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by Russ Bliss (3-22-11)


 

It's that time of year again when we start to dream about how our fantasy football cheat sheets will fall together once we get to our drafts. How will the rankings look? Should this guy be above that guy? Have I forgotten about anyone? Why do others like this player a lot more than I do? Did I miss something about him? Where should my fantasy football sleepers rank?  And what round do I need to take them in?


Relax. It's only March. There's a lot of time to figure out the answers to the burning questions that leap out into the forefront of the mind when we start thinking about them. Right now is a time to start organizing your fantasy football rankings. Setting the table for what they will morph into by the time we finalize our fantasy football draft rankings in preparation for another season filled with highs and lows.


And with that thought of a starting point in mind, I offer up the following as an initial look at my top 10 fantasy football quarterback rankings heading into the 2011 season:


1) Peyton Manning. I know that there are one or two QB's every year who produce more fantasy points than Manning. But none of them do it EVERY season, and EVERY season Manning is in the top 5. In 13 years, Manning has never missed a game. He's never thrown fewer than 26 TD passes in a single season and has thrown more than 30 TD's in 4 of the last 5 years. He's thrown for over 4,000 yards 11 of 13 seasons. Simply put, Peyton Manning is the safest, most reliable stud player in fantasy football year in and year out. Until he stops being that way, he will be my top ranked QB. He may be a free agent at the present time, but Manning could play for any team in the NFL and still end up being a top 5 fantasy QB.


2) Aaron Rodgers. Entering his prime, Rodgers is the top ranked QB on many analysts' fantasy football rankings. I can't say I blame them as he has been better than anyone imagined when he took over as the Packers starting QB in 2008. In my own fantasy football blog at the time I questioned how Rodgers would fare taking over for a legend in Green Bay, but I also stated he was a potential fantasy football sleeper QB to keep an eye on. With over 12,300 passing yards, 800 rushing yards, and a combined 99 TD's the last 3 seasons combined, Rodgers has proven to be an elite fantasy QB in a pass happy system. The only reason he ranks behind Manning is because he hasn't played at this level for nearly as long as Manning has.


3) Drew Brees. Some will drop Brees down their rankings in 2011 after he threw a single season career high 22 interceptions in 2010, but not me. I look at his five consecutive seasons with more than 4,300 passing yards. Three consecutive seasons with 33 or more passing TD's. I see a QB still on a team that lacks an identity rushing the football and is squarely in the prime of his career ready to have another elite fantasy QB season. Brees is approaching Manning-like reliability every year. End of discussion; Brees, Rodgers, and Manning are the tier 1 QB's for 2011.


4) Tom Brady. Okay. Maybe it's not the end of the discussion. Brady was amongst the top scoring fantasy QB's in 2010, if not the top scoring QB. 3,900 passing yards, a NFL most 36 passing TD's, and only 4 interceptions thru 16 games showed that Brady is back after his 2008 season ending knee injury. And Brady does it with or without star WR's. He makes use of whatever talent is around him. I place him just below the top 3 because throughout his career as a starting QB, while he's been good, very good, and great, he's only been amongst the elite twice. No doubting the upside is there for Brady to stay elite though and that's why he's at 4.


5) Phillip Rivers. Many were down on Rivers heading into 2010 because of the Vincent Jackson situation, and had him down on their fantasy football rankings last season, but I wasn't one of them. And I wasn't wrong. Rivers threw for more yards (4,710) than any other QB in the league in 2010 and also tossed 30 TD's. Rivers has 3 consecutive seasons with over 4,000 passing yards, and has tossed a total of 92 TD's with only 33 interceptions in that span. San Diego completed its transformation from a rushing team to a high flying aerial attack offense in 2010 and I don't see that changing much heading into 2011. Some say the Chargers need to get back to running the ball more for them to win games, but I think they just need to play better defense.


6) Tony Romo. Romo started six games in 2010 before a fractured collarbone ended his season. At the time there was talk he could come back and play before the season ended, so there's little concern about him not being totally healthy for 2011. but since he played less than two quarters of the sixth game, I will concentrate on what he did the first 5 games: 1,566 passing yards and 10 passing TD's. Prorate that out for a full 16 games and you get over 5,000 passing yards and 32 TD's. Yes, he did throw an alarmingly high 7 interceptions in those 5 games, but considering all 7 came in 3 games and in his career he's never thrown for more than 19 in a season I can feel okay with myself discounting them. With Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and a rushing attack that is better served as a complement to the passing game, I feel really good about Romo being a potential steal in drafts and won't be surprised if he possibly ranks higher than 6 when our fantasy football draft analyzer comes out with the 2011 fantasy player projections.


