In case you hadn’t noticed, the NFL is a passing league. If you have a franchise quarterback you can count on at least being a playoff contender. If you don’t have a franchise quarterback it becomes a daily desperation to find him. There are rare moments when an incredible defense and supporting cast can carry a team with an average quarterback (see Trent Dilfer in 2000) to great success, but those moments are few and far between. I made the list 26 because that’s how many quarterbacks I counted that should for sure be starting in 2014 and beyond. QB’s will be broken down into small groups.
CAN’T WAIT TO SEE MORE
26. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
25. Geno Smith, New York Jets
24. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
23. Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns
Smith is the only one from this group that has even started 16 games, and he seems to be showing improvement from last year. Bridgewater will get his chance to start his first game next week, and certainly has the potential to move up on this list in a hurry. Cousins has flashes of brilliance when he gets playing time, but all in all might just be a really good backup. Hoyer has plenty of moxie and has proven he deserves the starting job, but the jury is still out on him. We need to see more starts from this group before really knowing how good they can be.
FEAST OR FAMINE
22. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
21. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
20. Eli Manning, New York Giants
19. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Eli Manning is either leading his team to the Super Bowl or leading the NFL in interceptions; who knows what he has in store for us this season? Ryan Tannehill has the size, arm strength, and athleticism to be great, but is incredibly inconsistent. It seems like Palmer is either throwing for 350 yards or throwing 3 interceptions, depending on the game. And by far the toughest QB to rank was Robert Griffin; who had one spectacular season (2012), following by a horrific injury (2012 playoffs), followed by a very average season riddled by injuries (2013), followed by getting injured in week 2 this season.
18. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
17. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Smith is the definition of an average NFL starting quarterback. As 49ers fans know well, he’s just good enough to lose in the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion. I might get some heat for ranking Flacco this low as he led his team to a Super Bowl just two season ago. But other than that amazing run in the 2012 playoffs he has basically been an average starting QB. Too many turnovers last season (22 int) for me to rank him any higher.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE IN JANUARY?
16. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
15. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
14. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
13. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
12. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Time will tell whether Foles is a product of Chip Kelly or a legitimately good quarterback playing in a good offensive system. The Eagles seem destined for the playoffs this year again and a one and done like last season isn’t going to cut it. Cutler can make all the throws you could want and all the stupid mistakes you don’t want. Winning in the playoffs is the only thing that can justify the big contract he got from Chicago. 2014 is a huge year for Dalton, who finished 3rd in the league in 2013 with 33 touchdown passes. Stafford seems to get a pass by the media for someone who has only played in one playoff game; at some point the coaching staff and the defense can’t be the ones to blame for that. I could write an entire column on Romo, who I continue to defend as a very good QB. He throws some of the worst interceptions of the year; but the facts are he finished in the top 10 in passer rating, completion percentage, and touchdown passes once again in 2013, and is an absolute pleasure to watch when he gets it going.
11. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
10. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
9. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Newton is extremely talented, with a big arm and a big body to do lots of damage. He also happens to be the best goal line weapon in the NFL. We would all love to see what he could do with a more talented receiving corps and a more creative offensive scheme. Kaepernick, one of the most dynamic players in the league, is also one of the most frustrating to evaluate. He had a terrific season in 2013, accounting for over 3,700 yards rushing and passing. His accuracy leaves much to be desired but he has the potential to be a top 5 QB in the next few years. Speaking of potential, Russell Wilson has shown early this season that he has improved the accuracy of his deep ball so as to become one of the best in the business at throwing deep passes. He is a Super Bowl winner, and the best bet out of these three to one day reach the Hall of Fame.
STATS AREN’T EVERYTHING
8. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
7. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
6. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Ryan and Luck have the propensity to put up big numbers in blowouts, often padding their stats. They both also play their home games in a dome, which obviously helps a ton in a passing league. With that said they are both very good at what they do and have been mostly consistent with their play during their careers. It would be awfully hard to complain if either man was your teams starting QB. I put Brady in this group because his statistics have slipped in the last two years that basically show him as an average QB. In 2013, he finished 7th in passing yards per game, but just 17th in passer rating, and a very pedestrian 21st in completion percentage. Of course as the title says, stats aren’t everything, and he does enough to win 11+ games every season. He probably needs to win 1 more Super Bowl to be in the discussion as the greatest to ever do it.
HALL OF FAME BOUND
5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Phillip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Rivers and Roethlisberger are by far the two most underrated QB’s in the NFL. Over the past few seasons they have constantly dealt with poor offensive lines, poor defenses, and poor coaching. Rivers had an awesome 2013 season, leading the league in completion percentage and finishing 3rd in passer rating. The Chargers also led the league in 3rd down conversion rate mostly due to him. Big Ben leads the league every year in unbelievable off-balance throws after somehow escaping from certain sacks. He mixes velocity and touch better than any QB in the league. Some say Drew Brees is a product of Sean Payton and the Superdome. I say Brees has been the most consistently great QB the past few seasons, aside from…
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Not much to say about these two. Manning gets the nod for now because of his record setting 2013 campaign.