A Changing of The Guard: Matty Ice and 8 Other Up-and-Comers at Quarterback
The position of quarterback is an iconic position; you can go from goat to hero, or vice versa, in the blink of an eye and over a matter of inches. It is the only position in sports where you can control the fate of not one, but two teams, almost single-handedly. The NFL has come to define itself by the quarterback position and the players who occupy it, perhaps more than any other league in sports defines itself by a single position.
We, as fans of the NFL right now, are witnessing a changing of the guard at this iconic and powerful position. The great ones who we have come to know and love (or hate), the Peyton Manning's, Tom Brady's, Drew Brees', and Donovan McNabb's, of the world, are advancing in age and well into their 30's, and, while they certainly have some good seasons left in them, will exist only in old highlight reels before long.
Then we have the generations just behind them, the ones that are in their prime, guys like Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Schaub. But then, behind them, are the young guys we have to look forward to watching for the next decade and half; Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford, Josh Freeman, and others. These are guys to excited about, and they're showing us that their time is now. Ryan is leading one of the best teams in the NFL, while all the others, save Stafford, have their teams in the thick of the playoff hunt.
Using 26 as the cut-off age, I'm going to rank the top nine young quarterbacks we have in the NFL today.
#9: Panthers QB Jimmy Clausen
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Obviously the results haven't been there on the field for Clausen, hence why he's last on this list, but Clausen has shown flashes of being a solid if not better NFL quarterback. Starting a rookie at quarterback clearly contributes to a 1-11 season for the Carolina Panthers, but it's not all on him. Outside of Steve Smith, the Panthers don't have any playmakers in the passing game, their running backs haven't been able to stay on the field all season, and they've got one of the worst running defenses in the NFL (27th and allowing 133 yards per game). You can certainly blame some of Clausen's poor play on the supporting cast, or lack thereof.
#8: Dolphins QB Chad Henne
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Like Clausen, Henne has shown flashes of being a good NFL quarterback. The thing he has on Clausen, however, is that he's shown it more often and more consistently. The Dolphins seem to be giving up on Henne, but Henne still has a future as a starter in the NFL. He probably won't win many games for you, but given a little more maturation, he won't kill you either. He could help a team win a Superbowl in the same way Dilfer did for the Ravens in 2000.
#7: Browns QB Colt McCoy
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McCoy has had some injury problems this season, but when he's been on the field he's been impressive. He made his NFL debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the hot team in the NFL at the time, and completed 70 percent of his passes for 281 yards. Then, three weeks later, he helped his Browns defeat the New England Patriots, now considered to be the best team in the NFL by many. The future looks good for the Browns with Joe Thomas protecting McCoy's blindside and blocking for Peyton Hillis. Now if they could just get some receivers and work on that defense....
#6: Lions QB Matthew Stafford
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The only reason I don't rank Stafford more highly on this list is due to his health concerns. When Stafford is on the field, the Lions are a very different team. They actually look like they belong in the NFL. With some better luck than they've had this season and Stafford on the field for a full season, the Lions would be a legitimate contender to make the playoffs.
#5: Jets QB Mark Sanchez
Sanchez doesn't really put up huge numbers (77 QB Rating, 16 TD, 11 INT this season), but he does get wins. Part of that has to do with the fact that he plays on a high-quality team, but he's got some talent too.
#4: Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman
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I don't recall if the NFL gives out an award for most improved player, but if they do, it should be going to Freeman this season. He's been extremely good this season and is a large part of the reason the Bucs are one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this season. He's had a great season passing the ball with relatively average receivers, and he's doing what he's doing in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL.
#3: Ravens QB Joe Flacco
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Flacco is an excellent young QB. He gets wins and puts up very good numbers on a good team. Definitely on his way to being one of the best in the league. And he was putting up good numbers even before he had Boldin to throw to. I knock him a bit because he's done less with more than some on this list and than he probably should be doing.
#2: Rams QB Sam Bradford
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Putting Bradford above Flacco is a bit questionable to most, but let me explain my reasoning before you rip me a new one. He's putting up a really solid season as a rookie, and has a team that was the worst in the NFL last season in position to make the playoffs. Without Bradford, the Rams are probably still a 10+ loss team, but with him they're a playoff contender. The same cannot be said about Flacco or others on this list. When you factor in that his offensive line is average at best and he has no receivers, I think #2 is an excellent spot for him.
#1: Falcons QB Matt Ryan
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Ryan is quarterbacking one of the best team's in the NFL record-wise, and he doesn't have the defense to back him up that teams like the Ravens and Jets do. Statistically speaking he's the best on this list, and although he has the best offense surrounding him of anyone on this list, his talent is undeniable. He also gets props for not turning the ball over and for his late game heroics being the stuff legends are built on.