What makes a quarterback great?
There are so many things:
Statistical accomplishments and leadership both on and off the field.
And most importantly, winning.
Below is my second annual list of the 32 best quarterbacks in the NFL . This is more of a "what have you done for me lately" list, which explains why former Pro Bowlers Mark Brunell and Marc Bulger will not appear on this list.
Some teams have two quarterbacks on this list, and some teams have zero. Quarterbacks with a "+" next to their name are quarterbacks who are on the rise, most likely younger players. Quarterbacks with a "-" are the quarterbacks on the decline, mostly older players, or players with something to prove.
These quarterbacks are divided into sections: the Unelite Eight (32-25), Middle of the Pack (24-15), Borderline Pro Bowlers (14-9), MVP Candidates (8-4), and The Big Three (3-1), where the difference between the top three quarterbacks in the league is virtually interchangeable.
The Unelite Eight :
32. Trent Edwards, Buffalo Bills
Edwards beat out Rams' quarterback Marc Bulger for the final spot on the list. Edwards did complete 60.1 percent of his passes in 2009, but threw just six touchdowns, seven interceptions, and posted a 73.8 passer rating.
Edwards' best attribute proved to be his agility (7.6 YPC), but his inconsistency, as his well as his hesitation to throw deep passes, cost him his starting job in mid-season.
31. Jake Delhomme, Carolina Panthers -
Jake Delhomme should probably retire. He did absolutely nothing to make Panthers fans forget about his turnover-filled game in the 2008 playoffs.
He struggled with injuries, missing five starts. When he played, he was one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL, throwing for eight touchdowns against 18 interceptions. His 59.4 passer rating was just disgraceful.
30. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
Michael Vick's role in 2009 was unusual, to say the least. He did throw a 76-yard touchdown to Jeremy Maclin in the wild-card round of the postseason, but he contributed very little to the Eagles' playoff run.
Used very sparingly in the wildcat formation, Vick threw a touchdown and rushed for two during the regular season. The former three-time Pro Bowler deserves another chance to show that he can start in the NFL.
29. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets +
To be honest, Mark Sanchez didn't do much right in his rookie season. He threw just 12 touchdowns against 20 interceptions. He fumbled 10 times and posted a hideous passer rating of 63.0. But he did help the Jets reach the AFC championship game, turning in a 92.7 passer rating in three playoff games, including a 139.4 mark in the wild-card round.
28. Bruce Gradkowski, Oakland Raiders +
All things considered, Gradkowski played decent football in 2009. He's certainly better than JaMarcus Russell, which isn't saying much of anything.
Gradkowski tossed six touchdowns against just three interceptions, for an 80.6 passer rating. He also led huge fourth quarter comebacks against the Bengals and the Steelers. The Raiders would be foolish to not name Gradkowski the starter for the 2010 season.
27. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions +
After beating out Daunte Culpepper for the starting job, Matthew Stafford did something in that Lions fans hadn't experienced in two years. He won a game. Actually, he won two of them.
The second came on a walkoff touchdown pass, his fifth of the game, despite a badly separated shoulder. Stafford started just ten games during the season, but threw or ran for a touchdown in all of them.
Stafford threw for just 13 touchdowns against 20 interceptions, but received no help from a porous defense and a poor running game which forced him to throw an average of 38 passer per game, the most in the league.
26. Chad Henne, Miami Dolphins +
Henne played in 14 games after an injury to starter Chad Pennington. He threw for 2878 yards and 12 touchdowns, but posted a below average passer rating (75.2). He showed potential though, leading the Dolphins on three fourth quarter comebacks, including a huge win against the rival New England Patriots.
25. Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks -
Hasselbeck rebounded from a terrible injury-plagued 2008 season to play in 14 games. He threw for 3029 yards and 17 touchdowns, but 17 interceptions resulted in a sub-par 75.1 passer rating. He also fumbled 11 times, and at 34 years old, may be nearing the end of his career.
The Middle of the Pack :
24. Matt Moore, Carolina Panthers +
Matt Moore should be the Panthers' starting quarterback next season. He played extremely well in limited action.
He averaged a solid 7.6 yards per pass attempt, tossed eight touchdowns against just two interceptions, and posted a spectacular 98.5 passer rating. More importantly, he gave Panthers' fans reasons to be optimistic, winning four of the final five games of the season, a happy ending to a very disappointing season.
23. Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs
Did you really think Cassel would come close to duplicating his success from 2008? The Chiefs quarterback tossed 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, with a sub-par 69.9 passer rating. He led the league with 14 fumbles, and aside from a huge upset win against the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers, struggled all season.
22. Jason Campbell, Washington Redskins
Campbell is the definition of a mediocre quarterback. His 15 interceptions and 13 fumbles won't impress anybody, although he did post an 86.4 passer rating, while completing 64.5 percent of his passes for 3618 yards. Campbell needs to take the Redskins into the postseason to become an above average quarterback.
