2013 NFL Preview: Power Ranking the NFL's 10 Best Quarterbacks
The NFL is a league for quarterbacks, and that's why you need an elite (or at least decent) quarterback to have success.
People try and rank quarterbacks and their value all the time, considering tons of factors, such as accuracy, decision-making, team success, playoff success and other factors. There are some elite, some good, some decent, some mediocre, some poor and some horrible quarterbacks, and all of those guys make up the NFL.
But who are the best of the best? Here are the 10 best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Luck threw 18 interceptions in his rookie season, but received serious Rookie of the Year consideration and took a team deprived of talent to the playoffs. Winning 11 games is hard to do, and throwing for 4,374 yards is also difficult. However, Luck did both things. Luck isn't a top 10 quarterback yet, but he will be soon.
Eli Manning, New York Giants
Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP, but he ranked 14th in passer rating in 2012 while throwing 15 interceptions. Manning has stepped up in the playoffs, but in the regular season, he has struggled. Manning's interception total and passer rating keep him out of the top 10, but he is a great quarterback.
10. Robert Griffin III
Al Bello/Getty Images
While RGIII had a great rookie season, there are still lots of doubters who believe the Redskin quarterback will fail.
In his rookie season, Griffin posted a 102.4 passer rating and was only intercepted five times, placing him among the elite quarterbacks. No quarterback that threw over 265 passes had fewer picks than Griffin. Among qualifying starters, Griffin's passer rating was third in the league.
The Redskins went 10-6 and won the NFC East—a noteworthy feat for a team starting rookies at quarterback and running back. Griffin dominated in 2012 and protected the ball, but he also threw for 20 touchdowns. While the star partially tore his ACL in the playoffs, he should be ready to go for 2013, especially because he is ahead of schedule.
There are doubts about Griffin's health, but I think he can stay healthy and improve significantly in 2013. Griffin will never reach the level of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but he can continue to climb the ranks and succeed.
Next year, Griffin could be higher on this list, if he can recover from his injury. He is a running quarterback with high injury risk, but also a talented quarterback. We'll see how things play out for Griffin in the future, but for now, he is a top-10 quarterback.
9. Ben Roethlisberger
Karl Walter/Getty Images
Ben Roethlisberger is an on-and-off quarterback, but there's no doubt that he has done some great things in Pittsburgh.
Like Eli Manning, Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls, although he has never taken home MVP honors. Roethlisberger has fought injury problems in the past, and he missed some time in 2012. However, Roethlisberger still managed to throw 26 touchdowns and post a 13-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The Steelers missed the playoffs, but if they had made it, they might have done good things.
Why? Because Roethlisberger has a 10-4 playoff record, and because the Steelers did well when Roethlisberger's health cooperated.
When Roethlisberger was out, the Steelers struggled. Pittsburgh beat Kansas City, which finished 2-14, by three in overtime (Roethlisberger got hurt in the third quarter). Pittsburgh managed a mere 10 points in a loss to Baltimore and 14 in a loss to the Browns, before somehow defeating the Ravens 23-20.
Roethlisberger's absence tore the Steelers apart, proving how valuable the man known as "Big Ben" is to the Steelers. While Big Ben isn't in the elite class of quarterbacks, he is a mobile quarterback who keeps plays alive and throws touchdowns. Roethlisberger posted a 97.0 passer rating, seventh in the NFL.
While former Steeler wide receiver Hines Ward acknowledged that the Steelers are in a tough position, they have a franchise quarterback. Roethlisberger is definitely a top-10 quarterback, and while there are better quarterbacks, Roethlisberger can do a little bit of everything.
And, in addition, he can do a lot of good quarterbacking.
8. Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl, but he has had an up-and-down career and isn't worthy of being a top-five quarterback.
Flacco threw 11 touchdowns and avoided an interception in four playoff games, but the Ravens got some breaks that propelled them all the way. However, Flacco is sure to receive the big bucks for his playoff performance, and he is also sure to warrant national attention.
Still, I believe that there are better quarterbacks than Flacco. Flacco completed less than 60 percent of his passes in 2012 and has struggled with accuracy, as his main tool is his strong arm and ability to go deep. He uses that well, but a strong arm is never enough.
A 9-4 playoff record (which Flacco has) is incredible, and so is the fact that Flacco has won a playoff games in each of his five years. He is a big-game quarterback, but there are better, more consistent quarterbacks. The Ravens lost once and almost lost again to the Steelers this year, and Roethlisberger missed both of those games. Baltimore also beat the Chiefs and Chargers by three points each, while losing to the Eagles.
Flacco deserves the heat for that inconsistency, and he still has things to prove. While I believe he is a great playoff quarterback and the Ravens franchise quarterback, he is being overrated by some due to his playoff performance. Flacco isn't as good as his playoff performance might suggest, because he got breaks. Jacoby Jones' game-tying Hail Mary catch should have been intercepted, and that would have stripped Flacco of one of his seven postseason touchdowns.
