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2016 quarterback fantasy preview: Cam Newton leads the way for elite options

Drafting Cam Newton is likely to lead to many celebrations for fantasy owners wise enough to strike first at quarterback. AP Photo/Bob Leverone

Compared to the other positions in fantasy football, quarterback offers up plenty of depth. That should allow you plenty of flexibility on draft day, regardless of whether you choose to target a surefire stud or roll the dice on the extremes with either an aging veteran or a rising star. The key to success, though, is understanding the floor and ceiling we can expect from each fantasy quarterback this season.

For a detailed examination, you can work your way through our in-depth draft kit and preseason coverage. To get your bearings and whet your appetite, I have compiled a general overview of the quarterback position, breaking it into several distinct groups. Bon appétit!

Elite

Most fantasy experts will tell you to wait on taking a quarterback until the middle or late rounds, but regardless of when you choose to pull the trigger, these should be the top three off the draft board in most formats. This trio carries a high floor and ceiling, and since these quarterbacks will give you an edge over your opponent most weeks, they are worth reaching for.

Cam Newton: Despite entering the 2015 season with arguably the worst wide receiver corps in the NFL, Newton was a one-man juggernaut. He came up short in the Super Bowl, but he led plenty of fantasy teams to championships. His combination of arm and legs is accented by his goal-line prowess, and now he gets No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (ACL) back. He should be the consensus top quarterback in fantasy.

Aaron Rodgers: Go ahead and just pretend last season never even happened. We know how good Rodgers is and how potent the Green Bay Packers' offense can be when Jordy Nelson is in the mix. Rodgers got his knee scoped after the season, Nelson is over his torn ACL, and Eddie Lacy appears committed to getting in shape. With all three healthy, we should expect a return to elite form from Rodgers.

Russell Wilson: The Seattle Seahawks have replaced Marshawn Lynch with Thomas Rawls, who has started just seven games and is recovering from a busted ankle. Meanwhile, Doug Baldwin broke out last season and deep threat Tyler Lockett now has a full season under his belt. Combine those factors and it appears the Seahawks are prepared to fully turn Wilson loose all season long. Don't be surprised if he finishes 2016 as the No. 1 fantasy quarterback.

Second tier

Each of the players in this tier is capable of finishing the year in the top three. However, they also carry notable concerns that make them risky picks.

When it comes to Andrew Luck, you can't simply write off last season à la Rodgers. Many of the same concerns remain: Luck has been an inconsistent passer and doesn't protect his body, and the Colts lack both a rushing attack and security on the O-line. Still, if things click, he could be a steal, even as the No. 4 QB off of the board.

Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer all have the same risk, namely how healthy can they stay as they advance further into their 30s. Brees is 37 but has shown no signs of slowing down and picked up a pass-catching tight end in Coby Fleener. Big Ben is just 34, tough as nails and has Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell at his side. Yet it seems he's always battling through a major injury or two. Palmer played in all 16 games and racked up career highs in yards and touchdowns in 2015. Keeping the 36-year-old out of the infirmary is about the only concern with him, considering the potent Arizona Cardinals offense he heads up.

Tom Brady's average draft position (ADP) is going to be one the more intriguing storylines this year. Only Newton scored more points last season than Brady, but Brady is facing a four-game suspension to start 2016. That's nearly a third of the regular season in fantasy leagues that start playoffs in Week 14, but I expect Brady to be on many of my rosters at a bargain price with a focus on the fantasy playoffs. Pair Brady with even an average fill-in for the first month and you may have scored the top stretch-run quarterback in the league as a later-round steal.

Game-to-game inconsistency has made Eli Manning a roller-coaster ride in fantasy. He is fully capable of throwing for 170 yards and no scores one week and 350 yards and six touchdowns the next, as he did in Weeks 7-8 last season. Still, Odell Beckham is a star, and if rookie Sterling Shepard lives up to the high-end hype, this could be the season Manning puts it all together for 16 weeks.

Only Newton, Brady and Wilson scored more fantasy points last season than Blake Bortles, so it's fair to wonder if he will regress some. On the other hand, with young star Allen Robinson catching passes in a Jacksonville Jaguars offense that could be about to hit its stride, Bortles could be a solid QB1.

Borderline QB1s

Once we get past the top 10 quarterbacks, we find players who have potentially high ceilings but shaky floors. That reward-risk balance means any of them could shine as a reliable season-long QB1, yet just as easily could end up bouncing around waivers for much of the campaign.

