Over the coming days and weeks leading up to your fantasy football draft, I will be posting all of my positional rankings and injury updates. Tonight I will start with the QBs. Remember, that since every league scores differently, it’s important to translate your projections to your scoring system and change your rankings accordingly.
- Peyton Manning (IND; bye week 6) – Given Manning’s history, it seems a lock to pencil him in for 4000 yds. and 30 TDs, and that is being conservative. The departure of Dominic Rhodes will probably necessitate Indianapolis throwing the ball more often. First round draft choice Anthony Gonzalez will fit in nicely in the slot, and Harrison and Wayne are still the best WR duo in the NFL. Throw in a healthy Dallas Clark and Ben Utecht will be free to do more in the offense, and don’t forget that Joseph Addai had 40 catches out of the backfield last season, a number that he’ll likely exceed this season.
Indianapolis has a fairly balanced schedule in terms of pass defenses faced, but will play 4 of their first 5 games against NO, TEN, HOU, & TB, this should give the offense an early jumpstart and could lead to another off the charts Manning season.
Jim Sorgi has to be a concern in team QB situations, but not enough to pass up IND, especially given Manning’s history of staying healthy. Also beware of the Super bowl letdown.
- Carson Palmer (CIN; bye week 5) – Facing Baltimore, New England, Seattle and Cleveland before the bye will not be easy, but things will get significantly easier after the bye. Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmandzadeh at the top of the receiver rotation will provide Palmer with all of the firepower he needs, and the return of Chris Henry, as long as he remains out of trouble, should provide a boost for the second half of the season. The Bengals are suspect at WR beyond the top 2, and it remains to be seen if Reggie McNeal, Tab Perry, Glenn Holt or Skyler Green might emerge as a legitimate number 3 threat in Henry’s absence. The Bengals however should be playing from behind a lot and will have to score lots of points most weeks.
Palmer seemed to get healthier as the season went on last year and still wound up with over 4000 yards passing. 3800 yds. and 28 TDs should be realistic, and 4300 yds. and 38 TDs could be possible.
Doug Johnson is the backup in Team QB situations, and although sack prone, he shouldn’t scare you off of this pick.
- Tom Brady (NE; bye week 10) – For all of his hall of fame credentials, Brady has only exceeded 3800 yds. passing once in his career, look for him to make it twice this year. The departure of Corey Dillon will have Brady throwing the ball more for sure, and a revamped receiving corps will facilitate that as well. Brady has proven his ability to adapt to new receivers throughout his career in New England and this year’s batch of talent is probably the best he’s had. Whether or not Randy Moss is able to return to his early dominance, he should at the very least provide a nice distraction on offense and open up others.
Reche Caldwell established himself as a reliable target last season and Jabar Gafney in the playoffs, but both look to be overshadowed by the arrivals of Moss and Donte Stallworth. Throw Kelly Washington into the mix as well, and Brady will have his hands full trying to keep all of these guys happy. This should also cut down on Maroney’s wear and tear, which is something that the Pats have to be conscious of. Ben Watson should finally emerge as a weapon on this offense too, his athleticism is well documented, and it seems just a matter of time until that translates into results, look for Watson to be a favorite target of Brady’s near the goal line, as New England is missing a true goal line back.
The Pats also play a pretty balanced schedule in terms of pass defenses but may look to sit on the ball and grind out leads with their defense. Moss’ presence could be a distraction, but it seems unlikely that the Pats will have much trouble getting him to buy in, especially in the short term.
For Team QB situations, Brady’s backup is Matt Cassel, and although untested, the Pats would be unlikely to change their offensive MO very much in the event of a Brady injury.
- Drew Brees (NO; bye week 4) – Based on last year’s unexpected performance, Brees could easily be number 1 or 2 on this list. I am taking the wait and see approach based more on the young wide receiver corps than on Brees himself, although the dislocated elbow last season has to be a bit of a concern, even if it was his non throwing arm. The departure of Joe Horn establishes last year’s steal of the draft Marques Colston as the unquestioned number one. Colston did miss 2 games because of an ankle sprain last year, but returned to form quickly, and Terrance Copper and Devery Henderson round out one of the games most talented and youngest receiving corps.
