2013 Outlook: When you throw for 39 TDs, eight INTs and 4,295 yards and people say you had a down year, you know you're good. Rodgers is still the NFL's best combination of accuracy, arm and athleticism, and at age 29, he's only now entering his prime. The Packers have big-time questions on their o-line; A-Rod was sacked a league-high 51 times in '12, and constant pressure limited his effectiveness on the deep kill shots he usually enjoys. Nevertheless even with the departures of Greg Jennings and Donald Driver aerial weaponry isn't a problem, and Rodgers has been a top-three fantasy QB five years running. He's as safe as they come, and needs to be the first fantasy signal-caller off the board.
2013 Outlook: Brees is the first NFL quarterback to exceed 5,000 passing yards in back-to-back seasons, and he's led the league in throwing TDs in four of the past five years. The only reason we nudge him slightly below Rodgers and Brady is his interceptions: Over the past five seasons, Brees has averaged a league-high 16.6 picks, while Rodgers has averaged 9.0 and Brady 9.3. But we're picking nits. With Sean Payton back from his year-long suspension and the Saints never lacking for aerial weaponry, Brees is once again a candidate to dominate every week. In '12, for the second straight year, New Orleans boasted the NFL's third-pass-heaviest play calling. There's no reason that should change any time soon, which means Brees will deliver quantity and quality.
2013 Outlook: Brady just keeps breaking the rules. Top fantasy QBs aren't supposed to rank 19th among NFL signal callers in average yards at the catch. They aren't supposed to rank 23rd in completion percentage on throws of more than 20 yards. And they aren't supposed to achieve excellence without an above-average outside receiver. But in '12, Brady kept doing all those things. He's been a top-three fantasy QB three years in a row, and we see no reason he won't make it four. He might have the fastest release in the NFL, and his production inside the numbers (17 TDs, 5 INTs and 3,017 yards in '12) is almost unmatched. Sure, he'll be 36 in August. But this rule-breaker shows no signs of slowing down.
2013 Outlook: Peyton's return saw him rack up 4,659 passing yards and 37 TDs, the second-best totals of his career, as Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker became stars. Now the concern: Manning's arm strength diminished late in the year. In his final four games including the playoffs, his completion rate on attempts longer than 20 yards was 27 percent. Before that, it had been 45 percent. The overtime interception that ruined Denver's playoff run wasn't just a bad decision, it was also a quail. We'd still draft Peyton because he carves up defenses, and because the addition of Wes Welker gives him a great triumvirate of wideouts. But at age 37 with all those neck surgeries, Manning is also far from risk-free.
2013 Outlook: Newton's numbers decreased in '12, but he made progress. He was a better intermediate thrower, and made fewer passing mistakes. But if you're drafting the big guy to be your fantasy starter, you care less about his passing and more about those juicy rushing yards and TDs. You won't be disappointed. Now, Newton was actually more effective in the season's second half, when the Panthers deemphasized read-option runs. Yet Cam still was solid with his legs from Week 9 forward, averaging 7.7 fantasy points per game from rushing alone. And the great thing about Newton is he comes with fewer health worries than your typical running QB, because of his size. Without fail, he should deliver 600-plus rush yards and eight-plus rush TDs.
2013 Outlook: You might think the key to Ryan's leap forward last year was aggressive play calling. Wrong. In '12, he basically threw the same number of passes that traveled more than 10 yards in the air as he did in '11. Was he more efficient throwing it deep? Maybe a bit. But the reason Ryan's production skyrocketed was a better short game. Coordinator Dirk Koetter brought diverse screen plays to Atlanta; on passes behind the line of scrimmage, the team had 66 more completions and 559 more yards than in '11. Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers and Julio Jones will be the beneficiaries of this high-efficiency work, and they should help keep Ryan among the NFL's yardage elites again in '13.
2013 Outlook: Kaepernick's physical tools are an unholy amalgam of Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, and when the 49ers unleashed the full power of their read-option attack in the playoffs, he was well-nigh unstoppable. Big-armed, accurate, athletic freaks who break 50-yard TD runs don't grow on trees. A couple drawbacks: We're not positive Jim Harbaugh will unshackle Kap's downfield ability, given the team's lack of a proven speed receiver, plus when a QB runs the chances for an injury increase. But Kaepernick started seven regular-season games last year, and his prorated stats would've been 3,675 pass yards, 544 rush yards, 23 pass TDs and five rush TDs. That would've made him fantasy's No. 9 QB, and he was just getting started. We're buying.
2013 Outlook: To be high on Wilson is to believe that the Seahawks will throw more. Despite starting all 16 games in '12, Wilson only tied for 25th in pass attempts. To be sure, he's got running upside, as his 489 rush yards were third-best among QBs. However he passed for only 3,118 yards; among QBs who played 16 games, only Christian Ponder had fewer. But we think a change is gonna come in the Pacific Northwest. Percy Harvin is in town now, and he'll have the ball in his hands 10-plus times every week. Add him to Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, and suddenly Wilson has a legit stable of receivers. The play calling will be more aggressive. We believe!
