The new league year is nearly upon us, which means it’s time to begin preparing for the 2014 fantasy football season. With free agency and the draft yet to come, it’s a bit early to analyze player rankings for the upcoming season with a ton of confidence. But the rise of popularity in dynasty leagues gives us plenty to talk about. Fantasy football has certainly become a year-round activity.
Before I get started on my 2014 dynasty rankings, I wanted to briefly reintroduce my philosophy.
Although we can learn a lot about a player’s abilities through analytics (my bread and butter), dynasty rankings have a strong subjective nature. The ever-important “How good is this player?” question is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s a long list of follow-up questions to be answered: “How much longer will this player be in the league?” “Does the current coaching scheme support long-term success?” “How much of a threat for playing time are the players ahead/behind him on the depth chart?” The list goes on and on.
Like anyone else creating dynasty rankings, I’m placing a significant amount of weight in the ‘player skill’ and ‘age/experience’ categories. The rankings aren’t necessarily based on a three-year or five-year window. Rather, I put myself in the shoes of a league owner. If I’m drafting a team today, how can I maximize both short and long-term success?
Without further ado, let’s kick this thing off with the quarterback position.
Passing is on the rise.
Offensive play-callers went with a pass 60.6 percent of the time in 2013. That’s up a massive amount from 59.8 percent in 2012 and from 57.5 percent in 2008. The progressive increase in passing has, in turn, led to an uptick in the value of quarterbacks in fantasy football. Right?
With more teams throwing the ball and young quarterbacks using their legs more than ever, there are fewer underwhelming options at the position. Even inferior talents at the position are able to put up big points. Add to that the recent surge of young talent into the position and we’re talking about the highest replacement-level we’ve ever seen.
If there ever was a year, this is the one to take advantage of the shift by moving your standout quarterback for a top player at another position, while taking a committee approach at the quarterback position.
Note: Each player age listed is as of September 1, 2014, which will be near Week 1 of the upcoming season. Standard scoring and 4 points per passing touchdown is assumed.
Deciding on the top dynasty quarterback was far from an easy task. You could make a strong case for each of the signal callers in our first tier.
It may seem hard to believe, but Aaron Rodgers turned 30 in December. Several years older than the other quarterbacks in our top tier, that certainly puts him at a disadvantage. Of course, with age comes experience and Rodgers has consistently played at a high level since 2008. Following back-to-back seasons with at least 41 total touchdowns, Rodgers missed seven games in 2013, but was still fantasy’s No. 6 quarterback on a per-game basis. With Eddie Lacy in town, Green Bay will rely on the run more going forward. That won’t stop Rodgers from producing at a high level for at least another half decade. He should be your top target at quarterback in dynasty leagues.
Cam Newton is only 24 and has been a Top 5 fantasy quarterback each of his first three NFL seasons. Although he does a ton of his damage with his legs, Newton has dealt with an underwhelming supporting cast on the offensive side of the ball. With Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn set for free agency and Steve Smith on the downside of his career, it’s a near certainty that overhauling the wide receiver position will be a primary offseason goal for Panthers management. This will only help improve Newton’s passing production in years to come.
Andrew Luck has youth and a massively-high ceiling on his side. Having recently turned 24, Luck is the youngest player in our top tier. Although he’s already proven worthy of the first overall pick in 2012, his play hasn’t translated into elite fantasy production. Luck totaled 28 total touchdowns as a rookie en route to finishing No. 8 in fantasy points at the position. This past season, he scored 27 times and was No. 7. That’s solid production, but not enough to make him a game-changer. That’s all that keeps him from the top spot.
He’s been around longer, but Stafford is only a year and a half older than Luck. Always near the league lead in pass attempts, Stafford has been a Top 5 fantasy quarterback twice over the past three seasons. Detroit overhauled its coaching staff this offseason, but there will be no shortage of passing with Joe Lombardi calling the plays. Add Calvin Johnson to the equation and you have a strong QB1 option on your hands.
Our next group includes the entire middle tier of QB1 options. We have some youth, a journeyman, and a pair of Hall of Famers. Who you select may depend on the status of your roster. Set up to win now? Peyton Manning is your man. In rebuild mode? Go with Nick Foles, Russell Wilson, or Robert Griffin III instead.
Yes, I’m drinking the Foles Kool-Aid. In fairness, though, I’ve been drinking it since his rookie season. The Eagles trailed only the Broncos in offensive touchdowns last season, and that was with Foles on the bench during a majority of the first half of the season. Consider that Foles’ 27 passing touchdowns on 317 attempts extrapolated over Manning’s 659 attempts from 2013 brings Foles to an NFL-record 56 scores. Manning threw 55 this past season. Now the Eagles clear-cut starter and with the offense around him only getting better, the 25-year-old Foles is primed for a breakout 2014 campaign.
The 25-year-old Wilson enters his third pro season with a Lombardi trophy and a pair of QB1 finishes on his resume. Wilson scored 30 times as a rookie and on 27 occasions in 2013. He averaged 95 carries during the two seasons, which allowed him Top-12 production despite Seattle’s extremely run-heavy attack. Wilson’s short-term ceiling remains limited by the team’s dominant defense, but he’s a strong bet for consistent QB1 production over the next decade.
