Where does Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco rank after his Super Bowl victory and lucrative contract extension? Read on to find out.
The National Football League is a quarterback-driven league. While the offensive supporting cast, defense and even special teams may be just as important to an NFL team's success, strong quarterback play is typically a staple of Super Bowl champions and contenders.
Quarterbacks are always in the spotlight, even in the offseason. Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Tony Romo have all made headlines this offseason for signing massive contract extensions. So have the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles, who are all carrying two-way starting quarterback competitions into their respective training camps.
Some quarterbacks have continued their way up the league's quarterback hierarchy, while other quarterbacks are just trying to prove themselves as viable starters for their team in 2013 and beyond.
In the following slides, we'll take a brief look at each team's starting quarterback situation, counting down from No. 32 to No. 1 in the fashion of Ron Jaworski's annual quarterback countdown featured on ESPN.
Teams with open quarterback competitions are listed only once with multiple quarterbacks discussed.
The New York Jets hopefully have a promising future at the quarterback position, but they have arguably the NFL's worst quarterback situation heading into training camp.
Mark Sanchez was one of the NFL's worst starting quarterbacks last season, completing just 54.3 percent of his passes and finishing the season with a 13-to-18 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Even so, he may end up being the Jets' starter again in 2013.
The Jets selected West Virginia's Geno Smith in the second round of the 2013 draft to be their franchise quarterback of the future, but he may not be ready to take over the offense as a rookie. Jets quarterback coach David Lee told the Newark Star-Ledger earlier this month that Smith has been "struggling with the basic things" in his transition to the NFL.
The quarterback competition will continue into training camp, but neither quarterback looks like a strong option for 2013.
Smith has the skill set to be an excellent NFL quarterback, but has to become acclimated to the Jets' West Coast offense and improve upon his footwork and mechanics, especially under pressure. Meanwhile, Sanchez has had four NFL seasons to prove himself as a starting quarterback, and he hasn't made any significant progress.
On the other side of New York, the Buffalo Bills are in a similar situation as their AFC East counterparts.
The Bills drafted EJ Manuel with the No. 16 overall pick to be their franchise quarterback of the future, but the rookie quarterback is a project with significant development ahead of him. Manuel's arm strength and athleticism give him huge upside, but he needs to improve upon his downfield accuracy and decision-making under pressure.
Veteran free-agent addition Kevin Kolb has solid tools himself, but he failed to prove himself as a viable long-term starter in two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. Kolb has battled both injuries and inconsistent play, and is, at best, a stopgap option in Buffalo should Manuel not be ready to play in 2013.
Bills head coach Doug Marrone recently called the team's quarterback competition a "dead heat" on The John Murphy Show, so the battle is expected to continue well into training camp. Recent trends fall in favor of Manuel, as 10 of the last 15 quarterbacks drafted in the first round have been Week 1 starters for their teams, but the Bills could lean on Kolb's experience (21 career starts) if Manuel is not ready.
Whether the Bills opt to start their unproven rookie or their unspectacular veteran, the Bills are likely to have more than their fair share of struggles from the quarterback position this season.
Blaine Gabbert hasn't come close to living up to expectations as a top-10 pick in the 2011 NFL draft. He will have to display significant improvement in his third NFL season, or his time as a starting quarterback will almost certainly be up before the 2014 season.
Following an abysmal rookie year in which he completed just 50.8 percent of his passes for 5.4 yards per attempt, Gabbert was making strides in his sophomore season before suffering a labral tear in his shoulder. That said, he hasn't proven himself to be the quarterback the Jacksonville Jaguars need to climb from their current status as NFL cellar-dwellers.
Gabbert doesn't have a rocket arm or great athleticism, but he does have enough pocket-passing skill to be a decent NFL starter if he can put it all together in his third season.
That said, Gabbert must first prove himself in training camp. The Jaguars have a new head coach (Gus Bradley) and offensive coordinator (Jedd Fisch), and they have not yet named Gabbert their starting quarterback. Chad Henne, who started the final six games of the Jaguars' season last year, is competing with Gabbert for the starting job.
