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QB Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan improved steadily as a passer from 2010-2012, going from 3,705 yards passing with 28 TDs and just nine interceptions thrown during 2010 to 4,177 yards passing, 29 TDs and 12 interceptions thrown in 2011 and finishing 2012 with 4,719 yards passing, with 32 TDs and 14 interceptions thrown. However, during the 2013 season Ryan hit a plateau in his numbers (even though he attempted a career-high 651 passes and completed a career-high 439 passes) with 439/651 for 4,515 yards passing, 26 TDs and 17 interceptions. His yardage and TD numbers dipped enough to bounce him down to #10 among all fantasy passers last year after finishing sixth among all fantasy quarterbacks during 2012. A major part of Ryan's (and the Falcons') struggles during last year's 4-12 disaster of a season was due to the early loss of #1 wide receiver Julio Jones (lost after week five, 2013 due to injury). Jones had over 100 yards in three of the five games he appeared in last season, and 99 yards receiving in a fourth, before going down to a fractured foot (the second time he's broken the foot in the same place). During the first five games of the season - with Jones in the lineup - Ryan threw for over 300 yards three times, over 400 yards once, and he connected for two TDs per game (10 over the first five contests) with just three total interceptions during that span of time. After Jones went down, Ryan had over 300 yards passing in just three other contests all year, no games over 400, and threw 14 of his 17 interceptions during the final two-thirds of the season.
Compounding the woes at wide receiver, veteran Roddy White only managed 93 targets for 63/711/3 receiving over parts of 13 games last season - he was hampered for a long stretch of the season with a high ankle sprain and pulled hamstring and didn't really recover top form until late in the year. With his top two threats at wide receiver absent for long stretches of the season, it is small wonder that Ryan's numbers regressed during 2013.
Ryan's been among the top-ten fantasy quarterbacks for four straight seasons, though, playing in all 16 games for the past four years - Ryan's durability hasn't been an issue at all thus far in his pro career. Ryan is just now entering the prime years of his career at 29 years of age. He is the linchpin of the Atlanta offense - Ryan handled 651 of the 659 passes attempted during regular-season by the Falcon's last year. With both Jones and White on the mend, the 2014 campaign looks bright for Ryan and his fantasy owners, though his fantasy owners or those considering drafting him will want to monitor Jones' and White's recoveries during training camp. Harry Douglas is a solid #3 wide receiver, and proved last season he can step into the starting lineup and produce respectable numbers (132 targets for 85/1,067/2 receiving in relief of Jones and White last year) - but there is no denying that Douglas is not the same level of threat as Jones at this level.
QB Cam Newton
Though Cam Newton didn't fulfill the lofty expectations of many fantasy owners during 2013, he still finished as the sixth-best fantasy quarterback in the NFL due to his combination of passing (292/473 for 3,379 yards passing, 24 TDs and 13 interceptions thrown) and rushing (111/585/6) abilities. There was a drop-off in his frequency rushing the football, going from 126 and 127 rushes during his first two seasons to 111 last year, and also a drop in his average yards-per-carry (to 5.3 yards per rush), but he still remains one of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL. Nobody complains about 5.3 yards per rush at this level, friends. Newton has finished as a top-five fantasy quarterback twice during his three-year career (in 2011 and 2012), with a sixth-place finish during 2013 as noted above.
The biggest concern for Newton entering 2013 is the same as ever - a dearth of quality wide receivers to throw the football at during regular season. Steve Smith, the anchor of this receiving corps for many years, is now a Raven after being released in the offseason, leaving a depth chart that lacks a headline playmaker. Ancients Jerricho Cotchery (he'll be 32 when regular season starts) and Jason Avant (31 years old as of April 20, 2014) are currently on top of the depth chart. Cotchery did grab 10 TDs for Pittsburgh last season (76 targets for 46/602/10) but he had a grand total of two receiving TDs during his prior two seasons with the Steelers. Avant managed around 50 receptions per season at his peak with his previous NFL team, the Eagles, from 2010-2012 - but he finished 2013 with 76 targets for 38/447/2 receiving, a 50% reception percentage. Tiquan Underwood, the current #3 wideout, hit his career high-water mark during 2012 while with Tampa Bay (14 games played yielding 55 targets for 28/425/2 receiving), managing 46 targtes for 24/440/0 over 12 games with Tampa last year. As you can see, the supporting cast at wide receiver doesn't bode well for a sudden spike in Newton's passing numbers during 2014. Newton does have a solid tight end in Greg Olsen (a career-high 111 targets for 73/816/6 receiving last year), and Ed Dickson (43 targets for 25/273/1 receiving last season) joined the Panthers from Baltimore to provide an experienced #2 tight end - perhaps they'll be able to do enough in two-tight-end personnel packages to partially offset the mediocre wide receiving corps.
Any excitement that fantasy owners feel about the Panther's wide receivers' stable is provided by their first draft pick, Kelvin Benjamin, selected at 1.28. There is a wide range of opinions about Benjamin's readiness to be a pro receiver - some feel his size and leaping abilities will make him a favorite target of Newton, while others fret about Benjamin's lack of polished route running and his tendency to drop catchable balls. We'll see what sort of chemistry Newton is able to create with Benjamin during the preseason.
QB Robert Griffin
Robert Griffin's 2013 season didn't go as planned, but that shouldn't deter fantasy owners from betting on him in 2014. Griffin rushed back from a torn ACL and was clearly never 100%, particularly when it came to trusting his legs. Mounting losses fostered tension with Coach Mike Shanahan, culminating in Griffin's benching and ultimately Shanahan's firing. Griffin gets a new lease on life with head coach Jay Gruden. Gruden managed to turn a middling talent like Andy Dalton into a 4,000-yard, 27-TD passer...imagine what he can do with Griffin. Combine that with the addition of DeSean Jackson and you've got every reason to think Griffin will bounce back into the top tier of fantasy QB1s.
QB Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick was the 49ers' second-round pick in 2011. He didn't play much as a rookie, but he filled in when Alex Smith was injured midway through the 2012 season, and he played himself into the permanent starting role. Over the past two seasons, Kaepernick has led the 49ers to two NFC Championship appearances and one Super Bowl appearance. Kaepernick is an accurate passer with a good arm, but his fantasy production has been limited by the 49ers' run-heavy style of offense. Kaepernick himself is an excellent runner (941 rushing yards over the past two seasons), but he won't be a top-tier fantasy QB until the 49ers attempt closer to 500 passes (rather than the meager 417 they attempted last season). Expect him to be a worthwhile fantasy starter, but near the bottom of that range.
QB Tony Romo
While some may debate Tony Romo's place in the pantheon of NFL quarterbacks, no one can question his value in fantasy circles. He's among the league leaders in career completion rate, yards per attempt, and TD%. The entirety of his supporting cast returns from a season when Romo threw 3,800 yard and 31 touchdowns in 15 games. New play-caller Scott Linehan is going to call a more aggressive attack and that means more passing attempts than last year's 535. Assuming his recovery from an offseason back procedure progresses well, Romo is among a handful of valuable fantasy QB1s that can be had for a fair price on draft day.
David Dodds's projections
Chris Smith's projections
Bob Henry's projections
Jason Wood's projections
Maurile Tremblay's projections