Column: Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is leading the pack of NFL quarterbacks
Ranking NFL quarterbacks is a tricky endeavor. Do you judge them on their entire careers? Their performance in the first two games of this season? How they elevate the play of their teammates, perhaps? All of that is important.
This particular ranking rates quarterbacks from 1-12 based on their current value, with a projection of how they might fare for the rest of the season.
1. AARON RODGERS, Green Bay: If quarterbacks are archers, Rodgers is Robin Hood. His combination of accuracy, mobility, and knowledge of the game is the league’s gold standard. Generously listed at 6 feet 2, he defies the stereotype that quarterbacks need to be 6-4 and built like superheroes.
2. TOM BRADY, New England: No matter what the air pressure in the football, Brady finds ways to win games. He’s the most mentally tough quarterback in the game. His pre-snap decisions are impeccable, allowing him to get the ball out with lightning quickness. He has succeeded with a constantly churning supporting cast, and has turned an array of no-name players into stars. Rodgers gets the nod over Brady because of his superior mobility.
3. BEN ROETHLISBERGER, Pittsburgh: From the start he’s had physical toughness and the ability to shake off tacklers and extend plays. But he also has accuracy, explosive-play ability, and reliable decision making. If Pittsburgh’s offense is good now, wait until Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant are back and in full swing.
4. ANDREW LUCK, Indianapolis: Considering the way he’s played in the first two games, this ranking is too high. But ask general managers: “Who would your No. 1 pick be if you were to start a franchise from scratch?” Here’s betting Luck would win. The Colts just can’t keep him upright, and that leads to Luck making some bad decisions. Even after their 0-2 start, the Colts will still win the AFC South, but this is probably their last season with Chuck Pagano as coach.
5. PHILIP RIVERS, San Diego: The Chargers are almost never out of a game with Rivers at quarterback. Consider the opener against Detroit, when — after the Chargers had fallen behind by 18 — he revived the troops and led them to 30 unanswered points. He plays behind a patchwork line, can complete passes from all sorts of throwing platforms, and currently doesn’t have his Antonio Gates security blanket.
6. PEYTON MANNING, Denver: In any other year, Manning would be in the top three on this list. But the eye test says his passes are losing velocity. Even though his incredible anticipation is enough to make up for that now, when the weather’s warm, cold weather could be an issue, particularly because he says he has lost feeling in his fingers. As Manning showed in his comeback against Kansas City, he’s at his best when he’s calling the plays, not directing Gary Kubiak’s run-based offense.
7. CARSON PALMER, Arizona: In terms of his height, body and throwing ability, Palmer is the ideal quarterback. He’s 8-0 as a starter since the beginning of the 2014 season, and through the first two games has shown no ill effects from his second torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. If he can stay healthy, he could be a most-valuable-player candidate this season, and finally get that elusive playoff victory.
8. TONY ROMO, Dallas: In one respect, Romo doesn’t belong on this list. He’s got a broken collarbone and probably will be out half the season. But he’s too good to leave off of it. Early in his career, he was too careless — think Brett Favre without Favre’s good results — but he’s gotten calmer and more patient, and last year reaped the benefits of an outstanding running game. When healthy, he’s playing his best football.
9. MATT RYAN, Atlanta: Ryan can look terrific for seven or eight throws in a row, then he’ll miss badly. He’s got good players around him, particularly receiver Julio Jones, and this could be the year he and the Falcons take a big step forward.
10. RUSSELL WILSON, Seattle: Wilson is a great leader and a tremendous athlete, who uses his brains and mobility to make up for his lack of size. He’s a good passer, not a great one, yet his ability to make would-be tacklers miss keeps defenses on their heels. His coolness under pressure is a big reason Seattle has been so successful. (That defense doesn’t hurt, either.)
11. JOE FLACCO, Baltimore: He’s not a great quote, and he’s often irritable, but Flacco shows up in big games. If you’re picking one quarterback to go against Brady, it might be Flacco. He fits that Baltimore system, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, and repeatedly squeezes passes into mail slot-tight windows.
12. ELI MANNING, New York Giants: Manning, who’s constantly under the microscope, makes his share of mistakes. But he also has two rings from two of the great Super Bowl wins in league history. He’s durable and rises to the occasion in big games … well, except this season’s meltdown against Dallas.
DREW BREES, New Orleans: Two years ago, Brees was a top-five quarterback. We are witnessing the slide. Whether it’s his age (36), his shoulder problems, or the depleted personnel around him, he has fallen from the ranks of the elite. The Saints can’t win at the Superdome anymore, either, and that’s bizarre.
DEREK CARR, Oakland: Carr’s last-minute drive to beat Baltimore last Sunday was more evidence that he’s growing and on the rise both as a passer and a leader. Just as impressive was the reaction he got on the sideline from teammates who obviously like and respect him. That can be a big hurdle for a young quarterback, and he’s cleared it.
MARCUS MARIOTA, Tennessee: In the opener, when the Titans incorporated plays that allowed him to use the post-snap decision making he did in college, Mariota looked as he did back at Oregon. In a few red-zone situations, when he dropped back and the pocket was closing in on him, that was foreign territory. If the Titans can draw up some schemes that look more like his Oregon roots, Mariota will be fun to watch.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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