This statement is just to give you an idea of how critical youth is at the running back position; only one out of the eight backs in this article have been in the league for more than three seasons.
First up, at #24, is Mark Ingram. But, “wait”, I can already hear the more condescending of my readers say. “I thought you said that New England had the best RBBC system in the league. So, why is Mark Ingram, the lead back in New Orleans’ RBBC system, higher than BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the lead back in New England’s RBBC system”. To which I respond, just because the lead back in New Orleans is better doesn’t mean the entire committee is better. Now that I’ve cleared up that borderline hypocrisy, Ingram will probably be far-and-away the best back in a RBBC system. He’ll still get a long of carries taken away, and he still has to prove himself in the pros, but as lot as he keeps up his college production, he’ll be just fine. I mean, it’s not like the Saints have picked up another highly touted, Heisman Trophy & National Championship winning running back in the last decade, right?
My 23rd running back is Mikel LeShoure. For the first time since Barry Sanders disappointed the hell out of EA Sports for retiring in the height of his career, and snuffed the Madden 2000 cover, the Detroit Lions have a damn good running game (GASP!). But, even though LeShoure will be the #2 back on Detroit’s depth chart, LeShoure is this high on the list because the Detroit coaching staff has made it clear that Jahvid Best and LeShoure will probably evenly split carries. Plus, Best wasn’t the best in staying healthy last season, and while he had some flashes in the first few games, he spent a lot of time hurt, so LeShoure might see even more time. I think that LeShoure will probably be the best #2 back in the league this season.
Rounding out my rookie trifecta in this article is Daniel Thomas out of Miami. He might have ended up in the best situation of any rookie in the league. Miami’s not going to immediately go from a prominently run-based offense, and start throwing everywhere, especially with Chad Henne quarterbacking. And with both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams (probably) leaving, Thomas could be get 90% of the carries in Miami. (The other ten percent would go to Lex Hilliard and fullback Lousaka Polite.) That’s one of the best ratios in the league. Now, what Thomas will do with those carries has yet to be decided, but he’ll certainly have opportunities.
In 21st, we have Jahvid Best. Before we get started, I already did the obligatory pun on Best’s name a couple of paragraphs ago. Anyway, after his Week 2 explosion versus Philadelphia (26 touches, 232 total yards, 3 touchdowns), I was a fan. He’s not a 25-carry workhorse, but he can cut like none other, find holes, and speed through them with blinding acceleration. And as the Philly game proved, he’s a beast in the passing game. His turf toe should be healed up, and I don’t think it will bother him this season, so you could see more Philly games this season.
At the 20th spot is DeAngelo Williams, the best player in this year’s free agency pool. Which, if the last two seasons are any indication, means he’ll be a Bear. All joking aside, Williams is still someone to fear. Whatever team picks him up will get a treat. He can still be an every down back that can break the big one, every so often. If I were you, I’d wait until the end of the lockout before passing judgment on Williams, since he still may stay with the Panthers. But, you should still pay attention to Williams, he can still play.
Next is Shonn Greene. I’m still not sold on Greene, but the Jets coaching staff have said that Greene will be the focal point of the offense, so he at least he has Rex Ryan’s endorsement, for whatever that’s worth. This will be his third season, aka time for him to have his breakout season. If he doesn’t, the Jets might look to the draft. Or they might give LT one more shot in what may be his last season. Or maybe they’ll give Joe McKnight a shot at starting. Whatever the case, Greene could get a ton of carries, especially at the start of the season, but he’s on an extremely short leash.
Next up is Ryan Mathews. I read articles last year, saying that Mathews could end up as a top-10 running back after his first season. That, obviously, didn’t happen. But, I wouldn’t put the bust label on him just yet, remember he’s not the first player to fail to live up to rookie expectations. And with lower expectations, there won’t be as much pressure on him. But with all the pressure that was on him last season, he might play with something to prove. And on top of that, Mathews has Mike Tolbert and fifth-rounder Jordan Todman chomping at the bit for playing time. Mathews isn’t in make-or-break mode yet, but he’s getting there.
The 17th back on this list is Jonathan Stewart. How good of a situation is Stewart in? He’s the feature back on a team that will almost certainly be a run-first, run-second, and maybe-pass-third-if-they’re-feeling-lucky team. If he can stay healthy this season, he could have top-ten potential. And he’ll be running behind a line that really doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Ironically, though, the team’s biggest strength is also his biggest weakness. Everyone will be expecting the run against Carolina, so Stewart will constantly be playing against eight in the box, but Stewart has shown that he can pick up yards, even against rush defenses.
