With free agency all but wrapped up, the draft mocked down to the most minute detail and Peyton Manning in his new home, the quarterback carousel of the offseason is coming to a close and forming the lineup which will enter the 2012 NFL regular season.
The NFL is enjoying somewhat of a golden era at the quarterback position these days with the talent at the position seemingly peaking unlike ever before. This year, after years of high-quality quarterbacks entering the league through the draft, there appears to be more answers than questions for quarterback-needy teams.
Whether it be veterans or rookies, the talent is there for teams to build their franchises around the position.
Ranking the quarterbacks in the league is foolish. Obviously, certain quarterbacks are better than others, but the quarterback position must be analyzed, not just looked at. The quarterback position is as much mental as it is physical. Therefore, each player is at a different point in their development and maturation process from season to season.
Here's my breakdown of the quarterback groupings in the NFL entering 2012:
Elite quarterbacks are those who can carry your franchise for years and compete for Super Bowls because of their play opposed to carrying them there.
1. Packers: Aaron Rodgers
What can you say about Aaron Rodgers that hasn't already been said? Name an aspect of quarterback play and he's better than anyone else at it. Outside of not having a Matthew Stafford level of arm strength, but his would still be in the top 10, there is very little I could actually change about Rodgers. If I really was going to write this paragraph in detail, I'd just be like a pandering teenage girl.
2. Saints: Drew Brees
The record-breaking quarterback may not be receiving the respect he deserves from the New Orleans Saints, but I've got no doubt about his status as the second-best quarterback in the game right now. Brees is an unbelievable player...simply unbelievable. His awareness is second to none across the league while his accuracy is only bettered by that of Aaron Rodgers. With a guy like Brees, it's easy to see why he's so good, so it's better to explain why he's not the best.
It's true, he led the league in completion percentage last year with an incredible 71.2 percent, so logically, he should be considered the most accurate quarterback in the league. Unfortunately, it doesn't, however. Ball placement, difficulty of attempt and conditions are not represented in the completion-percentage statistic. Where you can see the difference is in turnovers. Rogers has had less interceptions than Brees over the past few years, including last year when he only had six to Brees' 14.
Rodgers also wins out because he played more games in the tougher conditions in Wisconsin opposed to in a dome in Louisiana. Rodgers is never affected by outdoor conditions, while Brees, because of the offense's reliance on timing, can be thrown off in difficult conditions(only slightly). Rodgers, because of the scheme, also throws a lot more difficult passes, repeatedly hitting back shoulder fades or airing the ball out. Rodgers led the league in average per attempt with 9.2 yards per reception. Brees was sixth with 8.3.
3. Giants: Eli Manning
Nobody doubts Eli anymore. Manning's struggles in 2010 were overblown by interceptions that were mostly unfortunate and tipped passes opposed to bad decisions or poor throws. Mentally, Manning's ability to cope with that and bounce back in 2011 was no surprise. He's one of the most confidently assured players in the whole league. That's saying something, considering he's the premiere passer in New York.
The Giants offense is somewhat catered to Manning's abilities in order to minimize his flaws and maximize his talents. He may not be Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers in his consistency throwing short/intermediate passes, but the Giants don't ask him to play the game that way. Instead, the Giants rely on his ability to find his taller receivers down the field or use his intelligence to take advantage of Victor Cruz working underneath in space.
4. Patriots: Tom Brady
How great is Tom Brady? Honestly, he's pretty damn great. However, let's nitpick for a minute. When you compare Brady to the very best in the league(Rodgers/Brees), his inability to throw under pressure or react after the snap creatively hurts his stock.
Furthermore, Brady's two most recent trips to the Super Bowl have some questioning how clutch a quarterback he really is. He certainly has his flaws, but there are very few franchises who would turn him down, even at this stage in his career.
Roethlisberger is deserving of his elite reputation despite the fact that he plays with a defensive-reliant team. He has won two Super Bowl rings, despite having an awful performance in his first, while going to another during his relatively short career.
His ability to create plays behind poor pass protection and come up in the clutch makes him invaluable to the Steelers' organization. Furthermore, Roethlisberger is the biggest reason why the team is moving away from relying on the run and focusing on building a stronger passing attack under new offensive co-ordinator Todd Haley.
6. Bears: Jay Cutler
Unbelievably, Cutler was called soft too seasons ago. For anyone who watched his offensive-line play that year, it was a miracle that he was even alive come playoff time, let alone able to drag the offense there. Cutler has worked without a true first-choice receiver behind probably the worst offensive line in football the past few years. Very few quarterbacks would have been as effective as he has been.
