CBS SPORTS — Any time you rank a group of things, people get angry. And when you start ranking NFL quarterbacks and then (stupidly?) throwing labels on them, people get real angry. So be prepared to get mad at the following list of quarterbacks, from best to worst.
Prepared to get especially mad because there’s really not a precise way of categorizing guys. There’s a group of “elite” quarterbacks up top (my group only features four of them, but it can vary dependent on your preferences), there’s another group of quarterbacks who have proven they can win right below that, there’s a great crop of “young guns,” there’s a big slew of veteran quarterbacks stuck in limbo in terms of their future as franchise guys, and there’s even a glob of young “put up or shut up” quarterbacks.
I’ve got them roughly grouped like that below, but the defining criteria for this list is that I’ve picked, in order with one or two quarterbacks from each team, the signal caller who I think gives me the best chance to win a Super Bowl in 2013 if all things — wideouts, offensive line, defense — were created equal.
It’s not a list for building a franchise for the long-term future, it’s a list for winning this season. And it’s also an indication of how deep and talented the quarterback pool in the NFL really is. Feel free to leave your list in the comments or tell me your thoughts on my list on Twitter @WillBrinson.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers: Rodgers didn’t have his best statistical season in 2012 and the Packers didn’t climb the mountain, but there’s no reason to think of him as anything other than the best quarterback in football. He threw for 4,295 yards, 39 touchdowns and had only eight picks last season. A revamped offensive line and the addition of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in the running game should only help him improve.
2. Tom Brady, Patriots: I give Brady the ever-so-slight edge on Peyton Manning here, mainly because I think that if you swapped their situations, Brady could put up some eye-popping numbers. He has Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but he’s losing Wes Welker. Danny Amendola joining New England is nice, but I’m not convinced that swap doesn’t end up burning Bill Belichick and Co. Brady’s two biggest advantages, though, are health (I’m less worried about him than Manning) and a history of throwing to absolute garbage wideouts and still succeeding.
3. Peyton Manning, Broncos: It’s almost unfathomable, but Manning nearly had the best season of his career at the age of 36, coming off a few neck surgeries and playing for a new team for the first time in his career. Manning threw for 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and with Welker coming to Denver, his stats might only get better. This is really 2A and 2B, more than anything else.
4. Drew Brees, Saints: You could argue that Brees is higher and maybe he’ll be after a year that features a better defense and the return of Sean Payton. Still, Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards for the second-straight season and threw for 43 touchdowns in 2012. His completion percentage (63) was lower and interceptions (19) were higher than you’d like to see from him though.
The next group
5. Eli Manning, Giants: Yeah, yeah. You can’t spell “Elite” without “Eli.” And with his second Super Bowl ring in 2011, the younger Manning proves he belongs. But I’m cutting the list a little shorter for these purposes, and I feel justified after Eli “only” threw for 3,948 yards and 26 touchdowns (along with 15 interceptions) in a slightly down season that saw the Giants miss the playoffs. I’d still be more than happy riding Manning as my franchise guy.
6. Matt Ryan, Falcons: Finally broke free of the stupid “can’t win a playoff game” burden during a monster season that featured 4,719 passing yards, a 68.6 completion percentage and 32 touchdowns. With Julio Jones and Roddy White in the fold again, Ryan could push the 5K yardage marker in 2013. He’s much closer to elite than people give him credit for.
7. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Big Ben’s stats don’t tell the whole story from 2012 — he changed offensive coordinators, didn’t really have Mike Wallace in the fold the whole time and suffered injuries that led to him starting only 13 games. Even still, he had 3,265 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. Should be primed for another Big Ben season in 2013.
8. Tony Romo, Cowboys: Maybe the most maligned quarterback on this list, Romo has no postseason success. But he did just throw for 4,903 yards while completing 65.6 percent of his passes. His 19 picks tied a career high but his team put him in consistently bad spots. He’s not nearly as bad as people want to believe. Romo has run roughshod into bad luck consistently in his career and neither his defense nor his general manager have ever done him any real favors — other than handing him monster contracts.
9. Joe Flacco, Ravens: Using only postseason stats, Flacco would be in the top five. But we’ve got to take more than that into account, and Flacco’s 3,817 yards, 59.7 completion percentage and 22 touchdowns (albeit with 10 picks) just don’t move the needle enough. It’ll be interesting to see how people would view those stats — or similar ones — in 2013 after Flacco signed his monster deal.
Ready for a leap?
10. Cam Newton, Panthers: Newton’s 2012 doesn’t get its due because expectations were high and people wanted him to fail. But Newton caught fire during the second half of the season and I think we’ll see him make a jump into the next group this coming season. The biggest concern has to be his lack of weapons — Steve Smith is aging, Brandon LaFell needs to improve, Greg Olsen is underrated but not entirely dynamic … and there are too many running backs on the roster. Plus, Rob Chudzinski left Carolina for Cleveland. The latter terrifies me, but Cam has all the tools to put together a complete season in 2013. Just don’t expect the critics to stop complaining until the Panthers produce a winning season, which might be tough with their defense.
11. Matthew Stafford, Lions: Stafford nearly put up 5,000 yards again, but 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions is no good (even though, yes, I know Calvin Johnson was always tackled at the 1-yard line). Stafford regressed a little bit, but is still a stud quarterback. So it’s weird asking for a “leap” out of Stafford since he’s put up big numbers over the course of a year. Perhaps “rebound” is a better word.
12. Russell Wilson, Seahawks: Wilson should’ve been the 2013 Rookie of the Year and I’m aware it’s blasphemy to take him over the other two big-time rookies in this class. But three things separate Wilson for me. His decision-making is phenomenal (as is his poise in the pocket) and it only got better as the season wore on. That was incredibly impressive. I also think Wilson’s ability to run multiple offenses — he’s done so for years now — gives him a leg up on the other two rookies. And his combination of running ability plus durability puts him over the top. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to buy a hose for the flame war that’s about to pop up in the comments.
13. Andrew Luck, QB, Colts: Luck’s a stud and he’s going to be a stud for years to come. He’s going to “regress” in 2013 with a change in offensive coordinators, as Pep Hamilton comes over from Stanford. That’s actually not a bad thing, because it’ll mean fewer interceptions and a higher completion percentage. An improved defense and offensive line should involve less passing attempts and less shootouts/high-volume comebacks. That’ll add up to a better season that people will question because of his stats. But the real reason Luck’s not first among this young group? Too many mistakes in 2012. He had a ton on his shoulders with that Colts franchise, but he also wasn’t entirely steady throughout the year and had some back-breaking mistakes down the stretch. He’ll be fine, of course, and this spot simply reflects personal preference.
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