It would be easy enough to drop Peyton Manning in as the number one quarterback this year and worry about slotting the rest after that, but that doesn't have to be automatic either. Yes, Manning is coming off a career-best season, one for the ages, but after three consecutive seasons with more than 5,000 yards passing, Drew Brees can make a reasonable claim for top spot too.
No matter which one is on top -- and I have Brees -- they are a cut above the rest at the position.
The way that passing has evolved in the NFL, there are now lots of quarterbacks who can throw for 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns -- there were eight last season -- but Manning and Brees were the only ones north of 5,000 yards and 35 touchdowns, so consider them Tier One.
After that, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers are accomplished passers. Over the past three seasons, Stafford ranks second (behind only Brees) with 14,655 passing yards and that gives him a slight edge on Rodgers, who ranks second in that time (again behind Brees) with 101 touchdown passes.
Those are still elite options but, after that, the warts start to become a little more apparent, even among quality options.
Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton are brilliant runners and while that's a potential fantasy goldmine for yardage and touchdowns, it also presents a risk of injury. Working in Kaepernick's favour is that he has an improved receiving corps, with a healthy Michael Crabtree and newcomers Stevie Johnson joining Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis, Kaepernick doesn't lack weapons.
Newton, on the other hand, requires a leap of faith, because his supporting cast is suspect, at best. Tight end Greg Olsen is a good one, but Newton's No. 1 wideout appears to be Jerricho Cotchery, a 32-year-old who had a nice season (46 REC, 602 YDS, 10 TD) last year, as Pittsburgh's number three receiver, but he has one 1,000-yard receiving season in his career and last year was the only time in Cotchery's career that he's had more than half a dozen touchdowns in a year.
On the other side, the Panthers have rookie Kelvin Benjamin, a 6-foot-5, 240-pounder who had a big year (54 REC, 1011 YDS, 15 TD) at Florida State, but it's asking a lot to expect the 28th pick in the draft to immediately make an impact. In any case, these are some challenges that Newton faces as he tries to match the production of his first three seasons.
They aren't the only accomplished running quarterbacks. Further down the draft list, Robert Griffin III -- who ought to benefit from the addition of wide receiver DeSean Jackson -- and Russell Wilson, maybe with a healthy Percy Harvin at his disposal, have appeal as well.
After a breakout performance last season, during which he threw for 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 13 games (10 starts), Nick Foles has exciting potential, if not the longest track record in the league.
Andrew Luck has the pedigree, as a first overall pick, and has thrown for more than 8,000 yards with 46 touchdowns in his first two seasons. It's tempting to go for that potential.
For more established options, maybe look to Atlanta's Matt Ryan, who is likely to bounce back with a healthy Julio Jones in the lineup and Tom Brady has to be considered. Even though his passing touchdowns declined last year, to 25 his lowest since 2006, Brady has thrown for more than 4,300 yards in four of the past five seasons and the Patriots offence is still focused on him.
Beyond that top dozen, there are proven veterans, like Andy Dalton, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger, all of whom have been able to put up big numbers, just not with the same kind of consistency. Romo has, in fact, been pretty consistent in his production but, coming off back surgery, he's perhaps a little riskier than in previous years.
Among the younger quarterbacks looking for a breakthrough, maybe Ryan Tannehill, Geno Smith or E.J. Manuel are ready to move up, but they are still second-stringers, at best, for fantasy purposes.
As for rookies Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater, keep an eye on them and be prepared to work the waiver wire, but none of the three appear to be set for big production right off the start.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.
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