As fantasy football season quickly approaches, owners are starting to get back into reading about players, figuring out who changed teams, and deciding who to draft. Positional tiers help on draft day because they group players together who may provide the same value. Personal preference always plays a role, but tiers should offer guidance to help on draft day.
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These players are the most reliable QBs out there. Based on history and expectations, these are the top quarterbacks to lead fantasy teams.
1. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Newton was the top-scoring fantasy quarterback in 2015 and it wasn't close. In 2016, he gets all of his weapons back plus Kelvin Benjamin. He may not throw the ball as much as some other quarterbacks, but when he adds more than 600 rushing yards and double-digit rushing touchdowns, his value skyrockets. He threw the most touchdowns of his career (35) and the fewest interceptions (10) in 2015. His arrow is pointing straight up.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers could challenge Newton for the No. 1 spot, but these are tiers and both are elite quarterbacks who should put up strong fantasy numbers in 2016. Statistically, his 2015 numbers are some of the worst of his career, but he does get Jordy Nelson back as well. Also, if 3,821 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, eight interceptions and an additional 344 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown are the "worst," fantasy owners don't have a lot to complain about. Look for an uptick on those numbers in 2016.
3. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
While Rodgers and Newton are the clear top two, Luck does make his way into the top tier, despite a rough 2015. His 2014 season was his best yet, and he looked like he could have even improved upon that until he was injured. The Colts have finally addressed the offensive line, which is what Luck needs. He has the potential to throw for more than 4,000 yards and 20-plus touchdowns.
4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
At 37 years old, at some point Brees will start to slow down. However, after throwing for at least 4,400 yards and 26 touchdowns in every season since 2006, there is no reason to suspect that this year will be any different. He's surrounded by weapons, and he knows how to protect himself. He hasn't thrown more than 11 interceptions in a season in the past decade either. Brees is a safe QB1; he won't get saddle you with a five-point game, but he's unlikely to get you a 40-point performance either.
5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
In his fourth year in the league, Wilson put up his career-best numbers. He threw for more than 4,000 yards for the first time and had 32 touchdown passes (previous high was 26). His rushing numbers weren't as high as they were in 2014, but he can still make plays and score points with his legs. He is developing better chemistry with his receivers and while some of the other guys in this tier may be safer, he is still a top-tier QB.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
This tier rounds out the guys that should be targeted to be a starter for fantasy teams. While these quarterbacks have more question marks surrounding them than the guys in the top tier, they are still solid fantasy options.
6. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Two words: Antonio Brown. When Roethlisberger and Brown are on the field, there is not a more productive duo in the NFL. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, that didn't happen often in 2015 because of injuries. Roethlisberger no longer has Martavis Bryant in his supporting cast, which is a knock against Big Ten, but new tight end Ladarius Green should help fill that void.
7. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
He may be 36, but coming off a 4,671-yard season with a career-high 35 touchdowns, he is still a solid QB1. The concern with Palmer is age and injury history, but he has the experience with the team and the weapons to excel for another year. Some of the younger skill position players should improve for the Cardinals this year, which will only help Palmer.
8. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
When fantasy owners draft Brady, they are looking at five weeks with a replacement quarterback (four games plus his bye week). In a game where a typical season is 13 weeks (before playoffs), not having a stud QB for more than a quarter of that time is tough to manage. However, once Brady is back on the field, expect monster numbers. It's enough to keep him in the second tier of quarterbacks.
9. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
For the past three seasons, Rivers has averaged more than 4,500 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. The Chargers love throwing the ball, whether it be to the receivers or the running backs (Danny Woodhead had 81 receptions in 2015). Rivers has proven that he can excel even when he loses his top receivers, making him a solid (although not a flashy) QB1.
The quarterbacks in the third tier are those that will end up being the starter for many fantasy teams, and it's not a terrible choice. However, these are the last of the QB1-worthy options. Many fantasy owners that decide to wait on a quarterback will likely end up with one from this tier, but their rosters should be stacked at other positions.
10. Eli Manning, New York Giants
With Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie Sterling Shepard, Manning doesn't have to do much to put up good numbers (except keep the ball out of the other team's hands). With more than 4,400 passing yards, at least 30 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions over the past two years, Manning has become a borderline QB1 for fantasy.
11. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Bortles took a huge step forward in his second season. With more than 4,400 yards and 35 touchdowns, he was a solid pickup for fantasy owners that gambled on him. He used both of his wide receivers and the numbers paid off for him. Expect some touchdown regression in 2016, but he certainly is in the QB1 discussion.
12. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
At 36 years old with a history of back and collarbone injuries, Romo is a risky QB1. However, his upside lands him in the second tier of QBs. (Just be sure to draft a backup, just in case). When he and Dez Bryant are both healthy, both should put up solid numbers. Romo is fully capable of a 3,500-yard, 30-touchdown season. He just needs to stay healthy to do so.
Once we get into this tier, these are players that are solid and may have upside, but aren't considered safe QB1s for fantasy. They are great backups or second quarterbacks (in two-QB leagues) but ideally not the starting quarterback on fantasy rosters.
13. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
14. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
15. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
16. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
17. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
18. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
These are the guys that you might want to grab as a backup if you want to have a decent, but not great option for your bye week or if your starting quarterback gets injured.
19. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
20. Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets
21. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
22. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
23. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
24. Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans
This is the tier of quarterbacks that you don't really want to go into the season relying on starting. In two-quarterback leagues, these guys will be rostered, but they aren't even solid backups in standard leagues (at least right now).
25. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
26. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
27. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
28. Robert Griffin III, Cleveland Browns
29. Mark Sanchez, Denver Broncos
30. Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers
31. Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles
32. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
33. Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots
34. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
35. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers