It seems like every summer there's a breakout quarterback from the year before that Fantasy owners can't wait to get their hands on.
This year there isn't one. There are four. And unless you've been stranded on a deserted island without Wi-Fi for the last year, you know the names.
Drafting a quarterback might never get as juicy as it will be this summer. Not only will the elite options be available to those who would spend an early pick on them but a few rounds later these four budding superstars will get snatched. All of them led their NFL teams to the playoffs last year. Three of them also led more than half of their Fantasy owners to winning seasons (only Andrew Luck fell under the 50-percent win mark at 49.6 percent). They all finished among the Top 12 in average Fantasy points per game started with 19.38 or better. The promise these guys have, both in the short term and long term, is exciting to think about.
Here's the low-down on this fabulous foursome as you formulate your draft strategies for later this summer.
Colin Kaepernick, Niners
In the 10 games he started, Kaepernick completed 62.1 pct. of his passes for 2,406 yards (8.8 yards per attempt) with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions. Nothing to sneeze at, but when you tack on his rushing stats -- 67 carries for 502 yards (7.5 yard avg.) and five touchdowns, you're looking at a stat machine. In fact, of those 10 games, Kaepernick produced 20-plus Fantasy points in six of them. His Fantasy appeal rose even higher when it was learned that Kaepernick was so bummed after losing Super Bowl XLVII that he took to offseason training quickly and worked hard on putting on muscle and running faster.
But when top receiver Michael Crabtree tore his right Achilles during spring workouts, the heat index on Kaepernick got unseasonably cooler. Crabtree was responsible for many of the numbers Kaepernick put up in those 10 starts, specifically 61 catches on 94 targets for 880 yards and eight touchdowns. Doing quick math, 36.6 pct. of Kap's yardage and 57.1 percent of Kap's touchdowns came from Crabtree. Eliminating him from the field over 10 games (or more) is bound to hurt Kaepernick's passing numbers, even if the Niners added a piece in veteran receiver Anquan Boldin and aim to target tight end Vernon Davis more. Replacements A.J. Jenkins, an injured Mario Manningham and a crew of otherwise unproven receivers might make things easier for defenses to take chances against Kaepernick, thus capping his stats.
That's about the wettest blanket we can throw on Kaepernick, though. All it takes is one of those young receivers (potentially Jenkins) to step up in the preseason and Kaepernick will look as awesome as he did pre-Crabtree injury. Some will say Kap can make up for the loss of Crabtree with his crafty rushing, but games like the one he had against the Packers in the playoffs last season will be few and far between, especially now that defensive coaches have had a full offseason to study his tendencies. Of his division rivals, only the Rams (who he played well against in his nearly two full games) gave up more than 50 rush yards per game -- and their defense has gotten better this offseason.
Elite quarterbacks tend to have at least one elite receiver to throw to. Without Crabtree, there's some risk in Kaepernick being a top performer week after week, which is why he's toward the bottom of our Top 12 Fantasy quarterback rankings. If you're after Kaepernick it'll take a pick in Round 6 to get him, probably not any later. Then the move is to pair him with another passer in Round 9 or 10 to safeguard your team against a potential disaster -- or at least give you a chance to use another quarterback until Crabtree comes back.
My latest projection: 4,114 passing yards, 24 pass TDs, 16 interceptions; 417 rush yards, 6 rush TDs, 4 fumbles lost
Andrew Luck, Colts
Normally when a quarterback changes playbooks after his first year it's part of a coaching staff overhaul caused in part by a lack of talent. That's not happening in Indianapolis, where Luck found incredible ways to win games and push the Colts to the playoffs in his rookie season. In fact, he did too good a job: His offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, has moved on to lead the Cardinals. Replacing him is Luck's collegiate playcaller, Pep Hamilton, who brings a more conservative system than Arians' to Indy but one Luck is familiar with. Only one of Luck's receiving weapons from last year -- Donnie Avery -- is gone. Darrius Heyward-Bey was signed to replace him, a move that could be considered an improvement. Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and a pair of young tight ends remain staples in Luck's arsenal.
In all, the changes should agree with Luck and ultimately result in more efficient numbers. Luck surprisingly completed a gross 54.1 pct. of his passes last year and had 20-plus Fantasy points in six games (as many as Kaepernick had in 10 games). He's a cinch to complete more passes in the quarterback-friendly scheme coming to the Colts -- he nailed over 70 percent of his passes in his last two years at Stanford -- and should be able to cut down on the 23 turnovers he had last year while totaling more than the 28 scores he posted as a rookie. Only his yardage mark from 2012 -- 4,374 yards -- could be a challenge to surpass.
We knew this time last year that Luck was going to become a franchise quarterback. That maturation should continue in 2013. He's another young passer you should wait a little bit for -- Round 6 should be fine but Round 7 would be better -- and then pair with another passer in Round 9 or 10 just in case of a doomsday scenario where his production doesn't improve.
