"Prosecutor, will you read the charges?"
"Certainly, your honor. We charge that supposed fantasy football 'expert' John Dietz is destroying his readers' chances of a successful season by placing Mr. Peyton Manning -- HE OF THE 55-TD, 5,477-YARD SEASON IN 2013!!! -- at No. 2 in his preseason QB rankings. This is complete lunacy.
"The ranking of Mr. Manning as anything but the No. 1 fantasy QB in the land is complete heresy and will not be tolerated. We are asking that Dietz's writing credentials be revoked immediately. Thank you, your honor."
"Mr. Dietz, how do you plead?"
"Not guilty, your honor."
(After a long and boring prosecution extolling the virtues of Manning's spectacular 2013 campaign, Dietz gets to mount his defense.)
"Thank you, your honor. Ladies and gentleman of the jury, how many of you watched last year's Super Bowl?"
All hands go up.
"The defense rests."
OK, time to get serious. There are plenty of reasons not to hitch your wagon to Manning in the first round of your draft and instead take Rodgers (and maybe even Drew Brees) over the 38-year-old Broncos QB. (Or be patient and wait until the middle rounds for plenty of other solid 4,000-yard passers).
• In the seven seasons before last year, Manning averaged 32.6 total TDs and nearly 4,300 passing yards. Hardly stats to scoff at, but nothing approaching the stratospheric numbers he posted in 2013. Last year was amazing but also what we call an outlier.
• Let's not forget what happened when the passing TD record was broken the previous two times. Manning threw 28 TDs in 2005, the year after he threw 49; Tom Brady threw 28 in 2009, two years after he threw 50 in 2007 (he missed the 2008 season due to injury).
• Manning lost the sure-handed Eric Decker to free agency and now the receiving corps is dealing with the uncertainty of Wes Welker, who just suffered his third concussion in 10 months.
• Can we trust second-year RB Montee Ball to pass protect yet? Denver didn't last year and if Ball misses a blitzing linebacker, Manning could be pancaked.
• The schedule isn't especially friendly either as Denver faces a bevy of top-10 defenses (KC twice, Seattle, Arizona, San Francisco, St. Louis and Cincinnati).
As for Rodgers, the Packers' QB averaged 37.6 total TDs (3.6 of them rushing), 4,267 passing yards and 277 rushing yards in his first five full seasons. We could even make a case for Brees to be placed ahead of Manning as his numbers are better than Manning's from 2006-12.
Green Bay's schedule is a joke and New Orleans' only rough stretch is in Weeks 9-11 against Carolina, San Francisco and Cincinnati.
To be clear, my projected fantasy points for these three are very close with just 13 points separating them in standard formats.
But after the numbers were crunched, it'll be Mr. Rodgers ruling the QB neighborhood come December.
The defense rests, your honor.
The rest of the story:
Now that we've gotten that ugly business out of the way, let's move on and examine the rest of the QB landscape.
If you don't end up with Rodgers, Manning or Brees there's certainly no reason to panic. And I'd wait until the middle of the draft to pick a QB if that's the case. Last season, the separation between the third and 16th fantasy QBs was just 3½ points a week. Considering the talent you can amass in Rounds 2-7, it's OK to wait and end up with Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and even Russell Wilson, Jay Cutler or Andy Dalton as your starter.
Of those, I'm the highest on Romo because of his consistency. In six of the last seven seasons, Romo has finished no worse than eighth among QBs in fantasy points. His only miss was in 2010 when he was injured (and he was third when he went down in Week 7). The other reason to love Romo is Dallas' schedule in Weeks 13-16: vs. Philly, at Chicago, at Philly, vs. Indy. Dallas does, however, have some roadblocks early with San Fran in Week 1, St. Louis in Week 3 and a dreaded trip to Seattle in Week 6. Pair Romo with Ben Roethlisberger, Cutler or Philip Rivers, though, and you can weather those storms.
Cutler's average ranking among fantasy analysts is 13th and that's understandable due to his injury history. But the Bears' offense should take another step this season in Marc Trestman's offense, and that will allow Cutler to flirt with 30 TDs and to put together his first 4,000-yard campaign with the Bears. It makes him a QB1 and a huge value in the middle rounds.
