A ranking of the 20 best quarterbacks you should be targeting in your fantasy football draft.
20. Eli Manning
The numbers continue to dwindle for Manning. Despite a great game in Week 1 against the Cowboys (450 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs), Manning got off to a horrible start. Manning finished the year with a career-high 27 interceptions, but it was the 15 in the first six games that really hurt him. Manning only threw for at least 300 yards three times in 2013 in his 3,818-yard season, his lowest total since 2008. One big thing working in Manning’s favor is his durability — he’s played in 153 consecutive games — but that will come into question this year as the 33-year-old recovers from ankle surgery.
19. Joe Flacco
Flacco threw a career-high 614 passes, which led to a big increase in interceptions at 22 (his previous high was 12). His streak of five straight seasons with at least 3,500 yards and 20 touchdowns came to an end as he only threw 19 TDs in 2013. Flacco can put together a decent overall fantasy season, but he isn’t a big-game QB — he only had three games with at least 300 yards, but he did manage to have multiple TDs in each of those games.
18. Carson Palmer
Palmer has always struggled with turnovers, averaging more than one interception per game in his 10 seasons. But with two straight 4,000-yard, 20-TD seasons, the picks are slightly more forgiving. Palmer is by no means a No. 1 fantasy QB, but in a pinch there are worse fill-ins to choose from.
17. Andy Dalton
In three NFL seasons, Dalton has brought up his numbers each year, throwing for career-highs of 4,293 yards and 33 TDs, both among the top 10 in the league, last season. Of course, his 20 interceptions also were a career high as his pass attempts went up from 528 to 586. With a top target in A.J. Green, Dalton can sneak his way into the top 10 among fantasy QBs by season’s end if he’s able to reduce the interceptions.
16. Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger doesn’t quite fall into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks anymore, but at 32 he’s still a serviceable fantasy player, especially in 2-QB formats and as a later-round pick. Big Ben was one of nine QBs to throw for more than 4,000 yards (4,261) last season, his most since 2009. Antonio Brown is quickly becoming one of the top receivers in the league, and Pittsburgh had one of the worst rushing offenses in the league last year (despite a great season from Le’Veon Bell), meaning Roethlisberger will likely continue to throw at a high rate.
15. Philip Rivers
San Diego Chargers
In one of the biggest surprises of the 2013 season, Rivers came out looking like the player he was when he led the Chargers to four straight playoff appearances. The 32-year-old threw for 4,478 yards and 32 TDs last season. After a brutal 2012 in which he threw 15 interceptions and fumbled a league-high 15 times, Rivers kept better care of the ball, throwing just 11 picks (his fewest since 2009) and fumbling just three times.
14. Jay Cutler
Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall can make any QB look like a stud, but don’t underestimate Cutler’s ability. Cutler missed five games with a sprained left ankle and still threw for 2,621 yards and 19 touchdowns. His 12 interceptions, including six in his last five games, are troublesome, but in a full 16-game season, Cutler can surpass 4,000 yards.
13. Tony Romo
Can Romo stay healthy? It’s the biggest question fantasy owners (and the Cowboys!) will face this season and possibly the rest of Romo’s career. Romo underwent surgery during the offseason to address a herniated disk in his lower back, but it looks like he will start the year with the team. The Cowboys have made great strides in attempting to protect Romo, adding yet another offensive lineman in Zack Martin in the first round of the draft. If Romo can stay healthy, he can be among the best fantasy options out there. Romo threw for 3,828 yards, 31 TDs and 10 interceptions in 15 games last season and has a couple of the best players at their positions in the league in Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.
12. Colin Kaepernick
San Francisco 49ers
In his first full season as the starter, Kaepernick didn’t disappoint. He threw for 3,197 yards, 21 TDs and eight interceptions. Kaepernick also rushed for 524 yards and four TDs and decreased his fumbles from seven to three. The 49ers re-signed Anquan Boldin to a two-year deal and added Brandon Lloyd and Stevie Johnson, all of whom have the potential to have a 1,000-yard season.
11. Nick Foles
Foles won the starting job from Michael Vick with 296 passing yards and three TDs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6. In 13 games, two of which he only had a few attempts, Foles threw for 2,891 yards and 27 TDs with just two interceptions. The Eagles added wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff with their second- and third-round draft picks, which should help bolster the offense after the losing DeSean Jackson.
