Ranking the Top 10 Quarterbacks in the NFL
You've heard it a thousand times before. The NFL has turned into a quarterback’s league.
Teams are passing more and more these days, and they are doing it more efficiently than ever before. Take last year, for example, where three quarterbacks surpassed 5,000 passing yards. Prior to 2011, it had only been done twice. Ever.
To quote ESPN’s Matthew Berry in his Draft Day Manifesto, “The offensive stats from last year are video-game-level ridiculous. League-wide passer rating (84.3) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (1.472:1) were both at historic levels, topping the records that were set just the year before.”
As a result of this trend, it has become increasingly clear that competing in the NFL is very hard to do unless your team has an elite quarterback under center. The most important position in all of sports just became even more crucial.
With opening night less than two weeks away, I decided to rank the top 10 quarterbacks in the league today. Read on to find out who makes the list.
10. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
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Statistics: 4,177 yards, 61.3 percent completion, 29 TDs, 12 INT, 92.2 passer rating
Although the Atlanta Falcons didn’t quite live up to their lofty expectations, "Matty Ice" just completed arguably the best individual year of his career. Ryan posted career high numbers in yards, touchdowns and passer rating as he took the Falcons to the playoffs yet again.
Ryan doesn’t do anything too flashy, but he gets the job done at the end of the day. And while he may not be considered elite, with all the weapons at his disposal on the offensive end, I expect a big year from Matt Ryan in the coming season. He's currently the 10th best quarterback in the league.
9. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
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Statistics: 4,624 yards, 62.9 percent completion, 27 TDs, 20 INT, 88.7 passer rating
It’s safe to say that 2011 was a disaster for Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. Rivers, a guy who had never thrown more than 15 interceptions in a single season, threw 20 picks last year. He also posted the lowest completion percentage (62.9 percent) and threw the fewest touchdowns (27) of his career since 2007.
Having said this, I still consider Rivers to be one of the best passers in the league, as he eclipsed 4,000 yards passing for the fourth straight year and showed flashes of his old self at times. Expect a bounce-back year from Rivers, who is undoubtedly one of the fiercest competitors in the league.
8. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
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Statistics: 4,184 yards, 66.3 percent completion, 31 TD, 10 INT, 102.5 passer rating
Before you complain about how much I’ve overrated Tony Romo, compare his stats to the following mystery player: 4,700 yards, 66.3 percent completion, 33 TD, 17 INT, 91.9 passer rating
Pretty close, right? Our mystery QB threw for more yards and touchdowns, but he also threw seven more interceptions and was less efficient overall based on passer rating. If we judge purely on statistics, I’d say it’s a pretty fair comparison.
If you haven’t guessed already, the mystery quarterback was Peyton Manning in 2010.
While I’m not saying that Romo is as good as Manning, I am pointing out that he’s constantly underrated and criticized because he plays for "America’s team."
Despite playing behind a poor offensive line, Romo still ranked third in the league in completion percentage, fifth in touchdowns and fourth in passer rating. He even threw fewer interceptions than guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Romo is constantly labeled as a choker, but his passer rating in the fourth quarter last year (104.4) was exceptional.
There is a lot of pressure for the Dallas Cowboys to perform in 2012, but don’t count out Tony Romo just yet.
7. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
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Statistics: 5,038 yards, 63.5 percent completion, 41 TD, 16 INT, 97.2 passer rating
A lot of people expected Matthew Stafford to be good if he could ever stay healthy, but I don’t think anyone saw this coming.
In 2011, Stafford became just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards in a single season. The other three? Dan Marino, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Pretty good company if you ask me.
By passing for 41 touchdowns, he also became one of the seven players to surpass 40 TDs in a single season, joining the likes of Brady, Brees and Marino as well as Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner.
Stafford capped off his remarkable performance by leading his Lions to a 10-6 record and their first playoff berth since 1999. As he possesses one of the strongest arms in the league, Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson have combined to form one of the deadliest tandems in the entire NFL.
Did I mention he’s only 24? Look for Stafford and "Megatron" to dominate over the next decade or so.
6. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
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Ranking a guy who just missed an entire season due to injury was not easy. Where does one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history deserve to be ranked? Should he belong on the list at all?
I placed him sixth out of pure respect, but out of every player on this list, I expect Peyton Manning to either rise or fall the fastest based on his performance in 2012. Maybe he returns to being the Peyton of old and leaps into the top five. Maybe he misses six or seven games and falls out of the top 10. That remains to be seen.
