By Matt Johnson

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1.) Aaron Rodgers:

It was a disappointing season for Aaron Rodgers and fantasy owners last season. After throwing 45 touchdowns and 4,643 passing yards in 2011, A-Rod took a step back in 2012 with only 39 touchdowns and 4,300 passing yards. Despite the small drop in numbers, Rodgers still played at an MVP level while playing behind an offensive line that gave up 51 sacks. Yes, Rodgers lost Greg Jennings and Donald Driver but Driver was all but a memory last year with only 8 receptions. While Jennings still can play at a high level, he missed 8 games last season and Rodgers was just fine. Rodgers has a few things going for him that should help his stats go up again. Green Bay moved Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton to the left side to help improve their protection and give Rodgers time to throw. Green Bay also drafted two great rookie RB’s with Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. The improvement on the offensive line along with the new running attack, will give Rodgers more time to throw to Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones. You should feel confident in drafting Aaron Rodgers, while knowing he will deliver another MVP-caliber season.

2.) Drew Brees:

Even when Drew Brees was playing without the coaching help of Sean Payton, he still managed to have another memorable season on a bad team. Brees threw for over 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns for the second consecutive year. While Brees is an elite quarterback by himself, his true mastery of the game comes when he gets to work with his coach. It didn’t help him that Darren Sprolles missed 3 games, while Jimmy Graham and Lance Moore each missed a game. Despite the injuries and interim coaching staff, Brees still managed to lead the league in passing yards. Yes, Brees did throw 19 interceptions last year and his QBR dropped by 17 points, but he was essentially trying to compete against his own defense every week. It is because of the interceptions that Brees can’t find his way above Rodgers, but you can draft him as the 2nd quarterback off the board and feel confident that his arm will guide you to the playoffs.

3.) Peyton Manning:

Many fantasy owners had concerns about Peyton Manning coming back from neck surgery with a new team so took a chance on him later in the draft. Much like the Broncos, they were rewarded in a big way, as Peyton seemed to find the fountain of youth with his new team. Manning’s 37 passing touchdowns were the most for him since all the way back in 2004 when he threw for 39. While some will see this as more of a blip on the radar, I think it has a lot more to do with the weapons he had and a chip on his shoulder. Before the 2012 season, not many people saw Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas as great wide receivers. They caught passes the previous year from a fullback (I’m joking Tim Tebow). Manning also played behind an offensive line that gave up the second fewest in the league last season (21). Now I look to 2013, the offensive line is healthy, Manning now has a full season under his belt in Denver oh and they added Wes Welker. Yes, the guy who has been Tom Brady’s favorite target for so many years is now catching passes from Peyton Manning. A great offensive line, a great set of receivers and a hall of fame quarterback, what more could you ask for? I have no doubt Peyton can put up outstanding numbers again and be the No.2 fantasy quarterback this season.

4.) Tom Brady:

Looking around through some early fantasy quarterback ratings online, I seem to be lower on Tom Brady than most. Don’t get me wrong he is still an elite quarterback; some would argue the best in the game. It also helps that he is telling the media this is the best he has felt in years and the arm is better than ever. While that is great news to here, the problem is he doesn’t have great weapons to throw to. Wes Welker bolted to Denver, taking away Brady’s favorite weapon for the past several seasons. His replacement is Danny Amendola, a similar player but with far more durability concerns and a new chemistry will have to be built. Yes, Brady still has Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but both star tight ends are having issues staying healthy. Gronkowski underwent his fourth surgery on his forearm, and now there are concerns about his back. Meanwhile, Hernandez is slowly rehabbing from shoulder surgery and may miss training camp. So what other weapons does Brady have to work with; Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Donald Jones. Brady may be in the best shape of his life, but he has the most questionable set of weapons in recent memory. Brady will still give you high numbers but the question marks around him make me put him as my fourth rated fantasy quarterback heading into 2013.

5.) Matt Ryan:

I admit I am higher on Matt Ryan than most, and I believe he is on the rise amongst fantasy quarterbacks. At the age of 28, Ryan is just entering his prime and his numbers continue to rise. Ryan saw his touchdowns increase from 29 in 2011 to 32 in 2012, along with an extra 500 yards on top of that. While his interception total went up (14 tied a career high) it was still an excellent season for the young quarterback. Things are pretty sweet in Atlanta, with Roddy White and Julio Jones on the outside and Tony Gonzalez helping inside. The Falcons also utilized the screen game, which is where Jacquizz Rodgers delighted Ryan and fantasy owners. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have everything going for them in 2013, all of their weapons are back on offense and they added Steven Jackson, who will bring the added punch to the running attack to keep teams honest. Ryan is poised to improve on his numbers even more this season, and can become a Top 5 fantasy quarterback.

