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The 10 Most Improved NFL Quarterbacks

Nick KostoraContributor IIIFebruary 11, 2013

The 10 Most Improved NFL Quarterbacks

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    The 2012 season marked a giant leap forward for many NFL quarterbacks.

    While some were content to flounder in mediocrity or settle for being average, others elevated their respective games to new heights.

    Colin Kaepernick jumped off the bench in San Francisco to make a run at the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning earned Comeback Player of the Year honors and Chad Henne found a way to become relevant again.

    Last year, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller revealed the B/R 1,000, ranking the 1,000 best players in the NFL. Part of those rankings included the top 50 quarterbacks that the league had to offer in the 2011 season.

    Let's see which quarterbacks improved the most this season, per the newest iteration of the B/R 1,000. Keep in mind, rookies will not be included in this list (sorry, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III).

10. Ryan Mallett, New England Patriots

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    Last Year's Ranking: T-39

    This Year's Ranking: 35

     

    Ryan Mallett is learning the pro game from one of the best quarterbacks ever in Tom Brady, so while his progression may not be readily available during the season, rest assured that it is occurring.

    Mallett was one of the rawest prospects in last year's draft class, but the main reason he fell to the third round was character concerns.

    He has had no issues since joining the New England Patriots, and he undoubtedly possesses one of the strongest arms of any backup quarterback in the league.

    He is a pure pocket passer in every definition of the phrase, but that fits with what New England wants out of its offense. Mallett is accurate at all levels of the field and has tremendous awareness in the pocket.

    He will make some untimely mistakes, but Mallett is still young and watching Brady every week. Look for him to excel once he is given a true chance to shine.

9. T.J. Yates, Houston Texans

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    Last Year's Ranking: N/A

    This Year's Ranking: 41

     

    T.J. Yates just missed last year's top 50, but he's firmly entrenched in the 2013 edition.

    Yates threw only 10 passes this past season but has proven that he can compete at the NFL level.

    He has underrated mobility, both inside and outside the pocket. However, Yates' best attribute has to be his accuracy, especially on short-to-intermediate throws. He can hit receivers in stride and throws an extremely catchable ball.

    Yates may have to wait a while to get another shot at a starting job, but 2011 proved that he is comfortable in the pocket and will make smart decisions when given the chance.

    It is good to see him make the list, and he should remain a mainstay for the foreseeable future.

8. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

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    Last Year's Ranking: 15

    This Year's Ranking: 6

     

    It was inevitable for Joe Flacco to make a monumental climb up the quarterback rankings after leading the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl victory.

    Yes, he did lead Baltimore to that win. Flacco secured his place among the game's best by throwing 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the postseason.

    He possesses one of the strongest arms in football, makes good decisions late in games and is becoming lethal at downfield efficiency.

    Flacco is somewhat unique in the sense that he is at his most accurate when asked to throw the ball deep to his playmakers on the outside. His relationship with Torrey Smith should continue to grow, and it is not crazy to envision him cracking the top five of this list next season.

7. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

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    Last Year's Ranking: 12

    This Year's Ranking: 3

     

    2012 was less an improvement for Peyton Manning than a return to the form that we have all come to know and expect.

    There were definite question marks surrounding Manning's ability to come back after an entire season away from the field and still play at an elite level, but in true Manning fashion he exceeded expectations.

    His 37 touchdown passes were the most he has thrown since 2004, and his 11 interceptions were his fewest since 2006.

    Manning did not miss a beat in the pocket and was as adept at reading and dissecting defenses as ever. It did take him a couple of weeks to truly get back in his normal groove (early losses to the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans were clear missteps,) but by midseason he was back at the top of his game.

    Manning may be 36 years old, but he is not likely to move down these rankings any time soon.

6. Drew Stanton, Indianapolis Colts

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    Last Year's Ranking: N/A

    This Year's Ranking: 40

     

    Drew Stanton has never had much of a chance to prove himself at the NFL level. He was a great collegiate quarterback at Michigan State but had the misfortune of being drafted by the Matt Millen regime in Detroit and was quickly passed over for Matthew Stafford. 

    Still, Stanton may be one of the best-kept backup secrets in the league. He has great mobility, good arm strength and excellent accuracy on intermediate throws.

