Here are my pre-draft, presumed-starter rankings for fantasy quarterbacks — 1 through 32:
1-8 1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers 2. Drew Brees, Saints 3. Peyton Manning, Broncos 4. Tom Brady, Patriots 5. Cam Newton, Panthers 6. Matt Ryan, Falcons 7. Matthew Stafford, Lions 8. Tony Romo, Cowboys
1. Brees (5,177 yards passing, 43 TDs last year) probably deserves the No. 1 slot heading into the preseason. But in my mind, Rodgers remains the surest annual bet for 4,700 yards and 45-plus touchdowns. The differences are quite negligible, though. Both assets should be high first-rounders in standard-scoring drafts.
2. Peyton Manning gets the slight nod over Brady, based on two factors: Denver’s wideout trio of Demaryius Thomas (94 catches, 1,434 yards, 10 TDs), Eric Decker (85 catches, 1,064 yards, 13 TDs) and Wes Welker (118 catches, 1,354 yards with New England) has no peer. And from Weeks 3-11 last year, Manning posted eight straight games of 300 yards passing and/or three TD passes.
3. In 2012, Falcons QB Matt Ryan (4,719 yards passing, 33 TDs) notched 12 games of 300 yards passing and/or three touchdowns.
4. There’s a wonderful upside to Matthew Stafford (4,965 yards passing) accounting for only 24 touchdowns last year (four rushing): He’ll likely be available to owners seeking an elite quarterback in Round 4.
9-16 9. Andrew Luck, Colts 10. Eli Manning, Giants 11. Andy Dalton, Bengals 12. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers 13. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers 14. Jay Cutler, Bears 15. Robert Griffin III, Redskins 16. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
1. Luck’s esteemed ranking might have some wild fluctuations between now and August. On the positive side, he eclipsed the weekly QB-elite threshold of 275 total yards and/or three touchdowns nine times last year. On the down side, Luck failed to throw a TD pass four times. The addition of Darrius Heyward-Bey pushes him into the top 10 — for now.
2. Kaepernick’s top-12 ranking comes on the assumption that he won’t rush for 181 yards and two touchdowns every week this season — his numbers against the Packers in the playoffs. However, I do expect him to be a minimum lock, on average, for 263 yards and two touchdowns — his passing numbers against Green Bay.
3. If Griffin (4,044 total yards, 27 TDs last year) was fully healthy entering the season, he’d be a lock for the top seven. Instead, No. 15 seems like a very safe and flexible ranking for early April.
17-24 17. Joe Flacco, Ravens 18. Russell Wilson, Seahawks 19. Michael Vick, Eagles 20. Matt Schaub, Texans 21. Carson Palmer, Cardinals 22. Philip Rivers, Chargers 23. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins 24. Alex Smith, Chiefs
1. I would be thrilled to land either Wilson, Flacco, Vick, Schaub, Palmer or Rivers as a mid-to-late-round backup QB, which speaks to the tremendous depth at this position. And who knows, maybe Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Bray or any of the 2013 rookies will emerge as starters for one of the bottom-feeder or QB-needy clubs by season’s end.
2. Philip Rivers has incurred the biggest drop from this point last year. And with no bankable pass-catchers after Malcom Floyd, Danario Alexander and Antonio Gates, I don’t foresee a return to the top 15 anytime soon.
3. Forgive the Flacco skepticism here … but prior to last year’s sparkling championship run, the Ravens quarterback had never thrown three TDs in three consecutive outings.
25-32 25. Sam Bradford, Rams 26. Jake Locker, Titans 27. Brandon Weeden, Browns 28. Christian Ponder, Vikings 29. Kevin Kolb, Bills 30. Matt Flynn, Raiders 31. Mark Sanchez, Jets 32. Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars