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The NFL's Top 10 Quarterbacks Age 25 and Under

Zachary ScottCorrespondent IDecember 1, 2011

The NFL's Top 10 Quarterbacks Age 25 and Under

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    We are in a different generation of NFL signal-callers as of late—hell, even Alex Smith has turned it around (for now).

    Three months ago most of us thought Cam Newton, at best, would be what he is now: a generation-blending hybrid who, at the moment, appears to have a limitless ceiling. Never has there been such an influx of young NFL quarterbacks with such a variety of skill sets.

    This list is mostly based on potential and where these quarterbacks could be in five years.

The Kids

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    Andrew Luck, Stanford 

    I know a lot of you might have never heard of this guy, but allegedly he's a big deal.

    All jokes aside, the Stanford product is the most hyped signal-caller since Peyton Manning. It should be tough for him to live up to the extremely high expectations set for him, especially with the recent high-level performance of rookies like Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton and Matt Ryan.

     

    Robert Griffin III, Baylor

    "The Third" has a chance to be Cam Newton-esque. Griffin has singlehandedly put a once horrid program on the map in Baylor. After the emergence of Newton (who I thought was two to three years away from being effective), who knows what Griffin has in store for us? His 50-yard bomb to beat Oklahoma was one of the highlights of the season.

     

    Matt Barkley, USC

    Quarterback "U" has churned out another one. Even though Purdue prospects have the most all-time yards in the NFL (mostly because of Drew Brees), USC has consistently produced the most NFL-ready arms in the country.

    It would not surprise me at all if the three-year starter Barkley was the finest of his draft class. Expect a team like Washington, Seattle or Kansas City to jump all over him.

The Complacent

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    Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans

    Jake Locker is a world-class talent who one day will take the reins of the offense in Nashville. Locker impressed in the preseason and will more than likely be the starter next season.

    If Locker can hone his passing accuracy and turn his game management deficiencies into strengths, his cannon of an arm and running ability will shine.

     

    Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

    I would've bet that Kaepernick, the former Nevada standout drafted 36th overall to head Jim Harbaugh's rebuilding in San Francisco, would've been the starter by midseason. That wasn't a terrible prediction since Alex Smith had failed time and time again in the Bay Area.

    But somewhere between Smith's back against the proverbial wall and the immense untapped talent that the past regime had failed with, something finally clicked. Smith has won games, but he hasn't been the stat-sheet stuffer many thought he'd become coming out of Urban Meyer's spread offense in Utah. We will see how the Smith-Kaepernick conundrum plays out, but my guess is Kaepernick eventually becomes the starter in a few seasons.

     

    Ryan Mallett, New England Patriots

    In Aaron Rodgers fashion, Mallett should eventually take the reins from Tom Brady. Hopefully it doesn't end as poorly as the Green Bay quandary.

    Mallett is blessed with a cannon that only the likes of Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford can match in today's game. His awareness can be an issue, but learning Bill Belichick's system for a few years and having Brady as a mentor can't be a bad thing.

No. 10: John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals

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    Height: 6'6"

    Weight: 245 lbs

    Age: 23

    College: Fordham

    Career Stats: Nine games, 49 percent completion, 1,412 passing yards, 6-9 TD-INT, 59.9 QB rating


    John Skelton has forced his way onto this list and may force Kevin Kolb and his lofty contract out of Phoenix.

    Skelton played very well in his first two starts this season against the Rams and Eagles (83.4 QB rating), but in his next two games against the Niners and the Rams, he finished with a combined 20.0 QB rating. The Niners defense is a top three overall defense in the league now, and the Rams were on their way to being a top defense until their free fall this season. St. Louis still has a ton of talent with Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Robert Quinn, though.

    Skelton's future may very well be decided by his final five games.

No. 9: Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Height: 6'4"

    Weight: 233 lbs

    Age: 22

    College: Missouri

    Career Stats: 10 games, 48.5 percent completion, 1,371 passing yards, 6-6 TD-INT, 62.2 QB rating


    Blaine Gabbert looks great throwing the ball. He's got every tool except experience and weapons around him.

    Some blame Jack Del Rio's quick draw on Gabbert over the released David Garrard and career clipboard-holder Luke McCown. Every NFL QB destiny is different: You have your Tom Brady/Kurt Warner types who come out of nowhere and succeed immediately, and then you have Aaron Rodgers/Eli Manning/Philip Rivers types who learn for a year or two then come in and slowly become stars.

