The NFL's Top 10 Quarterbacks Age 25 and Under
The NFL is brimming with young talent eager to replace the old guard still enforcing their will across the league. Some of these players are already considered to have "arrived" while others are looking for 2010 to be their coming out party.
What each has in common is youth and a lot of upside, which means that a good number of these will be treading future top-10 lists of quarterbacks period.
Because of the relative inexperience of so many names on this list, not only will their past performances be weighed as criteria, but primarily applied in the context of how that will translate to next year's performance-- which is what they are ranked upon.
No. 1 Matt Ryan
Ryan had something of a difficult sophomore campaign in which he suffered through injuries both to himself and his team’s primary offensive weapon in running back Michael Turner.
Despite the host of difficulties, Ryan still managed to post just shy of 3,000 yards and a quarterback rating over 80 while leading the Falcons to their first back to back winning seasons ever.
In two years Ryan has 6,356 yards, 38 touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 84.3.
Joe Flacco may have had the better statistical year in 2009, but the edge for number one on this list goes to Ryan based on the perception of how each team’s offense will operate in the coming two to three years, with Atlanta becoming more dynamic than Baltimore.
No. 2 Joe Flacco
When discussing the very young talent in the NFL it really stands out as two names above the rest.
Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan have nearly identical stat lines to this point, being separated across a two-year career span by only 228 yards, three touchdowns, and a quarterback rating differential of 0.6 (yes that is a point-six, not six points).
Ryan had the better rookie campaign while Flacco easily boasted a better sophomore season. With an expanding role and a new found target in Anquan Boldin, the Ravens signal caller should continue his steady upturn in the NFL.
Why the No. 2 ranking then? His disappearance in the playoffs is still something of a concern, and the offense Baltimore runs (even with creative offensive mind Cam Cameron at the helm) is still going to look to the ground often. Much like a certain divisional rival that he draws close comparisons to, Flacco will need to wait a few more years to be turned completely loose.
No. 3 Chad Henne
Once the two biggest young names have been taken off the board, the list grows muddied. There are a few ways one can look at this to rank the remaining players—Mark Sanchez has playoff success while Matt Moore had the best stat line if taken at a per-game basis.
But Chad Henne cracks the number three ranking for a variety of reasons.
By mid-season I am well-prepared to see him drop to fifth or sixth on this list, but for the time being I can’t give the edge to players with three to four games to go off of, even if those games were generally quite solid.
Thrown into the fray a year before the Dolphins intended after a Week Three injury ended Chad Pennington’s season, Henne led a reeling, winless team to respectability by going 7-6 in his 13 starts despite the Dolphins offense being hampered by injury all year long.
His near-full season edges out the four-game brilliance of Matt Moore, while the overall body of work and extra year of development outweighs the playoff success of Sanchez.
There are several names that could slide past the Dolphins' 2008 second-round pick, but for now Chad Henne holds down the number three place both for what he showed in 2009, as well as the potential for success in the first couple years of having Brandon Marshall in Dolphins colors.
No. 4 Kevin Kolb
A full season and upside against very few games but a greater product in that time? Kolb edges out the rookie class because this list is giving considerable weight to 2010 projections over purely judging past production.
His limited time was enough to knock him below Henne, but that said, Kolb is stepping into a near-ideal situation for a young player. He had a confidence-inspiring term in McNabb’s absence, has a young-highly talented core around him, and three years in Philadelphia to breed familiarity.
Interestingly enough, despite the most seasons in the league of anyone on this list, Kolb does have the fewest starts of any non-rookie here with only two, which is why environment becomes such a heavy weighting factor here.
No. 5 Matt Moore
Moore slips below Kolb even though both were in very similar situations coming into the offseason. Both put up great numbers in limited starts that allowed their respective teams to both move past longtime veteran presences at quarterback.
If gauged solely off of 2009 Moore easily supplants Kevin Kolb for his 4-1 record in five starts behind a near 100 rating. Gauging how he will perform in 2010, coupled with the still limited resume and pressure he may feel from having a young Jimmy Clausen nipping at his heels are all factors that dip him to the middle of this list.
What is deceiving is how much Moore was asked to do in those five games. Only once did he post better than 200 yards (albeit that one was a brilliant 299 yard, three touchdown win) and Carolina’s resurgence could also be strongly weighted to the fact that they gave up no more than 10 points in each of those games.
