Power Ranking Every NFL Starting QB at the Midseason Mark
The NFL is the most mercurial of all of the major professional sports.
2012 has seen the introduction of five rookie starting quarterbacks, and each of them has made their mark in their own way.
A power ranking of the 32 starters at the halfway point of the season reveals some surprises regarding the rookies. It also demonstrates that some quarterbacks are as steady as north on a compass, even coming back from career-threatening surgeries.
Let's count them down, starting at No. 32.
32. Brady Quinn, Kansas City Chiefs
The term "game manager" is tossed around a lot when discussing NFL quarterbacks, but no one typifies it more than Brady Quinn.
He rarely tests the defense downfield, and he appears to be programmed by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to put limiting interceptions above all other goals when playing the positions, dating back to their time together in Cleveland.
The Chiefs will win or lose on offense by riding their running backs, not Quinn (or Matt Cassel). No starting quarterback in the league does less to help his team win.
The Chiefs are suffering greatly from Kyle Orton's decision to back up Tony Romo instead of returning to Kansas City in free agency and having a chance to start this year.
31. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
2012 will mark the end of the Blaine Gabbert/Gene Smith era in Jacksonville.
Smith staked his job on Gabbert when he traded up to the 10th pick to get the quarterback, and he is losing that bet.
Gabbert flashes his mobility and natural throwing talent at times (especially throwing deep to Cecil Shorts), but his pocket presence and ability to consistently test defenses by making decisive throws into small windows are just not NFL quality.
Jaguars fans did see that it can get worse when Chad Henne stepped in for an injured Gabbert last week, so we'll still see Gabbert for the rest of the season.
If he starts in 2013, it's only to be a bridge to Geno Smith, Matt Barkley or Tyler Wilson.
30. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have a winning record, but Christian Ponder has very little to do with that.
He has mainly been a game manager, and he hasn't been making the decisive plays in a game (with the exception of a few perfect throws in the big win over the San Francisco 49ers).
He shows elusiveness in the pocket, athleticism and an aggressive mentality that could have him rocket up this list in the second half of the season. Right now, Ponder is a problem for the team when they fall behind, and he's not much of a factor when they are trying to get or stay ahead.
With a few more performances like his last two, the Vikings might look to Joe Webb in the second half of the season.
29. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers and Alex Smith look exactly the same as last season, which probably means that they'll have an overall successful season that will still feel disappointing.
The main culprit is Smith, who doesn't know how to change modes when the game script calls for him to jump-start the offense and pull off a comeback when the defense and running game doesn't stake him to a lead.
Smith can make the throws when the plays unfold the way they do in practice, but he can't inspire or otherwise make plays to add value to his offense.
He is at his best when he is ending drives in punts or field goals, which is about the bare minimum we can ask of an NFL quarterback.
28. Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals
John Skelton is the starter right now, and he was the opening-day starter, but the Cardinals' success under Kevin Kolb probably means that he would be the starter if he was healthy.
Kolb was playing bolder this year, and he also led the Cardinals to multiple fourth-quarter comeback wins, which was something Skelton did with regularity in 2011.
Kolb is still a bit fragile, with little pocket presence or sense of impending pressure, which is a bad combination.
Skelton's spot on this list wouldn't be much higher. He takes too many chances, although he can make throws that Kolb won't try because he is less aggressive throwing downfield.
27. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills
If you could transplant Ryan Fitzpatrick's brain into a 6'4" body with legit NFL arm strength and deep-ball accuracy, you might have one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the league.
Fitzpatrick is a leader and a gamer. He is aggressive and decisive on the field and has command of the Bills offense.
The problem is that his deep throws aren't even close to his receivers, and when a defense challenges him, he often gives them easy, game-changing interception opportunities.
With an offense that runs through Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, Fitzpatrick might be adequate, but the Bills can certainly do better at the position.
26. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets
Mark Sanchez is actually playing better than this ranking would indicate.
He has lost his No. 1 receiver, and his offensive line has some huge holes, especially at right tackle.
Sanchez has successfully fended off the media-driven challenge from Tim Tebow, and he's even kept the Jets viable and competitive against tough competition like the Texans and Patriots.
He is still a limited quarterback in terms of arm strength, athleticism and keeping turnovers to a minimum.
Sanchez is in that no-man's land where he isn't good enough to elevate a team, but he isn't bad enough to get benched.
25. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson has done enough to give hope that he could be in the top 20 on this list very soon.
His deep ball is a thing of beauty, and he is becoming more aggressive as a runner and downfield thrower.
