Top 10 NFL Quarterbacks Right Now
The full list compiled by ESPN's Ron Jaworski of the top 32 quarterbacks (subscription required) was unveiled in its entirety for the first time this week. "Jaws," as most Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams can attest to, used to be a good quarterback in his own right. However, America is a democracy, and there are a few slots on Jaworski's list that I would change.
So that's why a new list has arisen: Her is my own list of the 10 best quarterbacks right now. Sure, career accolades and Super Bowl rings are taken into consideration; however, this list focuses on the quality of the 10 best quarterbacks as of this moment. If the list came out at the beginning of last year, Cam Newton and Philip Rivers may have made the cut (and perhaps even Matthew Stafford as well).
However, this is 2013. And with the play of not one, not two, but three exceptional rookie quarterbacks last season, the bar has been set higher than ever before.
Enough talk; let the debating begin.
Honorable Mention: Who Just Missed the Cut?
Robert Griffin III
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The former Nevada quarterback burst onto the scene last year as the epitome of a dual threat. He replaced a quarterback in Alex Smith who led the 49ers to within a game of the Super Bowl a year before and was leading the NFL in pass efficiency when he went down with a concussion against the Rams. Kaepernick electrified the league with both his throws and runs as he led San Francisco to an improbable Super Bowl run.
Much of the credit for that playoff success, however, must go to the game plan set up by coach Jim Harbaugh, who established the pistol offense midseason to suit his new starter's skill set, and the Niners defense, which ranked second in the league in total defense behind only Seattle.
Kaepernick's body of work is too short for him to be on the list just yet, since this is such a great time for quarterbacks in the evolving, offense-leaning NFL. Chances are, however, that he will be among the league's best by this time next season.
Robert Griffin III
By far, RGIII was the toughest omission from this list. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and led all quarterbacks in rushing yards with 815. In one season, he managed to lead the moribund Redskins to a playoff berth. Then, with one poorly planted step on a surgically repaired knee on some suspect turf, everything change.
Griffin's rehab process from his torn ACL and LCL injuries is supposedly coming along smoothly, as knee guru Dr. James Andrews referred to Griffin as a borderline freak of nature.
Still, the question remains: Will the Griffin who begins this season be the same dual threat who dazzled the league last year? For that matter, will he be on the field at all? Hopefully, fellow 2012 standout rookie running back Alfred Morris will be able to take some of the pressure off his quarterback by continuing to force opposing defenses to respect the run game.
I believe Griffin is a top-five talent, but he must prove that he can return from this serious injury while avoiding a sophomore slump.
10. Matt Ryan
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Matt Ryan is an elite franchise quarterback. Anyone who argues to the contrary is fooling themselves. He led a cellar-dwelling Atlanta Falcons team looking for a new identity after the Michael Vick fiasco, which was followed by then-head coach Bobby Petrino fleeing the team midseason to coach the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Ryan led the team to the playoffs in his rookie season and threw for 32 touchdowns while leading Atlanta to a 13-3 record and a No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs in the 2012 season.
One could argue that Ryan's impressive numbers are aided by the fact that he plays in a dome and has perhaps the top receiving duo in the league in Roddy White and Julio Jones, who caught 171 of Ryan's 422 completions this past season. He also benefited from having the best tight end ever in Tony Gonzalez over the past two seasons.
Let's also not forget that Ryan and the Falcons offense nearly blew a three-touchdown lead against Seattle in the NFC Divisional Playoffs in January. He has the talent and arm to be one of the best signal-callers in the game, but he has to prove he can win when the big lights are on.
9. Russell Wilson
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After slipping to the third round of the NFL draft, Wilson made every team in need of a quarterback feel silly for passing on him. His passer rating in his rookie season was fourth best in the entire league. With Marshawn Lynch and a superb defense helping him along the way, Wilson led the Seattle Seahawks to a berth in the playoffs, where he beat fellow rookie standout Robert Griffin III, 24-14, to earn his first playoff win.
Wilson was so impressive at training camp that the Seahawks placed him as their starter ahead of Matt Flynn, who was signed away from Green Bay for three years and $26 million.
While Flynn is now in Oakland, Wilson is throwing touchdowns to the likes of Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin, who are not exactly household names, and making it look easy. That's why Seattle is a trendy pick to win the NFC this season.
