Which quarterbacks are passing muster this year, and which are failing fantastically?
This weekend marks the midway point of the 2012 NFL season. Each team has six or seven games on the books, and most quarterbacks have started to hit their groove (or lack thereof) and have become what they're going to be this season. We've gotten through any fast or slow starts and into the meat of the season.
So, let's hand out some grades!
How the Grades Were Tabulated
These grades were, to a large extent, derived solely through one tool: my eyes. Thanks to NFL Rewind and the new coaches' tape, interested members of the media (and fans) are able to watch every single snap, every single week. That's part of my job.
There's no metric that was used across the board. While I'll reference things like passer rating, yardage, etc., those are being used to explain what I saw. Please disagree with me in the comments. I welcome it. Just don't think someone is "misranked" because so-and-so has one more touchdown and one fewer interception.
Was Everyone Graded on the Same Scale?
Yes and no.
I spent a long time trying to scrub the grades of any expectation bias. Just because someone underperformed doesn't necessarily mean he deserves a worse grade (*cough*NEWTON!*cough*).
However, part of performing well/poorly is how one performs with the talent around him and how he responds to the hand he's been dealt. Two quarterbacks with the same objective numbers don't deserve the same grade if one has better tools to work with. Not sure there's anyone who would seriously disagree with that.
Call it a "curve" if you want. Quibble with the grades if you wish. Feel free to write your own slideshow and use your own qualifications!
Are These Grades Predictive? Is a QB's Entire Career Taken into Consideration?
No and heck no!
These are grades for this season, from the games in Week 1 through the games in Week 7. They are not, in any way, an evaluation of who is better, but rather who has been better so far this season. It also is not, in any way, predictive of who will be better or worse moving forward.
Matt Stafford, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton may be fine quarterbacks and superstars moving forward, but none of that is relevant to how they played in the first half of the season.
Does a Team's Record Matter?
Sure it matters—just not to grading quarterbacks.
On to the grades!
Perfect example of why I listed the qualifications of these grades on the intro slide. If any of you are thinking about commenting along the lines of, "How can you say RGIII is the best?!?!" please go back and read the intro slide.
Robert Griffin III is not the best quarterback in the league, and I do not think he will make anyone forget about Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or the Manning brothers anytime soon. However, he has played the best football out of any quarterback through the first half of the NFL season.
Griffin is putting up insane/record-setting numbers through the air and is extremely dangerous with his legs as well. His yards per attempt of 8.47 is first in the NFL. That number is not only bolstered by his big-play ability, but also his insane completion percentage of 70.4.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH AARON RODGERS?!?!
The clarion call rang out throughout the Twittersphere and over sports talk radio throughout the first couple weeks of the season. The Packers were underachieving, and that MUST'VE meant Rodgers was as well.
Underachieving? Maybe. But underachieving from Rodgers is still better than many quarterbacks' best.
Let's let B/R NFL Associate Editor Ian Kenyon lay it out for us:
Aaron Rodgers last 4 games: 105/146 (72%), 1,234 yards, 16 TD, 2 INT.16 game pace of: 4,936 yards, 64 TD, 8 INT.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) October 21, 2012
Matt Ryan's football team is undefeated. A lot of that has to do with great defensive play and the embarrassment of riches that he has around him on offense.
Ryan is not being given an A for "just win(ning) baby!" Ryan is getting an A because he's finally learning to drive the Ferrari-level offense he's been handed and has stopped stalling out over every speed bump thrown his way.
His yards per attempt is lower than one might normally like for a quarterback who is ostensibly "acing" the first half of the season, but no one can blame him for targeting Tony Gonzalez 54 times (tied for most on the team). He is spreading the ball around, however, with Julio Jones getting 54 targets and Roddy White 53.
Peyton's little brother is the 10th-ranked quarterback by passer rating. That is, clearly, more of an indictment of passer rating than of Eli Manning.
First of all, look at what Manning has done with Hakeem Nicks banged up and/or out. He's literally had to force-feed Victor Cruz just to get the passing game going. His offensive line, too, has not been much of a help in pass protection this season, but Manning's quick decision-making has kept him off his back and kept his team moving down the field.
We've gotten to see both "bad Eli" (seven INTs) and "good Eli" (game-winning strike against Washington) this season. More of the good in the second half should mean another Super Bowl appearance by the Giants.
DREW BREES CAUGHT WHATEVER AARON RODGERS HAS!!!
Unless one is talking about an insatiable lust for throwing touchdown passes, let's not make wide-ranging declarations about QB play based on win-loss records. Brees' 18 TDs rank second in the league (after Rodgers' 19), and his yards per attempt rank sixth—even with the loss of Robert Meachem this season.
