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Dawgmatica’s 2012 Fantasy Quarterback Player Rankings
1. Aaron Rodgers (GB) – Aaron Rodgers is as close to a fantasy machine as you’ll see in today’s game. As long as he has a full bevy of receivers to throw to (which he will), there’s no way in hell he drops out of the top two scorers this season. I would say that staying healthy matters as well, but Rodgers also happens to be as tough as they come missing just two games in his first four years as a starter (one each in 2010 & 2011). The Packers also have their six main ball-catchers under contract (Jennings, Nelson, Driver, Jones, Cobb and Finley), so Rodgers is all set on that front. There also two wildcards at play here that might guarantee Rodgers as the #1 QB. First, Greg Jennings is playing for a new contract this year, possibly last big one of his career. We’re pretty sure only good stuff for Rodgers can come of that. Second, if the Packers coaching staff allow Randall Cobb to leap past Donald Driver into the starting slot position, we might as well just give the fantasy crown (or belt) to Rodgers right now. The kid is that electric. Basically, there are umpteen reasons to be high on the guy, but the combination of Rodgers’ consistency (first or second in fantasy points each of the last four seasons) and the NFL’s recent transformation into a quarterback league tells me it would be wise to jump on Aaron “it out” early in your draft.
2. Tom Brady (NE) – If Aaron Rodgers is the top fantasy dog of the elite QBs, the Tom Brady would have to be your 1A. Despite his age (he’ll be 35 at the start of the 2012 season), Brady did his part to make the NFL a more a pass-oriented league last season by compiling the second-best (2007) fantasy numbers of his career. His main targets—Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez—are all staying put, so no worries there. However, there are two things that bring him up to within a sliver of Rodgers this season; the additions of WR Brandon Lloyd and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. What Lloyd can do for this offense is obvious as he’s been one of the top fantasy receivers for a couple of years now. McDaniels, however, may be even more important than Lloyd. McD was the OC for the Patriots back in 2007 when the Stetson Man went off for 4,806 yards and 50 TDs (NFL Record) while the Pats nearly went undefeated for the season (if not for Eli Manning and the NY Giants). Brady put up career best statistics under McDaniels…as did Mr. Randy Moss. The only thing I can see holding Brady back fantasy-wise in 2012 is if the Patriots pass defense improves so much that they end up not having to put up a ton of points each week to win. Eh, who cares. Belichick still likes to stick to his opponents anyway.
3. Matthew Stafford (Det) – At this point, the only thing that would hold Stafford back from being a top-five fantasy QB for years to come is injury. Last season’s numbers (5,038 yards, 41 TDs) were a clear showing of what his potential amounts to when he’s upright for 16 games… when he’s upright for 16 games. That said, “Second-Half Staff” has all the makings of a fantasy star. He has elite arm-strength, upper-class accuracy, incredible skill-position players, a relatively weak running game, a much improved offensive line, he plays indoors, and maybe the most important factor of them all—he has Calvin Johnson… and Titus Young (who bears mentioning as he also looks to be a young stud in the making). If Stafford can avoid falling into the Matt Schaub-esque “injured-healthy-injured” pattern, then there’s no reason to think he won’t return as a top-five fantasy starter in 2012.
4. Drew Brees (NO) – Never before have we seen a year-long performance like the one Drew Brees put on in 2011. He was the ultimate fantasy assassin winning a possible six to eight weekly matchups for his fantasy owners all on his own. The biggest bonus, however, was the work he put in during the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 15-17) when he threw for a combined 1,108 yards and 14 TDs—one of the finest three-game stretches in the history of the game. Despite the year-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton, not much should change fantasy-wise for Saints’ 33-year-old QB in 2012, though there could be a bit of an adjustment period with the loss of Robert Meachem. Luckily for fantasy owners, Brees is the type of QB where it doesn’t matter too much who runs the patterns, but there might be a few bumps in the road early on in the season. Well, maybe not considering the Saints have one of the easiest schedules against the pass in 2012. Either way, draft him with a smile and know you’ll be getting one of the few true difference-makers in fantasy.
