If the 2011 NFL season was any indication, quarterbacks are the new kings of fantasy football. Last season saw three 5,000-yard passers when there was only one in the entire previous history of the game! Not only that, but several youngsters made their mark and let the league know they’re ready to become studs themselves. This year will see more quarterbacks than ever taken in the first round and more than five auto-starts. Here’s how the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks stack up two months before training camp:
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers - Naturally, the best player at the position for the past four years remains No. 1 heading into 2012. Not only does Rodgers shred opposing secondaries for astronomical numbers in passing yards and touchdowns, but he adds extremely valuable yards on the ground. It may drive owners of Packers running backs crazy, but Rodgers’ rushing yards and scores only make him that much more lethal. The kid who was once a shadow to Brett Favre is now on top of the fantasy football mountain and his Packers may very well be back on top of the reality football mountain this year as well.
2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints – The man, the myth and now the legend, Brees shattered Dan Marino’s single-season passing record in 2011 to become the first player to throw for 5,000-plus passing yards in more than one season. With the Saints’ defense and coaching situation in turmoil, Brees and the Saints’ offense will be called upon to shoulder even more of the load this year, which is music to fantasy owners’ ears. The Saints will throw the ball 40-plus times per game in 2012 and Brees will likely reach the 5,000-yard mark again. He’s obviously a must-start every week and the No. 2 choice at the position behind Rodgers.
3. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions – The youngest and latest player to join the ranks of the 5,000-yard passers, Stafford proved he’s the real deal in 2012 in his first full NFL season. Many doubters tagged the Lions’ young leader as injury-prone and not worth the risk, but Stafford rewarded fantasy owners who took a chance on him in 2011, leading many of them to league titles. With Calvin Johnson locked up for the foreseeable future, Stafford will have plenty of weapons at his disposal again in 2012 and put up more monster numbers. In fact, he passes a few old studs as the No. 3 quarterback this year.
4. Tom Brady, New England Patriots – He quietly put up tremendous numbers in 2011, becoming the third player in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season while leading his team to a Super Bowl appearance and putting up one of the greatest fantasy performances in history in Week 1. Brady’s 517-yard, 4-touchdown effort in a win over the Miami Dolphins in September proved he wasn’t done as a fantasy stud and he anchored many fantasy championship teams as usual. With a new weapon in Brandon Lloyd, Brady will again put up insane numbers and flirt with records in 2012.
5. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers – Not only did this former Heisman Trophy winner put up record-breaking numbers as a rookie in 2011, but Newton also took home Rookie of the Year honors in a landslide vote. Newton’s incredible start to his NFL career makes him a top-5 fantasy option at the quarterback position heading into 2012. What makes him even more dangerous is his ability to run; Newton set a record for NFL quarterbacks last season with 14 rushing touchdowns. This dual-threat young stud will be a fantasy superstar for years to come and a top-5 pick in 2012.
6. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos – An old face in a new place, Manning will set the woods on fire in his first season at Mile High. The Sherriff has already been working with his new Broncos teammates and Denver even brought in his old Indianapolis Colts teammate, tight end Jacob Tamme, who became a top-5 option at his position in 2010 with Manning throwing to him after Dallas Clark was placed on IR. With a young stud in Demaryius Thomas to anchor his receiving corps, Manning will have no problem putting up his usual astronomical numbers in Denver’s high altitude and thin air. Fantasy owners who take a chance on him early will be pleasantly surprised and rewarded with typical numbers from Manning.
7. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys – He may not lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, but Romo will once again put up nice fantasy numbers in 2012. Romo finished 2011 with a career-high 102.5 passer rating while throwing 30-plus touchdowns for the second time in his career. With receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant healthy, Romo should approach the 4,500-yard, 35-touchdown range this season, making him a must-start in every game this year, except maybe on the road against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6.
8. Eli Manning, New York Giants – Before the 2011 season, Manning boasted that he was an elite quarterback, saying he was in a class with Brady. He more than proved that, both in fantasy land and the real football world, leading the Giants to their second Super Bowl title during his tenure while throwing for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns. He was 77 yards away from becoming the fifth 5,000-yard passer in NFL history and with former New York running back Brandon Jacobs now in San Francisco, expect Manning to throw the ball even more than 589 times, which he did in 2011. The younger Manning will likely throw for 5,000 yards and 30-plus touchdowns in 2012, making him an elite, must-start passer, even at No. 8.
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers - The Steelers are no longer a run-first team and Roethlisberger is no longer a “decent” fantasy quarterback. Pittsburgh’s fearless leader threw for 4,000-plus yards for the second time in his career last season and he’ll do the same again in 2012. With arguably the most talented group of receivers in the NFL at his disposal and a backfield committee plaguing the Steelers’ backfield, Big Ben will be a top-10 fantasy passer this year.
10. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers – Vincent Jackson’s departure will hurt Rivers’ value more than most fantasy owners think. With Mike Tolbert also long gone, Rivers has limited options at his disposal and opposing defenses will recognize that and key on Antonio Gates, making life tough for the Chargers’ signal-caller. That’s not to say Rivers is done as an elite fantasy quarterback; he’s still a top-10 option at the position, but he’s no longer a surefire top-7 option. For owners who wait to take a quarterback in their draft, Rivers will make a great middle-round pick…if he lasts that long.