Dual-threat Rodgers, precise Rivers head QB class

Posted July 19, 2011 @ 9:51 a.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

There is depth at the top in our 2011 QB rankings. Case in point: New England's Tom Brady, who led the NFL in TD passes a season ago, is stuck behind five other passers on our board.

For a second consecutive season, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers tops our rankings. He merits first-round consideration in all formats. Rodgers' impressive passing and rushing TD numbers gives him a slight edge on a star-studded field.

Chargers QB Philip Rivers, who led the NFL in passing yards a season ago, is next on our board. In the prime of his career, and surrounded by top talent, Rivers should go early in drafts.

Eagles QB Michael Vick doesn't figure to be on the board long, either. The game's top rushing threat at his position, Vick also showed significant improvement as a passer in 2010.

Brady, Colts QB Peyton Manning and Saints QB Drew Brees all figure to be drafted early, too, with Texans QB Matt Schaub and Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger also widely regarded as starter-caliber players in the vast majority of fantasy formats.

Further down the draft board, several young passers are intriguing. Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman showed major improvement last season. Big things are expected for the Rams' Sam Bradford in his second year. The Lions' Matthew Stafford will have his strong supporters, too, considering his talent and supporting cast. All he needs now is injury luck.

Here are PFW's top 20 quarterbacks:

1. Aaron Rodgers / Green Bay Packers

Key stat: Rodgers, who has thrown at least 28 touchdown passes in all three seasons as a starter, was the NFL's best player in the postseason, tossing three TDs in 3-of-4 starts, including Super Bowl XLV, when he shredded a very good Steelers defense and earned game MVP honors. 

The skinny: Rodgers is a cross between an elite quarterback and a running back you wouldn't be ashamed to start in a deep TD-only league. A strong-armed, accurate passer and a quick, effective runner, Rodgers is capable of some monster games.

2. Philip Rivers / San Diego Chargers

Key stat:  He led the NFL in passing yards (4,710) and completions of 20 yards or longer (65) — all this with WR Vincent Jackson and TE Antonio Gates missing significant stretches.

The skinny: Rivers, who has thrown 92 TD passes the past three seasons, belongs in the discussion of the elite at his position. Playing in a division not known for its stout defense, Rivers should again post enviable numbers in 2011. 

3. Michael Vick / Philadelphia Eagles

Key stat: Wonder why Vick's third on this list? He set career-highs in TD passes (21) and rushing TDs (nine) in just 12 starts in 2010.

The skinny: Vick can make or break your draft. If he builds off his first season as the Eagles' starter, your team will be tough to beat. If he regresses — note all of the ugly passing statistical lines on his résumé before a season ago — your team is in trouble, and the same could be said for the Eagles, especially if they deal backup Kevin Kolb. This much is certain: if you like him, you're going to have to take him early.

4. Peyton Manning /  Indianapolis Colts

Key stat: Fantasy owners know what they are going to get from Manning, who never has missed a start in 13 seasons and has thrown either 31 or 33 TD passes in four of the past five seasons.

The skinny: Offseason neck surgery isn't expected to keep Manning out of training camp. Pencil him in for his usual numbers. The expected return of TE Dallas Clark (wrist) will help the Colts' offense, and the attack would really get a boost if WR Austin Collie (concussions) is cleared to play again, too.

5. Drew Brees / New Orleans Saints

Key stat: Brees has thrown 101 TD passes in the past three seasons and has thrown for at least 4,388 yards in each of his five campaigns with New Orleans. He has missed one start in his Saints tenure — a meaningless Week 17 game in '09 after the Saints had locked up the No. 1 seed in the conference.

The skinny: Brees is one of the safer picks in fantasy football. He leads a potent, pass-first offense for which he is very well-suited. Owners penalized for turnovers will note Brees threw a career-worst 22 interceptions last season, but they came in a campaign in which he attempted a career-high 658 passes.

6. Tom Brady / New England Patriots

Key stat: Brady led the NFL in TD passes in 2010 (36) and threw only four interceptions. He tossed at least two TD passes in the Pats' final nine regular-season games.