5. Matt Ryan (Atl) – Even though he was predicted by some to join the elite group of QBs last season, you had to know there would be a bit of a learning curve with a rookie wide receiver in the starting lineup. That said, now that young Julio Jones has his rookie year in the rearview mirror, I expect Ryan and the Falcons to move on towards becoming one of the more elite passing teams in the entire NFL. In fact, with Roddy White still split out wide; another superstar in the making in Julio Jones; RB Michael Turner in obvious decline; TE Tony Gonzalez returning for one more season; and the coaches already coming out to say that they’ll be stretching the field vertically FAR MORE than in years past, I believe Matty Ice has the most potential of anyone to jump up into the Top-Five fantasy QBs in 2012. Numbers close to 4,500 yards and 35-40 TDs aren’t out of the question.
6. Eli Manning (NYG) – Eli has really grown up over the years and finally seems to understand what it takes to be an elite quarterback in the NFL in both real life and in fantasy. Out from under his big brother’s shadow last season, Eli took his game up a notch and was able to display some of the finer points of the Manning family gene. With the Giants run-game in the crapper, Eli did well to carry the team through a tough regular season and on into the playoffs (and eventual Super Bowl victory) while putting up career-best fantasy numbers along the way. He never threw for less than 223 yards in any one game and joined Dan Marino as the only other QB in history to have three or more 400-yard passing games in a single season (Marino did it in 1984 and 1986). With Rueben Randle drafted to take over for the departed Mario Manningham, the Giants will continue to have a great WR corps in 2012 with Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz headlining. My only real worry is if Hakeem Nicks can make it through 16 games as Eli had one of his worst games of the season in Week 9 against a very beatable Patriots Pass D while Nicks was out. Whatever the case, I really don’t expect Manning numbers to drop off at all from last season.
7. Cam Newton (Car) – Is it possible for Cam Newton to put up better numbers than he did during his rookie campaign? Probably not. I can’t see a scenario where Newton’s rushing touchdowns actually go up from his record-breaking 14 in 2011, but there’s no doubt he’ll still run the ball and run it well. A smart coaching staff won’t stifle him too much in that regard. Either way, because the Panthers will no doubt ask him to use his arm more in the red-zone, his passing TDs should go up from the 21 he tossed in 2011. Too bad the front office didn’t see the need to draft/grab a nice receiver to complement Steve Smith because if they did, I’d have Newton a few spots higher on this list. Cam’s superior physical tools and now a year of experience under his belt should be enough to turn out Top-Ten fantasy production, but it’ll be tough for him to scratch the Top-Five in 2012.
8. Peyton Manning (Den) – When one of the best of all-time tries to come back from a possible career-ending injury, there are usually more questions than answers. Is he really healthy? Will he ever regain the arm-strength he once had? Is it even possible at 36-years-old? A LOT of things need to be answered here and there’s really no way of TRULY knowing anything until we see him taking snaps in a live game, tossing the pill around and getting hit. I don’t think his move to Denver or playing with new/different receivers makes much of a difference as Manning is renowned for his ability to turn mere moths into Avatar-esque flying peacock lizards. The thing is, if Peyton Manning is playing football, you want him on your fantasy team. He may not take the high-dive back into the adult pool of elite QBs his first year back, but then again, he just might. I mean, this IS one of the Top-Five QBs of all-time we’re talking about here… a guy who has finished outside the Top-Five fantasy QBs in a season just once since 2000 (sixth in 2008). Take a chance and back him up well… just in case.
9. Tony Romo (Dal) – Will Tony Romo ever make that long-awaited jump into the crowned posse of elite fantasy QBs? He’s 32 years old now, so the window is certainly closing, but 2012 will mark his best opportunity to do just that. Despite the loss of Laurent Robinson, Romo still has one of the most lethal WR combos in the entire league to throw to in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Throw in TE Jason Witten and a healthy RB-combination of DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones and this could be an offense with serious scoring potential in 2012. The thing is, Romo’s physical ability will never really keep him from securing a top-five fantasy ranking as he’s always had the tools to be there. The real question here is—will Romo ever be able to keep his head out of his ass long enough to be crowned? Being injured for at least a few games every other year certainly doesn’t help either, but if he, Bryant, Austin, DeMarco and Witten can all stay on the field for 15-16 games, Romo will be in the Top-Five. If not, which is more likely, he'll be right around here at #9 as usual.
