Last year, Aaron Rodgers was the ultimate "safe" pick to take in Round 1. This year he's still that guy, but you should be able to find him in Round 2. His production took a small dip in 2012 -- most notably his yards per pass attempt dropped by about a yard and a half -- but he still finished as the second-best quarterback in Fantasy Football and had an incredible eight games with at least 30 Fantasy points. No one had more, but he also had some weak outings, recording five games with 16 or fewer points (this is in standard-scoring leagues). That's to be expected, but Rodgers -- a consensus must-start quarterback -- had just nine games with 20 or more points, fifth-best among all passers. For an elite talent a little more might be expected. Drew Brees was more consistent and produced more Fantasy points last year -- he's someone worth considering over Rodgers -- and there are a large number of running backs considered too valuable to pass on in Round 1. So expect Rodgers to be available with a second-round pick, a heck of a bargain considering where he went a year ago.
Tom Brady enters this season trying to remain among the elite quarterbacks. We expect that to happen. In 2012, Brady was a Top 3 Fantasy quarterback for the third year in a row. He had more than 4,800 passing yards for the second year in a row, more than 37 total touchdowns for the third year in a row and for the second time in his past three years he had fewer than 10 interceptions. At a time when running quarterbacks are all the rage, Brady continues to dominate. His receiving corps is in flux with Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd gone and Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Donald Jones now in. But he still has the services of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and along with Amendola, Brady should be fine. Brady should be among the Top 4 quarterbacks drafted this season along with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, and we recommend drafting him toward the end of Round 2. If he falls to Round 3 then consider him a steal.
Just how great is Drew Brees for Fantasy? He's posted 20-plus Fantasy points in 25 of his last 32 games, more than anyone else. He's missed one game since arriving in New Orleans and has attempted more than 650 passes in each of his past three seasons. When you shop for a Fantasy quarterback, Brees gives you everything you could possibly want in terms of production and consistency, which is why he's expected to be the top quarterback taken in drafts this summer. But because of the deluge of quarterbacks available, he figures to slip into Round 2 of most drafts. Don't hesitate to take him then knowing just how effective he should be. The plus side is in drafting Brees you won't need to take a backup, freeing up another roster spot for someone else.
A slow start and a strange end-zone disconnect with Calvin Johnson tripped up Matthew Stafford's numbers last season. But it doesn't mean you should be scared to draft him. Throwing an NFL-record 727 pass attempts last year, Stafford completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 4,967 yards (6.83 yards per throw), adding 20 touchdowns to go with 17 interceptions. He also rushed for four scores. This doesnít sound like the Stafford we came to know and love in 2011 when he surpassed 5,000 passing yards and threw 41 touchdowns. Last season defenses doubled-down on stopping Megatron and Stafford only connected with him on four scores and the rest of the Lions' passing game was depleted by injuries or bad behavior. Stafford finished with seven games over 20 Fantasy points, making him a quasi-bust based on his second-round average draft position. The good news is that he'll remain in the Lions' aggressive offense and his receiving corps should come back strong. The better news is that he'll be available even later in drafts this summer than last, making him a nice bargain choice. Stafford should get attention starting in Round 4 as a no-brainer top-10 Fantasy quarterback.
Fantasy owners are hoping a strong finish to 2012 will put Cam Newton in prime position to dominate in 2013. After a lousy start last season Newton had multiple touchdowns in seven of his final nine contests, boosting his Fantasy production from 17.0 Fantasy points per game to 25.3 points per game. A few tweaks in offensive philosophy and a reliance on the short-area passing game (and a good schedule) helped turn things around for Newton, but more tweaks are in store this offseason after the team lost offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to Cleveland's head coaching job. Mike Shula will take over the Panthers' offense, which Newton is happy with, but his track record as an offensive coordinator and head coach is not very good. Luckily, Newton is a freak of nature and stands to continue putting up huge numbers, particularly if the Panthers re-tool their offensive line and even give the offense another receiving threat. Combine that with Newton's goal-line prowess and there's not necessarily a lot to fear with Newton so long as he's taken with a pick after elite quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are taken. That could happen after the 25th overall pick.