In the next article, we’ll discuss a few high-end busts that you need to keep an eye on.
Now, we’re starting to get into the range of RB3s and borderline RB2s. If you have any of these guys as your RB3 or later, you’re in good shape.
Starting this article at #32 is Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller. Spiller could be an interesting sleeper this season, provided he can develop during the offseason. Last season, he was a dud, and he’s stuck behind the perfectly serviceable Fred Jackson. But, he has the big-play ablity in him; we saw it in his punt returns. If he can bring that explosiveness to his running, he could complement Jackson in an improving Bills offense.
Knowshon Moreno is another person who probably should be higher on this list, when you regard him just by his talent. But with Tim Tebow starting for Denver this season, Moreno will almost never get into the end zone himself. And plus, he’s only had two 100-yard rushing games in his entire pro career. He’ll probably be a PPR starter, but without the reception points, Moreno’s value loses a lot of its luster. Depending on how many red zone carries Tebow vultures away from Moreno, he could be of value, but not as much value as people are claiming.
Inside my top 30 is Felix Jones. Like I said in my last article, running back by committee is a fantasy killer. And Jones will be competing with Tashard Choice, DeMarco Murray, and probably Marion Barber III. He’ll have to settle on 10-15 carries a game. But, Jones can probably make a lot out of those 10-15 carries, so Jones is still viable. Just don’t expect tons of 100-yard games from him.
Back in 2007, Joseph Addai had just completed his second straight 1,400 total yard season, and he just got 15 total touchdowns. But since then, he’s only had one 1,000 total yard season, and he’s been mired with injuries, that culminated in him missing eight games last season. I think #29 (on the field and on the list) will stay healthy, thanks to an improved offensive line, and a pass-happy offense that will keep him rested. He’s a good PPR running back, and a borderline RB2 in deeper, non-PPR leagues.
One play, a season does not make, even if it was the best play of the season. Marshawn Lynch made the Saints defense look like a bunch of Pop Warner kindergarteners… once. Other than that one run, he was a thoroughly unimpressive back who averaged less than 50 rushing yards per game. However, he is the undisputed mainstay in Seattle’s rushing attack, and the New Orleans run proved that he can break off a run of epic proportions when the conditions are right, and in the NFC Worst, er I mean, the NFC West, the conditions will be right often.
I’m not sure why Cedric Benson is admonished by the fantasy community the way that he is. He ran for over 1,100 rushing yards in back-to-back seasons in a pass-happy offense. Yes, he doesn’t pick up a lot of yards per carry, but Cincinnati is one of the few teams that still primarily employ a one running back system. So he’s not getting these yards because of his own talent. He’s getting those yards because apparently Head Coach Marvin Lewis (who is still somehow employable after going 18-29-1 over the last three seasons) has Benson on his personal fantasy keeper league. I guess my biggest fear about Benson, and the reason he’s only #27 on the list, is that they’re going to overload him, especially while the Bengals are trying to transition Andy Dalton into the quarterback position. Ironically, I think Dalton was #27 on the quarterback list.
Fred Jackson is a back that really doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s one of those backs that puts in his time, and goes largely unnoticed because of the team he plays for. He should easily rack up 1,000 total yards, maybe eight touchdowns, and hardly anyone will notice. Jackson might actually be a sleeper due to the fact that the Bills offense seems to be improving. If you can find Jackson in the ninth or tenth round, you’ll get an excellent deal on him.
My #25 running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, is the #1 back in the best RB by committee in the league and even he barely gets a top 25 spot. That should tell you how destructive RBBC’s are. BJGE (my god, I’m acronyming it up) will still lead the charge for the Pats’ running game, but he’s competing with Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, and Stevan Ridley. But, it’s not like there’s going to eight or nine in the box with Tom Brady flinging the ball for New England, so he’ll have plenty of room to run.
In the next article, we’ll talk about a few high profile rookies, sophomores, and third-years who are in good situations.
Any fantasy football player worth his salt knows that a running back by committee system murders any running backs value about 95% of the time. Sometimes, it works, but they only legitimately work when every running back perfectly compliment each other or Bill Belichick is involved.