8. Ben Roethlisberger
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No one can argue with Big Ben's resume. He has two Super Bowl titles and had one of the best rookie seasons any quarterback has ever had, when he led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 14-1 record.
Over the last few years, however, he has been less than elite. He still has perhaps the best pocket presence in the league, and his elusiveness hasn't diminished since his early days. Though he doesn't always put up the best statistics (other than 2007, when he threw 32 touchdowns, his 26 this year are tied for the most he's had in a single season), his knack for clutch throws is well-documented. Very well-documented.
Still, this list is about the best quarterbacks at this moment, and Roethlisberger can't be ranked higher than eighth for this reason. The last two seasons haven't yielded a playoff win for the Steelers, as they fell to Tebow and the Denver Broncos on Wild Card weekend in 2012 and missed out on the tournament this past season.
The road doesn't look to be getting any easier for Big Ben: He lost his favorite target Mike Wallace (138 catches and 16 touchdowns in the past two seasons) to Miami, and it is unclear who the starting running back will be after the departure of Rashard Mendenhall.
After he lost twice to the Cincinnati Bengals this past season—something he hadn't done in his whole career to that point—we'll find out this season if Roethlisberger has any big-game magic left.
7. Andrew Luck
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Yes, Luck has only completed his first year in the NFL, but what a year it was.
Other than Reggie Wayne, Luck's best receivers were Donnie Avery (who had just three receptions the year before in Tennessee after missing the previous season due to an injury) and T.Y. Hilton, a rookie from Hilton College picked in the third round. His running back, Vick Ballard, was also a rookie, as was tight end (and college teammate) Coby Fleener. The Colts had gone 2-14 in the 2011 regular season.
All Luck ended up doing was lead Indianapolis to an improbable playoff berth, made possible thanks to a comeback win against none other than Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, a last-play touchdown pass against Detroit and a key late-season win against the AFC South champion Houston Texans. Finishing seventh in the league in passing yards in his rookie campaign, No. 12 proved that he has the composure and intuition to make it in this league for a long time.
He was already drawing comparisons to former Broncos great John Elway. But now, since both men were drafted in excellent classes for quarterbacks and have shown a propensity for late-game comebacks and clutch throws, the link between the two appears to be getting even stronger.
6. Joe Flacco
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Yes, Flacco just became a Super Bowl champion by throwing for 287 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against the daunting San Francisco 49ers defense. In addition to that performance, he also shined in the divisional round against Denver, throwing for 331 yards and no picks, and delivering one of the most important bombs of the season, a 70-yard toss to Jacoby Jones now known as the "Mile High Miracle."
Flacco is also the only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons. Some of that is due to his Roethlisberger-esque knack for coming up with big throws at the right time. Part of it, however, is because he has never had to worry about his supporting cast.
The South Jersey native always had a stout defense led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, with Ray Rice accompanying him in the backfield. It's worth noting that Flacco arrived at the same time as head coach John Harbaugh, who has won a playoff game in each of his first five years at the helm of the team.
Still, Flacco's incredible run through the playoffs, capped off by an excellent Super Bowl performance that won him deserved MVP honors, ensures that his name will now be mentioned in the same breath as the game's elite signal-callers.
5. Eli Manning
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Speaking of big throws, no one will ever forget Eli Manning's delivery to a blanketed David Tyree in the final minutes of Super Bowl XLII, nor will they forget Tyree's catch. Coming off another Super Bowl victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Manning was once again in stellar form last season, throwing for 26 touchdowns and just a shade under 4,000 yards.
However, the reigning champions slid throughout the middle of their schedule this past season. Part of that was due to the regression of Hakeem Nicks, who used to be the Giants' top target before Victor Cruz danced onto the scene, but he caught only three touchdowns this past season. Most of the blame, however, fell on Eli himself and rightfully so.
In must-win games against Atlanta and Baltimore in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively, Manning completed just over 50 percent of his passes. He was picked off twice against Atlanta as the Giants were held scoreless, and threw for just 150 yards in a 33-14 blowout at the hands of the eventual champs.
Manning will surely bounce back this year, as the Giants are the preseason favorites of most pundits to win the NFC East. And any signal-caller who has taken home two Super Bowl trophies deserves the benefit of the doubt. Even if he isn't necessarily the best quarterback in his own family.
