If you want to take home the trophy, you have to stay ahead of the game, folks. Winning fantasy football championships ain't easy, but it can be a heck of a lot simpler if you make it a year-round process instead of just a seasonal hobby.
The 2013 NFL draft is coming up on Thursday, April 25 and should obviously be followed in some form or manner. Even though some of the rookies being selected may affect future rankings, we should always try to learn as much as we can.
I did not list any rookies in the rankings below, as it would be too difficult to assess their value without yet knowing their team situations.
In any case, I will continue to update my player rankings here throughout the offseason, so enjoy this pre-2013 NFL draft rendition and let me know what you think.
40. Tarvaris Jackson (Buf)
Not that Tarvaris is anything special, because he’s not, but Kevin Kolb has been in the league for six years now and has yet to play 10 or more games in any one of them.
Basically, you can count on Jackson getting at least a few starts this season.
39. Blaine Gabbert (Jax)
The Jaguars will give Blaine every chance to win the starting job this offseason, and he just might do so, but I highly doubt it lasts.
He’s just not a very good quarterback, so unless I witness a spectacular change of some sort this summer, he’ll be staying down here out of draftable range.
38. Nick Foles (Phi)
Key stat: Michael Vick has made it through an entire season safely just once in 10 years.
Though Foles supposedly doesn’t fit well in the Eagles' new offense, he still looked capable enough to handle a starting role in his stint as a starter last year, so you never know.
37. Ryan Fitzpatrick (Ten)
The Titans have some really nice offensive weapons, so if Jake Locker happens to continue in his injury-prone ways, Fitzpatrick could come up with some nice fantasy games this season.
36. Drew Stanton (Ari)
With the way the Cardinals offensive line played last season, who knows how long the immobile Carson Palmer will last?
35. Kirk Cousins (Was)
Cousins showed that he could handle a starting role if necessary, which just might be the case if RGIII can’t make it back by Week 1.
Either way, Kirk is definitely a good backup to have around.
34. Terrelle Pryor (Oak)
It was looking like the Raiders were going to give Pryor a chance…until they went out and got Matt Flynn to start instead.
Still, if the Raiders aren’t going anywhere this season (which they won't), Pryor could get a look at some point and with his running abilities, he just might turn out to be a decent deep sleeper.
33. David Garrard (NYJ)
I have no idea how much Garrard has left in the tank at 35 years old after not playing an NFL snap since 2010, but he’s in one of the better positions to fall into a starting role with Mark Sanchez ahead of him, so…
32. Kevin Kolb (Buf)
Can Kevin Kolb regain some of the magic that landed him a fat contract with the Cardinals back in 2011? Maybe, but I doubt it.
Personally, I think he used whatever magic he had left on whoever signed him to his new two-year, $13 million deal.
What a wizard this guy is!
31. Matt Flynn (Oak)
Plain and simple: Nobody knows what Flynn can really do just yet, but he has to get the nod over Kolb here with the Raiders receiving corps looking slightly better than what the Bills have.
30. Mark Sanchez (NYJ)
Yes, Mark Sanchez is bad. Sometimes (maybe even most of the time) he’s real bad.
However, he’s also had some stretches where you can see why the Jets continue to stick it out with him no matter how many people laugh at them for doing so.
With Santonio Holmes coming back from injury and a second-year improvement in play from Stephen Hill, it’s possible Sanchez surprises some people this season.
29. Chad Henne (Jax)
Even if Blaine Gabbert magically improves this offseason, which I suppose is a possibility, I still think Henne ends up starting at some point in 2013.
If he wins the job outright before Week 1 and Gabbert is relegated to season-long clipboard duty, it’s possible Henne rises up the rankings and becomes a decent sleeper with Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon showing some real skills in the second half of last season.
28. Christian Ponder (Min)
If there’s one thing I can say about Ponder without hesitation, it’s that the kid has moxie.
