It was a great year for Fantasy quarterbacks with Rodgers, Brees and Brady leading the way, but many other passers had stellar campaigns. There were nine quarterbacks who averaged at least 20 Fantasy points a week in standard leagues with Rodgers (31.7), Brees (29.5), Brady (26.9), Stafford (25.9), Newton (24.6), Eli Manning (20.7), Tony Romo (20.4), Matt Ryan (19.9) and Michael Vick (19.8).
That list doesn't include Philip Rivers (18.8), Matt Schaub (18.1) or Ben Roethlisberger (16.5), who were drafted as starters in the majority of leagues but struggled with injuries or inconsistent play. And we know Peyton Manning missed the entire season following neck surgery.
Getting Manning back (hopefully) in 2012 will make the talent pool at quarterback even deeper, which is a great thing for Fantasy owners. While there is a benefit to drafting Rodgers, Brees or Brady early -- and they are worth selecting in the first round in standard formats -- you can wait and still get a quality starter.
It will be exciting for Fantasy owners who like to wait on drafting a quarterback to potentially get Romo, Rivers or Ryan in Round 4 or later and still construct an outstanding Fantasy team with standout running backs or receivers. We know the NFL has become a passing league, and to think that quarterbacks like Roethlisberger, Schaub and Carson Palmer could be No. 2 Fantasy options shows just how many quality passers there are out there.
Tim Tebow could also be a difference maker for Fantasy owners, but he looks more like a bust than a savior with the way he finished this season since teams have appeared to figure out how to stop him. Tebow should not be drafted as a starter in most Fantasy leagues. The same goes for Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mark Sanchez, who finished as Top 12 quarterbacks in 2011 but will fail to match similar stats in 2012.
And some sleepers to target include Jake Locker, Matt Flynn and Sam Bradford. The Titans should give Locker the starting job in 2012, and he looked good when given a chance as a rookie in 2011. Flynn should earn a starting job as a free agent after his performance to close the season for the Packers. And Bradford should rebound after a dismal season for the Rams.
Here is a glimpse of the Top 12 quarterbacks for 2012. Remember, a lot can change between now and August, but this is a sample order of how the quarterbacks should be drafted next year.
Top 12 Quarterbacks for 2012
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
2011 stats: 4,643 passing yards, 45 touchdowns and six interceptions; 257 rushing yards and three touchdowns
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 475 (31.7)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 6 overall (Round 1)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 4 overall (Round 1)
Rodgers continues to prove he's the best quarterback in the NFL, and he's definitely the best Fantasy quarterback. Even though he sat out Week 17 against Detroit to rest for the playoffs he was still three points better than Brees. He accounted for 48 total touchdowns with just six turnovers, and his receiving corps is amazing with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley leading the way. We hope Finley is retained as a free agent, but even if he leaves Rodgers will still post amazing stats. You can definitely take him at No. 1 overall, and he should be the first non-running back drafted in all leagues. Rodgers is safe because he will produce at a high level for 16 games. He had fewer than 25 Fantasy points just twice in 2011.
2. Drew Brees, Saints
2011 stats: 5,476 passing yards, 46 touchdowns and 14 interceptions; 86 rushing yards and one touchdown; one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 472 (29.5)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 14 overall (Round 2)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 5 overall (Round 1)
The Saints have some decisions to make on offense since Brees, Marques Colston and Robert Meachem are all free agents. We know Brees is staying in New Orleans, but hopefully Colston and Meachem will be there as well. Brees was amazing in 2011 as he set the NFL record for passing yards in a season, and he did well with new toys in Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles. We hope he has all his weapons back because that offense is exceptional with Brees at the helm. He now has at least 4,300 passing yards and 34 touchdowns in his past four seasons, so he should remain consistent as an elite Fantasy quarterback, just one notch behind Rodgers.
