A couple weeks ago, in anticipation of the impending fantasy football season, I did a fantasy analysis of the running back position – At a Glance: Running Backs. With the fantasy "buzz" position now accounted for off the top, I've turned my attention to the signal callers. As has been the case for the past few years, Peyton Manning still reigns supreme among the QBs, and May experts drafts have clearly validated that. While I agree with the experts on Manning, there is no clear consensus of a pecking order once he's off the board. Here's how I break down the position:
Tier 1: Peyton Manning
Tier 2: Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Matt Hasselbeck
Tier 3: Marc Bulger
Tier 4: Donovan McNabb, Trent Green, Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme, Drew Bledsoe, Jake Plummer
Tier 5: Daunte Culpepper, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, Drew Brees
Tier 6: Aaron Brooks, Byron Leftwich
Tier 7: Mark Brunell, Brad Johnson, David Carr
Tier 8: Chris Simms, Jon Kitna, Chad Pennington, Philip Rivers, Steve McNair
Tier 9: Billy Volek, Kyle Boller, Charlie Frye, Josh McCown
Other Notables: Rex Grossman, Brian Griese, Matt Leinart, Vince Young, Alex Smith, Craig Nall, Kelly Holcomb, Patrick Ramsey, Jason Campbell
Detroit: The thought of Mike Martz at the helm of the Lions offense has substantially increased the early draft values of Detroit's skill position players, with the exception of the QB position, where Jon Kitna and Josh McCown are set to battle it out for top gun honors. Drafts held before August may not offer the benefit of clarity to how this situation is going to play out. Once a winner is determined, that player stands to become an enticing No. 2 fantasy option given Martz's system. As of now, though, it's guesswork as to who that player will be, although Kitna has been working with the top unit and claims that he is the starter. I think McCown, with his running skills, might have a little higher upside, but I'd be very comfortable with Kitna as a backup if I knew he was clearly the Lions No. 1.
NY Jets: Admittedly, I fell hard for the healthy Chad Pennington who looked like a burgeoning Joe Montana type in '02 (22 TD, 6 INT). Two shoulder surgeries later, he's trying to prove he can hold up to a 16-game schedule, and he needs to show new head coach Eric Mangini that his shoulder is capable of making the requisite throws. Pennington says he can but, even so, he's going to have to prove it in a training camp competition with Patrick Ramsey.
Arizona: Golden boy Matt Leinart landed in the Cardinals lap at the No. 10 spot in the draft, and the team had to take him given the age and fragile nature of Kurt Warner. The starting job still belongs to Warner, but he'll have to do two things to keep Leinart at bay: Stay healthy and win. In large part because of his inability to stay healthy, Warner has averaged just 7.3 games played over the past four seasons, and Arizona hasn't had a winning record for seven straight seasons. So Warner is going to have to buck some trends if he's to keep the masses from calling for Paris Hilton's rumored boyfriend.
Buffalo: The obvious question is: do we care who winds up getting the call at QB in Buffalo? Be it the newly-acquired Craig Nall, Kelly Holcomb or, heaven forbid, J.P. Losman, the depth chart leader here will be looked upon, until proven otherwise, as one the last fantasy QB backups, or free agent fodder worth looking at during bye weeks. This was a fantasy wasteland position last year and the team lost Eric Moulds and didn't improve their offensive line enough to eliminate those worries. To make matters even worse, all three have been shaky in offseason practices and head coach Dick Jauron says he's still a long ways from choosing his guy.
Chicago: For having done very little in his NFL career other than get injured, Rex Grossman tends to get much more credit than he deserves. He's currently listed atop the Bears QB depth chart, and head coach Lovie Smith is calling him the starter, but the team made a wise move to bring in Brian Griese, instead of Kyle Orton, to back up Grossman and even potentially challenge for playing time early if Grossman struggles out of the gate. Personally, I'm a much bigger Griese fan than Grossman, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Griese at the helm more often than Grossman in '06.