Unfortunately, not only doesn’t he have much around him in terms of receivers (Greg Jennings is fading and Kyle Rudolph just isn’t quite there yet), but the Vikings offense goes through Adrian Peterson at all times.
27. Alex Smith (KC)
Smith doesn’t turn the ball over and manages an offense pretty well, but he’s never been much of a fantasy guy and on a weaker team like the Chiefs, I can’t see the tides suddenly turning in his fantasy favor.
26. Brandon Weeden (Cle)
It’s strange to use the term “make-or-break year” for a second-year player, but for a guy who will be turning 30 in October, that’s exactly what it is.
Either way, with the Browns set to turn their offense into the Trent Richardson Show, whether he plays well, Weeden still won’t have the chance to make much of a difference for fantasy teams this season.
25. Carson Palmer (Ari)
Being traded to the Cardinals can only be a good thing for the aging Palmer, but it won’t change the fact that his arm is still erratic and noticeably weaker than it was in his glory years.
Larry Fitzgerald is a tremendous weapon to have at his disposal, but if the offensive line doesn’t improve immensely during the offseason, Palmer won’t be upright long enough to use him.
24. Matt Schaub (Hou)
Steady Eddie, Bland Stan, whatever you want to call him; Schaub simply won’t be much better than average again this year.
As usual, Houston failed to sign a complementary receiver to line up opposite Andre Johnson and though Owen Daniels certainly had a fine 2012 season, the guy is getting old.
Throw in that he plays in a heavily run-based offense and you’re looking at another year of mediocrity for Schaub.
23. Ryan Tannehill (Mia)
Tannehill is young, raw and still learning the position, but at least the Dolphins went out this offseason and got him something he can grow with.
Still, even though the additions of Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller will raise Tannehill’s overall stats some, I wouldn’t expect a breakout season just yet.
22. Sam Bradford (StL)
There has never been a doubt as to the skills residing in this kid (and he is still a kid at age 25), but the lack of talent surrounding Bradford during his first three years in the league has been borderline offensive.
However, towards the end of last season, it seemed Bradford was starting to work well with the other youngsters on the team, so there’s definitely hope going into 2013.
If sophomores Chris Givens and Brian Quick step up their game as expected and new tight end Jared Cook reaches expectations, Bradford could be a nice sleeper to grab in the later rounds.
21. Ben Roethlisberger (Pit)
Big Ben certainly has the pedigree and overall talent to be ranked much higher than this, but I fear the departure of Mike Wallace and possible games missed by Heath Miller may be too much for him to overcome.
Antonio Brown has his worth, as does Emmanuel Sanders, but without a receiver to take the top off opposing defenses or even an average run game to keep them honest, I just can’t see Roethlisberger having one of his finer years.
20. Jake Locker (Ten)
Jake Locker has the potential to become a really nice fantasy player for years to come, and I believe he starts to put it all together begins in 2013.
His accuracy woes will keep his week-to-week fantasy stats inconsistent throughout the season, but there are plenty of reasons to believe he can put up some monster games as well.
First, Kenny Britt is in a contract year and out to prove he truly is an elite talent in this league.
Second, with Nate Washington falling out of favor, the electric, all-purpose wide receiver, Kendall Wright, will get a chance to shine after being horribly utilized last season.
Third, though Jared Cook may be gone, offseason signee Delanie Walker has enough offensive skills to become a pretty good weapon in the Titans offense.
Fourth, the coaching staff has already come out to say that they plan on incorporating Locker’s upper-tier athleticism into the offense this season, and we all know how much a quarterback’s fantasy stock goes up when he’s utilized in the running game.
Chris Johnson’s pass-catching abilities are also a plus.
Overall, I still think it will take a year or two before Jake becomes fully entrenched as a viable option in the fantasy scene, but the potential is certainly there this season.
19. Philip Rivers (SD)
I’m pretty sure Philip Rivers’ days as a fantasy starter are over, but to be honest, it wouldn’t shock me to see him rise from the ashes for one last hurrah this season.
