Same-sex marriage, abortion, and fantasy sports. Society’s greatest three debate topics. Sean Tomlinson and I spend an unhealthy amount work time battling over each of those issues, but we’ve been told by our bosses that we aren’t allowed to weigh in on gay marriage and pro-life vs. pro-choice on this blog, so we’re sticking to fantasy football. We begin a week of debate-laced previews with a look at quarterbacks:
Differences in opinion
Brad Gagnon: While we both agree that Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick belong at the top (in either order), I have Philip Rivers ranked ahead of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, while you have Rivers below that trio. Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates missed large chunks of 2010 and Rivers still led the league in passing yards and average. He’s just entering his prime, while Brady, Manning and Brees are a few years older. In my mind, it’s time for Rivers to join Rodgers and Vick in the top three.
Sean Tomlinson: There’s nothing I enjoy more in life than quibbling over hairs split in several directions. Following the emergence of Sam Bradford and Josh Freeman last year, and hopefully a season of full health for Matthew Stafford, the quarterback pool feels much deeper, so deciding between the top ten can become a process of deciding between several supermodels, with each marginally better looking than the next. Rivers plays Marisa Miller to Tom Brady’s Kate Upton (Gisele Bundchen?) for me primarily because of some still lingering yet mild concerns over Antonio Gates’ health, and the questionable support that he’ll receive from the running game.
Brad: And generally we seem to agree on the top guns. I’m just saying that if it’s time to draft a quarterback and Vick and Rodgers are gone, I’m going with Rivers at this point.
Brad: I’m eyeing two guys that may still be overlooked by fantasy players this year. Josh Freeman is becoming a star and is surrounded by an offense that is improving rapidly. I honestly think that by the end of the year he’ll have as much value as Manning and Tom Brady. But you still have interception-machine Eli Manning ahead of Freeman? C’mon!
Sean: That makes me one of the few believers in Eli based on his 2010 season being an outlier compared to the last several seasons. Yes, Peyton’s little brother chucked 25 picks last year, but that’s more than his previous two years combined (14 in 2009, and 10 in 2008). The loss of Steve Smith and Kevin Boss will also be felt, but Mario Manningham and his 944 yards and nine touchdowns will easily slide into the No. 2 role behind Hakeem Nicks with his blazing speed. The loss of Boss will also be overcome with further fortification at wide receiver in the form of Domenik Hixon and the rising Victor Cruz.
Brad: I’m sure his interception numbers will come down, but I’m not sure it’ll be a significant improvement. Anyway, my other quarterback to watch is Kyle Orton, who will get to air it out for quite possibly the entire season in Denver. He’s been great in camp and easily won the starting quarterback job, and I think John Elway wants to give him a full season with the reins. He and Brandon Lloyd will make fantasy magic again in 2011.
Sean: I like Orton too and think that he’ll continue to be a yardage monster due to the lack of a consistent running game, although much of Denver’s pass-happy ways were prompted by the scoreboard. That may change this year with the addition of Von Miller and the return of Elvis Dumervil, but only slightly. I like Matt Cassel as another arm set to improve on a breakout season. The Chiefs are clearly a running team powered by Jamaal Charles, and to a lesser extent Thomas Jones. But Cassel developed great chemistry with Dwayne Bowe, and now he has a second weapon in the form of Steve Breaston. He won’t impress you with his yardage, but last time we checked touchdowns earn a lot of points in fantasy and reality. Cassel went through a stretch in the middle of last season in which he threw 15 touchdowns and just one interception over six games, showing his ability to be an effective boom-or-bust fill-in off your bench.
Brad: If you’re in a league that starts two quarterbacks or is particularly deep, it wouldn’t hurt to take a flier on Colt McCoy late. McCoy is well-suited to run the new west coast offense in Cleveland, and although his receivers aren’t good he’ll still be surrounded by a good offensive line and a solid running back. If Pat Shurmur can get this offense on track, McCoy could have a breakout season. But there’ll still be growing pains, and he’s not someone who you’ll want to rely on as a regular fantasy starter.
