Ranking the NFL's Top Quarterbacks: Midseason Edition
For those who don't remember, I wrote an article in mid-August ranking the NFL's top 10 quarterbacks in the wake of Eli Manning's comments that he was "elite." Here is the article for the sake of comparison.
After eight games of football (for most teams) and an impressive fourth-quarter comeback by Manning against the very man he compared himself to, Tom Brady, now is the perfect time to rehash these rankings. For the record, Peyton Manning will not be included simply because he hasn't played this season.
Tier 4: On the Cusp of the Top 10
15. Andy Dalton: Dalton has done more than anybody expected in his rookie season and has a Cincinnati team many penciled in for two to four victories sitting at 6-2 and tied for the division lead with Baltimore. He's 14th in the NFL with an 85.0 passer rating and has limited mistakes with just seven interceptions while showing the arm strength to make plays down the field.
His accuracy has been impressive, too, completing 61.5 percent of his passes with few options beyond fellow rookie A.J. Green and second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham. As this passing games matures, expect Dalton to hold his ground at this spot and maybe even push closer to the top 10.
14. Ryan Fitzpatrick: Fitzpatrick just got paid by the Bills, and regardless of whether you feel he's worth $10 million per season (I'm torn), he has enjoyed a solid 2011 season to date. All the talk of Andrew Luck in Buffalo has subsided thanks to a 5-3 start, and regardless of whether the Bills make the playoffs this season, Fitzpatrick has cemented himself as a legitimate NFL starter.
He may never be elite, either, and since throwing seven touchdowns and just one interception in the season's first two games, he's down to eight each in his past six. Last week's return of Donald Jones should certainly help him, as he's struggled to find his secondary targets at times, but Fitzpatrick is here to stay.
13. Mark Sanchez: I may catch some heat for this ranking, but take away the Baltimore debacle, and Sanchez's passer rating is in the low-90s. For now, it's 16th in the league, but since the Jets decided to play to the third-year quarterback's strength in play action, Sanchez has been his usual winning self.
It's hard to discount two straight trips to the AFC Championship game for any quarterback, no matter how much of an impact he had in those runs. Sanchez isn't ready to drop back and throw 35-40 times a game like Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger, but he's already proven he's ready to lead a team on a deep playoff run.
He has certainly looked like a better, more confident passer this season as well. He may never be in the elite discussion, but he belongs in the top 15, and eventually, maybe the top 10.
12. Matt Ryan: Ryan has struggled some this season, and despite a respectable 12:9 TD:INT ratio, sits just 18th in the NFL with an 83.3 quarterback rating. The Falcons have also struggled as a team at times, and part of that can be thrown on Ryan.
He hasn't made all the big throws when he's had to, but Atlanta is still 5-3, and with a win against the Saints this weekend, they will lead the NFC South. The step forward many expected from Ryan this season hasn't come, and while it's brought up legitimate questions about his upside, Eli Manning has proven this season that sometimes quarterbacks take seven or eight seasons to reach their peak.
11. Cam Newton: Watching the Carolina Panthers this season has been the Cam Newton show. The sensational rookie is 13th in the league with an 87.1 passer rating, fifth in passing yards and has 18 total touchdowns in eight games.
Despite a shaky preseason that had many questioning his accuracy and consistency, Newton has completed over 60 percent of his passes and has spread the ball around nicely, with the exception of Steve Smith. It won't be long before he's in the elite discussion.
Tier 3: Stars with Stats, but No Rings
10. Matthew Stafford: Stafford is just 1.5 passer rating points short of Brees for second in the NFL, and his 19:4 TD:INT ratio is better than anybody not named Aaron Rodgers. The Lions are winning partially because their defense is improved, but it helps when your former No. 1 pick is healthy.
Stafford has All-Pro potential and, along with Vick, is the quarterback most likely to eventually crack the top five from this tier. I need to see more from him than just a great half-season to move him up higher on this list, though.
9. Matt Schaub: Schaub wasn't in my preseason top 10, but he makes it now thanks to Peyton Manning's injury and Matt Ryan's struggles. Schaub has always posted impressive statistics, as most fantasy football owners know, but now, his Texans are 6-3 and leading the AFC South.
Winning will help any quarterback, regardless of the real reasons behind the wins. Houston has a great 1-2 punch in the backfield with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, while their defense is vastly improved as well. Maybe that just means that with a winning team, Schaub will finally get the credit he deserves.
