The Top Five: Best Quarterbacks in the NFL

Bob Cunningham@BCunningham215Senior Analyst IJuly 16, 2009

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 23:   Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts in action against the San Diego Chargers during their NFL Game at Qualcomm Stadium on November 23, 2008 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Unlike the rest of the positions on offense and defense, the role of quarterback has remained relatively unchanged since the NFL's inception.

It has become harder to read defenses because they've become increasingly complex through the years, but the quarterback is still expected to lead their team and put them in a position to win.

They are the glory-hogs of the NFL. A quarterback is usually the face of the franchise, and the money-maker. It's tough to win without one, and having a good one makes winning easier.

In order to be a successful quarterback, that player must gain the trust, respect, and confidence of his team. He must put up the stats, of course, to back up his play, and winning a Super Bowl or two doesn't exactly hurt.

I expect this to be a highly controversial list, and perhaps the one with the most interchangeable parts. Based on the criteria above, I'm confident that these men are the top five quarterbacks in the NFL today.

5. Philip Rivers (San Diego Chargers)

48 games started, 33-15, 890-1428, 62.3%, 10,697 yards, 78 TDs-36 INTs, 92.9 QB Rating, one-time Pro Bowler

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Of all the Pro Bowl snubs I've encountered, this may be the absolute worst.

34 touchdowns to only 11 interceptions, and this guy doesn't get a nod for the Pro Bowl? It's outrageous to think that anyone was more deserving.

While Rivers originally entered the NFL with an "immature" label, he has since indisputably ripped that sticker right off his chest.

Playing in the AFC Championship game with a torn ACL was one of the single greatest acts of selflessness and toughness I have ever seen on the football field. He knew that he was counted on to lead his team, and he wasn't going to let anything stop him.

On top of this obvious courage, he throws one of the prettiest balls in the entire league. He can throw long, he can throw short, he can hit the intermediate route, he can put the ball on a rope, or he can give it just the right arc to land safely in his receivers hands.

He's an unreal talent, and I'd be extremely shocked if he doesn't win San Diego a Super Bowl before he's done.

4. Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)

106 games started, 55-51, 2,334-3,650, 63.9%, 26,258 yards, 168 TDs-99 INTs, 89.4 QB Rating, three-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro

Your initial reaction to Brees being at No. 4 is, why so low?

First off, what has he won? Yes, he had a couple winning seasons in San Diego, but he didn't get them anywhere. He has also never won more than 10 games in New Orleans, and only has one winning season in the three years he's been there.

While that's not all his fault, as the leader of the team, he does shoulder some of the responsibility.

For all the yards and the touchdowns, he throws far too many interceptions. In fact, since taking over as a starter in 2002, he averages 14 interceptions per year. A number that would be much higher were it not for 2004, a year in which he only threw seven interceptions.Β 

That year was also the only time in his career where didn't thrown double-digit interceptions.

Brees is a great talent, and could one day even hold the NFL's record for passing yards. The man is an absolute machine and maybe the most accurate quarterback in the league.

However, his lack of playoff success keeps him out of my top three.

3. Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia Eagles)

128 games started, 82-45-1, 2,534-4,303, 59%, 29,320 yards, 194 TDs-90 INTs, 85.9 QB Rating, five-time Pro Bowler

McNabb is definitely the most overly-scrutinized quarterback in the NFL today, and perhaps in the history of this great league.

While he's not a touchdown machine, and probably not the most accurate of quarterbacks, he is the least intercepted of any quarterback in the history of the NFL.

Not only that, but he was also the first quarterback to throw over 30 touchdowns, and less than 10 interceptions (31 touchdowns to eight interceptions, to be exact). Add on the fact that he's one of only six quarterbacks in league history to have over 25,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards, and you've got a special guy.

At the moment, McNabb sits at 29,320 passing yards, and 3,109 rushing yards. This year, or next year at the very latest, he will become only the fourth quarterback in NFL history to pass for over 30,000 yards, and rush for over 3,500; joining Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young, and the late Steve McNair.

He has led his team to five NFC Championship games, winning one of them, and coming within three points of preventing the New England Patriots from becoming a dynasty.

Say what you will about Donovan McNabb, but the man has the stats of Hall of Famer, and the wins of a Hall of Famer.

For those who will say he's injured too often, I point to Steve Young, who only played three complete seasons. He also had a career record a 94-49. Similar, wouldn't you say?

2. Tom Brady (New England Patriots)

111 games started, 87-24, 2,301-3,653, 63%, 26,446 yards, 197 TDs-86 INTs, 92.9 QB Rating, four-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro

Tom Brady has the rings and his stats are good enough, so why only second?

Brady, while a great quarterback, benefits from playing in a great system. Matt Cassel gave that away when he stepped in and performed the way that he did.

However, that being said, Brady runs that system like no one else could. Well, besides our No. 1 guy (guess who that might be).

He is cool under pressure, he has a very accurate ball, and really knows when to put the extra zip needed on the ball, or when to throw a nice lob. He's great at reading defenses and anticipating where his guys are going to be, which gives him an edge.

Like McNabb, Brady has had very little around him for his entire career. That is, up until 2007, and we all saw what happened then.

He's a great quarterback, probably in the top 10 of all time, but the guy ahead of him definitely is as well.

1. Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts)

176 games started, 117-59, 3,839-5,960, 64.4%, 45,628 yards, 333 TDs-165 INTs, 94.7 QB Rating, nine-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro

Not only does Manning have an incredible arm, intelligence, and even good pocket mobility, but he also is one of the toughest quarterbacks to ever play the game.

Since coming into the league and becoming a starter in 1998, he has not missed a single game. 176 straight starts for Manning.

How can he stay so healthy? He doesn't take hits when he doesn't have to. Many times you will see quarterbacks holding onto the ball too long, and while they make the throw, they will take a nasty hit at the end.

Manning doesn't do that.

He's very good at getting the ball out of his hands quickly, mainly because he has already dissected the defense and knows exactly what is going on.

Manning also doubles as the team's offensive coordinator. Even while Tom Moore was there, all he did was call in concepts. From there, Manning would diagnose the defense, and call a play.

All of those times you think he's calling an audible, he's really only calling the play at that moment.

Were Manning in a system like Brady's, he probably would have three or four rings by now, if not five or six already, he could be that dominating.

Since his rookie year, he's never thrown less than 3,700 yards or less than 26 touchdowns. He's up and down everything that you could possibly want in a quarterback, and now that he's got that ring, there is no doubt that he is the best the NFL currently has to offer.

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