X’s 2016 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings (8/14/16):
1. Cam Newton, CAR (last year’s preseason position rank: 10)
The reigning MVP of the league was nothing short of brilliant last year. He set a career high in TD passes with 35 (11 more than his previous career high) while throwing a career-low 10 INTs. With the impending return of his #1 target from 2014 Kelvin Benjamin, Newton could have another big passing season in store. What separates Newton from the pack continues to be his legs. He led the Panthers in rushing TDs for the fifth straight year, and since 2011 has more rushing TDs (43) than LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, and Matt Forte.
2. Aaron Rodgers, GB (last year’s preseason position rank: 2)
Needless to say, Jordy Nelson was sorely missed by Rodgers last year. Despite attempting a career high 572 passes, Rodgers had his lowest passing total of any season in which he started at least 15 games (3,821 yards). Last year, Rodgers averaged 238.8 passing yards per game and 6.7 yards per attempt. Over the previous two seasons, those averages were 276.7 yards per game and 8.5 yards per attempt. Nelson’s return should enable Rodgers to regain the level of production we grew accustomed to seeing before last year’s relatively modest numbers.
3. Drew Brees, NO (last year’s preseason position rank: 7)
Sean Payton’s words and the Saints’ 2015 offseason moves all indicated a slight change in philosophy – not being quite as reliant on the passing game as they had been in previous years. The result – Brees attempted over 620 passes for the eighth time in nine years, and led the league in passing yards for the fourth time in the last five seasons. He still finished tied for 7th in TD passes (32) despite throwing his fewest TDs since 2007 – a sign of how high his floor is. Increased athleticism to his weapons (Coby Fleener, Michael Thomas) gives Brees’ value a slight boost.
4. Russell Wilson, SEA (last year’s preseason position rank: 4)
For the first nine games of 2015, Wilson was ordinary at best. He threw 10 TDs and 7 INTs over that span, with only one game in which he threw multiple TDs. He also failed to hit 240 passing yards five times during that stretch. However, he was the best quarterback on the planet over the last seven weeks of the season – tossing 24 TDs and just 1 INT. He finished the year with 3+ TD passes in six out of seven games, and topping the 240 passing yard mark in all but one game. While that pace is unsustainable, it demonstrates just how high Wilson’s ceiling is. He could have an expanded role in the offense due to Marshawn Lynch’s retirement.
5. Tom Brady, NE (last year’s preseason position rank: 6)
I was on the record last year saying I did not believe Brady would be suspended in 2015, and I was proven right. It looks like the 4-game suspension will stand this time around, putting a small dent in Brady’s fantasy draft day value. Even with a 12-game season ahead, Brady remains a top fantasy option at QB based on his level of production. His 402 completions last year were a career high, while his 36 TD passes were the most in the league. Pairing Rob Gronkowski with Martellus Bennett can only mean good things for a quarterback who thrived in the past when he’s had two strong receiving option at tight end.
6. Andrew Luck, IND (last year’s preseason position rank: 1)
Between a dip in production and injuries, last season was a disappointing one for Luck. He missed nine games (shoulder, ribs, kidney) after never missing a game in his first three years. When on the field, he put up career lows of 6.4 yards per attempt and a 1.25 TD:INT ratio. However, fantasy football is largely about workload, and Luck should have a hefty one. Luck would have been on pace to attempt 670 passes over 16 games, which would have led the league. Now fully healthy (and of course fully paid), Luck should be able to do far more than he did last year with his ample opportunities to put up stats.
7. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (last year’s preseason position rank: 3)
Roethlisberger led the league with 328.2 passing yards per game in 2015. He has averaged over 300 yards per game in each of the last two seasons after never averaging 290 yards per game in any of his first ten seasons. Over his last 21 games, Roethlisberger has thrown for at least 340 yards 13 times. Losing Martavis Bryant (and his 14 TD catches in 21 career games) for the season (suspension) doesn’t help, but the Steelers should still be strong on offense. Roethlisberger led the league with 8 2-point conversions last year. He could receive a bump in value if Mike Tomlin continues to go for two more than everyone else.