10. Robert Griffin III
There were questions about what RGIII would be after his ACL tear at the end of the 2012 season. Griffin was forced to adapt to being more of a pocket passer because of the injury. In two fewer games in 2013, Griffin threw for three more passing yards (3,203), but his interception total increased significantly from five to 12. The biggest drop-off was in the run game. Griffin rushed for 815 yards and seven TDs in 2012, compared with just 489 yards and zero TDs in 2013. With a big arm, there’s no doubt Griffin can be a more true-to-form NFL QB, but it will be tough for the youngster to change his game and manage to stay on the field.
9. Matt Ryan
Ryan has thrown for more than 4,000 yards each of the past three seasons. Despite losing one of his favorite targets in 14-time Pro Bowler Tony Gonzalez, Ryan shouldn’t have any trouble putting up big-time numbers. Ryan has arguably the best one-two punch in football with Roddy White and Julio Jones, but it was Harry Douglas who was the Falcons’ lone 1,000-yard receiver in 2013. With a surprisingly lousy run game last season, Ryan put up a career-high 651 passing attempts, the second most behind only Peyton Manning. That led to a career-high 17 picks, but his completion percentage was a solid 67.4. If Ryan can get his interception total down slightly, he can be one of the best QBs in the league.
8. Russell Wilson
In a tough draft class among Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Wilson flew under the radar in his 2012 rookie season, but now the 25-year-old already has a Super Bowl ring. It seems like Wilson has nowhere to go but up. He was in the middle of the pack with 3,357 passing yards last season, but his 26 touchdowns were ninth in the league. Wilson has also proven he can move outside the pocket, rushing for 539 yards and a TD in 2013. With Percy Harvin healthy after playing just one game last season, Wilson shouldn’t have to worry about losing top receiver Golden Tate.
7. Tom Brady
New England Patriots
For the first time since 2009, Brady threw fewer than 34 touchdowns in 2013. Yet Brady, who turns 37 in August, threw for more than 4,000 yards for the sixth time in his career last season, and that was after losing Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez and dealing with injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. As usual, Brady made something out of nothing by turning Julian Edelman into a 1,000-yard receiver.
6. Andrew Luck
At age 24, Luck already has 8,196 yards and 46 touchdowns. Luck cut his interceptions in half last year, dropping from 18 to nine. Luck isn’t a quite the big-time rushing QB Cam Newton is, but he does give fantasy owners a nice boost on the ground. Last season, he rushed for 377 yards and four touchdowns. T.Y. Hilton emerged as a top option for Luck with 1,083 yards and five touchdowns, filling the void left behind after Reggie Wayne’s season-ending injury. Wayne, who tore his ACL last year, is expected to be ready in time for the start of the season.
5. Cam Newton
Since his breakout rookie season, many of Newton’s numbers have dropped off, but the 25-year-old has way too much upside to give up on him. After two 700-plus rushing yard seasons and a combined 22 rushing TDs in his first two seasons, Newton had just 585 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns in 2013. In the passing game, Newton threw for a career-low 3,379 yards but a career-high 24 TDs. Newton also improved his completion percentage from 57.7 percent to 61.7 percent. The downside in drafting Newton is he lost three of his top four targets in Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn. Panthers first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin out of Florida State and free-agent signing Jason Avant will look to fill those holes.
4. Matthew Stafford
Stafford continues to be a force for the Lions after battling injuries in his first two seasons. He totaled 13 games in 2009 and 2010, but hasn’t missed a game the past three seasons. Stafford threw for more than 4,000 yards for a third consecutive season in 2013 and had 29 TDs. With the NFL’s best receiver in Calvin Johnson and the addition of Super Bowl winner Golden Tate, Stafford shouldn’t slow down. The only concern with Stafford is his high interception number, which in part comes from his high number of pass attempts (19 picks, 634 attempts).
3. Drew Brees
New Orleans Saints
For the third straight season, Brees eclipsed 5,000 passing yards, and if it wasn’t for Manning, Brees could have been in contention for the MVP. He posted 5,162 passing yards, 39 TDs and threw just 12 interceptions, his fewest since 2009 when he threw 11 picks. With a seemingly improved accuracy and a happy re-signed Jimmy Graham, the 35-year-old QB will continue to be a top-tier option.
2. Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers
Rodgers missed nearly half of last season after breaking the collarbone in his non-throwing shoulder in a November game against the Bears. Averaging 282 passing yards per game, Rodgers was on pace for his third straight 4,000-plus yard season. Assuming Rodgers is healthy, he should have no trouble returning to form.
1. Peyton Manning
It’s Peyton’s world, and we’re just living in it. Manning, 38, put up the best numbers of his career in 2013 by breaking the NFL records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55) in a season. Despite losing Eric Decker, Manning still has two of the top receivers in the league in Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker along with budding tight end Julius Thomas.