Tennessee: Went it comes to convoluted QB situations, Tennessee takes the cake. First, there's the mess with Steve McNair, who was barred from working out at the team's training facility during the offseason. An arbitrator recently ruled that Tennessee was in the wrong, meaning the team must make a move on him quickly as he's under contract for a $23 million cap figure this season and it doesn't want him injured under these circumstances. He's likely to soon be cut, which will allow Baltimore to quickly snatch him up (there's already a restructured contract agreement in place). That would leave Billy Volek as the team's starter, with rookie Vince Young playing the roll of the fan-favorite thorn in Volek's side. No doubt, with every Volek miscue, Young's name will be buzzing in the air. But Young is considered a project that will need at least a year-plus on the sidelines, so Volek should be safe for this season.
On the Rise
Drew Bledsoe – The reasoning for this one is obvious and can be summed up in two words: Terrell Owens.
David Carr – The fact that he's been drafted in all four May experts leagues that I participated in tells me that his draft value is further along than it's been in most of his previous preseasons. While the addition of Reggie Bush would have generated even more buzz, the addition of Eric Moulds, Jeb Putzier and some mending along the offensive line has helped his cause considerably.
Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh has ranked last in the league in pass attempts two years running, but head coach Bill Cowher hasn't always been so tight with the passing game – the team had the 10th-most pass attempts in '03. The locking down of the passing game coincided with Roethlisberger's arrival on the scene as the team's starting QB, but a 27-4 record as a starter and a Super Bowl ring has created expectations that Roethlisberger will be allowed to be a little more free-wheeling this year. To Big Ben's fantasy credit, he's managed to produce pretty good numbers despite limited opportunities, as he's accounted for 38 combined pass/rush TDs in 27 regular-season games played. With a more balanced playbook in '06, some are seeing Roethlisberger as a fantasy No. 1.
On the Decline
Daunte Culpepper – Culpepper could conceivably belong on both the "Rise" and "Decline" lists based on the rollercoaster ride his draft value has taken in the offseason. Initially, his trade to Miami had pundits giddy about the situation he was landing in – an emerging Dolphins team that has a productive offensive line and lethal weapons at RB and WR in Ronnie Brown and Chris Chambers. But the worry of Culpepper's knee and Miami's move to bring in Joey Harrington as an early-season contingency has scared fantasy experts from settling on Culpepper as their No. 1, because of the potential to be burned. If he was a guarantee to start Week 1 and be as fit as his old self, we'd see him among the first five QBs picked. But right now there's sometimes a dozen QBs off the board before Culpepper's name is called.
Byron Leftwich – I think Leftwich remains one of the more sought-after fantasy backup QBs on the board, but there is little doubt that he'll suffer the fallout of losing his trusted veteran go-to receiver Jimmy Smith. He's now looking at Matt Jones, Ernest Wilford and Reggie Williams as his main aerial weapons, and whether these guys can step up and hold fort is a big question mark heading into the summer.
Kyle Boller – Boller had his moments in '05 – he threw for three TDs on three different occasions from Week 12 through Week 16 – but that hasn't given the Ravens any pause in their pursuit of Steve McNair. And, with a reported $11 million in guaranteed money awaiting Air McNair, the current Tennessee Titan is not going to be brought in to sit on the sideline and mentor Boller. I've never ridden on the Boller bandwagon, and I don't blame the Ravens a bit for trying to reel in McNair. But it's doubtful that McNair can take a full season's worth of pounding anymore, so we aren't likely to see Boller completely shelved this season.
Michael Vick – In some leagues, Vick was one of the top half-dozen fantasy quarterbacks last season. But you wouldn't know it based on where he's going in May experts drafts, as he's typically coming off the board 10-12 QBs deep. My feeling is that fantasy owners are tiring of the week-to-week peak-and-valley results that he offers. You just never know if you're going to get 116 passing yards and two INTs without benefit of a pass or rush TD, or if he'll have one of those 200-yard passing games, with 50-60 rushing yards and 2-3 combined pass/rush TDs. Too many quarterbacks offer similar overall fantasy points without the inconsistency that can often be the singular cause for a loss in the standings.