With just days remaining before the first preseason game of the 2010 NFL season, it is time to take a look at the Top 10 passers the league has to offer this year.
Last season bared witness to a plethora of productive passing, and while it might not be logical to expect the same degree of productivity this year, the NFL is stacked to the brim with talent at the quarterback position heading into 2010.
In all of my years of watching professional football, I have never seen such a vast amount of talent at the quarterback position. Any player to have made my Top 10 is capable of winning the league MVP award, and that's saying something.
But would you believe that multiple Pro Bowlers were left off the list while multiple non-selections made the cut?
As is the case with most player rankings, readers are bound to agree, disagree and debate. In spite of the various differences of opinion, the Top 10 quarterbacks of the 2010 season are about to be revealed ...
Any time the league's leading passer doesn't even make the Top 10 is a time when you know the league is loaded with talent.
Matt Schaub, Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan were amongst the quarterbacks who failed to make the cut. All of whom have the capability to be selected to the Pro Bowl in 2010, and all of whom have the opportunity to move up this list in the wake of impressive performance or their contemporaries lack thereof.
2009 production: 336-of-555 (60.5 percent) for 3,666 yards, 27 touchdowns, 26 interceptions. Rating: 76.8.
Likely to be the most controversial selection on my list, Cutler makes the cut to be landing in the No. 10 spot. While his performance in Chicago last season may have been disappointing to Bears fans, one needs to consider a number of things before rushing to judgement.
While throwing to one of the least productive and unproven receiving corps' in recent memory, Cutler managed to throw for more yards and touchdowns than any Bears quarterback in the past 14 years (which I realize isn't saying all that much).
Not only that, but few would know that in eight of the 16 games he started (50% of his season), he passed for 1,910 yards, 19 touchdowns and four interceptions to post a 103.3 quarterback rating.
Cutler's issue isn't his ability to perform - it's the ability to remain consistent in light of a poor supporting cast. He was able to do that in the final two games of the 2009 season by going 42-of-71 for 549 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception to post a 115.3 quarterback rating.
What I think:
Cutler is undoubtedly one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the NFL. When supported with teammates close to his caliber, he has performed very well. And at times, he has been able to play at that high level in spite of poor support.
Cutler is a quarterback capable of producing amongst the best in the league but will not likely be given that opportunity with the Bears' supporting cast in 2010. His production is not likely to be reflective of his talents; as you need more than just a gifted quarterback to both produce and win in the NFL.
2009 production: 317-of-509 (62.3 percent) for 4,021 yards, 27 touchdowns, 14 interceptions. Rating: 93.1.
The Giants may have been on the decline in 2009, but their quarterback was very much on the upswing. Setting career highs for passing yards, completion percentage, touchdowns and quarterback rating, Manning had the best season of his career in spite of the Giants 8-8 record.
What I think:
Manning's build and physical capabilities make him an ideal quarterback for the NFL. He continues to get better year after year and I have no doubt that if the rest of his team can get their act together, the youngest of the Manning brothers will become respected as one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL - even though he should be already.
2009 production: 337-of-506 (66.6 percent) for 4,328 yards, 26 touchdowns, 12 interceptions. Rating: 100.5.
Much as was the case for Eli Manning, Roethlisberger went on to set career highs himself; both in completion percentage and passing yards. While his team was on the decline, Roethlisberger was also on the upswing.
Compared to his 2008 Super Bowl championship season, he threw for 1,027 more yards, drastically increased his completion percentage, threw for nine more touchdowns, three fewer interceptions and posted a quarterback rating 20.4 points higher than he did in 2008!
To put that into perspective, there was a greater differential in quarterback rating between 2008 and 2009's Roethisberger than there was between 2009's Roethlisberger and San Francisco's Alex Smith. His improvement was phenomenal in spite of his team's decline.
What I think:
Roethlisberger may be the hardest quarterback to predict in 2010. His legal troubles have been well-documented, and while I'd prefer to keep the discussion "football only," his absence due to his suspension is bound to affect both himself as an individual player as well as the rest of his team.
2009 production: 347-of-550 (63.1 percent) for 4,483 yards, 26 touchdowns, 9 interceptions. Rating: 97.6.
As was the case for a number of quarterbacks last season, Romo set a few career highs himself (both in terms of passing yards and quarterback rating). Ever since he became the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Romo has continued to produce while playing at an exceptionally high level.
After four active seasons in the NFL, his lowest single-season quarterback rating was 91.4 in 2008. The impressive thing about his 2009 season was that he continued to remain productive in spite of being stripped of his most productive target (Terrell Owens); while also helping turn a virtual unknown in Miles Austin into a Pro Bowl receiver.
What I think:
The expectations are often too high in Dallas as Romo has been criticized for let-downs that wouldn't have been possible without his production to get his team places in the first place. In the absence of perennial scapegoat, Terrell Owens, Romo is likely to become the next media-target after coach Wade Philips, if his Cowboys fail to live up to their lofty expectations.
2009 production: 363-of-531 (68.4 percent) for 4,202 yards, 33 touchdowns, 7 interceptions. Rating: 107.2.
Will Favre even come back for the 2010 season? Likely, in my opinion, but nothing's ever certain. Assuming of course that he does return to the Vikings in 2010, he certainly warrants a place on this list. After setting career highs in completion percentage and quarterback rating, Favre proved that he was still able to perform at an exceptionally high level, and did so with receiving targets who had yet to be developed; which was quite impressive.
What I think:
There is really no telling how Favre's body will hold up during what would be his 20th NFL season. He could return to Pro Bowl form or play through injury and deliver a performance reminiscent of 2008.
There is no question that his production was aided by the presence of Adrian Peterson, who created favorable pass coverages for Favre to thrive in. That is not to knock Favre's amazing performance given the circumstances but rather, to illustrate that his productivity and interception-decline should also be credited in part to a player not named "Favre".
