The 2011 NFL season begins on Thursday, September 8th when the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers play the New Orleans Saints. This is the time of year when every NFL fan is optimistic about their team's prospects for the upcoming season. Every fan is wondering whether their team has a realistic shot at the Super Bowl. A good way to answer this question is to analyse who your team has in place at the quarterback position.
There are currently six starting quarterbacks in the NFL who have led their team to victory in the Super Bowl. Will that number increase this season? Any team hoping to contend for a Super Bowl this season must receive elite play from its quarterback. Any team whose quarterback struggles can expect to finish near the bottom of the standings. Quarterback is by far the most important position on any NFL team.
Here is a list of the 32 quarterbacks who are likely to start for their teams on Opening Day in 2011. Their strengths and weaknesses are discussed, along with their prospects for this season. All of the quarterbacks have been ranked in the order in which they would be chosen to start this season. If you feel your team's quarterback is ranked too high or too low, please feel free to tell me why.
2010 Stats: 2,857 yards, 27 TDs, six INTs (TCU Horned Frogs)
Andy Dalton was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, 35th overall. He is currently projected to be the starter for the Bengals this season following the retirement of Carson Palmer. Dalton enjoyed a very successful college career at TCU. He recorded more wins for the programme in the NCAA than any other quarterback in their history.
His ranking at the bottom of this list isn't necessarily an indictment of his overall talent level but rather the position which he finds himself thrust into.With the shortened offseason due to the lockout, Dalton has missed months of coaching which he would normally have received. He is likely to struggle early as he adjusts to the pace of the NFL.
Two of last year's starting receivers, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, are no longer with the team. Cedric Benson showed signs of decline last year averaging fewer than four yards per carry. Dalton will have a surrounding cast of talented but inexperienced players. His top throwing targets will be rookie AJ Green, second-year players Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley, and Jerome Simpson, who has amassed 279 yards receiving in his three NFL seasons. There are bound to be some growing pains for this group collectively.
2010 Statistics: 341 yards, three TDs, four INTs (Minnesota Vikings)
The Seahawks have made some nice moves in the offseason to upgrade their offence. They remade their offensive line by drafting James Carpenter and John Moffitt and signing Robert Gallery from the Oakland Raiders in free agency. They upgraded their receiving corps by signing prized free-agent Sidney Rice from the Vikings and Zach Miller from the Oakland Raiders.
However, the decision to sign Tarvaris Jackson and immediately name him the starter is a head-scratcher. His play during his tenure in Minnesota ranged mostly from average to bad. The Vikings did not see Jackson as their future franchise QB and I find it unlikely the Seahawks do either. He has experience in offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's system and this has given him an advantage in this shortened offseason in the race for the starting role.
Jackson is viewed as a stopgap solution in Seattle until the position can be addressed in the draft next year. It is likely that Jackson will struggle this year and be replaced by Charlie Whitehurst at some point.
2010 Statistics: 120 yards, zero TDs, zero INTs
Luke McCown is the new starting quarterback in Jacksonville after the Jaguars surprisingly cut David Garrard after nine seasons with the team. This move comes as a big shock especially considering the timing. There are just days to go before the regular season begins.
The Jaguars have had Garrard for nine years. They should have been able to decide last March that they wanted to move forward without him in 2011. By waiting until now they have denied themselves the opportunity to shop for a replacement. They have also denied Luke McCown many valuable snaps with the first-team offense. Jack Del Rio's job is on the line this season and this is the kind of decision a desperate man makes.
McCown has played very sparingly since entering the league five years ago. The Jaguars have indicated that McCown has played very well in training camp and has simply outperformed Garrard. They also stated that this move could have made last season if McCown hadn't sustained an injury. The future of the franchise in Jacksonville is 2011 10th overall draft pick Blaine Gabbert. He will take over the starting job next season but could be introduced far earlier if the Jaguars and McCown struggle.
I worry for the Jaguars prospects in the short term in the wake of this move. Decisions like this can have a negative effect in the locker room. Franchise player Maurice Jones-Drew was an outspoken supporter of Garrard and cannot be pleased with this turn of events.
2010 Statistics: 884 yards, seven TDs, four INTs
I was mildly surprised when the Redskins did not take the opportunity to select Blaine Gabbert with the 10th overall selection in the 2010 draft. Instead they traded with Jacksonville, who promptly selected the Missouri signal-caller. With Donovan McNabb traded to Minnesota, John Beck and Rex Grossman have been fighting it out for the chance to start for the Redskins in 2011. This week Mike Shanahan announced Grossman has received the nod to start on Opening Day.
Grossman is a former first-round draft pick by the Chicago Bears. He guided the Bears to a Super Bowl appearance in 2006 where they eventually lost out to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Grossman’s inconsistent play eventually led the Bears to cut ties with him after five seasons. Grossman subsequently landed in Houston as the backup working under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
The Shanahans know what Grossman can do. He has been in their system for two seasons. He has his limitations but it is unlikely that he will be asked to do too much within the offense. Grossman will play the role of game-manager. The Redskins will run the ball a lot and their defense should be strong.
Washington has received a lot of praise for the additions it has made to its defense in the offseason but it also made a couple of moves which should make the team much better offensively. Jabar Gaffney is a very experienced, reliable receiver who will provide an excellent target for Grossman. Tim Hightower has the potential to explode in Mike Shanahan's offense. I expect him to exceed 1,000 yards rushing. Third-round pick Leonard Hankerson is also a player with a lot of potential.
Rex Grossman and John Beck are both unlikely to be the quarterback of the future for the Redskins. They are taking a long-term view and will look to address this position in the draft next year.