My 40th RB on this list is Ronnie Brown. Ronnie’s glory days are over. Miami chose not to resign him, and once the league restarts, Brown (along with his teammate Ricky Williams) will probably be on the free agent market. If he does sign with another team, he’ll be at least a PPR threat. But, he doesn’t have his elusiveness anymore, so don’t waste a pick on him unless your league is particularly deep.
Everybody seems to be high on Washington rookie Roy Helu, but I’m not buying it. Yeah, there aren’t a ton of people ahead of him on the depth chart, but do you really trust any running back in a Mike Shanahan system? This is a man who loves to play around and swap out his backs. Remember, back in ’08, seven different Broncos led the team in rushing yards in different games. And in Washington, Helu will have to compete with Ryan Torain, Keiland Williams, Evan Royster, Mike Sellers, and James Davis. And you can bet that all five of them will steal carries, yards, and touchdowns from Helu. He’ll still probably lead the Skins in rushing yards, but people who are saying that Helu will win ROY are a little bit optimistic.
Mike Tolbert was a pleasant surprise last season. I’ve heard the comparison to Natrone Means a lot, but he actually reminds me of an early Jerome Bettis. If he can sure up his hands, he can be a bowling ball of a back, able to break multiple tackles, and score touchdowns in bunches. The only problem (other than the fumbles) is a big one though, Ryan Mathews. When Mathews is healthy, he’s demonstrated some excellent balance and burst, but he’s also been known to be fumbly and injury-prone. So if anything, Tolbert is probably the most dependable handcuff in the NFL. At the very least, he’ll be San Diego’s red zone threat, so a second straight double-digit touchdown season isn’t crazy talk.
James Starks was last season’s playoff MVP, at #37. He didn’t play a down in the pros until Week 13, but he came to life in the playoffs where he demonstrated an uncanny ability to keep his legs moving and almost never lose yards. He still has to pass Ryan Grant on the depth chart and it’s more than likely that Green Bay will probably have about a 45-35-15-5 split in carries between Grant, Starks, third-round rookie out of Hawaii, Alex Green, and fullback John Kuhn. He has some serious potential, but he’ll have to prove that he can work with another running back.
Next up at #36, we have Pierre Thomas. Thomas would be a lot more attractive right now, with Reggie Bush heading out and Chris Ivory coming off foot surgery. But, there’s also the drafting of Mark Ingram. Now, Thomas can still work, especially since he’s in the “give-everyone-their-chance” offense in New Orleans. Plus, Ingram hasn’t exactly proven himself as the sturdiest pipe wrench in the tool shed. So, Thomas will have opportunities, but he missed ten games last season, so durability is a problem with Thomas as well, like most backs in this range.
You’d think that Michael Bush would be higher on the REU than 35th, since he was part of last season’s best running game, but Bush only rushed for 3.8 yards per carry last season, so he’s been drummed up a lot. The only reason he’s in my top 35 at all is because I’m not sold on Darren McFadden yet. If Run DMC was a proven runner, Bush’s value would take a nose dive on this list. But, if McFadden can’t back up last season’s breakout, Bush could reap the benefits. And, since Bush will probably go undrafted in most drafts, you can keep an eye on him from a distance.
Ryan Grant seems a lot better than 34th, and he’ll probably be gone in the first 100 picks, way before people ahead of him on this list like Ryan Williams, Marshawn Lynch, and maybe even DeAngelo Williams. But, he’s a huge risk, and he doesn’t even have a huge reward tacked onto him. His ankle will be a big question mark this season, and even if he does clock in a full season, James Starks and Alex Green have shown up since the last time Grant played a down; both of whom are sure to swipe carries from Grant. His back-to-back 1,200 yard seasons seem like they happened so long ago.
The aforementioned Ryan Williams clocks in at the 33rd position. After just two full seasons at VA Tech, Williams made the jump to the pros, and he’ll probably be at least the goal line threat in Arizona. I think I’ve figured out the Cards running system for this season. Williams will be the primary rusher and goal-line threat. Beanie Wells will be the change-of-pace and project back. And Tim Hightower will be the receiver/emergency back. If that’s the case, Williams will be the Arizona back with the most upside, and plus he’s fairly obscure, so depending on whether or not Arizona can seal the deal on the Kevin Kolb acquisition, Williams could be the lead runner in a powerful offense that you can nab in the ninth round. How’s that for upside?