Let's start with three young players who are in their second year as starters: Tyrod Taylor, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. Wilson and Newton were the only quarterbacks besides Taylor who topped 100 rushes last season, and the hope is that in Year 2, the Tennessee Titans will turn Mariota's special wheels loose. Those rushing yards help assuage the ups and downs we see from young quarterbacks in terms of passing. Winston, on the other hand, was consistent as a rookie, scoring at least a dozen fantasy points in all 16 games, though he topped 20 points just once. The bottom line is that all three of these players are unproven but offer tantalizing upside, based on skill and opportunity, so they make for a nice pairing to go with an aging veteran like Big Ben or Carson Palmer.

Speaking of aging veterans, we know what Philip Rivers and Tony Romo can do when things are clicking, but Rivers faded hard late last season when his skill players got hurt, and injuries cost Romo all but four games. We have to be somewhat concerned that both scenarios could play out again this season. Plus, we should expect the Chargers and Cowboys to both try their best to scale back the passing workload for their starting quarterbacks in order to keep them healthy and fresh for the long haul.

The success of players like Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford may revolve more around how well their pass-catchers perform than anything else. Cousins could be a beast if TE Jordan Reed can stay healthy and rookie Josh Doctson hits the ground running. The same goes for Carr, if second-year WR Amari Cooper and TE Clive Walford take the next step in development. Stafford was the No. 5 fantasy quarterback during Weeks 12-17 last season after Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator, but will Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Eric Ebron make a big enough impact to replace the retired Calvin Johnson?

Wild cards

If you've played fantasy football long enough, you know the base formula for fantasy success equals talent plus opportunity. However, when a player is unproven or has not shown an ability to string long-term success together, he becomes a complete wild card, but perhaps one worthy of a late-round pick in two-quarterback leagues or deeper standard leagues.

In Ryan Tannehill's four seasons as a pro, he has proved to be entirely ordinary. The wild-card angle this season is a talented young Miami Dolphins wide receiver corps and new coach Adam Gase, who, as an OC, got the most out of an aging Peyton Manning in Denver and the ever-inconsistent Jay Cutler in Chicago.

There simply is no bigger wild card than Brock Osweiler, who goes from Peyton Manning's understudy to starting quarterback of the Houston Texans. With star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and speedy rookie Will Fuller in Osweiler's wide receiver corps, the table is set for success, but only time will tell whether he will make it work immediately.

Jimmy Garoppolo is his own kind of mystery man, as he is slated for a four-game stint as Brady's fill-in. Garoppolo isn't going to steal Brady's job, as Brady did to Drew Bledsoe many years ago, so he won't be worth drafting outside of deep leagues. But that doesn't mean he couldn't have a decent game or two early on.

Cutler is always a wild card, and that won't change this season. Gone are Gase and Matt Forte, but a healthy wide receiver corps that includes Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White means Cutler should have his moments.

Meanwhile, it's going to take some real faith from fantasy owners to believe that reclamation projects Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III will return to form this season, but crazier things have happened -- this is fantasy football, after all.

Capped ceilings

Barring an unexpected change in game planning this season, Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, Alex Smith and Sam Bradford should be hamstrung by offenses that will not require them to throw a ton of passes. Dalton and Ryan have star receivers, so they might sport some upside if things break right, but the rest of this group will need some seriously good fortune in order to make a mark beyond being bye-week fill-ins this season.

Rookies

No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff should start Week 1 for the Los Angeles Rams, but a rookie quarterback in a run-heavy offense, working behind a shoddy O-line, throwing to a weak group of pass-catchers? This is not a formula for fantasy success.

Paxton Lynch has only Mark Sanchez ahead of him on the Denver Broncos' depth chart, and Carson Wentz has only to unseat pouting Sam Bradford and career backup Chase Daniel to start for the Philadelphia Eagles. Both rookies are seen as long-term projects, so even if they do start games this season, statistical success is unlikely.

Deep-league dregs

In best-case scenarios, the likes of Geno Smith, Mark Sanchez, Case Keenum, Blaine Gabbert, Josh McCown and Brian Hoyer might string together a few games of relevance if things go their way, but most likely, they will all spend the season on your waiver wire.

Draft strategy

If you check out enough expert drafts, you'll notice that most owners fade quarterbacks until the mid or late rounds. The thinking is that in standard leagues (10 teams, one starting quarterback), there are enough quality quarterbacks available that you can wait. However, there is also some groupthink that takes place as a side effect; everyone knows everyone else is going to wait on quarterbacks, so everyone waits.

You'll want to be careful in your home leagues, though, because several or many of your opponents may not fade quarterbacks. If you don't already know the draft tendencies of your fellow owners, consider using our QB ADP to get a decent idea of when each quarterback you may be targeting is likely to be selected in your home drafts and plan accordingly.