2010 Statistics: 2,370 yards, 14 TDs, 10 INTs
Alex Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall pick in the draft, has been largely underwhelming in his six NFL seasons to date. This is evidenced by the fact he has thrown 51 touchdowns and 53 interceptions in his career. He has worked with six different offensive coordinators in six seasons; this season he will work with a seventh. Greg Roman has been hired from Stanford along with head coach Jim Harbaugh to take over the position.
Smith was re-signed by the 49ers in the offseason on a one-year deal to serve as a bridge until 2010 second-round pick Colin Kaepernick is ready to take the reins. It is very unlikely at this point that Smith will experience a career resurgence and become the player he was drafted to be. Numerous shoulder surgeries have robbed him of much of his arm strength.
However, it was a wise move for Harbaugh to re-sign the veteran. He knows the players and that is a big advantage for a new coach in the shortened offseason. It seems Kaepernick is the future at this position for the 49ers but whether that future becomes the present this season remains to be seen. If Smith and the team as a whole struggle it is likely that Kaepernick will be blooded later in the year.
2010 Statistics: 3,301 yards, 15 TDs, 19 INTs
Since the legendary Dan Marino hung up his cleats the Dolphins have had a revolving door at the quarterback position. Bad decision after bad decision by the Dolphins hierarchy, in the search for his successor, has resulted in a decade of mediocrity for this franchise.
They signed AJ Feeley and Daunte Culpepper as supposed free-agent saviours but passed up the chance to sign Drew Brees. They drafted John Beck, Chad Henne and Pat White in the second round of the draft but decided against drafting Matt Ryan. The one season when the Dolphins actually did receive solid play from the QB position in 2008 from Chad Pennington; they won their division and made the playoffs. Go figure.
Chad Henne enters the season as the starter—sort of. Head coach Tony Sparano gave Henne possibly the worst vote of confidence in the history of the NFL when he declared after the first preseason game that he "wouldn't say there's a battle right at this second." The fans in Miami are clamoring for an upgrade. If Henne doesn't play a lot better in the next couple of weeks it wouldn't shock me to see Matt Moore named as the starter for the beginning of the regular season.
It will be interesting to watch things unfold in Miami this season. If either of these QBs step up this team could be very good, very quickly. If not, they will struggle. Either way the Dolphins' No. 1 priority next offseason must be to land a franchise-caliber signal-caller.
2010 Statistics: 2,734 yards, 23 TDs, 15 INTs
Jason Campbell had his struggles at times for the Raiders last year in his first year in Hue Jackson's offence but he also had his bright spots. Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey are all explosive playmakers whose skills are developing. Darren McFadden is a star at running back. However, the offensive line is a bit of a question mark and Zach Miller's departure to Seattle is a big loss.
I wouldn't define Campbell as a franchise quarterback but he is a guy you can win with. He has good physical tools. He can move in the pocket and can deliver the deep ball. He is also careful with the football. He tends to struggle in the red zone though and converting on 3rd down.
Establishing the run and being physical up front will be a staple of the Raiders offence this year. Expect to see a lot of play-action passes as the Raiders look to take advantage of teams stacking the box against McFadden by utilizing their speed at wideout.
2010 Statistics: 3,000 yards, 23 TDs, 15 INTs
Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a pleasant surprise for Buffalo Bills fans since taking over the reins as the starting quarterback last season. He kept the offense competitive and the Bills were unfortunate to lose quite a few close games last season.
Fitzpatrick probably isn't the future for Buffalo at the position. His ceiling in the NFL is something close to what he displayed last season. However his toughness, intelligence and leadership are all assets that will help the Bills win football games next season.
The Bills are a couple of years away from contending for a playoff spot. They need to identify and acquire a franchise quarterback in that time span. In the meantime, Fitzpatrick will not let anyone in Buffalo down.
2010 Statistics: 3,001 yards, 12 TDs, 17 INTs
Matt Hasselbeck has been a good player in the NFL for a long time, but at 35 years old he is coming to the end of the line. He struggled with injuries last year and posted underwhelming numbers for the Seahawks, throwing more picks than touchdowns. He did, however, give a flash of his old self in the Seahawks' thrilling playoff victory over New Orleans.
He has been brought to Tennessee to help ease 2011 eighth overall NFL draft pick Jake Locker's transition to the NFL. The offense in Tennessee will be based around running back Chris Johnson's considerable talents. He is one of the game's best running backs and should have a very productive season now that his contract situation has been resolved. Kenny Britt is the Titans' biggest weapon in the passing game. He has had a lot of trouble off the field during the offseason but he is an enormous talent on it.
Hasselbeck will serve as a good mentor for Locker this season. He is a model pro and will set a good example both on and off the field. I'd expect him to stick around as a backup once Locker takes over, playing a similar role to Chad Pennington in Miami over the past few seasons.
2010 Statistics: 2,854 yards, 30 TDs, seven INTs (Auburn Tigers)
Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2010 NFL draft, possesses one of the most intriguing physical skill sets we have seen in the NFL in recent years. He has a rocket for an arm and is a very gifted runner. He also has a huge physical frame (6'5", 245 lbs), which will make him very difficult to get on the ground. Think Ben Roethlisberger.
The shortened NFL offseason is a major handicap for Newton as he enters his first NFL season. He played in a very simplistic offence at Auburn. He has missed months of minicamps and professional coaching. However, he has done reasonably well in the preseason and has done enough to earn the right to start on the Opening Day. Look for the Panthers to keep it simple for Newton early in the season and gradually expand the playbook as the season progresses.
When Newton does see the field, the offence will be tailored to maximize his skill set. The focus will be on the running game. DeAngelo Williams will feature heavily and new additions Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen will appear often in two-tight-end sets. Newton will run a lot option plays, bootlegs and play-action passes to Steve Smith going deep.