No. 6 Mark Sanchez
Of the quarterbacks on this list, only two saw playoff action last year—Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez. Sanchez took a surprising Jets team all the way to the AFC championship before falling to the Indianapolis Colts.
So why does a highly touted quarterback with a playoff resume on a team that just added a proven 1,000 yard receiver slip below five other names?
Because Sanchez needs to prove that a very impressive three-game playoff run can translate to a full season of consistency, and wasn’t just lightning in a bottle for the young talent.
During the Jets 5-1 season-ending surge that propelled them into the playoffs Sanchez managed to cut down on the turnovers (four in the five games he played in), but was still not terribly effective overall, averaging 130 yards on a 58 percent completion rate along with less than half a touchdown per game.
Given the cast around him and a confidence-inspiring playoffs Sanchez steps ahead of his fellow rookies as sophomore most likely to see success in 2010, but wait at least one more year before truly expecting the team to put its offense in the hands of Sanchez.
No. 7 Matthew Stafford
Stafford showed several things that should bring about optimism in Detroit about finally finding their signal caller. He displayed grit and leadership while playing hurt to rally the Lions to a victory, and he showed ability with an offensive pace that translates to 21 touchdowns and over 3,600 yards across a full 16 game span.
What he also showed however was that Detroit’s shaky line hamstrung the team as Stafford was forced to miss six games to injury. He also showed a propensity for turnovers, as his 20 interceptions were second in the league, and equal out to 32 picks across a full 16 games.
The biggest issue for Stafford in 2009 was that a Stafford to Calvin Johnson combination was essentially the Lions source for offense, while a shaky defense forced the Lions offense to take an excessive number of chances.
A healthy Brandon Pettigrew and the addition of Jahvid Best should help, and while Stafford isn’t going to be in any Pro Bowls yet, the Lions should see a healthy improvement this year.
No. 8 Josh Freeman
Freeman did a lot of good things in taking a terrible Buccaneers team and making them at least respectable. He took over an 0-7 Bucs team to manage a 3-6 record as a starter. His 206 yards per game averages out to 3,300 across a full season.
He also has the longest way to go of any quarterback that saw action in 2009. At two interceptions per start, Freeman posted the same average as Matthew Stafford which would have led to a league worst 32 across a full 16 games.
His Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the third-lowest scoring team in the NFL ahead of only St. Louis and Oakland, and will be working with a pair of solid-potential rookies while losing a talented (albeit cancerous) veteran at wide receiver.
Freeman’s mid-season changing of the guard also gives him less experience and developmental time than his peers, which could translate to a bit more of a learning curve, all of which make him a player who is going to show more upside than actual production in 2010.
No. 9 Sam Bradford
While striving to avoid the "never taken a pro snap" rookies in the context of an NFL top list, the reality is that the field grows too thin to avoid it at this point as it becomes a comparison of unsuccessful (Brady Quinn) vs. unproven (Bradford).
While Bradford is in for a very difficult first season, his yet-undetermined NFL potential has to edge out the host of other names who are questionable to log a single start in 2010.
Bradford is taking over a Rams team that will hand him the reigns from day one, and likely ask him to put the ball in the air a good number of times not only to try and keep Steven Jackson alive long enough to see the team finish rebuilding, but also because the Rams figure to be chasing several large deficits.
No. 10 Jimmy Clausen
Since the assignment given was "top 10" it cannot be cut short at its natural conclusion at No. 6. That said, after Bradford it becomes an exercise in who will show us anything in 2010 to justify making the list.
Brady Quinn would need a Kyle Orton injury to see the field, and may lose out to Tim Tebow if said injury doesn’t occur within the first half of the season anyway.
Trying to debate between Clausen and McCoy is more interesting. If judging purely by who would be most likely to succeed if they are to see at least four or five starts in 2010 the edge has to go to Clausen. He is more NFL-ready and even with Carolina’s receiving corps has a better offensive cast to work with.
Had Seneca Wallace not been acquired by Cleveland however, the edge would go to Colt McCoy for playing behind Jake Delhomme rather than Matt Moore. The fact that McCoy has to fight off two veterans however, means that the Notre Dame alum not only has the pieces for success in Carolina, but the opportunity to actually see the field.