- - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If you wanted to keep talking about fantasy football now that another season has come and gone, Merry Christmas!

In the first of three positional reviews, today we’re talking quarterbacks.

If next season’s drafts were held right now, the fantasy stock of quarterbacks would be way down, after Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers — one, two and three in TD passes this year — stunk it up in the fantasy playoffs the past two weeks. Those performances dashed the championship dreams of countless team owners.

But a fantasy campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. Drafting the right quarterback is vital over the course of a season and greatly increases your odds of staying ahead of the pack throughout the year.

Based on a 12-team standard league, a look at the top dozen quarterbacks for 2015 (in reverse order, to manufacture some suspense:

12. Ryan Tannehill: Someone has to occupy this spot? I’ll take his upside over the mistake-prone likes of Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler or Joe Flacco.

11. Matt Ryan: He’ll continue to be underrated in Atlanta and arguably the best value at the position in the middle rounds.

10. Eli Manning: Three words: Odell Beckham Jr. Since the rookie’s debut with the Giants, Manning has thrown 20 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions (5 came in one game). He’s due for a big year throwing to the most dynamic young player in the game.

9. Philip Rivers: If you had him as your quarterback in Week 16, you know how clutch he was. There is talk that he’s been playing with a bad back that will require surgery. The Chargers veteran is one of the tougher guys at his position. Another 30-touchdown season should be no sweat.

8. Russell Wilson: He’s only thrown 20 touchdown passes, but he’s on the verge of setting a career high in passing yards and he’s already shattered his personal mark for rushing yards (842, 6 touchdowns). That versatility and his penchant for playing well in big games puts him at the top of my list for a career year in 2015. Keep an eye on what happens to his backfield mate, Marshawn Lynch, in the offseason. Wilson may be counted on to do more next year. Given his track record, he’ll likely be successful at it.

7. Peyton Manning: You probably didn’t expect to see him this high on the list, but despite a bunch more touchdown passes this season (a league-leading 39 through 15 games), it’s hard to feel good about him moving forward if you watched him in the Broncos’ loss on Monday night. Many of his passes had no zip, and he was picked off three times in the fourth quarter. He’s thrown 133 touchdowns since the start of the 2012 season — a record for a three-year span — but age appears to be closing faster than a Pro Bowl cornerback.

6. Drew Brees: He holds a slim lead over Ben Roethlisberger for the league lead in passing yards and he’s thrown 32 touchdowns. But that’s his lowest number in years, and he’s been maddeningly inconsistent. He’s still a viable starter in Sean Payton’s offense, but he is no longer one of the position’s elite.

5. Tony Romo: He got off to a slow start as DeMarco Murray carried the Cowboys early and he recovered from back surgery. He also missed a game with another back injury (after leaving the previous game when he sustained it). Those injuries are a concern, but he is coming off the best year of an underrated fantasy career and he has a great line in front of him. He’s thrown four times as many touchdowns as interceptions (32-8) this year.

4. Ben Roethlisberger: He is having the career year I predicted. He’s already set a personal best with 4,635 passing yards entering the final week of the regular season, and he needs just three TDs to set his career high in that category as well. These are not your father’s Steelers. Pittsburgh is loaded with dynamic young skill players who will allow Big Ben to continue putting up big numbers.

3. Tom Brady: This ranking is contingent on his favorite target, Rob Gronkowski, being healthy. With a healthy Gronk in the lineup, the Patriots will continue winning division titles and Brady will continue picking apart defenses. And trust me, if he starts off slow, do not give up on him and trade him.

2. Aaron Rodgers: The likely NFL MVP, Rodgers is the best quarterback in the league right now. His 36-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio is a testament to how ruthlessly efficient he is. I rank him second only because the emergence of Eddie Lacy gives Rodgers and the Packers the luxury of occasionally winning games without relying too heavily on the passing game — a luxury not enjoyed by the top fantasy quarterback for 2015.

1. Andrew Luck: He saved his worst for last, but he carried fantasy teams for the first 14 weeks. He’s got a little Brett Favre in him, and he’ll need to cut down the interceptions. But like Favre in his prime, he has an uncanny knack for finding the end zone — with his legs as well as his arm. This was a breakout year for Luck. He entered Week 17 with 38 touchdown passes (and a league-leading 41 touchdowns total). He’s the heir apparent to the man he replaced in Indianapolis. The sky’s the limit.

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