2010 Statistics: 1,197 yards, seven TDs, seven INTs
Arizona beat out Seattle in the race for Kevin Kolb's services. The Cardinals sent a 2012 second-round pick and former Pro Bowl corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to Philadelphia in exchange for Kolb's services. Arizona held the fifth overall selection in the 2011 NFL draft and passed on selecting Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder. It seems likely that the framework for a deal with the Eagles had already been laid down on draft day.
It is important for Arizona that they have made the correct decision in acquiring Kolb. They miscued badly as to what they had in place at the QB position last season in the wake of Kurt Warner's retirement. They were rewarded with a 5-11 season. Larry Fitzgerald was entering the season in the final year of a contract which prohibited the use of the franchise tag. The Cardinals needed to act to stabilize the quarterback position in order to convince Fitzgerald, the most popular player in franchise history, to re-sign.
This dilemma may have prompted the Cardinals to favor Kolb's experience over one of the rookies' potential.
Kolb has flashed potential but lacked consistency during his limited playing time in the NFL to date. He has thrown more career picks than touchdowns. Having said that, Andy Reid saw enough in Kolb to send Donovan McNabb to the Redskins and proclaim Kolb his starter. Unfortunately for Kolb, he suffered a combination of injuries and Michael Vick took over.
Kolb possesses good mobility in the pocket and and can make all of the throws. He does, however, become flustered under pressure and this can lead to interceptions. He will have one of the best receiving threats in the game to lean on in Fitzgerald. Expect Todd Heap to put up big numbers. Kolb loves to utilize the tight end. The running game should be improved with some additions on the offensive line in free agency although the season-ending injury which running back Ryan Williams suffered will hurt them.
2010 Statistics: 1,576 yards, six TDs, nine INTs
Colt McCoy waited much longer than he anticipated on draft weekend in 2010. He wasn't selected until the 85th pick overall in the third round, but they say good things come to those who wait. Mike Holmgren made a call in the Browns draft room to select McCoy once he began to slide. McCoy repaid his faith by winning the starting job last year. He enters the season in a far healthier position than Tim Tebow and Jimmy Clausen, both of whom were drafted ahead of him.
McCoy had a very successful career for the Texas Longhorns, recording the most wins (45) in NCAA history. He acquitted himself quite well in his debut last year in a loss away to Pittsburgh before helping the Browns post two very impressive victories over the Saints and Patriots. Injuries and inconsistency derailed him in the latter part of the season but all in all, his rookie season showed plenty of promise.
His stature and lack of arm strength were negatives coming out of college but these weaknesses are minimized in the West Coast offence in which he operates. His accuracy, intelligence and mobility are his major assets. The Browns will lean heavily on Peyton Hillis again this season and tight end Ben Watson will act as McCoy's security blanket. The Browns do not have an established playmaker at wideout but they have high hopes for 2011 second-round draft pick Greg Little.
McCoy has looked fantastic for the Browns in the preseason and seems poised for a very good season in 2011.
2010 Statistics: 3,377 yards, 14 TDs, 15 INTs
Donovan McNabb arrived in Washington last season and was immediately hailed as the saviour of the franchise. Things didn't work out as hoped. In fact, they couldn't have gone much worse. He arrives in Minnesota with far lower expectations—but make no mistake, the six-time Pro Bowler is a massive addition to the Vikings.
Vikings quarterbacks threw for 14 touchdowns and 26 interceptions last season, yet the team still managed to record six wins. If McNabb can rediscover his old form, the Vikings will bear a far greater resemblance to the team that reached the 2009 NFC Championship Game than the one that took the field last season.
Sidney Rice is a massive loss to the Vikings passing game. Adrian Peterson will be the focus of the offence. The Vikings will run a lot of two-tight-end sets featuring Visanthe Shiancoe and 2011 second-round pick Kyle Rudolph. Both excel as receivers. Percy Harvin will be McNabb's primary target at wideout.
McNabb has been cast by many as a caretaker in Minnesota until 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder is ready to take the reins. However, if things go as I expect, Ponder may have to hold a clipboard much longer than most expect.
2010 Statistics: 3,653 yards, 20 TDs, nine INTs
The quarterback position is far from settled for the Broncos but Kyle Orton, coming off his best season in the NFL, is not to blame for that. The shadow of Tim Tebow looms large in Denver. It is a complex situation. The organisation has invested a first-round pick in Tebow but the current regime were not the ones who selected the supremely charismatic product of the University of Florida.
As of right now, Orton is the superior quarterback and justifiably enters the season as the starter, but at some point Denver must turn to Tebow to see what he can do. Orton's position became more difficult when Denver agreed to trade him to Miami, only for the trade to fall through after the QB could not agree to a contract with the Dolphins.
For now, Orton remains the starter in Denver and he will look to pick up from where he left off last season. He posted very impressive numbers and helped journeyman wide receiver Brandon Lloyd rise from obscurity to lead the NFL in receiving yards. The one area in which he failed to excel last season was in leading his team to victory. The Broncos posted a 4-12 record last season, second-worst in the NFL.
Orton has many admirable qualities. He is a very accurate passer with a good arm who can read defences. The two areas in which he tends to struggle are converting on 3rd down and in the red zone. This suggests he needs to become mentally tougher in order to take the next step in his career. He has a talented receiving corps in Denver with Lloyd, Eddie Royal, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
Wins are the most important stat for Kyle Orton in 2011. If he struggles, Tim Tebow awaits.
2010 Statistics: 3,274 yards, 23 TDs, 16 INTs
Jay Cutler cut a forlorn figure on the sideline during the Chicago Bears loss in the 2010 NFC Championship Game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. Maurice Jones-Drew was one of many to publicly condemn the Bears QB for not playing through the knee injury he suffered. A media storm erupted regarding the incident but for me, the entire debate was meaningless. Cutler was one win away from realizing his lifelong dream of playing in a Super Bowl. If he says he was injured, then who are we not to give him the benefit of the doubt?
