Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
If last night's 2011 NFL season opener between Green Bay and New Orleans is any indication, this could be the "Year of the Quarterback." Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees put on a quite a display Thursday night with both quarterbacks throwing for 300+ yards (Brees was over 400) and three touchdowns.
Obviously, Rodgers, who finished second in fantasy points last year is a star and Brees, who finished fifth in 2010, can still put up the numbers.
But potential 5,000-yard passers are not limited to the two guys who were throwing last night and this year's crop of fantasy quarterbacks is one of the best in years, even if Peyton Manning never throws a pass.
You can make a case for a handful of quarterbacks having a shot at 5,000 yards and even Dan Marino's record mark of 5,084 yards set in 1984. (side note: I had Marino and Mark Clayton on my fantasy team that year and cruised to a fantasy title.)
Philip Rivers should be the favorite to lead all fantasy quarterbacks in 2011. Afterall, in 2010, with No.1 receiver Vincent Jackson holding out for 11 games, all-world tight end Antonio Gates playing just half a season, Malcom Floyd missing five games and Patrick Crayton missing eight games Rivers still led the league in passing yards - 4,710. Jackson is back and Gates and Floyd are healthy heading into 2011, which bodes well if you selected Rivers in the third round (fantasyfootballnerd.com ranking 23).
Last year's No.1 fantasy quarterback, Michael Vick, is not a candidate for the 5,000-yard club, but Tom Brady certainly is.
Brady had an "off" year for passing yards in 2010, throwing for only 3,900 yards but it was the second-best quarterback rating of his career as he threw 36 touchdown passes versus just four interceptions. He did that while losing his deep threat (Randy Moss) and his No.1 target, Wes Welker, was less than 100% after returning from major knee surgery. Welker should be back to his old self, Deion Branch is back for a full year, management brought in Chad Ochocinco and his two talented rookie tight ends of last year, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, should be a year smarter.
Meanwhile down in Houston, Matt Schaub had his second consecutive 4,000+ yard passing season in 2010 and more weapons in his 2011 arsenal. Tight end Owen Daniels is healthy after playing most of last season on one leg. He'll likely be open a lot as opposing secondaries focus their attention on Andre Johnson. Schaub also benefits from a running back with very good hands - Arian Foster. Foster caught 66 balls last season for 604 yards.
A year ago, the Rams' rookie quarterback, Sam Bradford, put together a solid season, posting 3,512 yards with a suspect receiving corps. The team added an offensive coordinator who loves to throw, Josh McDaniel, and Mike Sims-Walker at wideout. An improving Danny Amendola and the emergence of pass-catching tight end Lance Kendricks should have Bradford finiding more open receivers. And lastly, playing in the weak NFC West allows Bradford to play a pass- friendly schedule.
Sure, Eli Manning had his problems last year, primarily throwing to guys in the wrong uniform too many times, but he also threw for 4,002 yards and 31 touchdowns. It's a long-shot to be sure, but Hakeem Nicks is one of the top- five receivers in the game and Mario Manningham can be a 1,000-yard receiver.
Another long-shot is the ever improving Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Ryan, in his third year with the Falcons, posted career highs in passing yards (3,705, touchdowns (28) and passer rating (91.0) while leading his team to a 13-3 record. Atlanta made a big move at this year's NFL Draft, jumping up to select talented wideout Julio Jones and the addition should greatly enhance Ryan's production. Five-thousand yards might be a stretch, but it's not impossible with the likes of All-Pro Roddy White and future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez to target.
Finally, Matthew Stafford in Detroit has looked very good in the preseason and though I rarely factor the exhibition season in my analysis of players, he might be ready to put up some astounding numbers in 2011. All he has to do is stay healthy.
Yes, Peyton Manning will be missed as he would have been another quarterback to challenge the all-time mark, but there is still plenty of quarterback talent in the NFL this season.