The decade of the pass continues. Quarterbacks and receivers are going more at the top of drafts than ever before. This is due, in part to more teams throwing more passes, and partly to the lack of workhorse running backs around. This year there are three quarterbacks that stand head and shoulders above the rest. But if you dont get one of them, fear not, there are valuable throwers available much later.

Tier 1

Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning- People will argue the order these three should be in until the season ends, but each has unique strengths that put them in this group, and I wouldn’t fault someone for taking any of them first, second, or third, however I do think they should be the first three passers off the board on draft day.

Peyton is old faithful. He has NEVER had less than 3,700 yards and 26 TDs. Since 1998, he has only been under 4,000 yards ONCE. He has started every game since he was drafted #1 overall in 1998.

Drew Brees is the hot hand of late. He is coming off a championship, has weapons everywhere he looks, and a pass-heavy (understatement) offense. Last year he completed over 70% of his passes. He has had 34 TDs in back-to-back seasons, and a 91.9 career passer rating.

Aaron Rodgers is the new guy, of sorts. He has two years as the starter of the Packers, and in those years he had passer ratings of 93.8 and 103.2. He eclipsed 4,000 yards in each of those years, and carried a 64% completion rating. The uniqueness of Rodgers is in his legs. In his two years as a starter, he has 114 carries for 523 yards and nine touchdowns.

If I’m going to spend an early (probably first round) pick on a QB, I’m taking Manning because I look for safety early. If you take guys early who you know will perform, it allows you to take more risks later. I would take Rodgers second because, at 26, he still has room for improvement and an elite receiver in Jennings to play with. That being said, any of these three will give you a decided edge in any size league.

Tier 2

Tony Romo, Tom Brady- Yes, I like Romo more than Brady this year. The Patriots offensive line is heavily handicapped with the loss of Logan Mankins and with Moss aging, and Welker’s health unsure, its hard to imagine Brady being much better than he was last year. That being said, 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns is nothing to sneeze at. There is just some concern here.

Meanwhile, Romo is going the other way. He had 4,483, and while he only threw 26 TDs, he also only threw 9 interceptions to Brady’s 13. Romo’s arsenal is also superior to Brady. Miles Austin broke out last year as an elite WR, he has a top tight end in Jason Witten, and an exciting rookie with Dez Bryant. It wouldn’t be crazy to see Romo top 4,500 yards and throw 35 or more touchdowns.

Tier 3

Phillip Rivers, Matt Schaub, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler

These are all quarterbacks who have elite talent, but some serious question marks. Rivers will be without his top receiving option, Vincent Jackson, for at least ten weeks and maybe the entire year. I think Jackson will be fantasy-irrelevant this season. Malcolm Floyd has shown big-play potential and Legedu Naanee has size, but hasn’t been a starter before. The Chargers are also trotting out their rookie running back, Ryan Matthews… you will learn I don’t place faith in rookies of any sport. But Rivers also has back-to-back 4,000 yard seasons and 34 and 28 TDs in those years, so we know he is talented. Antonio Gates also remains a force to be reckoned with.

2009 was the first time Matt Schaub played more than 11 games as a starter, a job he has had for three years. He was a stud with 4,770 yards and 29 TDs. But I’m not still not sure he can be trusted to play 16 games. When a guy missed five games in each of his first two seasons, it takes more than one healthy one to convince me to trust him. If he does stay healthy, look out for Jacoby Jones to replace Kevin Walter as the #2 receiver there, and expect Andre Johnson to continue his elite ways.

Joe Flacco is a little bit tough to read this season. Last year he jumped out of the gate, but slowed drastically after that. He got a fun new toy in Anquan Boldin, and still has Derrick Mason on the other wing. Ray Rice is the centerpiece of this offense, which is a blessing and a curse. Flacco won’t see many blitzes because defenses will focus on stopping Rice, but he will also get less chances to throw. I don’t trust Boldin OR Mason as #1 options, but if Flacco can spread the ball around, he has the tools to put up quality numbers and could be a nice mid-round value pick.