What was troubling about the entire incident was his demeanor on the sideline once he came out of the game. Instead of encouraging his teammates, assisting his offensive coordinator and passing along advise to his backup Caleb Hanie, he sat off to the side feeling sorry for himself. Can you picture Tom Brady or Peyton Manning acting in a similar fashion in this situation?
Cutler has all the ability in the world. He has one of the best arms in the NFL. Yet he has failed to live up to expectations since he was traded from Denver. A big reason for this is the talent surrounding him.
His offensive line is the worst in the NFL. They allowed a ridiculous 56 sacks last season. They decided to let their best lineman, centre Olin Kreutz, leave for New Orleans in free agency. They allowed nine sacks in their preseason opener against Buffalo. His wide receiving corps is not a team strength. It remains to be seen if Roy Williams can resurrect his career under Mike Martz.
The thing about Cutler is he possesses the talent to overcome all of this. Great players can make everyone around them better and he has the ability to be great. He has to mature, both on and off the field, though, if he is to ever take that leap forward.
2010 Statistics: 3,116 yards, 27 TDs, seven INTs
Matt Cassel made huge strides for the Chiefs last year. In his second season with the team, he led the Chiefs to the AFC West division title and was voted to the Pro Bowl. Scott Pioli and Todd Haley are well aware that their fortunes are tied to Cassel and they have to be pleased with his progress to date.
Cassel was extremely efficient with the football last season, throwing only seven interceptions. The Chiefs had the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL last season, led by emerging superstar Jamaal Charles. Cassel and the passing attack played an effective complementary role in the offense but struggled when asked to come from behind. He was thoroughly ineffective in the Chiefs' playoff loss to the Ravens. He needs to learn to perform better when the pressure is on but this is an aspect of his game that should improve with experience.
Jamaal Charles will be the primary weapon in the Chiefs offence again this season. Dwayne Bowe was exceptional last season, catching 15 touchdown passes, but the Chiefs lacked additional weapons. In an effort to remedy this, the Chiefs signed wide receiver Steve Breaston from the Arizona Cardinals and used their first-round draft pick to select another receiver, Jonathan Baldwin. Expect the Chiefs to deploy a lot of three-receiver sets with these players next season.
2010 Statistics: 3,291 yards, 23 TDs, 15 INTs
In his first two seasons in the NFL, Mark Sanchez has led the New York Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship Games. He is only the second quarterback in NFL history to achieve this feat, Ben Roethlisberger being the other. Sanchez has done it the hard way, recording four road playoff victories along the way. No other quarterback has won more games on the road when it matters most in NFL history.
Sanchez's considerable talent has been very evident since he entered the league but maintaining consistency has been a problem for him. Sanchez was selected fifth overall in 2009 after one season as the starting quarterback at USC. Many, including his college coach Pete Carroll, suggested he wasn't ready for the NFL. His rookie season numbers would seem to bear this out. He threw 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.
However, defining Sanchez by his numbers is unfair. One of the most important traits in great quarterback is the ability to rise to the big occasion. Sanchez has shown this ability by beating Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in their own stadiums in the playoffs.
The Jets have done a good job of surrounding Sanchez with weapons. Santonio Holmes is an elite receiver. It was crucial for the Jets to get him re-signed in the offseason. Dustin Keller is a very good receiver at tight end. Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery are big losses to the Jets. Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason have been signed as replacements, but age is a concern with both players. The running backs remain the same but an extra year of wear and tear is unlikely to put an extra spring in LaDainian Tomlinson's step.
There will be more of an onus on Sanchez this season to carry the offence. The next step in his development will be to prove he can do it consistently.
2010 Statistics: 4,370 yards, 24 TDs, 12 TDs
Matt Schaub has been very successful for the Houston Texans in his four seasons as the starting quarterback. In each of the past two seasons, Schaub has passed for more than 4,000 yards, directing an extremely potent attack that ranked fourth and third in yards per game in 2009 and 2010 respectively. He has of course got some extremely able skill players at his disposal in the form of the league's best wide receiver, Andre Johnson, and the leading rusher in the NFL in 2010, Arian Foster.
The knock on Schaub is that despite his stellar numbers and consistent play, he has been unable to lead the Texans to the promised land of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Texans finished with a 6-10 record last season. However, the blame for the continued playoff drought in Houston should not fall on Schaub's shoulders.
Houston's defense was historically awful last year. They ranked dead last against the pass. Wade Phillips has been brought in to help address this deficiency in 2010. The other reason it has been difficult for Houston to get over the hump is the fact they play in the same division as Peyton Manning. Unfortunately for Houston, No. 18 will be lacing them up for the Colts again this season so improving the defense is the way to go if they want to force their way into the playoffs in 2011.
Schaub will have plenty of weapons at his disposal again in 2010. Andre Johnson will once again ensure a week of sleepless nights for every defensive coordinator he faces. The Texans will be hoping Jacoby Jones can assume a more prominent role in the offense across from Johnson. Owen Daniels returns at tightend. He struggled with injuries last season bit is fully healthy now. Arian Foster leads a very deep stable of running backs that also includes Ben Tate, Derrick Ward and Steve Slaton.
Schaub will once again put up very good numbers with this supporting cast. Whether those numbers will be enough to get them into the playoffs is the big question in Houston this year.