For such a strong arm, Cutler still knows how to rein it in and throw the short passes. He's also athletic enough to escape the pass rush even if he's not going to run away from defenders too often. His turnover issues can mostly be accounted for by Mike Martz' system and the gulf of talent around him.
7. Broncos: Peyton Manning
For the purposes of this article, I will presume that Manning is fully healthy once again. However, I will be taking into consideration his age and the effect of his injury on both his confidence and future question marks over his health.
Until I watch Manning take hits repeatedly on the field, I won't be moving him back to his rightful place amongst the league's very best. Being the sixth best isn't so bad after three or four neck surgeries now is it?
8. Chargers: Philip Rivers
Rivers is a fantastic talent, but one must worry about his most recent season. I won't write him off based on one year when his offensive line let him down, however, he didn't overcome his protection issues like a Ben Roethlisberger or Jay Cutler.
His lack of athleticism hurts him when compared with the elite quarterbacks because he doesn't break down defenses on their level either. Rivers throws a beautiful deep ball but could still improve his consistency completing passes to move the chains.
9. Panthers: Cam Newton
Two more seasons like his rookie year and he'll be sitting next to Brees and Rodgers at the very top of this list. What most impresses me about Newton is the velocity on his passes. Unlike most big-armed quarterbacks, Newton throws a very catchable football.
The more he grows as a passer, the scarier the Panthers' offense becomes. Newton, I honestly believe, could become both the best passing quarterback in the league at some point while still being the best running quarterback in the league—the definition of a dual-threat professional.
10. Lions: Matt Stafford
Stafford has a once in a generation arm, but he still needs to refine it. His statistics were bloated last season as the Lions couldn't run the ball effectively and instead looked to Stafford to carry the offense. He had 663 attempts which led the league.
While Stafford's statistics were bloated for that reason, it also made his life a little bit tougher because defenses could focus on shutting him down. Even though that was somewhat negated by the effect that Calvin Johnson has on opposing defenses, you still must have a lot of respect for what Stafford managed last year. Longevity will be the key; his next step should be improving the touch on his shorter passes.
These are the guys who have a few minor flaws to fix before they can be considered elite players.
1. Cowboys: Tony Romo
Romo's struggles over his career in clutch situations are largely based on a few plays in front of prime-time audiences opposed to being an actual recurring issue. Romo is one of the most inventive and courageous players in the NFL who receives too much scrutiny simply because of the franchise he plays for. He does still need to be a better game manager, but the idea that he is not on the cusp of being elite is laughable.
2. Eagles: Michael Vick
Endurance and decision making is always going to be an issue with Vick it appears. At this stage of his career, he doesn't look like developing any further. Michael Vick has had one elite NFL season, and even then, he missed four games.
3. Falcons: Matt Ryan
Ryan has all the physical tools to become an elite passer in the NFL, however, his playoff appearances have left a lot to be desired. His offense didn't score a point this season against the Giants after he had six turnovers in his first two playoff games. Matty Ice needs to earn his nickname on the professional level opposed to living off his college career.
4. Texans: Matt Schaub
Schaub played in a very quarterback-friendly offense last season prior to landing on IR. Throughout his time in Texas, however, he has mostly carried the offense and put up good numbers. Unfortunately, he consistently turned the ball over which ultimately costs him an opportunity at being classed with the best in the league.
Game manager is not an insult. It is a compliment. You can win with these guys, and each is capable of winning games when you need them to, if not on a consistent basis.
1. Titans: Matt Hasselbeck
He doesn't have the greatest arm strength, but at this point in his career, Hasselbeck can still win games with his intelligence and accuracy. He's best suited to a shorter passing game and can carry offenses to victory with a strong defense playing across from him. Hasselbeck can make plays, but he also will turn the ball over.
2. Ravens: Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco was outstanding last year in the playoffs. In fact, for once, the Ravens failed to reach the Super Bowl in spite of him opposed to going home early on his mistakes. Flacco showed poise, intelligence and great arm strength in the pocket last year. He can't be considered for elite until he proves that he can carry the offense however. Running with Ray Rice remains the Ravens' best move going forward.
3. Cowboys: Kyle Orton
In the right system, Orton can flourish. He has gone through somewhat of a rough patch over the past year after falling victim to Tebowmania in Denver and not having enough time to make an impact in Kansas City. It was very surprising that the Chiefs didn't re-sign Orton to allow him to compete for the starting job in Kansas City. The only logical reason is that his lack of arm strength doesn't properly complement the team's big receivers.
