Fantasy Football 2014: Way-Too-Early Rankings; Quarterbacks
There’s an old saying. All good things must come to an end. Many may very well accept that, and that’s fine and all. However, when it comes to fantasy football, I’ve got just two words for you (in my Triple H voice)…
Fantasy never sleeps, especially for someone like me who invests 95 percent of their time and effort into it. The NFL playoffs haven’t even started yet, but I’m already out here preparing for next season. Is it a curse? No, it’s an addiction, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. So, for the next day or so, I’ll be revealing my top-10 or 12 players from each position heading into 2014.
Fantasy never sleeps.
1) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: No Manning? No Manning. Sure, the Broncos quarterback broke nearly every record imaginable, but it’s the quarterback from Wisconsin that tops my rankings as of right now. It was a rough year for Rodgers, who missed seven games with a broken collarbone. However, he was the typical, dominant Rodgers when he was on the field, averaging 18 fantasy points per game, the fourth-most among signal callers. Injuries were a common topic on Green Bay this year, and with a full season under his belt, as well as weapons such as Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and potentially Jermichael Finley, I think Rodgers re-asserts himself as fantasy’s number one signal caller. And with two of the worst pass defenses (Minnesota and Detroit) in the same division (not to mention a crumbling Chicago defense), Rodgers will have his fair share of monster games in 2014.
2) Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: Anytime you break the single season record for both passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55), it’s hard not to be atop the quarterback rankings for the following year. It’s not so much me being really down on Peyton, I just love Rodgers. Manning provided a historical fantasy season in 2013, averaging a league-leading 25.4 fantasy points per game. In 16 games this year, Manning finished as a top-12 option a league-leading 12 times. That’s 75 percent of the time, folks. He also finished 58 points ahead of the second-best quarterback. You can’t go wrong with either guy at number one, but (obviously) Manning will see some serious regression in 2014. You know, unless he’s a robot.
3) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: One of the less talked about stories in fantasy this year was the home/road splits of Brees. Don’t get me wrong. He’s probably the second-best quarterback in the league, and still finished comfortably in second place among fantasy options. However, he wasn’t as dominant away from home this year. While he averaged an outstanding 28.25 fantasy points per game at home, that number dipped to just 15.25 on the road. He still finished as a top-12 signal caller 68.8 percent of the time (second-most), but until he becomes more trustworthy on the road, I have him third. He’s still a stud.
4) Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: I love Cam. He has a blast playing the game, and we have a blast watching him. Fantasy’s number three quarterback in 2013, Newton had his usual rough stretch in the beginning, but heated up halfway through the year, becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the league for a stretch. He took another step as a traditional passer this year, throwing for a career-high 24 scores, as well as completion percentage (61.7%). Of course, his elite rushing ability excites fantasy owners, and he didn’t disappoint this year. He rushed for 585 yards and six touchdowns. As the Panthers become more balanced offensively, Cam progresses more as a quarterback. He will always get you rushing points, as he’s carried the football at least 110 times in each of his first three seasons. I love his boosting confidence, and if they bring him a legitimate wideout, he’ll explode.
5) Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles: Call me crazy, call me whatever you’d like, but Nick Foles is pretty darn good. In fact, he led the league in passer rating with 119.2. And he finished eighth in the league in passing touchdowns, ahead of guys like Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan, despite starting just 10 games. He averaged 19.3 fantasy points per game (third-most), and made the most of his opportunity. According to PFF, no signal caller averaged more fantasy points per dropback (0.72). In those 10 starts, Foles finished as a top-10 fantasy option a whopping seven times. This kid is only going to get better, and the offense and weapons around him are perfect. If he can finish as a top-12 quarterback in just 12 starts as a sophomore, I can’t wait to see what he does in 2014 with a full season looming. Oh, Jeremy Maclin could return to an Eagles uniform, too.
6) Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: He may not be the greatest quarterback in the world, but not many top fantasy signal callers are. Stafford was rather up-and-down from a real life standpoint this year, but he still posted the fourth-highest consistency rating in terms of fantasy, coming in at 50 percent. It truly comes down to the volume with Stafford in fantasy, and it has ever since he joined the league. His 634 attempts this season were the fewest he’s posted since 2010. If that’s his floor, I’ll take that all day, thank you very much. Besides, I like guys who take big shots and are fortunate enough to throw the ball to Calvin Johnson 10-15 times per game. You will continue to get him at a bargain in fantasy drafts, too.
7) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: I’m throwing this season out the window for Ryan. I know he’s still a very good quarterback. Like Rodgers, 2013 came down to injury. Before Julio Jones and company went down, Ryan was off to another strong start, tossing for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns in four of his first five games. Also, Roddy White dealt with nagging injuries for the majority of the season. It was a lost season for Atlanta, who were originally pegged as Super Bowl favorites out of the NFC. Healthy wideouts should help him return as a top-10 fantasy signal caller.
8) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts: It seemed like Luck was far worse than he truly was in 2013. A few very pedestrian games frustrated fantasy owners, but the fact remains that Luck finished fourth in overall fantasy points, behind Brees, Manning and Jamaal Charles. He was a top-12 fantasy quarterback 50 percent of the time, despite his fair share of injuries to the receiving corp as well. Reggie Wayne’s absence was huge, but he’ll be back, and T.Y. Hilton will continue to progress as an NFL receiver. What salvaged some of Luck’s poor fantasy outings was his continued overlooked rushing ability. He ran the ball 63 times (four per game) for 377 yards and four touchdowns. He’s a natural athlete, and will continue do take off when he sees an opening.
9) Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: I wasn’t the biggest Wilson fan coming into this season because of lack of passing volume. Through his first two seasons in the league, Wilson has only attempted 800 passes. His 407 attempts ranked an ugly 22nd in the league. I don’t trust the receiving corp in Seattle, and when it comes down to it, the Seahawks will continue to be a run-first football club. Luckily, he continues to produce with his legs, despite rushing less than 100 times in each season. However, he’s been efficient on the ground, scoring five touchdowns and running for 1,028 yards during that span.
10) Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: Rivers enjoyed an impressive bounceback season. In 2013, he finished as fantasy’s number six quarterback, averaging almost 18 points per contest. New head coach Mike McCoy is an offensive wizard, and really helped this offense become a very dynamic one. McCoy’s offenses tend to pass the ball quite a bit, and under him this year, Rivers posted his most passing attempts (544) since 2011. The reason behind Rivers’ success this season is the fact that he made the simple throws, but was effective. Coming into this season, McCoy’s prior two offenses targeted running backs in the offense an impressive 18.4 and 14.4 percent of the time. This year, Danny Woodhead hauled in an impressive 76 balls. I think McCoy is great for Rivers, and with an emerging rookie wideout and young tight end, Rivers should have another solid campaign in 2014.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.