2014 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings… or, Tiers, Not Fears

Even Scram Newton thinks Starbonell’s rankings are tier-riffic
Photo Credit: sportiqe

“Tiers, Not Fears” is a series on the (worth discussing) fantasy football positions. Players are in rank order, but are grouped in tiers with players who are very close in value. Whether drafting or doing an auction, having your positions organized in tiers helps you to decide during your draft/auction if you need to strike on a positional need, or if you can afford to wait a round or two before filling a position.

The quarterback position is like a veteran porn starlet… it’s deep and can be conquered in a number of ways.

Granted, two-QB leagues (which somehow have become an increasingly popular format) force fantasy owners to go signal-caller-crazy in the early rounds. Yet for those of us who participate in the classic one-QB setup, the possibilities are endless.

Rather than tell you that you should definitely, 100% draft an elite QB early, or absolutely, without a doubt wait on one, I’ll simply say that “the shit just depends.” There are a number of ways to build a roster, and the position that allows the most flexibility with how you build a champion is quarterback.

You can certainly go all-in on a Peyton Manning or Drew Brees and take the mammoth point upside while shirking your RB or WR slots a bit. There will also be quality, high-end QBs available for a fair (although not cheap) price (think Tony Romo and Matt Stafford). Hell, you can even wait until the first 12 QBs are gone and still wind up with a Nick Foles or Russell Wilson. Think those guys are too rich for your blood? In the words of the immortal Clay Davis, “Shiiiiiiiiitttttt!” Why not hitch your title hopes to Josh McCown or Carson Palmer. Crazier things have happened.

Regardless of how you wind up handling your QB spot, we gotcha covered here at SoR. One read-through of this position breakdown, and you’ll not only know everything about QBs, you’ll actually see time!

To the rankings!

The “Make It Rain” Money Magnets
1. Drew Brees
2. Peyton Manning
3. Aaron Rodgers
4. Matthew Stafford

As in, these dudes won’t come cheap, so be ready to make it rain auction dollars or first/second round draft picks to get close to these options.

Brees edges Manning because of his consistency and improved weaponry (Brandin Cooks and “Year Two” Kenny Stills). The Saints QB has tallied over 40 TDs and 5,000 yards in each of the last three seasons, and there’s no reason to think the “run up the score like a bunch of jerks” Saints will slow down in 2014.

Manning had a season for the ages last year, but he loses big red-zone threat Eric Decker and polished pass-pro playa Knowshon Moreno. The Broncos schedule also looks rather difficult. While Peyton should once again sit among fantasy’s best QBs, you can’t expect him to sniff last year’s numbers. Especially if Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman aren’t up to snuff in their pass protection prowess.

After playing just nine games last year, Aaron Rodgers hopes to avoid injury scrambling behind an offensive line that opens up more holes than Mandingo. The injury-risk puts him behind Brees/Manning in overall rank, but his offensive upside keeps him firmly in this tier. No one has a better one-two WR punch than Green Bay (Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb), and if Rodgers stays upright all year, he should cruise to 40-ish TDs and 4,000-plus yards (with a side order of rushing stats).

Think Matthew Stafford shouldn’t be chilling in this tier with Peyton and company? I got two words for ya: Golden Tate. Having a legit, playmaking WR other than Calvin Johnson to throw the ball to should allow Stafford to post his best numbers yet. Dynamic RBs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell figure to be plenty involved in the passing game as well. Stafford has posted over 4,500 yards each of the last two years and tallied 32 total TDs last season. Granted, he’ll throw a few picks (16 last season), but the sheer volume of passes that Detroit will attempt will allow Stafford to put up elite numbers.

The “Not Quite Ivy League” Laborers
5. Tony Romo
6. Philip Rivers
7. Ben Roethlisberger
8. Tom Brady
They may not be as elite as the QBs in the top tier, but goddamn it the price is so much more reasonable.

It’s always a good time to poke fun at Tony Romo, but you can’t deny his greatness in fantasy. He tossed 31 TDs last year in a somewhat “down” season, and now gets pass-happy (and effective) OC Scott Linehan to work with. An aging Jason Witten, mediocre offensive line, and increased emphasis on the running game all keep Romo from top tier status. Yet those are really the only nits to pick. Terrance Williams should be an effective weapon operating opposite Dez Bryant, and I have no issue running the accurate, strong-armed Romo out there every week on my fantasy lineup.

San Diego’s style of play changed to a shorter passing attack, and it worked wonders for Philip Rivers’ sagging career. Homeboy racked up 4,478 yards and 32 TDs last year. Malcom Floyd is healthy (for now), but even if he misses a lot of time, it shouldn’t affect Rivers. This offense is designed to spread it around, so fantasy owners should draft the Chargers QB with confidence.

OC Todd Haley has really changed Pittsburgh’s passing game for the better. Like San Diego, the Steelers run a “high-percentage throws” aerial attack that has led to Ben Roethlisberger playing the best (fantasy) football of his career. Pittsburgh has even talked about utilizing the no-huddle fairly often in 2014, which means the offense is really clicking entering Year Three with Haley. Big Ben’s price is crazy cheap considering the offensive potential, and he’ll likely wind up on a couple of my fantasy teams.