You might have heard Jay Cutler will now take his plays from Mike Martz. The architect of the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams, look for Cutler to be giving the opportunity to shine. We know he has the talent to soar, but does he have the receivers? Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, Devin Aromashodu, and Greg Olsen don’t make for a scary set of hands. How these four play will weigh heavily on Jay’s success this year. He could throw for 4,500 yards and 30 TDs, or he could fail to reach 3,500 and throw 25 interceptions. Neither would surprise me, but the studly upside is there.

Tier 4

Brett Favre, Eli Manning, Kevin Kolb, Vince Young, Chad Henne

Favre has bust written all over him this year. If it wasn’t enough that Rice has been hobbling around on a bad hip, and Harvin could collapse at any moment with migraines. Right now his top healthy target is Bernard Berrian. Plus, Brett didn’t look too thrilled to be back when he made the announcement. Age has to catch up with him eventually. Don’t even be surprised if he (gasp!) misses a start!

Manning had the best statistical year of his career last season, and there is no reason to think the success can’t continue. He has three solid young targets in Smith, Manningham, and Nicks. He loves to go to tight end Kevin Boss by the end zone, and he has two unproven running backs that will mean plenty of throws. Don’t let him slip too far. He could emerge as a viable starter in 12+ team leagues.

I’m fairly high on Kevin Kolb this year. Everyone in that offense can catch. Deshean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, and Leshean McCoy are all solid targets for him, and the offensive line is reliable, if not elite. I might not want to draft him as my go-to quarterback, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns into one.

Vince Young… which one are we going to get? I’m buying the last eight weeks of 2009 and saying he is a top-15 QB. With Chris Johnson distracting defenses, Kenny Britt, Justin Gage, and Nate Washington could all have solid seasons. Add in his legs, and Young has serious upside if he stays out of trouble.

Chad Henne is in a run-first offense, has exactly one proven receiver and plays in a very tough division. All that considered, I’m interested to see how he does. If Miami keeps running the ball, and doesn’t put too much on him at once, 3,000 yards and 20 scores are within reach.

Tier 5

Matt Ryan, Donovan McNabb, Ben Roethlisberger

I was on the Ryan bandwagon last year. Now, he wasn’t as miserable as people seem to think. Twenty-two touchdowns against 14 interceptions is not BAD, but he failed to reach 3,000 yards and was wildly inconsistent in the pocket. We might see him take a step forward again this year, but temper expectations.

McNabb’s fantasy value took a hit with the move to Washington. Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, Devin Thomas, Joey Galloway… not exactly the who’s who of receiving options. This team is going to run a LOT! But McNabb has a chip on his shoulder after the way Philly dismissed him, so there could be a small resurgence this year, maybe in the form of 3,000 yards and 25 TDs.

If he were playing the entire season, I’d have him somewhere between tier three and four, but four weeks is a significant chunk of the fantasy season and I don’t know how long it will take him to get his groove back. That being said, if you can buy-low on him, and have a working option for the first four weeks, go for it.

Tier 6

Carson Palmer, Matthew Stafford, Alex Smith, Matt Cassel, Matt Leinart, David Garrard, Kyle Orton

These are all guys who are worth owning in most leagues because they have starting jobs and can serve as decent bye-week backups. Out of this group, Stafford and Smith might really get unleashed this year and could put up surprising numbers. Cassel and Leinart could also impress, but I find that less likely. Orton is a fantastic #2 because he is consistent. He won’t be fancy, but he won’t be stupid either. I’m not touching Palmer with any length of pole this year. TO, Ocho, and the fact I think Benson’s 2009 was a fluke means this offense is nothing but downside.

Tier 7

Mark Sanchez, Jason Campbell, Matt Hasselbeck, Josh Freeman, Matt Moore, Sam Bradford, Jake Delhomme, Trent Edwards

If one of these is your starter, start looking to trade. They are all starters, so they have some value in super deep leagues, but that’s about it. Campbell and Sanchez could prove me wrong, but the others are fairly useless.

In this continuing age of the passers, having someone from the top two tiers is a serious advantage. In the upcoming sleeper/bust article, I will highlight some guys who could perform outside their tiers, for better or worse.

  1. […] two tiers. Let me explain. Find a set of rankings you trust, whether you prefer tier rankings like mine. Or numbered rankings like those on ESPN. If player A is ranked two tiers or 10 spots higher than […]

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