Perhaps scarier yet, the Saints offense is just now hitting its stride, as Brees has thrown for 370 or more yards in the past three games.
Sure, it's an A-minus, but it's an A-minus in whatever Masters class in quarterbacking Peyton is teaching this semester. I assume the course is entitled "Not Dead Yet 101: Why Rob Lowe Should Stick to Acting."
Manning is sporting the second-highest passer rating in the league, the fourth-highest yards per attempt and the fourth-highest completion percentage. He's doing this when he isn't even at 100 percent and after missing a year with injury. Oh, and he switched teams in the process.
Had it not been for a horrid game against the Falcons, that minus up there might have been a plus sign.
Brady's per-game numbers aren't ranked as highly as the guys above him, but he's second in the NFL in total yardage (behind Eli Manning) and flirted with 400 yards passing against the Seahawks. He's also put up his numbers against opponents like the Jets, as well as Baltimore and Arizona when they were at their best this season.
The Patriots look like they've had a few hiccups this season, and the ship may go through rough waters again—but Brady isn't the problem here.
A bare look at Ben Roethlisberger's numbers makes it look like same old Big Ben. Good but not great numbers, too many sacks from holding the ball, etc., etc. The problem with just running the numbers, however, ignores the numerous offensive line injuries and the unreliability of his receiving corps in 2012.
Honestly, Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown have been the lone bright spots on this team for long stretches this season. Roethlisberger is pulling plays out of his you-know-where and keeping this team in contention long after everyone else has written it off.
You know what? Maybe this is the same old Big Ben.
Settle down, Texans fans!
If this was a total team or total offense ranking, you'd have an A-plus. Also, a B-plus is not a diss—it is still well above average and means "ya boy" Matt Schaub is one of the best 10 or 11 quarterbacks in the NFL through the first half of the season.
Why doesn't he have an A?
Well, first off, Arian Foster is the team's bread and butter. Schaub gets a demerit for not even being the guy other teams are most worried about beating them. Schaub's 222 passing attempts are 16th in the NFL.
The plus here is because he's doing what he's doing without a legit No. 2 receiver.
In all honesty, this could be Tony Romo's last season with the Dallas Cowboys. Seriously, if the Cowboys don't turn this thing around, Jason Garrett could be gone, and the 32-year-old Romo would likely be sent packing as well.
That said, Romo is one of the last reasons that the Cowboys are failing.
The overall numbers are clouded with one horrific game against the Chicago Bears (a team lots of QBs have played horrific games against). If you've actually watched the Cowboys, it's easy to see that many of those interceptions (especially against the Bears) were not Romo's fault. Receivers like Dez Bryant are running the wrong routes, giving up on routes and straight-up dropping the ball.
Josh Freeman and Vincent Jackson look like they've been made for each other.
Just half a season into their partnership, they're already showcasing a tremendous chemistry (though not without speed bumps) with perfectly timed back-shoulder throws and "go up and get it" jump balls over defenders. Some of the pre-snap glances from Freeman over to Jackson just scream, "You run, I'll get it to you."
Freeman and Jackson have only connected 27 times, but it's at over 21 yards per clip, and Jackson's 216-yard receiving day against New Orleans portends good things ahead.
Cutler isn't a top-10 (even top-15) quarterback by any quantifiable measure. However, he gets a B for putting up those stats behind an offensive line that looks more like a group of matadors than blockers.
When the chips have been down for Cutler, he's gotten back up, completed passes and won football games.
Like Romo, he's had one exceptionally bad game that keeps his stats a little lower than they predictably should be. Once Alshon Jeffery comes back and the Bears offense hits its stride, the old Cutler-like gaudy numbers should follow.
Ryan Tannehill is the perfect example of a guy whose numbers alone would probably make him a "C" student compared to the rest of these quarterbacks around him. Instead, he gets a B.
Have you seen who he's throwing to? No, honestly, name them...name the Dolphins receiving corps. If you're not a Dolphins fan and you can go four-deep, you've just ostensibly won an episode of ESPN's Stump the Schwab.
Tannehill has flunked a few tests this year, but he's also grabbing extra credit all over the place. He is the only reason that the Dolphins offense has done anything this year, and he's keeping them in contention in the AFC East.
Alex Smith is having the best season of his career and, for a few moments, looked like he was going to make the Niners forget about their offseason flirtations with Peyton Manning. (Assuming, of course, that one didn't see what Manning was doing over in Denver.)
But like Stephen Stills once said, the 49ers need to learn to "Love the One [They're] With," and Smith has been awfully lovable at times.
His 66.8 completion percentage is a career high, as is his 93.9 rating and his 7.51 yards per attempt. All are top-10 in the NFL at the moment as well.