The Saints lack of talent at tight end is evident, but Reggie Bush will be a favorite target of Brees’ again out of the backfield. The Saints schedule should provide plenty of opportunities to air it out this season, but the presence of two legitimate runners in the backfield may limit those opportunities somewhat, especially if the Saints as a whole continue to improve. 3500 yds. and 25 TDs is all but guaranteed and the upside could be much higher.
For Team QB situations, Brees’ backup is Jaime Martin, a seasoned vet who could fill in nicely for a few games if pressed into service.
- Donovan McNabb (PHI; bye week 5) – As usual, lots of question marks surround McNabb this season. Like Brees, McNabb has a receiving corps that looks good on paper, but is still relatively unproven. Like Brady, McNabb has shown that he can get by with mediocre wide receivers in the past. Kevin Curtis should transition nicely from the slot to the outside, but will see much different defense than he did in his years in St. Louis. Leagues that double points for QBs rushing TDs might consider bumping McNabb up a slot or two on this list.
Given the fact that Philadelphia spent early on Kevin Kolb in this year’s draft, coupled with the success of Jeff Garcia running the Eagles offense last year, and there is a pretty good chance McNabb enters this season feeling like he’s got something to prove.
The Eagles play one of the weakest schedules among upper echelon QBs and this should translate into big numbers this season for McNabb. Owners should be concerned that McNabb has not played a full season in the last 3 years and has only played 16 games 3 times in his career. Owners in Team QB leagues should be undaunted by this as AJ Feeley is back in his old role, and the Eagles have typically gotten good fantasy production from whomever has been asked to step in for McNabb in the past. And any Eagles QB will benefit from the athleticism of Brian Westbrook and his ability to take short passes to the house.
My projection, if healthy McNabb should put up 3800 yds. and 22 TDs and should rush for another 400 yds and 5 TDs.
- Marc Bulger (STL; bye week 9) – Last year’s numbers would be difficult to duplicate here, but Bulger has improved every year. Bulger obviously has top-notch receiver talent, but for how much longer can Issaac Bruce be productive? Bulger is primarily ranked behind McNabb based on the defenses that they will face, as well as the emergence of Steven Jackson as a premier running back. Drew Bennet and Randy McMichael should make up for the loss of Kevin Curtis, if both are able to remain healthy.
3800 yds. and 25 TDs is realistic here, the upside of course could be much bigger than that. Gus Frerrotte is a seasoned backup for leagues with team QBs, but the Rams would change much more drastically on offense than any of the Team QBs listed above because of the ability of Steven Jackson to carry the workload, in the event of a Bulger injury.
7. Phillip Rivers (SD; bye week 7) – The falloff is pretty sharp after Bulger, and if anyone in the next group of 5 or 6 is likely to make the leap to upper echelon QB it’s Rivers. With that said, San Diego faces one of the most difficult schedules in football. LaDanian Tomlinson’s presence has both a positive and negative effect on Rivers. On one hand the passing game will benefit from defenses having to overplay Tomlinson, on the other hand Tomlinson will get his carries and be the bulk of the offense. Rivers will benefit from Tomlinson’s receiving ability obviously and Antonio Gates continues to set the standard for NFL tight ends.
In addition to this year’s grueling schedule, the lack of wide receiver talent in San Diego has to be alarming to owners. Owners in Team QB leagues should feel comfortable with Billy Volek as the backup in San Diego.
All things considered I’d say 3600 yds. passing and 28 TDs are realistic, with a TD/INT ratio of about 2:1.
8. Matt Hasselbeck (SEA; bye week 8) – Hasselbeck will benefit from a passer friendly schedule, and will hopefully have a healthy Shaun Alexander to balance the offense. The departure of Darrell Jackson will be a setback, but Seattle is left with a bevy of wide receiver talent nonetheless.
Seattle had enough issues last year for me to give Hasselbeck a pass, and I expect 3600 yds. and 25 TDs from a healthy Hasselbeck this season. The biggest keys to Hasselbeck’s success will be his ability to avoid INTs and his receivers’ ability to hold onto the ball, a problem that has been crippling for Hasselbeck in the past. For Team QB owners, Hasselbeck’s backup Seneca Wallace is one of the most athletic in the NFL and could provide a boost in the event of an injury or really poor play.
9. Matt Leinart (AZ; bye week 8) – You are drafting the Cardinals offense as much as Leinart himself with this pick. Leinart showed poise under pressure when thrust into action last season, and should pick up where he left off. Leinart has the double fantasy blessing of having a wealth of offensive talent around him, and having a defense that will necessitate a lot of scoring. Leinart could easily play himself into elite fantasy QB status this season.
