Fantasy Football Roundtable: Who Should Be the Number One Quarterback?

Peyton Manning was historic last season, Drew Brees is consistent and Aaron Rodgers has a high ceiling. Which one should be drafted first?

Fantasy analysts don't always get along. They don't always agree. And while our algorithms spit out some amazing projections each and every year, we're bound to disagree with the computers at times.

Insert the fantasy football roundtable, where the football guys here at numberFire are able to disagree and argue for a particular player or ranking in fantasy football. The topic for today: Who should be the number one quarterback in fantasy football?

The Argument for Peyton Manning

From Tyler Buecher

Peyton Manning is precisely the type of fantasy quarterback worth investing a premium pick in for 2014. His consistency and dominance at the quarterback position is a thing of marvel. Manning's 2013 was one for the ages setting new NFL records with both 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns. But Peyton's career has been one for the ages as well.

Excluding the anomaly of missing all of 2011, Manning has been an extremely durable quarterback throughout his career, not missing a single game over his 16 years in the league. Aaron Rodgers has missed eight games over the last six years of his career after becoming a starter, while Drew Brees has missed seven. If you're spending a high pick on a player this year, don't you want the dependability of them playing in every game for you?

With Peyton, you're getting a high-floor, low-risk pick. Averaging 4,373 passing yards and 33 touchdowns over the course of his career, this could almost be counted as his fantasy floor this upcoming season. He has surpassed both these totals in his two years in Denver, and is in line to continue doing so this year.

He has two ascending premiere talents in Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, the ever-shifty Wes Welker working out of the slot, and a new workhorse the Broncos are ready to release from the stables in Montee Ball. The additions of Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Cody Latimer only further perpetuate Manning’s opportunity to lead the league again in 2014.

Manning's recent statistical outbreaks since joining the Broncos weren't all from just running up the score against a few weaker defenses. Manning did it on a consistent level nearly every week. Last year he surpassed 300 yards passing during 12 games, leading all quarterbacks. Just to put that into context, the next three quarterbacks' median score was only six. The Broncos offense runs through Manning week in and week out.

So durability? Check. Consistency? Check. How about volume?

Third in the league in drop backs last year, Peyton provided his team plenty of opportunities to score. Manning ranks second over the last two years in completions per game, trailing only Drew Brees by a mere half of a completion. Ranked as the most accurate quarterback this past year in “catchable” passes, and second place in 2012 behind only Alex Smith, Manning not only has the volume as a top passer, but he capitalizes on it more than others.

Looking at our Net Expected Points (NEP) data further substantiates these claims. Since joining the Broncos in 2012, Peyton has two of the top four Passing NEP performances. In fact, Peyton owns 9 of the top 25 Passing NEP scores over the last decade (including his missed 2011 season). No other quarterback comes close to that, as the next highest are Tom Brady and Drew Brees each with four.

While it's difficult to predict Manning will repeat his outlandish statistics from 2013, he's still about as safe as they come. After taking durability, consistency, and volume into account, you’re getting a top player in Peyton Manning that could very likely be the leading fantasy scorer in 2014.

The Argument for Drew Brees

From Leo Howell

If I'm spending my first- or second-round pick on a quarterback in a fantasy football draft this year, I want a sure thing. I want the safest bet possible. And that's why Drew Brees is my top quarterback heading into 2014.

Yes, Peyton Manning dominated last season and posted historic numbers. And yes, Aaron Rodgers brings running to the table and provides a technically higher floor due to the increased points gained from rushing the football. But no passer has been more consistent than Brees, and there are no signs that he'll slow down any time soon.

Drew Brees has four 5,000-yard passing seasons. Only four other players have ever done that, and none of them have ever done it more than once. Since moving to New Orleans, Brees has never thrown for fewer than 4,388 yards, and only twice has he thrown for fewer than 33 touchdowns (and he hasn't even done that since 2007).

He drops back nearly 700 times per season, yet has only missed two starts since 2003. That's because he's one of the least-sacked quarterbacks in the NFL.

