Oh, Manning! 15 Things We Didn't See Coming at the Quarterback Position
Every year in the NFL is full of intrigue, excitement and surprise. Sure, some things remain the same: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have all played very well this season, and their teams are in great shape for championship runs.
Then there are the injuries that nobody could have predicted (Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Jason Campbell), the rookies that have stepped into their roles admirably (Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder), the free-agent signees that have left us scratching our heads (Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb) and the rises and falls of quarterbacks we thought we knew (Phillip Rivers and Alex Smith).
The season is still just past the halfway point and things can change quickly, but for now, these are the biggest surprises in the "Year of the Quarterback."
15. Some Things Remain the Same
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The best player in the NFL this year is Aaron Rodgers, who is having an all-time great season. Manning and Brady each had one season in which it looked like they couldn't miss a receiver. Rodgers is having "that" season right now. We knew he'd be good, but this good?
And then we have Drew Brees, who is on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season yardage record.
Some other things remain the same as well.
Prior to this year, many people expected Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan to go from good to elite status.
Nothing doing here.
They both are playing respectably, but neither has become a superstar quite yet.
And, of course, we have Tony Romo, who is famous for being hot and cold, and for leaving everyone scratching their heads. So, what else would you expect? This year has been a tough year on the Romocoaster for Cowboys fans. Who knows where this thing will end up?
Lastly, we have the Rex. A lot of people were surprised that Washington didn't make a major move at quarterback and were even more surprised that good 'ol Rex was going to be the man.
He didn't let us down.
New day, same Rex.
14. Tyler Palko and Curtis Painter Are Starting Quarterbacks in the NFL
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If a team is lucky enough to have a clear-cut starter behind center, they can consider themselves lucky. They don't have to deal with a public debate over who should start, and a bad game doesn't stir up the fanbase. Not to mention that the team knows who its leader is.
So was the case for the Mannings—I mean Colts—and the Chiefs with Matt Cassel. I know—these two quarterbacks are worlds apart as far as history goes, but neither team started the year with a quarterback controversy.
When a team has the luxury of a clear-cut starter, they usually sign backups who are meant to be backups. So was the case with the Colts and Chiefs. Curtis Painter was a cheap clipboard holder who wasn't expected to take a snap in practice—let alone a game—and Tyler Palko is, well, I don't know. He's a lefty who throws oddly according to this picture—and that is all I can tell you.
Either way, the Chiefs and the Colts did not have experienced QBs as their backups for various reasons—so inexperienced is what they get.
13. Matt Leinart Is Quarterback of One of the Best Teams in Football
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In the offseason, Matt Leinart had a chance to go to Seattle and compete for the starting job with his old coach, Pete Carroll, at the helm. It seemed like a perfect scenario at the time. The Seahawks didn't have an established starter, and you'd think that Caroll would give his old LA buddy a fair chance to win it.
However, much to my surprise, Leinart was happy to slip back into backup mode in Houston despite not playing a snap all of last year.
Well, look who just walked into a good situation as starter. Matt Schaub appears to be done for the season, and the Texans are playing like one of the best teams in the league.
Matt Leinart is going into "Don't F It Up Mode," as he will be at the helm of one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Arian Foster and Ben Tate look like the best one-two running back combo in the league, and Andre Johnson is either No. 1 or 1a when it comes to receivers.
Here are the keys to the Ferrari, Matt. Don't crash it.
Looks like a pretty good situation to me.
12. Carson Palmer Is a Raider
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Before the season started, the biggest question surrounding Carson Palmer was whether the Bengals would trade him or not. Some people thought the Cardinals would be a good place for him to play; others thought of San Francisco, Seattle or Minnesota. Bengals fans hoped he would just come back home.
Palmer refused to play in Cincinnati and owner Mike Brown held tight and refused to let Palmer demand a trade.
Brilliant move, it turns out.
When Jason Campbell went down with a season-ending injury, the Oakland Raiders paid a Herschel Walker ransom for a player who is a few years past his prime and who had been sitting on his couch for about half of the season.
The Oakland Raiders are sitting in first place and have to be the favorites to win the West. If they do so AND get a playoff win, then the move looks like a good one (despite the fact that they have basically given away their future drafts for three QBs currently on their roster).
If the move backfires, well, let's just say it will be a failure of Al Davis-sized proportions.
11. Sam Bradford Is Not the Next Great Thing
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After a very promising rookie year, a lot of people—me included—expected very good things from Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams. So far, the year has been nothing short of a disappointment. The Rams are a million games out of the division race and Bradford looks more like a bust than a superstar.
Bradford shouldn't take all the blame for the Rams' woes, as he is playing on a poor team with a weak offensive line. His job is safe...for now. But if he still wants to be considered the man in St. Louis, he's going to have to turn it around—and quickly.
10. Tim Tebow Is 3-1 as a Running Back
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I refuse to call Tebow the "Q" word. He is not a quart...he is a running back who lines up behind center. As the Broncos' Running-Back-Behind-Center (RBBC) he is doing a great job of leading his team to victories. He is performing better than Kyle Orton was, and that alone is a surprise.
In the wide open AFC West, the Broncos are still in the mix. Can an RBBC who runs the college option lead his team into the playoffs?
And just what will happen if Tebow leads the Broncos into the playoffs? Will John Fox and John Elway be stuck with him as their RBBC forever, or will they still be able to make a move for a quarterback next year? The drama in Denver is fun, to say the least.
A few things have become clear since Tebow has taken over the position behind center: He is a great leader, he can run the ball and he is a bad passer.
The next big question remains—can teams stop the option offense? As with all fads in the NFL, defenses will eventually get smart and figure out a way to stop it. But will the Broncos win enough games in the terrible AFC West before that happens?
I can't wait to find out.
9. Ryan Fitzpatrick Gets a Huge Payday
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In the offseason, many pundits and fans—myself included—thought that Fitzpatrick was a good seat-warmer and that the Bills would draft a guy like Blaine Gabbert or Andy Dalton and start a new era in Buffalo.
The Bills did not draft a quarterback, and that left me scratching my head. Why not take Dalton in the second round?
I don't know exactly what the Bills were thinking, but this much I know—they have their quarterback of the future now. After a sizzling hot start, the Bills inked Harvard boy into a long-term, big-money contract, and they now are tied to Fitzpatrick for many years to come.
Is Ryan Fitzpatrick an elite quarterback? His hot start made us all think so, but he has since come back to earth. Did all the money go to his head?
I don't think so. I think he just had a great stretch of games at exactly the right time.
The Bills have their man and are tied to him for some time. Where that leaves them, who knows?
8. Christian Ponder Is Actually Better Than McNabb
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I'll be honest, I really didn't think that Christian Ponder in the first round was a great pick by the Vikings. I did not follow Ponder in college or in the lead-up to the draft, but for some reason I was skeptical.
This much is already clear: He is a better option than Donovan McNabb. Sadly, McNabb, who was one of my favorite players during his time with the Eagles, has struggled to do anything since leaving Philly.
Where that leaves Ponder, who knows? He looks good. He has potential, but if his first few games are any sign, I see a career arc much like that of Joe Flacco. A good player, but not great. A team leader who can win with a good team, but probably won't win many games by himself.
What's in his future, I can't begin to guess, but he already looks like a legit starter and is no doubt a better option than McNabb—and that is a surprise in itself.
7. Kevin Kolb Is No Savior
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All the hype this offseason was over Kevin Kolb, who'd finally gotten out from the bench of Philadelphia. He was like Matt Schaub or Matt Cassel—he had limited experience as a starter, but in a quarterback-needy NFL, he appeared to have the tools to lead a team.
Arizona thought so, as they made a big commitment to Kolb. That hasn't worked out so well. Under Kevin Kolb, Arizona won their first game—then went on a six-game losing streak. Kolb has looked more like a backup than a starter, and it is clear that Arizona is still in need of quarterback of the future.
Luckily for them, backup John Skelton has done just enough to win two games in Kolb's absence (due to an injury). Kolb may be ready to return, but I am not so sure that the Cardinals are ready for that. As long as the team is winning, it looks like Skelton's job to lose. Either way, it's safe to call Kolb a bust so far in the 2011 season.
6. Michael Vick and the Eagles Can't Win Games
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Who knows what to make of Michael Vick? He has all the talent in the world and throws it away by doing stupid things. Then, after time in jail, when people think he has ruined any shot at a future in the NFL, he has an MVP-type season.Expect great things from him this year, and for whatever reason, he has trouble winning games.
It's true that Vick is not playing terribly, although nobody can argue he's playing all that well, either. The Eagles are struggling to finish games, and with Vick at the helm, he deserves some of the blame.
After acquiring a virtual All-Star team in the offseason, the Eagles are now out of the playoff picture, and we still have a long way to go. The dream season has turned into a nightmare, and it looks like the Eagles are in for a rough offseason this year, as there are going to be many changes made.
Due to his large contract, Vick's job looks safe, but that doesn't mean that it's always sunny in Philadelphia. What Vick will show up next year? That is yet to be seen.
With all the pounding Vick has taken this year, let's just see if he survives that long.
5. Andy Dalton Should Have Been a Top 5 Draft Pick
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Once the college season ended, Blaine Gabbert was the trendy pick to be taken first overall. Cam Newton quickly took his place. Gabbert then became the next guy, followed by Christian Ponder and Jake Locker (to name a few). All of them had first-round potential—and they all were taken in the first half of the first round.
Andy Dalton was the wild card. He played at a smaller school, he didn't have amazing physical attributes and while a lot of people were intrigued by his "intangibles," intangibles don't get you drafted very high.
