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Joseph Hutchins | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Top 10 Dropouts - Quarterbacks
Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers

Welcome to the third annual Top 10 series, a two-part prognostication wherein we attempt to identify those players who will fall from the ranks of the elite this coming season and (in about two weeks) those who will fill the resultant vacuum at the top. I say “attempt” as if the first two years of predictions demanded some measure of humility. To the contrary, I’ve now correctly identified 25 of the 36 Top 10 dropouts/risers these past two seasons, a pretty spiffy 70% clip.

OK, so you should probably hold the applause. How hard can it be, after all, to predict a few Top 10 dropouts per position when more than half the RBs and WRs fail to repeat every year? The only thing more difficult than reaching the NFL stratosphere, it would seem, is actually staying there. Make that danged near impossible if your name isn’t Brees, Peterson, or Megatron.

You won’t find any of those fine fellows on the following list, but after two years of heavy turnover at the top, I’m dubious of almost everyone else. You should be too since they most likely top your cheatsheets as we head toward draft day.

Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard scoring.

  Top 10 Quarterbacks - 2011
Rank Player
1 Drew Brees
2 Aaron Rodgers
3 Tom Brady
4 Cam Newton
5 Matthew Stafford
6 Eli Manning
7 Philip Rivers
8 Matt Ryan
9 Tony Romo
10 Mark Sanchez
  Top 10 Quarterbacks - 2012
Rank Player
1 Drew Brees
2 Aaron Rodgers
3 Tom Brady
4 Cam Newton
5 Matt Ryan
6 Peyton Manning
7 Tony Romo
8 Andrew Luck
9 Robert Griffin III
10 Matthew Stafford

Missed the Cut in 2012 (3 of 10): Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Mark Sanchez

The 2012 class of QB dropouts earned their banishment from the ranks of the elite the old-fashioned way: They earned it. Whereas the 2010 and 2011 classes collectively missed 17 and 26 games, respectively, the trio of Manning, Rivers, and Sanchez missed only a single contest between them last season. Fittingly, it was due to poor performance (a Week 16 benching of Sanchez), and not the result of any injury.

To be fair, Manning’s 2012 campaign was nothing to be embarrassed about (almost 4,000 yds and 26 TD strikes) and he was the closest of the three to reclaiming his elite status. A slight dip in yardage and a couple fewer touchdowns was all it took, however, in a year when the new breed of dual-threat QBs affected a paradigm shift at the position. The delta between Manning’s paltry rushing totals (30 yds, no TDs) and those of his more versatile colleagues (Russell Wilson, RGIII, even Andrew Luck) seems to almost completely explain the difference in their final rankings.

The same can be said for Philip Rivers. Save for a solid game’s worth of yardage (about 300 or so), his passing numbers were identical to the younger Manning’s (26 TDs and 15 picks). Similarly, he posted a depressing 40 yards on the ground and no scores. That may be the bar for him, but overall expectations for the position have changed. Unless you’re notching 35-40 passing touchdowns these days, you’d better be making something happen with your feet to stay on top.

Our final 2012 dropout, Mr. Sanchez, did plenty with his feet the year prior, tallying six rushing touchdowns, tied for second in the league with…well, the guy I thought would poach all those touchdowns last year. Tebow Time did no such thing and yet Sanchez still managed an anemic 28 rushing yards and zero scores. Ick. Coupled with his appalling output as a passer (a 13–18 TD–INT ratio), it’s no wonder he fell all the way down to number 28 in the final QB rankings. If I’m Rex Ryan, I’m praying Geno Smith outperforms the Sanchise this preseason and wins the Jets’ job outright.

The Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the Top Ten This Year:

Tom Brady

Is Brady's reign in the top ten coming to an end?

Tom Brady, NE: Sacrilege, right? I mean, this is straight-up fantasy football heresy, isn’t it? Brady hasn’t thrown fewer than 34 touchdown passes in three seasons and has even developed, these past two years, into a reasonably proficient poacher of rushing touchdowns, scoring seven times on the ground. That matches his previous career total, by the way, for the entire decade prior to 2011. In other words, he’s still dynamite in the pocket and has now, unlike the aforementioned trio of dropouts, diversified his portfolio by morphing into a modest dual threat.