Had this grading been done after Week 4, Russell Wilson would not have been shown in such a favorable light—but good games against the Panthers and the Patriots showcased some volume passing and high-completion passing he hadn't done as much of before.
At times in 2012, it looked as if Wilson was just along for the ride with the Seahawks' fantastic defense. Now, it looks like he's going to pitch in as the Seahawks continue to lure unsuspecting teams up to the Pacific Northwest and put them away.
Another well-played road win could raise Wilson's stock even higher.
Like Russell Wilson before him, the last few weeks have changed the story on Joe Flacco. Unlike Wilson, however, it hasn't been for the better.
The Ravens' new high-tempo offense has, for the most part, been kind to Flacco. He's fifth in the NFL in total passing yardage and finally looks like a real quarterback and not Trent Dilfer part deux.
However, his other numbers (like passer rating, percentage and yards per attempt) tell the truer story: that he still isn't hitting every open pass he should, and he isn't making great decisions with the ball.
Flacco still has plenty of time to mature and still doesn't have the greatest cast of weapons to work with, so the needle is trending upward here even if Flacco doesn't make it the smoothest climb ever.
Listening to the media (myself included), one might get the impression that Newton is failing miserably. Instead, the truth is that Newton set a high bar for himself after last season and is simply failing to clear the same high standards he created.
That said, he hasn't gotten any better as a sophomore, and his "slump" (while more minor than ESPN might make it sound) is very real.
The negative attention he is garnering is more about his attitude than anything else, and the "lamestream media" didn't force Steve Smith to call out his QB.
Speaking of slumps...
Andy Dalton seems incredibly incapable of beating teams that don't roll over for him, which is a long-term problem that the Bengals eventually need to fix. Let's not expect Marvin Lewis to do that since Dalton caught the bug from him.
The Pittsburgh game was a perfect example of Dalton's biggest failings. For the most part, A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham were getting loose. Ike Taylor (while, admittedly, one of the better cornerbacks of the last decade) does not have the physical tools to cover Green. Dalton was missing wide-open windows and even more open throws.
While many of his numbers point to above-average quarterback play, Dalton should be better based on the tools around him. He needs to start putting up better numbers against better competition.
I feel for Sam Bradford, really I do.
He might have one of the worst offensive lines in the entire league, and Wayne Hunter—yes, that Wayne Hunter—is being entrusted to guard his blind side. Remember, the guy the Jets couldn't trust to play right tackle is now on the left for the Rams.
If Bradford can't get out of bed one morning, this is why.
His weapons are pretty pedestrian as well.
Still, it's difficult to feel so bad about Bradford. He was able to sneak in before the rookie-salary restructuring, and the Rams might be able to get him more help if he weren't collecting $12 million.
He's done his best with what he's had, but his best hasn't been enough.
I'm going with Jake Locker over Matt Hasselbeck as the Titans "starter," because there is little chance that the Titans go with Hasselbeck long-term. Not debating whether or not they should, but Locker is clearly the QB of their immediate future and needs to be given as long a leash as possible—either to succeed or to hang himself with.
Before the injury, Locker's numbers weren't great. Not to say they were horrible, but teams were literally daring Locker to beat them, and he wasn't.
Some of Chris Johnson's recent successes can be attributed to Hasselbeck's ability to hit the open throws that are there, even though his physical skills have eroded to the point that he probably should be sitting in a network studio somewhere.
When Locker comes back, his first point of order is to develop some better chemistry with his receiving corps, because they were rarely on the same page when he was under center.
The Vikings are vastly improved from 2011, and so is their quarterback. However, going from terrible to slightly above average is, indeed, a vast improvement. The idea that Christian Ponder has become anything more ignores a lot of evidence to the contrary.
Ponder has great protection, a fantastic running game and one of the most underrated/elite weapons in the NFL (Percy Harvin). He also has a tremendous safety valve in Kyle Rudolph.
He should be better and is probably on his way, but he eventually needs to find ways to work the ball a little farther than his current dinking and dunking.
The storylines around Luck have swung from "bust?" (at least compared to RGIII) to "messiah?" (following the Colts' win over the Packers). In reality, his play has been good considering the players around him, but he's also made some mistakes that we didn't see while he was at Stanford.
Like Ponder, he's dinking and dunking, but he's not completing nearly as many of those short passes. Yes, we can attribute a lot of that to the lack of protection, but as the No. 1 draft pick, Luck has to elevate the play of those around him, and he hasn't.
Right now, he looks like an average rookie passer who shines one moment and struggles to make quick decisions the next.
It's almost unfair to grade Philip Rivers with the tackle tandem he's been working with. While some thought the Chargers had a good offseason, their inability to fix Rivers' production has made the bed they're currently lying in.