Indianapolis considered taking Dalton late in the first round, and so did Seattle. He was still there when Buffalo picked in the second round, but they let him go as well. So, Cincinnati, with the "retired" Carson Palmer, took a stab—and look what they found.
While Cam Newton is dominating the highlight reels, Andy Dalton is quietly leading his team to a very respectable start. The Bengals are still in the playoff hunt, and that is a huge surprise—just like Dalton's performance so far.
Looking back now, I don't think anyone would argue that Dalton should have been the next quarterback taken after Newton. Whatever it takes to win in the NFL, he's got it. Cincinnati has already forgotten about that other guy.
4. Cam Newton Is a Superstar in the Making
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Every year there is a quarterback drafted high—and every year there is a debate over whether he is worth it. The debate was especially valid this year, as Cam Newton played only one year at a major college—and he played from the shotgun. Many believed that he might not be suited to play the position at an NFL level.
On the flip side, that one college season was one of the best ever, and nobody doubted that Newton had the size or strength to succeed at an NFL level.
So, what to do with Newton? As the draft season played out it became clear that Newton had all the tangibles to be great. He is big, strong and has a pretty good arm. Could he learn the position? That was the risk the Panthers had to take.
It looks like it was the right decision. Cam Newton didn't just walk into the NFL, he strutted in, and showed us why he may be the next great quarterback. He has the blend of Ben Roethlisburger's size, Michael Vick's athleticism and Adrian Peterson's swagger.
Carolina may not be a playoff team quite yet, but with Cam Newton behind center, I think most Panther fans are excited to see what the future brings. Many are still critical, saying that he needs to win games before they can make a judgement. But like Manning and Elway, who played on bad teams their first years in the league, the record cannot be the only thing that matters. There is hope, a lot of it.
The Panthers are set.
3. Phillip Rivers Is Just Not That Good
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When talking about the elite quarterbacks, most people have Brady, Manning, Brees and now Rodgers at the top of the list. Phillip Rivers was next. The Chargers have been a high-powered offense with No. 17 behind the wheel, and pretty much every year they are considered real contenders.
Something happened on the way to 2011, as Phillip Rivers is looking more like a hindrance than an asset for the deflated San Diego Chargers. He's thrown only 13 touchdowns and has 15 interceptions so far.
Yes, it's true, the Chargers are still in the thick of the AFC West—but that is not saying much because the division is full of pretty bad teams.
Will Rivers turn it around? I hope so, but I am not betting on it. Whether his struggles are due to an injury (as many are assuming) or to head games, this much we do know: If the Chargers are to be real contenders, Rivers needs to right the ship.
2. Alex Smith Is the Leader of a Great Team
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Coming into the season, many people were calling for the 49ers to trade for Carson Palmer or to draft a young player like Jake Locker or Andy Dalton. With a new coach in Jim Harbaugh and an old hat in Alex Smith, it was time for a change—or so we thought.
The Niners did draft Colin Kaepernick in the second round, but Harbaugh made sure to welcome Alex Smith back, and that might have been the best move he's made in his short time in San Francisco.
With only a small window of time due to the lockout, the first-year coach needed a quick learner, and he got that in Smith. He also needed a game manager, a team leader and someone who could run the West Coast offense. So far, Smith has thrown 11 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
Smith has been around the block, playing in a new offensive system pretty much every year. So the adjustment period went smoother than expected. The 49ers are 8-1 with the second-best record in the NFL and have all but locked up the division. The rookie coach looks like a genius, and Smith is finally the leader of a very good team.
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year in San Francisco, the Niners, Harbaugh and Smith are playing like a team destined to do big things.
1. Peyton Manning Might Lose His Job
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Peyton Manning is no doubt an all-time great, and when he hangs up his cleats, he will have a bust waiting for him in Canton. Before this season started, he signed a very rich contract that would basically ensure that he finished his career in Indianapolis, as he should. He has been the heart and soul of the team since he entered over a decade ago.
So when Manning missed the first game of the season—and the first of his career—it was a bit of a shock. But no worry, he'd be back and everything would be fine, right?
Not so fast.
In Manning's absence, the Colts proved just how valuable he is, as they are clearly the worst team in the NFL without him. So bad that Manning may even squeak out a few MVP votes because it is now clear who the most valuable player in the league is.
Despite being so valuable to the Colts, Manning's injury and the Colts' ineptitude may have set Indianapolis up for the first pick in the draft, and a shot at Andrew Luck, the best college prospect since, well, Peyton Manning.
Recently, Bill Polian said he is interested in drafting a quarterback if the right one is there. If you have the first pick, the right one will be there. Andrew Luck will probably be a Colt next year.
Where does that leave Manning?
The perfect scenario is that he returns, keeps the seat warm for Luck and then hands him the keys in two years—but with a huge contract bonus due at the end of the year, Manning could be released or traded.
When Manning announced he'd be out a while, nobody saw this coming.