Before the 2010 season began, the general consensus was Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning would be the big guns. So far, that hasn’t been too far from the truth. Sure, some guys won’t meet the extremely high expectations (Tony Romo) and some will come out of nowhere (Kyle Orton), but for the most part you have a pretty good idea as to what the production from early drafted signal callers will be. So who have been the consistent ones that will carry a high value status into next season? Who have worked their way into the elite crowd? Has anyone fallen out of high regard? Let’s take a keeper look into 2011 rankings judged by what we’ve seen so far in the first six games of 2010.
1. Peyton Manning – Indianapolis Colts
Everyone included Manning in the Top 3 projected quarterbacks, but I don’t think that many really thought he’d be No. 1 by this kind of margin. Indianapolis has a secret factory under the turf of Lucas Oil Stadium that churns out talented receivers. Manning is stacked with options including Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon, Blair White, Anthony Gonzalez, Austin Collie and Joseph Addai. Manning may be older than the other elite options by a small margin, but his age obviously hasn’t slowed him down yet. Plus, guys like Brett Favre and Kurt Warner have shown that quarterbacks can still be extremely productive into their 40s. Manning’s on his way to another MVP award, both in fantasy and real life. He’s the most solid player in the game and nothing major will change over one offseason. Another season of 4,000-plus yards and 30 touchdowns is to be expected.
2. Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
Rodgers has put up pretty solid numbers even though the ball really hasn’t bounced in his favor so far this season. With Ryan Grant out for the season and the running game struggling, the pressure of the entire offensive production rests on Rodgers’ shoulders. And to make things more complicated, one of his favorite targets in Jermichael Finley is out for the rest of the season. But Rodgers has a true possession receiver in Donald Driver and a homerun hitter in Greg Jennings so the surrounding company should be able to pick up some slack. Next year, barring setbacks, that offense will get Grant and Finley back, making Rodgers an elite option yet again. On top of his huge arm and passing stats, he also adds a dimension of rushing attack. Rodgers can be assumed to rush for about three or four extra scores each season and have 200 or so yards to add onto his overall points.
3. Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints
When judging a quarterback’s potential two things need to be taken into consideration. First, you need to grade the overall talent of the player in question. Secondly, you need to look at the overall talent of the options surrounding said player. There’s certainly no questioning Brees’ elite abilities and by the looks of things the offensive cast is starting to get it together. Brees has as many, if not more, targets at his disposal as Peyton Manning does. On any given play Brees can hook up with Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Marques Colston, Lance Moore or Jeremy Shockey for a big gainer. People may not be too thrilled about Brees’ start, but it has less to do with him and more to do with the issues with the running game. Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas have both missed considerable time and the search to find a replacement has included Chris Ivory, Ladell Betts and Julius Jones. In addition to the loss of the running game, Bush was a frequent target of Brees so losing him hurt twice as much. Any quarterback who loses one of his most highly targeted options is bound to lose a little value. Hopefully next year the running game can come back healthy and restore the balance that made the Saints offense the tops in the league.
4. Philip Rivers – San Diego Chargers
When Vincent Jackson began to threaten to hold out, people started to downgrade Rivers’ potential. Well, I guess that Rivers doesn’t miss him as much as people were guessing. He’s been throwing all over the field to a collection of various targets and having success doing so. Rivers has been a threat to throw 300-400 yards a game at will against opposing defenses. The only two troubling issues as of now are (a) How severe is Antonio Gates injury?, and (b) What happened against the St. Louis Rams? Gates has been Rivers’ go-to receiver all season long so hopefully his injury isn’t terribly serious. In regards to the second aforementioned issue, the game against the Rams should have been a walk in the park, yet Rivers didn’t expose the awful defense. This was probably just a single instance bump in the road, but Rivers needs to capitalize on weak opponents in order to keep owners happy and cushion his stat line. The maturation of his receivers and Ryan Mathews could actually raise his value for next season.
