NFL

Today's Best Quarterbacks and Their Throwback Comparisons

Russell S. BaxterContributor IJanuary 11, 2014

Today's Best Quarterbacks and Their Throwback Comparisons

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    Can any of today's quarterbacks compare to Hall of Famer John Elway?
    Can any of today's quarterbacks compare to Hall of Famer John Elway?Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    It was the Little River Band that gave us the song “Reminiscing.”

    Here’s to hoping everyone follows the stream of thought here.

    Welcome to the first of a 12-part series where we look at the better performers at their respective positions and whom they may compare to from the past.

    We’ll start with some (some) of the top quarterbacks around the league and who they may draw comparisons to in terms of past stars and Pro Football Hall of Famers.

    The criteria are multifaceted and one legend doesn’t fit all. We are talking style as much as anything because, after all, the eye test is still the best pop quiz ever.

    As suggested by my head coach, other factors such as speed, size and durability will be taken into account when it comes to playing the NFL version of Match Game. We’ll even sprinkle a little history and philosophy in here as well.

    So enjoy and try to keep the “what’s” and “huh’s” to a minimum.

     

Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Similar To: Dan Fouts

    The numbers have become mind-boggling and are even more impressive considering his recent history…as in medical history.

    Consider that in two seasons with the Denver Broncos, quarterback Peyton Manning has already thrown 92 touchdown passes, second-most in franchise history behind John Elway (300).

    Only Brett Favre (508) has served up more touchdown passes than Manning (491), who set new NFL records by throwing for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns in 2013. The veteran passer threw at least 10 touchdown passes this season to four different players.

    When watching Manning throw the ball, it brings up memories of Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. The former Chargers signal-caller made the most of his receiving corps and threw a very “catchable” ball to players such as tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Charlie Joiner, who also reside in Canton.

    Those San Diego offenses were very explosive, perhaps a fitting comparison to Manning and a Broncos team that set new league records for points (606) and touchdowns scored (76) in 2013.

Tom Brady, New England Patriots

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    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Similar To: Troy Aikman

    There’s actually been two phases to the magnificent career of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Safe to say both have been impressive.

    Consider these numbers. Since 2007, the prolific passer has thrown an amazing 212 touchdown passes compared to only 56 interceptions in 97 regular-season games. Prior to that, Brady threw for 147 scores and was picked off 78 times in 96 regular-season outings from 2000-06.

    Of course, that earlier stint featured three Super Bowl titles and a loss in the ’06 AFC title game.

    Still, the hallmark of Brady’s play has been his accuracy, which is why he draws comparisons to Pro Football Hall of Famer Troy Aikman. From the 1991-96 seasons, the fellow three-time NFL champion completed no less than 63 percent of his passes with the Dallas Cowboys.

    Since becoming a starter in 2001 and even including his one-game stint in 2008, the Patriots’ field general has never completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in 13 seasons.

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    Similar To: Dan Marino

    A passing fancy or some fancy passing?

    There are those who insist that in the 94-year history of the National Football League, perhaps there has been no better pure passer than Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino.

    The Pro Football Hall of Famer debuted in the NFL in 1983, but exploded onto the scene in his second season, lighting up opposing defenses for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns and leading Don Shula’s team to Super Bowl XIX.

    But Drew Brees has been something to watch, especially since he became a member of the New Orleans Saints in 2006. In each of the last three seasons, he’s thrown for at least 5,000 yards.

    Keep in mind that there have been eight 5,000-yard passing performances in NFL history and Brees is the owner of four of them, all while with the Saints.

    Brees’ 363 career touchdown passes ranks fourth in NFL history (Marino is third with 420). Only four quarterbacks in NFL annals have thrown for more yards (51,081) than the Super Bowl XLIV champion.

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    Similar To: Y.A. Tittle

    It is certainly not stunning that in 10 seasons as a professional, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 386 times.

    However, it may surprise some that the two-time NFL champion has thrown 219 touchdown passes compared to only 122 interceptions.

    Roethlisberger owns a 95-47 record as a starter in the regular season and has guided the Black and Gold to three Super Bowl appearances. In 2013, the imposing signal-caller started 16 games for the first time since 2008.

    In other words, Big Ben is really a Timex, because he takes a licking and keeps on ticking. And like clockwork, he and his team are usually in the thick of the playoff chase every season.

    Pro Football Hall of Famer Y.A. Tittle took his share of licks, spending the majority of his career with the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants. He was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1963 and threw 242 touchdown passes during his professional career in the NFL and AAFC. And the enclosed video may say it all.

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

    Similar To: Warren Moon

    Consider that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was drafted in the first round in 2005 and didn’t start a game until 2008.

    Over the past six seasons, the talented performer has thrown 187 touchdown passes and only 52 interceptions in just 87 regular-season contests. Those numbers are simply amazing.

    There haven’t been many players who can throw the football with the velocity of Rodgers, who can get that pigskin through the proverbial car wash without getting the ball wet.

    While some may compare Rodgers’ release to that of Hall of Famer Dan Marino, the added plus of the Super Bowl XLV champion and the league’s MVP of 2011 is his ability to escape the pocket. The Chicago Bears can certainly verify that latter fact following last Sunday’s 33-28 loss to Green Bay at Soldier Field.

    When you think of tight spirals and that zip on the ball, Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw and Warren Moon certainly come to mind. The latter put up big numbers not only in the NFL but the Canadian Football League. Watching Moon roll out during his days with the Houston Oilers and their “Run and Shoot” offense of the 1990s was a joy to watch, as is certainly the case with the Packers starting quarterback.

Eli Manning, New York Giants

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Similar To: Joe Namath

    New York, New York, a wonderful town.