In the next part, we’ll go into a few sleepers and a few busts.
And now we move onto the running backs. The most important position in fantasy football, just try to disagree with me.
Barely making the list is Montario Hardesty at #48. Peyton Hillis was an absolute beast last season, but he slowed down at the end of the season. The Browns have said that Hardesty will be a bigger part of the offense, and I think that at some point Hillis will slow down enough for Hardesty to be a viable starter. Hardesty is this low on the list, however, because he’s unproven and is still coming back from last season’s season-ending injury. Call him a deep sleeper, consider that the Browns offense is so weak.
At #47 is Rashad Jennings. Jennings is just one Maurice Jones-Drew knee problem away from starting in one of the most run-happy offenses in the NFL. However, he’s also in one of the most one-sided running games in the NFL, so unless MJD does go down, Jennings probably won’t get a ton of carries. Jennings is another candidate in the high risk/high reward category. If he gets significant time this season, he’ll be a great pickup.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. LaDainian Tomlinson is #46 on this list. Wasn’t it a few years ago, when he wouldn’t be caught dead outside the top 5. Now, I have him barely outside the top 45. But that’s what will happen when you get injured on a regular basis, stuck into a running back committee, and hit the 30 year old mark as a running back. LT might have a good game or two, but his best days are far behind him.
I don’t like to copy-paste in this article, but Thomas Jones is kind of similar to LT’s. So that means I have to come up with new content for Thomas. Um… Jones isn’t in an excellent running game? No. Jones isn’t behind some young future star at running back? No, that’s not it. Jones isn’t in his early 30′s and in the decline of his career? That’s not it either. OK, I got nothing.
Anybody see Danny Woodhead coming? Put your hand down Danny. The former Hard Knocks star got picked up by New England and he did pretty damn well for himself with a 5.6 yards per carry average, and he became a massive threat in the passing game. He might get hurt slightly due to the drafting of both Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, but Woodhead will still be the Pats’ #2 running back.
Number 43 on this list is Brandon Jacobs. Last year, New York was switching running backs like Carolina was switching quarterbacks. Every week, it seemed that Brandon did something bad, and then Ahmad Bradshaw would start next week, then vice versa. But, then Bradshaw distanced himself from Jacobs, proving him expendable. If Jacobs stays in New York, he will strictly the change-of-pace back.
Ryan Torain is #42 on this list, but he’s nowhere near the answer to Washington’s running game (or the universe). He’s a good one cut running back, but he’s not even the most interesting runner on the team. Roy Helu is going to take carries away in chunks. Torain will get 15 carries a game, maximum. He’s not going to the starter for Washington by season’s end.
My #41 running back is Beanie Wells. He is a nonfactor in Arizona. His explosiveness is gone. His tackle breaking is gone, and now his job security is gone. The Cards drafted Ryan Williams, and they always seem to rely on Tim Hightower at some point in the season. Beanie could still have a third-year breakout, but I wouldn’t bet my life savings on it.
In the next part, we talk about some backs in a running back committee situation.
Well, I think I’ve made you wait long enough, time to tackle the big names. The ones that you’ll absolutely need at least a third round pick or, more realistically, a second rounder to grab. They’ll consistently give you great performances each and every week. These are the guys who can win championships for you.
Peyton Manning would be a little higher than fourth on this list, if he didn’t have that inexplicably bad spell against New England, San Diego, and Dallas. He’s starting to get a little older, heading into his 13th season. He’s never been injured in his pro career, but who’s know how long he can keep that up with that high-speed offense, non-existent running game, and developing offensive line. I still think that he’s almost a lock for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, I just think that he’s not the best quarterback in the league anymore.
My mancrush on Tom Brady has already been well-established, so I’ll try to describe Brady professionally at #3. Um… OK, screw it, fanboy time. OH MY GOD, TOM BRADY IS THE GREATEST. He won the MVP Award unanimously last season, he turned Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez into stars, and everybody is saying that Brandon Tate is next on the “future star courtesy of Tom Brady” list. And what’s really impressive is that he’s this good with a great running game. Just look at other elite quarterbacks. Other than Michael Vick (who is practically his own running game), there’s no elite quarterback with as good of a running game as New England’s. Brady still has at least three good years left in him, and I believe he’ll throw for 8,000 YARDS AND 75 TOUCHDOWNS!!!! Excuse me, that got out of hand. Anyway, Brady should have a great season again, barring another injury. Whew, that got a little scary for a second.