Gabbert is ultimately expected to be the team's starting quarterback, but poor performance early this season could quickly send him to the bench.
Like Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker was a top-10 pick in the 2011 draft, and he has yet to live up to expectations entering his third NFL season. His hold on the Tennessee Titans' starting quarterback job should be secure for 2013, but he will have to make significant strides to remain the starter beyond this season.
In his first full season as a starter last year, shoulder injuries limited Locker to 11 games. But he wasn't very impressive even when he was on the field, completing just 56.4 percent of his passes while throwing more interceptions (11) than touchdowns.
Locker has the athleticism and arm strength to be a terrific quarterback, but he continues to struggle with his accuracy. He also has to prove that he can stay healthy and provide stability to the Titans offense.
If he cannot become a more precise passer in 2013, the Titans should be looking in a new direction at quarterback for 2014.
Less than two years after trading first- and second-round picks to acquire him from the Cincinnati Bengals, the Oakland Raiders traded Carson Palmer this offseason to the Arizona Cardinals.
Palmer may be an upgrade over Kolb and John Skelton, but that isn't saying much. The play of the former No. 1 overall pick has fallen off significantly since he missed 12 games in 2008 with an elbow injury. At 33, he is nothing more than a temporary starting option at this point in his career.
Palmer's passing statistics were not awful last season (61.1 completion percentage, 4,018 passing yards, 22-14 TD-INT ratio), but they did not translate to success for the Oakland Raiders. He doesn't have the arm strength he once had, and he made a good number of poor throws and decisions in important moments last season.
For the 2013 season, however, Palmer is the Cardinals' only legitimate starting option. Drew Stanton is a decent backup, but he is a career backup who has been unimpressive in very limited action over his first five NFL seasons.
Matt Flynn has never been a full-time NFL starting quarterback, and lost what was expected to be his first opportunity last season to Seattle Seahawks rookie phenom Russell Wilson. Flynn is expected to get another shot to start this season, however, after being traded to the Oakland Raiders.
Flynn could prove to be an upgrade over Carson Palmer. He only has two career starts in five NFL seasons, but was impressive in those starts, completing 67.9 percent of his passes for 731 yards and nine touchdowns.
Performing well in spot-start duty for the Green Bay Packers, however, is not nearly as the difficult as the task ahead of him. Flynn will take over one of the NFL's least talented offenses.
Flynn has a weak arm by NFL starting quarterback standards, and he could be at risk of losing his starting job again if he fails to outperform rookie Tyler Wilson or athletically-gifted third-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor in training camp.
Although Raiders head coach Dennis Allen told Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times that Flynn is the team's starting quarterback, he added that "competition could dictate otherwise."
Nonetheless, the starting quarterback job is certainly Flynn's to lose. If he can perform as well as he has in brief NFL playing time, he definitely could be an upgrade over Carson Palmer.
The good news for Brandon Weeden is that his starting job with the Cleveland Browns appears to be secure heading into his second NFL season.
Though some believed the team's signings of Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer would threaten his hold on the job, Weeden received exclusive work with the first-team offense in offseason workouts according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Weeden won't keep the job for long, however, if he does not play significantly better than he did as a rookie.
Weeden was one of the NFL's worst quarterbacks in 2012. He completed only 57.4 percent of his passes and threw 17 interceptions with only 14 touchdown passes.
The Browns will hope that a full offseason of work with new head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner can develop Weeden into the dependable starter he was not as a rookie.
He has a good arm and proved his downfield passing ability at Oklahoma State, but he is already 29 years old. If he struggles early in 2013, the Browns could decide to move on quickly at the quarterback position.
Christian Ponder's play improved enough in 2012 for the Minnesota Vikings to make the playoffs. But on an offense indisputably led by the play of running back Adrian Peterson, Ponder was mostly a game manager and not much of a downfield playmaker.