With WR Vincent Brown returning from injury, Antonio Gates a decent candidate for a comeback season and Danario Alexander (hopefully) shaking off the injury bug and finally living up to his potential, Rivers at least has the ingredients for well-baked fantasy pie.
His loss of arm strength and terrible offensive line play are obvious deterrents to such belief, but it’s possible a revamped San Diego coaching staff might be able to coax some of the old fantasy-stud out of him one last time.
18. Josh Freeman (TB)
Freeman may have thrown for a career-high 27 TDs and had his first 4,000-yard season in 2012, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he improved.
His accuracy is still amongst the worst in the league while his feel in the pocket continues to be shaky at best.
He has the pieces to succeed surrounding him—an awesome pass-catching RB in Doug Martin, a playmaking giant in WR Vincent Jackson, and an athletic strongman in WR2 Mike Williams—but his inconsistent play and lack of growth thus far keeps him as a middling fantasy backup for me.
17. Jay Cutler (Chi)
Despite the promising addition of Brandon Marshall before the season, Cutler’s downward spiral as a viable fantasy quarterback continued in 2012 as his fantasy points per game have now decreased in each of his four years as a Chicago Bear.
However, the hiring of pass-oriented head coach, Marc Trestman, should give plenty of hope for a Cutler turnaround to both Bears fans and fantasy owners alike.
Add to it the signing of tight end Martellus Bennett and expected step-up in play by second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery and Cutler suddenly becomes a nice sleeper for 2013.
16. Joe Flacco (Bal)
When the Baltimore Ravens decided to move to a more up-tempo/no-huddle offensive last offseason, Flacco immediately jumped up on my sleeper radar as a QB to watch for in 2012.
The first month indeed proved my instincts to be all well and good, but what I didn’t expect was how bad of an OC Cam Cameron was, as Flacco and the Ravens offense would decline enough over the next two months to force Baltimore to make a change.
And what a change it was.
As soon as Jim Caldwell replaced Cameron as the offensive coordinator, Flacco and his team would go on a run for the ages with Baltimore winning the Super Bowl and Flacco putting together the best fantasy stretch of his career.
However, after signing the largest contract in NFL history on March 1, the Ravens have since gutted their team, which includes them trading away WR Anquan Boldin. Obviously, the loss of Boldin will hurt Flacco’s stock in 2013 if they can’t find a suitable replacement, but Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta and the offensive system will all still be place, so I’m not tremendously worried here.
15. Michael Vick (Phi)
Vick has obviously been a disappointment since his league-leading fantasy campaign of 2010.
After being burned for the last couple of seasons, it will be tough to take a chance on him considering his injury-marred past and the fact that he’ll be a 33-year-old QB who still depends on his legs for strong fantasy numbers.
However, the Eagles hiring of an innovative head coach like Chip Kelly makes him intriguing enough for me to list him here at No. 15.
If he can stay healthy, Vick is one of the few quarterbacks you can get later on in drafts that have the potential to give you top-10, if not top-five fantasy numbers.
If you already have your starting QB in place, Vick would certainly be worth taking the chance on as a backup.
14. Andy Dalton (Cin)
Dalton certainly made some strides forward during his sophomore season as he improved on nearly every statistical category from his rookie campaign. In fact, through 12 weeks of the season, the Cincinnati QB was firmly fixed within the top-10 fantasy QBs.
However, for the second year in a row, the youngster collapsed down the stretch when his fantasy owners needed him most.
A.J. Green alone will once again make Dalton an intriguing backup for fantasy teams this season, as will the continued rise of TE Jermaine Gresham, but Andy's ascension to starter status is still likely to be a couple of years away with the Bengals working on the development of last year’s rookie WR tandem of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones.
13. Eli Manning (NYG)
After a terrific 2011 season, both in real life and fantasy-wise, Eli Manning took a pretty large step back in 2012. The expectations for him maybe weren’t quite as high as they were for Matthew Stafford, but fantasy owners who took a chance on him as their starter were equally as disappointed with the ROI.
