Early Top 12s for 2015: Richard | Eisenberg

In August we crowed about how deep the quarterback position was and how waiting to draft a passer would pay off. That turned out to be sort of true ...


The number of quarterbacks who posted 300-plus Fantasy points over the course of the season, up three from 2013.


The average Fantasy points per game from quarterbacks who finished in the Top 12, an indicator of what should be considered a "very good" game. That number is up 0.7 points per game from 2013.

83.3 percent

The highest consistency rate (frequency of getting 20-plus Fantasy points per game) among all quarterbacks in 2014. It belonged to Carson Palmer, who had 20-plus in five of six games.


The number of quarterbacks who had at least 300 Fantasy points and a consistency rate of at least 50 percent. Some of the folks who aren't a part of that list: Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Tannehill, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan. It confirms that they were the most volatile quarterbacks in 2014, with Ryan the most dangerous of them all with over 320 Fantasy points and just six games with 20-plus points on the year (37.5 percent).


Ryan also tied (with Geno Smith) for the most games with 18 or 19 Fantasy points with three. Had he converted those three games to 20-point games, he would have had nine with such a high mark and a consistency rate similar to Brees, Russell Wilson and Eli Manning. Ryan also had nine games last season with 18-plus Fantasy points.


The number of 20-plus-point games by every quarterback in Fantasy last year. The number is actually down three from 2013.


The position wasn't nearly as robust as we had hoped. The growth was incremental, not exceptional. A lot of quarterbacks really disappointed, particularly Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles. Their decline, and a lack of growth from a number of other quarterbacks, left the position leaving something to be desired. Ultimately it will lead to trepidation in drafting quarterbacks in 2015, save for the two that did the best in 2014.

Tier unveiling

The point of setting up tiers is to figure out what the landscape is for quarterbacks. Are there a lot of great ones or a lot of "good enough" ones or an even mix of both? So long as you're not attached to one guy, you can probably gather where you'll end up drafting your quarterback. You just might not know his name until it's your turn to pick.

Elite Excellent Very Good Risk/Reward
Round 2 Rounds 3, 4, 5 Rounds 6, 7 Rounds 8, 9
Aaron Rodgers Tom Brady Russell Wilson Matthew Stafford
Andrew Luck Peyton Manning Tony Romo Philip Rivers
  Matt Ryan Cam Newton Ben Roethlisberger
  Drew Brees Eli Manning Ryan Tannehill
No. 2/Upside No. 2/Less Upside Other guys  
Rounds 10+ Undrafted Undrafted  
Carson Palmer Joe Flacco Alex Smith  
Jay Cutler Colin Kaepernick Ryan Mallett  
Nick Foles Robert Griffin III Zach Mettenberger  
Blake Bortles Andy Dalton Geno Smith  
Teddy Bridgewater Derek Carr Johnny Manziel  
  Sam Bradford Josh McCown  
    EJ Manuel  

Tier Q&A

Why isn't Peyton No. 1? The way he ended the 2014 season suggested that he either played hurt or his skills are deteriorating. He threw less, completed fewer passes and logged fewer yards per pass attempt in 2014. Tack on potential losses in the Broncos passing game and there could be a further regression from Manning, who will be 39 next season.

Why is Matt Ryan so high? The last two years have been a nightmare for Ryan, but he had little to do with it. Two years ago his offensive line was shot and he lost Julio Jones for a chunk of the season. In 2014 he didn't lose Julio for nearly as long but still played in games without him and still had O-line issues. I'm anticipating the Falcons addressing the depth along the offensive line and potentially adding another piece to the offense for Ryan to target. I also like the schedule for the Falcons -- 10 dome games and no intimidating defensive matchups at all. There's no reason he shouldn't have a huge bounce-back year.

Drew Brees cost me in my leagues. Why is he still so high? Maybe I'm just giving him the benefit of the doubt. And even despite the terrible year for the Saints, he still finished as a Top 5 Fantasy quarterback and was money at home until Jimmy Graham's shoulder became a problem. The Saints must improve their offensive line -- if that doesn't happen then Brees could struggle. But they'll play 12 games indoors this year, they have a schedule only slightly more daunting than the Falcons and Brees should have his full complement of receivers back.

You called Cam Newton a bust last year. Now you like him? We're assuming Newton doesn't have major offseason ankle surgery, that the Panthers don't dump their entire receiving corps and that Newton is healthy coming into the regular season. If that turns out as planned, the Panthers should surround Newton with better offensive linemen and at least one new receiver. That'll help. I expect Kelvin Benjamin to progress, which will help Cam, and I expect Newton to keep running in his artillery. Newton had 20-plus-point games in each of his last three this season thanks to his ground game -- the 197 yards and three touchdowns he had in those final three contests were the most he had in any three-game stretch this season or last season. It's a sign that he's still comfortable running the ball.

So basically you like any NFC South quarterback? Depends on who's quarterbacking the Buccaneers, but three out of four ain't bad.