21. Chad Pennington, Miami Dolphins -
Any takers on whether Chad Pennington wins his third Comeback Player of the Year award in 2010?
The 33-year-old Dolphins quarterback played just three games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Early reports have stated that Pennington would be willing to return to the Jets, where he could serve as a personal coach for Mark Sanchez.
20. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers +
Alex Smith, the NFL's number one overall pick in 2005, started 11 games for the San Francisco 49ers. He completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 2350 yards and 18 touchdowns. His 81.5 passer rating was easily the best mark of his short career and he cut his fumbles down from 0.82 to 0.27 per game.
19. Vince Young, Tennessee Titans +
Vince Young led the Titans to eight wins in ten games, including his first six starts. He led six game winning drives, including an unbelievable walkoff touchdown on fourth down against the eventual NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals.
And he ranks among the single greatest clutch quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, leading a fourth quarter comeback or a game winning drive in 28.2 percent of his games. However, he has never posted gaudy, or even average, statistics.
He tossed just 10 touchdowns and posted an 82.8 passer rating. His legs (5.1 YPC) add another dimension, and if he can keep his head together and play well for a full season, he has top ten potential.
18. Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos
Orton actually turned in a pretty good season, leading Denver to a 6-0 start before a historic collapse cost the Broncos a playoff berth. Orton tossed 21 touchdowns and threw for 3802 yards, resulting in an above average passer rating (86.5).
He also led three classic game-winning drives in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, all against playoff teams (Cincinnati, Dallas, and New England).
17. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens +
Flacco avoided a sophomore slump in 2009, throwing for 3613 yards and 21 touchdowns, for an 88.9 passer rating. He led the Ravens back into the postseason, where they won their third road playoff game in the last two seasons before losing to the eventual AFC champion Indianapolis Colts.
However, Flacco has been absolutely dreadful in five postseason games (46.5).
16. David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars
I don't even think David Garrard's mother expected her son to be selected to the Pro Bowl. However, Garrard did turn in a fine season, throwing for 3597 yards and 15 touchdowns. He threw just 10 interceptions, ranking fourth in interception percentage, but he lead the NFL with 14 fumbles.
Garrard needs to lead the Jaguars back to the postseason to be considered more than just an average starting quarterback.
15. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Cutler was supposed to be the Bears' best quarterback since Sid Luckman. Instead his season was pretty much a disaster. He led the NFL with 26 interceptions, the second highest total in the last 10 years, and posted a passer rating of just 76.8.
He played exceptionally well in the season's final two games (8 TD, 1 INT) but will need a solid year in 2010 to keep the Bears in contention in the competitive NFC North.
Borderline Pro Bowlers :
14. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons +
Ryan turned in a somewhat disappointing sophomore season. Although the Falcons posted consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history, Ryan posted a below average passer rating (80.9).
He threw 22 touchdowns against 14 interceptions, but led the Falcons to victories in just two of seven games against teams which finished .500 or better. Ryan is a slightly above average quarterback who could enter the top ten with a solid statistical season and another postseason appearance.
13. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals
Palmer rebounded from an elbow injury to lead the Bengals to their second division title in the last five seasons. He ranked in the middle of the pack in most passing categories (3094 yards, 21 TD, 83.6 passer rating). However, Palmer is now 30 years old and still hasn't won a single playoff game in his career.
12. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Although the Giants suffered a late-season collapse and missed the postseason for the first time since Manning's rookie year, Eli turned in arguably his best statistical season. He topped 4000 passing yards, threw 27 touchdowns, and notched a 93.1 passer rating.
However, he fumbled 13 times and will need to win a few more playoff games to enter the discussion of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
11. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans +
Schaub turned in one of the more impressive seasons by a quarterback in recent memory. He led the NFL in completions (396), attempts (583), and passing yards (4770). The Texans won their final four games of the regular season, for the first winning season in franchise history.
Schaub possesses almost unlimited potential and could immediately turn into a top five quarterback with a deep playoff berth.
10. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles
McNabb turned in his best full season since 2004, throwing for 3553 yards and 22 touchdowns. He posted a 92.9 passer rating and led the Eagles to 11 victories, including a six-game winning streak.
However, the Eagles and McNabb were humiliated by the Dallas Cowboys in the regular season finale and the first game of the postseason. Despite earning his sixth Pro Bowl selection, McNabb's future in Philadelphia remains in doubt.
9. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
No Terrell Owens?
Tony Romo turned in his best statistical season, throwing for 4483 yards and 26 touchdowns. He threw just nine interceptions (1.6 percent) and turned in a career high 97.6 passer rating.
More importantly, he finally won a postseason game, but saw the Cowboys' hot streak come to an abrupt end with an embarrassing loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
MVP Candidates :
8. Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals
Warner turned in his usual spectacular season, throwing for 3753 yards and 26 touchdowns.
He posted a passer rating of 93.2 and led the Cardinals to their second consecutive division title. In the wild-card round, he turned in one of the single greatest games by a quarterback in postseason history, completing 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns against a powerful Packers' defense.