A healthy Rob Gronkowski gives Tom Brady a diesel red-zone threat, but his other “weapons” have more question marks than The Riddler’s costume. Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola (not to mention Gronk) are injury-risks heading into 2014, and the marvelously mediocre Julian Edelman figures to be their top WR again. Plus, with the way the Patriots ran the ball late last year (when they actually looked like one of the better teams in football), it’s possible New England actually becomes a more balanced offense this season. That all being said, I do think a healthy Shane Vereen will help Brady out a lot, and at the end of the day, he always seems to find his way to 4,000-plus yards and 25-30 TDs. His value certainly isn’t what it once was, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find many players with a higher floor than Brady.

The “Is That Upside In Your Pants? Or Are You Just Happy To See Me” Molestors
9. Colin Kaepernick
10. Robert Griffin III
11. Matt Ryan
12. Andrew Luck
They won’t come super cheap, but the ceiling on these players is pretty damn high if they play up to their ability.

The 49ers pass offense looks pretty damn good heading into 2014. Vernon Davis is a beast, a healthy Michael Crabtree is a legit no. 1 WR, and Stevie Johnson and Anquan Boldin are sure-handed receivers who should operate well as the second and third wideouts. Colin Kaepernick has a big, accurate arm and can deliver fantasy numbers with his legs (524 rushing yards and four rush TDs last year). He’s a poor bet for 4,000 passing yards due to the team’s commitment to the run, but 30-plus rushing/passing TDs is certainly in play.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden will not allow RGIII to run as much as he did during the Shanahan years, but he has the weapons to put up dope numbers regardless. Washington’s offensive line should provide ample protection, and the addition of DeSean Jackson gives the team two dynamic, deep-threat wideouts (with Pierre Garcon). Add in the athletic, hype-riding Jordan Reed, and you have a very tempting mix of talent for Griffin to work with. RGIII won’t come cheap, however, so if you do have designs on owning him, you better be prepared to pony up. Me? I’ll pass on paying top five value thanks.

I’ve always thought the price on Matt Ryan was too rich for his numbers. After all, he’s tossed 31 picks over the last two years and throughout his NFL career he always fell short of putting up truly elite QB numbers. This year, the price actually isn’t half bad. Granted, you have to hope that both Julio Jones and Roddy White come back strong and healthy for 2014, especially since safety valve (and red-zone option) Tony Gonzalez is gone. Still, Ryan has topped 4,500 yards each of the last two years and Atlanta is a pass-first offense, so he is firmly in QB1 territory.

Speaking of overrated fantasy options, why is everyone so wet over Andrew Luck? No one can deny his talent, but his play hasn’t translated to dynamite fantasy production to date (23 TDs and 3,822 yards last year were OK, but nothing to jerk off to). I also question his receivers after T.Y. Hilton. Reggie Wayne is 35 and coming off a torn ACL. Hakeem Nicks looked like a possession receiver in 2013. Luck is an absolute playmaker with legit big-time upside, but looking at the draft day price tag, it looks like many owners are paying for his ceiling up front. Yeah he’s capable of some monster performances, but keep in mind that he scored multiple TDs just seven times last year.

The “Not Too Shabby” Syndicate
13. Russell Wilson
14. Nick Foles
15. Jay Cutler
16. Eli Manning
17. Cam Newton

So you didn’t come away with a top 12 fantasy QB. Big ‘effin deal. These QBs are not only adequate starting fantasy options, but they actually have the skill-set and offensive weapons to climb into the top 10 by season’s end.

Readers of this site  know that I’ve been high on Russell Wilson since he was drafted by Seattle. His composure, instincts, and fearless ability to thread the needle with his throws make him a signal-caller capable of being a consistent, top performer. Alas, the Seahawks are a run-first offense, and as long as they remain committed to the run, Wilson will be handicapped in fantasy. There is some silver lining for 2014, however. For run-blocking purposes, Seattle’s offensive line is the shakiest it’s looked in years. Add in the fact that Marshawn Lynch has a ton of mileage on him, and it’s possible that the team will wind up throwing it more often this season. You have to worry about Wilson’s weapons in the passing game (Percy Harvin is injury-prone, and Doug Baldwin is being miscast as an outside receiver), but Wilson is the type of QB who can spread it around and get the job done regardless of his supporting cast. It doesn’t hurt that he can help out fantasy owners in the run game as well (539 rushing yards and a score last year).

If a healthy Jeremy Maclin can help absorb the loss of DeSean Jackson, then Nick Foles could be in for a big fantasy season. Foles rolled up a 27:2 TD-to-INT ratio last year, and the accurate QB is a great fit for Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense. The development of Zach Ertz and the addition of Darren Sproles should give Foles a diverse group of options to throw to this season, though we should not forget that this team is built around LeSean McCoy. Foles attempted 30 passes or more just three times last year, so if he is not as efficient (or if opposing defenses figure out a way to slow down Kelly’s offense), then some uneven performances will be on tap. He’s still an intriguing fantasy option, but the price in some leagues has been so high that you eliminate any chance of making a profit (and instead, stand to torpedo your season if he fails to deliver big numbers).

