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Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 5 Quarterbacks Led By Familiar Face

The five best fantasy quarterbacks entering the 2010 NFL season all have similar defining traits.

It used to be that fantasy football was about loading up on the league's best running backs early in the draft, then filling your roster from that point. Draft strategies have changed slightly, however, as offenses have become more pass-happy. An elite quarterback, in many cases, can be as effective, or even more effective, in leading your team to fantasy glory than an elite running back.

What defines an elite fantasy quarterback? Three general ideas come to mind, and this isn't exactly rocket science, folks.

Opportunity. Here's a complex theory: the more your fantasy quarterback throws, the more points he can ultimately score for you. The best fantasy quarterbacks play in offensive systems that emphasize the pass and, most importantly, place a great deal of trust and responsibility on the quarterback. It's not exactly surprising that the NFL's best passers are also fantasy football's biggest earners.

Durability. Firing one more brain-melter at you: your fantasy quarterback can't score points for your team if he's injured and not playing. Health is why a super-productive passer like Houston's Matt Schaub can be a risky fantasy proposition. He's only had one truly elite year as a passer, and that was in 2009, the year in which he first made 16 starts in a season. He'd missed at least five games in each of his previous two seasons, and that fact alone makes him a slightly riskier investment than players that have proven more durable.

Talent. This is true in two ways; first and foremost, as mentioned earlier, the league's best quarterbacks are also the best fantasy quarterbacks. The more talented a quarterback is, the quicker he assimilates to the game and earns the trust of his coaching staff. Talent is also necessary in terms of a supporting cast; quality blocking, a reliable rushing attack and two or three proven receiving threats can turn a quarterback with average talent (but great opportunity and durability) into an elite player. The latter is why a guy like San Diego's Philip Rivers is a riskier proposition than usual; with two offensive stalwarts holding out, Rivers' job will be more difficult than usual in 2010.

Without further ado, here are the five quarterbacks we believe will be the highest fantasy earners this season.

1. Peyton Manning, IND: He's never missed a start as a pro. He's never had a season in which he averaged less than 28 passing attempts per game. He's never thrown fewer than 26 touchdown passes in a single season, and no quarterback has as much trust or voice in his team's offensive system. As a result, no NFL quarterback is a safer, more consistent bet than Manning, and it's been that way for quite some time.

2. Drew Brees, NO: Brees was an excellent fantasy option in 2007 and 2008 because he threw the ball over 600 times each season; he was a statistical force, but New Orleans was not a great team. Last year, the Saints ran the ball much more consistently, but Brees was statistically similar to his previous two seasons despite attempting roughly 120 fewer passes. He'll continue his dominance in 2010 as the Saints continue to refine their offensive identity.

3. Aaron Rodgers, GB: Few NFL quarterbacks take the beating that Rodgers has taken in two years as Green Bay's starter, but he's still made 32 starts, so he's plenty durable. Mike McCarthy's offensive system is pass-happy and perfectly fits Rodgers' talents, and he's responded with back-to-back stellar fantasy campaigns, emerging as one of the league's best in 2009. The Packers will only continue to improve offensively as their offensive line gels and their receiving talent matures.

4. Tom Brady, NE: With Brady, we have the first player on this list that has actually missed a start within the past five seasons. His lost 2008 season aside, Brady has been an elite fantasy passer for some time, with seven straight seasons of at least 23 touchdowns and increasing statistical prowess as New England's offense has evolved into a pass-first unit. He's still as safe a fantasy play as there is, though we wonder a bit about the talent surrounding Brady at this point.

5. Tony Romo, DAL: Romo has started 55 of 58 games as the Cowboys' No. 1 QB, so while he lacks the perfect attendance record of guys higher on the list, he's proven he has the pocket presence and creativity to keep himself healthy for a full NFL season. Dallas' offensive system is a bit more rough-and-tumble than the rest of the teams here, but Romo has still attempted over 500 passes in two of his three full seasons as a starter. Dallas has a deep pool of receiving talent and a solid rushing attack; if their new-look offensive line holds up, Romo will once again be fantasy gold in 2010.