8. Carson Palmer, ARI (last year’s preseason position rank: 14)
Health has been the main caveat for Palmer, and last year we witnessed what a healthy Palmer is capable of. Playing in all 16 games for just the second time in five seasons, he established career highs in passing yards (4,671), 300+ yard passing games (9), and TD passes (35). His career best 8.7 yards per pass attempt easily led the league, a reflection of how Palmer has been a perfect fit in Bruce Arians’ vertical-based passing offense. Palmer was the only QB last year to throw for over 4,400 yards while attempting fewer than 600 passes, an illustration of just how efficient he was.
9. Eli Manning, NYG (last year’s preseason position rank: 8)
For the first time in his career, Manning has thrown at least 30 TD passes in consecutive seasons. He joins Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees as the only four quarterbacks with 30+ TD tosses in each of the last two seasons, so he is keeping elite company in that regard. Manning has seen his pass attempts increase in each of the last three seasons, and there is no reason to believe the Giants won’t continue to lean on their passing game. If Sterling Shepard lives up to the offseason hype, Manning will have the luxury of throwing to an extremely dynamic wide receiver duo.
10. Philip Rivers, SD (last year’s preseason position rank: 15)
In eight games with Keenan Allen last year, Rivers averaged 344.3 passing yards per game, completed 69.9% of his passes, averaged 7.9 yards per pass, and threw 18 TDs. In eight games without Allen, those numbers declined sharply to 254.9 passing yards per game, 62.0% completions, 6.5 yards per attempt, and 11 TDs. Rivers’ production with Allen in the lineup suggests that he still has high-end fantasy value when his primary weapon is available. The Chargers’ run game and defense remain questionable, which could mean more heavy workloads for Rivers after attempting a league-leading 661 passes a season ago.
11. Jameis Winston, TB (last year’s preseason position rank: 21)
It was an uneven rookie season for Winston, but there were encouraging signs of progress. Winston posted a 6:7 TD:INT ratio in his first four games, but proceeded to throw 16 TDs and 8 INTs over his final twelve games. He threw for at least 295 yards in each of his final three games after hitting that mark only once in his first thirteen games. His 6 rushing TDs ranked 2nd among QBs, and it will be a boost to his fantasy value if he remains a running threat in the red zone. His conditioning is reportedly much improved, and his coaches have said they’ll put more on his plate. The arrow is pointing up for Winston (especially if Mike Evans stops dropping passes).
12. Tony Romo, DAL (last year’s preseason position rank: 9)
The 2015 season was a nightmare for Romo, who threw almost as many INTs in four games (7) as he did in fifteen games two years ago (9). A newly-reinforced left collarbone and the return of a healthy Dez Bryant are reasons to be optimistic for a bounce back season. Two years ago, Romo became the first QB since 2007 to throw over 30 TD passes while having fewer than 450 pass attempts. So while the Cowboys will look to throw less and focus on the run game (similar to their 2014 offensive approach), a lighter workload could prove to be beneficial to Romo’s production (and durability).
13. Andy Dalton, CIN (last year’s preseason position rank: 23)
Prior to breaking his thumb in Week 14, Dalton was having a career year last season. He established career highs in yards per attempt (8.4) and completion percentage (66.1%), while throwing fewer than 1 INT per game for the first time since his rookie season in 2011. His five games with 3 TD passes was only one fewer than Tom Brady had in a full 16 games. The concern for Dalton is that he failed to reach 250 passing yards in all but one game after Week 5. Tyler Eifert (who caught 48% of Dalton’s TD passes last year) coming off of offseason ankle surgery and Brandon LaFell replacing Marvin Jones are factors that work against Dalton’s fantasy stock.
14. Tyrod Taylor, BUF (last year’s preseason position rank: 29)
Taylor was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2015 season, for both fantasy and reality purposes. His sterling 20:6 TD:INT ratio only got better as the season went on (12 TDs, 2 INTs over his last ten games). His fantasy value got a huge boost with him rushing for 40+ yards in nine of his fourteen starts. Limited opportunities to throw the ball could cap Taylor’s fantasy ceiling. Among QBs who made at least six appearances last year, Taylor ranked 33rd in pass attempts per game (27.1). His size and style of play create mild durability concerns. He missed two starts with a sprained MCL and was forced to battle through a shoulder injury during last season.