If Manning were a few years younger, he’d clearly be No. 1 in our rankings. Operating out of what was arguably the most prolific offense in NFL history, Manning tossed an NFL-record 55 touchdowns and racked up 5,477 yards this past season. He put up nearly 60 more fantasy points than No. 2-ranked Drew Brees. The issues with Manning, of course, are his age (turns 38 in March) and the questionable health of his neck. Although regression is surely in the cards for 2014, Manning remains an elite producer at the position. Just be sure you have some youth and/or depth on your roster.
As mentioned, Brees was second to only Manning in fantasy points at the quarterback position last season. He’s now finished as a top-three fantasy quarterback each of the past eight seasons. That includes three first-place finishes. Like Manning, however, Brees is nearing the end of his exceptional career. Now 35, it’s fair to expect dips in durability and production in the coming years. Brees remains an elite short-term fantasy option, but his market value will continue to drop each season.
Following an exceptional rookie season that saw him rack up 27 touchdowns in 15 games, Robert Griffin III struggled to 16 scores in 13 appearances during his sophomore campaign. This may seem hard to believe, but the speedy Griffin has gone 14 consecutive games without a rushing touchdown, and has a total of one over his last 23 games. At 24 years old, however, Griffin is the youngest quarterback in our Top 20. The new-look Redskins coaching staff will build the offensive around the talented Griffin. He’s primed for a big bounce back in 2014 and makes for a solid QB1 going forward.
Although Matt Ryan threw a career-high 651 passes last season, he saw his passing production drop by 204 yards and four touchdowns from 2012. There were several reasons for the dramatic change in production. First of all, the Falcons struggled badly, running only 24 percent of their offensive plays with a lead, which was down from 40 percent in 2012 and sixth-worst in the NFL. This led to a ton of pass attempts. Second, at 7.0, the average depth of Ryan’s throws was second-lowest in the NFL to only Alex Smith. The third key factor was the loss of Julio Jones to a fractured foot after only five weeks, as well as, the injury struggles Roddy White faced for a majority of the season. Ryan still has several years of QB1 production left in the tank, but, at age 28, he’s the fourth-oldest quarterback in our Top 12.
In his first full season under center, Colin Kaepernick put up 3,718 total yards and 25 touchdowns en route to finishing as a fantasy’s No. 10 quarterback. Similar to division-rival Wilson, Kaepernick’s ceiling is limited by the team’s run-heavy philosophy, but he makes up some of the ground with his legs. Now 26 years old, he only figures to improve as a passer as he enters his prime.
Ryan Tannehill struggled under the spotlight this past season, but he was actually fairly efficient during Miami’s other games. He ended up with 25 total touchdowns and nearly eclipsed 4,000 passing yards. Only six points separated him from finishing as a top-12 fantasy quarterback. Still only 25 and set to enter 2014 with two full seasons under his belt, Tannehill is an underrated borderline QB1 option.
Only Manning and Brees threw more touchdowns and scored more fantasy points than Andy Dalton last season. Cincinnati’s signal-caller tossed 33 touchdowns and scored two more with his legs. His 4,296 passing yards put him seventh in the category. Of course, with Dalton, there’s plenty of bad to go with the good. His 20 interceptions were fifth-most in the league. He’s certainly been better for fantasy owners than he’s been for the Bengals, which puts his long-term job security in question. Dalton should be viewed as a QB1 in 2014, but he’s a shaky dynasty investment.
Following a disappointing 2012, Philip Rivers rebounded in a big way under new coach Mike McCoy this past season. Rivers tossed 32 touchdowns and came up 22 yards short of 4,500. He finished as fantasy’s No. 5 quarterback. Rivers’ age (32) and ceiling as that of a middle-of-the-pack QB1, however, make him better suited for your bench than your starting lineup.
Year 1 of the Marc Trestman era in Chicago was a success for the Bears offense. In the 10 games Jay Cutler played at least 80 percent of the snaps, he was fantasy’s No. 5 scorer at the quarterback position. He tossed 19 touchdowns and racked up just under 2,600 yards. Cutler did end up with 12 interceptions on the season, which leaves plenty to be desired in the ball security department. At age 30 and with an excellent supporting cast, Cutler is a fine QB2 option.
Tony Romo finished the 2013 season No. 10 among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game. Likely to continue throwing the ball a ton under new play-caller Scott Linehan, Romo remains a decent short-term QB1. His age (soon to be 34), however, puts a damper on his dynasty stock. Don’t count on him as anything more than a holdover to a young quarterback.
With the offense around him annihilated by injuries, free agency, and murder, Tom Brady failed to finish as a top-7 fantasy quarterback for the first time since 2004 (excluding 2008). Brady managed 25 total touchdowns – his lowest total since 2006 and a drop from 38 in 2012. The New England offense improved as the 2013 season progressed, but at 37 years old, there’s not a lot to get excited about from a dynasty standpoint.
He’s often overlooked, but Ben Roethlisberger continues to quietly put up nice fantasy numbers when he’s on the field. Finally healthy for a full slate of 16 games, “Big Ben” finished as fantasy’s No. 8 quarterback this past season. His 28 passing touchdowns were the most he’s recorded since 2007. Roethlisberger missed three games in 2012, but finished No. 11 in fantasy points per game. He just turned 32, but Roethlisberger continues to produce at a QB1 level. He’s a quality, under-the-radar target as your primary backup.