Other positions: Running backs | Wide receivers | Tight ends
The NFL has evolved into a passing league, and it's never been more apparent than after a 2011 season that saw three different quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Stafford) throw for 5,000-plus yards. Before this past campaign, two signal-callers (Dan Marino in 1984 and Brees in 2008) had reached that level of statistical success -- ever. Furthermore, 10 field generals (or almost a third of the league) reached the 4,000-yard passing mark as well.
Quarterbacks are also scoring more touchdowns, as seven found the end zone 30 or more times. Another three scored 25 or more, so it's clear that the number of fantasy starters at the position is greater than it's ever been. The evolution of the league also means that more quarterbacks will be drafted in the first two rounds, as the era of the running back being the top fantasy position has ended.
Here's an early look at how the top of the position will look in 2012.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (2011 - 397.42 points): Rodgers will be the top overall pick in countless 2012 fantasy drafts, and he'll be taken no worse than fourth. He's finished either first or second in fantasy points at his position in each of the last four years, so he's both productive and consistent.
2. Drew Brees, Saints (2011 - 391.64 points): While Rodgers is the No. 1 quarterback for 2012, Brees is a close second. Now the NFL's record holder for the most passing yards in a single season, he has finished in the top five in fantasy points at his position in five of the last six years.
3. Tom Brady, Patriots (2011 - 368.30 points): Brady is truly an elite fantasy quarterback, finishing in the top seven in points in his last full three seasons. He has also thrown for 4,300-plus yards in two of the last three years and recorded a combined 108 total touchdowns in that time.
4. Matthew Stafford, Lions (2011 - 343.32 points): In his first full NFL season, Stafford went off for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. While his previous proneness to injuries does make him somewhat of a risk as a first-round pick, Stafford's numbers do make him worth that high of a draft choice.
5. Cam Newton, Panthers (2011 - 369.34 points): Newton had the greatest season from a rookie at his position, throwing for 4,051 yards with 706 rushing yards and 35 total touchdowns. I think Stafford has a better chance to duplicate his 2011 totals than Newton, but the value of the two is even.
6. Tony Romo, Cowboys (2011 - 369.34 points): Despite missing most of one game with an injured hand, Romo still finished with 4,184 yards and a combined 32 touchdowns in 2011. In his last two full seasons, he's finished no worse than seventh in fantasy points at his position. That makes Romo worth a second- or third-rounder.
7. Michael Vick, Eagles (2011 - 233.02 points): Vick was a serious disappointment from a fantasy perspective, posting 77.3 fewer points than he did in 2011 despite playing in one more game. His proneness to injuries makes him a risk, but Vick's versatile skill set still makes him a legitimate No. 1 fantasy quarterback in 2012.
8. Philip Rivers, Chargers (2011 - 254.56 points): Though he was considered a fantasy failure, Rivers finished ninth in points at his position while throwing a career-high 20 interceptions. It's tough to see a scenario where Rivers doesn't improve on that total, and his fantasy numbers, in 2012.
9. Eli Manning, Giants (2011 - 280.82 points): Manning was a mere 67 yards away from being the fourth quarterback to reach the 5,000-yard mark this season, so his value is on the rise. Keep in mind, though, that he's thrown for 30 or more touchdowns just once in his career.
10. Peyton Manning, Colts (2011 - 0 points): No one knows if Manning will return to the gridiron, but we'll assume he will for argument's sake. In that scenario, I still see him as a top-10 fantasy option at his position. His future will be one of the most important stories of the fantasy football offseason.
11. Matt Ryan, Falcons (2011 - 273.48 points): Ryan had a slow start in 2011, but he finished on fire and put up career highs in yards and total touchdowns. With the most favorable schedule among quarterbacks ahead, he should at least duplicate the numbers he recorded this past year.
12. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (2011 - 216.08 points): This was a tough call between Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub and Tim Tebow, but I went with the Steelers quarterback. While his 2011 totals were mediocre, the weapons around Big Ben have improved. He'll also be back to 100 percent.