While they’re gone and before they return, let’s rank ’em. Here are my top 15 quarterbacks.
15. David Garrard—I’ve always liked him and if he could eliminate his bad days and his bad throws, he’d be much higher on this list. Garrard has had pedestrian receivers and bad pass-protection, yet, he has managed to put up decent numbers.
14. Matt Cassel—He’s got game; more game than for which I gave him credit when Kansas City traded for him. Can he make all of the throws? That’s the question I have about him.
13. Josh Freeman—Big, strong-armed, young quarterback on the rise. He came out of nowhere last season to jump into the top six of the passer rankings. I wanna wait on him a little more before I move him up the rankings, but I also believe that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
12. Mark Sanchez—You don’t measure this guy by passer ratings. Sanchez has winner written all over him. He has an undeniable resilience and I’ll tell you what I like best about him: He’s already 4-2 in the postseason in just his first two pro seasons and he’s already taken down Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the postseason. That’s what I respect in a quarterback. When he learns how to play the position, look out.
11. Eli Manning—He’s got a Super Bowl title under his belt and he beat Brady on sports’ biggest stage and that’s deserving of respect, but it’s time to expect more out of him more often. Has he leveled? I’m starting to wonder.
10. Joe Flacco—At times, he has appeared to be on the verge of becoming one of the game’s big-time passers, but then he does things such as getting sacked and stripped by Troy Polamalu, and not getting it done in the playoffs in Pittsburgh last season after having a big lead handed to him, and that kind of leaves me cold. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt but I don’t get the sense that his teammates believe in him.
9. Matt Schaub—As good a pure passer as there is in the game. When he gets hot, he makes it look easy. He’s had his breakout years, now he needs some playoff years. That’s the next level for him.
8. Michael Vick—He was better than ever last season and he became much more than a runner that throws; he became, for the first time in his career, a passer that runs. Was it a fluke or will he continue his recovery and rise?
7. Matt Ryan—I love this guy but I have no choice but to drop him in my rankings after a poor performance against the Packers in the playoffs and an 0-2 playoff start to his career. The Falcons went all-out to get him another weapon, and the expectation should be for Julio Jones to take Ryan to a higher level.
6. Drew Brees—I saw signs last year that opposing defenses are challenging Brees’ lack of arm strength. They made him make throws he really can’t make. Be that as it may, he offset his 22 interceptions (ouch!) with 33 touchdown passes and he remains the difference-maker for the Saints franchise.
5. Philip Rivers—Hate his throwing motion but love his production and moxie. Rivers had a sensational season, finishing No. 2 in passer rating and leading the league in yards passing. He’s a great statistical passer; now he needs to start winning big games.
4. Ben Roethlisberger—He rallied from offseason problems that threatened his career and his status in the locker room. “Big Ben” takes a licking and keeps on ticking, as he did at the end of last season when a broken foot forced him to wear an oversized shoe with a metal plate in it. He wore it in big games down the stretch and through the postseason. He limped through and played poorly in the first half of the Super Bowl, but he was poised to make one of his late-game charges when Rashard Mendenhall fumbled.
3. Peyton Manning—His numbers fell in 2010 and he came within a rating point of falling out of the top 10 passers in the league, but he’s still the most feared quarterback in the game. Be that as it may, he’s going to start facing some scrutiny. Are his best years behind him? Is this all there is?
2. Tom Brady—When Brady lit up the Steelers on Sunday Night Football, he not only proved he was all the way back, he gave cause to believe he was better than ever. So which is it, the lights-out performance against the Steelers or the stinker he played against the Jets in the postseason? I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, for now, but Brady is going to start facing questions, too.
1. Aaron Rodgers—Call me a homer, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Rodgers is the best quarterback in the game. Not only does he have the title to prove it, he was also the league’s third-ranked passer last season and, in the postseason, he left them all in the dust, including Vick, Ryan and Roethlisberger. Rodgers is the perfect blend of youth, talent and maturity. He’s going to be “The Man” in this league for a long, long time.