Warner has since retired from the NFL and will have five years to prepare a Hall of Fame speech.
7. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers' failure to reach the postseason had nothing to do with Ben Roethlisberger, who turned in arguably his finest season. He completed 66.6 percent of his passes for a franchise-record 4328 yards, with 26 touchdown passes.
He posted a triple-digit passer rating (100.5) for the second time in three seasons. He added to his reputation as the one of the best clutch quarterbacks in the NFL, providing arguably the play of the season against the Green Bay Packers: a 19 yard walkoff touchdown to Mike Wallace, giving him the tenth 500-yard passing day in NFL history.
6. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers +
Aaron Rodgers turned in arguably the greatest season by a quarterback in Green Bay Packers history, throwing for 4434 yards and 32 touchdowns.
He posted an incredible 103.2 passer rating and ranked among the best in history with a 1.3 percent interception rate. Rodgers led the Packers to 11 wins and threw for 422 yards and four touchdowns in his first taste of postseason action.
After two seasons in the NFL, Rodgers ranks first in NFL history in touchdown-to-interception ratio, adjusted yards per pass attempt, interception rate, and passer rating. Rodgers' three seasons on the bench seem to have paid off, and with another fantastic season, could turn into a top three quarterback in the NFL.
5. Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings
Favre turned in easily the greatest season of his career, completing 68.9 percent of his passes, while throwing for 4202 yards and 33 touchdowns. He was the least intercepted quarterback in the league and posted a phenomenal 107.2 passer rating.
He led the Vikings to a 12-4 mark and tossed four touchdown passes in a blowout of the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round, before a classic last-second meltdown against the Saints in the conference championship cost the Vikings a trip to the Super Bowl.
4. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Rivers turned in another phenomenal season, completing 65.2 percent of his passes for 4254 yards. He tossed 28 touchdowns against just nine interceptions, posted a triple-digit passer rating (104.4) for the second straight season, and led the NFL with 8.8 yards per pass attempt.
However, Rivers' career playoff record dropped to 3-4 as the Chargers were eliminated in the divisional round by the surprising New York Jets. Rivers' regular season statistics are better than people have realized, but he will be judged harshly on his .429 winning percentage in the playoffs.
The Big Three :
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints +
Perhaps no quarterback in NFL history has done more to improve his legacy in just a single season than Drew Brees, who turned in the greatest season by an NFC quarterback since Steve Young in 1994.
Brees led the NFL in touchdowns (34), touchdown percentage (6.6), and passer rating (109.2). His 70.6 completion percentage broke the 27-year NFL record, and his 8.3 adjusted net yards per passing attempt is the sixth highest single season total in NFL history.
After leading the Saints to 13 wins to begin the regular season, Brees turned into a postseason hero, throwing for three touchdowns in a blowout win against the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals, leading a game-winning drive in overtime against the powerful Minnesota Vikings, and earning Super Bowl XLIV MVP honors with two touchdown passes and a fourth quarter comeback against the Indianapolis Colts.
Brees's 103.7 postseason passer rating is the second best mark ever, and with several more dominant seasons and possibly another ring, Brees will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
2. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts
The Peyton Manning-led Colts were perfect during the 2009 regular season, and the Colts' legend earned his record fourth Most Valuable Player award.
He set a career-high in completion percentage (68.8), posted a 99.9 passer rating, and threw for 4500 yards and 33 touchdowns. He led the Colts back to the Super Bowl, but threw an interception touchdown with three minutes remaining to lose the game, arguably one of the most costly turnovers in NFL history.
Despite an 87.9 passer rating in the postseason, Manning has won just nine of the 18 biggest games of his career, and he has led his team to victory in just one of six games decided by six points or fewer.
Manning will someday hold every regular season passing record in history, but until he shows that he consistently perform under pressure in the postseason, he will not be the greatest quarterback in the NFL.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Brady rebounded from an ACL injury to turn in the second best statistical season of his career. He threw for 4398 yards and 28 touchdowns, with a 96.2 passer rating, and led the Patriots to a wild Monday Night comeback against Buffalo in the season's first game.
The three-time Super Bowl champion led the Patriots to their seventh division title of the decade but lost in the wild-card round for the first time in his career. Brady was revealed to have played the last month of the season with three broken ribs and a broken finger on his throwing hand.
A recent study conducted by Pro Football Reference shows that Brady is the greatest fourth quarter comeback king in the NFL (among qualifiers), leading a comeback in an unbelievable 64 percent of games in which the Patriots trailed by one score entering the fourth quarter.
Brady's 14-4 postseason record, including three Super Bowl titles, is among the greatest marks in history, and he has led a record six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter.
"He led a go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter of each Super Bowl, and if not for a classic last-second meltdown by his defense in the 2006 conference championship game and the 2007 Super Bowl, Brady would almost certainly have five Super Bowl rings.
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