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Saints Nation: Ranking the 32 Starting NFL Quarterbacks Going in 2012 Season

It’s been 2 years since I’ve ranked the 32 starting quarterbacks so I thought I would give this another stab. 

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: I know most Saints fans won’t like this, but I think Rodgers is the best QB in the NFL right now. I rate him slightly above Brees because he puts up incredibly numbers despite a much worse running game. He’s also got more mobility in the pocket and can make things happen with his legs. He makes every throw accurately and he’s the complete package.

2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: He’s still in his prime and the numbers say it all. If anything, he’s gotten better with age. Brees’ footwork in the pocket, timing and accuracy are second to none, and I firmly believe he works harder than anyone in the league.

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots: Some may think I’m crazy to put him at #3, but I’m basing this on who is the best quarterback RIGHT NOW. Not on past accolades. Yes Brady took his team to the Super Bowl and yes he’s still elite, but I rate him as just a hair behind Brees in accuracy and just a hair behind Rodgers in release/arm strength… and a good bit behind both in mobility. The guy is definitely a winner, and I think we can all agree that differentiating the top 3 is like splitting hairs. The bottom line with Brady is that he’s no longer a spring chicken, though.

4. Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions: After the top three I think you start to see quarterbacks with at least very slight flaws, but Stafford tops that list. This may feel high to some but there is no denying his ability at this point. He can make every throw in the book, but with power and accuracy, and he’s come into his own as a competitor and a leader. The key for him will be to not lock in so much on one receiver, even if he is the best in the league.

5. Eli Manning, New York Giants: With his run in the playoffs this past season it’s hard to deny him anymore. While I still am not 100% sold on Eli, he seems to bring out his best football when it matters most. His leadership qualities are a little unorthodox, and he’s had some fantastic roster talent around him, but you can’t deny the success he’s had is in large part due to his incredible postseason play.

6. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: I’ve dropped him down this far because we simply don’t know what he has left. Coming back from spine surgery is a very serious thing, and he may not be the player he once was and even if he is he may be one hit away from retirement. Still, Peyton Manning at 75% is still better than almost any other NFL quarterback.

7. Phillip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: He took a big step back last year with his high number of interceptions, but injuries, poor blocking, lack of a running game at times and dropped passes were all to blame for his regression. He’s still a guy you never feel good about facing.

8. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: A guy who, to me, has always been slightly underrated because he just holds on to the ball too long. The benefit of his size and slow release is it really gives receivers time for the play to develop and get open. The negative, of course, is a higher risk of sacks and turnovers, as well as more pressive on the offensive line. That said, the Steelers continue to have very good play up front, so Roethlisberger is always extremely dangerous.

9. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans: It’s really too bad he got injured because he was well on his way to not only a maverlous Pro Bowl worthy season, he was possibly on his way to the Super Bowl. He would be much, much higher on this list if not for the injury, but how he will bounce back is a bit of a question mark. If he comes back to the level he was before the injury, I’d vault him almost as high as #4 ahead of Stafford. Either way, coming back from injury or not, he’s firmly cemented himself in recent years as a top 10 quarterback (if not better).

10. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens: He’s gotten a tremendous amount better over the years. He was a field goal kick away from possibly changing everyone’s opinion of him. The Ravens trust him so much more in that offense now, and he’s given the liberty to take risks he was never permitted to before. The results have been positive, too. With more freedom has come better performance. The Ravens are a scary team with that defense because Flacco isn’t just a “game manager” anymore. He can make plays.

11. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: I probably had him in the top 10 before that playoff game. It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that Ryan, while a great passer with elite potential, doesn’t have what it takes to win big games late in the season. He’s just played too poorly in big games. That said, he’s still an upper echelon guy that will dazzle you at times.

12. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears: Another guy that, to me, is pretty overrated. He’s like Stafford in that he can make all the throws and he’s very capable of being elite. The difference is he doesn’t have the weapons, and he has a tendency to panic under distress. He used to make a high number of mistakes and now he seems terrified of that, which leads to holding on to the ball too long and taking an enormous amount of sacks. Like Ryan, who in my opinion is a little less explosive but steadier, Cutler has days where he is unstoppable.

13. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys: He seems to be getting worse at this stage of his career and durability remains a question mark. He still has flashes of superstardom, though. He’s still a veteran guy that can win games all by himself.

14. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles: I still can’t believe for the life of me how this guy got not one but TWO $100 million contracts. He continues to be the most overrated player in the history of the NFL. There is no question he’s exciting and explosive, but he’s lost a step, and his durability continues to be non existent. He has done a good job of getting more accurate with age, but he’s still grossly behind the elite passers in that department. His technique still needs a lot of work and he’s basically relied his whole career on superior athleticism to ignore those liabilities. Problem is, father time is catching up. All that said, he’s still not a guy you love to face by any means as he brings a unique skill set that’s very difficult to prepare for. 

15. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers: He shot up this list with an incredibly solid year last year which shocked everyone. Not many people talk about the horrid 3.5 quarters he played against the Saints in the playoffs because of his magical last two drives. I still have major reservations about his ability but Harbaugh has done a good job to help Smith recognize his strengths and play to them. That is proof that good coaching makes a big difference with these guys. It’s not just telling them the right things, it’s having the ability to make them listen. Most impressive was Smith’s game management and lack of turnovers.

16. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: His rookie season was exceptional and by all accounts this guy will be top 10 very soon. Still, I want to shy away from annointing water on this guy just yet because he doesn’t have the strongest arm and we’ve seen a number of young quarterbacks play well before regressing.

17. Matt Cassell, Kansas City Chiefs: He’s a huge enigma and I don’t know what to make of this guy. One season he’s entranched as a top 10 QB, and others he’s not even top 20. Cassell is a very Jekyll and Hyde player but when he’s on he’s incredibly solid. When he’s bad, you wonder when he’ll get replaced. Chiefs fans are desperate for the good Matt Cassell to return this year.

18. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: This is higher than I should have rated him, but his rookie season was impressive and full of promise. I want to see how he does this year. The big question is how much he can improve. He can make all the plays but he’s also very careless with the ball… and I don’t care how good you are, a high turnover rate will run you out of the league if you don’t clean it up. Still, the Panthers have to feel pretty good about how year 1 went.

19. Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks: I’m not ready to say this guy will be amazing, or even good, but you have to like where he’s at. He’s learned from the best and he’s matured. He’s ready to be a starter. Arm strength is still an issue with him but we know he’s a winner and his spot duty for the Packers last year was beyond impressive. 

20. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills: He was on fire last year and the Bills came out of the gates by storm. Then everything fell apart, of course right after he got a huge midseason contract. I don’t have much faith in him and I believe that hot streak he had last year was just that, and he’ll need to get way more consistent if he’ll want to live up to that pay day he got. 

21. Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker is waiting in the wings and it’s only a matter of time. Hasselbeck is still a decent QB and he has a couple years left in him but at this point in his
career you can’t expect too much.

22. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I would have had him much higher on this list last year but he had an absolutely miserable season last year mired by horrific play. Bucs fans will be quick to point out he was playing hurt, but with that injury being to his throwing shoulder you have to have major concern. By all accounts last year was a major regression for Freeman. The Bucs hope he can bounce back to the glory of his previous year, and that’s entirely possible, but I’m not sold on him. For a player that young to drop so far after an amazing season is a really bad sign.

23. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts: It’s always hard to know where to slot a rookie QB. Based on how he performs this is a bit of a sliding scale for him and he could move up, or down, pretty quickly. Based on his potential and success in college, though, this feels like the right place for him for now. 

24. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets: Another guy that’s horribly overrated and, to me, just isn’t that special. Still, I did notice some slight improvement from him last year and that could continue. Still, he’s nothing more than an average to mediocre quarterback and looking over his shoulder with Tim Tebow in the fold and the media circus that surrounds him won’t help Sanchez’ fragile psyche.

25. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins: Some are ready to put the Redskins in the playoffs in year one. There is a decent chance RGIII will indeed take the league by storm like Vick did when he first plays. He’s explosive and he will make plays… there is no way around that. Still, we also know that rookie QB’s thrown into the fire sometimes struggle. Griffin could take some big punishing hits and he could struggling adjusting to reading NFL defenses. Like Luck, RGIII is a fluid thing because we haven’t seen him play in an NFL uniform yet. He also can move up or down pretty quickly.

26. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams: His inability to stay healthy and his average play when he has been healthy have to worry the Rams. He doesn’t look like the guy they were hoping he’d be. He’s yet to show he can be a dominant player, and NFL teams aren’t as patient with QB’s as they used to be. He may only have a year or two left before he’s relegated to career backup status, so it’s now or never if he’s going to make a move.

27. Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders: Last year was a clear signal that this guy is pretty much done. Maybe he can bounce back after that atrocious season but his time off from football clearly didn’t do him any favors. He is not who is once was, though, and it’s fair to say that what the Bengals got for him was nothing short of highway robbery.

28. Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals: I don’t and have never bought into the hype that surrounds this guy. He was heavily courted as the next best thing last offseason but let’s stick to the facts: 20 career touchdowns, 22 career interceptions, and he can’t stay healthy. Does that sound like the kind of guy you want to invest in long term? The sooner the Cards admit to themselves they made a mistake, the better off they’ll be. 

29. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings: He struggled as a rookie but he showed us a little. He’s going to have to make a major step forward this year to convince people he’s a long term answer, though.

30. Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns: They need to move on. He has no arm strength, size, speed… anything really. He’s just not a starting quality NFL quarterback.

31. Matt Moore/David Garrard/Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins: It doesn’t really matter which guy they start, they’re all going to be terrible. Garrard is finished, Moore is a benching waiting to happen, and I’m not at all sold on Tannehill. That said, the rookie will definitely get reps this year and they should try to find out what he has sooner than later because the other two are definitely not long term answers.

32. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars: I had the opportunity to watch him play against the Saints last year and my goodness he was atrocious. He was beyond bad. and his stats for the rest of the year reflect a similar story. There is nowhere to go but up.