I’m going to touch on each of the standard fantasy positions with these lists, starting with quarterbacks (duh). I’ll also throw in a handful of sleepers below the list. Recognize that my fantasy skills are potent; not the best, but far enough from the worst that you should trust my opinions as if they were your own. Hell, maybe they are your own?
1 – Aaron Rodgers
Finishing only a couple of points behind last year’s fantasy champion (see below), Aaron Rodgers still gets my nod as the top QB going into 2013. The loss of Greg Jennings may actually see him slip a few places in drafts, but if you’re smart (you’re reading this, so you’re heading in that direction already) you’re going to grab him with your first round pick regardless of who else is available. The man has weapons galore and produces like Packers fans produce cheesehead hats on Sundays.
2 – Drew Brees
It came as little surprise to me that Brees took home the scoring title in last year’s fantasy campaign. With a makeshift backfield that rarely produces, an offensive line geared towards pass protection, an impressive list of weapons at his disposal, and one of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL, there was little else to do in New Orleans but snap it to Brees and watch him work his magic. There is a very real possibility, with the reinstatement of head coach Sean Payton, that Brees could actually improve on his 2012 outing. Another worthwhile 1st round pick.
3 – Peyton Manning
With the emergence of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, Peyton Manning had everything at his disposal to produce big numbers. And while he only finished 6th amongst QBs in points last year, scenarios have played out that have launched the ageless wonder a few spots ahead of his competition. The least of which is not the addition of Wes Welker, a reception machine who, if he plays anything close to what he did in New England, is going to propel Denver’s passing game a mile high. Draft Peyton with confidence either towards the end of the 1st round or at any point afterwards, but don’t expect him to sit on draft boards for long.
4 – Matt Ryan
Julio Jones, Roddy White, and guess what? Tony Gonzalez is back for one more shot at the big game. Matty Ice has weapons galore, and the addition of Steven Jackson to replace the runned down Michael Turner is going to help keep defenses just a little more honest, opening up a bit more down the field. There’s a possibility that some of the guys I have ranked lower could outshine Ryan, but based purely on prospects, you’ve got to love the Iceman and his bevy of targets. A 2nd round target for sure.
5 – Tony Romo
Aaaand this is where you’re probably going to slap your head. “Over Cam Newton? RGIII? Mathew Stafford? You’re nuts!”. No, but I am more often right than wrong on my projections, and I have a strong feeling that the Dez Bryant of 2013 is going to eclipse the Dez Bryant of 2012, who was money down the stretch. Add to that Miles Austin (if he can just stay on the field) and a still capable Jason Witten, and you have a great recipe for success. Romo is a guy who, based solely on his reputation for mucking it up in big games (which is not as consequential in fantasy), may slip down draft boards. Be smart enough to see the opportunity, and snatch him up as a steal in the 4th or 5th round.
6 – Cam Newton
Cam was the 4th best QB in fantasy last year….so why do I have him ranked 6th? Because I believe HC Ron Rivera and new OC Mike Shula when they say they’re actually going to start using that stocked stable of RBs they have. Newton will still have plenty of room to produce, but keep in mind that his best target (besides his own legs) is reaching the end of his career. Of course, the emphasis on running is going to help Cam, but I see a loss of rushing yards and overall TDs in store for the 3rd year QB.
7 – Tom Brady
I took Terrific Tom in the 1st round of my main league last year, and I did it with a smile on my face. The guy was primed for another fantastic fantasy season, and he delivered, finishing behind only Brees and Rodgers in overall points. But things have changed in New England, and its harder to justify positive projections for him. Hernandez is gone, Gronkowski is a ticking injury bomb waiting to go off, and Wes Welker is most likely going to be Tom’s nemesis’ new favorite target. I still like him as a solid starting QB, but without the stable of dangerous weapons at his disposal, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him slip further than this ranking by the end of the year.
8 – Matthew Stafford
Reggie Bush. Need I elaborate? One of the NFL’s best swing men is going to give Stafford a chunk of numbers he just wasn’t getting from previous HBs. It’s still tough to see anyone at WR taking pressure off of Megatron, but the dude’s still the best WR in the game and is rarely stopped by anyone other than himself or Stafford. If Matt finds his offense just a touch more balanced, his numbers are going to improve for it, and he could end up being a top-5 fantasy QB.
9 – Eli Manning
Eli didn’t even finish in the top 10 at his position last year, but I’ve got a gooooood feeling that’s going to change in 2013. Hakeem Nicks should be healthy, Victor Cruz is going to be happy with his new contract and I don’t see him as the type to let his abilities slip after being paid. Don’t sleep on new TE Brandon Myers, either. To top it off, Rueben Randle could make a big jump in his 2nd season. All this makes me think Eli is primed for a substantial jump in fantasy relevancy.
10 – Andrew Luck
He stormed the league and made a big impact in fantasy in 2012, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Luck will regress slightly in his 2nd year. With Bruce Arians and his deep-ball offense gone to coach the Arizona Cardinals, we may see more check-downs and restrained play, which could result in a lower yard total at the very least. Reggie Wayne is still a viable threat, and T.Y. Hilton looks like the next great deep threat in the league, but much of Luck’s fantasy potential rests on the potential of the players around him. He’s still going to be worth a starting job on any fantasy team.
3 Sleepers Not To Sleep On
With a host of new weapons including the dangerous Mike Wallace and the dependable Dustin Keller, Tannehill’s progress into 2013 just might translate into noteworthy fantasy work.
He hasn’t been the same QB since leaving Cincinnati, but with Larry Fitzgerald and Bruce Arian’s penchant for the deep ball, Palmer could see a bit of a resurrection take place in the desert.
Everybody knows A.J. Green’s name and capabilities by now, but the continued improvement of Mohamed Sanu and Jermaine Gresham, and with rookie TE Tyler Eifert, just might result in a glut of weaponry where before there was only one truly threatening option. I might not draft Dalton with starting him in mind, but he could be a risk worth taking this year.