So far, my earlier fantasy projections have changed little since the NFL Draft (I may need to swap out Bryce Brown for Chris Polk). It's time to rank the quarterbacks.
The important thing with my cheat sheets is to compare them to the mass chatter and what you see in mocks. I often value someone enough that I rank him ahead of others, but I understand that I can still get him a round or two later.
Even though I'm sticking to a strict Top 12, 30 and 40 rankings, I'll still break them into tiers, so you can note the significant drop-offs.
1. Peyton Manning
2. Colin Kaepernick
3. Aaron Rodgers
4. Drew Brees
5. Tony Romo
Peyton Manning's 4659 yards and 37 TDs shall be triumphed with 5 games vs. new defensive coordinators on the schedule, a stronger arm, 2 games vs. 28th-ranked Raiders D that lost Huff/Kelly/Seymour, and adding a wideout who has 240 receptions in the last two seasons. If your secondary is young (Jaguars), inexperienced (Raiders, Cowboys) or just terrible (Titans, Redskins), it's probably on the Broncos' schedule.
Kaepernick is a big play waiting to happen on an offense that has some of the most nightmarish assignments for linebackers (Davis, Kaep scrambling) and corners (Boldin, possibly Collie). There aren't many leaders more determined that Kaepernick, there aren't many offensive lines that crack open behemoth holes like the 49ers do, and there aren't many offenses as imaginative as the 49ers. The 49ers scored under 27 just twice from week 11 on, and Kaepernick scampered 415 yards and 5 TDs despite only having 7 starts.
Aaron Rodgers' O-line is a concern, but the running backs are giving them such a boost in both the running attack and passing attack, that I see red zone opportunities increasing. The Green Bay offense has been the picture of consistency for years, Rodgers rarely gives up the ball, and McCarthy rarely steps off the gas. Given that they haven't lost a WR in preseason like Brees has (Josh Morgan), given the near-equal sets of weapons, given Brees' QB coach left and given Brees will face new NFC South defensive players Darrelle Revis, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short...I like Rodgers a little more than I like Brees.
Romo's Cowboys wide receivers are solidified as the best corps in the NFC (the Broncos have the best). They are deep at tight end, and few QBs have been as reliable for yardage as Romo. I really think they've shored up the O-line enough (despite trying to add one more).
6. Tom Brady
7. Robert Griffin III
8. Matthew Stafford
These are the QBs I feel really good about late round 3 (Tom), mid-round 4 (RGIII) and mid-to-late round 5 (Matthew). Unless I'm in a 12-team league (which would also change their available) in which quality back-up QBs will be harder to get, I'd rather wait until late 5/early 6 and take Stafford, since I value him as much as Brady and RGIII. Much has been made of 2/3rds of Brady's newest corps being able to play all three WR positions. I believe this will be dink and dunk per usual, but - more so than any season since 2007 - deep shots shall be there for the taking (if Brady still has the arm to do it).
The Washington offense has a tough schedule, but Griffin will have improved rapport with guys who missed time last season like Fred Davis and Pierre Garçon.
I consider the top 8 to be locks for 4200+ yards and 30+ total TDs. If Patrick Edwards and either Ryan Broyles, Kris Durham, or Corey Fuller are the #3 and #4 WRs, this Lions attack will be the most underrated headed into week 1. No team in the North has the versatility, speed and match-up winners of Bush, Pettigrew, and Scheffler in the air attack (Bears are close). I give RGIII the slight edge over Stafford because I could see the Redskins having to throw a LOT just to keep pace with opponents. The problem for Brady is that Belichick has begun to stop the "run up the score" antics. I could even see Belichick putting Tebow in during Bills and/or Jets beat-downs to experiment with read/option, eat up clock (and mess with Rex Ryan).
9. Matt Ryan
10. Cam Newton
11. Eli Manning
12. Andrew Luck
What designates tier 4 is that they have all the ability of Tier 3, but issues. For Ryan, the issue is I don't like so many old players and Atlanta has a slightly harder schedule than Detroit dues. For Newton, I don't know how well the tertiary receivers will step up to support Smith and Olsen. For Eli, his arm got tired last year. For Luck, he has a new OC (though he knew him from college) and that could lead to early struggles.
13. Michael Vick (or Nick Foles)
14. Russell Wilson
15. Carson Palmer
16. Matt Schaub
17. Jay Cutler
18. Josh Freeman
19. Joe Flacco
20. Ryan Tannehill
Extra possessions and - especially - facing worn-out defenses are just two things I love about Chip Kelly's offense. The stable of dynamic, versatile athletes who'll shift in and out of the line-up as they charge down the field at break-neck speeds looked more attractive before the Maclin and Benn injuries. I'll target someone from this group as a back-up, preferably Palmer or Schaub if they last until Round 9 or 10 (I see Wilson and Vick going a lot earlier than that in most 10-team leagues).
21. Philip Rivers
22. Ben Roethlisberger
23. Andy Dalton
21-23 are The Draftables. You could do a lot worse as back-ups, but you shouldn't consider starting them, even in a 16-team league (Dalton may have improved himself and now has better options at TE and receiving RB, but his schedule is really tough).
24. Brandon Weeden (looked surrealistically good in his first preseason game)
25. Sam Bradford
Sam has all the weapons that Weeden possesses, but - even with playing indoors - I'm not as fond of his coordinator as I am of Norv Turner.
25. Jake Locker
Locker has a top 10 WR corps this year with an excellent run game. He could easily finish much higher.
26. Matt Flynn
27. Alex Smith
28. Mark Sanchez (higher if Geno Smith)
30. E.J. Manuel (believe it or not, a little higher if Kevin Kolb)
I don't hate FSU QBs. The Seminoles are my college team! I put Ponder down here because just like everyone else in this tier - there are questions about skills and there a lot of new pieces. The two "undraftables" are Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder. Of course, I ranked him here, then the Bills offense goes out and looks incredibly fluid, albeit against bland preseason defenses.
What do you think? What is your strategy? In mocks, the earliest I've taken a QB is when I've selected a sliding Kaepernick in the late 4th, or when I've taken Romo or Stafford in the 6th. Carson Palmer works as a back-up for Romo (Week 11 bye), since his bye week is Week 9 (same as Stafford's). For Stafford, I would likely use Josh Freeman (Week 5 bye) or Ryan Tannehill (Week 6 bye) as a back-up.