Preseason predictions calling for a career year from Matt Ryan came to fruition in 2012 as he set personal bests in yardage (4,719), completion percentage (68.6), yards per attempt (7.67) and touchdowns (32). And he did it while setting career highs in pass attempts and completions, leading his team to home-field advantage in the playoffs. It all suggests that the Falcons' decision to move to a more pass-friendly system paid off, and there's no way that's going to change in 2013. Ryan was also one of four quarterbacks to post at least 10 games with at least 20 Fantasy points, suggesting he was one of the most consistent options in the game. All of these things should hold true as the Falcons reload for another Super Bowl run, but assuming the team does that Ryan steps up as not just a top-10 Fantasy quarterback but actually a great Draft Day value since he'll get picked after the cream of the crop at the position. Waiting until Round 4 or 5 for Ryan is one of the smartest moves you can make.
Michael Vick is ready for his last stand. This might be the final chance Vick gets to prove he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Heíll be 33 when the season starts, and his career is far from over. But after being a star in 2010 he has faltered the past two years, and he has to rebuild his on-field reputation again in a new system for coach Chip Kelly. On the surface, Kellyís up-tempo offense suits Vickís style of play, but we have to find out if the two can mesh. Vick still has plenty of talent and plenty of talent around him with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy. But Vickís problems remain the same: heís injury prone and prone to mistakes. If he starts 16 games we can still see him posting quality stats, but thatís no guarantee since he hasnít finished a full season since 2006. He enters this season as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback, and heís worth drafting with a late-round pick. If you have reasonable expectations for Vick then heíll be a good selection on Draft Day. But if you go in expecting Vick to play like 2010 again then you can expect to be disappointed because itís unlikely that quarterback will ever be seen again. He also has to prove he can hold off Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley for the starting job, but we expect Vick to be under center in Week 1.
Eli Manning's final stats in 2012 were respectable but misleading. He finished with 3,948 yards, 26 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, which gave him 276 Fantasy points in a standard league. But Manning needed 208 passing yards and five touchdowns -- 38 Fantasy points -- in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Eagles to save his production. Without that game, Manning would have been the No. 22 Fantasy quarterback; with it, was No.14. He was brutal for most of the season (he had four games with five Fantasy points or fewer), and we hope a rebound year is in order. Getting Hakeem Nicks back at 100 percent will help, and the Giants need to hope Rueben Randle can become a viable third receiver all season. The Giants also replaced the departed Martellus Bennett with Brandon Myers from Oakland. Before last year, Manning had consecutive seasons of at least 4,000 passing yards and 30 total touchdowns. It won't take him much to get back to that level, and he actually presents great value since he'll fall to a mid- to late-round pick in most leagues. We love getting Manning as a low-end starter or high-end backup, and he should bounce back in 2013.
Philip Rivers was once thought of as an upper-echelon Fantasy quarterback, but the last two years have plenty of owners questioning whether he should even be drafted at all. Rivers is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career in 2012 with 3,606 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The passing yards and touchdowns were his lowest total since 2007, and he's trending in the wrong direction. He had just eight games with more than 18 Fantasy points and only topped 20 points four times. His offensive line is a mess, and his receiving corps is in flux with Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd aging, Vincent Brown coming back from injury and Danario Alexander a restricted free agent. If Alexander comes back as expected and Brown rebounds at 100 percent, Rivers should be OK. But he has a lot to prove, and not many Fantasy owners are counting on him. He should be considered a No. 2 quarterback on Draft Day, and he should only be selected with a late-round pick. If he rebounds, you have a steal, but don't overvalue him based on name recognition.
Tony Romo got a nice raise this offseason when the Cowboys gave him a six-year, $108 million contract extension. Now, he has to raise his production to match his salary. Romo is coming off an inconsistent 2012. He set a career high with 4,903 passing yards and also managed 28 touchdowns on 66 percent completions. But he also had 19 interceptions and struggled to start the year. Romo had just one game with more than 14 Fantasy points in the first five weeks. But he closed the season with at least 20 Fantasy points in seven of his final 12 games. This year, Romo should pick up where last season left off. He has an elite receiver in Dez Bryant and solid complementary weapons in Miles Austin and Jason Witten. Romo should easily eclipse 4,000 passing yards if he can stay healthy -- he's reached 4,000 yards in four of the past six years -- along with at least 26 touchdowns, which he's done five times since 2007. The key is cutting down on the turnovers and being more consistent over the course of the season. We consider Romo a solid No. 1 Fantasy quarterback, and he's worth drafting as early as Round 5 or 6 in the majority of leagues.
