Which Quarterbacks Are Best Equipped for a Turnaround in 2013?

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Which Quarterbacks Are Best Equipped for a Turnaround in 2013?
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are a rare breed of quarterback, the type that can play at a high level regardless of their surroundings.

Other quarterbacks would love to have the skills those two were blessed with, but instead, they'll have to be blessed with a better supporting cast.

With three weeks of free-agency madness in the books, there are plenty of quarterbacks who can now boast an improved array of weapons at their disposal. Several of those quarterbacks are now poised for bigger and better things in 2013.

Here's my short list of those quarterbacks best equipped for a turnaround.

 

Matthew Stafford

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Last year it was the Calvin Johnson show. Megatron was targeted 18 more times than the second-most targeted receiver. He led the league in receptions (122) and receiving yards (1,964), and broke Jerry Rice's single-season record for receiving yards by 116.

How, with Johnson having a historic season, did Stafford manage just a 79.8 passer rating? 

It certainly wasn't the offensive line, which allowed him to be pressured on just 27.1 percent of his dropbacks in 2013 (fifth lowest out of 27 qualifying quarterbacks), and sacked on just 3.8 percent. Losing offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus could be a blow, but if Riley Reiff is ready to move to the left side and/or the Lions target an offensive tackle with one of their draft picks, the group could remain a strength in 2013.

It may have had a little to do with losing Nate Burleson, Mike Thomas and Ryan Broyles to injury over the course of the season. The three missed a combined 23 games, with Burleson—the best of the three—accounting for 10 of those games.

Part of the problem may have also been the running game—or lack thereof.

The Lions led the league in pass attempts last year, in part because they were playing from behind, but also because their running game wasn't all that effective.

Detroit averaged 4.1 yards per carry, which ranked 18th in the NFL. That's right around the league average of 4.26, but if that number gets better, perhaps the Lions can rely less on the passing game. After leading the league two straight years and throwing a combined 1,390 pass attempts, Stafford probably won't mind his arm getting a little rest.

That being said, the Lions are still a piece or two away from fully equipping Stafford for that turnaround. They should be looking at offensive tackles and perhaps a wide receiver on the free-agent market and in the draft. With eight picks to do so, they have plenty of resources to address those needs and others.

 

Christian Ponder

Andy King/Getty Images

The Vikings lost the oft-injured Percy Harvin and picked up the recently-oft-injured Greg Jennings.

Harvin was a versatile utility player, and certainly added an explosive element to the passing game, especially with the ball in his hands. Jennings, when healthy, is the kind of receiver the Vikings haven't had in some time that can win one-on-one on the outside and force a defense to respect the long pass.

A long pass. Imagine that. Christian Ponder threw just 36 of those in all of 2012, and only hit his target on 25 percent of those throws.

In all, Ponder had the fewest pass attempts for any quarterback to start all 16 games in 2012. With Adrian Peterson running wild all over opposing defenses, it's easy to see why.

But given the abundant focus on the running game, shouldn't Ponder have been slightly more efficient than to average 6.1 YPA, the second lowest of any starting quarterback in 2012?

Peterson vs. a nine-man box (hat tip Andrew Garda for the photo)
 

The Vikings often faced eight or nine defenders in the box. Adrian Peterson would still make them look silly; Ponder, not so much.

Peterson and Jennings should help, but they can only do so much. He'll need to get some help from the supporting cast. Kyle Rudolph is a stellar red-zone target, and should continue to build rapport with Ponder, but there are still significant questions at wide receiver.

While Jerome Simpson will never be a top option, he can still be a good complementary wide receiver if he can stay healthy. Jarius Wright had a strong finish to the 2012 season, after being inactive for the first couple of months, and could also improve given a bigger opportunity.

Ponder has to get the ball out quicker, though. He was in the pocket for an average of 2.76 seconds according to ProFootballFocus. That was right around the middle of the pack, but in a West Coast offense the ball has to be out a lot quicker. 

We'll see the final pieces fall in place during the draft, where the Vikings have two first-round picks to use to giving Ponder yet another weapon.

 

Ryan Tannehill

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

With Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson getting the spotlight, Tannehill's rookie season did not stand out from the pack. 

So, in free-agency, the Dolphins made sure they stood out from the pack by making one big splash after another.

Dustin Keller replaces the departing Anthony Fasano with a player who has been a more proven receiving threat in his career. Brandon Gibson provides yet another versatile receiver who can line up outside and in the slot. Retaining Brian Hartline allows Tannehill to continue to build a rapport with his favorite target.

Of course, we haven't gotten to the biggest splash yet.

Mike Wallace is supposed to add a dimension the Dolphins sorely lacked on offense last year, providing a legitimate deep threat to force defenses away from the line of scrimmage. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock described watching the Dolphins' offense as being "like watching an offense playing in the red zone for 100 yards" on WQAM 560-AM in December (via The Palm Beach Post).

In theory, the Dolphins offense should function at a much higher level than it did last year as a result of Wallace's long speed, but there could be a few things that stand in the way.

One particular concern on offense is the tackle position. The team bid farewell to Jake Long, the starting left tackle for the past five years. Although his play had begun to decline, as had his ability to stay healthy, it's fair to be concerned over whether Jonathan Martin can successfully flip to the left side of the line. He played better at left tackle in the final five games of the season than he did at right tackle for the first 11 games. That's not to say he played particularly well on the left side—just better.

Another concern is the running game. What Matthew Stafford gained, Ryan Tannehill lost in the departure of Reggie Bush. The feeling in Miami is that Lamar Miller can be a similar player to Bush, but his workload will be significantly increased after playing just 146 snaps in 2012. Daniel Thomas didn't exactly inspire a great deal of confidence in his abilities as a between-the-tackles runner, but perhaps that changes with good health. Perhaps it doesn't.

One thing is for certain: With an improved set of skill players around Tannehill, the expectation is that he will ascend greatly in 2013. 

 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.comFollow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.

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