Back in August, I posted my preseason quarterback rankings with the intention of running an updated list at the end of the season so we could see how much things changed and laugh uncontrollably at the thought of Philip Rivers being the sixth-best quarterback in the league. Well, the time has come for me to correct the past and make the official, completely non-subjective list to which everyone must strictly adhere of the best quarterbacks currently playing. Like August’s rankings, I ordered the list based on general performance in the last three years (but with the most weight being placed on the 2012 season) and jiggled things around a little bit as I saw fit based on subjective factors such as supporting casts, quality of coaching staffs, and how much I may or may not hate each player. Also as in August, we’re breaking this thing down in tiers; if you’ve ever wanted to see Ryan Fitzpatrick compared to Steve DeBerg, THIS IS YOUR MOMENT. First, let’s take a brief moment to acknowledge all the quarterbacks who left this list over the past season…
Rex Grossman (PRE: #32) fell all the way to Washington’s third-string quarterback position but had his least mentally scarring calendar year since 2002, so all in all things worked out okay…Matt Cassel (#31) did his best to show the world how a team with five Pro Bowlers could still manage to wind up 2-14…The most action Tim Tebow (#30) got all season was that time he ran shirtless in the rain during training camp…Matt Hasselbeck (#29) simply refuses to die, much like a vampire, zombie, or other mythological creature…Based on the way he played last year, the Dolphins might have actually made the playoffs if he they’d kept Matt Moore (#28) at starting quarterback; on the other hand, barely sneaking in as the #6 seed has worked out SO WELL for Cincinnati the past two years…And in a truly remarkable occurrence, Kevin Kolb (#27) got hurt, which paved the way for three months of John Skelton and Ryan Lindley action, which in turn paved the way for overflowing unintentional comedy for everyone except Cardinals fans…
On to the rankings…
The Kordell Stewart “Only as a Last Resort” Division
32. Jason Campbell, Chicago Bears (PRE: #21)
31. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets (PRE: #24)
Campbell proved to be slightly better than Caleb Hanie during his brief stint as starting quarterback for the Bears – obviously, this is high praise. He’s hanging on to his spot in these rankings based on the goodwill he built up in his two years in Oakland. And, frankly, the only reason I’m including Sanchez again is so I can run this GIF one last time:
The Tim Couch “You Kinda Have to Play Even Though You Maybe Shouldn’t” Division
30. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns (PRE: unranked)
29. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans (PRE: unranked)
28. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins (PRE: unranked)
To put it politely, I’d say the jury’s still very much out on any of these guys turning into reputable NFL quarterbacks. Particularly in Weeden’s case, since he just turned 75 in January.
The Kerry Collins “Inoffensive White Guy” Division
27. Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks (PRE: #26)
26. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (PRE: unranked)
25. Kyle Orton, Dallas Cowboys (PRE: #19)
For whatever reason, I still think that Matt Flynn’s going to be an above-average starter whenever he gets a chance. The fact that Russell Wilson beat him out in preseason doesn’t look like such a bad thing anymore and if some AFC team with a soft schedule next year (Kansas City?) picked him up, I could see that team sneaking its way to 10 wins and a wild-card slot. On the other hand, Matt still hasn’t thrown more than 200 passes in the pros, so it’s all wild speculation at this point. Part of me kinda thinks I’m underrating both Bradford and Orton, but screw it.
The Jeff George “DON’T YOU REALIZE YOU’RE SQUANDERING YOUR GIFT?!?!?!” Division
24. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles (PRE: #12)
23. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears (PRE: #14)
Both guys have oodles of talent, not so many oodles of coverage recognition skills, and reckless playing styles that cause them to reliably miss time each year and pave the way for someone truly bad to take their place and ruin their team’s season. In their defense, though, Jeff George was a bigger schmuck than both of them combined – and I say this remembering full well that Vick ran a dogfighting ring). So at least they have that going for them.
The Steve DeBerg “Just Good Enough to Get You Beat” Division
22. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills (PRE: #25)
21. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals (PRE: #18)
20. Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders (PRE: #20)
Cutler and Vick are both way better than these three when they’re on and not hurt, but they’re rarely on and not hurt. What Fitzy, Shawshank, and Carson Palmer Scott have shown us over the past three years is that if you don’t get hurt, you don’t actively try to get your offensive line to murder you, and you’re able to at least get the ball within A.J. Green’s catch radius 40% of the time, you can skate along as a starting quarterback for a LONG time. Seriously, Ryan Fitzpatrick has now started 67 games in the NFL. How is that even possible?