2013 Outlook: A healthy RG III would be a lock for the top five QBs, but since Griffin tore his right ACL on January 6th, he's not certain to start Week 1. Before the injury, RG III was perhaps the fastest QB in league history. He scored seven rushing TDs, he eclipsed 60 rushing yards in seven of his 15 regular-season starts, and his 815 total rush yards were the fifth-most ever by a QB in a single season. As a passer, he was acceptable: Accurate in the short game, mostly untested throwing deeper stuff. As a runner, he was a fantasy superstar. Adrian Peterson's fast ACL recovery last year gives us hope. But will RG III's breakneck style be curtailed by injury concerns?
2013 Outlook: In '12, Stafford set an NFL record for pass attempts in a single season, the second straight year he's led the league in attempts. So at least you know you're getting volume. But the statistical difference in his past two campaigns is massive: Stafford went from 333 fantasy points in '11 to 263 in '12. It's true he had his boneheaded moments, but we believe the biggest problem was a decimation of the Lions' receiving corps, and some unlikely-to-repeat bad luck. (For instance, Calvin Johnson was tackled on an opponent's 1 a whopping six times!) We're convinced Stafford's passing TDs will bounce back -- even if he's unlikely to rush for four scores again. He's a fantasy starter who could present great draft-day value.
2013 Outlook: Luck finished his rookie campaign as fantasy's No. 9 QB. So why don't we project him for a bump as he climbs the learning curve? It comes down to offensive system. Downfield devotee Bruce Arians is gone, and new coordinator Pep Hamilton (Luck's college coordinator) is a West Coast man. We imagine Luck's efficiency may improve -- his completion percentage should go up and his interception total should go down -- but he's unlikely to lead the NFL in attempts that travel more than 20 yards in the air again. In turn, that probably means Luck is unlikely to finish seventh in passing yards again. He's a fantasy starter with upside, but a less-swashbuckling version of Luck may offer lower highs with his higher lows.
2013 Outlook: In prototypical "Tony Romo" fashion, Romo ended his breakout '12 season -- during which he crushed his career best passing total by 420 yards -- with a choking-dog performance to ruin the Cowboys' playoff hopes. His street cred will always suffer because he comes up so small in big moments, but the fact remains that Romo has been a top-eight fantasy QB three of the past four years. He doesn't have a huge arm and he'll hurt you with a multi-INT game now and again, but he's a brave dude, standing in and taking shots to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, two of the league's more dynamic playmakers. If you wait to draft your signal caller, you could do worse than winding up with Romo.
2013 Outlook: Eli turned in another maddening campaign in '12 because, well, that's what he does. As usual, his highs were tremendous: A 510-yard game in Week 2, five TD passes in Week 17. But his lows were crushing: No TDs and 177 pass yards per game from Weeks 8 to 10. Manning has ridden the weekly roller coaster for his entire career. It didn't help last year that Hakeem Nicks and Martellus Bennett couldn't stay healthy and the Giants scuffled to find an acceptable complements for Victor Cruz. But Eli is as hot-and-cold as they come regardless of who's catching the ball, and his 59.9 percent completion rate was the lowest for a defending Super Bowl champion QB since '06. We don't trust him as a fantasy starter.
2013 Outlook: Big Ben's toughness is unquestioned, but it keeps getting the Steelers in trouble. For the second straight year, Roethlisberger missed crucial time to injury during a playoff push, victimized by a shaky o-line and his tendency to hold the ball. Before his Week 10 shoulder and rib woes, however, he was on pace for 4,406 passing yards, 32 TDs, eight INTs and a 67 percent completion rate. Coordinator Todd Haley's quick-release, inside-the-numbers attack suited Big Ben fine. The concern for '13 is continued upheaval in Roethlisberger's blocking, and the removal of playmakers Mike Wallace (free agency) and Heath Miller (torn ACL) from Pittsburgh's attack. Add the likelihood he'll miss games because of injury, and Roethlisberger looks more like a fantasy backup than a starter.
2013 Outlook: Despite his Super Bowl win, Flacco is an easy whipping boy. He's never been a top-10 fantasy QB. He's never eclipsed 25 passing TDs or come close to 4,000 yards. And on tape, you've seen him look unbeatable one series and clueless the next. But it's fair to wonder if a new era is coming for Flacco and the entire Ravens offense, out from under the incompetent thumb of former coordinator Cam Cameron. In six meaningful games without Cameron last year, Flacco averaged 283 yards passing and slung 15 TDs and 1 INT. Now, maybe that's an Eli-esque bout of unconsciousness which will fade. But maybe Flacco's giant arm and aggressive offensive mindset have taken a permanent step forward. He's not your fantasy starter, but he's intriguing.