Fantasy footballers crave upside. We reach like heck for it on draft day. We make in-season trades based strictly on upside. After a hot start, we look forward ten weeks to acquire players we're sure have "easy fantasy playoff schedules," or the most late-season
upside. The entire construction of our team is based on upside.
The Upside Index rankings are not rooted in reasonably-projected statistics. First and foremost, they are based on talent. To rank high, a player must not only be supremely talented, he must be surrounded
by elite talent. Also factored in are dynamics like opportunity (e.g. the likelihood of a high or low pass attempts total for quarterbacks) and situation (a running back's competition for carries). The rankings are influenced by coaching staff tendencies, age, and injury situations.
So let's be clear: These are not
Rotoworld's 2010 Fantasy Football Rankings. Those can be found here
. The Upside Index gauges a player's statistical ceiling.
This week, we talk quarterbacks and running backs. Next week, receivers and tight ends.Quarterbacks1. Drew Brees
- Combine Brees' league-best accuracy with Sean Payton's pass-crazed aggressiveness and you have a lethal fantasy QB. A top-two fantasy passer in three of the past four years, Brees will benefit from the continued development of future No. 1 receiver Robert Meachem
, return of slot machine Lance Moore
, and star-in-the-making tight end Jimmy Graham
.2. Aaron Rodgers
- Rodgers doesn't throw as often as Brees (33.6 attempts per game to Brees' 37.0 since '08) and doesn't complete as high a percentage of passes. He also doesn't average as many yards per throw. But Rodgers very nearly makes up for it with prolific rushing stats for a quarterback. The emergence of stud tight end Jermichael Finley
definitely won't hurt.3. Tony Romo
- Romo's top wideout (Miles Austin
) enters his first full season as a starter, his All-Pro tight end (Jason Witten
) returns from a year he started uncharacteristically slow, and No. 1 receiver of the future (Dez Bryant
) was added in the draft. Possessing the quickest release in football, Romo is primed to again push for the No. 2 overall QB ranking he garnered in 2007.4. Peyton Manning
- Manning has finished worse than the No. 4 fantasy QB just twice since his 1998 rookie year. He doesn't make the top three here because the Colts will likely pass less (odds are they won't rank dead last in rushing again) and Manning's top two pass catchers are 31 or older. They also lack true difference makers behind Reggie Wayne
and Dallas Clark
.5. Jay Cutler
- Cutler's 26-interception 2009 season really stands out as fluky. He was hardly pick-prone even at Vanderbilt, never throwing more than 13 in a season as a four-year starter. With Mike Martz in Chicago, Cutler is a threat to repeat his 616 attempts from 2008, when he finished as the No. 5 fantasy quarterback. He's going to make a star out of Johnny Knox
.6. Tom Brady
- Fewer spread sets
are anticipated in New England this year, Randy Moss
is 33, and Wes Welker
is returning from offseason reconstructions of his knee and shoulder. But let's not forget that Brady faced perhaps the toughest passing schedule in the league last season while coming off a torn ACL that affected his timing. He still ranked eighth among quarterbacks.7. Matt Schaub
- Like the Colts', the Texans' running game is bound to be better, limiting the upside of their quarterback. Indy and Houston ranked 1-2 in the AFC in pass attempts last season, and 30th and 32nd in NFL rushing. These things tend to balance out, especially with talent added to the ground attack. Owen Daniels
' health is also a concern. Schaub stays in the top seven because he's got the best receiver in football (Andre Johnson
) on his side.8. Kevin Kolb
- Has a first-year starter ever been better set up for success? Kolb lacks dominant talent, but the Eagles will continue to throw like crazy. They haven't ranked outside the top ten in pass attempts since '03, lack between-the-tackles runners, and own a loaded pass-catching corps. Kolb is a boom-or-bust pick, but his "boom" has the potential to be thunderous.