Can Peyton Manning be even better in 2013 than he was in 2012? Denver coach John Fox thinks so, and the addition of receiver Wes Welker will help. Fox said this offseason that Manning will be healthier this season as he continues to improve following his neck issues in 2011. That could make Manning a candidate to be the No. 1 Fantasy quarterback this year because he was impressive in 2012, his first year with the Broncos. Manning completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. It was the 12th time he passed for 4,000-plus yards (third time with 4,500 yards) and the seventh time heís thrown for 30-plus touchdowns. Manning will be 37 when the season starts, but he continues to play at a high level and defied all skeptics with his performance last year. He has arguably the best receiving corps in the NFL with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and now Welker to go with a solid running game behind a stout offensive line. We consider Manning a Top-5 Fantasy quarterback on Draft Day, and heís worth drafting with a pick toward the end of Round 2 or beginning of Round 3 in all formats.
Robert Griffin III is a wild card for Fantasy owners this season. He had surgery to repair a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus in January, and heís hoping to be ready by Week 1. If that happens, then Griffin could have an Adrian Peterson-like impact this year in his comeback from knee surgery. But if Griffin isnít ready by Week 1 or suffers a setback with his knee, then depending on when you draft he could be a bust. We consider Griffin a low-end starting option coming into the year based on the uncertainty. No matter what you do with Griffin, you better back him up with a quality No. 2 quarterback (think Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger or Jay Cutler, for example) in case he doesnít recover at 100 percent. When healthy, Griffin was a star as he showed last year with 344 Fantasy points, which made him the No. 7 quarterback in standard leagues. He averaged 22.9 points a week, something only four other quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning) did last year, and we hope Griffin can make a full recovery without any problems. Gamble on him with a pick as early as Round 5 or 6.
Faced with starting the season without the same type of receiving firepower he had last year, Ben Roethlisberger has the look of a backup Fantasy quarterback. The Steelers gave up on speedster Mike Wallace (who accounted for eight of the team's receiving touchdowns last year) and are probably going to begin the year without tight end Heath Miller, who tore his ACL late last season (he accounted for another eight scores). His run game is no better, leaving Roethlisberger to shoulder the offensive workload without a number of threats like he's had in the past. This isn't to say Roethlisberger can't be a Fantasy dynamo but the reality is that he'll be hard pressed to produce the 20.5 Fantasy point average he had last year. Any improvements the Steelers make around him will go a long way but the team's salary cap is stretched thin and another season without a playoff appearance could be ahead. Be careful choosing Roethlisberger as anything more than a fairly good No. 2 Fantasy quarterback with a mid- to late-round pick.
It might be put-up-or-shut-up time for Jay Cutler with the Bears. Through four years with the Bears Cutler has led the team to one playoff win and has yet to post a 4,000-yard campaign. He's endured three different playcallers and will have his fourth in Marc Trestman this season. Many quarterbacks swear by Trestman's knowledge and play-calling abilities and there's little doubt he will lean on Cutler in the Bears' offense this season. This should afford Cutler the chance to put up numbers unlike previous years so long as he stays healthy. That's going to be tricky as Chicago's offensive line needs an Oprah-like makeover. If that happens and the Bears follow through on their plan to give him at least one more weapon, then Cutler might have the chance to be helpful in Fantasy. He'll want to do it Ė he's entering a contract year and could feasibly pull a Joe Flacco if he has a solid year and pushes the Bears to great heights. It's enough to look at Cutler as a good backup Fantasy option with a late-round pick, potentially a phenomenal value.
Two years ago Matt Schaub was considered a capable Fantasy starter. Last year he was the guy you took with a great value pick in the middle rounds. This year he'll be a late-round consideration Ė maybe. Schaub's Fantasy stock tanked last season as he struggled to put up big numbers while younger, more versatile passers put up bigger, better numbers. Those youngsters are now who Fantasy owners are targeting, pushing Schaub down rank lists. Does he have potential for a 4,500 yard, 30 touchdown season? Maybe thanks to big-time targets like Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and rookie DeAndre Hopkins. But outside of those three and maybe tight end Owen Daniels there just isn't a lot to love about Schaub's weapons. Throw in a conservative game plan used by the Texans (Schaub attempted 35 passes or more just six times) and he's just not the crown jewel for Fantasy owners like he was. It doesn't help that he connected for two or more touchdowns seven times in 18 regular and postseason games last year or had just six matchups with 20-plus Fantasy points. Schaub is worth a late-round pick in drafts strictly as a decent backup Fantasy option.