At the runner-up spot is New Orleans QB Drew Brees. Drew is starting to remind me of Peyton Manning of five years ago. Consistently throwing for 4,000+ yards and 25+ touchdowns, with an elite receiving corps, and a freshly drafted late-first round SEC running back. I think that with Mark Ingram on the roster, New Orleans will finally have a good running back that can keep defenses honest, which means that Drew Brees could be even better this season. That’s a scary thought, but I like Drew’s chances this season.
Which means that my #1 QB on this list is Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. Simply put, he has the best chance to be the best quarterback in the NFL this season. A returning Ryan Grant and James Starks mean that defenses have to stay honest most of the time. A returning JerMichael Finley means that Rodgers will have another yet target in his ever expanding receiver corps. A newly drafted Derek Sherrod means that Aaron won’t get knocked down as much. Rodgers is in a very good position, and if it weren’t for the concussion that he got last season, I’d say that he has no downside. But if you want Rodgers, it will cost you. You’ll have to give up an early 2nd round pick for Rodgers, if you’re lucky. But, it could be worth it, if Rodgers turns into the superstar I think he’ll be.
And that’s it for the quarterbacks. In a few days, I’ll give you the #48-41 running backs in the NFL.
I’m sure that some of you noticed that there were a few names that didn’t get into the top 32 that maybe should’ve. Well, this article was made to briefly explain why certain people didn’t make the list, and also to list some quarterbacks that may see playing time later in the season, and would therefore make for some good handcuffs or 3rd quarterbacks in deeper leagues.
Just barely missing the list is Minnesota’s starter of the future, Christian Ponder. Even though I have high hopes for him, I would still take Adrian Peterson over Ponder every single time. Ponder will most likely take the game manager role, and let Peterson take the reins and lead the team. All the Vikings need is a quarterback that won’t lose them games, since they already have a running back that can win them games.
At #34, I have Matt Hasselbeck. The Seahawks offense just isn’t potent enough to be of any relevance. Besides, at 35 years old, I don’t think that Hasselbeck is the same quarterback that took Seattle to the Super Bowl. I think that Hasselbeck will resign with the Seahawks, but the Seahawks will still try to make a starter out of Charlie Whitehurst. However, the Seahawks really need to look into another QB since neither are really proving themselves at the moment.
Colin Kaepernick is next on this list at #35. Kaepernick is still very much a project. He has the raw skills and athleticism to be a great QB at 6’5” and 233 lbs. Alex Smith still thinks that he can be a starter in the NFL, and head coach Jim Harbaugh will probably have him starting from the start of the season. But, when Smith screws up, Kaepernick will step in to make plays with his arms and legs. Remember, this is the guy who ran for over 1,000 yards for three straight seasons at Nevada, with more than 15 TDs every year and at least seven yards per carry, and he pretty much stopped Boise State’s dominance of the WAC.
When Matt Stafford went down last season, Shaun Hill stepped up and filled in like a champ, at least for fantasy football. Hill started 10 games last season, and had at least 222 yards and two touchdowns in half of them. Stafford has proven that he’s not the most durable quarterback in the world. So, if he should have to miss time again this season, Hill will be there to put up respectable numbers and make for at the very least a good bye-week filler.
I have a super-sleeper for every position and among quarterbacks, I think that Tyler Thigpen could be the super-sleeper at quarterback. The Miami Dolphins are quickly realizing that Chad Henne isn’t the answer. And since the Dolphins didn’t draft a quarterback and Chad Pennington hurt himself during the offseason, Thigpen might be asked to step in for Henne. Back in 2008, Thigpen was on a 3,500-yard pace for the anemic pre-Jamaal Charles KC offense. And with Brandon Marshall and Daniel Thomas in his back pocket, Thigpen could shock the fantasy world all over again. Plus, he helped me win my first fantasy football championship with his ’08 season, so I’m proof that Thigpen can help you win.
I’ll be the first to admit; when Tony Romo went down, I had no faith in Jon Kitna. I mean, if Tony Romo couldn’t perform for the Cowboys, then how would a then-37 year old career backup do any better. But he did perform admirably, throwing for multiple touchdowns in half of his ten games played. He proved that he still has at least something left in his tank, so if necessary, the Cowboys (and fantasy players) will know that they still have at least a chance to win.
