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NFL: Ben Roethlisberger and the 20 Toughest Quarterbacks in the League

Jason HenryCorrespondent IAugust 1, 2011

NFL: Ben Roethlisberger and the 20 Toughest Quarterbacks in the League

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    The National Football League has never been for the weak at heart. It's rough, it's hard-hitting, dangerous and bloody.

    The toughness label is usually reserved for players who play every position but quarterback, punter and kicker.

    Former NFL safety Ronnie Lott had the tip of his pinky finger cut off to continue his NFL career. Defensive end Jack Youngblood, formerly of the L.A. Rams, once played with a broken leg for three games.

    But quarterbacks are tough as well.

    Recently semi-retired quarterback Brett Favre is known for his toughness as he holds the NFL record for consecutive starts at 297 games.

    Three-time Super Bowl champ and Hall of Fame member Troy Aikman was frequently beat and battered in the early years of his NFL career with Dallas, but always seemed to bounce back.

    In order to be a successful NFL quarterback, players have to have a great level of toughness and a high pain tolerance, just ask former Texans quarterback David Carr.

    The NFL has adopted new rules to protect NFL field generals, but defensive players are always aching to lay that vicious hit that makes SportsCenter. Bone-crushing hits are signature hits and quarterbacks are often on the receiving end of those hits.

    They are amongst the toughest players in the NFL.

    To prove that point of roughness, here are 20 of the league’s toughest quarterbacks.  

#1 Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Big Ben is hard to bring down, but when defensive players are able to tackle the 6’5” quarterback, it's tough. He gets hit hard, falls harder and always picks himself up.

    Roethlisberger is usually nicked up because of the way he plays, but it never seems to affect his play. He’s led the Steelers to three Super Bowl appearances and two rings and all signs point to more big games in his future.

#2 Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

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    Joe Flacco was sacked 40 times last season, tops in the AFC. He’s efficient and doesn’t make many mistakes. Flacco faces teams with tenacious defenses like the Jets and Steelers.

    In three games against Pittsburgh last season, Flacco put the ball in the air 100 times and was probably hit just as much. The Ravens split the season series against the Steelers and lost to them in the playoffs, but Flacco was still around after taking such a grand beating.

#3 Donovan McNabb, Minnesota Vikings

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    Some NFL pundits said that Donovan McNabb’s best days are behind him and that he’s only good for being a backup. McNabb once played with a broken ankle against the Arizona Cardinals. He refused an X-ray on the injured ankle and chose to have it taped.

    He played the entire second half on one good foot and tossed four touchdowns as the Eagles beat the Cardinals, 38-14.

    McNabb was sacked over 35 times last season and always got up and never complained. His personality may be lax at times, but he’s one of the NFL’s toughest quarterbacks.

#4 Matt Schaub, Houston Texans

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    I know that Matt Schaub always seems injured, but that’s because he’s hit so much. Schaub was brought down 32 times last season and still threw for almost 4,500 yards.

    The Texans O-line is getting better, but in order for success to come to Houston, Schaub has to remain healthy. He’s tough in my eyes because he tries his best to stay up, but sometimes the hits get overwhelming.

    Schaub is one of the NFL’s toughest players.

#5 Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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    Remember when the Packers had offensive line woes and people thought that Aaron Rodgers would have trouble making it through an entire NFL season on his back?

    That talk quickly ended once the Pack won the Super Bowl last year, but those days of offensive line troubles aren’t that far in the past. Rodgers was on his back often and he was sacked 31 times last season.

    Even though Rodgers led Green Bay to a Super Bowl last season, those days playing in the grass with defensive lineman may soon return.

#6 Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

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    Last season, in a playoff game against the Packers, Jay Cutler went down with what seemed to be a harmless knee injury. After going over to the sideline to have it checked out, Cutler never returned.

    The Bears ended up losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, but Cutler was assailed. His jersey was burned and some NFL players even questioned his toughness.

    But the Bears offensive line often left Cutler out to dry and, after taking a number of hard hits, Cutler’s level of toughness shouldn’t have been questioned.

    In a game against the New York Giants last season, Cutler was sacked a record nine times in the first half of the game. He received a concussion due to the many hits and never returned.

    A man who takes that bad of a whooping and keeps coming back for more deserves more than respect. Cutler is as tough as they come.

#7 Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

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    Sam Bradford is turning into a tough guy playing with the Rams. He was assaulted 34 times by opposing defenses last season and hit even more.

    Bradford’s arm gets a mighty healthy workout in St. Louis and so does his back because he’s on it so much.

    Bradford got nicked up some last season and never backed down. He always came back to fight for more and he’ll have that same attitude in 2011.

#8 Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos

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    By the time this article is published, Kyle Orton may be on his way to Miami, so he’s currently in limbo.

    However, you can't argue that Orton takes a beating and still keeps going.

    Orton is always in the top-15 of quarterbacks who are sacked the most and that number probably will remain intact if he stays in Denver.

    Orton took his beatings in Chicago as well and seemed to become a stronger player because of it. Any team who gains his services at quarterback will receive an underrated player with a great level of toughness.

#9 Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

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    Philip Rivers sometimes gets a bad rep because of his volatile personality. He likes to yell and scream and some fans take that as a sign of weakness.