And if that pass was intercepted, Flacco would be back here in all quarterback rankings, where he belongs.
7. Colin Kaepernick
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Some may say that Colin Kaepernick doesn't have enough experience or talent to be here on this list, but that didn't seem to be the case in the playoffs.
Kaepernick shredded the Green Bay Packers and had his way with the Falcons and Ravens, going 2-1 in the playoffs and winning seven of his 10 starts in 2012. Kaepernick took over and took off in the second half of the season, and he has proved all of his doubters wrong.
While the pistol attack helped fuel Kaepernick's success, there's no doubt that the prodigy can throw the ball. Kaepernick averaged 9.98 yards per passing attempt in the playoffs, and he averaged 8.32 in the regular season, which was more than all qualifying starters.
Kaepernick was intercepted five times (including the playoffs), even though he threw the ball 80 more times than Alex Smith.
Expect lots of improvement from Kaepernick once he has a full offseason under his belt. It's incredibly impressive to be thrown into the fire, win seven games and take a team to the Super Bowl, especially considering the 49ers had to beat the Bears, the Saints, the Patriots, the Dolphins, the Packers and the Falcons, all of which will contend in 2013.
Flacco got the best of Kaepernick in the Super Bowl, but I would rather have Kaepernick on my team. Linebackers are confused, because if they stay back Kaepernick will run, but if they protect the run, Kaepernick will find one-on-one coverage on semi-deep routes over the middle. He knows how to use his talent, and he knows how to be a good quarterback.
Which is why only one other young quarterback is better than he is.
6. Matt Ryan
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
While the Atlanta Falcons fell short of their ultimate goal, Matt Ryan came up big and performed very well for the Falcons in 2012.
Atlanta finished 13-3, largely due to the success of their quarterback. Ryan threw 32 touchdowns, and while he was intercepted 14 times, five came in one terrible game, in which the Falcons won. Ryan threw six playoff touchdowns, and he carved up a stellar 49ers defense for 396 passing yards in the NFC Championship.
Ryan appears to have shredded his label of being unable to perform in the postseason, and while the Falcons failed to win it all, they had a great year and Ryan put them in a position to succeed. Ryan's passer rating was fifth in the NFL at 99.1, and he tied Peyton Manning for the league's best completion percentage by completing 68.6 percent of his passes.
We're going to see Ryan and the Falcons in the playoffs a lot in the future, as he is a great quarterback and leader. Ryan has five years under his belt, and he is in his prime right now. Ryan will be better and likely cut down on his interceptions in 2013 while taking the Falcons even farther.
Ryan isn't the best quarterback in the NFL, but he has big-play ability, is very accurate and will make any defense pay for a mistake. He can perform on a big stage, and he deserves credit for his success.
And that's why only five quarterbacks are better than Ryan.
5. Russell Wilson
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
It may be controversial to put Wilson in the top five, but because of how good he was in 2012, I'm going to put him in here. Wilson could definitely take on the best quarterbacks in the game and beat them, and I'm sure he will turn even more heads in 2013.
In 2012, Wilson was picked in the third round of the NFL Draft, and while he wasn't expected to do much, Wilson stepped up big-time for the Seahawks.
Seattle went 11-5 and beat Griffin's Redskins in the Wild Card round before losing to the Falcons in the Divisional Round, a game in which Wilson threw for almost 400 yards and posted a 109.1 passer rating.
Wilson showed tremendous poise, accuracy and an exceptional ability to keep plays alive on the run. That ability is rare in the NFL, and it's safe to say that Wilson will be around for a long time because of his talent. The star quarterback was intercepted 10 times, but he tied a rookie record with 26 passing touchdowns.
It's extremely rare to see a third-round pick perform so well in his rookie season, and it's rare to see a complete player with as much talent as Wilson has. Wilson posted an 100 passer rating, which was fourth-best in the NFL and better than the passer rating of Tom Brady. Wilson also ran for 489 yards and four touchdowns while making tons of great throws on the run.
As you can see by some of the plays Wilson makes in this video, he can break tackles, throw outside of the pocket, go deep, and do everything a quarterback needs to do. He isn't the biggest guy in the NFL, but Wilson is certainly one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Seattle has a very bright future, largely because of Wilson. He can do everything well, and he can take the Seahawks far. In the playoffs, Wilson shined bright, and he's bound to do a lot more in the future.
Which may include a Super Bowl ring for the Seahawks.
4. Drew Brees
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
While the Saints went 7-9 in 2012 and Brees threw 19 interceptions, the fact remains that the Super Bowl XLIV MVP is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Brees set a record for passing yards in 2011, and then threw 43 touchdowns in 2012. He has lots of big-play ability, and can change a game on any play. Brees lights up the scoreboard, as you can see from his stats. Brees was the only quarterback to break 5,000 yards in 2012, throwing for 5,117.