It appears that the Seahawks have drilled ball security into his head, which has made Wilson concede too many third downs and red-zone plays.
He was willing to try to make more happen at Wisconsin, and as the Seahawks trust him to make good decisions on the fly, he will start to harness the potential of Sidney Rice and Golden Tate.
Right now, Wilson is a work in progress, but one that shows a ton of promise.
24. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
Matt Hasselbeck is piloting the Tennessee offense right now, and he is doing a good job of it for a quarterback in the November/December segment of his career.
Jake Locker is still the starter once he is healthy, and he has the ability to be much higher on this list by the end of the season.
Yes, he is still prone to bouts of inaccuracy, but Locker's athleticism, toughness, football acumen and willingness to make aspirational throws downfield will keep the Titans offense in good hands for a long time.
If this list were based on long-term outlook at quarterback as opposed to the current "state of the franchise," Locker would rate at least five spots higher.
23. Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are going nowhere this year, and Carson Palmer might be dropped by the team with $13 million due to him in 2013, but he is actually playing very well.
Palmer is on pace for over 4,500 yards, and he has thrown almost twice as many touchdowns as interceptions. He's doing that despite having one of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in the league and a wide receiver corps that has been riddled by injuries this season.
If the Raiders decide to move on from Palmer for a quarterback they take in the first round of next year's draft, he should get a starting job elsewhere.
22. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
Brandon Weeden would have been bottom five on this list coming into the season and No. 32 after Week 1.
He has made great strides in terms of pocket presence and making throws from suboptimal platforms in the first two months of his career.
These improvements have allowed the speed of supplemental second-round pick Josh Gordon to come into play.
Unlike other rookie quarterbacks, Weeden has not been overly conservative or otherwise playing afraid of turning the ball over.
With some better wide receivers and more growth, he could be in the top half of quarterbacks in the NFL in 2013.
21. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
There is a good argument to put Andy Dalton at least three to five spots lower on this list, despite his early-career success and good numbers through the first half of the season.
Dalton is not showing the ability to adjust when defenses take away A.J. Green, and his spotty decision-making is putting this team behind the eight ball at times.
Dalton is not getting any help from his running game, and his secondary receivers are still a ragtag bunch. Therefore, we have to assume that his leadership and grit will rise to the surface again soon at this early juncture of his career.
Dalton's game is trending in the wrong direction.
20. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
He is having trouble getting traction because of a piecemeal offensive line and an inexperienced and middling group of wide receivers.
Bradford has more natural throwing talent than Sanchez, and some of the improvisational ability, command of the offense and mental toughness he flashed in his rookie year portended big things for the former No. 1 overall pick.
Bradford has shrugged off the timidity that a lost 2011 campaign seemed to instill in his mindset, and a competitive Rams squad under the watchful eye of Jeff Fisher has gotten his career on track again.
With some development from his line and receivers, Bradford could be a franchise quarterback very soon.
19. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
After a pro debut against the Houston Texans that was something like getting the final exam on the first day of school, Ryan Tannehill has looked like a quarterback who has been in the league for 10 years.
His pocket presence and ability to move in the pocket is already among the best in the league, and he has kept his mistakes and sacks to a minimum.
Tannehill has shown the ability to make big throws downfield from all kinds of platforms, and he is making the most of a wide receiver group that doesn't have anything close to a legit No. 1 for him to throw to.
It looks like Miami did not reach for Tannehill in the least bit.
18. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Another season brings another failed attempt by Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to make Joe Flacco the centerpiece of the offense.
He just doesn't have a good enough feel for reading defenses to be the point man for an offense, especially on a team with Ray Rice.
Flacco is still big, surprisingly athletic, durable and able to make any throw.
He was a Lee Evans drop from leading this team to the Super Bowl last year, and he should become one of the highest paid players in the game this coming offseason.
Flacco will never get to franchise quarterback level, but he is still extremely capable and a proven winner.
17. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Josh Freeman has experienced something of a career resurgence under new head coach Greg Schiano.
He doesn't seem to be putting the entire offense on his shoulders, and he is letting the game come to him instead of forcing the issue.
While Freeman isn't playing as well as his three straight three-touchdown games suggest he is, he is putting the ball up where his big receivers can make plays, and he is not playing scared in the least bit.
Freeman's size, athleticism, arm strength and willingness to give his teammates a chance to rise to the occasion has the franchise going in the right direction after a 2011 spent adrift at sea under Raheem Morris.
16. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
Michael Vick is one of the toughest quarterbacks to place on this list.
He is still very productive, and he has led his team to victories over Baltimore and the New York Giants, two of the last four teams alive in the 2011 season.
Vick is also turning the ball over too often, and some are holding him primarily responsible for the Eagles' struggles this year.
Vick's athletic ability and attacking mentality make him a tough quarterback for any defense to handle, and if he eliminates the mistakes, he could be considered elite once again.
A few more turnover-fests, and he plummets down. No quarterback's stock is more volatile right now than Michael Vick's.
15. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Different year, same story with Tony Romo and the Cowboys.
He has the occasional five-interception game, generally plays well, but doesn't lead the team to enough wins in crunch time.
Romo is clearly being asked to play more conservatively this year, which is a shame because it is decreasing the value of the talented receiver duo of Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.
It can get a lot worse than Romo, but expectations have always been that Romo, and the Cowboys under his leadership, would be better.
This week against the Giants brings a big test for Romo, and it's one that he passed with flying colors in Week 1.
Dallas fans' perception of Romo is that he should be lower on this list, but at his best, he is a top-10 NFL quarterback.
The problem is that you never know which Romo will show up on Sunday.
14. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers misses Vincent Jackson badly.
His play isn't as inconsistent as it was last season, but it also isn't keeping the offense on a par with other top offenses around the league.
The Chargers fattened up on some weak early competition, but when spotted a 24-0 lead against the only other team that can win the AFC West, Rivers and San Diego had an epic collapse.
Rivers can make all of the throws despite a funky throwing motion, and he is still one of the better passers and field generals in the league. His status is diminishing, though, and his petulant on-field demeanor is defining him more than his past successes right now.
He needs a new coach and general manager to be moving in the right direction on this list.
13. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Going into the season, you wouldn't have gotten much of an argument if you had put Cam Newton in the top 10 of this list.
Now, with his confidence shaken and his offense stuck in neutral, Newton's 2012 and long-term future both seem to be at risk.
Newton has as much natural talent as any quarterback in the league, and there have been moments where his downfield accuracy and running ability have left the opposing defense looking for answers.
There have been far more moments this year where Newton looks uncomfortable, tentative and otherwise ineffective, giving the whole offense an air of inevitable failure.
The next month will tell us a lot about how resilient Newton is and whether he actually belongs in the top 10 on a list like this.
12. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
There's a good case for Jay Cutler being five or more spots lower on this list.
He's prone to meltdown games, like the one he had against Green Bay in Week 2.
His production isn't on a par with the other quarterbacks in the teens, and he is not a fundamentally sound quarterback.
On the other hand, he has one of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in the league in front of him, and the Bears have been a winning team for three years running with Cutler at the helm.
He finally got a viable receiver in old teammate Brandon Marshall this year, and for the most part, they have worked well together.
Cutler's game isn't always pretty, but he is a franchise quarterback.
11. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
There's little doubt that Andrew Luck has been asked to take control of his team's offense more so than any of the other five rookie quarterbacks.
His decision-making and deep-ball accuracy need work, but his ability to rally his team, avoid sacks behind a poor offensive line, and otherwise make a rebuilding team competitive are unquestioned.
Luck will only grow as a passer, and once he is on the same page with receivers like Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton, the Colts passing game will grow into one of the better units in the league.
The only thing keeping Luck from breaking into the top 10 on this list—or higher—is time.
10. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
Matt Schaub's numbers may suggest that he belongs in a lower spot, but he is extremely valuable to arguably the best team in the NFL.
Schaub is the perfect quarterback for the Texans' run-heavy offense, and he is keeping the offense balanced despite an aging No. 1 receiver.
Schaub has mastered play-action passing, and the Texans might have been Super Bowl champions last year if he hadn't gotten hurt.
Come 2013, he might get that first ring, which would move him even further into the top 10.
9. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Like Newton, Matthew Stafford was a legitimate consideration for the top 10 on this list coming into this year. Now, I wouldn't argue against dropping him down a few spots.
He is uncomfortable now that defenses are doing a better job of taking away Calvin Johnson.
Stafford hasn't been making the big throws downfield to beleaguered defenses like he did on his way to 5,038 passing yards last year.
The natural arm talent, field vision and mobility are still there. Stafford needs a big game from Megatron to get his mojo back, and the unstoppable passing game that we saw last year will be back in effect.
8. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
It sure seems like the quarterback of an undefeated team entering Week 8 would be higher on this list, but Matt Ryan's flaws have surfaced again.