15. Derek Carr, OAK (last year’s preseason position rank: 22)
Carr showed some signs of progression in his second NFL season, and had stretches where he got hot. He threw for over 300 yards in four of five November games, and opened that month with consecutive 4 TD games. He made modest improvements in his completion percentage and yards per attempt, though he finished outside the top 20 in both of those categories. Carr did have a disappointing finish to the 2015 campaign, averaging just 218.4 passing yards over his last five games. If second-year players Amari Cooper and Clive Walford take their anticipated steps forward, Carr will greatly benefit.
16. Matthew Stafford, DET (last year’s preseason position rank: 13)
Sparked by a change in offensive coordinator to Jim Bob Cooter and a great home matchup against a porous Eagles defense, Stafford wrapped up the 2015 season with six straight games with multiple TD passes. Over that stretch, Stafford completed 72.3% of his passes and complied a 17:1 TD:INT ratio. Based on a strong finish, there is reason to believe Stafford could finally be putting it all together. Obviously the loss of a premium weapon like Calvin Johnson puts a damper on Stafford’s fantasy outlook. The acquisitions of Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin, and development of Eric Ebron should mitigate the loss of Megatron, but they won’t totally make up for it.
17. Kirk Cousins, WAS (last year’s preseason position rank: 26)
Cousins proved he can exploit favorable matchups at a high level last year. He had three games with over 300 passing yards and 4 passing TDs. Those games came against the Eagles (30th ranked defense), Saints (31st ranked defense), and Bills (who were without Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams in the secondary). Cousins threw for under 220 yards seven times last year (not counting the Week 17 game he was pulled from early), so questions about his consistency still linger. Despite not being a big running threat, Cousins had more rushing TDs (5) than the rest of his team combined (4). With no proven commodities in the backfield, he could receive more goal-to-go running opportunities.
18. Blake Bortles, JAX (last year’s preseason position rank: 30)
Bortles finished the 2015 season tied for 2nd in passing TDs, and was one of four QBs to have over 4,700 combined passing and rushing yards (joining Brees, Brady, and Rivers). Those were the positives. His league-worst 18 INTs and 23 total turnovers, along with his 58.6% completion percentage illustrate the flaws in his game that still remain. The Jaguars 31st ranked scoring defense and 27th ranked rushing offense contributed to Bortles having to do more than his coaches would have preferred. The addition of Chris Ivory in the backfield and a made over defense should lead to a lighter workload for Bortles, reducing his fantasy value.
19. Matt Ryan, ATL (last year’s preseason position rank: 12)
Ryan is one of two QBs to throw over 600 passes in each of the last three seasons. Yet he is not among the sixteen QBs with at least one season of 30+ TD passes in that span. The opportunities have been there for Ryan, but the results haven’t. Even with a heavy workload, a premium weapon in the passing game (Julio Jones), and a well-respected offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan), Ryan somehow managed the second lowest TD total of his eight-year career (21), and second highest INT total (16). Ryan has been underwhelming at times in his career, but one would think there are too many favorable factors surrounding him to not improve from last year.
20. Ryan Tannehill, MIA (last year’s preseason position rank: 11)
Despite setting career highs in passing yards (4,210), yards per attempt (7.2), and 300-yard games (6), last season was a disappointment for Tannehill. He started the season by throwing 9 INTs in his first seven games, and finished the season with a mere 4 TD passes over his last five games. The Dolphins have brought in a renowned offensive coach in Adam Gase. The explosive DeVante Parker is finally healthy, and rookie Leonte Carroo has been added to the mix. Arian Foster is an excellent receiving RB when healthy. The pieces are in place – it’s time for Tannehill to start delivering on a consistent basis.
21. Marcus Mariota, TEN (last year’s preseason position rank: 24)
The overriding theme of the Titans’ offensive approach to the 2016 season has been condensed to one hashtag – #ExoticSmashmouth. While the term is catchy (for better or worse), it doesn’t bode well for Mariota’s fantasy value. Trading for high-priced DeMarco Murray and drafting Derrick Henry suggest Tennessee is committed to leaning on the run, and not Mariota’s arm. The hope is that this ground-based attack means more runs for Mariota himself. He is too gifted a runner to have fewer rushing attempts per game than guys like Andy Dalton and Ryan Fitzpatrick like he had last year.