    When things are going well sportswise, is there anywhere else you would want to be? (OK, don’t answer that).

    Two years ago, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning led the team to their eighth NFL championship and himself to a second Super Bowl title.

    This past season, he was serving up interceptions like soft pretzels street-side in Times Square. Manning threw a league-high 27 picks and Tom Coughlin’s 7-9 team committed an NFL-high 44 turnovers in 2013.

    So why the comparison to Namath, who was gifted with one of the game’s stronger arms and also led a New York team to a Super Bowl title?

    This one is all about glamour and mystique. Namath’s Jets were underdogs to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Manning’s Giants were in a similar role in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI to the New England Patriots. All three times, the team from the Big Apple walked away with the cherry on the sundae. Or was it Sunday?

    When it comes to Manning and Namath, we have seen them at their worst, but there was certainly nothing better than when they were at their best.

Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

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    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

    Similar To: Sonny Jurgensen

    There’s little doubt that Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler can throw the football.

    Blessed with one of the great arms in the league, general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman are banking on the fact that the Windy City gunslinger can get the job done. Hence the organization just re-signed the eight-year veteran to a seven-year contract that acts as a ringing endorsement.

    While the postseason has managed to elude Cutler for the most part (he’s managed just two playoff starts), so has staying healthy. The strong-armed performer hasn’t started 16 games since his first season with the Bears in 2009.

    When you watch him chuck that ball, it brings back memories of Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen, who was a standout for both the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. Both he and Cutler threw the football almost effortlessly and, win or lose, each have and/or has usually been fun to watch.

    With the emergence of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and the continued excellence of Brandon Marshall, an upright Cutler may do something in 2014 that he has yet to manage: Throw at least 30 touchdown passes in a season.

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Similar To: John Elway

    There’s a lot more to the fact that both Hall of Famer John Elway (1983) and Andrew Luck (2012) were first overall picks by the Colts in their respective NFL drafts and both came via Stanford University.

    Both were regarded as prototypical in terms of size and what you would look for in a franchise quarterback. There were those, in particular celebrated draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., who felt that Luck was the best prospect at his position since Elway nearly three decades earlier.

    And it’s so far so good for the youngster, who improved greatly from his rookie campaign despite not having veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne for much of 2013. After completing just 54.1 percent of his passes a season ago, Luck upped that figure to 60.2 percent this year. He also threw for 23 scores for the second straight season. But this time, he cut his interceptions from 18 to nine.

    Luck has also run for a combined 632 yards and nine scores in his first two seasons. He and the Colts are 11-5 in 2013, and in the postseason for the second consecutive season.

    Does anyone remember Elway’s early years? Yes, he was on a team that also reached the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. But the future Hall of Fame was 4-6 as a starter as a rookie and threw twice as many interceptions (seven) as touchdown passes. While he played in the team’s playoff loss at Seattle, he was not the starting quarterback in that game.

    However, Elway made big strides in 1984 when he started 14 games and won 12. He also nearly tripled his touchdown pass total (18) from his rookie showing and threw only 15 interceptions.

    Does Luck possess the arm of an Elway? Few have. But the leader of the Colts certainly has the look of a player who has big capabilities that could eventually be fulfilled via a Super Bowl title…or two.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Similar To: Terry Bradshaw

    For the first time in his three seasons in the NFL, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has led his team to a division title and a playoff appearance.

    Coincidentally, it took Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw three seasons in the league to accomplish the same thing.

    While the Pittsburgh Steelers signal-caller had far greater issues adapting to professional football than has Newton, the similarities are more about handling adversity and growing as a team leader.

    Both players were physically imposing figures. Bradshaw, the No. 1 pick in the 1970 draft, stood 6’3” and weighed 215 pounds. Newton is 6’5” and weighs 248 pounds, and was the first overall selection in 2011.

    Much was and has been expected of both players. Newton has come a long way in three seasons, and his penchant for winning the close games in 2013 was something that eluded both him and the team in 2011 and 2012.

    Likewise, Bradshaw emerged as a vital part of the team’s Super Bowl XIII and XIV titles as the Steelers opened up on offense with wide receivers such as Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.

    But it was during the franchise’s first two Super Bowl seasons (1974 and ’75) that Bradshaw began to emerge as more than a complement to running back Franco Harris and a legendary defense.

    That’s what you’ve seen with Newton in his third season: clutch fourth-quarter drives in wins over the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints.

    Now we’ll see what Newton “Cam” does in the playoffs.

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Similar To: Bob Griese

    To date, Seattle Seahawks second-year quarterback Russell Wilson has been efficient…and that may be an understatement.

    Not only has the former third-round draft choice thrown 26 touchdown passes in each of his first two seasons, he’s proven to be an excellent field general. The Seahawks are a combined 24-8 these past two years and wound up tied for the NFL’s best record at 13-3 in 2013.

    In 32 regular-season outings, Wilson has completed 63.6 percent of his attempts and thrown nearly three times as many touchdown passes (52) as interceptions (19). He’s also run for more than 1,025 yards and five scores in two seasons and committed a combined 27 turnovers over that span.

    So why the comparison to Bob Griese, who appeared to be more of an afterthought on those Miami Dolphins championship teams in terms of throwing the football?

    Indeed, the running game was king in South Florida those days. But the Hall of Fame signal-caller performed when needed and actually threw 192 touchdown passes during his 14-year career. Still, he took a bit of a backseat in regards to Miami’s power ground game those seasons.

    Similarly, Wilson has been the perfect complement to teammate and running back Marshawn Lynch. A year after finishing third in the NFL in rushing, only three teams in the league managed more yards on the ground than Seattle in 2013.

    And just as was the case roughly four decades ago, a persistent running attack and a consistent quarterback can do some very big things.

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