4. Chiefs: Matt Cassel
Cassel is the starter in Kansas City again next year seemingly. He's a solid player who won't lose too many games but also won't win that many either. Cassel is the prototypical game-managing quarterback. Cassel's best season will likely be one with turnovers in single figures.
5. 49ers: Alex Smith
The president of the "you can win with me club" only joined last year, but nonetheless, made the position of game manager his own in 2011. You feel that both he and the 49ers need each other at this point.
6. Bills: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick endured some struggles last year after signing his big deal during the season. Fitzpatrick has some level of talent and is a good fit with the Bills. His decision making needs to improve if the Bills are going to move to the next level.
7. Dolphins: David Garrard
If fully healthy, Garrard is one of the most underrated players entering this season. Garrard was never fully appreciated in Jacksonville.
8. Raiders: Carson Palmer
With a full preseason under his belt, Palmer could be in for a big year next year in Oakland. His struggles were overblown by the dysfunctional offense that was built around him in Cincinnati a few years ago with Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. With plenty of speed around him in Oakland, the tide could be turning for this veteran.
9. Bears: Jason Campbell
Campbell showed last year that he could be a winner at the quarterback position in Oakland. He may need a strong running game to succeed, but he's definitely a quarterback worthy of playing in the NFL despite his previous struggles.
10. Seahawks: Tarvaris Jackson
Jackson played most of last season injured—and actually played quite well. He's the perfect fit for Darrell Bevell's play-action based offense as his strong arm is shown off while also hiding his short accuracy and not asking him to pick apart defenses too much.
Young/Inconsistent with Elite Potential:
1. Rams: Sam Bradford
Bradford did more with less than anyone else on this list as a rookie. His awareness and accuracy is astounding, but even an elite veteran, would have struggled to function in the Rams offense last year.
2. Bengals: Andy Dalton
Dalton is fantastic. He never reached Newton's levels last year, but with a few more years growing and building on what he already achieved as a rookie, Dalton should be knocking on the door of the best in the league.
3. Bucaneers: Josh Freeman
Being a quarterback is about more than just your individual play on the field. You are also expected to be a leader. Freeman didn't show that last year as the Buccaneers capitulated into an early and easy submission. Finding out who the real Freeman is next season will be massive for the Buccaneers' future.
4. Titans: Jake Locker
Locker has all the physical tools and looked good during his limited opportunities last year. I would expect him to take over the starting job in Tennessee at some point next year.
Young/Inconsistent with Potential to be Good Starters:
1. Jets: Mark Sanchez
Sanchez is harshly treated in New York. He isn't Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but he can be a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback. Last year, Sanchez regressed, but the offense wasn't built around him to succeed. He's not going to improve or compensate for the players around him, but he can flourish playing with talent. Sanchez is still young and has less experience than most at his age after only starting 16 games at USC.
2. Jaguars: Chad Henne
Henne was never really given enough time to develop in Miami. He missed essentially all of his first NFL season and was let go after basically two seasons as a starter for the Dolphins. A quarterback generally needs three seasons to fully develop; Henne never got that opportunity.
3. Vikings: Christian Ponder
After just a rookie season on a struggling offense, there's very little to judge Ponder on. He looks like he could be a capable starter, but only time will tell.
4. Cardinals: John Skelton
Skelton has a huge arm and huge body to go along with it. Through coaching and experience, he could improve enough to be a reliable leader of the Cardinals' offense.
5. Browns: Colt McCoy
McCoy has no weapons in Cleveland to really show off his skills. This season will be huge for him.
6. Jets: Tim Tebow
Tebow needs more work than most to be a professional passer, however, his intangibles and ability as a runner cannot be measured. Still, he remains a long way away from being a reliable starter, despite his success of last season. At the very least, he will be a valuable role player for the Jets.
Star Talents Waiting to Prove Themselves:
1. Colts: Andrew Luck
Luck is considered one of the best prospects to ever come out of college...
2. Redskins: Robert Griffin III
RGIII isn't far behind him.
3. Seahawks: Matt Flynn
Flynn is essentially a total unknown. He does hold a Packers record for passing yards in a single game, however he has only started two games in his career. You'll notice Kevin Kolb isn't even on this list.
4. Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill is expected to go high in the draft, with the Miami Dolphins expected to be potential suitors.
5. Brandon Weeden
The only knock on Weeden appears to be his age, he is older than Aaron Rodgers, as he enters the NFL draft.
Cian is an on-call writer for the Bleacherreport TNT NFL-Coverage team. He is also part of the Guardian's NFL coverage team, a lead writer for FFBLife.com and a writer for SteelersDepot. He tweets a lot about sports (mostly) @CIanaf