2009 Production: 317-of-486 (65.2 percent) for 4,254 yards, 28 touchdowns, 9 interceptions. Rating: 104.4.
Rivers is a quarterback who continues to prove that his productivity has been no fluke. Despite being backed by some of the least productive rushing support in the league, Rivers thrived by setting a career high in passing yards and yards-per-attempt.
What I think:
It should be interesting to see how Rivers continues to adjust in the event that San Diego's running game does not return to past form. Although I expect it to improve with the addition of Ryan Mathews, defensive coverages will become better adjusted to a "pass-friendly" Chargers offense, which has the potential to impact Rivers' performance.
2009 Production: 350-of 541 (64.7 percent) for 4,434 yards, 30 touchdowns, 7 interceptions. Rating: 103.2.
Rodgers to me is a risky selection at the No. 4 spot, but I'm giving it to him anyway. His production cannot be denied as he set career highs in virtually ever meaningful category.
Not all that difficult to do given only two complete seasons of active service; but impressive nevertheless when you actually take a look at his production.
He's helped revitalize the Packers' offense by allowing them to thrive in spite of the loss of the franchise's most productive player. Rodgers is young, well-coached and has all the potential to be a statistical juggernaut.
What I think:
While Rodgers has lived up to his massive potential, there is always the possibility that his performance will decline in the face of more formidable defensive coverages. Teams like Detroit and Chicago have made moves to improve their defensive lines, and as Rodgers continues to remain productive, defenses will adjust to try to hinder the Packers' most productive means of victory.
2009 Production: 371-of-565 (65.7 percent) for 4,398 yards, 28 touchdowns, 13 interceptions. Rating: 96.2.
He's just plain underrated and seems to have been lost amongst the plethora of productive passers this league saw last season. The second-most productive year of his Hall of Fame career was greeted with a yawn, despite doing so on a surgically repaired knee.
Brady is aging, but he's still blessed with one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the entire league. Targets like Randy Moss have been deemed on the decline despite leading the entire league in receiving touchdowns - that's not bad stuff to work with.
With a full year of playing under his belt in the wake of reconstructive surgery, Brady has the opportunity to thrive again in spite of a Patriots team that doesn't appear nearly as dominant as it has been in years past.
What I think:
While Brady's health may be improving and while he may be coming off one of the greatest seasons in his career, the combination of missed time with his team during the offseason and the prospect of facing the Jets' and Bills' passing defenses twice this year doesn't appear to be too promising.
This season will be a vital year in which Brady will either prove that he's still one of the best in the game, or will continue to sink down the list in the wake of more productive passers.
2009 Production: 363-of-514 (70.6 percent) for 4,388 yards, 34 touchdowns, 11 interceptions. Rating: 109.6.
What more can really be said? An NFL-record 70.6 completion percentage and one of the highest single-season quarterback ratings in league history is enough to push Brees towards the top of this list with ease.
Add in the fact that he's been the league's most productive passer for two consecutive seasons and the fact that he's coming off one of the most impressive postseasons in NFL history, and you have a quarterback as dangerous as almost anyone else in the NFL.
What I think:
While Brees may be no fluke, I'm not so confident that his Saints will continue to play at the level they did last season. As an individual, Brees has been one of the most consistent players in the NFL over the past half-decade, but as a team, the Saints have yet to show any level of consistency to prove that they will continue to be a major factor in the NFL year after year.
After Brees' amazing 2008 and 2009 seasons, it would be almost impossible for him to continue at this pace. Still, he's not without the talent to prove that train of logic wrong.
2009 Production: 393-of-571 (68.8 percent) for 4,500 yards, 33 touchdowns, 16 interceptions. Rating: 99.9.
Despite the numerous amount of talented NFL quarterbacks, the No. 1 spot wasn't much of a dilemma for me. Being the most productive player in the 90-year history of the sport isn't as relevant as Manning's continued ability to remain productive in spite of so many team-changes.
He loses a future Hall of Fame head coach, his teammates appear to fall victim to some sort of injury-plague year after year, yet Manning remains consistent. In 2009, he was backed by the least productive running-game in the entire league and lost his starting wide receiver who was replaced by two late-round draft picks. Still, his Colts manage to win 94 percent of the games they actually attempted to win.
In the process, he helped set an NFL record by leading seven fourth-quarter comebacks. When facing the league's No. 1 defense in the AFC Championship game (a team that held Drew Brees to zero touchdowns and only allowed three touchdown passes in their previous seven games), Manning delivered one of the greatest performances in NFL history by going 26-of-39 for 377 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, to post a 123.6 quarterback rating against a team that held all of their previous opponents (not named Peyton) to an average of a 59.7 quarterback rating.
What I think:
With a running game that can only improve (it would be virtually impossible to get worse) and the return of key players such as Anthony Gonzalez and Bob Sanders, the sky is the limit for Indianapolis in 2010. The return of Gonzalez expands the Colts' passing game and a healthier defense can help make things easier on the offensive side of the ball.
Beyond the record-setting production and all of his records, it is the other things Manning does on the football field that sets him aside from all his contemporaries. His ability to call plays, orchestrate advanced audibles and run the most sophisticated offense in NFL history are not factors that become apparent on any stat sheet, but they are reflected in Manning's ability to remain more consistent than any quarterback in league history.
Defenses continue to adjust, game plan and attack the Colts' one-dimensional offense with little success. In spite of an injured and often suspect offensive line, Manning has become the least sacked quarterback in the league due to a quick release and a pocket presence that's unprecedented.
Logically, one would have to think that he couldn't continue to do this year after year; but he's been proving us wrong for over a decade now so I've learned to take the hint.