It's a football column in June, so we're going to start with the disclaimers.
I'm about two months away from the drafts and auctions that matter to me.
I'm not dug in on many 2014 NFL opinions yet. I'm still collecting information and data, not to mention watching baseball games every night.
Still with me? Let's have a talk about the elite quarterbacks, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. You know them. You love them. You see them on all the commercials. They've each won a real-life championship, and countless fantasy ones. On any rational board, they're Tier 1 in fake football, 2014.
More disclaimers, kids. I'd love any of these guys on my fake teams. Manning's coming off the best quarterback year in football history. I still view Rodgers as the best real-life player in the league, the guy I'd take first if starting an NFL team. And obviously you can build a fake roster with a later-round QB and still do well; it's a reasonably deep position, and any strategy works if you pick the right players.
Preamble out of the way, let's get to the story. On my current QB board, I'm listing them as such: Brees, Manning, Rodgers. It's not stop-the-presses stuff, but it's a mild change from the industry flow. The current consensus lines them up this way: Manning, Rodgers, Brees.
My real-life admiration for Rodgers to the side, he was an easy call at the bottom of this tier. His willingness to hold the ball (and take hits) can't be ignored, and I'm floor-driven with my early picks. He's been sacked 232 times as a pro, on 7.3 percent of his dropbacks. Compare this to Brees (3.8 percent) and Manning (3.1 percent), who usually get rid of the ball before the hit comes down. Brees hasn't missed a start due to injury since joining the Saints. Manning had one injured year (2011), otherwise he's started 16 games in every season.
Of course Rodgers has a running aspect to his game, while the others don't. If I knew for sure Rodgers would play the full season without a hiccup, maybe I'd feel differently. (To be fair, 2013 was the first year Rodgers missed a chunk of games.)
Rodgers also takes a small step back in expected volume; Green Bay isn't super-aggressive when it comes to full-game play-calling, especially with a fourth-quarter lead. Rodgers has never attempted more than 552 passes in a season; conversely, Brees has topped that number seven times.
At the end of the day, giving the top spot to Brees is largely based on a series of accumulated small advantages:
-- The Saints have 11 indoor games for 2014, always a preference (and the Week 17 fantasy throwaway is an outdoor game). Sure, Manning and Rodgers can get it done in any weather. But given my choice, I'll take a perfect environment under the roof, on the carpet.
-- Brees doesn't have to deal with a potential TD-grabbing monster in his backfield. Eddie Lacy looms in Green Bay, Montee Ball in Denver.
-- Consider the end-of-season position rank for Brees since joining Saints, starting from 2013 and working backwards: 2, 1, 2, 6, 2, 1, 5, 3. When upside meets floor, it's a beautiful thing. (Rodgers has a series of 1s and 2s as well, not counting last year, and Manning's ranking record is very also good, though not as good as Brees'. No one remembers Manning finishing fifth or sixth at the position in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012.)
-- The Saints have a skinny bye week in 2014; they rest in Week 6, along with the Chiefs. A skinny bye affords you all sorts of flexibility. Compare this to the Broncos (resting in Week 4, with five other clubs) and the Packers (off in Week 9, with five other teams).
Don't misunderstand what I mean with the bye-week angle. It's not an excuse to take Pierre Thomas over Lacy or Ball, say. But when we're looking at similar players, it's worth considering as a late tiebreaker.
Brees is about three years younger than Manning. He's working with a more aggressive coach than Rodgers. The Saints lost Darren Sproles, sure, but that's probably offset by the drafting of splashy first-round WR Brandin Cooks. Tight end Jimmy Graham is in the prime of his career.
To the crowd that swears by the late QB, again, I'm not saying that won't work. I'm sure I'll end up in that position a few times this August, depending on league context and draft slot. But here's one often-overlooked advantage of taking a Tier 1 quarterback – you're essentially buying an extra roster spot. If you go to war with a Brees or Manning, you probably can ignore quarterbacks in 15 of 16 weeks. I'd like an extra roster spot to work with, sure.
Your turn at the dry-erase board. What order do you have your quarterbacks, and why? Share your respectful disagreement, both here and on Twitter (@scott_pianowski). Call all the audibles you like.