Sean: Agreed, and McCoy will receive even more support from the backfield with the return of Montario Hardesty. I’ll go even deeper, and will make the mildly painful selection of Rex Grossman, who’s the classic example of a pivot who in reality deserves a place in quarterback hell, but in fantasy could become useful as a depth arm. As the fierce QB battle in Washington rages on, there’s little reason to trust John Beck’s ability to hold onto the job even if he does win it over Sexy Rexy. If he falters after not starting a regular-season game in three years, we need to only look back at what Grossman did when Donovan McNabb was mercifully benched over the final three games last year, passing for 840 yards, seven touchdowns, and four interceptions. You’ll have to live with his turnovers, but he still has a cannon and the offensive weapons (Chris Cooley, Santana Moss), to post solid yardage numbers on a team that will be playing from behind and airing it out often. In an especially deep league, he’s worthy of a late-round flier.
Brad: You’ve always had a thing for Grossman. It’s getting a bit scary.
Brad: The Manning brothers are former Super Bowl MVPs and mass media weapons, which is why they might be overrated at this point in their careers. Peyton’s status is cloudier than ever following another offseason neck procedure. He might not even be ready for Week 1, and who knows where the offense will be at that point. He isn’t a spring chicken at 35 and I’m not thrilled with that offensive line. Maybe this is the year he finally misses some games. And Eli’s o-line took a big hit in the offseason. I don’t think he’ll throw 25 picks again either, but I think he’ll have another tough season.
Sean: I understand the prevailing concern over Eli’s 2010 season, and will concede that he’s not facing an easy ride in 2011. But I still think that the loss of Steve Smith is being overblown a bit because Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon will slide in and be effective immediately. Regrettably, it’s difficult to keep Matthew Stafford out of this category. I won’t label him a potential bust purely out of injury concerns, because that would be far too easy, and incredibly unoriginal. This may still fall into the latter category (sorry), and even though I’m not a Lions fan and have no emotional attachment whatsoever to Lions football, Stafford faltering this year because of injuries or otherwise would give me a profound sense of sadness. But with Mikel Leshoure gone, and serious questions surrounding Titus Young’s health as well as Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best already recovering from their own training camp nicks and bruises, the youth surrounding Stafford is suddenly looking old, hobbled, and grumpy.
Brad: You’ve always been a Lion hater. This is as insulting as when you ranked Calvin Johnson 13th last summer! I agree that Stafford is a risk, but the potential reward could be large. In a deep quarterback pool, that’s not a gamble that should be taken until the last few rounds.
Brad: My one and only bust to watch is Joe Flacco, whose offensive line is a disaster and who won’t have safety valves Derrick Mason and Todd Heap in 2011. I have nothing against Flacco, who has the ability, but I just don’t think he’ll receive enough support this year. Watch for his numbers to fall off.
Sean: We’re agreeing far too much, which makes for a compelling and rich debate. What could further advance Flacco’s fantasy decline this year is the signing of Vonta Leach, an upgrade at fullback who will bulldoze holes for Ray Rice and make the Ravens an offense that’s even more focused on the run. My concern also lies with Mark Sanchez, who’s generally ranked between 15 and 20 among quarterbacks. He still has two of his favorite targets in Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller, but Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards are gone, and although he looked good while catching his first preseason touchdown pass Sunday night, it’s difficult to forecast the effectiveness and durability of Plaxico Burress.
Brad: Unfortunately, I agree. This sucks.
Brad: Honestly, unless you’re in a keeper league (or an extremely deep league), there’s probably no reason to draft a rookie quarterback this year. But here’s how I rank the rookie pivots in terms of expected fantasy production: 1) Cam Newton (he’ll likely start from the get-go), 2) Andy Dalton (also likely to start and surrounded by better players than Newton), 3) Blaine Gabbert (pushing David Garrard), 4) Colin Kaepernick (could earn some starts and has some weapons to work with), 5) Jake Locker (having a stellar preseason but Matt Hasselbeck’s the starter).
