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Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger: Who's No. 1?

Nick SignorelliSenior Writer IJune 23, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 18: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers talks with Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants after their game at Giants Stadium on December 18, 2004 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Steelers won 33-30. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The 2004 NFL Draft class is probably going to go down in history as one of the best ever.

Not counting the drama that unfolded in New York with Eli Manning being taken first overall, then being traded to the New York Giants for Phillip Rivers and others, there were four signal callers taken in the first round.

The first chosen was Manning. There was little doubt that Manning was going to be the first selected. He had an amazing college career at Ole Miss, and with the same last name as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, he had to be taken.

The only problem was, Eli had told the Chargers, who held the first pick, that he was not going to play for them. Having no choice but to take him, the Chargers did, and the insanity began.

With the Giants selecting fourth, the consensus was that the Giants were going to select Ben Roethlisberger. He had the size and arm strength to handle himself in the Meadowland winds.

Most analysts believed Roethlisberger was going to have to sit for at least a year, coming from a smaller school, Miami (Ohio), and that was fine with the Giants. They had Kurt Warner to run the show while Roethlisberger learned the game.

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Roethlisberger waited back stage in New York, while Philip Rivers sat at home, hoping the Steelers were going to draft him at No. 11.

When the Giants turned in the card with their selection, the cameras were on Roethlisberger in the back. With the selection, the Giants select, Philip Rivers, NC State.

Ben looked heartbroken, and Rivers looked confused. 

I remember hearing Chris Berman say it looked like a trade could be in the works. It was two or three picks later that the deal was announced.

The Giants traded Rivers, a third-round pick in the 2004 draft, (which was used to select Nate Keading), a first-round pick in the 2005 draft, (which was used to select Shawne Merriman) and a fifth rounder that was eventually traded to Tampa Bay.

Then the wait was on for Roethlisberger.  ESPN cameras were interviewing Ben when the Steelers were on the clock.

The Steelers selected Roethlisberger with the 11th pick.

Though all three are completely different players, they will be bound together forever with comparisons.

Roethlisberger was the first one to win a Super Bowl. Manning followed him three years later, then not to be outdone, Roethlisberger won his second the following year.

There is one similarity between the three that is unquestionable: All three teams are built out of the same mold.

In 2005, when Manning and Roethlisberger were both starters, their defenses were ranked fourth (Steelers) and 24th (Giants). The running games were ranked fifth (Steelers) and sixth (Giants).

Pittsburgh rode this wave all the way to win their its Super Bowl.

Rivers was brought into the mix in 2006, when all three members of the draft class were starters.

The defenses were ranked ninth (Steelers), 10th (Chargers), and 25th (Giants). While the running game of the Chargers ranked second, the Giants third, and the Steelers 10th.

It was at this point that the Giants defense started coming around and began playing like the dominating unit they are today.

The Giants and Chargers both made the playoffs, both losing in the first round. The Steelers missed the playoffs completely.

In 2007, the Steelers had the top-rated defense in the league. The Giants were seventh overall, and the Chargers had moved up to 14th. In the running game, the Steelers were third, the Giants fourth, and the Chargers seventh.

Pittsburgh was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Jacksonville Jaguars.  San Diego survived until the AFC Championship, losing to the undefeated New England Patriots. Then, Manning won his first Super Bowl with the Giants, defeating the previously unbeaten Patriots.

The 2008 season was supposed to be Rivers' turn to win his ring. After a very difficult start to the season, the Chargers found themselves on the outside looking in. The Chargers had to win their last four games to finish 8-8, winning their division and qualifying for the playoffs.

The Giants were about as opposite as you could get. They were leading their division and potentially had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, only to have their star receiver Plaxico Burress shoot himself in the leg.

The Giants ended up losing three of their last four games, limping into the playoffs, losing in the divisional round to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Steelers were the second seed in the AFC, beating Rivers and the Chargers in the divisional round, the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game, and the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl.

In the first five seasons, the class of 2004 has won three of the five Super Bowls.

As you can see by the team stats above, when the three teams focus on the defensive side of the ball and the running game, the teams do better.

But being elite is not about the defense or running game. It is about how the players do when the game is on the line. Here is the career stat line for the quarterback class of 2004:

Eli Manning: 76.1 QB rating, 55.9 percent completion, 98TD/74 INT

Philip Rivers: 92.9 QB rating, 62.3 percent completion, 78TD/36INT

Ben Roethlisberger, 89.4 QB rating, 62.4 percent completion, 101 TD/69 INT.

If you look at all three of these individuals, they are all on their way to being three of the best the NFL has to offer.

There are great things in store for these three young men. All have the potential and teams to be winning Super Bowls on a regular basis.

With Roethlisberger having two Super Bowl victories under his belt, and Manning with one, you would be hard pressed to not call any of these three players elite. 

Even if you don't agree with me now, you will one day.

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