6.) Cam Newton:

This is going to be a big year for Cam Newton both in fantasy and reality. After a phenomenal rookie season in 2011 that ended with inconsistency, Newton seemed to struggle with his consistent play in 2012. Everyone expected Newton’s statistics to take a step back and they did. After passing for over 4,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in his rookie year, he threw for only 3,900 yards with 19 touchdowns. The biggest drop in regards to fantasy production though was his rushing touchdowns, which dropped from 14 to 8 in 2012. Newton needs to play on a high level every week if he wants to prove his worth as a future star quarterback. Fantasy owners are drafting him for his running ability, and you will get it. Just be prepared for some big weeks and some bad games if he is your guy. When he is on fire though, he will carry your team to a victory.

7.) Colin Kaepernick:

This ranking comes after the news that Michael Crabtree will miss most if not all of the 2013 regular season. It hurts to lose any starting receiver but Crabtree and Kaepernick had a special connection. Crabtree was targeted 127 times last season, more than double Vernon Davis who was second with 61 targets. Kaepernick now has to adjust to the loss of Crabtree, but he still has some good tools to work with. San Francisco acquired Anquan Boldin, who physically wore down their corners and dazzled in the playoffs. Vernon Davis as mentioned earlier should also play a significant role, as one of the best receiving tight ends in the league. But the names to keep an eye on here are rookie receiver Quinton Patton and second year man A.J. Jenkins. Both young receivers will serve key roles this season and need to develop some chemistry with Kaepernick. Still despite some concerns at the receiver position, you still have to love Kaepernick’s ability to scramble. The read-option was made for his skill set, and worked to perfection against Green Bay when he ran for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns. If Kaepernick can continue to play at a high level, he could find his way into the top 5 quarterbacks later this season.

8.) Russell Wilson:

Possibly the biggest rookie gem last season was Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, who took the league by storm despite all of the attention being put on Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Wilson benefited from handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch which helped set up the play action later in the game. Despite only throwing 393 passes last season, Wilson still managed to tie a rookie record with 26 touchdowns and an additional 4 on the ground. Now I admit a touchdown on 15 throws is difficult to repeat, but who is to say he won’t throw the football a lot more this season. The Seahawks limited the passing attack in part last season because of their weakness at receiver. That weakness became much stronger during the offseason after the acquisition of Percy Harvin. When healthy Harvin is one of the most electrifying players in the game, something the Seahawks didn’t have last season. Harvin’s arrival also opens more things up for Sidney Rice who finally showed he could stay healthy last season. Going back to a potential increase in pass attempts, let’s say he throws it 75 more times next season. That would be a little more than 4 attempts more per game, which is reasonable given the progressions he made last season. I have full faith that you can draft Russell Wilson as a Top 10 quarterback and he can be your starter on a weekly basis.

9.) Matthew Stafford:

After finally proving himself as an elite quarterback in 2011, Matthew Stafford took two steps back in 2012. While he only threw one more interception, the big hit came from passing touchdowns. After throwing for 41 touchdowns in 2011, that number was cut in half to 20 in 2012, a devastating statistic for Stafford owners. What makes his season even more disappointing was that he actually led the league in pass attempts and even set the NFL record. Stafford’s 1/36 touchdown per attempt ratio was a sharp decline from 2011 when it was an impressive 1/16. That drop off is just another example of how bad Stafford was last season, but also an indication of how great he can be. He still has Calvin Johnson, the man who can’t be stopped by anyone and his young receivers are starting to develop. Another stat that didn’t help Stafford was Johnson being tackled six times at the 1 yard line. Even if he makes it in only 3 of those times, that would have helped fantasy owners. Ryan Broyles was injured for much of last season but came back late in his rookie year and played well. Detroit also brought in Reggie Bush who may not be a great runner, but gives Stafford an excellent check down man and screen option. You shouldn’t expect Stafford to return to the eye-popping numbers he had in 2011, but he easily can jump back into the 30-touchdown plateau.

10.) Robert Griffin III:

As I am writing this, I can’t help but think what could have been if not for some bad decisions by a coaching staff, and a lack of desire to fix a poor field by ownership. Despite my grievances with how the knee injury was handled, there is still plenty to talk about with Robert Griffin III. The big question here is how healthy is his knee and when he comes back will we see a different player. Some people will want to point to Adrian Peterson’s comeback, but that is the rare exception to the rule of ACL recoveries. This is the second time RGIII has underwent knee surgery and while he came back strong the first time, that is no guarantee here. But for the sake of these rankings, lets say he makes another remarkable comeback and is ready to start on Week 1. When the knee is in great shape, Robert Griffin III is a threat to burn you through the air or on the ground. Just look at what he did as a passer in 15 games, a 20-5 touchdown to interception ratio and 3,200 passing yards. He did all of this while his receivers came on and off the inactive report. Then we have the RGIII the track athlete who outran the Vikings defense for a 76-yard touchdown run. Griffin III ran for 815 yards and 7 touchdowns last season, helping him become a fantasy star. There is no question that if he is healthy, Robert Griffin III is a Top 5 fantasy quarterback, but health remains the question. Can he learn to slide down and avoid hits, and can his knee hold up. Those are the two biggest questions standing in his way this season, but are the same two reasons you can steal him later in the draft as your starter.

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Matt Johnson

I am a sports writer entering my first year in college. I am also a aspiring sports radio host.

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