Hakeem Nicks’ year-long bout with the injury bug and a few other ailments across the Giants offense were part of the cause, but the “tired arm” Eli experienced in the middle of the season also played a part in his fall.
Assuming his arm trouble was a one-time thing, Manning’s potential to climb back up into the top 10 fantasy QBs this season will depend on the health of Nicks and whether David Wilson can handle enough of a load to consistently make plays catching the ball out of the backfield.
I’m not yet sold on either one, which is why Eli is currently ranked just outside starter status in 12-man leagues.
12. Tony Romo (Dal)
So here are the final rankings for Mr. Romo since he became a starter for the Cowboys back in the middle of the 2006 season:
2012, 10th; 2011, 7th; 2010, 30th (injured for 10 games), 2009, 6th; 2008, 12th (injured for three games); 2007, 2nd; 2006, 17th (10 starts, Drew Bledsoe started the first six).
When you take away the years he failed to play a full 16 games, the rankings actually look pretty darn good…until you look a little bit closer.
Even though he’s stayed in the top 10 throughout his career, from what I can see, his final ranking got progressively worse each year as well. The reason for this is NOT because he’s digressed as a quarterback (like Philip Rivers has), but more so because he simply hasn’t gotten any better.
Quarterback play in the NFL has been steadily advancing over the last handful of seasons and unfortunately, Tony just hasn’t been able to keep up. Whether his coaching is to blame or his teammates or Romo himself, the complete lack of advancement will likely keep his fantasy ranking in decline as more and more talent flows into the league.
The one thing that could catapult Romo into the top 10 this season is if Dez Bryant goes absolutely ballistic, which is certainly a possibility, but I’d still rather go with a younger QB than a 33-year-old who’s been in neutral for seven years.
Let someone else fall for the “this is his year” crap.
11. Andrew Luck (Ind)
The bad news for Andrew Luck heading into his sophomore season is that the Colts lost their offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, when he accepted the head-coaching job in Arizona.
Arians was a pass-first guy, as evidenced by Luck heaving up the fifth-most pass attempts in a pass-happy NFL as a rookie last year, so obviously that will hurt a bit.
The good news is that their new OC, Pep Hamilton, was the same guy who ran the offense while Luck was a Heisman Trophy candidate at Stanford. Hamilton may not have the same “air it out” mentality as Arians did—he incorporates more of a power-running game in conjunction with a short passing game—but that doesn’t mean Luck won’t be passing the ball a bunch.
In 13 games at Stanford in 2011 with Pep as his OC, Luck’s average game was 22-31 for 270.5 yards and almost three TDs per game (2.85). He also had a couple of rushing touchdowns, so Luck’s running abilities won’t disappear, either.
With Reggie Wayne still playing at a relatively high level and 2012 rookies T.Y. Hilton, LaVon Brazill, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen all expected to improve (as well as the addition of speedster, Darrius Heyward-Bey), Luck could very well end up in the top-10 fantasy QBs again in 2013.
10. Robert Griffin III (Was)
If Robert Griffin can make it back from his knee surgery for Week 1 of the 2013 NFL season, he definitely deserves a spot here amongst the top 10 quarterbacks.
Obviously, if he is put on the PUP list and misses the first six games of the season, he shoots down the list a handful of spots.
Either way, because of the nature of his injury and reasoning behind how he ended up injured, it will be hard for him to climb any higher than this throughout the offseason. His role as a running quarterback, whether it was ever a fully intended role or not, will undoubtedly be scaled back during his sophomore season, thus capping his fantasy potential for the year.
WR Pierre Garcon and TE Fred Davis (who has re-signed) being healthy, along with Griffin’s pure, freakish athletic ability will do him well this season.
However, it’s his natural ability and upbringing as a pocket passer that will keep him among the elite, so don’t give up on the kid too fast if you were ever thinking of doing so.