The Vikings will be expecting more from their 2011 No. 12 overall pick in his third season. Ponder is another quarterback at risk of losing his job by 2014 if he does not show significant improvement in 2013.
Ponder only attempted 36 passes of 20 or more yards last season, and completed just eight of those attempts, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). With an improved receiving corps in 2013 that includes Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, Ponder will have no excuses if he fails to improve his ability to make plays downfield.
No matter how well Adrian Peterson runs the ball, the Vikings' offensive potential will be limited as long as Ponder's throwing range remains limited.
Going into training camp with an undetermined quarterback competition is never a comfortable scenario, but there is reason to be optimistic about the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback situation. While neither Michael Vick nor Nick Foles has done enough to establish himself as the starter for 2013, both have the potential to thrive in new head coach Chip Kelly's offense.
Vick's play has steadily declined over the course of three seasons as the Eagles' starting quarterback. His athleticism, dual-threat running ability and powerful arm give him big upside in Kelly's offense, but his proneness to mistakes remains a problem.
Vick was benched last season in favor of Foles, who is entering his second NFL season. Foles lacks the dual-threat athleticism of a prototypical Kelly quarterback, but he is a quick, accurate passer who may have more success managing Kelly's up-tempo offense.
Spring workouts did not spotlight a clear favorite in the quarterback competition, as Vick and Foles split first-team repetitions in OTAs and minicamp. Jordan Raanan of NJ.com was one of numerous media members, however, who felt Foles was the "better of the two quarterbacks" in those workouts.
Foles showed promising upside last season, completing 60.6 percent of his passes for 1,699 yards in seven games played (six starts). Vick has had an up-and-down NFL career, but is a dynamic playmaker when he is at his best. Whichever quarterback wins the competition will likely have proven that he is capable of leading the Philadelphia Eagles to significant improvement in 2013.
After his second NFL season and first full season as a starting quarterback, Josh Freeman looked like a budding star at the quarterback position. He has not played nearly as well over the past two seasons, however, and may no longer be a starting quarterback in 2014 if he continues to struggle this season.
In 2010, Freeman completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 3,451 yards and 25 touchdowns, with only six interceptions. For the past two seasons, however, he completed an average of just 58.8 percent of his passes with a total touchdown-to-interception ratio of just 43-to-39.
His regression rather than progression is concerning, and needs to turn back the other way for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team hoping to become serious contenders in 2013. The Buccaneers have the talent to do so, but need Freeman to return to playing at the level he did in 2010 (or progress to playing even better).
If Freeman does not do so, 2013 will likely be his final season in Tampa Bay. Freeman's contract is set to expire at the end of the season, and the Buccaneers drafted Mike Glennon in the third round of this year's draft as a potential replacement.
Freeman still has the physical tools to be an outstanding NFL quarterback, but he has to show them more consistently. If he does not perform up to his ability this season, the Buccaneers will likely move on without him, and he could find himself fighting to remain an NFL starting quarterback in 2014.
Ryan Tannehill didn't become an immediate star like some of the other quarterbacks in the 2012 rookie class, but he showed significant potential amidst growing pains. The Dolphins should be optimistic that Tannehill will make serious strides and be a good, if not great, starting quarterback in 2013.
Tannehill is a physically-gifted quarterback who can sling the football between tight windows and throw accurately on the run. He has already shown that he can make defenses pay with big throws downfield, and could quickly develop into one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks if his accuracy and decision-making continue to improve.
The pressure will be on Tannehill, who completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 3,294 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, to step up his game in 2013. Coming off of a very active offseason, the Dolphins are positioning themselves to make a run at playoff contention this season.
Tannehill's development as a second-year quarterback will be a major factor in whether the Dolphins become legitimate contenders this season, or continue to be an also-ran in the AFC East and AFC playoff competition.
Philip Rivers was once considered by some to be among the NFL's elite quarterbacks, but after two disappointing seasons for he and the San Diego Chargers alike, he is now viewed as a fledgling starter.