The skinny: The Patriots survived and thrived after the trade of a declining Randy Moss, with young TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski among those picking up the slack. With Brady at the helm, the Patriots have one of the NFL's most potent and flexible attacks. He figures to be among the first half-dozen passers selected in most formats.

7. Matt Schaub / Houston Texans

Key stat: After missing five games in each of his first two seasons in Houston, Schaub has started every game the past two years, throwing 53 TD passes in that span compared to 24 from 2007-08.

The skinny: Schaub has emerged as one of the better quarterbacks in the game the past two seasons, throwing for a combined 9,140 yards. His numbers dipped slightly in 2010, perhaps in part due to the emergence of Arian Foster, but Schaub nevertheless should be drafted as a starter in the vast majority of formats. 

8. Ben Roethlisberger / Pittsburgh Steelers

Key stat: Roethlisberger averaged 266.7 passing yards in 12 starts in 2010 — a pace that would have allowed him to reach 4,000 yards in a full regular-season campaign. One other note: Roethlisberger has rushed for multiple TDs in six consecutive seasons.

The skinny: The Steelers want to stretch the field in the passing game. Roethlisberger is capable of approaching 4,500 passing yards and 30 TDs but plays in a division where weather conditions can deteriorate after Thanksgiving. He is an above-average starter, but he doesn't have the upside of others on this list.

9. Tony Romo / Dallas Cowboys

Key stat: Romo was on pace to throw for 4,280 yards and around 29 TDs upon leaving the lineup with a season-ending broken clavicle last fall. Romo threw 88 TD passes from 2007-09, tossing at least 26 scores in each of those campaigns.

The skinny: Here's a case where the numbers need to be your guide. Romo should be drafted as a starter in most fantasy leagues and has a chance to outperform expectations. After an injury-shortened season and the Cowboys' overall disappointing campaign, Romo could slip on draft day for reasons unrelated to performance. Here's to hoping you land him in a draft where the majority of owners are down on "America's Team." You might just get a bargain.

10. Matt Ryan / Atlanta Falcons

Key stat: Ryan has increased his TD total by six in each of his first three NFL seasons. He threw 28 TD passes and only nine interceptions in 2010.

The skinny: The Falcons' offense isn't a stretch-the-field attack, and RB Michael Turner is going to get plenty of work, so it might be a little much to expect Ryan to keep setting personal-best TD marks. Nevertheless, there is plenty to like about Ryan, who has shown improvement since entering the league and gets a promising new target in rookie WR Julio Jones.

11. Eli Manning / New York Giants

Key stat: Manning threw two TD passes or more in 11-of-16 starts in 2010. However, he threw two interceptions or more in half of the Giants' games.

The skinny: Manning's past two seasons (8,023 yards, 58 TD passes) have been his best from a fantasy-football perspective. He has a strong supporting cast led by WR Hakeem Nicks, an emerging big-play threat. However, if your league penalizes for turnovers, his stock takes a hit. Manning threw 25 picks and lost five fumbles in 2010.

12. Josh Freeman / Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Key stat: After throwing 10 TD passes and 18 picks as a rookie, Freeman threw for 25 scores and only six interceptions in his second NFL season. Five TDs came in one game vs. Seattle.

The skinny: Freeman's eye-catching improvement in his second season could cause some owners to consider him as a starter, especially in bigger leagues. However, Freeman didn't have a 300-yard passing game a season ago, and the five-TD performance was his only game with three touchdowns or more. That said, Freeman is a player to watch. Note that he rushed for 364 yards in 2010 compared to 161 as a rookie.

13. Sam Bradford / St. Louis Rams

Key stat: Bradford was the only Rams quarterback to attempt a pass last season. After tossing 17 TD passes in his first 11 career starts, he threw one TD in his final five games.