He might not be world-beater we thought he was when he beat up on tomato cans earlier in the season.
Ryan is a great field general, an accurate passer, and he is even getting tougher in the pocket.
Still, the last time we saw, he threw three early picks against the Raiders and needed a big Asante Samuel pick-six to dismiss one of the weakest teams in the league in his home stadium.
Ryan still sees ghosts and leaves the pocket too early at times, and his deep ball is one of the weaker ones among the 32 starters.
Ryan is on the rise but not as fast as the month of September seemed to indicate.
7. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin III is already giving defenses questions they can't answer correctly, and he's only a rookie.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has built an offense around Griffin that makes the game look easy for him. He's completed over 70 percent of his passes despite losing his No. 1 receiver eight plays into the season.
Griffin has shown a knack for rising to the occasion late in the fourth quarter, making electrifying plays like a 76-yard touchdown run to beat the Vikings.
He processes the field, makes his decision and unloads the ball so quickly that defenses can't react to what he is doing in time to stop him.
Perhaps the league will catch up to this college offense and make Griffin look mortal, but until it does, he's clearly a top 10 NFL quarterback.
6. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger has adjusted to a new offensive coordinator, multiple injuries on his offensive line and little to no running game to take the heat off of him.
Just another year in the life of this two-time Super Bowl winner.
He has done a masterful job of limiting mistakes, although Roethlisberger has also lost to two poor teams on the road, so there is room for improvement.
His combination of strength, size, pocket presence, arm strength, creativity and clutch play is unmatched in the AFC North.
He remains an elite NFL quarterback no matter how much things change around him, for better or worse.
5. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Aside from a nightmarish first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night in Week 2, Peyton Manning has been almost flawless in his return from multiple neck surgeries.
Not that he is 100 percent, as was apparent on that Monday night. Manning can't make all of the throws he could make before.
Still, when he makes those downfield tosses that seemingly take forever to get there, an open receiver is always on the other end of them.
At this point, we have to concede that Manning is a true natural.
He doesn't rely on his tools or his long-established relationship and timing with his receivers. Put him in any quarterback's situation with any set of receivers, and he is going to be productive and win games.
And guess what? Manning is only going to get better as the season goes on. Congratulations, Broncos.
4. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Eli Manning is quickly becoming a fourth-quarter legend.
When he found Victor Cruz for a long game-winning touchdown two plays after Robert Griffin III had put the Redskins ahead with less than two minutes left last week, were any of us actually surprised?
How about when he led the game-winning drive in the Super Bowl (again)?
The highest compliment we can pay Manning is that his greatness seems like a foregone conclusion.
He is also a terrific natural throwing talent, putting the ball in spots all over the field at will. He has been nearly untouchable behind an offensive line that most saw as one of the worst in the league entering the season.
Little brother has overtaken big brother once and for all.
3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Tom Brady's Patriots have lost some close games this season, and the offense that was supposed to return to the blitzkrieg form it had in 2007 hasn't materialized.
Brady hasn't meshed with Brandon Lloyd as well as offseason reports led us to believe they would.
He has had the offense stall out in the red zone against Seattle, Arizona and the Jets more than we would have ever expected.
He's still an amazing leader on and off of the field. He can be dominant again with a healthy set of tight ends, which he should get after the bye.
2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
There should be no doubt now that Drew Brees, and not head coach Sean Payton, is the ultimate source of the offensive success of the Saints.
Brees has taken the whole offense on his back, and while it hasn't resulted in a winning record, it has kept the team competitive while they field the worst defense in the league.
Brees isn't just relying on one or two receivers, either.
All-world tight end Jimmy Graham has been banged up as of late, and the Saints lost Robert Meachem in free agency this year.
After a handful of quarterbacks made 5,000 yards look like it would be an annual achievement, only Brees is on pace to hit that mark this year.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Remember when folks were concerned about Aaron Rodgers because of his offensive line, not to mention Rodgers missing throws that he usually makes?
That feels like a long time ago, as Rodgers is back to making the NFL his own personal video game again over the last weeks.
Rodgers has been without Greg Jennings for most of the season, and Jermichael Finley has been completely ineffective.
That has been no problem for him. He has made James Jones into a red-zone wonder and Randall Cobb into his own version of Percy Harvin.
No quarterback makes the game look easier when he is on, and wow, is Rodgers on right now.
He's also the youngest of the top five quarterbacks on this list by almost three years. It's a great time to be a Packers fan.