Don’t look now, but fantasy football season is right around the corner. Over the next week, we’ll be previewing the four major positions in fantasy football. Top it off with a list of sleepers at every position on Friday and you’ll be ready to go for your draft. We use standard non-PPR scoring for all our rankings.
The average fantasy football player has caught on to the minimal value of a starting quarterback. That’s because the average player is more educated than he used to be. With all the content on the internet and social media, it’s a lot easier to stay on top of what’s lit and what’s not. Cam Newton obviously broke the trend a little last year with a tremendous season, but the odds of repeating that type of season are low and that’s only one man. The difference between QB2 and QB12 last year was 3.7 fantasy points a game. That means you can once again wait to pick a starting QB in standard leagues and use your early round picks on running backs and wide receivers.
With that out of the way, we can move on to evaluating the guys throwing the ball. While there wasn’t much difference between QB2 and QB12 in 2015, you’ll notice some of the names in the top 12 weren’t ones who started there before the season: Blake Bortles, Carson Palmer, Kirk Cousins, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. None of those guys were in the top 16 of drafts last year, let alone the top 12. So it’s time to dig deep into the QB pool and see what there is to offer. Just remember how things change in leagues with six points for passing touchdowns (the variance between QB and RB points grows dramatically) and leagues that start two QBs (you’re now using 75% of the starting QB pool).
- Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers had a disappointing season by all measures last year. He was seen as a perennial top 3 QB and ended up 7th in points per game. Things really fell apart for Rodgers after the Packers bye week but there are plenty of excuses for him. For starters he had no deep threat once Jordy Nelson got hurt. (This is only because Green Bay refused to play Jeff Janis until the playoffs, but I’m trying not to lose focus here.) Randall Cobb hurt his shoulder. America realized Eddie Lacy was as fat as he’s ever been. The offensive line was all sorts of banged up. We can start fresh in 2016 now that everything is back to where it should be. Aaron Rodgers is still only 32 and he’ll be looking to reminder everyone that he’s a bigger start than his brother Jordan.
- Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers
Last year was an amazing season for Cam Newton. He threw almost 50% more passing touchdowns than he had in any season. He ran for the most touchdowns he’s had since his rookie season. Maybe most importantly for real football purposes, Newton threw the fewest interceptions of his career. What’s weird is he did all this without Kelvin Benjamin, his best receiver coming into the season. Now Benjamin’s back, Carolina’s defense is worse with the departure of Josh Norman, and Newton has the chance to possibly improve on last year’s numbers. While I think he’ll fall back to earth a bit, there’s no doubting that he’s going to be fighting for the QB1 spot in fantasy football this year. His rushing work helps give him a nice floor for every game because you know you’ll get something extra to start from Newton. Newton’s worse game last year was 12 points and you should expect the same again.
- Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints
It was a slow start for Drew Brees last year, but he really got things going down the stretch. Brees once again threw for over 4,800 yards marking the fifth season in a row it’s happened. It helps that his defense his awful and turns most games into shootouts. There’s definite potential for Brees to improve this season, which may be a surprise given his advanced age and the high bar he’s already set, but stick with me for a second. For starters he adds additional pass catching threats in rookie Michael Thomas and the athletic (and admittedly stonehanded) Coby Fleener. Third-year receiver Brandin Cooks also looks poised to make a leap. The schedule is also in Brees favor. We all know he excels at home, but this year he gets road games against bad pass defenses (Giants, Chargers, and usual division rival Tampa), an extra dome game at Arizona (I’m ignoring the Falcons game in Week 17 because most fantasy seasons end before then) and two games going against Carolina without Josh Norman. Look for this to be Brees’ peak before the mountain starts to fall off.
- Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts
To say Andrew Luck’s 2015 season was a disappointment would be a massive understatement. It wasn’t all Luck’s fault, however, as the front office ignored how much help the offensive line needed before the season. General Manager Ryan Grigson finally got his head out of his ass and drafted offensive linemen with two of the Colts’ first three picks. The addition of Ryan Kelly is the biggest addition because he gives Luck the A-list center that he’s lacked his entire career. The rebuilt offensive line is getting glowing reviews through preseason and that bodes well for Luck’s fantasy outcome. As long as Luck has time, he has plenty of receivers to throw to between T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, and Philip Dorsett. Thankfully we don’t have to watch Luck force feed balls to the over-the-hill Andre Johnson this year. Luck may not reach the 4,700 yards and 40 touchdowns of 2014, but he’ll come pretty damn close this year.
- Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks
Injuries and a surprisingly weak defense helped push Wilson to the QB3 spot in 2015, but look closer and you’ll see Wilson was even better than that in the second half of the season. Wilson was actually averaging 25.5 points per game after his Week 9 bye. Only Cam Newton was better in that second half of the season. The Seahawks were forced to throw more than expected because they lost their rushing hammer of Marshawn Lynch and his backup Thomas Rawls going down. Seattle will look to use the running game to keep their diminutive leader from being exposed to regular pass rushes, but Wilson will still be a factor. Seattle paid money to Wilson’s two leading receivers, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, in the offseason and second-year man Tyler Lockett should be improved. With Seattle’s defense dropping from its best days, Wilson will still be very useful in fantasy.
- Tom Brady – New England Patriots
The first thing you think about when it comes to Tom Brady is that he’s suspended for the first four games of the year. The key here is not to worry too much about it. Unlike the Patriots, you have a wide variety of quarterbacks to choose to help you out in the first four weeks. There are also some key guys like Derek Carr, Matt Ryan, and Tony Romo, who have great schedules in the opening weeks of the season and can easily be grabbed as your backup. When Brady returns, he’ll have the double tight end system working with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. That’s the same system that led to great success for Brady when Aaron Hernandez wasn’t in jail. Plus we know Brady loves playing with a chip on his shoulder as he did after previous Patriots issues with the NFL and when everyone thought he was finished a couple years ago. Expect big things upon Brady’s return.
- Carson Palmer – Arizona Cardinals
Palmer certainly isn’t getting any younger, which may instill some fear in you as he enters another NFL season. That, however, might not be scarier than what you saw Palmer do in last year’s playoff game against Carolina. Palmer easily played his worst game of the season with a four-interception effort in a Jake Delhomme like meltdown. That may have pestered Palmer throughout the offseason, but at least he returns to the field with a lot to look forward to. The Cardinals have one of the best offensive lines in the league, so that will do a lot to keep Palmer healthy. David Johnson showed he’s a factor to keep defenses honest last year while also being a weapon for Palmer in the passing game. There are still plenty of receivers for Palmer to throw to. Palmer was as consistent as any QB last year with 14 points being his worst effort in the 16 weeks that matter in fantasy football. He not be as sexy as other quarterbacks people are focusing on in this area like Ben Roethlisberger or Phillip Rivers, but Palmer is the name to own before any more QBs go off the board.