CBSSports.com Player Ratings
Position: Quarterbacks · Running Backs · Wide Receivers · Tight Ends · Kickers · Defense/STs
Range: 1-15 · 16-30 · 31-40
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 – 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.
Carson Palmer went from the starting quarterback for the Raiders the past two seasons to the starter for the Cardinals this year. It’s a nice upgrade for the 33-year-old passer, who is entering the twilight of his career. Palmer actually was a quality Fantasy quarterback in 2012. In 14 full games he had at least 18 Fantasy points 10 times. His biggest issue was turnovers since he had at least one interception in 11 games, including nine games in a row. But his final stats were respectable at 4,018 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and 18 carries for 36 yards and one touchdown. The reason the move to the Cardinals is an upgrade is Palmer now gets to throw to Larry Fitzgerald, who is the best receiver he’s ever had. He also gets a coach in Bruce Arians who likes a downfield attack, and Palmer has other quality weapons in Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts and Rob Housler. The Cardinals need to upgrade their offensive line to keep Palmer off his back – they allowed the most sacks in the NFL last year at 58 – but Palmer enters the season as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback with upside. He’s worth a late-round pick in deeper leagues.
For the first time in his career, Sam Bradford will finally have some semblance of continuity. That's because he'll have the same offensive coordinator and same offensive scheme for the first time under Brian Schottenheimer. Bradford went from Pat Shurmur and a West Coast scheme in 2010, to Josh McDaniels and more of a deep-passing approach in 2011, to Schottenheimer and something in-between in 2012. The good news is Bradford is coming off a career year last season with 3,702 yards, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and 37 carries for 127 yards and one touchdown. The bad news is that despite those stats he was still just the No. 18 Fantasy quarterback in a standard league, and he managed just five games with at least 18 Fantasy points. This offseason, the Rams revamped their offense. Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson are gone as free agents, and the Rams replaced them with free agent tight end Jared Cook and rookies Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Zac Stacy. We'll find out if it was an upgrade or not, but Bradford is now the focal point on offense. He should be considered a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback with upside. He's not worth drafting in most leagues, but Bradford could emerge as a bye-week replacement if things go his way.
Faced with starting the season without the same type of receiving firepower he had last year and coming off of arthroscopic knee surgery, 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). Roethlisberger's run game is improved with the addition of rookie Le'Veon Bell but he's not enough of a threat to suggest Roethlisberger won't shoulder the offensive workload. 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. Tack on the early June knee surgery and you should be careful choosing Roethlisberger as anything more than a fairly good No. 2 Fantasy quarterback with a late-round pick.
Josh Freeman finished six points shy of being among the Top 12 Fantasy quarterbacks last season. Depending which part of his year you remember seeing, this will either surprise you or disgust you. His first four games were weak before coming out of the bye with reckless abandon, stringing together six straight games with at least two touchdowns and at least 20 Fantasy points. Then he hit a wall in Week 12 and had a couple of decent games mixed in with some stinkers (who could forget his back-to-back four interception games in Weeks 15 and 16?). We do know the Bucs will stick with Freeman heading into 2012 and we know he'll play behind an offensive line that was decimated by injuries by the end of the year along with a very good receiving corps that helped him put up career-highs in yardage (4,065) and touchdowns (27). No one should reach for Freeman in drafts but targeting him late in drafts as a No. 2 quarterback could pay off dividends as he enters a contract year and is basically in the exact same situation Joe Flacco was in last season. Maybe it works out for Freeman, too.
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 – 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.
Brandon Weeden is expected to compete for the starting quarterback job in training camp this summer. He'll learn a new offense, one that calls for a lot of downfield passing. To be effective, Weeden will need a lot of work. He completed just 57.4 percent of his passes last season, including 47 percent that went more than 10 yards. Part of that has to do with an inexperienced receiving corps, but truthfully Weeden wasn't very effective. The only Fantasy owners willing to draft Weeden will be Oklahoma State fans and owners in leagues that start multiple quarterbacks. In most standard leagues Weeden will be an afterthought on Draft Day and a one-week replacement option off waivers during the year.
