Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ranking the NFL QBs

Everybody's pumped up. Football season starts tomorrow. I will be bringing you tons of analysis, insight, wit and humor that you won't find anywhere else. And it's all free. In fact it may make you money. If you like to make the occasional wager I suggest you follow me on twitter at @hammerspeaks. I will be tweeting Friday, Saturday and Sunday in real time about the things I see and the games I like. It's more interactive and quicker. I may even, begrudgingly, answer fantasy football questions. Get involved. Let's kick off the 2010 season with a look at the QBs.

Quarterback in the NFL, the second most important position in all of team sports, is the glamor position. A goalie in the NHL has a more significant impact on the outcome of a contest, but football is America's game and quarterbacks get their names on the marquee. I've ranked this year's 32 NFL starters. Here's how they break down:

This is the easy group. They've all won at least one Super Bowl. They consistently play at the highest level. These are the guys that you'd want your daughter to marry.  Well, okay, maybe not Ben.

1.) Peyton Manning, IND: Manning is now in the discussion about who is the best player in the history of the league. The strikes against him are some notable failures in big games and the fact that he's only 9-9 in the playoffs. The interception against the Saints in last year's Super Bowl has happened a few too many times for him to wear that crown. But Manning is amazing to watch. It's the conductor leading the symphony when Peyton takes the Colts down the field in the no-huddle. Since his rookie season he's 128-48 and he's never missed a start. His QB rating has been 95.0 or higher every year since 2003. He alone makes the Colts a contender. Surprisingly he's still only 34. What most impresses me about Manning is the respect he gets from players all over the league. They all want to play with him. The players know.

2.) Drew Brees, NO: Playing for the perfect coach in Sean Payton, Brees is flourishing. Undersized but remarkably accurate, Brees probably wouldn't have made it in the 1980s NFL. 2009? MVP and Super Bowl champion. Right guy, right place, right time.

3.) Tom Brady, NE: This will be an interesting season for Brady. After missing all of 2008, he came back and had a good, not great, 2009. Giselle's husband's legacy is cemented but it will be interesting to see how he plays with a chip on his shoulder, especially since the team around him might be the weakest it's been while he's been at the helm. One more Super Bowl title and he'll get in that conversation with Manning about best ever.

4.) Ben Roethlisberger, PIT: Ben's personal problems are now permanently part of his bio and he'll miss the first four games of this season due to suspension. Nonetheless, he is a great player who already owns two Super Bowl rings. He has a rare combination of size and elusiveness and has been successful even though he rarely been surrounded by the talent or enjoyed the stability that the guys above him have. He's 60-26. He has an 8-2 record in the playoffs. In the two losses they scored 27 and 29 points. That says it all.

Anyone of these guys could easily jump up to the bottom of the group above. They just have to get it done when it really matters. In the playoffs.

5.) Philip Rivers, SD: After the 2005 season the Chargers had to choose between Brees and Rivers, who had spent his first two seasons on the bench. They went with Rivers and it's hard to argue they made the wrong choice. Since taking over he's gone 46-18. Not bad. He's a fiery leader who should be in his prime at age 29. He's led the league in yards/attempt the last two years and if the Chargers can put enough talent on the defensive side of the ball I have no doubt Rivers can take them to the Bowl.

6.) Aaron Rodgers, GB: The poor bastard had to sit behind Brett Favre for three years. That would crush most guys. In 2008, his first year as starter and without much help, Rodgers led the Pack to a 6-10 record. Last year they went 11-5 and he threw for more than 4,400 yards. This year the Packers are many people's NFC Super Bowl team. We'll see if Rodgers, maybe the most physically talented quarterback in the league, can get them there.

7.) Matt Schaub, HOU: It's impossible to be an unknown NFL QB, but Schaub comes closest. He's also the most underrated player in the game. The knock against him is that he's only 19-21 as a starter and has yet to get his team to the playoffs. That's a pretty big knock. But Schaub has all the tools and I think he's a darkhorse MVP candidate after throwing for a league-leading 4,770 yards last year. I expect Schaub to put up huge numbers and Houston to make its first playoff appearance this year.

8.) Tony Romo, DAL: I'm not sure what I think about Romo. His QB rating has been incredibly consistent all four years (between 91.4 and 97.6) and he's 38-17 as a starter. But his team has been loaded with offensive weapons and he's only 1-3 in the playoffs. He turned 30 in April so he isn't a kid anymore. Expectations are off the charts this year in Big D and Vegas has them as one of the favorites to win it all. Needless to say, this is a big year for him.