2010 Statistics: 535 yards, six TDs, one INT
Many might deem this a bit for Matthew Stafford to be ranked. He has only played two seasons in the NFL since being selected first overall in 2009 and he has finished both on injured reserve. Stafford's health has been a major issue for the emerging Detroit Lions. They signed him to a $78 million six-year contract with $41.7 million guaranteed when they drafted him. At the time Stafford signed the contract, this was the highest sum of guaranteed money ever given to an NFL player.
In his first two seasons in the league, Stafford has been healthy enough to play in 13 games out of a possible 32. However, while Stafford's durability has rightly been in question, his talent has not.
Stafford looked very good in 2010 in the limited number of games for which he was on the field. Stafford has one of the most impressive arms in the NFL and the ability to make every throw. There were worries about the injury he sustained last season to his right shoulder, his throwing arm, but his passes in the preseason looked to have the usual zip we have become accustomed to seeing. Stafford also possesses excellent pocket presence and mobility. This combined with his excellent accuracy on the move makes him very difficult to sack.
Detroit has accumulated some very nice weapons to put around Stafford. Calvin Johnson is a physical freak and has the potential to be the most dominant wide receiver in the NFL. Nate Burleson is an excellent No. 2 wideout and the team drafted the explosive Titus Young out of Boise State to play in the slot. Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler are two very capable tight ends.
Jahvid Best is the lead running back. Mikel Leshoure was injured early in camp and will miss the season. Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell will be Best's primary backups.
Health permitting, everything is in place for Matthew Stafford to have a huge season in 2011. Luckily for him, he is the only starting quarterback in the league who is guaranteed not to have to face Ndamukong Suh this season.
2010 Statistics: 3,512 yards, 18 TDs, 15 INTs
Sam Bradford was excellent in his first season in the NFL after being selected first overall by the Rams in 2010. The future looks very bright in St. Louis with the team confident they have their franchise signal-caller in place for the next decade and beyond. Injuries were a concern for Bradford after he missed a large portion of his senior season in Oklahoma but he played all 16 games in 2010. Bradford posted very good numbers despite not having established quality wide receivers at his disposal.
Josh McDaniels has taken over as the offensive coordinator in St. Louis. He may not have achieved success in his two seasons as a head coach in Denver but he did coordinate the most successful lethal passing attack in NFL history for the New England Patriots in 2007. Tom Brady broke the league record for touchdown passes and Randy Moss broke the record for receiving touchdowns, as the Patriots forged a 16-0 record. Bradford should improve on his extremely promising rookie season under McDaniels' tutelage.
The Rams did not sign any of the big names available in free agency such as Santonio Holmes or Sidney Rice but they have made some under-the-radar moves which should help Bradford. Mike Sims Walker was a solid free-agent pickup and the team drafted Greg Salas and Austin Pettis. They re-signed Mark Clayton who developed a good understanding with Bradford last season. The team also drafted tight end Lance Kendricks this year. Judging by the preseason, he could be the biggest addition to the offense. He has really stood out thus far and his athleticism makes him a difficult matchup for defences.
Bradford plays in the weakest division in the NFL and although he is only entering his second season, he is already the best quarterback in NFC West. The Rams stand a very good chance of being crowned NFC West champions in 2011. With Bradford in place, it's a crown they should wear frequently in the years to come.
2010 Statistics: 3,622 yards, 25 TDs, 10 TDs
Joe Flacco has proved to be an excellent NFL quarterback since being selected with the 18th overall selection in the 2008 NFL draft. After just three seasons in the NFL, Flacco already holds the Ravens franchise records for passing yards (10,081) and passing touchdowns (60). Last season Flacco became only the fourth quarterback to guide his team to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons and became the first to win a playoff game in each. He is also tied for most road playoff victories (four) in playoff history with Mark Sanchez among others.
Flacco is part of one of the most interesting rivalries in all of sports—the Baltimore Ravens vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their matchups in the AFC North are a highlight in the calender for any NFL fan. The Steelers have knocked Flacco and the Ravens out of the playoffs in two of the past three seasons. Both teams boast ferocious defenses and strong running games.
The difference in these games hinges, most often, on quarterback play. So far, his counterpart Ben Roethlisberger has had the edge. This is a trend Flacco must reverse if he is ever to be mentioned as an elite quarterback.
Ray Rice is the star of the Ravens offense. The diminutive running back is a nightmare for opposing defenses and can do it all. The Ravens signed Ricky Williams to replace Willis McGahee as Rice's backup. Anquan Boldin had a decent year in 2010 in his first year with the Ravens but should post superior numbers this season as he gets more comfortable in the offense.
The Ravens traded for Lee Evans and drafted Torrey Smith to provide deep threats with their speed. Flacco has a big arm and the deep ball is a throw he excels at. This should open things up for Boldin underneath. The decision to cut Todd Heap was a surprise. Second-year players Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta will have to step up in his absence.
Flacco has been very good in his three seasons to date. This year, Ravens fans are hoping he can be great.
2010 Statistics: 1,605 yards, 11 TDs, seven INTs
Tony has performed very well since taking over as the Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback in 2006. He has made the Pro Bowl three times in that period. He has a career passer rating of 95.5, which is superior to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and good for fourth-best of all time. Most teams in the NFL would be extremely pleased with this sort of production but Romo doesn't play for just any team; he plays for "America's" team.
The spotlight in Dallas shines brighter than on perhaps any other team in America. Dallas has a very rich history. The Cowboys have won five Super Bowls, tied for second-most all-time. Romo has won only one playoff game in his five seasons as a starter. Dallas has had a very talented roster over the past few years and much of the blame for their failure to advance in the postseason has fallen on Romo's shoulders.
The Dallas offense is loaded with talented players heading into this season. Miles Austin will team with Dez Bryant to form one of the most talented receiving duos in the league. Bryant, a second-year player, has limitless potential. Jason Witten is one of the premier tight ends in the game. Felix Jones will be starting tailback and Dallas are hoping for big things from their 2008 first-round pick this year.