5. Tom Brady – New England Patriots
In terms of fantasy, Brady would have been ranked ahead of Rivers if the Patriots still had Randy Moss. But with Moss now wearing Minnesota Viking purple, Brady loses his only true depth threat and one of the best red zone receivers in the game. The best thing about Brady is the fact that he and Wes Welker are the only “real” players from the Patriots worth starting for fantasy purposes as of now. This translates into Brady having to be amazingly efficient on offense and in the red zone and we all know he’s fine with that. With a running game struggling to find a feature back, Brady could see more opportunity to score through the air and on red zone trips. He converts on a superhuman rate, so the more chances he gets the more points he’ll generate. With Moss gone expect more of a 2005 type of Brady and less of a 2007 repeat. This means expect more “dinks and dunks” and less deep bombs. But Brady is still Brady and when 27 passing touchdowns is considered a down year for you, you qualify as a Top 5 option.
6. Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys will be attending the Super Bowl in their own stadium. I guarantee it. You heard it here. They’ll be watching from the luxury boxes, but they’ll still be there. The Cowboys have stumbled out of the gate and things look out of sync. Romo, however, has actually been a good fantasy start each week. His surrounding crew of Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Roy Williams and Jason Witten may only be second talent-wise to Manning’s crew over in Indianapolis. The bigger issues seem to be with overrated offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and the defense. In fantasy, you don’t get extra points if the team your quarterback plays for wins, so don’t associate the Cowboys struggles with Romo’s value. As long as Romo stays healthy and has this arsenal of targets around him he’ll be a threat for 30 touchdowns each season. Whether he makes that mark remains to be seen.
7. Matt Schaub – Houston Texans
We’re now flirting with the area in which you should be looking at a different player from a different position to keep. Schaub has shown before that he can light up defenses, three touchdowns and 400 yards at a time. It doesn’t hurt that he has the best receiver in football running routes either. Regardless, Schaub hasn’t performed like we thought he would so far. This is due partly to the running game establishing itself as one of the best in the league. But Schaub just doesn’t look as sharp as he did last year. Anyone that has Andre Johnson on their team is automatically promised about 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns. It’s up to Schaub to find the extra 20 scores and 2,700 yards elsewhere. And as he has showed us in 2009, he’s very capable of doing so.
The rest of the options shouldn’t really be considered as keeper material. However, if you blew it on draft night and need some value from your absolutely awful roster to help you going into next season, here’s how I’d rank it. Again, you really should be looking a keeping a player from a different position at this point.
8. Jay Cutler – Chicago Bears – His stats were among the best in the league before his concussion. Chicago could really use a true No. 1 wide receiver though to put Cutler over the top.
9. Kevin Kolb/Michael Vick – Philadelphia Eagles – The best decision to make when it comes to 50-50 shots is not taking it at all. Vick may not be in Philadelphia next season, or maybe he could, but be second string. Or perhaps Kolb will be the one riding the bench. They both offer good value, but too much risk is involved.
10. Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens – As noted with Ray Rice, the Ravens were gifted one of the hardest schedules in the league. Flacco does have great weaponry with Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Anquan Boldin and Todd Heap. The talent and the potential are there.
11. Eli Manning – New York Giants – A less-exciting version of big brother. You know what you get out of him each season and the receiving crew offers high upside. Hakeem Nicks is becoming an elite option.
13. Kyle Orton – Denver Broncos – Are you “snorting the Orton”? Tim Tebow offers too much of a risk. I’m aware of his yardage, but we’re talking keepers here. You can pick him early in the draft next season if you want him that badly.
14. Josh Freeman – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Surrounded by promising, young talent and has shown flashes of ability. We haven’t seen his best yet.
15. Chad Henne – Miami Dolphins – Has a good surrounding cast, but he’s more of a game manager than a fantasy producer. Brandon Marshall raises his value higher than Henne’s true talent should represent.