These guys all have tons of talent but seem to be heading in the wrong direction.

9.) Carson Palmer, CIN: The poster boy for guys who never made "the leap." In Palmer's case it's really more that he couldn't sustain it. In 2005 he led the league in TDs and completion percentage then tore his knee up in the first quarter of the Bengals playoff loss to Pittsburgh. He hasn't been the same player since. Like Romo he's 30. This year he'll be trying to guide the Bengals to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since '81-'82. To do it, he'll need to regain the form that made him one of the NFL's three best QBs five years ago. Babysitting his two diva receivers may end up being a bigger challenge.

10.) Brett Favre, MIN: I was actually rooting for Favre to come back this year. Yes, he's an egotistical, attention-seeking, self-centered bitch. Yes, I've rooted against him my whole life. But, for some reason, I've kinda started to like him. His toughness is beyond legendary and he does have fun when he's winning. Last year he might have played the best football of his life. I don't think he can repeat it, but it will be fun watching--good or bad.

11.) Donovan McNabb, WAS: He's on the downside of a very good, not great, career. He should be able to get the Skins to seven or eight wins, but they just don't have enough good players. We've seen the best of Donovan and my expectations are low from here on out.

12.) Eli Manning, NYG: I'll never fully get my head around the fact that Eli Manning won a Super Bowl. I just don't think he's that good. I put him here just because I didn't want to take a load of crap for putting him 20th.

These guys are at various stages of trying to solidify their future as NFL quarterbacks and get paid in their next contract. A bad year and few of them will never get another chance to start.

13.) Matt Ryan, ATL: I didn't think he was great when he was at BC, but he's been very solid in his first two years. I'll get to see him in person for the first time on Sunday at Heinz Field. The Falcons have high hopes this year and getting an opening day win on the road would do a lot of good for everyone's confidence. I'll know a lot more about Ryan after week one.

14.) Joe Flacco, BAL: Everyone but me loves Joe Flacco. What's not to like: prototypical QB size at 6'6" and 230 lbs. Guided his team to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. Good teammate. Got it. I'm on record as saying the Ravens aren't making the playoffs this year. I don't think their defense is going to be as good as in years past and I think Flacco is going to take a step back--even with the additions of Boldin and Houshmandzadeh. Gut feel. Bet all your money.

15.) Jay Cutler, CHI: Jay Cutler and Mike Martz together. Wow. 24-29 career record as a starter. If he has another bad year I'm just going to chalk it up to him being too dumb. I can't come up with any other reason. Really.

16.) Jason Campbell, OAK: This guy has had a rough ride and I'm now rooting for him. I've always been partial to Auburn guys. I think he's had seven different offensive coordinators his last seven years. I also think he's gotten a little better every year and think he can actually help turn the Raiders around. He's only 28. Al Davis is hoping he's the next Jim Plunkett. It's definitely worth a roll of the dice. I expect good things and see the Raiders winning eight this year.

17.) Chad Henne, MIA: I probably should give Henne and Matt Moore incompletes, but I put them here because I like them both. Henne's only had thirteen starts and the threw more INTs then TDs last year but I like his upside. Brandon Marshall should help. I think the Dolphins are going to be in that 7-9 win territory again this year, but Henne could turn out to be the long-term guy at QB. I don't see stardom, but I do see a useful player. The only downside is Tyler Thigpen is on the bench behind him and I think Thigpen can also be a very good player.

18.) Matt Moore, CAR: This is the guy to watch. I think Moore is going to be a star. After starting some games as a true freshman at UCLA, Moore ended up transferring to Oregon St. He had a good senior year but ended up going undrafted. He signed with Dallas as a free agent in the spring of 2007 and had an excellent preseason. He was cut in the last round of cuts as Dallas was looking to sneak him through waivers and onto the practice squad. It didn't work. Carolina claimed him the next day. He finished 2007 as the Carolina starter going 2-1 and was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the month in December. In the last game of the 2008 preseason he broke his fibula and missed the entire year. Moore got to start the last five games for the Panthers in 2009 after Jake Delhomme broke a finger. He went 4-1 and led the team to wins over Minnesota, the NYGiants and the Saints. He threw eight TDs against two INTs. I think Moore has huge upside. Keep an eye on him.

