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Fantasy Football 2015: QB Rankings

Which quarterbacks are primed to be top fantasy players this season? Jacob Adler examines every projected starting quarterback in the NFL under a fantasy lens.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

From a season-long perspective, it's tricky ranking quarterbacks. It's for the same reason as it is with a few other positions in that a player's ranking depends on the strategy the ranker uses. I usually prefer young, late round quarterbacks, as well as streamers with easy early-season schedules, so I tried to make sure I didn't favor any one of those players too much over low-ceiling veterans.

Additionally, I avoided strict numerical ranks and went with tiers with similar players. The 14 players of the first four tiers are basically ranked in that order, but from then-on it's a free-for-all. In a vacuum, I would draft players from the higher tiers first, but fantasy football is never about vacuums. Sometimes you need upside and other times you need consistency and a sure thing. Every fantasy player who forgets about strategy is giving their opponents a leg up.

Many times below I will refer to a player as a QB1, QB2, or streamer. QB1 to me means a top-12 quarterback, QB2 is the next 12 quarterbacks, and streamer is anyone I think might be on the waiver wire when an easy matchup presents itself.

If you agree, disagree, or have any questions, feel free to holler at me in the comments section.

Name Team 2014 Rank
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers 2
Andrew Luck Indianapolis Colts 1

Aaron Rodgers: If I draft a quarterback in the first four rounds, it will be Rodgers. Since he took the starting job in 2008, he has finished top-two at the position in every season except for 2013, when he missed part of the season due to injury. I had Rodgers here before Jordy Nelson's injury, and while losing a talented receiver caps upside, Rodgers is more than talented enough to provide top numbers without one of his top receivers.

Andrew Luck: I understand the reasoning for drafting last year's top-scoring fantasy quarterback at the top spot. With Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, and Phillip Dorsett now added to his weapons, he will have another great season. But numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, which track performance against expectation, have Luck far behind Rodgers in cumulative NEP as well as on a per-pass basis.

Name Team 2014 Rank
Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh Steelers 5
Drew Brees New Orleans Saints 3
Peyton Manning Denver Broncos 4
Russell Wilson Seattle Seahawks 6
Eli Manning New York Giants 8
Tony Romo Dallas Cowboys 13

Ben Roethlisberger: Are you surprised Roethlisberger is my third quarterback? I am. He moves past Brees and Manning because the latter two lost their starting tight ends and valuable red zone targets in Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas, respectively. Meanwhile, this could be Big Ben's first full season with Martavis Bryant. From Week 7 onward, when Bryant played, Roethlisberger's fantasy points per game (FPPG) rose by over seven fantasy points. He's a cheaper way to get exposure to Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Bryant.

Drew Brees: The loss of Jimmy Graham has Brees fourth for me, which is still higher than many others have him. You can call his 2014 an off year or a sign of decline, but he was still the third-highest-scoring fantasy QB on a surprisingly bad Saints team.

Peyton Manning: I don't know the extent of how Gary Kubiak will impact the Broncos' offense, but it likely won't prevent fatigue or cold weather from getting in the way at fantasy playoff time. We're overthinking it. It's Peyton Manning. Trust him as a top 10 quarterback and move on.

Russell Wilson: He was originally my third quarterback, but I moved him back because he just hasn't been that consistent from week-to-week. Jimmy Graham gives Wilson a solid target in the red zone, and it's possible Wilson could jump to new heights with his passing and overlooked running ability. Personally, I'll probably only own Wilson in best-ball formats if he is a value.

Eli Manning: He isn't just a product of O'Dell Beckham Jr., although Beckham's presence is certainly a plus. Last year, he finished as the eighth-best QB, which doesn't do him justice. From Week 4 on, he averaged 23.09 fantasy points per game (Per Rotoviz), which is ELITE territory. Manning is flat-out better in Ben McAdoo's offense and last year was an indication of that.

Tony Romo: He finished 11th in FPPG last year playing through injury on a team that tried to run DeMarco Murray into the ground. Assuming he stays healthy enough to play, he has the benefits of a resigned Dez Bryant and a stellar offensive line, and should be in line for many more pass attempts than he saw last year due to the absence of Murray or a proven running back.

Name Team 2014 Rank
Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons 7
Cam Newton Carolina Panthers 17
Tom Brady New England Patriots 11
Ryan Tannehill Miami Dolphins 10

Matt Ryan: I'm seemingly never a fan of his average draft position, but Ryan annually finds himself fantasy-relevant, ranging from a mid-QB1 to a high-end-QB2. Especially since he has Roddy White and what looks like it could be a threatening running game, I'm excited to see what Ryan can do in a Kyle Shanahan offense.

Cam Newton: Cam Newton knows you think he isn't a great quarterback. Cam Newton doesn't care. Cam Newton has been a QB1 in all four of his pro seasons and will be again this season, even if he is without Kelvin Benjamin.

Tom Brady: He gets bumped up a tier if his suspension gets overturned. Otherwise, he's a great stash for a few weeks and will be fine from then-on-out. There are plenty of streaming options for the first few weeks if you opt for Brady, who is a screaming value in most drafts.

Name Team 2014 Rank
Philip Rivers San Diego Chargers 9
Matt Stafford Detroit Lions 15

Philip Rivers: Welcome to the "Quarterbacks I Don't Trust Over a Full Season Tier!". Rivers is known for great early-season performances and then cooling off after. This makes him a player to target in daily fantasy, if you draft Brady, or are confident you could sell high. Antonio Gates' suspension takes some of the gleam away from Rivers' early-season prospects, however.

Matt Stafford: A bet on Stafford is a bet on Calvin Johnson's health, and that is not one I am willing to take with quarterback so deep.