Sean: Dalton gets the edge for me over Newton, and only because of the youthful targets that he’ll have at his disposal. A.J. Green is downright explosive, Jordan Shipley will look to build off of his 600-yard rookie season, and Jermaine Gresham will continue to mature at tight end. But yes (here comes the agreement), quarterback is the most fickle position for rookies, and Dalton is clearly little more than a waiver wire pickup if he starts to click later in the year, or a late-round flier in obscenely deep leagues. Sam Bradford wasn’t even a regular fantasy starter last year despite his record-setting rookie season.
Brad: Alright, on to the rankings. Running backs are on deck. Hopefully we’ll disagree more tomorrow and the apocalypse won’t arrive.
|1||Aaron Rodgers||Receiving corps is better and Finley, Grant are back.|
|2||Michael Vick||Count on him missing games due to injury.|
|3||Philip Rivers||Last year’s passing yards leader has Gates, Jackson healthy.|
|4||Drew Brees||No way he throws close to that many picks this year.|
|5||Tom Brady||No reason he won’t repeat what he did in 2010.|
|6||Peyton Manning||Does the decline begin in 2011?|
|7||Matt Ryan||Julio Jones will only improve his numbers.|
|8||Josh Freeman||Another year with Mike Williams. Numbers should climb.|
|9||Matt Schaub||As long as Andre Johnson’s in the lineup, Schaub’s a fantasy starter.|
|10||Ben Roethlisberger||Fantastic numbers in only 12 starts last season.|
|11||Tony Romo||One year removed from a 4,483-yard season.|
|12||Kyle Orton||Has the ability to put up monster numbers over a full season.|
|13||Matthew Stafford||A wild card that could pay off huge later.|
|14||Eli Manning||Interceptions should come down and he’ll throw for a lot of yards.|
|15||Joe Flacco||Not thrilled with the receiving corps and support in general.|
|16||Jay Cutler||See: Joe Flacco.|
|17||Matt Cassel||Experiences too many ups and downs to be relied upon as a fantasy starter.|
|18||Kevin Kolb||Undisputed starter and Larry Fitzgerald in his pocket.|
|19||Mark Sanchez||Receiving corps took a hit, but a fine fantasy No. 2 quarterback.|
|20||Sam Bradford||A safe backup who may or may not break out but won’t hurt you.|
|1||Michael Vick||He plays on a Dream Team. What more do you want?|
|2||Aaron Rodgers||Jermichael Finley is healthy, and so is Ryan Grant in the backfield.|
|3||Tom Brady||Ochocinco is declining, but he’s still yet another weapon for Brady.|
|4||Peyton Manning||Similar to Rodgers, boosted by the return of a key receiver (Austin Collie).|
|5||Drew Brees||Rising interceptions last year are concerning, but should be an anomaly.|
|6||Philip Rivers||If Gates is still the Gates we’ve come to know after his injury…boom.|
|7||Matt Schaub||Vickers now blocking for Foster will keep defenses focused on the run.|
|8||Matt Ryan||This Julio Jones guy sounds like he may be good at football.|
|9||Tony Romo||88/42 touchdown to interception ratio in the 3 seasons prior to last year.|
|10||Ben Roethlisberger||Jerricho Cotchery will be an underrated addition.|
|11||Eli Manning||Manningham, Hixon, and Cruz will have no problem filling Smith’s shoes.|
|12||Josh Freeman||The chemistry with Mike Williams will continue to grow.|
|13||Joe Flacco||Lee Evans is an upgrade over the departed Derrick Mason.|
|14||Matthew Stafford||For the 197th time: A healthy Stafford will be an explosive Stafford.|
|15||Kevin Kolb||Supplied with the weapons to succeed between Fitzgerald and Heap.|
|16||Kyle Orton||Will still be a yardage compiler on a team playing from behind in shootouts.|
|17||Jay Cutler||Staring at the sky while lying on the turf will again be commonplace.|
|18||Matt Cassel||Breaston arrives, and Baldwin will too if he can keep his fists down.|
|19||Mark Sanchez||Don’t trust Burress to make it thru the season, but Mason is a fine fallback.|
|20||Sam Bradford||Still only a fantasy backup, but value should grow in keeper leagues.|