This is a big year for Romo. The team as a whole underachieved last year. His leadership has been questioned both inside and outside the organisation. The only way to alleviate the pressure in Dallas is to win. If he ever wants to be mentioned in the same company as Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, he needs to win a Super Bowl.
2010 Statistics: 4,002 yards, 31 TDs, 25 INTs
Eli Manning created a media storm recently by stating he was an elite quarterback who was in the same class as Tom Brady. I, for one, could not see any any cause for controversy in the answer he delivered to the question which was put to him.
Manning is one of only six quarterbacks playing today that has led his team to victory in the Super Bowl, yet he does not always receive the respect he deserves. In that Super Bowl in 2007, Manning led his team to victory on the final drive of the game with two minutes to go against the 18-0 Patriots.
New York is a very large media market; it is a city where past glories are quickly forgotten. The New York Giants have been failed to make the playoffs for the last two years. Last season, Manning led the league in interceptions with 25. This is an alarming total. It is a number which must be reduced significantly in 2011.
Fumbling was also a major issue for the Giants running backs. Their propensity to turn over the ball was the primary reason the team missed out on the playoffs in 2010. They finished with a 10-6 record.
Manning has some good weapons at his disposal. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is an emerging superstar and Mario Manningham is an excellent complement on the other side of the field. Ahmad Bradshaw was re-signed in the offseason. This was an excellent move by the Giants. As previously noted, he had issues with fumbling last season, but otherwise had an excellent season.
Tight end Kevin Boss and slot receiver Steve Smith have departed for Oakland and Philadelphia respectively. Smith especially appears to be a big loss. There does not seem to be an heir apparent for his position and it will be interesting to see who emerges from the likes of Dominic Hixon, Victor Cruz and rookie Jerral Jernigan. Don't be surprised to see a veteran addition such as T.J. Houshmanzadeh once the season begins.
2011 is a big year for Eli Manning. It is very important for him to get this talented Giants team back into the playoffs. He also must learn to be far more careful with the football. Failure to achieve either of these goals will lead to further questions on his status as an elite quarterback.
2010 Statistics: 3,451 yards, 25 TDs, six INTs
If you were to draw up a list of qualities which a prototypical quarterback might possess, you would undoubtedly find that Josh Freeman has many of them. Freeman was nothing short of excellent in 2010, his first full season as Tampa Bay's starting quarterback. At 6'6", 248 lbs, Freeman has a huge frame and is blessed with excellent athletic ability. His fantastic mobility is evidenced by his 364 yards rushing in 2010, second-most in the NFL among quarterbacks. He has avery strong arm and superb accuracy. He threw only six INTs in 2010, second only to league MVP Tom Brady.
Freeman was the third quarterback selected in the 2009 NFL draft, behind Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez but at this stage in their NFL careers, has outperformed both. In his first season as the full-time starter, the Bucs won 10 games, seven more than they managed in 2009. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Freeman's breakout season was the level of success he achieved with the supporting cast he had in place. Tampa Bay's leading receiver was rookie fourth-round draft choice Mike Williams and their leading rusher was undrafted rookie free-agent, LeGarrett Blount.
Despite having ample available cap room, Tampa Bay refrained from making big free-agent acquisitions in the offseason. They focused on the defensive side of the ball in the 2010 draft so Freeman will work with the same players with whom he achieved so much success in 2010. Arrelious Benn, Dezmon Briscoe and Sammie Stroughter will all fight it out to receive snaps opposite last year's rookie sensation Mike Williams. Kellen Winslow will once again provide a dangerous threat as a tight end and LeGarrett Blount will shoulder the load in the running game.
The Buccaneers may struggle to replicate or exceed the 10 wins they recorded last season. They face a more difficult schedule and lack the element of surprise with which they were armed last season. However, with Josh Freeman leading this talented group of young players, their future promises to be very bright.
2010 Statistics: 3,705 yards, 28 TDs, nine INTs
The Atlanta Falcons were a franchise in disarray prior to Matt Ryan's arrival in 2008. Head coach Bobby Petrino had left in the middle of the previous season to take over Arkansas. Former starting quarterback Michael Vick had been imprisoned for running a dog-fighting ring.
In need of a fresh start, the Falcons hired a new general manager in Thomas Dimitroff. He subsequently hired Mike Smith as the team's head coach and drafted Matt Ryan with the third overall selection in the 2008 draft. The trio have combined to orchestrate a complete overhaul of the franchise's fortunes and Ryan has been the most important figure in this revival.
Ryan and Joe Flacco became the first rookie starting quarterbacks to start all 16 games and lead their teams into the playoffs. This feat has since been emulated by Mark Sanchez. However, while Flacco and Sanchez joined established successful teams, the Falcons won only four games 2007 prior to Ryan's arrival. This makes his feat all the more remarkable.
Ryan has some excellent weapons at his disposal in Atlanta. They boast an excellent running game which is led by Michael Turner. Tony Gonzalez is the most decorated tight end to ever play the game and a certain Hall of Fame player. Roddy White is a star at wide receiver.
The Falcons traded a bounty of picks to Cleveland in this year's draft for the right to select receiver Julio Jones out of Alabama, and he should settle in very quickly with the Falcons. Himself and White have the potential to be the most dynamic pairing of wide receivers in the league. Harry Douglas also returns after missing 2010 due to injury and will provide an explosive threat as the slot receiver.
Ryan has been excellent in his three seasons to date in the NFL. The next marker in his progression into an elite quarterback is to achieve success in the playoffs. The front office in Atlanta has done their part and equipped him an excellent supporting cast. It is now up to Ryan to lead them to glory.
