar enough where his upside probably isn’t too far off of that. And I know Manziel is void of a lot of receiving talent on the Browns roster, but here is a look at the top targets for RG3 in 2012:
Josh Morgan – 73 targets
Pierre Garcon – 67 targets
Santana Moss – 61 targets
Leonard Hankerson – 57 targets
Logan Paulsen – 37 targets
Fred Davis – 31 targets
Is that really much better than Jordan Cameron, Andrew Hawkins, Nate Burleson, and Miles Austin? I don’t think so. Manziel could finish as a top 8 quarterback this season, and right now none of that upside is being priced into his ADP. He’ll also sink even lower should Brian Hoyer be named the week 1 starter, making it even easier to acquire the mercurial quarterback.
Tom Brady, NE
Current Rank: 16
Current ADP: 8 (7.02 Overall)
This is the second year in a row I’ve had Brady on this list, and I expect to go two for two. The aging star is wildly dependent on tight end Rob Gronkowski, averaging 50.27 more yards and .5 more touchdowns when he has been on the field the last three seasons. Thats over 64 fantasy points difference, over 4 points a game! Gronkowski is expected at this point to be ready for week one, but most players tend to take time to return to pre-injury form after ACL injuries and we may not have the best version of Gronk for most of the season. It is also unclear just how long the partying tight end will stay healthy after missing 14 games the past two seasons. Right now it seems like almost all of Brady’s upside is being priced into his ADP, and I could not justify taking him in the 7th round.
Drew Brees, NO
Current Rank: 3
Current ADP: 3 (2.11 Overall)
The labeling of Brees as a bust has everything to do with opportunity cost and very little to do with his talent. I ranked Brees third, but I think he is farther from Peyton and Rodgers than the consensus. The chance of the Saints running the ball more in 2014 keeps him from being a slam dunk top three quarterback this year, and I instead have him in a tier of players that includes all quarterbacks going 2-6 rounds later. I am not willing to give up a top RB or WR to draft any quarterback this year, but especially not one who I don’t have in my elite tier.