3300 yds and 20 TDs seem like a lock for Leinart, and a favorable schedule should help. Team QB owners will rest easy knowing that veteran Kurt Warner will be Leinart’s primary backup, and would still be an intriguing fantasy QB with the offensive talent in AZ.
10. Jon Kitna (DET; bye week 6) – Just like with Leinart you are drafting the offense around Kitna as much as Kitna himself. Roy Williams, Mike Furrey and Kevin Jones provide plenty of offensive firepower for the Lions, and the addition of Calvin Johnson should help in that department too. Detroit has a tough schedule for passing, but like Leinart, Kitna’s numbers should benefit from the Lions poor defense.
Kitna also seems like a lock for 3000 yds. and 20TDs this season, but will be troubled by INTs as well. Kitna’s backup is Dan Orlovsky, which should be a bit of a concern to Team QB owners.
11. Tony Romo (DAL; bye week 8) – Although probably not the elite quarterback that some had predicted last season, one bad playoff game is not enough reason to write Romo off completely. He has some growing to do as a QB, but with Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn and Patrick Crayton in addition to Jason Whitten, Romo has plenty of offensive weapons to help in his growth.
Dallas has a tough early schedule, but things should get easier in the second half of the year. Add Romo to the growing list of 3000 yds/20 TD guys, but probably has less potential than the others to blow those numbers out. Veteran backup Brad Johnson makes Romo a safe pick in Team QB leagues.
12. Eli Manning (NYG; bye week 9) – The group starts getting really muddled around here, but I’ll go with Manning next based on the renewed uncertainty in the Giants backfield, the combo of Brandon Jacobs and Reuben Droughns is respectable enough to keep teams honest, but won’t command the number of carries that Tiki Barber did. I’d also put Manning at an advantage schedule wise, the early schedule especially favors the passing game and could lead to big momentum for Manning in the second half of the season when the schedule toughens up a bit.
Manning has been over 3000 yds. and had 24 TDs each of the last two seasons, no reason to expect those numbers to get worse, but no real reason to expect a big improvement either. Owners in Team QB leagues take comfort in the fact that Anthony Wright is a capable, experienced backup, who can and will open it up.
13. Vince Young (TEN; bye week 4) – Young could turn into a great value pick here, but I still have big concerns about his receiving corps or lack thereof. As usual Tennessee has questions at running back, which should give Young ample opportunities to put the ball in the air, and of course you can’t overlook Young’s running prowess. Owners in leagues that double points for rushing TDs will probably want to bump Young up a couple of spots. 2800 yards and 18 TDs should be about right for Young, with an equal number of interceptions probably too. If Young could add 5 or so rushing TDs, he’d be a steal here, but take note that Young’s best targets seem to be his TEs, which could lead to lots of short TDs.
In Team QB leagues, Kerry Collins is an adequate backup, but is night and day different from Young in terms of style. Offensive continuity would be a problem in the event of an injury, and running QBs are obviously more prone to injury.
14. Jay Cutler (DEN; bye week 6) – Cutler is one of the most difficult on the list to place. He could easily jump up or down 5 spots. Denver faces one of the most brutal overall schedules for passing, especially in the first 5 weeks of the season. Plus Denver is primarily known as a running team, and the addition of Travis Henry will limit Cutler’s passing opportunities. Javon Walker is a legitimate weapon, and with Rod Smith’s health in question Denver has a lot of depth if not star power at wide receiver this year.
Patrick Ramsey is a strong backup for Team QB leagues and should give you little reason for concern.
15. Ben Roethlisberger (PIT; bye week 6) – I am willing to give Roethlisberger a pass on last season based on the multitude of setbacks he had to deal with last year, but with that said, I never thought that highly of him in the first place. The Steelers are blessed with a very favorable schedule, Hines Ward is a serious positive for any QB. New Head Coach Mike Tomlin and Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians should look to open it up a bit more than the methodical Cowher. The Steelers have major question marks at wide out beyond Ward, and learning a new system is always going to provide its share of setbacks. Plus it’s difficult to totally forget how Big Ben looked just like a deer in headlights on a lot of occasions last season.
Charlie Batch is a nice insurance policy for those in Team QB leagues.