My latest projection: 4,413 passing yards, 28 pass TDs, 14 interceptions; 245 rush yards, 2 rush TDs, 2 fumbles lost
Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Of all the breakout quarterbacks from last year, Wilson is the one I'm targeting. Not only is it because of his phenomenal play for the last half of the regular season and postseason, but also because he's the only one of the young guns who received an upgrade at receiver during the offseason without losing anyone from his offense. His health, his playbook, his coaches and the teammates around him are all the same or better. None of the other young quarterbacks can say the same thing.
Wilson averaged 19.4 Fantasy points per week last season, but much of that was because of a slow start typical of a rookie passer. His lack of experience eventually became a non-issue and Wilson had 20 points or more in seven of his last eight regular-season games. Extend that into the postseason and Wilson had a 20-point effort in eight of his last 10 overall.
And all of that came without Percy Harvin. The lightning-quick receiver with soft hands and smooth routes was dealt to Seattle this offseason and should further boost Wilson's stats. Consider this: Christian Ponder is not what we would call an attractive Fantasy quarterback, but with Harvin healthy last year he averaged 15.3 Fantasy points per game versus 11.8 per game without him. It's safe to say that little difference -- 3.5 Fantasy points -- should go a long way for Wilson, who just missed averaging 20 Fantasy points per week. It's also safe to say Wilson is a better passer than Ponder, so maybe that 3.5 Fantasy point differential will be greater in Seattle.
Wilson intimated this offseason that he doesn't like to run, an element of his game that helped him produce big stats toward the end of last season. But it doesn't mean he won't do it when necessary. In Wilson's first eight games he averaged 4.5 rushes per game, 16.0 rush yards per game and the Seahawks offense averaged 16.25 points per game. In Wilson's final eight regular season games and two playoff games he averaged 7.3 rushes per game, 48.8 rush yards per game and the offense averaged 28.9 points per game. At the very least, the threat of Wilson running helped put opponents on their heels and opened the door for Wilson to do pretty much everything he wanted. It would be stunning to see him completely give up on running.
And it would be equally stunning to see Wilson falter for Fantasy owners. There's plenty of hype around Kaepernick, Luck and Griffin, but not everyone is willing to buy into Wilson. Let that be your opponents' downfall -- getting him in Round 6 (maybe Round 7) is one of the shrewdest moves you could make on Draft Day. And like the other quarterbacks, getting a solid "just in case" backup in Round 9 of 10 makes the plan even better.
My latest projection: 3,979 passing yards, 28 pass TDs, 13 interceptions; 393 rush yards, 4 rush TDs, 2 fumbles lost
Robert Griffin III, Redskins
No young quarterback comes with as much risk as Griffin, though none comes with as much reward, either. Griffin's impressive rehabilitation from multiple torn ligaments in his right knee is as remarkable as Adrian Peterson's effort a year ago, though Griffin hurt his roughly three weeks later into the year than Peterson's. As a result of his work and his progress as reported by those who watched him during offseason practices, it's now expected that Griffin will be ready for the start of the season.
Griffin was Cam Newton-like last season when he busted out of the gate with four straight games with at least 21 Fantasy points and five games in his first seven overall with at least 25 Fantasy points. Defenses started to catch up with him, though, and save for back-to-back monster outings coming off the bye against the Eagles and Cowboys, RG3 had 19 points or less in every game the rest of the way, including his ill-fated postseason appearance. It's especially concerning that each of his division opponents did a phenomenal job containing him in their second meeting, a sign that defenses will have an answer for him so long as he continues to do what he's always done.
Some believe Griffin won't run as much as he did last year (7.8 attempts per game on average including playoffs) but Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan made a brilliant observation: All four of RG3's injuries came on pass plays where he had to scramble, not out of the zone-read option that brought forth so many of his big rushing numbers. The Redskins have a bigger investment in Griffin than any Fantasy player and surely will work with him on being a smarter runner, but the zone read might not evaporate from the Redskins playbook as some might think. That happens to double as good news for Alfred Morris, by the way.
If we knew Griffin was a lock to start in Week 1 without any limitations and stay that way for the season, he'd probably be a lock for Round 4. But because there's trepidation about him playing 16 games, he's in the same range as his rookie quarterback counterparts. Why take a risk on him earlier than necessary, particularly in a year where everyone in a league will have a good starting quarterback?
It's actually more likely he'll get picked in Round 6 as a Top 10 quarterback than fall past Round 7 simply because he'll get into preseason action eventually and someone in every draft will eyeball him. If that someone is you, do yourself a favor and come back in the following round with the best available quarterback -- potentially a guy like Luck, Wilson or Kaepernick.
My latest projection: 14 games, 3,405 passing yards, 25 pass TDs, 11 interceptions; 380 rush yards, six rush TDs, three fumbles