There was a point in time where the Packers were trying to put Matt Flynn on the trading block. But they wisely held onto him, and he should be a pretty good backup to Aaron Rodgers. Which is a good thing for the Packers, considering they’ll face the Bears, Lions, and Vikings defense six times a year. And it’s also a good thing for fantasy players since the Packers have one the most potent offenses in the NFL, and Flynn has already proven that he play when needed with a 251 yard-3 touchdown performance against the New England Patriots.
I can already hear people complaining that I’m putting Caleb Hanie at #40 on the list since I’m a Bears fan. But, Hanie was thrown into the worst situation you can imagine: a quarterback who’s never started in the NFL thrown into the NFC championship game to lead a comeback against the powerhouse Green Bay defense with a Super Bowl berth on the line. And while he wasn’t able to seal the deal, he did go 13-20 for 153 yards, and he led the Bears on both of their only scoring drives, which both ended in touchdowns. Jay Cutler has a history of concussions, and now that the Bears have realized that Todd Collins was just about the worst quarterback they could’ve used, Hanie is now the official backup for the Bears.
In the next episode, I’ll reveal my top quarterback. Will it be Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or Tom Brady? Stay tuned.
The next four quarterbacks are the most practical on this list. Most of them can be picked up in the 4th-6th round (except for Vick, he’ll be gone by the mid-2nd). By then, you should be able to pick up one or more running backs and wide receivers, and maybe even an elite tight end.
Matt Ryan is eighth on my list, partially due to the presence of Julio Jones. Matty Ice managed to give Roddy White the best season of his career, despite the fact that they had no other receiver of any relevance other than Tony Gonzalez, meaning that White was constantly double teamed. That probably won’t happen this year, now that the Falcons have a legitimate #2 receiver. And Atlanta wouldn’t have traded away the farm to get Jones if they didn’t plan on riding him all the way to the Super Bowl. Ryan’s yardage totals weren’t the stuff of legends last season, with 11 games with fewer than 250 yards, but that’s another problem that Jones was brought in to fix. Other than that, he’s a beast in the Georgia Dome, and he simply doesn’t throw interceptions (his career high is 14 in ‘09). Target him with confidence in the 5th or 6th.
Tony Romo is looking to make a comeback this season. And he has me convinced enough to put him seventh on the REU. I firmly believe that the Cowboys’ problems last season centered on Wade Phillips. Once he left Big D, and replaced by Jason Garrett, the Cowboys hit their stride with backup QB and Michael Chiklis impersonator Jon Kitna at the helm. With Romo coming back from injury, you can expect increased output from Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten. And the Cowboys should be able to return to playoff contention.
Anybody who knows me knows I hate Michael Vick. A lot. But, even looking at Vick professionally, I still can’t put Vick any higher than sixth. People are already trying to etch Vick’s name onto the MVP trophy, and I like to call those people “moronic”. Even before his days in the penitentiary, he was an injury risk, and now, not only is Vick five years older than he was as a Falcon, but it seems like he’s actually running more than he was five years ago. I hear people say that Vick could set records this season. Maybe, but just try to convince me that Vick will make it to the end of the season, without a massive overhaul to his style. If Vick somehow falls to the fourth round, he would be a good pick, but that won’t happen because some massive genius will nab him inside the first 15 picks. It’s safe to say that Vick will be the biggest risk/reward of the season. If he does well, he will break a few records. But if he doesn’t (and he probably won’t), he’ll disappoint a lot of people, myself not included.
Enough negativism, let’s talk about Philip Rivers. I think that Rivers could be a pretty good sleeper for MVP this season. Especially, if he can stick with a good receiver for more than five minutes. Young Man Rivers was able to squeeze a 213 yard performance out of Malcom Floyd against Nnamdi Asoughma, which is simply unprecedented. He also got Seyi Ajirotutu to go for 4-111-2 against Houston, a 117 yard game from Patrick Crayton versus St. Louis, a 5-110-1 game against the Chiefs for Legadu Naanee, and a multi-touchdown game for Randy McMichael. Oh yeah, and he also has Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. Rivers will be a steal if you can get him in the fourth.
In the next part, we’re going to take a break from the backward counting to list the quarterbacks that just missed the list.