    The last type of QB growth I'll cover (there are three or four other types I could mention) is the David Carr/Alex Smith/Byron Leftwich types—uber-talented top picks who are thrown to the fire for a poor franchise right from the get-go and are almost doomed to fail with nothing around them to sustain their talent.

    On the other hand, there is the Matt Ryan/Sam Bradford/Mark Sanchez/Joe Flacco class, players who were thrown in to lead good or bad teams from the gate because they were meant to be the face of the franchise for a reason.

    Some guys can handle this; others cannot. Gabbert is far from a bust thus far, and we need to see what he can do with more talent and more seasoning.

No. 8: Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings

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    Height: 6'2"

    Weight: 230 lbs

    Age: 23

    College: Florida State

    Career Stats: Six games, 54.4 percent completion, 1,141 passing yards, 6-6 TD-INT, 72.6 QB rating


    Many believe Christian Ponder will succeed in the NFL because he is a great game manager and should surely continue to progress. Ponder would be better suited to a West Coast offense, but handing the ball off to the best back in the league until he's ready to take the training wheels off isn't a bad idea at all.

    Ponder was one of the surprise picks of this year's draft, being chosen 12th overall when most believed him to be a second- or third-round talent at best.

    What Ponder lacks in arm strength he makes up for in general instincts and knowledge of the game. I''ll take an extremely intelligent hard worker over a freak athlete at the QB position any day—unless it's Cam Newton.

No. 7: Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns

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    Height: 6'1"

    Weight: 215 lbs

    Age: 25

    College: Texas

    Career Stats: 19 games, 59.4 percent completion, 3,908 yards, 19-17 TD-INT, 76.8 QB rating


    The winningest quarterback in college history has already exceeded expectations in a town that is in dire need of some winning and some stars.

    Like Ponder, Colt McCoy is an exceptional game manager not blessed with the greatest arm strength. McCoy makes up for it with above-average accuracy and a desperate desire to win.

    Like my No. 6 pick signal-caller is proving, heart shows in this game, and you cannot teach winners—they are bred. Wait for McCoy to get some help around him, and he will grow into a top quarterback.

No. 6: Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos

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    Height: 6'3"

    Weight: 236 lbs

    Age: 23

    College: Florida

    Career Stats: 18 games, 47.1 percent completion, 1,506 passing yards, 13-4 TD-INT, 81.1 QB rating; 682 rushing yards, nine rush TDs


    What is there to say?

    Tim Tebow is an unconventional, God-preaching phenomenon.

    He has also taken the LeBron James route by being simultaneously one of the most beloved and hated players in his league. I personally lost $200 betting on the Jets -6.5 three weeks ago.

    Tebow isn't doing it like Rodgers by throwing the ball all over the field, and he isn't doing it like Michael Vick (circa 2010). Tebow is redefining how offenses are being run.

    Like I said, wins and losses are, at the end of day, all that matters. If I were John Fox or John Elway and my job was on the line, I honestly can say I wouldn't have the fortitude to name Tebow my starter for 16 games. I cannot wait to see how the Tebow-mania plays out and if he can sustain this type of success with rather porous personnel around him.

    Love him or hate him, he is winning.

No. 5 (B): Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Height: 6'2"

    Weight: 220 lbs

    Age: 24

    College: TCU

    Career Stats: 11 games, 60.1 percent completion, 2,509 yards, 16-12 TD-INT, 81.8 QB rating


    Andy Dalton is 7-4 and in the thick of a playoff race in the notoriously tough AFC North.

    Drafted 35th overall out of TCU, Dalton has exceeded all expectations. Blessed with uncanny accuracy, Dalton has broken the curse of spread offense college QBs' failures in the NFL. It does not hurt that Dalton has A.J. Green, the emerging Jerome Simpson and tight end Jermaine Gresham.

    There is something to be said for a rookie quarterback who doesn't get flustered playing the Ravens and Steelers twice a season. Dalton will probably never be a top fantasy QB, but it won't stop him from winning games and being a very efficient leader in Cincy.

No. 5 (A): Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Height: 6'6"

    Weight: 250 lbs

    Age: 23

    College: Kansas State

    Career Stats: 37 games, 59.8 percent completion, 8,021 passing yards, 47-40 TD-INT; 682 rushing yards (two rush TDs), 79.5 QB rating

    I have been criticized somewhat for being a "Josh Freeman hater." The guy does do some unreal things to help his team win. Freeman had to be added to this list because while at work, I completely forgot about him. (So, sorry guys...but you were absolutely right.)