Alex Smith was traded to the Chiefs this offseason, and he will be the starting quarterback in Kansas City. You know Smith's story by now. He was the starter for the 49ers for the majority of the past eight seasons, including last year when he was leading San Francisco toward a Super Bowl berth before suffering a concussion in Week 10. He was replaced by Colin Kaepernick in that game, and Smith was relegated to a backup role, which is why he became expendable this offseason. Smith has never been a standout Fantasy quarterback, and his value doesn't change much with the Chiefs. Coach Andy Reid should be able to maximize Smith's talent, but he has just one main weapon in Dwayne Bowe and little else. Consider Smith a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback at best, and he's not worth drafting in the majority of leagues. He would only be worth using as a bye-week replacement unless he starts out the season playing at a high level, which would then make him worth adding off the waiver wire.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco got everything he wanted last season. A Super Bowl victory, a new contract and respect from around the NFL that he's an elite passer. Now all he has to do is build off that success, but it won't be easy without two of his top targets. Anquan Boldin was traded to San Francisco, and Dennis Pitta (hip) was lost for the year in training camp. He still has Torrey Smith, Ray Rice and Jacoby Jones, but Flacco isn't going to excite Fantasy owners in the majority of leagues. He should be considered a No. 2 quarterback in most formats, and he's not worth drafting until the later rounds, if he's taken at all. Don't look at his postseason performance and consider him a No. 1 Fantasy option because it's not likely to happen with Boldin and Pitta gone.
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 in a rebuilding mode, and his receiving corps is far from spectacular, especially with Danario Alexanders (ACL) out for the year. Rivers 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.
Jake Locker's career hasn't gotten off to a great start, which is why Fantasy owners should be nervous to draft him even though he's the Titans starter. Last year Locker had all of one game with 20-plus Fantasy points (Peyton Manning and Tom Brady each had 12) and suffered shoulder injuries that raised a red flag for his future. The Titans did a lot this offseason to improve their offensive line and run game, telling signs that Locker won't throw a ton (he had four games with 35-plus pass attempts last year anyway). He does have a receiving corps that looks good on paper and has the legs to move around and out of the pocket, but a lack of consistency as a passer and as a stat producer limit him to late-round material on Draft Day.
Ryan Tannehill has the chance to surprise Fantasy owners this season in his second year in the NFL. He got a revamped receiving corps with the additions of Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller while also keeping Brian Hartline. He will miss Davone Bess and Reggie Bush, but the Dolphins did a lot to improve Tannehill's targets. He showed some promise as a rookie in 2012, which is something to build on. He had four games with at least 20 Fantasy points, but he had six games with eight points or less. He finished his rookie year with 3,294 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and 48 carries for 214 yards and two touchdowns with eight fumbles. The Dolphins want to use Tannehill in the read option more this year, which should showcase his running ability. Tannehill should be considered a low-end No. 2 Fantasy quarterback to open the season, but he's someone to keep your eye on. He might not get drafted in the majority of leagues, but he could turn into a quality playmaker as the season progresses.
The Bills surprised everyone at the NFL Draft when they selected Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel in the first round at No. 16 overall. Manuel, who passed for 3,397 yards and 23 touchdowns with 10 interceptions as a senior with the Seminoles, is expected to compete with Kevin Kolb for the starting job in Buffalo this season. We expect Manuel to win the job, but keep an eye on what develops in training camp. If Manuel does start he would have some intriguing Fantasy value based on his ability to run and throw. We wouldn't draft Manuel in the majority of standard leagues, but he is worth a late-round pick in two-quarterback formats. In rookie-only leagues plan on drafting Manuel with a first-round pick, and he's worth a late-round selection in dynasty leagues.
Christian Ponder is an unlikely breakout candidate after the Vikings traded star receiver Percy Harvin in mid-March. His 2012 statistics were fair-to-middling until Harvin got hurt, and then his stats sunk until he came up big for the Vikings in a three-touchdown performance in Week 17. Effectively playing with Harvin for the first eight games of the year, Ponder totaled 1,743 yards on 171 of 262 passing (65.2 percent) for 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Without Harvin, Ponder had 1,192 yards on 129 of 221 passing (58.3 percent) with eight touchdowns and five interceptions. It's clear Ponder needs help around him in order to be a terrific Fantasy quarterback and right now he just doesn't have enough. That could change, but at this point Fantasy owners know Ponder for being weak-armed and second fiddle to Adrian Peterson. While true, he still should have plenty of opportunities to put up some numbers this season -- just not to the point where you'll feel comfortable starting him. At best, Ponder is a late-round pick and at worst he's someone you ignore on Draft Day and pick up as a replacement off waivers during the season.
Blaine Gabbert looks like he's got the early lead in the Jaguars' quarterback battle, but it's early. A year ago, he appeared to have moved past a terrible rookie year, connecting for three scores and completing 61 percent of his preseason passes without an interception. Then the regular season started and Gabbert struggled over nine games, completing 58.3 percent of his passes for an average of 5.98 yards per attempt with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. His season ended with forearm and shoulder injuries and now a new coaching staff will decide if he or Chad Henne will pilot the offense. However, there's no Fantasy appeal for either Jacksonville quarterback outside of leagues that start multiple signal-callers.