So we’re back with our second column in as many weeks as we all prepare for our respective fantasy football drafts. You’re probably just starting your preparation, which is good, because it’s never too early to start. With the NFL now possessing a 365 day news cycle, you have different talking points what seems like every day, on and off the field. Last week we touched on fantasy do’s and don’ts during the draft, and today we’ll start to dive into particular positions, beginning with quarterbacks. Now the point of these columns is not for me to sit here and tell you to draft Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, because my dog could tell you to do that. My job here is to give you five guys outside the obvious ones to target, and five traps you may want to avoid when it comes to drafting your signal caller.
I may be fairly new to the Atlanta area, but I’m not blind to what’s going on in Flowery Branch. The Falcons, with their additions the past few years, have basically turned into a top three offense right in front of our eyes. Guiding the ship is the sixth year man from Boston College who is coming off a career best in nearly every category, and was able to increase his touchdowns yet again in 2012. He’s actually increased his touchdowns each year since he entered the league, throwing for 32 last season. Tony Gonzalez is back for another shot at a championship, as is the dynamic duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones, both top 10 wideouts in their own right. They add Steven Jackson, who for the past few seasons was dealing with a mediocre offense in St. Louis. Now, he gets a chance to work that play action to perfection with Matt Ryan at the helm, and again in 2013 you have the makings of an explosive offense. A myth about Matt Ryan is that he only plays well in the cushy Georgia Dome. Last year on the road? A 111.3 rating, 21 TD and only 5 INT. After the obvious targets, this is a guy you want on your team and you won’t have to pay the first or second round price it will take to get an Aaron Rodgers or a Tom Brady.
After spending two seasons in and out of the starting lineup, the Lions lynchpin finally has put together two quality seasons in a row, helping Calvin Johnson to the history books in 2012. He attempted the most passes last year in NFL history at 45.4 a game. Now the Detroit defense was terrible last season, forcing the offense to try and lead comebacks through the air, but if you look closer it wasn’t all on the defense being pathetic. He’s thrown for an average of just over 5000 yards the past two seasons, and with the addition of Reggie Bush, it makes the passing offense that much more lethal. Teams will be less likely to blitz knowing a short pass or delayed handoff to Bush could go the distance, leaving Stafford more time to pick and choose his target. When he has been given time to throw, the former Georgia Bulldog as good as it gets. He even had four rushing TD’s last season. He’ll probably go after some of the hotshot rookies from last season, but don’t count out him outperforming them all.
Speaking of hotshot rookies from last year, we had quite a crop of quarterbacks, didn’t we? Everywhere I look, the question is which is most likely to replicate his success in 2013? I’m going with Luck, for several reasons. He was brutal on the road last year and still threw for 23 touchdowns and ran for five scores. The Colts return reliable Reggie Wayne, underutilized TY Hilton and even added mercurial wideout Darrius Heyward Bey who showed flashes of brillance in Oakland who has been looking for a quarterback for a decade. Heyward Bey gets the services of one of the most polished rookies to enter the year in decades, so maybe he can be the deep threat the Colts sorely missed last season. Bottom line is Andrew Luck put up 4300 yards as a rookie and the Colts have a schedule that is in the top five easiest in the whole league.
Injuries ruined his 2012 season, lasting 13 games and the Steelers missed the playoffs as a result. He is and will continue to be the heartbeat of the Steelers offense, and people have counted him out with the loss of Mike Wallace to Miami and the health status of Heath Miller. Not me. Look at the positives here, starting with the every other year factor. 2009 he threw for over 4300 yards and 26 TD only throwing 12 picks. 2011 he threw for just over 4000 yards, 21 TD and 14 INT. Last year, before he was hurt he threw 16 TD and only 4 INT, averaging around 275 yards a game passing. Factor in he gets two of his key offensive lineman back from injury to open the year, and those are more than good enough for a guy who’s average draft position is hovering around the 10th round. You won’t be disappointed if you wind up with Big Ben as your QB this year. You can set your watch to him.
The Miami Dolphins made a point this offseason to upgrade their offense around the second year man from Texas A&M, and there was no bigger “fish” on the free agent market than Mike Wallace to reel in. The deep threat, who had spent his entire career in Pittsburgh to this point, has two 1000 yard seasons under his belt and was signed to stretch the field in what should be a much more pass heavy attack this season. The Dolphins don’t really have a proven running back on the roster with Reggie Bush’s defection to Detroit, so with the additions of Mike Wallace and also Dustin Keller, expect Tannehill’s pass attempts to be way up this season. Some may argue their schedule is rough this season, playing the AFC North and the NFC South, two of the tougher divisions in football. I saw signs last year in Tannehill that makes me believe the Dolphins actually knew what they were doing spending a top pick on him. I am not going to say he will be a surefire fantasy starter right away, but taken in the middle to late rounds he has the ability to really surprise and do wonders for your squad.