10. Philip Rivers (SD) – Rivers is one of those guys who can toss up four TDs two weeks in a row and win you fantasy games alone at the drop of a hat. However, he can also fizzle out just as quickly while killing your whole fantasy team with one TD in a two-week span. He’s undoubtedly one of the more erratic QBs in the league, but my two biggest concerns with Rivers heading into 2012 aren’t even about him. Vincent Jackson came off the Chargers payroll this offseason and even though they replaced him with an underrated talent in Robert Meachem, I’m still skeptical as to how he’ll work out in this offense. Second, I have a sneaky suspicion that Ryan Mathews’ talent will turn San Diego into more of a running team than in years past. Antonio Gates may be as healthy as he’s been in years, but I’m not sure it’s enough to vault Rivers up much higher than this, especially with Vincent Brown gone until at least November.
11. Michael Vick (Phi) – I suppose the writing was on the wall concerning Vick’s plummet from fantasy immortality last season, but only one rushing touchdown? Really? Nobody saw that coming. With that in mind, Vick will begin the 2012 season as a 32-year-old, overly-athletic QB with something to prove—a situation that not only makes him a severely dangerous player to go up against each week (fantasy or otherwise), but quite possibly a major hazard to the Eagles as well. When Vick is healthy and clicking on all cylinders, he’s the most lethal fantasy player in the entire league (depending on your scoring format, I suppose). However, the key words here are “when healthy”, which hasn’t been the norm for him throughout his career and shouldn’t be expected to change at his age. That being said, the Eagles still possess a ton of weapons for Vick to throw to when he’s in there with Jeremy Maclin and the re-upped DeSean Jackson at receiver, LeSean McCoy at running back and the resurgent Brent Celek at tight end. An arsenal like that should produce a few fantasy-week-winning games out of Vick, but I can’t advocate a higher ranking than this based on the likelihood he lasts no more than 12 games this season.
12. Jay Cutler (Chi) – Jay Cutler has proven himself to be an upper-echelon NFL talent thus far—but he’s needed at least one top-tier receiver to throw to in order to scratch the upper-levels in fantasy. I doubt we’ll see his name in lights next to guys like Stafford, Eli and Matty Ice this season, but Chicago is finally returning to him his partner-in-crime from years past—Brandon Marshall—in order to see exactly what they gave up the farm for back in 2009. Making Mike Tice the offensive coordinator and bringing in Jeremy Bates as the QBs coach (his old QB coach in Denver) should pay huge dividends as well. Not only will they be removing the seven-step drop for Cutler (which he hated), but they will also allow him to audible (which he wasn’t allowed to do before), give him more roll-outs (which he likes) and generally put him in a much better position to succeed. Having a couple of other giants out there besides Marshall in rookie WR Alshon Jeffrey (6’3”) and TE Kellen Davis (6’7”) certainly won’t hurt in the Red Zone, either. One more potential positive is that Cutler now has another mouth to feed, so expect Mr. Kristen Cavallari to finally sack up this season and become the quarterback we’ve all been waiting to see.
13. Ben Roethlisberger (Pit) – When Big Ben delivers, he can carry a fantasy week as well as anyone else you could have on your team. With guys like Mike Wallace (who finally showed up for camp), Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Heath Miller to throw to, it makes it a little easier for the big guy than for some others. When he’s off, however, you usually find yourself beating yourself up all week wishing you had started your other QB. Basically, Ben Roethlisberger is a great QB to fall back on when necessary, but you can’t depend on him to carry you for more than a few times throughout the season. RB Rashard Mendenhall’s injury should have the Steelers leaning on the pass early on, but that same lack of a running game (Isaac Redman is backup-RB caliber at best) could lead opposing defenses to concentrate more on the pass, thus making it even tougher on Roeth and his tough-as-nails schedule against the pass. What makes him especially tough to gauge, however, is that Todd Haley is the new offensive coordinator—a guy who has proven he can put on an aerial assault no matter the personnel. Add in an improved offensive line with their first two picks in the draft being G David DeCastro (who is now likely out for the season) & T Mike Adams and you’ve got a potential steal here in Big Ben.
14. Matt Schaub (Hou) – First and foremost, can Andre Johnson be Andre Johnson and stay healthy for a full 16-game season? That’s the main question when it comes to the potential of Matt Schaub. He has the talent to be up there in the Top-Ten, but even if Andre is healthy and dominant, he’ll still need either Lestar Jean, Devier Posey or Keshawn Martin to step up and do what the incumbent Kevin Walter never has… be a worthwhile target in the WR2 position. Either way, teams tend to run the ball more when their defense dominates as much as the Texans do—especially when you have a running back like Arian Foster—so I really don’t expect fantasy-starter type numbers this season.