7) Michael Vick. In 2011, I expect Vick will be drafted ahead of a few of the QB's (and possibly above all of them) ranked higher on this list. And while his numbers in 2010 certainly "wow" you, I am not totally convinced that Vick has made the step up from being a great athlete playing the QB position to being a reliably great QB. It's hard to argue with his numbers though. In 12 games Vick produced over 3,000 passing yards, 21 passing TD's, only 6 interceptions, 676 rushing yards, and 9 rushing TD's. He practically single-handedly won fantasy games in week 10 last year with over 300 passing yards, 80 rushing yards, and 6 combined TD's against the Washington Redskins. But he also missed 3 games because of injury. And there lies the one concern about Vick that cannot be denied. You can argue he has become a great QB, but his style of play leaves him open to increased risk of injury and it's just a simple fact that a 31 year old QB doesn't heal as quickly as a 26 year old QB does (and Vick was 26 his last season with the Atlanta Falcons before his incarceration). He's in a great passing offense and the reward with Vick is tremendous, but the risk is great too. And just enough for me to probably watch him get drafted by someone else 2 rounds higher than I would take him myself. In terms of my initial fantasy football tier rankings Vick, Brady, Rivers, and Romo represent the 2nd tier of fantasy QB's in 2011.


8) Ben Roethlisberger. Hopefully "Big Ben" has learned his lessons and won't be providing any off-season police blotter activity in 2011. Because when he returned from his 4 game suspension in 2010, he was very solid for fantasy purposes. He averaged over 265 passing yards and 1.58 combined TD's per game. With a young WR corps featuring potential fantasy stud Mike Wallace, steady Hines Ward, and young emerging sleeper WR's Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, Roethlisberger has the potential to take a big step up in 2011. The only concern is the Steelers may not be as willing as some teams to continually air it out every game regardless of the score. They're still the Pittsburgh Steelers and they still like to be a smash-mouth running team at times. Especially when they have a lead.


9) Matt Ryan. Things finally blossomed for Ryan in his 3rd NFL season in 2010. His 3,705 passing yards ranked 9th overall. His 28 passing TD's was tied for 6th most. And he only threw 9 interceptions. He has an elite fantasy WR in Roddy White, but to take the next step up he needs more weapons. Tony Gonzalez is aging at TE and Michael Jenkins, while good, isn't great. Ryan is in a similar situation to Ben Roethlisberger in that his team also has some smash-mouth mentality in them because of their great RB Michael Turner. That combination of mentality and lack of more weapons led to only one game where Ryan threw for over 300 yards in 2010 while having 4 games with less than 200. Ryan was still a solid fantasy QB having had 9 multiple TD games in 2010, but to really take the step up to the next level Ryan needs at least one more great receiving option. On the plus side is that entering his 4th NFL season, he's shown all the makings of being able to become a top flight fantasy QB.


10) Matt Schaub. After tearing it up for 4,770 passing yards and 29 TD's in 2009, Schaub disappointed fantasy owners with "only" 4,370 passing yards and 24 TD's in 2010. It was a season of highs and lows for Schaub. 7 games with over 300 passing yards; 4 with under 200. 8 games with multiple TD's; 8 games with 1 or none. Some of the reasons for the ups and downs were the injury plagued seasons WR Andre Johnson and TE Owen Daniels both had, but it was also reflective of the emergence of Arian Foster at RB. The Texans wanted a strong rushing attack in 2010 after an abysmal season running the football in 2009 and they got it. It was so good in fact it had a slight negative impact on Schaub's numbers. I say slight because in reality, he was still one of only 5 QB's who threw for over 4,000 yards in 2010. He only threw 12 interceptions, but it was the five fewer TD's that gave the impression of a "down" season for Schaub. The upside is still there for him to reclaim a spot amongst the great starting fantasy QB's in 2011 and he, along with Roethlisberger and Ryan make up the third tier of fantasy QB's.