2011 NFL Season: 8 Quarterbacks to Watch

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IIJuly 28, 2011

2011 NFL Season: 8 Quarterbacks to Watch

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    No position in football, and perhaps all of sports, is as much in the spotlight as quarterback.

    That is why they need to be their offense's leaders and it is the only position in the game to be judged on championships and win-loss records. It is why no other players make the kind of money the players under center do.

    Every year, there are a few quarterbacks who are not just in the spotlight, but under the microscope. They are often not the best at their positions, but rather those for whom the future is most uncertain.

    And sometimes, the story comes out of nowhere. While Kevin Kolb was under the microscope for taking over for Donovan McNabb last season, Michael Vick ended up being the biggest quarterback story in the league.

    Players can become stories because they go to the next level like Vick or because their season was historically good like Tom Brady. They can also make the news because their season falls apart or they are in trouble for off-the-field antics, both of which applied to Brett Favre's 2010 season.

    With 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL, here are those in the top quarter for the most pivotal seasons in 2011 and a prediction for how they will fare...

All Four NFC North Quarterbacks

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    There are four starting quarterbacks in the NFC North: Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears, Donovan McNabb of the Minnesota Vikings and Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions.

    They may have switched teams or need to show that last year was a fluke. They may be coming off an incredible performance or have new expectations. They may be facing questions about their physical or mental toughness, their dedication or their ability.

    To see what each faces and their predicted response, see the PackerChatters companion piece.

Kevin Kolb

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    Kevin Kolb is perhaps the top player in the league to keep your eyes on

    He is a talented player most analysts agree is a true starting quarterback in this league, and some think he is special. The Philadelphia Eagles traded their franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb within the division because they believed Kolb was special.

    But after being hurt in the first game of the season against the Green Bay Packers, the transition began toward Michael Vick. By the time the season ended, the Eagles were ready to give up on him.

    Now he has been traded to the Arizona Cardinals for cornerback Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick. Thus, a lot is being put on his shoulders.

    He comes in with more interceptions than touchdowns and more losses than wins in his career.

    He is going to a team that is under .500 in the best three years of their time in Phoenix—this is not a true winning atmosphere. He will have a questionable line and running game. With the team having lost Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston in consecutive years, even a double-covered Larry Fitzgerald may be Kolb's best option.

    Kolb will spend a few games unable to play because of injury, have 7-6 record, throw for 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns but throw 15 picks.

John Beck

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    Replacing Donovan McNabb this year in Washington is John Beck.

    Seriously—after benching McNabb in favour of Grossman, Mike Shanahan has shipped him off in favour of John Beck.

    Beck has almost no history at all, and what is there is mostly bad. Shanahan obviously sees something there he thinks he can work with.

    But after John Elway, Shanahan had success with a quarterback in just one season with one guy, Jake Plummer. The wake of failed Shanny QBs include McNabb (by far his worst season since his rookie year), Brian Griese and the inconsistent Jay Cutler, with whom he never won more than eight games.

    Beck will have a deteriorating running game, questionable-at-best line and a defense that cannot stop the pass putting him under pressure. A fanbase tired of being the laughingstock of the otherwise powerful NFC East will only make it worse.

    Beck does not even finish the season as a starter, going 3-6 with fewer than 2,000 yards and more interceptions than touchdowns.

Tim Tebow

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    Tim Tebow is not a starting NFL quarterback yet, but he will be starting in 2011.

    Something especially poignant was suggested on ESPN: Denver can start fan-favourite Tebow after letting solid quarterback Kyle Orton go, and either it succeeds and they have their franchise quarterback, or it fails and they have a chance to switch to Andrew Luck next season.

    Except Tebow will not be bad enough to get them a sure franchise player under center nor know for sure he cannot be one.

    Instead, he will finish the year 5-10 with almost 3,000 yards and close to as many touchdowns as interceptions. But he will also be one of the top-five rushing quarterbacks in the league in yards and touchdowns.

Alex Smith

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    Their former top pick is under the microscope again in San Francisco. Alex Smith has just two good seasons in his six-year career.

    He has also had six different offensive coordinators, and will get his seventh this season. The thinking quarterback would be best-suited to having an offense he has already learned, but he hasn't even had the entire offseason to get instructed in another new offense.

    But no matter how many things are playing against Smith over his career (including being forced to play through a shoulder strain that may have permanently damaged his arm), it is now or never for him. In all likelihood, the 49ers would not have given him another year had there been a full offseason of league business, so in essence he is getting a reprieve.

    He has below average wide receivers and a star running back holding out. But Gore will eventually be in camp and Smith has one of the best tight ends in the game to target with play-action.

    He will also finally have instruction from a competent coaching staff and plays in a weak division. Here was my prediction surrounding him after the draft:

    The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly will refer to...Alex Smith, who will have two performances so good you think he may have been worth the top pick...two so bad you want him cut for good, and two games that will merely be blemishes on his season—he will sit for either injury or to give new draft pick Collin Kaepernick a chance.

    With the (previously predicted) diminished running game, Smith should finish with almost 450 attempts, over 250 completions, maybe 3,000 yards, 20-plus touchdowns, and 13 or fewer interceptions—just good enough to hope for more.

    He may have trouble making those marks now with the short camp and trouble in the backfield (running backs who hold out tend to struggle more with injuries than most), but should still come close to those levels.