8. Tony Romo: Romo has been his usual self this season. The stats look good (92.2 rating, 13 TD, 7 INT), but he has also cost his team two football games with late turnovers, in Week 1 against the Jets and Week 5 against the Lions.
Romo is in the class just below elite for that exact reason; the stats have always been there, but you need numbers and rings (or at least wins) to be elite. He certainly has the potential, but the question is whether it's too late to live up to it.
7. Philip Rivers: Rivers is struggling this season, but I'm not going to let a bad eight-game stretch sour a solid career to this point. Rivers was sixth on this list in the preseason and would be eighth now if Peyton Manning was ranked, but that's a moot point.
He leads the league with 14 interceptions but he's been without star tight end Antonio Gates for much of the season. Vincent Jackson is either huge (three games with over 100 yards and a touchdown) or invisible (five games with 63 or less yards and no touchdowns), and he's had a banged-up running game. Rivers has looked terrible at times, but it's not all his fault.
6. Michael Vick: Vick and the Eagles started the season 1-4, but now sit 3-4 and can pull into a tie for second in the NFC East with a win tonight against the Bears. Like his team, Vick has gotten increasingly more comfortable with every game in 2011.
People say Vick is inaccurate. He's completed 63.2 percent of his passes this season. He's obviously a threat on the ground as well, and even though he has come down to earth since the beginning of last season with the league catching on once again, he's still one of the NFL's best.
The only real knock on Vick is an inability to stay healthy, and he's found himself dinged up a few times already this season. That and no Super Bowl wins keep him out of the five-player elite class for now.
Tier 2: Stars with Rings
5. Eli Manning: Surprised? Don't be. He's earned it. My arguments against Manning at the beginning of the season were turnovers and inconsistency and through eight games; he seems like he has fixed both.
Manning has thrown just six interceptions this season, three coming in a home loss to Seattle. The Giants are 6-2 despite a rash of injuries and Manning just engineered an impressive comeback against the Patriots to hold on to a two-game lead in the division. The win also came without the services of Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks.
There is reason to be cautious with Manning's ranking here. In five of his previous six seasons as a starter, his rating has dropped during the season's second half (with 2009 being the outlier). Maybe Manning is finally developing consistency in this, his eighth season, but only time will tell.
For now, he looks like a man on a mission to prove his preseason comments were accurate. So far in 2011, it's difficult to disagree.
4. Ben Roethlisberger: After a slow start to the season, Big Ben has rebounded nicely, and his team has as well. Despite a last-second loss to the Ravens last night, the Steelers look like a playoff team, and Roethlisberger is the major reason on the offensive side of the ball.
The team's philosophy has changed overnight, as Pittsburgh is now more of an aerial show than an offense that will pound you to death on the ground. Rashard Mendenhall has struggled, but Roethlisberger has more than picked up the slack. He still has room to grow as a quarterback, but he seems to get better every year, even as an NFL veteran.
3. Drew Brees: The Saints star is second in the league with 11 interceptions, and he's also the league leader in passing yardage while coming in second to Aaron Rodgers in touchdown passes. It certainly helps that he's played nine games so far, but that also explains the extra turnovers.
Brees has his team sitting at 6-3 and looking good in the NFC South heading into a big divisional game with the Falcons. He also continues to produce without a consistent running game or a defense that can shut down opposing offenses.
2. Tom Brady: Brady has struggled more than usual this season and already has 10 interceptions through eight games, compared to just four last season. Regardless, he's still one of just three quarterbacks with a rating over 100, and six of those interceptions came in two games against the Bills and Giants.
Brady's receivers have struggled to get separation down the field, and if that continues, things will never be as easy as they were last season for the New England star. It's still difficult to drop him out of the top two.
Tier 1: Aaron Rodgers
In the previous edition of these rankings, I had Rodgers third behind Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. I also said that in two or three seasons, Rodgers would be at the top. Scratch that; he already is, and it's not really close.
Statistics aren't the only barometer of quarterback play, but Rodgers has an insane 129.6 quarterback rating this season; Drew Brees is a distant second at 100.6. Add in the fact that the Packers are the league's only undefeated team at 8-0, and it's easy to see why Rodgers is in a class of his own.
The return of Jermichael Finley has made things even easier for Rodgers, who is on pace to throw for 48 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He has talented players to throw to, but the argument can easily be made that he makes them look as good as they ever will with pinpoint throws and the ability to extend the play inside and outside the pocket.