Rivers has still been putting up big numbers in passing yards and touchdowns, but his completion percentages have gone down while his interception totals have gone up.
And while his personal passing production has not always been consistent with team success in his nine NFL seasons, the Chargers have finished the past three consecutive seasons with worse records than the previous year. Rivers has led the Chargers to only two fourth-quarter comeback victories in those three seasons, according to Pro Football Reference.
If the Chargers are going to turn the negative trend around and become contenders again in 2013, they need Rivers to return to his 2008-10 form, where he completed more than 65 percent of his passes, threw for more than 4,000 yards and threw 13 or less interceptions each year.
If he does not improve, the 2013 season will likely be his last as a San Diego Charger. Rivers is owed $15 million in 2014, but only $1.2 million of that is guaranteed money. Rivers hasn't been playing like a top-tier NFL quarterback, and if he doesn't in 2013, the Chargers will have little reason to continue paying him like one.
While Sam Bradford's third season was his best thus far of his NFL career, he has yet to live up to his billing after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. Bradford is a decent starting quarterback, but the Rams need him to step up his game in 2013 within a challenging NFC West division.
Bradford threw for career highs with 3,702 passing yards and 23 touchdowns last season, and displayed the ability to make big plays with the game on the line. He has the arm strength to make the tough throws downfield, and the athleticism to extend plays under pressure.
In Bradford's defense, he has had to deal with subpar groups of wide receivers and shaky offensive lines throughout his three seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Those excuses will be gone in 2013, however, after the team made key additions this offseason including first-round pick wide receiver Tavon Austin and veteran free-agent left tackle Jake Long.
The Rams will have a tough time working their way up in a division that includes the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, but they need Bradford to play up to his potential to have a chance.
The Kansas City Chiefs needed a quarterback and held the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, but decided to turn away from a weak quarterback draft class to find their new franchise quarterback. Instead, the Chiefs traded draft picks to the San Francisco 49ers for Alex Smith.
While many Chiefs fans were unhappy with the move to acquire Smith, they acquired a very solid starting quarterback in the process. Smith made major progression working with 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh over the past two seasons, and actually led the NFL in passer rating last season before suffering a concussion versus the St. Louis Rams in Week 10.
Smith is a very capable starter who lost his job in San Francisco only because of the emergence of Colin Kaepernick in Smith's absence. He has developed into an accurate, efficient quarterback who should continue to be successful in new Chiefs head coach Andy Reid's offense.
The taboo against Smith comes with the label that he is a game manager rather than a game-changer. While this is true to an extent, as he is not a big-play passer with outstanding physical tools, he does have the pocket-passing ability and leadership skills needed to bring the Chiefs back to playoff contention.
Andy Dalton became an immediate starter in his rookie season, and has been a stabilizing force for the Bengals' offense in his first two NFL seasons. At the very least, he has proven to be a steady starting quarterback who can take advantage of a diverse group of passing weapons led by superstar wide receiver A.J. Green.
Dalton has led the Bengals to postseason appearances in each of his first two NFL seasons. That said, the Bengals have been bounced in the first round of the playoffs both years, in large part due to poor play from Dalton in those games.
The Bengals have played road games against the Houston Texans in consecutive playoff appearances. As a rookie, Dalton threw three interceptions in a 21-point loss. Last season, the Bengals only lost by 6, but Dalton completed just 46.7 percent of his passes for 127 yards.
With a talented team around him, Dalton is more than capable of leading the Bengals back to a third straight playoff appearance. His ability to continue to improve, however, will play a large in whether the Bengals can win games in the postseason this year.
Matt Schaub has been a very reliable leader for the Houston Texans' offense over the past six seasons. He is an accurate passer who rarely makes costly mistakes, and he has helped turn the Texans into one of the AFC's top contenders.
That said, Schaub is a cut below the league's top-tier quarterbacks, and he always will be at this point in his career. While he is an efficient quarterback who can lead a talented Houston Texans offense to success, he lacks elite playmaking ability.