4. Tom Brady
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Tom Terrific is the Steven Spielberg of quarterbacks. Every time some talking head proclaims that his reign over the NFL is over, No. 12 produces another hit with his head down while preparing for the next one.
The New England Patriots won the AFC East again last season, something they've done nine out of the 10 years where Brady has been their starting quarterback. (He tore his ACL in the first game of the 2008 season, forcing Matt Cassel to step in.)
Year after year, the Pats are just about automatic. And that's largely thanks to their eight-time All-Pro quarterback, who will go down as one of the best players of all time.
This past year, the man who holds the all-time record for touchdown passes in a single season (50 in 2007) finished fourth in passing yards with 4,827 while throwing 34 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.
This season poses yet another challenge. In addition to Rob Gronkowski coming back from several offseason surgeries and Aaron Hernandez obviously not taking the field, Brady will also have to cope with losing his favorite target, Wes Welker, who signed with the Denver Broncos.
Still, Brady has made great strides each year with his supporting cast, whether they be All-Pros (Randy Moss, Welker, the aforementioned tight end duo) or names that we likely only know because of Brady" Troy Brown, Julian Edelman, Jabar Gaffney, Danny Woodhead, etc.
Of course, even with all the things that have gone wrong for the Patriots this offseason, they are still the favorites to win the AFC East. And why wouldn't they be? They have one of the best in the game taking the snaps.
3. Drew Brees
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Despite the awful year that the New Orleans Saints slogged through, their quarterback had yet another excellent campaign. Brees was the only quarterback in the league to throw for more than 5,000 passing yards in 2012 (5,177, to be exact). He also finished first in the league with 43 passing touchdowns and was tied for third in passes completed.
He also broke one of the game's most hallowed records by throwing for a touchdown pass in 54 straight games, topping Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas' mark of 47. Brees' record demonstrates that he is a quarterback who, despite playing in a pass-heavy offense, is great because of his ability to put his receivers in position to make big plays. For further evidence, check out the pass he threw to set the record.
With his personnel in place and coach Sean Payton once again patrolling the sidelines, Brees and the Saints look to get back on track in 2013. Chances are that we'll once again see Brees' name near the top of the passing leaderboards by season's end.
2. Peyton Manning
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Last year, Peyton Manning was 36 years old, playing with a new team for the first time since his rookie season with the Colts and coming off a handful of neck surgeries. Once he got back on the field, though, it was like nothing had changed.
Some pundits worried that Manning would never be an elite quarterback again, but he ended up having one of his best seasons ever. He threw for 37 touchdowns and completed a whopping 68.6 percent of his passes, which tied Matt Ryan for the best mark in the league in that category. His heroics led the Broncos to a 13-3 record, although they lost in the playoffs to the eventual champion Baltimore Ravens.
Manning's prospects for success look even better this year, as the Broncos went out and signed Tom Brady's favorite weapon, Wes Welker. Though he may be getting older, Manning continues to go out every week and play like this. Until he stops playing at the absurd level at which he's performed his whole career, he won't be ranked outside of the top three in the game.
1. Aaron Rodgers
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Rodgers played behind of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season, getting sacked 51 times, more than any other passer in the league. He also hasn't played with a better-than-mediocre running back since the 2009 season (a healthy Ryan Grant). Still, Rodgers continues to produce each and every year, elevating himself to the spot of the best quarterback in the league.
Let's go through the credentials.
He's a Super Bowl champion who led his team to a 15-1 record the following year en route to an MVP season. This past season, he may have been even better than he was in '11. He finished third in the league in completion percentage (67.2 percent) and second in touchdown passes (39). His 39-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio ranked as the best in the league.
He managed to do all of this with virtually no running game, just eight catches from Donald Driver—one of his favorite targets in previous years—and without Greg Jennings (his first favorite) for much of the year. No. 12 was also without his other top target, Jordy Nelson, for a handful of games.
Still, Rodgers managed to lead the Packers to an 11-5 record (even after getting jobbed in this game), completing passes to 10 different receivers in the Pack's playoff win against the Minnesota Vikings.
With his receivers returning healthy this coming year, including Randall Cobb (who had a breakthrough season in 2012 with 80 catches and 954 yards), Rodgers could be even better in 2013.
If he can even match the level at which he's played the past three seasons, he deserves to be considered the top quarterback in the game. If he can still get better? That's just scary.