22. Ryan Fitzpatrick, NYJ (last year’s preseason position rank: 27)
It was not a very efficient season for Fitzpatrick last year, as indicated by his subpar 59.6% completion percentage and 6.9 yards per pass attempt (ranked outside of top 25 QBs in both categories). However, he was solid for fantasy purposes due to his stud WR duo. 80.6% of Fitzpatrick’s TD passes (25 out of 31) went to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. As long as he gets to throw to them, Fitzpatrick will carry some fantasy value. Adding another pass catcher to the backfield in Matt Forte and the impending return of Jace Amaro should help the Jets’ passing game a bit.
23. Joe Flacco, BAL (last year’s preseason position rank: 20)
Before he went down after a Week 11 ACL tear, Flacco was on pace to attempt 661 passes – which would have tied Philip Rivers for the NFL lead. Even with backup QBs finishing out the last six games of the season, the Ravens still led the league in passing attempts. The opportunities should be there for Flacco, but the pass-catching personnel is questionable. Concerns about the health of Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman, and the effectiveness of Mike Wallace dampen Flacco’s fantasy outlook. Flacco’s 46 INTs over his last 42 games is a problem as well.
24. Alex Smith, KC (last year’s preseason position rank: 25)
Smith threw for a career-high 3,486 yards in 2015, which ranked 20th in the league. This is a clear illustration of just how low Smith’s ceiling is for passing stats. He threw for under 200 yards eight times last year, including in each of his final five games. Smith’s ability to pick up yardage by running is the saving grace to his fantasy value. His 498 rushing yards were also a career high, and 4th among QBs. He had at least 5 rushing attempts in eight of his last nine games, rushing for over 30 yards on seven occasions during that stretch. If Smith keeps running, he’ll carry a bit of sneaky fantasy value.
25. Brock Osweiler, HOU (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)
While the Texans are known as a run-oriented team, they did tie for the 9th most passing attempts in the league last season. Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett attempted 35 or more passes in seven of their fourteen combined starts. Considering the almost franchise-level deal Houston signed Osweiler to, they’ll likely to be inclined to give him more opportunities than they gave to those backup-caliber QBs. Osweiler threw for 250+ yards in five of his seven starts with the Broncos. It’s a small sample size, but perhaps an indication that he may have a decent floor even if his ceiling is relatively low.
26. Jay Cutler, CHI (last year’s preseason position rank: 19)
The Bears dealt with all sorts of injuries at the offensive skill positions last year, which undoubtedly contributed to Cutler’s mediocre fantasy output. His decreased workload over the latter portion of the season didn’t help either. Through Week 9, Cutler attempted at least 33 passes in every game – with four games with 40+ attempts.But from Week 10 on, he only threw 33+ times in a game once. This was part of the reason Cutler threw a modest 8 TDs over his last seven games. Limited opportunities and significant durability concerns with all of his pass catchers make Cutler a shaky fantasy option.
27. Teddy Bridgewater, MIN (last year’s preseason position rank: 16)
In 29 career games, Bridgewater has only thrown 28 career TD passes. In an era of inflated passing stats, throwing just under 1 TD per game makes him a useless fantasy commodity in all but the deepest of leagues. Fantasy football is largely about opportunities, and Bridgewater simply doesn’t get enough of them. Despite starting all sixteen games, Bridgewater attempted a mere 447 passes. That’s fewer attempts than Ben Roethlisberger had in 12 starts, and only 34 more attempts than Joe Flacco had in 10 starts. Unless your league gives points for handoffs, Bridgewater won’t do much for you.
28. Sam Bradford, PHI (last year’s preseason position rank: 17)
To Bradford’s credit, he stayed on the field more than most people thought he would and wound up throwing for a career-best 3,725 yards. There was no easing him back into the mix, as Bradford attempted 52 passes in his first game in a year and a half. He ended up ranking 9th among QBs with at least three starts in passes per game. However, he goes from having the aggressive Chip Kelly running the offense to the much more conservative Doug Pederson. While Pederson will certainly look to reduce Bradford’s workload from last year, the Eagles’ porous defense is likely to force Pederson to air it out a bit more than he would like.
29. Robert Griffin III, CLE (last year’s preseason position rank: 35)
There is a ton of uncertainty surrounding Griffin, which makes him a volatile fantasy asset at best. As everyone is aware, Griffin was benched/deactivated for the entire 2015 season, and has only appeared seven games since September 15, 2014. Griffin has turned the ball over 26 times in his last 22 games, a trend that needs to end if he has any shot at redemption this year. The Browns’ offensive line is replacing two very good players (Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz) with unproven commodities. Even Josh Gordon is a major question mark, assuming he makes it back to the field and stays on it. There is upside here, but it feels like too many concerning factors are in play to expect reliable results.
