1 – Aaron Rodgers – He should conclude the 2011-12 season as the unanimous league MVP. He’s far younger than the other elite quarterbacks yet seemingly more experienced. He finished the season with 48 total scores, though he played sparingly, if at all, down the home stretch. His unreal wave of weaponry will continue to produce for the next decade. The quartet of Rodgers, Jermichael Finley, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson are the next generation version of Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Rodgers’ ability to run the ball is just the cherry on top of the sundae every Sunday.
2 – Drew Brees – All hail the new single season passing record holder! Those who selected Brees in the 2011 fantasy draft most likely rode him all the way to the championship game. Brees managed to cut his interceptions way down this season and looks to be much healthier. Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints’ offense both provide ample scoring ability for Brees. The stable of wide receivers is an elite collection, and Jimmy Graham is the second best tight end in the league. There is no reason to suspect anything to change in New Orleans for the foreseeable future. Brees’ ability to surpass 400 yards passing in a game on such a regular basis is enough to take him early. Add in the potential for 40-plus touchdowns and he’s a complete no brainer.
3 – Tom Brady – The New England Patriots’ signal caller will finish with his second-best season behind only his 50-touchdown campaign in 2007. Actually, he finished with more passing yards this season than in that record-setting perfect regular season. Brady has the second-place record for passing yardage only behind the aforementioned Drew Brees. The Patriots’ offense runs straight through Brady and elite, yet seemingly underrated targets in Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. The running game isn’t pressing for additional plays, so the passing game will be looked to once again, to not only produce, but to do so at an almost impossible rate. The Patriots’ defense gives up so many points that Brady needs to keep firing to stay in the game. That’s exactly what you’re looking for when selecting your fantasy quarterback.
4 – Matthew Stafford – The Detroit Lions’ signal caller far exceeded any possible expectations for 2011. Stafford’s 5,038-yard, 41-touchdown season was seemingly lost behind Drew Brees’ record year. He’s clearly the talent that most believed he was when the Lions took him first overall. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson is a lock for about 14 scores on his own right, making any quarterback from Detroit a decent play. Add in Stafford’s arm and Titus Young’s speed and you get a young quarterback with tremendous upside. Beware of his shoulder injuries, though, as they have a long track record of reappearing over time. Stafford has the ability to supply the same amount of production as the top three guys, but at a lesser cost on draft day.
5 – Cam Newton – You can’t argue with numbers, and Newton has a record total of them. Newton had the kind of season that most owners were expecting from Michael Vick. The 14 rushing touchdowns for a quarterback is simply unheard of. Not only that, but he looked incredible as a passer as well, in essence revitalizing Steve Smith and Jeremy Shockey’s careers. The fact that Newton is only in his first year leaves the window open for even further production. The numbers don’t lie, but we’ve seen such players as Vick and Vince Young excel in one season and completely fall face-first the very next. His style of play also leaves him extremely vulnerable for injury. But with the other five quarterbacks gone you need to take calculated risks to keep up.
6 – Tony Romo – The Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback may not have what it takes to win the Super Bowl, but he’s got more than enough to win you a fantasy championship. Jason Witten, Laurent Robinson, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant could make Blaine Gabbert look like Tom Brady. Romo’s talent and situation make him a borderline elitist at the quarterback position. Romo heads the second-tier quarterback class, missing the first tier by just a step. Romo could join that class next season as long as he avoids the impactful injuries that he’s suffered through the last two years.
7 – Philip Rivers – I don’t know what was wrong in 2011, but this isn’t the San Diego Chargers team that we were expecting to see. Rivers has had a hard time finding his primary options on a consistent basis, thus hurting his own numbers in the process. The offensive line has been completely destroyed by injuries and that could very well be the cause. Expect a full return of health to the blockers that could bring up Rivers’ value even further. If Vincent Jackson were to file for a new mailing address, Rivers’ ceiling would drop down a bit. And Antonio Gates isn’t getting any younger.