It was the first time in a decade that it didn't happen.
Three of the greatest quarterbacks of this generation -- Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees -- all finished outside the top-three fantasy quarterbacks in 2014. From 2005 to 2013, at least one of those three quarterbacks had finished as a top-three fantasy quarterback every season.
Could that happen for a second year in a row? Based on my rankings, my answer is yes.
With that said, here are my post-free agency fantasy football quarterback rankings for 2015:
1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
The best quarterback in (real) football and the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player, Rodgers was also the top-scoring fantasy quarterback as well. Becoming Green Bay's starting quarterback seven years ago, Rodgers has finished as either the No. 1 or No. 2 fantasy quarterback in six of those seven seasons with the lone exception being his injury-shortened (broken clavicle) 2013 campaign.
In his past four seasons, Rodgers has compiled a combined 139:25 TD-to-INT ratio with an average of 8.5 yards per attempt, 112.6 passer rating and 67.0 completion percentage. And although he hasn't rushed for 300-plus yards with four-plus touchdowns since 2010, Rodgers still is a good bet for 250 yards and a couple of scores on the ground.
2. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Throwing for 4,761 yards and a league-leading 40 touchdowns, both of which were career highs, Luck's 40 TDs last season nearly equalled his total from his first two seasons combined (46 TDs). As T.Y. Hilton battled a hamstring injury over the final three games of the season, that coincided with Luck throwing for less than 200 yards in the final three regular-season games of the season. Otherwise, he was on pace for 5,000 yards for nearly the entire year. Earlier in the season, however, Luck had the second-longest streak of 300-yard games (eight) in NFL history. Only Drew Brees (nine games, twice) has ever had a longer streak.
Like with Rodgers, Luck gets a boost from his mobility and he rushed for 263 yards and three touchdowns last year. Luck has rushed 62-64 times in all three seasons with at least 255 yards each year and a total of 12 touchdowns.
It wouldn't surprise me if Luck finishes as the highest-scoring fantasy quarterback in 2015, but either way, he and Rodgers are close and alone in the top tier of fantasy quarterback options for 2015.
3. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Rodgers. Luck. That's it.
Not only are they the only quarterbacks ahead of Wilson on this list, but that's the list of quarterbacks that scored more fantasy points than Wilson last season. Of course, the primary reason behind Wilson's fantasy production was his rushing stats with 849 yards and six touchdowns, both of which were career highs, and he even had three 100-yard rushing games this season. It may be unrealistic to expect 800-plus rushing yards again, but he has at least 489 rushing yards in all three of his seasons and should rush for 500 yards (or more) in 2015.
While his passing numbers haven't been gaudy in Seattle's run-first offense, Wilson has thrown at least 20 touchdowns with 10 or fewer interceptions in all three of his NFL seasons. Not only is Wilson the only quarterback to do that in each of his first three NFL seasons, he's the only one in NFL history to do that more than once over that span, per Pro Football Reference.
Wilson's volume of pass attempts may not jump a ton in 2015, but the Seahawks pulled off a blockbuster trade for tight end Jimmy Graham, which significantly boosts the team's weapons in the passing game. Graham (51 TDs) is one of only four players with 50-plus touchdowns since 2010, Graham's rookie season.
4. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
With a slow finish to the season, Manning finished the year as the QB4 (312.68 fantasy points) behind Rodgers (354.14), Luck (350.74) and Wilson (327.6). In the first 11 games of the season, Manning averaged 23.96 fantasy points per game (323.45 YPG, 34 TDs and nine INTs). In the final five games of the season, he averaged 9.83 FPPG (233.8 YPG, five TDs and six INTs) and never scored more than 13.02 fantasy points in any of those games. How much of that decline should be attributed the thigh injury he battled down the stretch?
5. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
It was a down year for Newton, but he dealt with numerous injuries throughout the season and missed two games. That said, Newton has now exceeded 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in all four of his NFL seasons. Over those four seasons, he has averaged 3,606 passing yards and 20 passing touchdowns per season as well as 643 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Despite the down year, Newton finished seventh in fantasy points per game (17.78) among QBs.
6. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
After three consecutive 5,000-yard seasons, Brees fell just shy of that mark with 4,952 yards in 2014 and threw (only) 33 touchdowns, which ties a seven-year low. For the first time since signing with the Saints in 2006, Brees finished outside the top-five fantasy quarterbacks (sixth) in 2014. Brees has thrown at least 650 pass attempts in five consecutive seasons and he led the league in pass attempts per game (41.2) last season, but a transition to a more run-based offense has begun in earnest.
Not only did the Saints trade Graham to the Seahawks (and get one of the league's best run-blocking centers in return), but they traded away Kenny Stills, the team leader in receiving yards last season. In addition to Mark Ingram, they signed C.J. Spiller in free agency and have a three-headed rushing attack with Ingram, Spiller and Khiry Robinson.
7. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Based on 2014 average draft position (ADP), Roethlisberger was one of the biggest values last season. Only four quarterbacks scored more fantasy points than Roethlisberger -- Rodgers, Luck, Wilson and Peyton. Big Ben threw for a career-high 4,952 yards, which tied Drew Brees last season for the league lead, and 32 touchdowns, which tied a previous career high. Admittedly, it wouldn't surprise me if he exceeded my ranking once again.
8. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
As Brady faces a four-game suspension for the DeflateGate scandal, it's unclear whether -- and by how much -- his suspension will be reduced following appeal. If I had to guess, I'd expect that it's cut to two games. Coincidentally, it was a rough four-game start to last season for Brady as well as he averaged just 197.75 Y/G with only four total touchdowns. From that point on, however, things clicked as only Peyton Manning (31) threw more touchdowns than Brady (29) from Weeks 5 to 17. Provided that Rob Gronkowski remains healthy for the full season, Brady could post top-five production on a per-game basis in 2015.
9. Eli Manning, New York Giants
In the first six games of the season, Eli finished outside the top-12 fantasy quarterbacks in all but one game. Beginning with Odell Beckham's third NFL game (Week 7), Manning finished as a top-five fantasy quarterback in five of his final 10 games last season. (And a sixth game was inside the weekly top 10.) With a full season of ODB, the return of Victor Cruz, the free-agent addition of one of the league's better receiving backs (Shane Vereen) and more comfort and familiarity within Ben McAdoo's offense, Eli has the potential to post career numbers in 2015, which is a contract year. In addition, only Tampa and Washington have a more favorable fantasy strength of schedule than Eli does.
10. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Over his past five seasons, Ryan has finished as a top-eight fantasy quarterback in four of them. During that same span, he has never finished as a top-six fantasy quarterback. In other words , he's a solid option to settle on later in drafts even if he's not someone that I typically target. Ryan has more than 4,500 passing yards in three consecutive seasons and 26-plus touchdowns in five straight.
11. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
No quarterback underachieved expectations more last season than Stafford, who finished as the QB15 in 2014. Even with the free-agent signing and breakout season from Golden Tate (99/1,331/4), Stafford threw for only 4,247 yards, a four-year low, and 22 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. With better health from Calvin Johnson, who missed a few games and was a decoy in others, Stafford should post better numbers in 2015.
12. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
Over his past three seasons, Romo's pass attempts have dropped from 648 (2012) to 535 (2013) to 435 (2014). Despite the drop in volume, Romo threw 34 touchdowns, the most for him since 2007, with only nine interceptions, a four-year low. In addition, Romo led the league in Y/A (8.5), completion percentage (69.9), touchdown percentage (7.8) and passer rating (113.2) last year. Assuming the team stays committed to the run game without DeMarco Murray, who signed a free-agent deal with the Eagles, Romo's upside is somewhat limited if he throws in that 450-attempt range again this year. Despite his career year in efficiency, Romo finished just outside the top-10 fantasy quarterbacks last season.
13. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Tannehill posted career highs in passing yards (4,045), passing touchdowns (27) and completion percentage (66.4) with a career low in interceptions (12) in his first year playing for new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. In addition, he rushed for a career-high 311 yards, which ranked fifth among all quarterbacks last season. Starting in Week 6, Tannehill finished as a top-10 fantasy quarterback in six of 11 weeks.
There has been some turnover among pass-catchers -- Kenny Stills replaces Mike Wallace, Jordan Cameron replaces Charles Clay, the team drafted DeVante Parker in the first round and both Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson were released. That said, Tannehill has plenty of upside for those that wait on quarterback in 2015.
14. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
Winning the Comeback Player of the Year award in 2013, Rivers followed up his bounce-back season with 4,286 yards and 31 touchdowns but he also threw 18 interceptions. Dealing with a back injury, Rivers threw seven of those interceptions in the final three games of the season. Fortunately Rivers didn't need back surgery this offseason and he should be a relatively safe bet for 4,000-plus yards and around 30 touchdowns once again in 2015.
15. Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles
In five NFL seasons since being drafted first overall by the Rams, Bradford has played a total of 49 games -- and only seven of 32 games in the past two years. If, a big if, Bradford starts 16 games for the Eagles, however, he has the potential to finish as a top-12 fantasy quarterback in 2015. The duo of Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez combined to throw 4,581 yards, 27 touchdowns and 21 interceptions last season and score 258.74 fantasy points, which would have placed them 14th among quarterbacks last year.
16. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
Bridgewater improved throughout his rookie season, which is something you always want to see but especially with a young quarterback. All four of his games with a completion percentage of at least 70 percent occurred within the final five games of the season. In addition, Bridgewater posted a 1:5 TD-to-INT ratio in his first four games and then a 13:7 TD-to-INT ratio for the rest of the season. With the attention that Adrian Peterson commands from opposing defenses, it should open up the passing offense for Bridgewater in Year 2.
17. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Kaepernick averaged fewer yards per attempt (7.0), threw fewer touchdowns (19) and more interceptions (10) than he did in 2013 (7.7 Y/A, 21 TDs and eight INTs) despite throwing more pass attempts (478 in 2014 vs. 416 in 2013). Given the changes to the roster and coaching staff, the 49ers should find themselves trailing (and throwing) more often in 2015. (Based on Super Bowl 50 odds from sportsbook.ag, only eight teams are longer shots than the 49ers to win the Super Bowl.) The addition of Torrey Smith gives the 49ers a vertical threat that can take advantage of Kaepernick's strong arm.
Not only did he set a career high in pass attempts, but Kaep also set career highs in rush attempts (105) and rushing yards (639). After rushing for nine scores in 2012 and 2013 combined, however, he rushed for only one touchdown last year. Despite that dip, Kaepernick still finished as a top-16 fantasy quarterback last year.
18. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Benched a game in favor of Jimmy Clausen, Cutler played only 15 games and led the league in multi-interception games (seven) last season. Despite the massive contract given to Cutler from the last regime in the previous offseason, he's clearly not in the team's long-term plans and could have a short leash if he doesn't cut down on the turnovers. Per CSN Chicago, the plan is to "take some things away from Cutler and shrink the game for him," which will hopefully cut down on his interception rate. On a positive note, they drafted the talented Kevin White with the seventh overall pick to give him another dynamic weapon.
19. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
It was mostly a lost season for Palmer, who missed a total of 10 games with significant injuries, but he actually finished as a top-12 fantasy quarterback in terms of fantasy points per game (17.26) last season. Provided he stays healthy, Palmer is a high-end backup fantasy quarterback in Bruce Arians' vertical passing attack with Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown forming a good trio of receivers.
20. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Benched in the final three games of the 2013 season, the Shanahans wanted RG3 to be healthy for the 2014 offseason. While he did have a healthy offseason, little was healthy about Griffin in the regular season. Not only did he miss time due to injury, but he was benched by new coach Jay Gruden, who also called him out publicly in a press conference. In response to a recent mailbag question, ESPN's John Keim responded, "If it were up to the coach, Griffin would be gone."
In his nine games last season, Griffin threw only four touchdowns and six interceptions. He also averaged only 19.6 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry, both of which were career lows. Griffin's fantasy upside is derived largely from his rushing ability, but he has just one rushing touchdown in 22 games over the past two seasons. Plus, his rushing attempts exposes him to greater injury risk. RG3 remains a high-risk, (potential) high-reward option as a QB2 heading into 2015.
21. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco quietly finished as fantasy's QB13 last season ahead of Cutler, Stafford, Kaepernick and others. While the team lost Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels in free agency, they used their first two picks in this year's draft on replacements -- Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams. Flacco may lack the upside to be an elite fantasy quarterback, but he has never finished worse than QB19 in his seven NFL seasons and the hire of Marc Trestman as offensive coordinator is certainly a positive.
22. Nick Foles, St. Louis Rams
Two seasons ago, Foles had a breakout season (27:2 TD-to-INT ratio and 9.1 Y/A in 13 games) and Chip Kelly said he would be the team's quarterback for the "next 1,000 years." After a disappointing half-season prior to breaking his collarbone, the 1,000 years are up and Kelly traded him to the Rams. The transition to the Rams is a downgrade on a number of fronts -- leakier offensive line, lesser talent at skill positions (compared to 2013/2014 Eagles) and much tougher pass defenses in the NFC West compared to NFC East.
23. Geno Smith, New York Jets
It wasn't a great 2014 season for Geno, but he did improve his completion percentage to 59.7 percent (from 55.8 percent as a rookie) and his TD-to-INT ratio to 13:13 (from 12:21). Going into the 2015 season, Smith has some upside with an improved group of weapons with Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and rookie Devin Smith as his top three wide receivers and Jace Amaro going into his second season.
24. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Despite his past off-the-field concerns, Winston possesses strong on-field intangibles (leadership skills and football intelligence) that you'd want in a franchise quarterback. Based on the style of Florida State's offense and the pair of 6-foot-5 1,000-yard receivers (Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson) already on the roster, Winston will likely make more of a fantasy impact early in his career than fellow rookie Marcus Mariota. In addition, Winston has the most-favorable fantasy football strength of schedule among QBs going into the 2015 season.
25. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Through four seasons in the NFL, Dalton has finished as the QB18, QB12, QB5 and QB19, respectively. In his first season in Hue Jackson's offense, his pass attempts dropped from a career-high 586 in 2013 to a career-low 481 in 2014. With A.J. Green missing several games and Marvin Jones missing all of 2014, it's possible that this is way too low for Dalton.
26. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
27. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
28. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
29. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Ryan Mallett, Houston Texans
31. Matt Cassel, Buffalo Bills
32. Josh McCown, Cleveland Browns
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