19.) Matt Cassel, KC: Matt Leinhart's now the backup in Houston and Cassel is the starter in KC. Talk about one guy turing a good break into a lot of money and the other blowing his career. This is the year for him to show that he really belongs. He's already made 30 career starts. It will be a make or break season for him. Chiefs fans should be praying he doesn't get hurt because Brodie Croyle is the backup.

These guys are all different in style but exactly the same. They can be good at times but have limited upside. They are all capable, but not one is going to get his team to the playoffs and each is now more part of the problem than the solution. That pretty much covers it.

20-23.) Matt Hasselback, SEA; Kyle Orton, DEN; Vince Young, TEN; David Garrard, JAX

I think the heading is self-explanatory.

24.) Alex Smith, SF: I don't really like putting Smith in this group, but the numbers suggest he belongs. He is 16-24 as a starter. He's thrown 37 touchdowns and 43 interceptions and has never had a passer rating above last year's 81.5. Yet Alex Smith is the most important player in the NFL. I wrote about it here in my gambling preview. The NFC West is going to be horrible. San Francisco should win five division games just by showing up. They also have a bunch of other patsies on the schedule. They have a great defense and good skill position guys on offense. If Smith is average they should win 9-10 games. If he's good they could win 13. If he's bad he'll never get another chance. Big season for Alex. Get some money down on SF as your SB darkhorse.

25.) Jake Delhomme, CLE: Let's get this out of the way up front. Teammates love Jake Delhomme. Okay. Got it. Shortly after throwing six interceptions in a home playoff loss in early 2009, the Carolina Panthers inexplicably signed Delhomme to a five year extension for $42.5 million. At the end of the year they cut him and will pay him almost $13 million not to be their QB this year. In steps Cleveland who signs Jake and pays him $7 million this year. Now for the good part. Carolina GM Marty Hurney apparently didn't put an offset clause in Delhomme's contract. This clause, common in NFL contracts, protects a team from paying a player the full guaranteed amount owed if he is playing for another team. With the clause Carolina could offset $7 million of the amount they owed and would only pay him about $6 million this year. But, nope, didn't get it in there. They will be paying the full amount. How does Hurney keep his job? And who the hell was Cleveland bidding against? Seriously. Delhomme threw eight touchdowns and eighteen interceptions last year. Sure Holmgren knows quarterbacks but this is all-around insanity. Jake Delhomme is going to make $20 million this year. What a country.

26.) Trent Edwards, BUF: Trent went to Stanford. I'm sure that will be useful when he is looking for gainful employment next year.

27.) Derek Anderson, ARI: How far have the Cards fallen since almost winning the Super Bowl two years ago? Derek Anderson? I love that Anderson went to the Pro Bowl one year when 23 guys pulled out and now it's on his resume and people point to it like that means he's good. He's not. Can't Kurt Warner pull a Brett Favre, come back and keep this team from losing 12 games? How bad must Matt Leinhart be that he couldn't win the job? Only questions in Arizona. It ain't gonna to be pretty.

These guys haven't played enough to have a great sense of who they are, but here's a quick thought or two on each.

Matthew Stafford, DET: I think he'll be the real deal. Detroit might actually win six or seven games this year.

Mark Sanchez, NYJ: Based on Hard Knocks I like the guy and he seems like a great teammate. Unfortunately for Jets fans he needs to become a better quarterback. Fast. If I were a Jet fan I'd be a little worried.

Kevin Kolb, PHI: I think the Eagles did the right thing by giving him a shot. Fortunately he'll get the tender, loving care that Eagles fans give all their players. If he gets off to a bad start it shouldn't be too much of an issue. Right. After opening with the Packers at home they get three relatively easy games. We are going to find out a lot about Mr. Kolb in the first month. If they're 1-3 he's going into the Witness Protection Program.

Josh Freeman, TB: Lots of raw talent, no polish. His team stinks. It's gonna be a long couple years in Tampa.

Sam Bradford, STL: We started with Peyton Manning. He went 3-13 his rookie season. That seems like a good bet for Bradford and the Rams. I'm not sure he can then go 13-3 next year like Peyton did, but I think he has a  chance to be not just good, but great.

And there it is. The starting QB class of 2010. Comments welcome. Enjoy the season.

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