Some quarterbacks walk the tightrope between being a low-end QB1 and a high-end QB2. Don’t get me wrong: you can draft the guy ranked 12th as your starter, or the guy ranked ninth as your backup, and no one will give you any grief. At least I won’t, I can’t vouch for your opponents.
Eli Manning is 12th on this list. Ranking Manning is kind of difficult, because, like Jay Cutler, his value depends on the point system of your league, because both quarterbacks are extremely high risk/high reward. If your league deducts only one or two points for interceptions, go nuts on both Eli and Jay, they will serve you well this season. But, if your league deducts four, five, or six points for an interception, Manning and Cutler will probably both rank outside the top 15 for quarterbacks in your league. Check your league settings before making a decision on either quarterback, but Manning in particular. I have him down for throwing 30+ touchdowns and 20+ interceptions again this season.
My new favorite quarterback, Josh Freeman, is right outside my top ten in 11th. Freeman has the awesome ability to win games he has no business winning. His connection with Mike Williams is quickly becoming one of the most feared in the NFL. And he’s also been working well with tight end Kellen Winslow and the winner of the annual “NickyV presents The Where-The-Hell-Did-He-Come-From Award”, LeGarrette Blount. I also think that Arrelious Benn could be an extremely deep sleeper this season. Expect Freeman to be an elite talent in a few short seasons.
Matt Schaub has become a bit of a forgotten man in the QB ranks. People always think about Arian Foster and Andre Johnson in the Houston offense, but someone needs to hold this team together, and Schaub is that guy. He’s stayed healthy for the last two seasons, and has thrown for over 4,300 yards both years. He still does carry a bit of an “injury warning” on him; drop it. The two times he was injured in 2007 and 2008 were freak accidents. He should be fine for this season.
Well, look who bounced back from that sexual assault charge like a champ. Ben Roethlisberger is ninth here, and this could very easily be his best season to date. Mike Wallace has become one of the fastest receivers in the game. He’s a down field threat who can score on any reception. Hines Ward might be getting older, but he’s still one of the most physical receivers. Rashard Mendenhall is now a first-round worthy pickup in any draft this season. And look for Emmanuel Sanders to potentially jump into the #2 role once Hines Ward retires. One thing I noticed about the Steelers is that they don’t really have a slot, reception-heavy receiver (ala Wes Welker, Davone Bess, Danny Amendola). Hines Ward was filling that role somewhat, but I don’t think that’s his primary job any more, both Wallace and Sanders are big play receivers, and Mendenhall isn’t a huge part of the passing game. Might be something that the Steelers look into in next year’s draft.
In the next article, we take about solid starter who will be available in the later rounds, so that you can focus on the other positions early in the draft.
Superstars are great, but I love sleepers. I love the diamonds in the rough. I love being able to pick a nobody, and by season’s end, you have a star on your hands. Yes, I’d love to have Chris Johnson at 3rd overall, but given the choice between him and someone who could turn into a fantasy legend this year like LeSean McCoy at 8th overall, I’ll take McCoy. All four quarterbacks here can be considered sleepers with low-end QB1 potential or at the very least, are high-end QB2′s.
Matthew Stafford cracks the top half of the list at #16. He has shown flashes of excellence, and the talent around him is superb. Shaun Hill wouldn’t have been a top 15 quarterback last year otherwise. His only problem is staying healthy. He only started in three games last season, but he had seven total touchdowns and one interception. I’ve said it before, but I think that the Lions will make the playoffs by next season. If he can play, he’ll do great things for the Lions.
Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Sam Bradford, is my #15 quarterback. Last season, he had a record setting season, even without a true #1 receiver. Every one was pleading St. Louis to draft a #1, but St. Louis wisely decided not to right away, since they’ll be getting back Mark Clayton and Donnie Avery. Remember Donnie Avery? Everyone was saying that he and Bradford would be the next Manning-Harrison? My hyperbole aside, Clayton and Avery (or Avery and Clayton, not sure who’s where) should make an effective one-two punch for Bradford to make the next step. Expect people to call Bradford a solid QB1 by the start of next season.