9. Russell Wilson (Sea)
Here’s something a lot of fantasy owners either won’t be aware of heading into drafts this summer or will completely overlook:
If you were to take away the first five games of Russell Wilson’s 2012 rookie season, he would have averaged enough fantasy points to be the fourth-best fantasy QB in the league for 2012—right behind Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
Basically, the kid is a bona fide stud and will likely be the most underestimated quarterback in fantasy drafts this year.
It won’t be easy for him to repeat what he did, but his running ability alone should get him into the top 10 and if everything else falls into place, a top-five finish is hardly out of the realm of possibility… especially now with the Seahawks trading for Percy Harvin.
The kid definitely has something special going on and I’m telling you right now; any fantasy owner willing to wait and grab this guy at the right time will look like a genius when all is said and done.
8. Cam Newton (Car)
It’s scary to think of what Cam Newton would be able to do if he were to put it all together for an entire season.
Except for a couple of nice fantasy performances, Cam’s entire first half of 2012 could be deemed as mediocre at best. However, fantasy owners were saved when Superman suddenly led all quarterbacks in points for three weeks straight en route to a top-five fantasy finish to the year.
My belief is that Newton will grow and become a little more consistent during his third year in the league, but that the Panthers general confusion on what direction they want to go on offense will hold him back a bit.
Even though WR Steve Smith will be 34 when the season begins, he still seems to have enough in the tank to help keep Newton in the top 10.
That being said, if you draft him as your starting QB, be ready to deal with a few bumps along the way.
7. Matthew Stafford (Det)
The entire fantasy world waited…and waited, and waited and waited…but there was no “Second-Half Staff” push to be had.
Many would experience the disappointment of a wasted fantasy season as Stafford failed to match his top-five numbers from 2011, but there is plenty of hope for a return to the elite in 2013.
As disheartening as his season was, throwing for just 20 touchdowns after putting up more than double that number the year before (41), Stafford was still able to walk away with 4,967 yards; the seventh-highest total in NFL history.
The return of Nate Burleson and eventual return of Ryan Broyles both add to the encouragement, as does the expected progression of RB Mikel LeShoure. However, the addition of Reggie Bush will undoubtedly have the biggest impact as the Lions are beginning to look more and more like the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” teams from 1999-2001.
In all reality, with Calvin Johnson still having room to grow, Stafford’s upside is well within the top-five range and depending how things mesh over the summer, he just might make it there in my August rankings.
6. Matt Ryan (Atl)
Matty Ice was real close to putting up top-five numbers last season (finished in seventh) and would have done so if not for a couple of midseason doozies at home against Oakland and Arizona.
In fact, now that Tony Gonzalez has committed to a return, it wouldn’t shock me to see him end up in the top five by the end of 2013.
You can plainly see his progression from year to year, both in his physical play and statistical numbers as he is the only starting QB in the entire league to increase his fantasy points per game in each of the last three seasons (he's actually done it five years in a row).
The addition of Steven Jackson as a versatile, pass-catching RB out of the backfield is a considerable upgrade over Michael Turner and should aid in Ryan’s ascension as well.
So, with Julio Jones on a meteoric rise, Roddy White still being Roddy and Tony G back in the mix, Ryan should at least be able to climb one spot into the No. 6 hole this season.
5. Tom Brady (NE)
Tom Brady has held the No. 3 spot in fantasy scoring for three years running, but I believe his streak ends here.
Obviously it’s no big deal if he ends up where I have him ranked here at No. 5, but staying at this position in my late-summer rankings will be dependent upon Danny Amendola and his ability to pick up (and play well in) the Patriots offense.
It can’t be overlooked just how much of a difference Welker made in Brady’s career as a fantasy quarterback. There’s no doubt the Stetson Man has always been a winner, but it wasn’t until Welker showed up in 2007 that Tommy started going nuts in the stat column.