16. Rex Grossman (CHI; bye week 9) – It’s difficult to put too much faith in Grossman when he seems to be injured, or on the hot seat every season and the Bears have one of the more difficult schedules for passers. On the upside though, Grossman throws the deep ball well, and has plenty of explosive targets to go up and get it. The loss of Thomas Jones should give Grossman more opportunities this year, as it’s yet to be seen whether Cedric Benson is totally capable of carrying the workload.
You may want to bump Grossman up a spot or two in Team QB leagues, as one of the biggest deterrents to drafting Grossman is the possibility of him losing his job or going down to injury. Brian Greise is a capable backup, who’ll keep the pressure on Rex.
17. Jake Delhomme (CAR; bye week 7) – Delhomme may be a stretch here because of the looming presence of David Carr, but Carr shouldn’t be tough to get as a backup, and should provide hope to Team QB owners. This is as much about getting Steve Smith’s production as anything, and although the rest of the wide receiver corps is shaky, so is the backfield. A soft schedule will help too.
18. Chad Pennington (NYJ; bye week 10) – Health still has to be a question for Pennington owners, even more of a concern should be the number of tough defenses the Jets will have to face in 2007. But the Jets have one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps in all of football, and the addition of Thomas Jones should help immensely. With Kellen Clemens and Marques Tuiasosopo as backups Team QB owners will have plenty to be concerned about with Pennington’s injury history.
19. J.P. Lohsman (BUF; bye week 6) – Lohsman could be a steal here honestly. However Buffalo has a difficult schedule, and not a lot of talent around Lohsman on offense. Lohsman’s production should suffer by having to rely on a rookie running back, and the wide receiver talent is nothing to get excited about beyond Lee Evans. Leagues that favor long TDs may want to bump Lohsman up a slot or two, and job security shouldn’t be an issue with Craig Nall and rookie Trent Edwards serving as backups. That job security will be a plus in most leagues but a big drawback in Team QB leagues.
20. Joey Harrington (ATL; bye week 8) – Teams just can’t seem to keep Harrington off of the field, even when they want to. Harrington will be the beneficiary of a soft schedule in Atlanta as well as a revamped receiving corps. The addition of Joe Horn gives Atlanta the best compliment of receivers they’ve had in recent memory, and coach Bobby Petrino’s offense should lend itself nicely to Harrington’s strengths as a QB. Alge Crumpler is a great weapon and can score from anywhere on the field, and the injury of Warrick Dunn should put more of the game plan on Harrington’s shoulders. The biggest drawback is that we are talking about Joey Harrington here. Team QB owners should have a clearer picture of the backup situation soon as the Falcons should be looking to move on a QB. Chris Redman was brought in more to coach Petrino’s offense than to actually play, so consider DJ Shockley the primary backup for now.
21. Alex Smith (SF; bye week 6) – Smith took a nice step forward last season and the additions of Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie should help to further that progress. The Niners play a fairly balanced schedule, and will certainly have lots of ups and downs as with any young team. Frank Gore may take a few scoring opportunities away from Smith if he takes that next step as a runner, and Jackson’s turf toe will likely be a factor this season too. Trent Dilfer will provide a very capable insurance policy to Team QB owners.
22. Matt Schaub (HOU; bye week 10) – Schaub is certainly highly regarded around the league, this will be his chance to prove that reputation. The schedule is favorable for the Texans, especially the early schedule, but aside from Andre Johnson Houston has frighteningly little proven talent on offense. The good news is that that they have such little talent on defense that Schaub may be forced to air it out early and often. Atlanta probably wishes they had Schaub back in light of the Vick situation, and after a few games behind the Texans’ line Schaub will probably be wishing that too. Given that Texans reputation for giving up sacks, Team QB owners may be looking at Sage Rosenfels or Bradlee Van Pelt before long.
23. Brett Favre (GB; bye week 7) – Age has certainly caught up to Favre in recent seasons, and it seems that only Favre himself still believes that he can make the throws that he used to, and so he continues to try. This is obviously frustrating to fantasy owners, and the schedule that the Packers face before the bye will be equally frustrating. With average wide receivers, and average offensive talent in general Favre is far from the QB he once was. Aaron Rodgers is a solid backup, but is in danger of rotting away on the bench if Favre continues to prolong his career.