What matters is at 36 years of age, after four neck surgeries, Peyton Manning is still here.
5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
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Statistics: 4,077 yards, 63.2 percent completion, 21 TD, 14 INT, 90.1 passer rating
He’s never been a guy who puts up eye-popping statistics, but there’s one thing that validates Ben Roethlisberger’s place on this list.
There is absolutely no quarterback in this league today—nobody—that I’d rather have on the field to make one huge play in the dying seconds of a game.
Roethlisberger may have been one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the league last year, but that was mainly due to his questionable offensive line rather than any failings on his part.
No quarterback is harder to bring down. No quarterback is better when the play breaks down. No quarterback is tougher.
Big Ben simply thrives when the game is on the line. Don’t believe me? Maybe you should ask his two Lombardi trophies.
4. Eli Manning, New York Giants
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Statistics: 4,933 yards, 61 percent completion, 29 TD, 16 INT, 92.9 passer rating
Do you believe in Eli now?
Before the 2011 season, Eli Manning was asked on a radio show whether he believed he was an elite quarterback. Eli said he was.
2011 then became a year of validation for the "younger Manning," who was still stuck in his brother’s shadow.
And what a year it was.
Eli obviously shined brightest in the playoffs, but he actually had a terrific regular season as well. Manning cut down significantly on his interceptions from the previous year, threw for nearly 5,000 yards and led the Giants to their second Super Bowl in five years.
He also broke the record for touchdown passes in the fourth quarter (a record previously held by his brother), cementing his status as one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the league.
The reigning Super Bowl MVP can now truly be called elite.
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
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Statistics: 5,476 yards, 71.2 percent completion, 46 TD, 14 INT, 110.6 passer rating
In terms of raw statistics, it’s pretty clear that Drew Brees was playing at a truly historic level last year.
Consider the 5,476 yards that Brees passed for in 2011, smashing Dan Marino’s record by nearly 400 yards. Take into account the fact that he completed an NFL-record 71.2 percent of his passes, breaking his own record that was set in 2009. Or perhaps look at the 46 touchdowns Brees threw, good for fourth most in NFL history.
Behind his fantastic offensive line, Drew Brees quarterbacked one of the most explosive offenses in the league. New Orleans was the second highest scoring team in the NFL behind Green Bay, and despite their awful defense, Brees carried his Saints to a phenomenal 13-3 record.
His passer rating of 110.6 was a career high and ranked as the second highest in the league and the eighth highest mark ever recorded.
With the "Bountygate" scandal dominating the Saints offseason, expect Brees to emerge as the true leader that he is.
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
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Statistics: 5,235 yards, 65.6 percent completion, 39 TD, 12 INT, 105.6 passer rating
Tom Brady was up to his old tricks in 2011, as he led his Patriots to yet another Super Bowl appearance, the fifth of his career.
Although Brady was bested by Eli Manning and the Giants, there is no one who doubts his greatness, as he threw for over 5,000 yards and 39 TDs during the regular season.
There really isn’t too much to say about Brady; he’s simply one of the greatest ever. The Patriots are competitive year in and year out because of their superstar, and seeing as New England actually improved during the offseason, I fully expect the Patriots to come out of the AFC yet again.
As of right now, only one quarterback is doing it better.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
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Statistics: 4,643 yards, 68.3 percent completion, 45 TD, 6 INT, 122.5 passer rating
Perhaps it didn’t end exactly like Aaron Rodgers had planned, but 2011 was simply a masterpiece of a season by the best quarterback in the NFL today.
When I think back to the season that Rodgers just had, I’ll think of the 4,643 yards he threw in just 15 games. I’ll think of the 45 touchdowns he tossed, compared to only six interceptions. I’ll think of the 48 out of 50 MVP votes he accumulated in the regular season. I’ll think of the 14-1 record that he led his Packers to. Finally, I’ll think of the 58 seconds that the Giants gave him, which turned out to be 58 seconds too long.
That was the defining Rodgers moment for me in 2011.
Barring one game against Kansas City, A-Rod played about as well as any quarterback can play. His record-breaking passer rating of 122.5 looks like a record that will stand the test of time.
Aaron Rodgers’ combination of mobility, accuracy and arm strength puts him in a class by himself. And to be perfectly honest, nobody else really comes close.