The skinny: Bradford is a precise passer who should fit Josh McDaniels' offense very well. Bradford doesn't have a clear-cut No. 1 receiver, but Brandon Lloyd led the NFL in receiving yards playing the bulk of the year with McDaniels calling the plays, and Kyle Orton became a starter-caliber player in many formats. It would be no surprise at all if Bradford has a Josh Freeman-like second season, and that will be reflected in the price owners have to play to select the former Heisman Trophy winner.

14. Jay Cutler / Chicago Bears

Key stat: In 15 starts in 2010, Cutler was sacked more times (52) than he was in 37 starts in three seasons for Denver (51).

The skinny: Cutler is a solid fantasy spot starter and backup who could be considered for a full-time role in bigger leagues. He can be brilliant, and he can be disappointing. Those gambling that we haven't seen his best will scoop him up in the middle rounds and hope for the best. After all, he has thrown 50 TD passes in two seasons in Chicago without elite skill-position talent around him. Now about that pass protection ...

15. Joe Flacco / Baltimore Ravens

Key stat: Flacco, who has yet to miss a game in three NFL seasons, threw multiple TD passes in eight of his final 11 starts in 2011. His passer rating has increased in each of the first three seasons.

The skinny: Flacco had a sneakily good 2010 regular season that could be forgotten on draft day after he struggled in Baltimore's playoff loss at Pittsburgh. He's a very good backup with the potential to develop into a  frontline player.

16. Matt Cassel / Kansas City Chiefs

Key stat: Fifteen of Cassel's 27 TD passes last season went to WR Dwayne Bowe. All other Chiefs wideouts combined for three scores.

The skinny: Cassel thrived in Charlie Weis' offense and benefited from the resurgence of Bowe, who had the best season of his career. The concerns with Cassel are his inaccuracy and inconsistency. Also, will an effective complementary wideout step up opposite Bowe?

17. Matthew Stafford / Detroit Lions

Key stat: Stafford threw six TD passes in two games before leaving the lineup for good with a right shoulder injury in November.

The skinny: Stafford has missed more games (19) than he has started (13) in two NFL seasons. In that small sample size of Stafford's starts, though, we've seen him show plenty of potential. With a blue-chip wide receiver (Calvin Johnson) and a very good tight end (Brandon Pettigrew) at his disposal, Stafford could be one of the league's breakout players at his position. Of course, it all comes down to whether he eludes injuries. 

18. Kyle Orton* / Denver Broncos

Key stat: Orton threw at least one TD pass in each of his first 11 starts of 2010 and exceeded 295 passing yards in eight of those games. However, he completed just 28-of-69 for 283 yards with no TDs and three picks in his final two starts before injured ribs forced him out of the lineup.

The skinny: Orton thrived in Josh McDaniels' offense, but with McDaniels gone and second-year QB Tim Tebow potentially ready to push for a bigger role, Orton doesn't have quite the upside he possessed last season. What's more, the Broncos' offense could be more conservative with former Panthers head coach John Fox setting the tone at the top.

19. Carson Palmer* / Cincinnati Bengals

Key stat: Palmer's 586 pass attempts in 2010 were a career-high. His 26 TD passes were the most he had thrown since '07.

The skinny: Palmer no longer wants to play for the Bengals. If he relents and returns to Cincinnati, he's worth selecting as a backup. His skills would translate well to Jay Gruden's West Coast scheme, and he has shown he can work well with young wideouts. If traded, he would merit a later-round pick, but he would be adjusting to a new offense on the fly, perhaps limiting his value.

20. Mark Sanchez / New York Jets

Key stat: All of Sanchez's multiple TD performances a season ago (including playoffs) were clustered in streaks of two or three games. The Jets had a 6-1 record when he threw two TD passes or more, with the lone loss in the AFC title game at Pittsburgh.

The skinny: Sanchez is a hot-and-cold passer worthy of starting when he's playing well and a candidate for the waiver wire when he's struggling. Sanchez has potential, and he has a talented supporting cast, but he must be more accurate. What's more, he plays in a conservative, grinding offense, which dampens his upside.

 

Editor's note: Players with an asterisk after their name are veterans who could switch teams via free agency or trade once the lockout has ended.