Ranking quarterbacks used to be so easy. Peyton Manning was first. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, in some order, were second and third. We had 8-10 guys who were easy starters, another handful who were fine needy/bye week plays, and a bunch of guys who were Chad Henne or something, whom you ignored except when you needed to play a defense against them.
This year, though, the position is much murkier. Will Peyton Manning be back to full strength? How much will a suspension hurt Tom Brady? Is Drew Brees over the hill, or set for a rebound? Heck, who's the position's top guy — Rodgers or Andrew Luck?
There was nothing unanimous in our group's consensus rankings, and there was a lot of discord — one quarterback was ranked as high as third and as low as 12th, another between fourth and 12th. Jay Cutler could be 13th at the position, or he could be 25th. With so much variance in opinions, a key to your draft will be figuring out who might rise and who might fall.
What follows is just one man's opinion, but let's take a look at some of the possible sleepers among quarterbacks for the season. Some of these guys are borderline starters who could become sure things, and some are guys who are likely to go undrafted but might find themselves with some relevance.
Here we go:
Eli Manning, Giants
First off, we never know any football player is going to be healthy, but if there's anyone we can count on to be on the field, it's Manning, who still hasn't missed a game since becoming the Giants' starter in 2004. Just being on the field isn't everything, of course, but it counts a lot. Meanwhile, Manning might actually have the best assortment of weapons of any quarterback in the league this year. Odell Beckham Jr. you know about, plus he's getting Victor Cruz back. Rueben Randle is still there, and the Giants brought in James Jones earlier this month. Tight end Larry Donnell had a breakout last year. And a running back triumvirate of Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen and Andre Williams offers ability and versatility. Manning had one of his best seasons in 2014, and 2015 could be even better.
Cam Newton, Panthers
Over the final eight weeks of last season, the only quarterback who averaged more fantasy points per game than Newton was Aaron Rodgers. If you limit that to seven weeks, Newton finishes at the top of the heap. Yes, that was largely on the back of a 35-point Week 14, and he missed a game because of a car accident, but still, the Newton who struggled through the first half of last season wasn't the Newton we got at the end of the year. A healthy (for now at least) Jonathan Stewart, a more experienced Kelvin Benjamin, adding Devin Funchess to the mix, and what should be a full season of health for Newton makes him a nice candidate to bounce back to his pre-2014 heights.
Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings
Right or wrong, Adrian Peterson and Charles Johnson are two of this preseason's fantasy darlings. Kyle Rudolph was that last year, until he got hurt for all time, which sure, is one of the things you have to watch for with him, but there is skill there. The Vikings also have Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata at running back, and Mike Wallace and Jarius Wright at wide receiver. Heck, maybe Cordarrelle Patterson still exists. As for Bridgewater, it took injuries for Minnesota to install him as its starter last year, but once he was there he was very good, showing flashes of possibly more. A second-year leap into the position's top 10 is totally on the table for Bridgewater.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jets
The Jets were insistent that Geno Smith will begin the season as the starting quarterback. That was never going to be the right move, as, to me, Fitzpatrick is clearly the superior guy. So, callous as it may be, for the Jets and for fantasy players, that broken jaw might have been the best thing that could have happened. At 33 years old in November, Fitzpatrick isn't the answer either, but he's the kind of quarterback who won't kill you while you look for something else. Every year, Fitzpatrick will have a handful of games in which he's a strong fantasy contributor. They won't be like his six-touchdown game last season in Houston, but whenever he is installed as the Jets' starter (and he will be), he'll have flashes of brilliance, and that could be of real fantasy value.