15. Joe Flacco (Bal) – I’m actually a bigger Joe Flacco fan than most, but after that weak-ass effort he put together last year, I’m finding it harder and harder to give him the benefit of the doubt. His prototypical height (6’6”), weight (245-pounds) and A+ arm still lead me to believe he has a 4,000-yard, 30-TD season in him, but it will be tough to get there without a dependable complement to Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin. However, the thing that intrigues me more than ever right now is this new up-tempo, no-huddle offense OC Cam Cameron has the team running. If the Ravens actually stay with this and let Joey run it all year long, he could very well end up right at the edge of the Top-Ten, if not even higher. If not, he’s merely a fantasy backup as usual without a whole lot of upside.
16. Robert Griffin III (Was) – The kid has everything you could possibly want out of franchise QB and most of it could turn him into a fantasy darling as early as this season. His arm is incredible; his field awareness is highly advanced for his age; his running ability is off the chart; his work-ethic is fable-worthy and his leadership qualities are off the charts. Add to that an above-average WR corps (Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan), a big-time up-and-coming tight end (Fred Davis) and great pass-catching RBs out of the backfield (Roy Helu and Tim Hightower) and you’re looking at a future Top-Ten fantasy QB. It’s unlikely to happen this season, however, as Cam Newton’s rookie year was more the exception than the norm in 2011, but he’s certainly worth the chance as your backup.
17. Jake Locker (Ten) – I absolutely LOVE this kid’s skills. My only problem is his experience at the position, which at this point is a whopping 66 NFL passes. However, how many quarterbacks can say they threw for 542 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions while running for 56 yards and another touchdown… all within their first 31 minutes of on-field play!?!? Not many, I would suppose. What I’m saying here is that if you’re going to take a chance on somebody—like maybe you did on Cam Newton last season—Jake Locker is your guy. Kenny Britt having those off-the-field problems again was a bummer as he'll likely miss a couple/few games because of it, but the addition of Kendall Wright and the fact he put up those numbers without Britt in the first place makes up for it. Keep a watch on Locker in the rankings here and track how high he goes.
18. Andrew Luck (Ind) – What can you say about this kid that hasn't already been said. It's rare enough for a rookie to actually be as good as advertised, but Luck has far surpassed the hype...and the regular season hasn't even started yet! His poise under pressure would be amazing for a veteran QB, but is pretty much off-the-charts for a 22 year old and his field awareness, accuracy and athleticism are all top-notch. However, what gets me revved up about him as both an NFL starter and fantasy player is his sixth sense. The best QBs have it, the mid-level to poor ones don't, and Luck seems to have it in spades. I'm not sure he climbs much higher than this (fantasy-wise) in 2012, even with a pass-heavy approach due to the Colts likely playing catch-up ball most of the season. He hasn't played a full four quarters against a starting defense yet, but I'm really interested to see how he does when it happens. Julius Peppers in his grill all day in Week 1 against the Bears should show the NFL/fantasy world a lot.
19. Russell Wilson (Sea) – From "what the hell are the Seahawks thinking grabbing Russell Wilson in the third round" to "it looks like the Seahawks have themselves a kick-ass starting QB and might have gotten the steal of the 2012 draft"! Wilson ran and threw his way into the Seattle starting lineup over the first three games of the pre-season and in the process, actually impressed the coaching staff to the point where they decided it was okay to trade away their back-up from last season, Tarvaris Jackson. Terrell Owens would have made things interesting if he had made the team, but a healthy Sidney Rice, an up-and-coming Golden Tate, a steady Doug Baldwin, a resurgent Braylon Edwards and a couple of pretty good tight ends in Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow makes Wilson a strong enough candidate to use as a backup fantasy QB in my opinion. If he stays a starter the entire year, he'll have some pretty darn good fantasy weeks for someone's team.
20. Andy Dalton (Cin) – Do I think Andy Dalton is really all that special? No, not really, but he does have A.J. Green—and that’s all he’ll need to be a serviceable backup fantasy quarterback in 2012. A healthy Jermaine Gresham will help and if one of the three rookie pass-catchers (WRs Mohamed Sanu & Marvin Jones, TE Orson Charles) panned out, he'd be better but don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s anything more than a lower-tier backup…at least not for now. One of the toughest schedules against the pass certainly doesn’t help either.