Despite throwing lots of interceptions in 2012, Brees posted a 96.3 passer rating, eighth in the league. He has accomplished a lot in his career, and he set an NFL record with 54 consecutive games with a touchdown pass.
New Orleans had one of the worst defenses in NFL history in 2012, ranking last in total defense. That contributed to the failure of the Saints, because the Saints finished second in total offense. The passing offense ranked first in the NFL, as Brees averaged 324 passing yards per game.
Brees is the leader of this fierce aerial attack, and he is ready to take the Saints very far. New Orleans has dropped 31 or more points in its last five playoff games, including Super Bowl 44 and the 2010 NFC Championship Game. Brees is a proven leader and an exceptional postseason quarterback, as he has thrown 20 touchdowns and three interceptions and a 4-3 playoff record.
The Saints will be much better in 2013, and Brees' numbers will also be better. He's going to keep shattering records and defying the odds, and while he does that, he's going to keep climbing the all-time quarterback ranks.
3. Tom Brady
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Brady has had a long, successful career, and while he is past his prime, he is still a dominant quarterback.
Despite missing out on the top five in passer rating, Brady continued to torch opposing defenses and set records. Brady threw 34 touchdowns and was intercepted just eight times, and he threw for 4,827 yards in 2012. Only three quarterbacks threw for more yards, and Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford, two of those three quarterbacks, are clearly worse than Brady. The other is Brees.
Brady has won more playoff games than any other quarterback (17), has played in more playoff games than any other quarterback (24), and has won more playoff games than any other quarterback with the same head coach (17). He won his 17th this year, beating the Houston Texans 41-28 with another stellar performance.
As I mentioned, Brady is past his prime. However, he has done some remarkable things and continues to do some remarkable things. Brady is one of the NFL's smartest players, and he continues to frustrate opposing defenses while winning games (New England went 12-4 in 2012).
There are quarterbacks who put up better stats than Brady, but there are few who are better. Brady is at least the second-smartest quarterback in the NFL, and he should always be mentioned in a conversation of elite quarterbacks.
However, he should not be placed higher than third in a conversation about elite quarterbacks.
2. Aaron Rodgers
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Like Brees, Rodgers is also a former Super Bowl MVP. And like Brees, Rodgers is also an exceptional quarterback.
The MVP of Super Bowl XLV and the 2011 NFL MVP led the league with a stunning 108 passer rating while taking the Packers to an 11-5 season. Green Bay lost in the second round of the playoffs, but they thrashed the Minnesota Vikings in the first round.
Rodgers had another great year, even though he was sacked 51 times. The Packers have arguably the worst offensive line in the league, but Rodgers dealt with it, threw 39 touchdowns and was only intercepted eight times (once every two games).
Green Bay is 1-2 in its last three playoff games, but Rodgers owns a career 5-3 playoff record. Those losses have come at the hands of the 49ers, the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Giants.
Against the Cardinals, however, Rodgers and the Packers scored 45 points. Rodgers has thrown 19 touchdowns and five interceptions in his playoff career, while posting passer ratings of 121.4 and 109.8 in his first two playoff years.
There aren't many quarterbacks better at throwing on the run, and there aren't many quarterbacks that possess the pinpoint accuracy Rodgers has. He is a rare talent and a great player, one who has taken the Packers far and will continue to take them far.
And if he keeps playing like he has been, Rodgers could even add some more MVP awards to his resume.
1. Peyton Manning
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
There are no quarterbacks as smart and accurate as Peyton Manning.
Manning has reached a lot of milestones in his career, including winning Super Bowl MVP and winning four NFL MVP awards. Manning was tied with Ryan in completion percentage, completing 68.6 percent of his passes. In addition, Manning threw 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while finishing second in MVP voting.
Rodgers had a better passer rating, but a 105.8 passer rating (which placed Manning second in the league) is nothing to be ashamed of. Manning also averaged about eight yards per passing attempt, second among qualifying starters and much better than the marks of Rodgers and Brady.
Denver went 13-3 in 2012, largely due to Manning. Manning threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns in Denver's playoff loss to the Ravens, but an interception due to a missed pass interference call and another one in overtime cost Denver. However, it's worth noting the game shouldn't have gone to overtime. Jacoby Jones miraculously caught a 70-yard touchdown pass in the closing seconds, which cost Denver a win.
Manning did his job for the Broncos, but the team struggled to support him in the playoffs. During the regular season, however, Manning and his receivers developed incredible chemistry, and Manning was a great guy to have in the Denver locker room. His intelligence also played a huge part in Denver's success, as he confused defenses and made them pay. Whenever a guy was open, Manning would throw the ball and throw it perfectly.
You will be hard-pressed to find a more accurate quarterback, because there are none. Why? Because of throws like this. Manning will put the ball in a window as big as the ball, because he's incredibly accurate. All of these things make Manning the best quarterback in the league, even though he is nearing the end of his career. Manning has a lot in him, and he proved that in 2012.
And if he keeps up this level of play, Manning will take the Broncos to the promised land.