30. Blaine Gabbert, SF (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)
Shockingly, Gabbert showed signs of life last year after being completely irrelevant for the previous couple of seasons. He threw for 354 yards in his last game against the Rams, and 318 earlier in the season against a good Cardinals defense. Those were the two highest yardage games of Gabbert’s career. He also ran for 75 yards in another game after never for running for more than 98 yards in a season before. Gabbert appeared to gain a lot more confidence last year than he ever had in Jacksonville. His role on the team might end up being a week-to-week proposition, but for the first time it looks like there might be a little something here.
31. Jared Goff, LA (last year’s preseason position rank: N/A – rookie)
Rams QBs attempted 30 passes or less in ten of sixteen games last year, and finished last in the NFL in total completions. While Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin had occasional outbursts as receiving threats, this remains a low-volume passing offense lacking a true go-to target. Without premier weapons, and being inserted into an offense that projects to be heavily run-oriented, Goff’s fantasy value is minimal. Though some “rookie coachspeak” could be in play, the fact that Goff hasn’t been able to clearly separate himself from a replacement level QB like Case Keenum clearly indicates expectations should be low in year one.
32. Mark Sanchez, DEN (last year’s preseason position rank: 33)
Whoever wins the starting job in Denver will have the chance to throw to a prolific pair of receivers. Even with a down year at the quarterback position for the Broncos, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were able to combine for over 2,400 yards. However, as we saw last year, Gary Kubiak will not hesitate to bench a QB who is turning the ball over. Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler were both benched after games with 3+ turnovers. Sanchez has been turnover prone in his career (71 turnovers in his last 44 games), and will have a short leash if he doesn’t cut those mistakes down.
33. Jimmy Garoppolo, NE (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)
It is rare that you have a situation where you know the backup QB will receive playing time going into a season. But thanks to the Tom Brady 4-game suspension, this is the case for Garoppolo. The Patriots are always opponent-specific with their game plans, and will likely put the ball in Garoppolo’s hands if they think an opposing defense is vulnerable through the air. Garoppolo faces a tough week 1 challenge (at Arizona), but then will get three consecutive home games which may help him settle into his short term assignment.
34. Case Keenum, LA (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)
In five starts last year, Keenum averaged 25 pass attempts per game and threw for under 140 yards three times. It appears that Keenum may serve as a bit of a bridge QB for rookie Jared Goff, but for as long as he is the starting QB for the Rams he’ll have a very limited ceiling. If nothing else, Keenum did a nice job of protecting the football (1 INT in 125 pass attempts) so that may buy him a bit of time. Ultimately it would be surprising if Keenum made more starts than Goff this year.
35. Josh McCown, CLE (last year’s preseason position rank: 32)
For the second time in three seasons, McCown was able to string together a series of three straight games with 340+ yards passing. He has proven he can be successful as a starter in short spurts. Given that he is playing a QB in Robert Griffin III who has had issues with durability and consistency, and is coming off of a year of virtual inactivity, it is feasible that McCown gets another one of those “short-stint” opportunities this year. There is an outside chance McCown gets traded if another team loses their starter, adding a bit of intrigue.
36. Colin Kaepernick, SF (last year’s preseason position rank: 18)
Coming off of offseason surgeries on his left shoulder, left knee, and right thumb, Kaepernick has a lot of work to do to rebuild his value. Even if he is not the Week 1 starter, he could get a look from Chip Kelly at some point if the 49ers aren’t competitive with Blaine Gabbert under center.
37. Trevor Siemian, DEN (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)
Not too long ago it would have seemed far-fetched, but it is feasible that Trevor Siemian could see meaningful playing time. While he carries a low ceiling, Siemian could be seen as a stabilizer at QB if Mark Sanchez plays erratically and rookie Paxton Lynch isn’t deemed ready.
38. Chase Daniel, PHI (last year’s preseason position rank: unranked)
Sam Bradford stayed relatively healthy last year, but still has not played in all sixteen games since 2012. Odds are good that an Eagles backup QB makes at least one start this year, and Daniel’s familiarity with Doug Pederson’s offense would make the transition smoother if a reserve is needed.