A few other thoughts:
• Eagles QB Nick Foles is going in the late fifth or early sixth rounds of 12-team drafts. This is a total steal for a guy who could easily challenge the Big 3 for most points this season.
• I could see Cam Newton and/or Colin Kaepernick having a monster season. I could also see either of them going down for multiple weeks. Take a chance on one, but make sure to purchase some solid insurance.
• If the rest of your team is completely stacked, there's nothing wrong with using Russell Wilson as your main QB. He'll give you solid week-to-week numbers and may even sneak into the top 10 if Percy Harvin stays healthy and Doug Baldwin continues to progress.
• I'd be very nervous about taking Robert Griffin III as my starter. He's looked absolutely terrible and has been outplayed by backup Kirk Cousins. Former Skins QB Joe Theismann even went on the air saying Cousins should be the starter. Said Theismann: "It's going to be a decision that Jay Gruden is going to have to make. Right now, Robert Griffin III is his quarterback. Now, if there was a quarterback competition, it wouldn't be a competition. Kirk Cousins would be the man I believe he would have to go to, because of the efficiency with which he has run (the offense)." Yikes.
• Any bottom-tier guys worth a look?
Maybe Arizona's Carson Palmer can increase his TD total while putting together a third straight 4,000-yard season. ... Or perhaps the Giants' Eli Manning bounces back throwing to Victor Cruz and exciting rookie Odell Beckham Jr. ... The Bucs will be going with an up-tempo offense, so maybe Josh McCown can continue where he left off with the Bears. A 25-plus TD season seems possible, but just remember that the 13 TDs McCown had last season represented a career-high for the 11-year vet.
John Dietz ranks the quarterbacks
Player, team Projected Projected Comment
Cream of the crop
1. A. Rodgers, Packers 4,400-4,600* 32-36^ He's coming back on a mission
2. P. Manning, Broncos 4,700-4,900 36-44 Avg. 33 TDs in 4 seasons prior to '13
3. Drew Brees, Saints 4,800-5,100 35-39 Avg. 5,109 pass yards last 4 yrs!
Still rock solid
4. M. Stafford, Lions 4,600-4,900 28-34 INTs a concern: avg. of 17.3 last 3
5. Nick Foles, Eagles 3,900-4,300 30-35 No. 2 fantasy QB in Weeks 10-16
6. Andrew Luck, Colts 3,900-4,200* 23-26^ He could really take off
7. Tony Romo, Cowboys 4,250-4,500 28-32 Sweet end-of-season schedule
8. C. Newton, Panthers 3,300-3,500** 22-25^^ Rib injury a concern
9. Jay Cutler, BEARS 4,100-4,400 29-33 Just needs to stay healthy
10. Matt Ryan, Falcons 4,400-4,600 28-32 Career-high 21 turnovers in '13
11. Tom Brady, Patriots 4,200-4,400 27-31 Big problems if Gronk goes down
12. R. Wilson, Seahawks 3,400-3,600** 25-28^ Was No. 7 fantasy QB thru 13 wks.
13. C. Kaepernick, Niners 3,300-3,500** 22-25^ Finished strong: 13 TDs last 7
14. Andy Dalton, Bengals 4,000-4,200 28-32 9 games with 0, 1 or 2 TDs in '13
15. Philip Rivers, Chargers 4,200-4,500 28-32 Tougher finishing sked than Dalton
16. Robert Griffin III, Skins 3,400-3,600** 22-24^ Boom/bust pick if he's your No. 1
17. B. Roethlisberger, Steelers 3,900-4,200 25-28 Nice, solid backup for your squad
18. Alex Smith, Chiefs 3,200-3,400* 22-25 Lack of quality receivers a killer
19. Joe Flacco, Ravens 3,750-4,000 22-25 Consistent but no 4,000-yd seasons
20. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins 3,750-4,000 23-26 O-coordinator developed Foles
The next 10: Carson Palmer, Cardinals; Josh McCown, Bucs; Eli Manning, Giants; Geno Smith, Jets; E.J. Manuel, Bills; Ryan Fitzpatrick, Texans; Jake Locker, Titans; Shaun Hill, Rams; Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings; Matt Schaub, Raiders
* 300 rush yards expected; ** 450-600 rush yards expected
^3-4 rush TDs expected; ^^ 5-7 rush TDs expected