2010 Statistics: 3,018 yards, 21 TDs, six INTs
When Michael Vick signed his new six-year $100 million contract this week, one of the most remarkable redemption stories in the history of sports came full circle. Vick, the former No. 1 overall pick and face of the Atlanta Falcons, was convicted of charges related to an illegal dog-fighting ring which was being run on his property and served two years in prison. There were doubts about whether Vick would ever play in the NFL again.
Vick silenced those doubters with a sensational return to form last season. He was a legitimate candidate for league MVP. Vick rededicated himself off the field and reinvented himself on it. One of the most gifted athletes to ever step on an NFL field, Vick has in the past relied on this ability a bit too much. Although Vick rushed for more yards than any other quarterback in 2010, it was his improvement as a pocket passer which really set him apart. Vick threw only six interceptions last season and posted the highest quarterback rating of his career, 100.2. Vick's decision-making and ability to read a defense have improved significantly under Andy Reid's tutelage.
The Eagles are loaded this season and will be very difficult to beat if Vick can replicate his 2010 form. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are both fantastic young receivers who excel at getting deep and the deep ball is a throw at which Vick excels. LeSean McCoy is one of the best young running backs in the league and only getting better. The Eagles also added Ronnie Brown. His ability to run the Wildcat is intriguing when also factoring in Vick's ability to run. Expect to see a version of this during the season at some point.
The Eagles have taken a leap of faith by giving Vick this contract; this time he must repay it. He must continue to stay hungry and stay humble. If he does, the sky is the limit both for himself and his team.
2010 Statistics: 3,200 yards, 17 TDs, five INTs
Ben Roethlisberger has had his share of off-field controversies since being selected 11th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2004 draft but on the field, he has been a very steady presence for this famed franchise. Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls (2005 and 2008) during that period and guided the Steelers back to the championship game last season.
Roethlisberger has a style of play that is quite unlike anyone else in the NFL. He doesn't always exhibit textbook quarterback play but what he does is hugely effective. Roethlisberger is a very big man (6'5", 241 lbs) who is very difficult for opposing defenses to get to the ground. He has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long at times which leads to a lot of sacks.
However, he makes up for this with an ability to improvise when a play breaks down which is second to none in the NFL. He excels at throwing on the run and has good mobility. His arm is very good and his deep ball is an underrated weapon in the Steelers offense.
The Steelers have done an excellent job of drafting wide receivers in recent years. Mike Wallace is one of the premier deep threats in the NFL. Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown had strong contributions as rookies last season. Brown has looked exceptional in the preseason and looks poised to have a huge season. Add in veterans Hines Ward and Jerricho Cotchery and it is clear the Steelers have one of the best wide receiving corps in the league.
The Steelers have been to two Super Bowls in the last three years and with Big Ben at the helm, they have everything they need to get back to the big one again this year. Roethlisberger is working with the most talented group of receivers he has ever had and I expect his performance on the field to reflect that.
2010 Statistics: 4,710 yards, 30 TDs, 13 INTs
Not many teams could let Drew Brees walk through the exit door in the prime of his career and not live to regret it, but that is exactly what the San Diego Chargers did in 2006. Although Brees has enjoyed huge success in New Orleans, Philip Rivers has been exceptional since taking over as the starting quarterback and the organisation has to be very happy to have him in place.
Rivers was selected fourth overall in the 2004 draft as part of the same class as Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. They have been hailed as the most talented group to emerge since the famed class of 1983 which yielded Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino. None of these three quarterbacks have ever posted a losing record as a starter. Both Manning and Roethlisberger have won Super Bowl rings, a feat which Rivers has yet to achieve, but he has exceeded them in other ways.
Rivers threw for more yards than any other quarterback in the NFL last season despite the fact his offense was completely decimated by injuries and contract holdouts. Great quarterbacks can win with anyone and Rivers showed he has the ability to do that last season. Rivers has an unorthodox release when throwing but this doesn't affect his ability to spin the ball. The deep ball is a staple of Norv Turner's complicated offense and Rivers throws it more accurately and with more success than any other quarterback in the NFL.
Rivers will once again have best tight end in the NFL, Antonio Gates, to throw to this season. Vincent Jackson has been franchised and has reported to camp on time. This is a big boost for Rivers after Jackson missed games last season due to contract issues. The Chargers also re-signed Malcolm Floyd during the offseason and rookie Vincent Brown seems poised for big things.
Postseason success has so far eluded Rivers and this precludes him from being mentioned in the elite class of quarterbacks. The Chargers are loaded this season and will go as far as Philip Rivers can take them.
2010 Statistics: 4,620 yards, 33 TDs, 22 INTs
Not many people envisioned back in 2006, when New Orleans was in such turmoil following Hurricane Katrina, the impact the arrivals of a rookie head coach and a quarterback with a bad shoulder would have in revitalising both a decimated city and a beleaguered franchise. Few foresaw the offensive juggernaut which the meeting of these two brilliant offensive minds would create. Four years later, the New Orleans Saints were crowned champions of the world in one the most popular Super Bowl wins in recent memory.
Drew Brees has forged a Hall of Fame career with his exceptional play since arriving in New Orleans. He has helped transform the franchise from perpetual also-rans into perennial contenders. His leadership, work ethic and will to win are all of the absolute highest standard. Sean Payton is perhaps the brightest offensive mind in the NFL and Brees does an excellent job of executing his system. The beauty of the offense is its depth and diversity. The Saints have an abundance of weapons and Brees utilizes them all.
Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore are all excellent wide receivers that each bring something different to the equation. Tight end Jimmy Graham is probably the best player you've never heard of. The second-year player is an exceptional talent and should have a huge season in this offense if he stays injury-free. The Saints have a strong group of running backs.
Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas will team with new arrivals Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles to form one of the more talented groups in the league. They should have ample success running behind a line which features Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, two of the best guards in football.
Brees threw 22 interceptions last season, second only to Eli Manning. This is an alarming number for a quarterback of his calibre. The most notable difference between their Super Bowl season in 2009 and their 2010 season was their inability to create turnovers on defence and their propensity to turn the ball over on offense.
The Saints were embarrassed in their playoff defeat to a Seahawks team that finished 2010 with a losing record. This year. the Saints have reloaded and should be refocused. It all begins with Brees though. If he plays to his capability, the sky is the limit for this team.
2010 Statistics: 4,700 yards, 33 TDs, 17 INTs
Peyton Manning is one of the most talented players to ever play in the NFL. He has been named as the NFL's MVP on a record four occasions. He has also been voted to 11 Pro Bowls, tied with Brett Favre for most all-time among quarterbacks. No player has meant more to his team over the last decade than Peyton Manning has meant to the Colts.
Manning is a throwback quarterback in that in many ways, he acts as his own offensive coordinator. Manning takes a big role in dictating the offense and can often be seen leading practice during Colts sessions. The Colts run a unique, high-tempo offense. Instead of a traditional huddle, the Colts will often head straight to the line of scrimmage and Manning will call out the play using pre-snap audibles. This up-tempo offense and Manning's mastery of it makes life very difficult for opposing defenses. Manning's ability to read a defense and attack its weaknesses is second to none.
The Colts' inability to groom a capable replacement is both a testament to Manning's extraordinary role within the offense and an indication of the Colts' less-than-stellar draft record in recent years. In recent seasons, the Colts have selected offensive players such as Joseph Addai, Anthony Gonzalez and Donald Brown and they have not had the desired impact.
However, the Colts still have enough pieces in place to mount a serious Super Bowl challenge. Reggie Wayne is still one of the best wide receivers in the game. Austin Collie, if he can stay free from injury, is an excellent player and Pierre Garcon is also capable. Dallas Clark is healthy again and that should provide a massive boost.
Manning is currently questionable to start on Opening Day. He is dealing with a neck injury. Is this a sign that age is starting to catch up with the 35-year-old quarterback? If Manning is unable to go, I do not like the Colts' chances to beat anyone. If he is healthy and playing at his best, they are capable of beating anyone. As always, the fortunes of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts go hand in hand.
2010 Statistics: 3,922 yards, 28 TDs, 11 INTs
Believe it or not, the first few years of his NFL career were a bit of a struggle for Aaron Rodgers. After being projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, Rodgers slipped to 24th overall before finally being selected by the Green Bay Packers.
In Green Bay, he spent the first three seasons of his NFL career warming the bench as the backup to Brett Favre. When he finally did get his opportunity to start in 2008, he had a rather tough job to win over a skeptical Green Bay fanbase who had just seen their idol Brett Favre jettisoned in favor of Rodgers.
While the first three years of his NFL career may not have gone to plan, the last three have been the stuff of dreams. Rodgers has been nothing short of exceptional since taking the reins in 2008. He is the NFL's all-time leader in passer rating during both the regular season (98.4) and the postseason (112.6). Rodgers won the first Super Bowl of his career last season and he was absolutely dominant in the process. He was named Super Bowl MVP after a game in which he absolutely shredded a highly regarded Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
Rodgers possesses every quality you look for in a quarterback. His accuracy, arm strength and ability to read a defense are all elite. He is an extremely mobile quarterback also. He rushed for 356 yards last season. One criticism of him is he sometimes holds onto the ball too long and takes too many sacks in the process. However, this is something which he has improved upon as he has gained experience.
Rodgers is surrounded by excellent players in Green Bay. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley are key members of the best receiving corps in the NFL.
Rodgers is the brightest young star in the NFL. He has already established himself as one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL and should only improve, which is a very scary thought for 31 other NFL teams. He is surrounded by many other talented young players in Green Bay and this group looks set to challenge for Super Bowls for years to come.
2010 Statistics: 3,900 yards, 36 TDs, four INTs
Tom Brady is coming off a fantastic season in 2010, after which he became the first player ever to be unanimously voted as the NFL MVP. Brady led the New England Patriots, a team many deemed to be rebuilding prior to the season, to a league-best 14-2 record.
Brady is one of the most decorated players ever to play the game. The league MVP award he received last season was his second. He also won it back in 2007. He also has three Super Bowl rings and holds the record for most touchdown passes thrown in a season with 50, also set back in 2007.
Brady is currently at the peak of his powers. This is illustrated by the fact that he carries two records into the 2011 season. The Patriots have not lost a regular-season home game in which he has played since 2006, posting 28 consecutive victories in Foxborough. He also has not thrown an interception in the regular season in 339 passing attempts. Brady will look to extend both of these NFL records once the 2011 season kicks off.
Brady's story has been well documented. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, 199th overall. He is the biggest draft steal of all time. As such, he has had a tougher road to get to the top than most. Brady is not a player who was blessed with extraordinary natural ability, yet he has achieved extraordinary feats. Every facet of his game has improved with each season he has spent in the NFL. This is a tribute to his tremendous competitive desire and work ethic.
Brady is one of the most cerebral players to ever play the game. His ability to read a defense and attack it's weaknesses is second to none. He has an ice-cool demeanor on the field and reacts well to highly pressurized situations. He led game-winning drives in the final seconds of the game to win his first two Super Bowls.
Brady and Peyton Manning will easily go down as the most iconic NFL players of the past decade. They are both assured of their place in history amongst the greatest to ever play the position. If Brady can add another Super Bowl or two to his collection before he retires, he will enter the discussion to go down as the greatest.