3. Tom Brady, Patriots
2011 stats: 5,235 passing yards, 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions; 109 rushing yards and three touchdowns; two fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 430 (26.9)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 13 overall (Round 2)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 10 overall (Round 1)
Brady just continues to be the model of consistency for Fantasy quarterbacks with his third season with at least 36 touchdowns since 2007 and his second year with at least 4,800 passing yards over that span. This was the second time since 2007 that he had more than 40 total touchdowns, and he should continue to keep throwing in 2012 at a high level. It would be great if the Patriots gave him a deep threat to complement Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but those three weapons are still enough to help Brady excel in all formats. He is a great consolation prize if you miss out on Rodgers or Brees, and he should be drafted in the first round.
4. Cam Newton, Panthers
2011 stats: 4,051 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions; 706 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns; 27 receiving yards; two fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 394 (24.6)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 145 overall (Round 13)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 18 overall (Round 2)
Newton wasn't drafted in most Fantasy leagues as a rookie in 2011, so he became one of the best waiver wire additions of the year. He will be drafted as a Top 5 quarterback in 2012, and he should be selected in Round 2 in all formats. His rushing ability sets him apart from most quarterbacks, and he has the chance to account for 5,000 total yards and 35-plus touchdowns on a yearly basis. The Panthers need to enhance his receiving corps because Steve Smith needs help, but Newton and Stafford are the top quarterbacks in the second tier of Fantasy options behind Rodgers, Brees and Brady. And as you saw last year, it's not a big drop-off from those three to Newton.
5. Matthew Stafford, Lions
2011 stats: 5,038 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions; 78 rushing yards; one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 415 (25.9)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 69 overall (Round 6)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 22 overall (Round 2)
You can argue that Stafford should be drafted ahead of Newton since Stafford was better in 2011, but we expect Newton to improve in his sophomore campaign and pass Stafford. Still, both are elite, and Stafford should be considered a Top 5 option in all leagues. He is one of four quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards, and he has the best receiver in the NFL in Calvin Johnson as well as solid complementary weapons in Titus Young, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew. We always expected Stafford to be a great Fantasy quarterback if he could stay healthy, and he played 16 games for the first time in his career. He was great for Fantasy owners at crunch time with at least 32 points in his final three games of the season. We hope that performance carries over into 2012 and continues for another full season.
6. Michael Vick, Eagles
2011 stats: 3,303 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions; 589 rushing yards and one touchdown; four fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 258 (19.8)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 8 overall (Round 1)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 28 overall (Round 3)
Vick was a bust in 2011 since he was drafted as the No. 2 quarterback behind Rodgers but finished No. 11 behind Sanchez. He should rebound in 2012 after he finished the season on a high note with at least 23 Fantasy points in his final three games. We'll see what the Eagles do at receiver with DeSean Jackson a free agent, but if he returns he needs to play better. The good news for Vick is Andy Reid is back as the head coach, and hopefully Jeremy Maclin can stay healthy for a full season. Vick is going to be a steal on Draft Day if he can stay healthy for 16 games, but his playing style will always leave him at risk for injury. Still, it will be a great pick if you take Vick in Round 3 or later based on what he's capable of doing when healthy.
7. Peyton Manning, Colts
2011 stats: Did not play
2011 Fantasy points (average): Did not play
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 39 overall (Round 4)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 37 overall (Round 4)
Manning is a risky Fantasy option heading into 2012 unless he shows during training camp and preseason action that he's 100 percent with his neck. We know the Colts could draft Andrew Luck at No. 1 overall, but Manning will remain the starter if healthy. And if he is back then whoever drafts him is going to have an amazing Fantasy team because Manning is among the best quarterbacks when healthy. During his 13-year career he has averaged 4,218 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, but he has three seasons with at least 4,500 passing yards and six years with at least 33 total touchdowns. The Colts have to decide on bringing back free agent receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, but the key is Manning. If he's ready to play then he is worth drafting here because his upside is higher than Eli Manning, Romo or Rivers.