The Jim Plunkett “At a Crossroads” Division
19. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (PRE: #16)
18. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (PRE: #22)
17. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers (PRE: #6)
16. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (PRE: #11)
HERE’S an interesting tier. Now seems like as good a time as any to remind everyone that Andrew Luck finished 16th in Yards per Attempt, 19th in Net Yards per Attempt, and 20th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt this season – and he did this against one of the easiest schedules in the league. RGIII and Russell Wilson deserved all the rookie accolades they got; Luck was incredibly clutch this year, but does that portend well for future performance? QUESTIONABLE. Meanwhile, I fear Alex Smith is going to wind up in Jacksonville and just revert to pre-Harbaugh, fetal-position-loving Alex Smith. And that makes me sad. Phil Rivers probably deserves a little leeway for the complete disintegration of his offensive line this season, but screw him. And Matt Stafford almost threw for 5000 yards again, which would be impressive if you didn’t remember it took him 1500 pass attempts to do it. Also, he has Megatron to throw to. Imagine Drew Brees had Megatron as one of his receivers? He’d throw for 6,000 yards every year.
The Ron Jaworski “Above-Average Starter in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE” Division
15. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (PRE: #23)
14. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (PRE: #8)
13. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys (PRE: #5)
12. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans (PRE: #7)
11. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens (PRE: #15)
Spots 11-14 are a virtual dead heat, with the tie going to the guy who won Super Bowl MVP and didn’t throw an interception all postseason. Schaub gets the nod over Romo and Roethlisberger because he performs at a safe “B” level basically every week; Romo and Roethlisberger’s ceilings are much higher, but when they’re bad…OH NO. Plus, Roethlisberger misses three or four games every season because he feels the need to stand in the pocket for eight seconds and get hammered fifty more times than he has to. HE’S A TRUE WINNER.
The Colin Kaepernick circa 2013 “I have NO IDEA where to put this guy” Division
10. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (PRE: unranked)
On the one hand, it seems pretty insane to put a player who’s thrown a grand total of 303 passes in his NFL career on the list of top ten quarterbacks. On the other hand…
The Donovan McNabb “Elite, One Step Short of True Franchise Quarterback” Division
9. Eli Manning, New York Giants (PRE: #4)
8. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (PRE: unranked)
7. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (PRE: #10)
6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (PRE: #13)
The two guys in this tier that have the best chance of jumping to the next level are Wilson and Newton and it could happen as soon as next season. Cam has run for over 700 yards in each of the past two seasons and improved his passing efficiency this year even if his completion percentage went down a little bit. And if Russell Wilson plays all of next season the way he played the second half of this year, he’ll run away with the MVP award. On the other side, doesn’t it just sorta feel like this is the ceiling for Eli and Matt Ryan? Really, really good, with a lack of consistency (Eli) and top-flight athleticism (Ryan) consistently holding them down from true greatness? The good news for Ryan in this comparison is that you can still have a pretty successful career without ever being the best of the best.
The Robert Griffin III circa 2013 “True Franchise Quarterback (if he’s healthy)” Division
5. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (PRE: #17)
Look, he’s everything we thought he was going to be and then some. When he’s on the field, he’s every bit as good as the four guys ahead of him. Whether he’ll ever stay healthy enough to make it a true debate is unfortunately another question entirely.
The Dan Marino “True Franchise Quarterback” Division
4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (PRE: #3)
3. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos (PRE: #9)
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots (PRE: #2)
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (PRE: #1)
Truthfully, Brees’s year was more along the lines of a Pro Bowl level than the All-Pro level this tier requires, but I’ll cut him a little slack for being coached by janitors for half the season. As for the other three: Manning and Brady were both probably a touch better than Rodgers this year, but neither one had anything approaching the season Rodgers had in 2011. And to wrest the Greatest Quarterback Alive belt away from someone, you can’t just walk up to that person and ask politely to use it. NO, YOU GOTTA GRAB THAT BELT WITH BOTH HANDS AND YOU CAN’T LET GO UNTIL THAT BELT IS FIRMLY IN YOUR CONTROL AND THE OTHER PERSON IS BLEEDING PROFUSELY FROM THEIR MIDSECTION. At least I think that’s how these things are supposed to go. Thus, Aaron Rodgers: you are still our Greatest Quarterback Alive. Just try not to get sacked as often next year, okay? (Actually, what am I saying? Get sacked 100 times! Let the Bears split the season series for once!)