In his six years as a starter pre-Wes, Brady had just one 4,000-yard season and zero with 30-plus touchdowns. In his five full years (injured in 2008) with Welker as his slot man, he put up four 4,000-yard seasons (3,900 in 2010) and four with 30-plus TDs (28 in 2009).
A healthy Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez could make up for a bunch of the Welker loss, but not all of it.
If Amendola looks good in OTAs and during pre-season games, Brady will continue to have top-3 potential, but his ending up there is not as much of a given as in years past.
4. Peyton Manning (Den)
It seems there is nothing Peyton Manning can’t do.
After missing the entire 2011 season, Manning came back to put up the second-most passing yards (4,659), touchdowns (37) and completion percentage (68.6 percent) in his 14-year career. More importantly, he also put up the second-most fantasy points in his career.
Owners who took a chance on him were pleasantly surprised, though it’s definitely worth mentioning that the year off seemed to take a slight toll on Peyton’s arm during the second half of the season. That being said, though he’ll be 37 years old at the start of the season, I don’t see another second-half swoon in his future as he’ll be two years removed from his neck surgeries and will have had an entire offseason to build up his stamina.
Already having one of the best wide receiver duos in the game in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker certainly wasn’t going to hurt his fantasy potential in 2013, but now that the Broncos have added one of the best slot receivers to ever play the game in Wes Welker, there’s no telling how high his ceiling is.
It’s also worth mentioning that Denver has one of the easiest schedules (if not the easiest) in the league this season.
At the end of the day, Manning provides top-tier play on a weekly basis, but it’s been a rarity for him to win you a fantasy week on his own. I believe the addition of Welker changes that this year, and it’s entirely possible we see a repeat of his 49-touchdown 2004 season.
3. Colin Kaepernick (SF)
Colin Kaepernick’s arrival to the fantasy scene during the second half of last season was a thing of beauty. From what I witnessed, I fully expect him to be a force in fantasy leagues for years to come, especially now with WR Anquan Boldin in the mix.
His dominance will begin this season, but not without a few hiccups here and there.
His “down” games will still turn out to be OK due to his insane running ability, but what will make him worth taking as a top-three QB in 2013 will be the games where he absolutely blows the roof off of the league.
His performance against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs last season when he threw for two TDs while rushing for 181 yards (and two more TDs) won’t be a flukish, one-time thing.
Look for Kaepernick to outright win your fantasy week at least three times this coming year and never put up too little to lose one for you.
The sky’s the limit for this kid.
2. Aaron Rodgers (GB)
It’s a tough choice between Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees for the top slot this season, but I think Rodgers ends up just a touch behind in the end.
Losing Greg Jennings isn’t too much of a concern considering he was gone for half of 2012 anyway. In fact, the difference in Rodgers’ weekly fantasy output during Jennings’ absence in 2012 was less than one fantasy point per game.
What might hold Aaron back a bit this season is if the Packers end up signing a starting running back who can actually be useful on first and second downs (such as Ahmad Bradshaw). Even then, I’m not entirely sure it would hurt his fantasy numbers any more than it would help them.
Whatever the case, the man has found himself in the top-two fantasy QBs during each of the last five seasons and there’s not much of a reason to believe his streak will end here.
1. Drew Brees (NO)
With Sean Payton back on the sidelines and all of his WRs, TEs and RBs staying put (except for Devery Henderson, whom they’re likely better off without anyway), Drew Brees should be able to throw for 5,000 yards and 40-plus TDs for a third year in a row this season.
Losing starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod (one of the greatest names in sports) would likely hurt another QB, but because Drew gets rid of the ball so quickly, I don’t think it will affect him the way it would a lesser quarterback.
Brees was already a good bet to be the near the top in 2013 seeing how he’s been in the top two four of the last five seasons, but with Jimmy Graham in a contract-year and already feeling the need to prove himself after a “down” 2012 season, I feel even better about ranking him here.