Tony Romo gets ignored every year and finishes as a Top 12 quarterback every year. That's not a question but I know what you're saying. I like Romo a lot because he's consistent, he has a stud receiver and his offensive line isn't changing one bit. But like everyone else, I'm hesitant he'll be as good as he was this season. Health is a factor, age is a factor. If you're not willing to risk your roster with Wilson then go on and take Romo. He's a safe play and a legitimate Top 10 Fantasy quarterback.

What the heck is a Risk/Reward tier? Yeah, that's new. I didn't have a better way of identifying those players -- they're all appealing as Fantasy options but carry some risk. This would be the group to pick two from if you wait forever and ever on Draft Day for a quarterback. Ending my draft with Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers as my quarterbacks would be delightful. As I wrote earlier, the worst-case scenario is that both are unreliable and force lineup-setting mistakes, but that's tolerable with mid-round picks, especially when there should be some decent quarterbacks available either on waivers or cheaply in trade, depending on your league size.

Common traits

I always like to see what the top quarterbacks have in common after a season, if only to set up possible indicators of what to look for in quarterbacks worth targeting the following season.

Of the quarterbacks finishing in the Top 12, seven had receivers that finished in the Top 12 at their respective positions. Those would be Rodgers, Luck, both Mannings, Roethlisberger, Romo and Ryan. No surprise, stud receivers help make stud quarterbacks -- and vice versa.

Three other quarterbacks -- Brady, Brees and Rivers -- had a tight end finish in the Top 3. That's especially cool because they not only had the tight end helping them out but supplemental wide receivers as well. Each of the three had two receivers with at least 750 yards. Stuff adds up.

That means the only two quarterbacks to finish in the Top 12 without an elite-level pass catcher were Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill. Technically, Tannehill had Mike Wallace, who was good for 10 touchdowns and just over 850 yards, but he finished tied for the 18th best receiver in Fantasy. Not enough to say he was a stud receiver.

Wilson, on the other hand, had one teammate finish with over 550 yards receiving (Doug Baldwin). Everyone else had fewer receiving yards and four touchdowns or less. But Wilson's rushing totals -- 849 yards and six touchdowns -- effectively represented 34.1 percent of his cumulative Fantasy points. Meaning that if Wilson hadn't rushed a single play this year, he would have scored as many Fantasy points as Alex Smith and Derek Carr.

So naturally, quarterbacks with stud receivers (it helps if they have lots of them) will go a long way in Fantasy. But it also never hurts to have a quarterback who will take off and run. It's just risky to count on them -- Kaepernick and Griffin weren't nearly as good as Wilson in 2014. Then again, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford didn't work out and they had multiple stud receivers, too.

Potential stud receivers who can help develop a quality Fantasy quarterback: Sammy Watkins, Buffalo; Mike Evans, Tampa Bay; DeAndre Hopkins, Houston; Amari Cooper, TBD.

Overarching draft strategy

Andrew Luck turned out to be the best bargain at the position, finishing second-fiddle to Aaron Rodgers while getting picked, on average, 26 spots behind him. But Fantasy owners had to be pleased with Tom Brady, Tony Romo and Russell Wilson. They all averaged over 21 Fantasy points per game and delivered good numbers more than 50 percent of the time. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees were on par with that crew, too, but their end-of-season collapse went about as well as pigs-in-a-blanket appetizers to a group of vegetarians. Aside from that, they obviously were great Fantasy quarterbacks -- but you had to pay a heavy price to get them in drafts compared to the Luck-Brady-Romo-Wilson contingent.

So that's, what, seven quarterbacks people started and were pretty happy with in 2014? Doesn't seem like much. Other quarterbacks had their moments -- Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill and Philip Rivers were the other five slingers to finish in the Top 12 -- but only Eli can be considered consistent enough (thanks to Fantasy superhero Odell Beckham). The numbers might not bear it out since quarterbacks did score a bunch of points, but the position felt like a letdown.

You might think this will bring the group down when it comes to Draft Averages next year, but I think you'll see a lot of quarterbacks taken based on each owners' past experience. The owners who got frustrated with Brees throughout the season or with Peyton toward the end of the season will probably think twice about spending an early round pick on a quarterback. And the owners who waited and waited and had Matt Ryan or Jay Cutler or Nick Foles or Colin Kaepernick blow up in their faces might aim at taking a quarterback earlier in 2014. Experience could dictate your future plans.

That being said, I think it's a mistake to invest a first-round pick in a quarterback. Running back is too thin, as is tight end. I'd rather go after studs at those positions along with the best of the best at wide receiver before taking a gander at Rodgers or Luck, who are the only two sure-fire elite-tier quarterbacks out there. The second round is a different story, especially in deeper leagues, but my focus will probably remain on waiting for a quarterback.

And then I'll take two.