    But Rivers once played with a blown ACL in the playoffs against the Patriots which cemented his status as an all-time tough guy.

    When Jay Cutler left the playoff game against the Green Bay Packers last season, people compared his performance with that of Phillip Rivers. If Rivers can play with a torn ACL, why can’t Cutler play with a bruised knee?

    We now know that it was more complicated than that and Cutler was well within his right not to return.

    Rivers’ legacy is encased in the lore of the NFL now due to that one game when he played with a torn ACL.

#10 Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts

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    Peyton Manning has yet to miss an NFL start and that says a lot about his toughness. He takes great care of his body and so does the offensive line of the Indianapolis Colts.

    In 2008, he had knee surgery in the offseason and the knee didn’t completely heal until the halfway point of the regular season. This year, he had neck surgery and while Manning won’t say if he’s in any pain, we probably will never find out.

    Manning is durable, always dependable and he carries with him a tremendous amount of toughness.

#11 Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee Titans

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    Matt Hasselbeck is now a Tennessee Titan and will need to bring his toughness with him.

    The former Pro Bowl quarterback played through many an injury, and while they may have finally caught up with him last year, that takes nothing away from how tough this athlete can be.

    He’s approaching 36 years of age and his best NFL days are far behind him. But Hasselbeck would sometimes take a mean hit and get right back up. Hopefully, he carries some of that toughness to Tennessee.

#12 Jason Campbell, Oakland Raiders

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    Jason Campbell has the worst luck of any NFL quarterback I know. He’s drafted by the Redskins, played under a different offensive system almost every season, never got a chance to develop properly and he’s thrown out with the bath water after he was deemed unfit to start in D.C.

    Campbell can take a shot as evidenced by his play in Oaktown last season. He was sacked 33 times and he was switched in and out of the starting lineup.

    Campbell keeps his head up, continues to play and is quietly one of the NFL’s sturdiest players.

#13 Tom Brady, New England Patriots

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    You don’t win three Super Bowls without being a tough guy.

    Tom Brady only threw four picks last season and tossed 36 touchdowns. The only significant injury in his career is the torn ACL he suffered a couple of seasons ago and he bounced back just fine.

    But Brady would have continued to play on through the pain if he was allowed to. Brady is a fierce competitor and his toughness often shines through that "pretty boy" exterior.

#14 Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles

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    The knock on Michael Vick is that he can’t stay healthy, but it's tough to do so due to his style of play.

    Vick is also one of the least protected NFL players in the league because some referees view him as a running back passing the ball. He isn’t. He should be protected like all pocket passers.

    Vick is often, I repeat, often taking defenders' best and biggest shots and he plays through the pain.

    He may not make it through a full season, but if team doctors allowed him to play through injuries, I’m sure he would.

#15 Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns

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    In eight games, Colt McCoy was sacked 23 times which averages out to almost three sacks per game. He stood up to NFL defenses like the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens and came out alive.

    McCoy has to prove his toughness because the knock on him is that he’s to small to succeed at the position of quarterback.

    If he keeps up his good play and plays through injury, he’ll solidify his position as a tough guy.

#16 David Carr, New York Giants

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    David Carr was cut by the San Francisco 49ers and was recently signed for a second time by the New York Giants, but I will always believe that Carr’s career was sabotaged while he was in Houston.

    Carr was sacked often and hit even more. He’ll never be the same because of the time he spent on his back as a Texan and his career will probably end early.

    Carr proved that he can take a shot and he’ll forever have my respect as a tough guy.

#17 Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Josh Freeman’s a big kid standing tall at 6’6”, but he can also take a hit. He’s had his chin checked a few times in his short career.

    Freeman’s most significant injury has been a broken thumb and he came back after two weeks to lead the Bucs to 10 wins last season.

    His weight and height are similar to Ben Roethlisberger and the Bucs are hopeful that his toughness will match Big Ben’s as well.

#18 Eli Manning, New York Giants

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    I’ve always thought that Eli Manning was a little overrated. He threw over 20 interceptions last season and constantly makes bad decisions.

    But he’s durable and he’s started 103 consecutive regular season games. Quarterbacks take a beating and the fact that Manning has lasted over 100 games without missing a start is remarkable.

    He’s a Super Bowl-winning quarterback who has underrated toughness. Not the best quarterback in his division, but he’s the toughest.

#19 Jon Kitna, Dallas Cowboys

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    Yeah, he’s a backup now, but during his time in Detroit and playing the role of starter for the Cowboys, he played behind some pretty shabby offensive lines.

    He did well last year as a game manager and even though he’s mistake-prone, Jon Kitna is a fiery leader and will never leave his teammates hanging. He’s tough and willing to take a beating for the sake of the team.  

#20 Chad Pennington, Unsigned

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    I know that Chad Pennington is taking a sabbatical from football to focus on his analyst skills, but he was a tough player when he was in the league.

    Pennington has had his shoulder operated on four times. He continues to come back and play well even though his shoulder has seen more knives than Joan Rivers' face!

    But he takes a beating as well, and I believe he’s a pretty sturdy NFL player. Whenever he decides to come back, whatever NFL teams picks him up will get a veteran with a tough disposition.

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