Chicago’s Jay Cutler is 14th on this list, just because it’s kind of hard to put him any higher. There’s a lot to like with Cutler. The Mike Martz offense makes Cutler a high risk/high reward play, and last season he performed pretty well. He has arguably the best receiving running back in the NFL, Matt Forte, and his receiver corps is fun to watch (if a little raw). However, he does have a history of concussions, and he could leave the game for extended periods of time. He doesn’t have a true, bonafide #1 receiver, and his playoff experience is minimal and filled with controversy. I think that the best fantasy situation that the “Diabetic Deep-threat” could fall into would be if he was paired up with a low-end QB1, like Josh Freeman, Ben Roethlisberger, or Matt Schaub, to make a solid QB tandem.
I really want to like Joe Flacco more than I do. He’s a pure winner, with a great team, and a receiver corps filled with big names. But, the Ravens win their games with their defense and running game, and the big names on this team are mostly veterans like Derrick Mason and Todd Heap, who likely don’t have many years left in their careers. Luckily, they did address this in the draft by picking up Torrey Smith, and he’ll likely be their #2 or slot receiver early in the season. Plus, Ray Rice is one of the best pass catchers in the NFL. I would say that if you miss out on the first few groups of quarterbacks, you could do a lot worse than Joe Cool.
In the next article, we talk about the quarterbacks who walk the fine line between fantasy starter and fantasy backup.
There’s an old football saying: “If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks”. This means that if you have two start-worthy quarterbacks, the one who’s sitting will feel like they should be starting, and the one who’s starting will feel some unnecessary pressure from the one who’s sitting, because anytime they screw up, they might get benched. Generally, a bad situation, all around. That’s why teams are so willing to trade away good backups, and get something they need out of the deal. Three quarterbacks on this list are in this kind of scenario.
Tim Tebow is going to fun to watch this season at #20. The question is: will he be fun to watch because he’ll blossom into a legitimate starter and a fantasy godsend, or because he’ll self-destruct like an overenthusiastic Voltorb? (That’s a Pokemon reference, for those wondering.) I’m leaning more toward the former, simply because at the end of last season, in the few games he started, he had more good plays than bad. I don’t think he’ll have the same ridiculous stats that the last guy who started for the Broncos had, and I don’t think he’ll keep Brandon Lloyd or any other receiver on the roster in the elite receiver class. But, I think that by the end of the season, Tebow will be the best scrambling quarterback in the NFL. Better than Vick (injury risk), better than Vince (overrated), better than all of them.
Speaking of the Denver quarterback before Tebow, let’s talk about Kyle Orton at #19. First, let me just give a quick “screw you” to Josh McDaniels, former coach of the Denver Broncos. Because, I firmly believe that if he would’ve let Orton finish the season, he would’ve thrown for over 5,000 yards, and I might’ve won my fantasy football league last season, instead of finishing 3rd. (No, I’m not bitter, why do you ask?) Besides, it’s not like Orton was the problem, if he was, he wouldn’t have single-handedly turned Brandon Lloyd into the NFL version of Kevin Harvick (Mr. Where-Did-He-Come-From). I guess what I’m trying to say is: Orton isn’t going to be a Bronco at the start of the season, but he’ll give results to whatever team he joins. It’s just a shame he couldn’t do that sort of thing to the Bears when he was with them.
Matt Cassel, my #18 quarterback, was a pretty decent surprise last season. At the start of last season, I would’ve put him down for maybe 2,300 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions. I didn’t have a lot of faith in the Chiefs, but then again, no one really did. Instead, he surprised everyone with 3,100 yards, 27 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions. He resurrected the career of Dwayne Bowe, and made Tony Maoeki into a small sleeper hit. He’ll have a secondary target at wide receiver in Jon Baldwin, so Cassel might make for a decent QB2.
Kevin Kolb. The most popular quarterback on the market today, and the #17 QB on this list. Ranking him is really difficult, because depending on where he lands, he could jump up the list (if he goes to Arizona or Miami) or he could plummet (if he goes to Seattle or Washington). So far, the most likely candidate is the Cardinals, because the running game is getting stronger, and Larry Fitzgerald was good enough last year to make John Skelton serviceable. Imagine what he can do with a good quarterback like Kolb. Actually, you don’t have to imagine. Just look back at his seasons with Kurt Warner, and that’s about what Kolb will be working with. OK, so Kolb isn’t Kurt, but still I’d take Kolb over any quarterback on the Cards’ roster ten times out of ten.
In the next article, we’ll have four quarterbacks that have the sleeper label slapped on him.