21. Ryan Fitzpatrick (Buf) – I don’t trust Fitzpatrick. Period. One week last season he’s throwing for 264 yards, three TDs and no INTs against Darrelle Revis and company—the next he’s tossing up four interceptions against the Patriots worst-ranked pass D in the league. It’s nice that the Bills re-signed WR Stevie Johnson to a five-year deal and that the Bills WR depth is coming along nicely, but that’s not enough for me to feel good about having the Harvard grad start the fantasy season as my backup. His awful pre-season has done nothing to change my mind, either.
22. Carson Palmer (Oak) – I admit I was one of the many who lacked faith in the aging, former No. 1 overall pick, but despite his 4-5 record as the Raiders starter last season, Palmer actually did pretty well. His TD-interception ratio (13 TDs, 16 INTs) and overall mistake-prone game was right where I figured it would be, but his average of 293 passing yards per start was far more impressive than I anticipated. With the Raiders being thoroughly committed to Palmer at this point, there’s really no turning back, so they at least gave him a decent set of offensive weapons to play with in Darren McFadden, Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford and maybe even Rod Streater and/or Juron Criner. Carson’s upside makes him especially intriguing as a backup this season and could give you starter-type numbers some weeks with the right matchup, but a dreadful pre-season has sparked my memory of just how much he has declined over the years and he might STILL be without Moore and Ford to begin the season.
23. Matt Cassel (KC) – Though certainly not a top-flight QB in either real life or fantasy, he’s still underrated in both regards. When Tom Brady went down in the first game of 2008, Cassel responded with an 10-5 record to go along with his 3,693 yards and 21 TDs. Was part of that simply being in the Patriots system? Sure, but then how do you explain his 10-5 record with the Chiefs in 2010 while tossing up 3,116 yards and 27 TDs? No, those aren’t the greatest of numbers, but the Chiefs new Offensive Coordinator, Brian Daboll, has already stated that the Chiefs will run a very similar offense to the Patriots this season. He WAS an assistant coach there from 2000-06, so he at least knows how to do it. If Cassel is able to execute it, he could be a decent sleeper this season.
24. Christian Ponder (Min) – Ponder did enough last season to give me hope for his future, but a lot of his fantasy value will come down to what Jerome Simpson can do lining up opposite Percy Harvin (except for the first three games - suspended) and how far TE Kyle Rudolph really has progressed. If those two guys step in and put some oomph into their roles, Ponder’s fantasy potential shoots up dramatically—especially if TE Kyle Rudolph is as good as advertised, which it looks like he just might be. However, even if his athleticism adds to his overall fantasy value, Christian’s high level of injury-risk somewhat off-sets the bonus it comes with as it will mean nothing if he can’t stay on the field.
25. Josh Freeman (TB) – I’m not the biggest fan of Jumbo-Josh’s game at this point, but he’s still just 24-years-old and has plenty of room to grow. The Bucs DID make the growth-process a little bit easier this offseason by signing not only one of the best free agent wide receivers in Vincent Jackson and best Offensive Guard in Carl Nicks, but they also picked up one of the best all-around running backs in the draft in Doug Martin. How this will all translate into Freeman’s fantasy success remains to be seen, but it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see him end up in the Top-15 by the end of the season, despite his poor pre-season and Bucs commitment to the run game.
26. Alex Smith (SF)
27. Sam Bradford (StL)
28. John Skelton (Ari)
29. Blaine Gabbert (Jax)
30. Brandon Weeden (Cle)
31. Tim Tebow (NYJ)
32. Ryan Tannehill (Mia)
33. Matt Flynn (Sea)
34. Matt Hasselbeck (Ten)
35. Mark Sanchez (NYJ)
36. Matt Moore (Mia)
37. Kevin Kolb (Ari)
38. Kyle Orton (Dal)
39. Shaun Hill (Det)
40. Jason Campbell (Chi)
41. Nick Foles (Phi)
42. T.J. Yates (Hou)
43. Rex Grossman (Was)
44. Brian Hoyer (NE)
45. Colt McCoy (Cle)
46. Colin Kaepernick (SF)
47. Joe Webb (Min)
48. Graham Harrell (GB)
49. Kirk Cousins (Was)
50. Brock Osweiler (Den)
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