8. Eli Manning, Giants
2011 stats: 4,933 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions; 15 rushing yards and one touchdown; four fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 331 (20.7)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 86 overall (Round 8)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 40 overall (Round 4)
The Giants need to lock up Mario Manningham, who is a free agent, and sign a tight end to upgrade over Jake Ballard, but Manning has a legit receiving corps highlighted by Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. He now has three years in a row with more than 4,000 passing yards, including a career high in 2011, and he has 30 total touchdowns in each of the past two seasons. Manning is trending in the right direction, and Fantasy owners can wait to draft him in Round 4 or later and still get tremendous value. The Giants have become a passing team the past two years, and the difference for Manning in 2011 was cutting down on the turnovers with just 20 compared to 30 in 2010. If he can continue to limit his mistakes then his value will continue to rise, and he could end up as a Top 5 Fantasy quarterback in 2012.
9. Tony Romo, Cowboys
2011 stats: 4,184 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions; 46 rushing yards and one touchdown; three fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 327 (20.4)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 35 overall (Round 3)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 44 overall (Round 4)
The Cowboys have to decide if they want Laurent Robinson back as a free agent, but even without him Romo would still have a tremendous receiving corps with Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Romo had eight games with at least 21 Fantasy points in 2011, and he closed the season with multiple touchdowns in seven of the final eight games he was able to finish. I can see Romo being drafted ahead of Vick and both Mannings, and I can also see him being drafted behind Rivers. He will continue to remain a lightning rod for NFL fans and Fantasy owners who constantly question his ability. But this is now three times in the past five years where he has passed for 4,000-plus yards, and he has two seasons with at least 32 total touchdowns over that span. And with his receivers expected to improve (Bryant) and remain healthy (Austin) then Romo should also have a big season in 2012.
10. Philip Rivers, Chargers
2011 stats: 4,624 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 20 interceptions; 36 rushing yards and one touchdown; five fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 300 (18.8)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 18 overall (Round 2)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 50 overall (Round 5)
Rivers should be a steal on Draft Day because you can take him late, and his value should remain high. The key for Rivers will be if Vincent Jackson and Mike Tolbert return as free agents because they were valuable weapons for him. It works out for Rivers that Norv Turner will remain his head coach, but Jackson could leave with A.J. Smith still the general manager. If Jackson is back then Rivers could be taken as high as the No. 6 quarterback based on his overall body of work. Prior to 2011 he had three years in a row with at least 4,000 passing yards, 29 total touchdowns and a combined 33 interceptions. The turnovers ruined his season in 2011, but he should rebound in a big way, especially if Jackson returns. Rivers should end up as great value on Draft Day.
11. Matt Ryan, Falcons
2011 stats: 4,177 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and 12 interceptions; 84 rushing yards and two touchdowns; three fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 318 (19.9)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 40 overall (Round 4)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 58 overall (Round 5)
Ryan will enter 2012 as a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback and he'll be a great value on Draft Day. He could crack the Top 10 if Peyton Manning doesn't recover from his neck problem, but Ryan should not be considered an elite Fantasy option. He had seven games with at least 20 Fantasy points in 2011 and six of them came indoors. Until he becomes more consistent outside then his Fantasy value will be limited. The good news for Ryan is he has an outstanding receiving corps with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, who will return for one more season. He has a great schedule next year facing the AFC West, and he has 10 games indoors with eight at home and games at New Orleans and Detroit. We just hope Ryan can improve and build off his performance in 2011.
12. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
2011 stats: 4,077 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions; 70 rushing yards; five fumbles
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 248 (16.5)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 50 overall (Round 5)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 65 overall (Round 6)
It was a tough choice to rank Roethlisberger ahead of Matt Schaub, but I expect Roethlisberger to be throwing more now that Rashard Mendenhall (torn ACL) could be out to start the season. Roethlisberger has at least 4,000 passing yards in two of his past three seasons, and he has at least 28 total touchdowns twice in his past five years. Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are a solid receiving corps, and the Steelers have a favorable schedule next year against opponents from the AFC West. Schaub is a solid choice at No. 12 also, but I would lean toward Roethlisberger in this spot. He also will present great value on Draft Day since you can take him with a mid-round pick. A good strategy is to draft Roethlisberger and Schaub with consecutive picks to have yourself covered at quarterback in case one falters.