This has raised doubts about Schaub's ability, however, that keeps him in the bottom half of the league's quarterback power rankings. While Schaub has done enough to lead the Texans to back-to-back playoff appearances, is he a good enough quarterback to lead them to a Super Bowl championship?
He struggled in the team's loss to the New England Patriots in last year's AFC Divisional Playoffs. Going into the 2013 season, Schaub has to move on from negative momentum at the end of the 2012 season, which included throwing just three touchdowns and five interceptions in his final six games of the year (playoffs included).
Jay Cutler has become an easy quarterback to criticize over the past four years with the Chicago Bears. He has not played a full 16-game season since 2009 and has had continued accuracy troubles.
The changes that have been made around Cutler this offseason, however, could finally put him in position to play up to his potential in Chicago.
One of the primary reasons for Cutler's struggles and injuries in recent years has been the patchwork offensive line that he has been forced to play behind. The Bears made a significant effort to rebuild their offensive line this offseason, signing veterans Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson to upgrade the left side of the line while drafting rookie right guard/tackle Kyle Long with their first-round pick.
Secondly, Cutler could benefit from the addition of new head coach Marc Trestman, an offensive guru who should create a more pass-friendly offensive system in Chicago.
The pressure is on Cutler to perform this season, as he is entering the final year of his contract and should be lacking excuses for subpar play. That said, the additions around him plus the motivation of a contract year could lead the cannon-armed quarterback to a career year for the Bears.
Cutler was also the subject of one of the offseason's most memorable quotes, when former Bears wide receiver David Terrell told Riley Blevins of the Chicago Tribune's RedEye that he would have "been neutered with a smile" for the opportunity to play with the Bears' current quarterback.
After playing just 13 games in his first two NFL seasons due to injuries, Matt Stafford showed how good he could be when he stayed healthy for the entire 2011 season. He was one of the NFL's best passers in 2011, completing 63.5 percent of his passes for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns, and led the Detroit Lions to their first playoff berth since 1999.
In 2012, however, Stafford took a step back. While he played a full 16-game schedule, and still threw for 4,967 yards, his accuracy dropped off and he was only able to lead the Lions to four wins for the season.
Some positives have remained constant for Stafford over the past two seasons. He has one of the NFL's strongest arms. He has established an outstanding connection with superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson. As long as he can continue to stay healthy, he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
That said, the Lions will be hoping Stafford's 2013 season is much closer to his 2011 than his 2012 in terms of both personal passing efficiency and team success. If he does that, he could be considered a top-10 NFL quarterback by the end of the season.
With more than 4,600 yards of total offense in each of his first two NFL seasons, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has proved himself as one of the league's top dual-threat quarterbacks. He is one of the league's most dangerous playmakers, with his ability to beat defenses as both a strong-armed passer and a big, athletic runner.
That said, Newton did not make significant progress between his rookie and sophomore seasons in terms of his passing accuracy and decision-making.
Defenses must always account for Newton's ability to make plays in multiple ways, but his ability hasn't yet translated to a winning season for the Panthers. While those losses have often more to do with other struggling areas of the team than Newton's play, becoming a more efficient passer could go a long way for Carolina's team success in 2013.
Reportedly, the Panthers are focusing on making Newton a more efficient passer and focusing less on his dual-threat ability this offseason. During spring workouts under new offensive coordinator Mike Shula, Newton lined up mostly under center and the team did not run many option or zone read packages, according to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.
After failing to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season, it would have made sense for the Dallas Cowboys to allow 33-year-old quarterback Tony Romo to play out his contract in 2013. Instead, they made it clear that Romo will be their quarterback for years to come by signing him to a six-year, $108 million contract extension.
While this was certainly a questionable move for the Cowboys to make, it is a very good sign for Romo, who should be set to play out the rest of his career in Dallas. Still, he will continue to be the subject of criticism from fans and media alike if he cannot lead the Cowboys back to the playoffs going forward.