Jay Cutler was on pace for 31 TDs and over 3,800 yards last year, but you can’t just look at extrapolated data when examining Cutler. Fact is, he gets banged up a lot thanks to questionable decision-making (he holds onto the ball way too long, leading to many sack lunches) and a shaky offensive line. If you draft Cutler, you better have a damn good backup QB locked for when the inevitable Cutler injury keeps him out of a game (or six). The good news is that his big arm is a nice fit for Marc Trestman’s offense and huge targets Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery can help make up for Cutler’s toddler-like decision-making by turning modest passes into huge gains.

The Giants are hoping the move to a shorter passing attack helmed by new OC Ben McAdoo will help revitalize Eli Manning’s career. It’s a smart move, as two of the Giants’ top passing targets (Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham) are small, quick options who can do damage after the catch. Also, the Giants offensive line still looks questionable, so an offense geared towards quicker releases of the ball should help keep Eli upright and in a nice rhythm. Here’s hoping the move to higher-percentage throws also helps to cut down on the turnovers as Eli tallied an ugly 27 picks last year. Manning is coming pretty cheap in some leagues, so he makes sense for fantasy owners looking for an affordable veteran QB with upside.

Cam Newton has a world of talent, but the supporting cast is more suspect than Jerry Sandusky at a Build-A-Bear workshop. Don’t get it twisted, I think Kelvin Benjamin has the goods to be a quality WR1 thanks to his size and ability to catch anything thrown around his way. However, as a rookie wideout, it’s a lot to expect him to move shoulder the load of the passing game. Sure Greg Olsen is around, but that’s not saying a lot when a middling pass-catching TE is your most reliable option heading into the season. Complicating matters is the fact that Newton is coming off ankle surgery, so if he is not mobile enough to provide fantasy owners with the rushing stats they are used to, it could be a long season for Cam and those of you invested in him. Here’s hoping he takes the next step forward as a pocket passer, because he’ll need to in order to be worth the ADP.

The “So You’re Telling Me There’s A Chance” Chuckleheads
18. Carson Palmer
19. Andy Dalton
20. Joe Flacco
21. Josh McCown
22. Ryan Tannehill

If you come out of your draft/auction with one of these QBs at the helm, it’s not the most ideal situation. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t win a fantasy championship with one of these unheralded arms.

Carson Palmer and Josh McCown aren’t particularly exciting talents on their own, but they are both in situations that are favorable for fantasy production. Palmer is in Year Two of Bruce Arians’ offense and has a nice pair of wideouts to throw to (Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd). McCown is in Tampa Bay, where they are trying to replicate the success he had throwing to monster targets Marshall/Jeffery in Chicago by pairing him with Vincent Jackson and rookies Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The opportunity is there for both Palmer and McCown to be solid, undervalued fantasy QBs, and the only thing standing in their way is their modest talent.

Flacco is trying to prove to the NFL (and fantasy owners alike) that his isn’t just a waste of talent. He has a a big arm and the ability to become an effective fantasy option, but is saddled in a questionable offenses. The Ravens are hoping Dennis Pitta comes back strong, but even if he does, their passing game appears easy to defend against thanks to the one-dimensional Torrey Smith and the rapidly declining (and newly acquired) Steve Smith. Flacco should be considerably better than he was in 2013 in terms of fantasy production, but he’ll remain a QB2 who could be a savvy matchup play.

Ryan Tannehill is the wild card of this bunch. He’s looked better as a pocket-passer in the preseason and is expected to have more rushing stats as the team installs some read-option plays into their offense. That said, his supporting cast after Mike Wallace (with whom he has a poor deep play rapport as Tannehill has been spotty with his downfield accuracy) is mediocre at best, and it’s possible he could remain a work-in-progress QB in 2014.

The “Too Shabby” Society
23. EJ Manuel
24. Ryan Fitzpatrick
25. Geno Smith
26. Brian Hoyer

27. Jake Locker
28. Alex Smith
29. Matt Cassel
30. Matt Schaub
31. Shaun Hill

32. Chad Henne
33. Johnny Manziel
34. Teddy Bridgewater
35. Derek Carr
36. Michael Vick
37. Blake Bortles
As deep as the QB position is, you really don’t want to wind up with one of these dudes “leading” your offense. Sure you have some sleepers who may produce serviceable numbers this season (Manziel, Tannehill, Fitzpatrick), but week-to-week, these are some unappetizing options. I can’t say it’s impossible to win with any of these QBs as there may actually be some super deep leagues that could… oh who the fuck am I kidding. Just, please try not to draft these guys in re-draft leagues. Please.

*Last updated 8/24/14.


About Starbonell

Starbonell is the co-founder of Sons of Roto and one of the most insightful and colorful fantasy analysts in the game. Mixing intelligent and well-researched advice with an entertaining style of writing that is easy to digest, Starbonell is the king of info-tainment.