With the NFL becoming more of a passing league, the strategy of grabbing a lower-tier starting quarterback for your fantasy squad is becoming obsolete. Look no further than the massive passing yardage and touchdown totals put up by the upper-tier quarterbacks in 2011, with three players throwing for more than 5,000 yards, ten players topping 4,000 yards and seven players throwing for 29 or more touchdowns.
And we haven’t mentioned what Cam Newton did rushing the ball in his rookie season.
The chic fantasy strategy at quarterback in 2012 will be to grab a top five quarterback and it won’t be a surprise if three quarterbacks are taken in the first round in drafts for 12-team leagues.
And the numbers back up that this is likely a smart strategy. The top five fantasy quarterbacks in 2012 averaged 28.4 points per game whereas the quarterbacks ranked 6th through 10th averaged 22.2, a not insignificant difference of 6.2 points per game.
With the first wave of free agency over, here are my initial 2012 fantasy football quarterback rankings:
The Top 12
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers – Only a Week 17 day off prevented Rodgers from being the top-ranked fantasy quarterback in 2011. With his key weapons back for 2012, expect more of the same.
2. Tom Brady, Patriots – Gains a deep threat in Brandon Lloyd making the New England offense even more unstoppable.
3. Drew Brees, Saints – More of a risk with head coach Sean Payton suspended for the 2012 season, the only key loss the team suffered on offense. Robert Meachem left town but he is replaceable.
4. Matthew Stafford, Lions – After his breakout 2011 season with over 5,000 passing yards and 41 touchdown passes, the only concern with Stafford is his health and that of wide receiver Calvin Johnson. With nothing of significance added to help replenish the team’s rushing attack, expect plenty of passes from the Lions once again next season.
5. Cam Newton, Panthers – Newton burst onto the scene with 854 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and a pair of rushing scores in his first two games on his way to finishing the year as the fourth ranked fantasy quarterback. There are only two red flags. He threw for under 200 yards in each of his last three games (478 yards in those games) and it is highly unlikely he will reach 14 rushing touchdowns again – a league record for quarterbacks he set last season.
6. Michael Vick, Eagles – With Vick, it’s all about the injuries. If you peg him as missing one or two games, then he is close to being a top-five fantasy quarterback. If it’s four or five games, knock him down to somewhere between 10th and 12th.
7. Eli Manning, Giants – In leading the Giants to another Super Bowl victory, Manning enjoyed the finest year of his career with 4,933 passing yards, 29 passing touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Mario Manningham left town but he wasn’t a key cog in the Giants regular season passing success in 2011.
8. Philip Rivers, Chargers – The weapons are leaving the Chargers offense with wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Mike Tolbert skipping town one year after the departure of Darren Sproles. That hurts as does having injury issues amongst his receivers (Antonio Gates, Robert Meachem and Malcom Floyd). But, can Rivers possibly be as bad as he was last year?
9. Matt Ryan, Falcons – Expect less from tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Michael Turner but more from wide receivers Roddy White and especially, Julio Jones. Net result should be career-highs in passing yards and touchdowns.
10. Peyton Manning, Broncos – Broncos are sure to add to their offense but at this point they are missing a slot receiver and a running back capable of making big plays in the passing game. Check back later on this one.
11. Tony Romo, Cowboys – Star third wide receiver Laurent Robinson left town for the Jaguars, Jason Witten started looking old down the stretch and Miles Austin has hamstrings tighter than a steel bar. Oh, Dallas also found a running game last year with DeMarco Murray.
12. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers – The Bucs were a mess last year and Freeman suffered because of it. However, Vincent Jackson is in town to provide him with his first real deep threat and Mike Williams should benefit from drawing less attention. Freeman’s rushing prowess makes him the 12th ranked fantasy quarterback over other options such as Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler and Robert Griffin III.
Running backs up next…