If anyone should be using stickum on the Chargers, it's probably the linemen—anything to hold up pass-rushers.
Still, Rivers knows who his linemen are and has struggled (like Luck) to get the ball out quickly and on target. I expect a statistical rebound from Rivers in the second half of the year, but questions are going to persist about whether he is truly the man for the job in San Diego.
Yes, yes, yes...the protection and weapons in New York are as bad as any other quarterback in the NFL has to deal with. Frankly, however, that fact is the only reason Sanchez is even a C.
He is average. That's the storyline with Sanchez. He's not making anyone out there better, and he's neither the problem nor part of the solution. He is along for the ride. His passer rating (30th), yards per attempt (25th) and completion percentage (33rd) are not veteran numbers, regardless of who he has around him.
In one breath, Raiders fans love to point out how great (read: fast) their receivers are and how the national media always underrates them. Then, in the next, Raiders fans love to point out how Carson Palmer is the "lone" bright spot on an otherwise losing team.
Neither, of course, is true.
Palmer has been, at best, below average this season. His decision-making is as bad as it ever was, and his lack of arm strength is evident outside the hashes. He has made good throws but has made far more head-scratchers.
The temptation here is to copy and paste much of what was in the Raiders slide and just insert it for Matthew Stafford as well.
If anyone has undershot his expectations for 2012 as much as Cam Newton, it's Stafford. He is, quite fantastically, making people question what the heck was going on last year, when he actually looked like a capable quarterback.
This isn't a question of fine-tuning anymore. He is making horrible decisions and missing wide-open passes.
While, normally, I would revel in a quarterback's failings (because I'm a hater like that), mostly I just want to give Kevin Kolb a hug. He has, potentially, one of the worst pass-protecting offensive lines I have ever seen, and the man's ribs have disconnected from his sternum.
Kolb's numbers haven't been great (middle-of-the-road passer rating, 31st in yards per attempt), but he's found some chemistry with Larry Fitzgerald, and Andre Roberts looks like a viable second receiver with him under center.
He's never going to put this team on his (battered and bruised) back and win in spite of it, but he's taking what defenses are giving him and has looked way better than John Skelton in the same situation.
Brandon Weeden's biggest issue is that he's not progressing through his reads...like at all.
Like Zoolander, Weeden is not an "ambiturner." He locks onto a receiver and consistently misses wide-open targets on the other side of the field because he just doesn't look at them, ever. Safeties aren't reading his eyes; they don't have to. They simply float over to where his first read is.
Weeden has plenty of natural talent and a great arm. He needs to shed the one-read offense he learned in college and start utilizing the entire field.
Really, when one considers the fumbles, this is a really generous C-minus.
Michael Vick is what he is: a high-volume, low-percentage passer whose game has always been predicated around his (now eroding) elite physical skills. He is done. There are not peaks for him. It is just a question of how deep the rest of his valleys will be.
I have been really hard on Blaine Gabbert since college. So, to some degree, this C-minus is a higher grade than many Jaguars fans may expect from me.
The biggest problem is that he's a below-average decision-maker (albeit with A-plus physical tools), and he's got below-average weapons around him. Combine that with terrible protection, and you get a C-minus.
On bare numbers alone (33rd in yards per attempt, barely passing over 50 percent), Gabbert is failing as a passer—but he is getting (somewhat of) a pass here because he's still in the same terrible surroundings he was in as a rookie.
Time will tell if he gets the same pass in the offseason if the Jaguars have a new general manager.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the polar opposite of many of the passers above.
Looking only at the stats (especially for fantasy players), it is tempting to think Fitzpatrick is an average passer. He's got the Bills convinced—or at least he did when they handed him that giant contract.
In reality, he's holding this offense back. As the weather worsens in Buffalo and his subpar arm strength is more fully on display, things are going to go downhill...quickly.
With a historically bad defense, Fitzpatrick isn't the only problem in Buffalo, but his play has kept an otherwise talented offense from reaching its true potential.
The only thing Matt Cassel was asked to do this season was to be average. He couldn't do it.
Coming in 33rd in passer rating (66.2) and 30th in yards per attempt (6.53) is bad. It's worse when you realize that he's middle-of-the-road in completion percentage. The only passes he can hit are short-to-intermediate in the middle of the field. He is not looking like an NFL-caliber passer in any way.
The sad thing is he still might be the best option for the Chiefs at quarterback. Brady Quinn has never showcased anything better as a pro.
If Cassel can get "back" to average, the Chiefs can still contend for a playoff spot in the incredibly weak AFC—but through the first half of the season, Cassel has been the league's worst quarterback.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."