    Freeman has changed the culture in Tampa Bay, and you have to respect that, but he has not been the transcendent player consistently that he could be in his third season. I feel Josh has reached or has come close to reaching his ceiling as an NFL signal-caller, whereas my next four have untapped ability we have yet to see shine.

No. 4: Mark Sanchez, New York Jets

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    Height: 6'2"

    Weight: 225 lbs

    Age: 25

    College: USC

    Career Stats: 42 games, 55 percent completion, 8,248 passing yards, 47-44 TD-INT, 73.4 QB rating


    Ah, the enigma that is Mark Sanchez.

    One half of Sanchez looks like he has finally got it all figured out: exceptional running play action, good in the pocket, very accurate in the short game. Then the other half will fall apart with multiple picks.

    I've never seen a quarterback make worse interceptions than Sanchez. I'm also from New Jersey and have seen every game he's ever played. The majority of Sanchez's picks are poor decisions, whereas last season his Giants counterpart Eli Manning had probably 50 percent of his picks tipped or bobbled by his pass-catchers.

    Having said all that, Sanchez still is tied for the most road playoff wins ever. You can say it's a product of the Gang Green defense or the unreal amount of talent they have assembled, but the NY Jets live and die by their young (or old, for this list) QB.

No. 3: Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

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    Height: 6'4"

    Weight: 225 lbs

    Age: 24

    College: Oklahoma

    Career Stats: 25 games, 58.1 percent completion, 5,483 passing yards, 24-20 TD-INT, 75.0 QB rating


    Bias Alert.

    Yes, I'm a diehard Rams fan who wrote a biased preseason article about how the Josh McDaniels/Sam Bradford-led Rams offense would bloom into the youngest and brightest in the league, all while Steve Spagnuolo's fiery defense continued to ascend to a top defense.

    Boy, did I drop the ball on that one. The nightmare season was one of more unexpected things in the league this season.

    In two years from now any of our top three QBs could be the best in the league, though. Brandon Lloyd has finally given Bradford a halfway decent receiver to throw to. Last year Bradford made guys like Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson and Danario Alexander look like possible breakout guys at times, but really it was Bradford's accuracy and tools that carried them. 

    I like Lloyd, but he was late bloomer at age 30 now. The Rams' dismal season could be a blessing in disguise if they can obtain a once-in-a-generation-type target like Justin Blackmon or Alshon Jeffery.

    For Bradford to meet his full potential (believe me, he has as much poise and talent as any of these young bucks do), three things need to happen:

    1. He needs to stay healthy and on his feet.

    2. Billy Devaney must get him some young, athletic playmakers.

    3. If Josh McDaniels is not the guy, then they need to find a viable replacement to replicate the success Bradford had under Pat Shurmur (now the Browns head coach).

No. 2: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

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    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 245 lbs

    Age: 22

    College: Auburn

    Career Stats: 11 games, 61.0 percent completion, 3,093 passing yards, 12-14 TD-INT, 81.1 QB rating; 464 rushing yards, 10 rushing TDs


    What is there to say?

    Everyone expected Cam Newton to be at best a little better than Donovan McNabb and at worst JaMarcus Russell.

    Guess what?

    Newton's already a Pro Bowl talent.

    Newton has more potential than probably any QB prospect ever, and if there is any doubt of that, look at what he's done already.

    Newton has literally played 31 games between Florida/Auburn and the NFL. He is still so raw it's unrealistic to fathom how good he actually could be. If he stays focused, remains healthy and continues to read defenses, the phrase "the sky is the limit" has never been more suitable.

No. 1: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

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    Height: 6'2"

    Weight: 232 lbs

    Age: 23 

    College: Georgia

    Career Stats: 24 games, 58.3 percent completion, 5,921 passing yards, 45-34 TD-INT, 78.5 QB rating


    Matthew Stafford proved earlier this year how great he can be, and that was before he could rent a car.

    Stafford looked destined for the Pro Bowl but has taken a small slide recently due to attempting to not let another injury derail another season. Stafford has great instincts, has a great five- to six-step drop and a rifle for a right arm.

    Sam Bradford and Cam Newton may very well be better than Stafford in the long run, but right now Stafford gives his team the best chance to win, and he also has better weapons (Calvin Johnson and the emerging Jahvid Best).

    There is no coincidence my top three were the past three No. 1 picks in the draft.

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