Super Bowl XLVII Aftermath: Who Are the NFL's Top 12 Quarterbacks...Now?
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By now, you've probably digested every single detail of Super Bowl XLVII, including stats, replays of commercials, halftime reunions and gyrations, freakish blackouts and...if you've taken the day off...even a leftover morsel of food or two.
The Baltimore Ravens' thrilling 34-31 hold-on-for-dear-life victory over the San Francisco 49ers had to be one of the five (or is it V?) best Super Bowls ever played, no matter whether you were rooting for big brother John or his more animated, combustible little bro Jim.
It was only the second time that both teams eclipsed 30 points in the Big Game. Not that one needs an orgy of offensive explosions to make for a great game, but when points are scored in (almost) record numbers against vaunted defenses, it certainly provides great theater. And the dramatic lighting didn't hurt any.
Of course, the two starting quarterbacks—the Ravens' Joe Flacco and the Niners' Colin Kaepernick—had much to do with the 65 total points. Which begs the question: How high do both of these brilliant, young signal callers rank among the best in the National Football League?
I realize that this question is impossible to answer, but that doesn't keep me—and a bunch of other fans, pundits and scribes—from compiling such lists. So it's my turn again, and believe me, this list would look significantly different if compiled just one day after Super Bowl XLVI. Of course, among other things, who could have projected that rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson would have such great success, and that mid-year starter and second year QB, Colin Kaepernick, would almost scale the highest NFL summit in only his 10th career start? Remarkable!
For the below list, I ranked my Top 12 Quarterbacks after trying to answer this question: If I could build my team around one quarterback for one season (assuming all are healthy, if not miraculously so) who would I choose? That's a fairly simple premise, and implies a look at the players' track records and just a little projection into the future. Having said this, the focus is on their present value.
Permit me one more point or two before producing my ranking. This is as much art as science, as there are so many ways in which quarterbacks can be ranked. It is an exercise in being true to personal preference based on stats and that all-important eye test. No, I never competed against any of these men or their predecessors.
There has always been some type of stigma against the so-called running quarterback—which is unfortunate for a variety of reasons. Perhaps, a 49ers victory (Kaepernick, certainly, is an electrifying runner when he sprints out of the pocket) would have put this to rest once and for all; hopefully, the seasons enjoyed by him and rookies Griffin and Wilson (to say nothing of the second-half play of second-year starter Cam Newton) will have done this. Clearly, there is no single blueprint for winning a championship in any league, including the NFL.
So, without a slideshow (you know, what these guys look like, anyway) or an exhaustive recitation of their stats, here is my list of Top 12 NFL Quarterbacks, in ascending order of preference. By the way, some pretty good quarterbacks, including Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Michael Vick, Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers and Cam Newton just missed the list. That's a very strong indication of just how spectacular quarterback play is in today's NFL.
12. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks - (Age 24, 11-5 career regular season; 1-1 postseason) - Before he hangs up his spikes—and one hopes this is a long time from now—he may go down as one of the very best third-round draft picks in NFL history. Possesses all the attributes (but height) you would want in a starting quarterback, and in many other years he would have waltzed away with Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
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11. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts - (Age 23, 11-5 career regular season; 0-1 postseason) - One might think that it's easy to walk off a college campus, take the reigns of your team's offense and guide them to 11 wins and a playoff spot. Of course it's not, but you would not know it from Luck (or Wilson's) rookie campaign. He may not have posted a gaudy passer rating, but the guy has all the skills, including a knack for winning close games.
10. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons - (Age 27, 56-22 regular season; 1-4 postseason) - Most NFL fans cheered the fact that Matty Ice did get that winless playoff gorilla off his back, and he was this close to guiding his team to a Super Bowl. I'm still not sure that I would take him over either Wilson or Luck, but he does have a terrific five-year track record.
9. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers - (Age 25, 5-2 regular season; 2-1 postseason) - Big, strong, mobile, accurate, seems to be a good young leader. He may very well be higher come this time next year, but I need to see a little more before going too crazy here.
8. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins - (Age 22, 9-6 regular season; 0-1 postseason) - I realize the potential severity of his injury, but I am assuming a return to form per this list. Given that unknown variable, let us reflect on just how special RGIII's rookie year was. He led all NFL quarterbacks in rushing while finishing third in passer rating. And he did so with a middling supporting cast. As outstanding as Wilson and Luck were, I thought that "3" was an easy choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Where would you rank Joe Flacco - current value?
7. Eli Manning, New York Giants - (Age 31, 78-57 regular season; 8-3 postseason; 2 Super Bowl Wins) - I still don't know exactly what to make of Eli's career. Yes, he has won two Super Bowls, beating a thought-to-be-superior Patriots team both times. Otherwise, he has three one-and-dones in the playoffs. But, he does have those two titles and he made some memorable throws to put rings on his teammates' fingers. And, did you know that he has started all 16 of the Giants' games the last eight years running.
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (Age 34, 99-70 regular season; 5-4 postseason, 1 Super Bowl Win) - A strong leader who has back-to-back seasons exceeding both 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, Brees is already almost a lock for the Hall of Fame. He figures to have at least two or three more strong seasons.
5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (Age 30, 87-39 regular season; 10-4 postseason; 2 Super Bowl Wins) - Does Ben seem older than 30 to you, too? He's not conventional; he just wins. Yes, he has had a very good defense for most of, if not all of, his NFL career, but the man has made play after big play to lead his team to important wins.
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4. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos (Age 36, 154-70 regular season; 9-11 postseason; 1 Super Bowl Win) - Frankly, I have never been one to sing his praises too loudly (perhaps, because everyone else always seemed to be doing so while minimizing some of his worthy colleagues), but if the man is not a unanimous Hall of Famer when his time comes, something is seriously wrong. Peyton still played at a remarkably high level this year, and hopefully, he can still give it at least one more strong year. I am well aware of his postseason trials and failures, and that has to be included in this consideration, and when analyzing where he ranks among the all-time greats.
3. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens (Age 28, 54-26 regular season; 9-4 postseason; 1 Super Bowl Win) - Am I reaching here, when prior to this season he may not have even made my top-10? Well, maybe, but look at the guy's record and how spectacular he was in this postseason. He hasn't yet had a monumental regular season, but he has somehow led his team to the playoffs with at least one postseason victory in each of his five years. And, what tool is he missing? He's big, tough, more elusive than he appears, has a cannon for a right arm and now has great poise under pressure.
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots (Age 35, 136-39 regular season; 17-7 postseason, 3 Super Bowl Wins) - While the quarterback isn't the only factor in a team's record, Brady has played a huge role in the Patriots' great success since he came aboard to lead them. Here's a cool stat. To catch his biggest rival, Peyton Manning's, regular season win-loss record, he needs 18 more wins. And 31 more losses. The guy is a winner, a competitor and about as precise as I've ever seen, with the possible exception of...
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (Age 29, 52-26 regular season; 6-3 postseason; 1 Super Bowl Win) - Thanks to a certain unretiring legend who wore No. 4, Rodgers has only been a starting QB for five seasons. He has packed a lot of highlights in the past half-decade, and for my money is the best all-around quarterback in the game. He has all the throws (and then some), is smart, and still one of the more mobile quarterbacks around, if not quite as fast as Kaepernick or Griffin. Rodgers is the highest rated passer (career) for both the regular season and postseason.
If I were to start a team today, for one season, Rodgers would be my starting quarterback, but such is the depth at this position, that any of the 12 on this list (and possibly, a couple more) would still give me a good chance to win some games.
Of course, that assumes that I would hire the right people to make personnel decisions and coach, while I stayed out of the way.
Matt Goldberg is a diehard all-around sports fan and Philly sports fan, and co-author of the brand new book, A Snowball's Chance: Philly Fires Back Against the National Media.
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