Name Team 2014 Rank
Marcus Mariota Tennessee Titans N/A
Jameis Winston Tampa Bay Buccaneers N/A
Teddy Bridgewater Minnesota Vikings 23

Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston: I'm grouping them together because I really don't know too much about them yet. I treat them about the same, as QB2's with QB1 upside. Mariota gets the slight edge because of his rushing ability, although Winston has a better supporting cast.

Teddy Bridgewater: While he may have been the best-performing rookie quarterback last season, many of Bridgewater's best games came against the likes of Atlanta, New York (AFC), and Washington. I'm not buying a jump in productivity, but I respect the opinions of those who expect one. If I didn't have the two rookies to group Bridgewater with, he would be at the top of the last tier.

Name Team 2014 Rank
Sam Bradford Philadelphia Eagles N/A
Colin Kaepernick San Francisco 49ers 16
Carson Palmer Arizona Cardinals 31

Sam Bradford: After seeing his preseason debut, I should probably change this to "Philadelphia QB". The team opens with Atlanta, Dallas, New York (AFC), Washington, New Orleans, and New York (NFC), so this is a situation where any quarterback on that roster (TEBOW!) could be a worthy streamer. I don't like Bradford's odds of staying healthy so be sure he isn't your only option if you select him.

Colin Kaepernick: I expect a bounce-back campaign from Kap, but his ceiling is so tough to gauge that it's tough to take him as my top QB on a team. He's a solid streamer and high-variance backup that could be a league-winner if all goes right, but the 49ers' game script likely will be far from the one in which Kap broke out a few years back. I just don't know how effective he can be throwing all the time.

Carson Palmer: Palmer is a prototypical streaming candidate and starts the season against  New Orleans, Chicago, and San Francisco. His schedule then gets pretty tough, so it would be tough to roll with him throughout that stretch. Along with schedule concerns, Palmer has also struggled to stay on the field, and is a major injury risk this year.

Name Team 2014 Rank
Tyrod Taylor Buffalo Bills N/A
Joe Flacco Baltimore Ravens 14
Alex Smith Kansas City Chiefs 19
Jay Cutler Chicago Bears 12
Andy Dalton Cincinnati Bengals 18

Tyrod Taylor: This ranking assumes Taylor will have been named the Week 1 starter prior to my fantasy draft. I'm using Terrelle Pryor as a comparable here, who had stream-worthy numbers for the Raiders in 2013 before succumbing to injury. With Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Percy Harvin, and Charles Clay as top targets, he could take the NFL by storm if he gets the playing time.

Joe Flacco: I must of missed the Marc Trestman hype train. I mean, if Jay Cutler got one, Flacco should, too? Losing Torrey Smith will hurt, but someone in the trio of Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken, and Marlon Brown should lessen the blow. Rookie tight end Maxx Williams could also take on some of Dennis Pitta's targets. I think we know what to expect from Flacco, and that's solid QB2 numbers.

Alex Smith: Jeremy Maclin, a healthy Travis Kelce (that rhymes!), Albert Wilson, and Chris Conley all look like competent (or better) targets for Smith, along with stalwart Jamaal Charles. Smith's schedule last year was brutal, and this year it will not be as tough, so there's some natural regression independent of the better offensive personnel. Smith is fairly consistent from week-to-week with a capped ceiling, but his ceiling might be a bit higher this year.

Jay Cutler: No Brandon Marshall, no Kevin White, and no Marc Trestman means I will have no Jay Cutler this year. I might play him in daily fantasy once or twice, but he's too risky for my tastes. Select him at your own risk.

Andy Dalton: I think he'll be better than he was last season, when A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, and Tyler Eifert all suffered injuries, but I don't think Dalton will see the same volume he did in 2013 now that Hue Jackson is the offensive coordinator. Dalton was much better fantasy-wise in wins rather than losses in 2013, and Jeremy Hill will probably be in charge of putting wins away this season. He's a solid streamer when he faces below-average defenses.

Name Team 2014 Rank
Derek Carr Oakland Raiders 20
Nick Foles St. Louis Rams 29
Ryan Fitzpatrick New York Jets 24
Robert Griffin III Washington Redskins 33
Blake Bortles Jacksonville Jaguars 21
Brian Hoyer Houston Texans 25
Josh McCown Cleveland Browns 28

Derek Carr: I'm intrigued by what will be Carr's second pro season. A legitimate wide receiver in Amari Cooper, plus the enigmatic Michael Crabtree could be the keys to success.

Nick Foles: I got burned badly by Foles last year by thinking any quarterback could excel in a Chip Kelly offense, especially with the great 2013 sample. Foles isn't a very good passer, and doesn't have a good enough offense around him to sneak his way up.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: I'm not a huge Fitzpatrick fan, but he has his days, and you won't want to miss those if you stream quarterbacks. The presence of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker gives the Harvard grad two receivers he can rely upon heavily.

Robert Griffin III: If he plays the full season, he'll end up higher. But he is a massive injury risk, and isn't developed enough as a pocket passer to get the most out of Jay Gruden's offense. I have drafted him as a high-upside QB2 in a few spots where I drafted a consistent QB1.

Blake Bortles: I am buying Allen Robinson this year, but I'm not sure his breakout plus the addition of Julius Thomas is enough to bump Bortles up. He's someone to watch early in the season.

Brian Hoyer: Arian Foster's injury hurts Hoyer, who will likely bury DeAndre Hopkins with targets while fending off Ryan Mallett. I'm staying away.

Josh McCown: Johnny Manziel would be much more interesting, but I digress. There's nothing to see here, and don't get tempted by memories of 2013.