    This past offseason, he looked to finally have a chance to compete for a starting position with the New York Jets but was instead cast aside in favor of the Tim Tebow circus.

    He has now settled into a role as Andrew Luck's backup with the Indianapolis Colts. Stanton looks destined to remain on the sidelines but is more than capable of succeeding should he ever get a real shot at a starting job.

5. Chase Daniel, New Orleans Saints

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    Last Year's Ranking: N/A

    This Year's Ranking: 39

     

    Welcome to the B/R 1,000, Chase Daniel.

    This ranking may surprise some people, as Daniel just doesn't look like an NFL quarterback. He is undersized at 6'0", 225 pounds, and he has one of the weakest arms in the league.

    Fortunately for Daniel, his skill outweighs his physical shortcomings. He makes smart decisions with the football, knows when to tuck the ball and take off for positive yardage and is accurate on short-to-intermediate passes.

    Dating back to his collegiate years at Missouri, Daniel has always excelled within a wide-open offense that spreads out multiple receivers and forces defenses to cover the entire field.

    If he was not in New Orleans, Daniel might become a lackluster backup option, but he is a perfect fit for the Saints, and his ranking reflects that.

4. Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals

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    Last Year's Ranking: 35

    This Year's Ranking: 23

     

    Kevin Kolb had a dismal showing in 2012, but in fairness, who could have excelled behind Arizona's offensive line?

    Kolb (and every other Cardinals quarterback that took a snap) was constantly rushed to throw, had little time to go through his progressions and was often forced to move the pocket in ways he is not adept at doing.

    This is not to excuse Kolb from all blame, but there is still a talented signal-caller inside of him. His completion percentage actually increased from 57.7 in 2011 to 59.6 in 2012, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio was substantially better.

    Arizona has a weak offensive line and a rushing attack that averaged just 75 yards per game this past season. It would be tough for any signal-caller to excel under those conditions.

    Kolb still has much to prove. However, he has good mechanics, a strong arm and decent accuracy on mid-level and deep throws.

    His improved ranking is unquestionably a reflection of the ability he was not given a chance to showcase in 2012.

3. Shaun Hill, Detroit Lions

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    Last Year's Ranking: N/A

    This Year's Ranking: 36

     

    Is there a safer backup option in the NFL than Shaun Hill?

    The Detroit Lions quarterback stepped up in a big way when he needed to this year, delivering a Hail Mary touchdown pass against the Tennessee Titans that sent the game into overtime.

    Hill is smart, reliable and rarely makes head-scratching throws indicative of a backup.

    The problem for Hill is that he does not have any superb physical attributes. He possesses an average arm with a clunky delivery and limited mobility. 

    Still, he usually finds a way to get the job done when called upon and deserves to be recognized on this list. He will never be the most exciting player under center, but Hill is consistent.

    And sometimes consistency is the most important thing you can ask of a quarterback. 

2. Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Last Year's Ranking: 45

    This Year's Ranking: 30

     

    Chad Henne flashed moments of brilliance this year for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and those moments helped to overshadow the mistakes that have plagued him his entire career.

    Henne has a big, strong arm and can make almost any throw that is asked of him. He was put into a tough spot this season, as he was asked to come in midseason and revive a nonexistent passing game in Jacksonville.

    He made the most of a bad situation. Henne's budding relationship with wide receiver Justin Blackmon was a clear highlight.

    He may never be a great quarterback (his below-average accuracy and poor decision making won't allow it), but Henne can play well in spurts and is undoubtedly a step up from Blaine Gabbert.

    It will be interesting to see if there is any improvement should Henne get another year as the leading man with the Jaguars.

1. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

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    Last Year's Ranking: 43

    This Year's Ranking: 12

     

    Could anyone else possibly occupy the top spot on this list?

    Whether or not Colin Kaepernick's skills actually improved a ton from 2011 is debatable, but the fact of the matter is that he excelled tremendously once given the keys in San Francisco.

    No stage was too bright for Kaepernick as he led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance. He is great at extending plays with his feet, an ability that includes moving the pocket, tucking and running upfield and executing the read-option attack.

    The sky is obviously the limit for Kaepernick, as his body of work remains relatively small, but there is little not to love about his skill set.

    With one of the strongest arms in the league, great deep-ball accuracy and an ever-evolving game, look for Kaepernick to be a fast riser in these rankings over the next few years.

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