Romo is being paid like an elite quarterback, but he isn't an elite quarterback, largely due to continued proneness to mistakes. While he completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 4,903 yards and 28 touchdowns, he also threw 19 interceptions, which was tied for the most thrown by any NFL quarterback last season.
Romo is a very talented quarterback who probably is the best man for the job in Dallas at least for the next few seasons, and that's why he is firmly inside the top 15 on these power rankings. But Romo's career has been defined by costly mistakes in crucial games, and those mistakes will continue to be highlighted if the Cowboys continue to struggle.
Robert Griffin III had one of the greatest seasons ever by a rookie quarterback in 2012. He became an instant superstar as he led the Washington Redskins to the playoffs by throwing for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns, while also adding 815 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns.
Unfortunately, his rookie season came to a crashing halt in the Redskins' first playoff game versus the Seattle Seahawks, in which he tore multiple ligaments in his knee. Coming off of a serious injury, it is uncertain whether Griffin will be at full strength for the 2013 season and able to be among the league's top quarterbacks once again.
Fortunately for the Redskins, Griffin appears to be making a very speedy recovery from his injury. According to Mike Jones of the Washington Post, Griffin has been running, making cuts and changing direction without any setbacks to his knee, less than six months removed from knee surgery.
While we cannot be certain until we see Griffin take the field in Week 1, it appears that he will be ready to go for the start of the season. If that is the case, there is no reason not to expect greatness once again from Griffin, but he is kept outside of the top 10 in these offseason rankings as a result of his remaining injury concern.
After being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, all Andrew Luck did in his rookie season was lead the Indianapolis Colts, who were coming off of a two-win season in 2011, to a playoff berth. With head coach Chuck Pagano away from the team for most of the season due to cancer treatments, Andrew Luck stepped into an immediate leadership role on the field, and he helped turn the Colts into a winner immediately.
Luck's impact on the team's winning season was clear, as he led the team on an NFL-best seven game-winning drives last season, according to Pro Football Reference. He was one of the NFL's most prolific downfield passers, throwing for a rookie record 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns.
That said, Luck needs to improve upon his accuracy and decision-making in his second NFL season. While he had no problem compiling passing yardage as a rookie, he did have a problem avoiding mistakes. He completed only 54.1 percent of his passes and threw 18 interceptions.
Luck's promising rookie season, nonetheless, started him on a path that is likely destined for greatness. When his accuracy is on, he can zip the ball between tight windows and make every key NFL throw. He has a strong downfield arm and can also make plays against opposing defenses as a runner.
If Luck continues to win games, put up big numbers and build upon his rookie season, expect him to be in the top 10 of all quarterback power rankings next season.
With RG3 battling back from injury, 2012 third-round pick Russell Wilson earns the highest spot on these power rankings among all of last season's promising rookie starting quarterbacks. After surprisingly winning the Seattle Seahawks' starting job last season, Wilson quickly showed the ability to be a superstar quarterback in the NFL for many years to come.
Going into their sophomore seasons, there is reason to believe that Wilson could end up being the best quarterback of the trio. Although he struggled more than Griffin and Luck out of the gates, he played better than his counterparts down the stretch as he consistently improved throughout his rookie season.
Wilson may have been knocked due to his lack of height as a quarterback prospect, but he has proven to be a total package as an NFL quarterback. He has a very good arm, great athleticism, the ability to hit deep passes on a dime and has shown he can make smart, efficient throws under pressure.
Wilson tied the rookie record last season with 26 touchdowns, while he only threw 10 interceptions. He completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 3,118 yards, and he led the Seahawks to an 11-5 regular season record plus a postseason victory.
The biggest question mark for Wilson heading into the 2013 season will be his ability to handle the pressure of high expectations. Wilson went into his rookie season with the luxury of facing minimal expectations as a third-round selection and surprise starter. In 2013, however, the Seahawks are considered to be among the league's top Super Bowl contenders, and Wilson will be expected to take them there.