The silver lining to the quarterback position not being as substantial as you might think is that there will be a lot of really good quarterbacks falling to obscene levels in drafts. Yeah, I said something similar last year but this time around there will be even more talent to pick from. And the later you wait for a quarterback, the less damage you'll take on in case you miss. And if you take two quarterbacks, you double down on your chances to land a fine starter. Take one and he stinks? You're in trouble. Take two and both stink? You're in the same amount of trouble as if you drafted only one, and you're also unlucky. And if you hit on both, you have some trades to make.

Plus you'll like that given the number of high-ceiling quarterbacks available this season. It's even better than last year, where 13 starting quarterbacks averaged at least 20 Fantasy points per game, up two from 2013. Expect more in 2015.

Settling the top tier

Figuring out tiers this early in the offseason is always complicated. Which quarterbacks are transitioning to new offenses? Which quarterbacks will gain or lose a key receiver? Which quarterbacks have the best offensive linemen? And which quarterbacks can overcome the lean weeks from last year (most of them had a few)?

Picking Rodgers and Luck for the top tier wasn't hard. Not only were they the best at their position last season but both are good enough to overcome most personnel obstacles. Rodgers might lose Randall Cobb to free agency but has young targets in Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers to help replace him. Luck might lose a veteran receiver or two but has T.Y. Hilton in his corner along with Donte Moncrief, who has all sorts of upside. He'll also benefit from a healthier, stronger offensive line when 2015 starts.

Everyone else has bigger flaws. Peyton Manning is getting old and his arm really let him down over the last few weeks of the season. Will it be more of the same if he comes back? Russell Wilson is sure to get some sort of addition to his receiving corps this offseason, right? But will it be enough to support his numbers since it's unlikely his rushing totals will remain as high as they were in 2014. Matt Ryan should be a stellar Fantasy stud, but he's delivered two straight years of sadness thanks to things happening around him, not to him. And is Drew Brees the same guy? Can Romo keep up his big numbers? Is Eli Manning on course for a breakout year because he has Odell Beckham catching his passes?

The only quarterback who comes close to being part of the top tier is Tom Brady. The Patriots recognized the offense around him wasn't working through the first four weeks of the season and fixed it so well that he had 21-plus Fantasy points in nine of the last 11.5 games he played this regular season. And while the Patriots might need another outside receiver to help further develop the offense, their formula of involving Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman on a regular basis whilst blocking better up front. That's why Brady might be the best bargain pick next summer, especially since he's sure to get swiped after the first two guys are gone. Hopefully, it'll be Round 3 or later. Even I might not be able to resist him if it's late Round 3 or Round 4.

And if I were to miss on Brady, I would keep an eye out for Peyton Manning first and then Matt Ryan, provided that Manning's arm looks good in the preseason and that the Falcons improve their offensive line and don't get away from being a pass-oriented team.

The future is bright

I'm not sure there's another young Andrew Luck currently in the league or coming into the league, but there seem to be a number of quality young arms who should work as at least platoonable quarterbacks for Fantasy purposes. This includes a few players who have already been serviceable for at least one season but no more than two.

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins: He made some serious strides in his first year in Bill Lazor's up-tempo offense. The Dolphins will stabilize their offensive line and potentially add another receiving threat. He might break all of his career-highs in 2015 (4,045 passing yards, 311 rush yards, 28 total touchdowns).

Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings: We saw a strong finish from Bridgewater, who overcame some early season jitters. It looks as if the Vikings will keep a lot of their schemes and personnel intact, which is big in Bridgewater's development.

Blake Bortles, Jaguars: Bortles wasn't impressive down the stretch but you can just tell that once he develops a little more and the offense around him develops more that he'll become a very dangerous passer. The Jaguars have to nail the right offensive coordinator after ejecting Jedd Fisch in January.

Derek Carr, Raiders: He didn't have a lot of big games but Carr flashed enough to prove that, for the first time in a long time, the Raiders don't have to shop for a quarterback this offseason. He's one of those guys who will need a strong supporting cast, so the Raiders' free agency and draft haul will be imperative.

Ryan Mallett, Texans: Mallett has to re-sign with the Texans first. If that happens then he'll have a chance to put up some stats thanks to DeAndre Hopkins being a part of the offense. Keeping or properly replacing Andre Johnson also would help.

Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota: Naturally, their futures are tied to the teams that select them. One of them should end up in Tampa Bay and lob passes to Mike Evans, which was good for 11 touchdowns in 2014. I'm not so sure either one is starting material and probably wouldn't get picked in a typical draft, but they're both examples of high-upside talent.

Mind you, these guys clearly don't include the veteran quarterbacks who have been Fantasy staples for a while. Only one -- Tannehill -- could find himself as one of the first 12 passers picked in drafts. Ultimately, they're all low-risk, high-reward players.

Do you have a question about the quarterback tiers? Ask away either in the comments section below, or via Twitter, or via email here. Interesting questions will be added to this page.