And that's all just a part of what makes him safe. He also has tremendous upside. His 2011 season was the most productive fantasy campaign in NFL history for a quarterback until Peyton's 2013 season, while Brees' 2012 and 2013 seasons both rank among the 14 best in league history.

Peyton only has two of the 15 best fantasy seasons in league history, while Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Steve Young also only have two such performances. If there's a way for a quarterback and a fantasy player to demonstrate consistency at the highest level, Brees has done just that over the last three seasons.

A look at our Net Expected Points data reveals more of the same, as Brees' 2011 and 2013 are two of the six best seasons over the past three years. And given his 2012 campaign finishing 10th in that span, he's the only quarterback with three top-10 Passing NEP performances over the last three years.

He still has Jimmy Graham, he still has Marques Colston, he has a plethora of backs to choose from, and a new addition in Brandin Cooks who will provide an even faster and more dynamic short-throw option than Darren Sproles. Sean Payton is still calling plays, and the Saints still play half of their games in the Superdome. Everything is in place for Brees to continue his ridiculous dominance of the quarterback position.

So while Peyton has a flair for the absurd, and Rodgers is capable of breaking the Konami Code while still producing at a high level as a thrower, Brees is as safe as safe gets. So if I'm investing in a top quarterback, give me the one who I know will return every penny of my investment. That's Drew Brees.

The Argument for Aaron Rodgers

From JJ Zachariason

It’s pretty easy to back Drew Brees’ incredible top-two quarterback consistency over the last handful of seasons. And it’s certainly not difficult to say that Peyton Manning, though he’ll certainly regress, is in the driver’s seat to be the top fantasy quarterback once again.

But Aaron Rodgers deserves a little credit here, and I think there’s reason to believe he’s the one who will be providing the most fantasy points for owners in 2014.

Because he was hurt, Rodgers only threw the ball 290 times last year, and totaled 169.44 fantasy points, good for 0.58 fantasy points per attempt. Peyton Manning, in the most historic year we’ve ever seen from a quarterback, average 0.62 points for every attempt. Drew Brees, who finished second in fantasy scoring, ended with a 0.55 average.

In 2012, these numbers were 0.53 for Manning, 0.52 for Brees and 0.62 for Rodgers.

Efficiency is the name of the game for Rodgers, not only because he can toss the pigskin well, but because of what he can do with his legs. While Manning and Brees stand in the pocket and release the football effectively as pressure gets tot hem, Rodgers has the ability to rush for 300 yards and a few scores over the course of the season, giving him a higher ceiling than the aforementioned guys.

The unfortunate part for Rodgers, admittedly, is volume. Traditionally, Manning and Brees have thrown more passes in a single season than Rodgers. In fact, Rodgers’ career high is 552 attempts, while Brees hasn’t been that low since his final year in San Diego. Manning’s averaged 621 over his two years in Denver. Given the per attempt efficiency numbers above, you'd need Rodgers' attempt numbers to go up, or the other two passers' volume numbers to drop.

There’s some reason to believe the latter could be true. The Saints have a younger, more inexperienced offense given the losses of Lance Moore and Darren Sproles, and could rely on a more balanced attack as a result. The Broncos lost Eric Decker, and despite having a lead for much of the 2013 season, Denver finished third in passing plays. They ran a lot of plays in general, pushing their pass-to-run ratio to 12th in the league, but with a 38-year-old quarterback, it only makes sense to rely a little more on the ground than they did last year.

Not only that, but Aaron Rodgers plays in the NFC North, a division full of mediocre secondaries and defenses. Last season, Detroit finished 25th against the pass according to our metrics, while Minnesota ranked 31st. Chicago was better, ranking 12th, but much of that had to do with a rush defense that wouldn't even be able to stop Trent Richardson. And with Minnesota and Detroit adding weapons and gaining experience offensively, and Chicago's efficiency under Marc Trestman, we could see some shootouts in the NFC North this season.

It's easy to say Peyton Manning and Drew Brees should be the top quarterbacks this season. But with Rodgers' rushing ability, overall efficiency and cake-walk division, he's got plenty of upside.