Considering that Colin Kaepernick has only seven career regular-season NFL starts, this ranking at No. 9 overall is likely to be met with criticism by some. That said, his outstanding play down the stretch for the San Francisco 49ers last season proved that he is already one of the league's most talented quarterbacks.
While the 49ers fell short of winning the Super Bowl last season, Kaepernick's performance played a large role in getting them there.
Kaepernick struggled in the team's Super Bowl loss to the Baltimore Ravens, but was outstanding in the 49ers' first two playoff games. He set the quarterback playoff rushing record with 181 yards versus the Green Bay Packers, then completed 16-of-21 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown in the team's victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
All told, Kaepernick completed 14 touchdown passes with just five interceptions in 10 games (playoffs included) last season. He did so while displaying a total package of high-velocity passing, the ability to complete tough downfield throws with precision and the speed to burn defenses as a runner.
The 2013 season could be even more special. Rather than being thrown into the fire midseason, Kaepernick has the entire offseason to work with the 49ers first-team offense. He should be prepared to be one of the NFL's top quarterbacks in 2013, and potentially take the 49ers one step further to a Super Bowl title.
Ben Roethlisberger isn't always considered to be among the league's elite quarterbacks, but he belongs in the top eight at the very least. He is a two-time Super Bowl champion who is still one of the league's best playmakers with the game on the line.
He has only played one full 16-game season in his nine-year NFL career due to injuries, and he is currently working his way back from another. Roethlisberger missed the end of spring workouts after undergoing knee surgery earlier this month.
Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he expects to be back for the start of the season. That said, the biggest concern for the Steelers with Roethlisberger is the same as it has been for many years running, and that is keeping him healthy.
Roethlisberger's combination of arm talent, decision-making, toughness and athleticism have been one of the league's great signal-callers, but his durability has been an issue as a result of the consistent beating he has taken throughout his NFL career. That beating has begun to take a toll on his game, but if he can stay healthy in 2013, he can still be a top-5 NFL quarterback.
Eli Manning's inconsistency has made him one of the league's most difficult quarterbacks to figure out.
At times, Manning can be frustratingly bad. For example, he struggled down the stretch last season as the New York Giants fizzled out and failed to make the playoffs.
One year earlier, however, Manning led the Giants to their second Super Bowl championship in a five-season span. While he doesn't consistently play like one of the league's elite quarterbacks, his career is, fortunately for him, defined mostly by two outstanding postseason that both culminated in Super Bowl victories over the New England Patriots.
Manning is a very skilled passer, and he is certainly clutch. He has led 24 fourth-quarter comebacks and 28 game-winning drives over the course of his career, including 10 and 11 over the past two seasons, according to Pro Football Reference.
His consistency, however, keeps him outside of the league's top six quarterbacks in these rankings.
Is Joe Flacco the sixth-best quarterback in the NFL? Not in my personal opinion. But it would be difficult to justify putting Flacco much lower than No. 6 on this list given all that he has done in the past six months.
Flacco had a superb postseason for the Baltimore Ravens, leading them all the way through a Super Bowl MVP performance to a championship. How did he celebrate his title? By signing a lucrative six-year, $120.6 million contract extension in March.
This entire list will be up for debate, including Flacco's ranking. What's not up for debate is that Flacco has clearly been the league's hottest quarterback since the turn of the calendar year.
The question for Flacco now, of course, is whether he can follow it up. Back in December, Flacco may not have even cracked the top 20 of these power rankings, as he was struggling mightily down the stretch for a Ravens team that nearly backed its way out of the playoffs.
By turning his game around completely in the playoffs and leading the team to a title, Flacco earned the payment of an elite quarterback. The defending Super Bowl champion must now play like an elite quarterback to keep his tentative spot in the league's top quarterback tier.
While seven of the top eight quarterbacks in these rankings have won Super Bowls, Matt Ryan hasn't even won a conference championship yet. But even with that contingency, it is clear that Ryan belongs to be considered among the NFL's elite quarterbacks at this stage in his career.