24. Steve McNair (BAL; bye week 8) – McNair is another superstar who is a shell of his former self. McNair’s decreasing arm strength and the Ravens difficult schedule make it tough to rank him any higher. Couple that with the Ravens tendency to grind out wins with their defense and running game, and things don’t look great from a fantasy perspective. On the bright side, Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams and Todd Heap along with new running back Willis McGahee are as good of an offense as any QB that you’ll find with a QB this low. Couple this with the fact that the Ravens became a little less conservative after Head Coach Brian Billick took over play calling, and this could be a great value pick. Kyle Boller is a seasoned backup in a contract year, but he’s still Kyle Boller, and there’s good reason why the Ravens brought in McNair in the first place.
25. Byron Leftwich (JAX; bye week 4) – Leftwich got an off season vote of confidence from the Jacksonville coaching staff, but it won’t be enough to keep him from looking over his shoulder this year. On paper Jacksonville has a favorable schedule and a wealth of offensive talent, but the running back combo of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor as well as a very strong defense could keep the ball out of Leftwich’s hands a lot of the time. Matt Jones’ health will also have a lot to do with Leftwich’s success this year. David Garrard is a solid backup with similar skill sets and better mobility than Leftwich, and may be the starter before long.
26. Jeff Garcia (TB; bye week 10) – The schedule is somewhat favorable for Jeff Garcia, but little else will be. Last year’s flash of average is not enough to make me believe that Garcia is back to his Niners form, and the Bucs offense looks much more like the Lions or Browns than the Eagles or Niners. Not much difference from last year’s offense other than Garcia, and potentially Dante Culpepper. I don’t think Culpepper is a much better option for fantasy owners if he gets the job either, but would serve as a good insurance policy.
27. Jason Campbell (WAS; bye week 4) –Two capable running backs and thin receiving talent beyond Santana Moss and Chris Cooley, along with Campbell’s inexperience all make it difficult to draft him any higher. He did flash great moments at times last season but will need to be consistent to take the next step as a QB. The Redskins play a fairly average schedule after a pretty tough first three weeks. Mark Brunell makes a capable backup and may have a few good games left in him.
28. Trent Green (MIA; bye week 4) – The revolving door at QB for the Dolphins continues, and there’s little reason to believe that the result will be any different with Green at the helm. The Dolphin offense is much the same as in recent years, and should struggle somewhat in the new Cam Cameron offense. Green will adapt to Cameron’s scheme well, as it’s been said he’s been brought in to teach the O to rookie John Beck. Beck won’t be the backup this season, that job will belong to Cleo Lemon. The Dolphins also have a brutal schedule, and there’s little reason to be excited about Green or the Dolphins this season.
29. Damon Huard (KC; bye week 8) – Huard will benefit from an easy early schedule but things even out schedule wise in the second half for the Chiefs. Larry Johnson will command lots of carries and there is little to rely on offensively beyond Johnson and the aging Tony Gonzalez. There is also a decent chance that Brodie Croyle supplants Huard as the starter this season.
30. Brady Quinn (CLE; bye week 7) – Quinn seems most likely in my mind to either emerge from camp with this job, or to have it by week 4. The Browns have a lot of talent at receiver and tight end and a questionable running game. All of that bodes well for a passer, in addition to the fact that Cleveland looks to be playing from behind a lot. Rookie QBs are a huge gamble though, and so are Cleveland Browns for that matter.
31. JaMarcus Russell (OAK; bye week 5) – Again rookie QBs are a big risk, and the Raiders also play a really tough schedule. The Raiders do have some talent at wide out and runners who can catch out of the backfield. Russell could also be valuable in league that favor rushing TDs for QBs but still has little value in this offense.
32. Tavaris Jackson (MIN; bye week 5) – Minnesota may have less to be excited about than any team in the NFL on offense. Their schedule is average, and they look to be playing from behind a lot this season, but there is little reason to think Jackson will be anything to write home about this year, nor will his receiving corps. Brooks Bollinger may see some time at backup but is nothing to be excited about either.
5 Good Backups Worth a Gamble
1. Jaime Martin (NO)
2. Billy Volek (SD)
3. Seneca Wallace (SEA)
4. Gus Frerotte (ST.L)
5. Patrick Ramsey (DEN)
5 Backups Likely to Start at Some Point This Season
1. A.J. Feeley (PHI)
2. David Carr (CAR)
3. David Garrard (JAX)
4. Kyle Boller (BAL)
5. Dante Culpepper (???)