I can see the hate mail starting to roll in now. Will the real Cam Newton stand up? The first half of last season he threw for six TD and 8 picks. The second half he threw 13 TD and only 4 INT. People are going to jump all over the strong finish and overdraft him this year. Don’t be that guy. I get all the rushing touchdowns (22 in his first two seasons). I get the fact he still has a dynamic (but aging Steve Smith) as his top target. Still, he finished 19th in pass attempts last season, and his offensive line while getting Ryan Kalil back from injury still has question marks everywhere but center and left tackle. Defenses have wised up to what Cam Newton can do. Keep him in the pocket, have him make throws and make him beat you through the air. Will he get his 8-10 rushing TD? Probably, but those cannot ever be counted on in fantasy on a year to year basis. He’s going as high as the third round, and I wouldn’t take him anywhere near where he is projected to go. Steer clear.
Before you tell me that Percy Harvin joined the team and that he threw 16 TD over the final eight games of the season compared to just two INT, you have to dig deeper to find Russell Wilson is one of those guys who is a better real life quarterback than a fantasy one. The Seahawks run the ball more than any team in the league, and why wouldn’t they? They have a solid if not spectactular offensive line led by line coach Tom Cable, who brought over his zone blocking scheme from his time in Oakland. Marshawn Lynch, who is a consensus top five running back in the league, ran for almost 1600 yards last year on 315 attempts. They have said repeatedly that even with Russell Wilson’s success in year one, head coach Pete Carroll does not want to overwhelm him in his second year. Remember, this is a team that is supposed to be a contender to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl come February. Falcons fans, you saw them up close and personal last season as they came ever so close to knocking you out in the divisional round in your place. They have one of if not the best defense in the NFC and will be playing a ton of games from ahead. You know what that means folks. Scaling back the passing attack and feeding Marshawn Lynch the rock to run out the clock. Will Russell Wilson be a good fantasy starter? Sure, but I’m taking guys like Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and even Tony Romo before I take him. Pass.
People swooned over the Ravens QB in the postseason, and why wouldn’t they? 11 touchdowns and no picks set him up for life. Doesn’t mean you want him to be your fantasy QB in 2013. He loses Anquan Boldin to San Francisco during the offseason, threw for only seven TD on the road last season and padded his stats against bad pass defenses such as the Patriots, Raiders and Giants. His division, the AFC North, is one of the most competitive in football and you can argue each team in the division improved on defense while the Ravens got worse on offense. All bad signs for the Super Bowl MVP, who cashed in after last season’s scintillating performance in the playoffs, but won’t help you cash in your fantasy league. Acceptable as a late round backup and nothing more.
New coach, same mediocre quarterback. The big armed gunslinger from Vanderbilt hasn’t thrown for more than 3300 yards in a single season since he left Denver after the 2008 season. He still only has one legitimate target in Brandon Marshall, but after adding Martellus Bennett and getting a healthy Alshon Jeffery back in his second season, expectations are high in the Windy City. Don’t be fooled by the hype, folks. The main reason I still don’t trust Jay Cutler is the offensive line. Since the days of John Tait and Olin Kreutz, the Bears have been searching for a competent group to keep their quarterback upright. Jay Cutler has been sacked 148 times in 56 games as a member of the Bears. New head coach Marc Trestman, who comes over from the CFL, has promised to speed up the routes and quicken the tempo to avoid long stays in the pocket and less exposure to big hits, whether for sacks or knockdowns. The Bears are in a rough division, with the Packers, Lions and Vikings all making improvements on defense in the offseason. Expect a down year for Jay Cutler, and don’t draft him with any real big expectations of being a fantasy starter let along a quality backup.
Well we touched on two “Matts” in the target category, and now here’s one to avoid at all costs. 22 TD last season, all passing, and a guy who threw for 300 yards just TWICE all of last season. That includes a 527 yard game against Jacksonville where they stormed back to win late in a game they had no business being down in. Factor in that Houston is one of the NFL’s most run heavy teams when it comes to the red zone and you have a bust waiting to happen in 2013 at the QB position. Arian Foster had over 71 percent of the touches inside the 10 last season, and in that conservative West Coast offense, he just isn’t suitable for an every week fantasy starter. Yes, they did add wideout DeAndre Hopkins in the draft from Clemson, and underrated tight end Owen Daniels returns from injury but they don’t go down the field enough for me even with Andre Johnson and he won’t be on my draft board come draft day.
Next week we’ll get to the running backs, where a guy ranked outside the consensus top 10 I have inside my top three for the 2013 season. Find out next week who that is as we dig into the targets and traps at the running back position.
Till next time,
- 2013 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings by Tier: The Elite (bleacherreport.com)
- The Tiers of Fantasy Football Quarterbacks (thesportscode.co.uk)
- Fantasy Football: Ranking Top Quarterbacks for 2013-14 Fantasy Season (bleacherreport.com)