Ryan is one of the league's most talented pocket passers, and he is coming off of his best NFL season. He completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2012, and he came one play away from leading a game-winning drive in the NFC Championship Game versus the San Francisco 49ers.
The Falcons will go into the 2013 NFL season among the favorites to win Super Bowl XLVIII, and the quarterback under center is a big reason why. Ryan is more than capable of leading his team to a title, and is rightfully the league's best quarterback who has not (yet) won a league championship.
If Ryan needs any additional motivation for 2013, he is entering his contract year, though many expect him to sign a lucrative contract extension with the Falcons before the start of the season.
Even in a down season for the New Orleans Saints, Drew Brees led the NFL in passing and surpassed the 5,000-yard mark for the second consecutive year. Brees completed 63 percent of his passes for league-leading marks of 5,177 yards and 43 touchdowns.
Even with those numbers, Brees clearly is not coming off one of his better seasons. He was unable to keep the Saints afloat as a playoff team with head coach Sean Payton suspended, as they instead fell to a three-way tie for second in the NFC South at 7-9. He was also more mistake-prone than usual, throwing 19 interceptions, which tied Tony Romo for the league's most.
That said, all should expect Brees to bounce back for a characteristically great season in 2013. Payton is back in the fold as the Saints' head coach, star tight end Jimmy Graham will be back from an injury-riddled season and the Saints will be expected to challenge the Falcons once again in the NFC South.
Whether they do will fall largely on Brees, and his ability to continue leading one of the league's most prolific passing offenses but doing so while cutting down on his throwing mistakes.
At least from a New England Patriots personnel standpoint, it hasn't been a great offseason for quarterback Tom Brady.
In the wake of Aaron Hernandez's release, four of Brady's top five receiving targets from last season are no longer with the team. And Rob Gronkowski may or may not be ready for the start of the season while recovering from back surgery.
But if there is one quarterback in the NFL who can make it work with an unproven group of wide receivers, it's Brady. And as for his personal throwing abilities, Brady told Sports Illustrated's Peter King in May that he has "never had more confidence" in how he is throwing the football.
Brady's production could be hurt slightly by his unproven group of receivers, but expectations should still be high. He is an elite quarterback who remains capable of leading the Patriots to a Super Bowl championship, even though more than eight years have passed since his last championship victory.
Peyton Manning ranks one spot ahead of Tom Brady because while the latter elite quarterback will have to quickly establish a rapport with unproven receivers, Manning's receiving corps has only improved this offseason.
Manning already had the benefit of working with one of the NFL's best receiving duos in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. With the free-agent signing this offseason of arguably the NFL's best slot receiver, Wes Welker, the Broncos may now boast the NFL's best receiving corps.
In his first season back from neck surgery last year, Manning showed few ill effects of his injury. While he has lost some of his former arm strength, he is able to rely upon his accuracy and decision-making to continue to be one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.
Manning completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions last season. With Welker added into the fold, chances are good that those numbers will only improve in 2013.
Unfortunately for Manning, his 2012 season may be remembered most for poor playoff performance in the team's postseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens, but he should put his team in position to make another postseason run in 2013.
While there are a number of "elite" quarterbacks vying for position in these power rankings, picking the No. 1 quarterback was not a difficult choice.
Aaron Rodgers is among the NFL's best quarterbacks year in and year out, and he certainly was once again in 2012. He led the NFL with a 108 passer rating, resulting from a season in which he completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 4,295 yards and 39 touchdowns with only eight interceptions.
Rodgers deservedly cashed in big this offseason, signing a five-year, $110 million contract extension with an NFL-record $62.5 million in guaranteed money. The Green Bay Packers recognized that they have the NFL's best quarterback, and they paid him as such.
Rodgers is everything an NFL team should want in their starting quarterback. Assuming the Packers continue to put talent around him, it will come as a surprise if his first Super Bowl title is his last.