All of this is well and good, I would retort, but nobody stays on top forever in the NFL. And “nobody” includes Tom Terrific and the football savant who deploys him, Bill Belichick. So why is Brady just now ripe for a topple according to the Shot Caller? Let’s not trust that gut instinct of mine. Let’s just go straight to the Patriots’ depth charts for some answers. Here’s who Brady was targeting with his passes in 2012: Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Brandon Lloyd. Now, here’s who he’ll be throwing to in 2013: Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Gronkowski (provided he recovers from serious back and forearm surgeries). Uhhhh…any questions?

Look, I’m no rocket scientist, as I prove every single week during the regular season. It doesn’t take one, however, to comprehend how sizeable that drop-off in talent is. I like Amendola, but the rest of those guys are either completely unproven or, in Jenkins’ case, all too proven (not in a good way). Moreover, the Pats have accumulated quite a stable of capable backs (Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, and LeGarrette Blount). It isn’t too difficult to imagine Belichick’s ever-versatile offense redefining itself once again. Don’t be surprised to see Brady slide out of the Top 10 in 2012.

Robert Griffin III, WAS: RGIII is actually the last person I want to see slide out of the Top 10 other than Aaron Rodgers, mostly because I’m a huge fan and I think he represents the next logical evolution at the position. He’s an athletic freak with a great head on his shoulders, great feel for the game, and a rocket launcher for a right arm. I even put my reputation on the line at this time last year by predicting he’d be in the Top 10 after his first 16 games. Had he let me down (and he almost did)…well, I wouldn’t be predicting this back-step to mere mortality in 2013, would I?

I’m predicting it nonetheless and for two primary reasons. First, Griffin’s knee injury at the end of last season was not a minor one, especially for a quarterback who catapulted into the cream-of-the-crop club on the strength of 833 rushing yards (tops for QBs) and seven rushing touchdowns (2nd to Cam Newton). The doctors and the Skins’ brass are saying all the right things about his “superhuman” recovery this offseason, but the fact of the matter is he’ll play no preseason games and will be required to wear a brace all year long. Hmmm.

The second reason I’m predicting a minor sophomore slump for RGIII in 2013 has nothing to do with his health and everything to do with his performance the month prior to the injury. In his first three games against NFC East foes, Griffin averaged a stunning 32.9 fantasy points per contest. In the next three, he averaged barely half that (18.3). You know how sometimes pitchers get lit up on their second time through the lineup? It pains me to say it, but his reality as an NFL quarterback may be closer to that second set of divisional matchups than the first.

Matthew Stafford, DET: Detroit’s resident gunslinger has finally sloughed off the injury-prone label after two years of uninterrupted 16-game slates. Now it appears he’s making up for lost time. After attempting a league-high 663 passes in 2011, the Georgia product uncorked an astounding 727 last year, not only a league-leading total but easily an all-time high. Is he getting paid by the pass? That’s over 45 per game, folks, and more than enough attempts to do some serious damage. However, while Stafford did plenty of that in 2011 (5,038 yds and 41 TDs), he failed to capitalize on the boatload of opportunities last season, managing a mere 20 touchdown strikes. Yup, you read that right. The dude threw more than 700 passes and found the end zone with only 20 of them…and hit Calvin Johnson (aka, the best receiver on the planet) with only five.

It would be easy to dismiss Stafford’s 2012 season as an extreme statistical outlier, especially after he led his long-suffering franchise to the playoffs just a year prior doing basically the same thing (throwing the ball all over the place). The fact remains, however, that we’re entering year five of the Jim Schwartz administration and the only numbers that matter—wins and losses—don’t paint a very successful picture. The Lions are 22-42 since Schwartz took the reins, and I’m guessing the pressure to “restore the roar” will be intensified this season. Consequently, I’ve a hunch Schwartz et al. will strive for more balance in 2013 since a lack thereof hasn’t changed the team’s fortunes to date.

Next: Running Backs