I wanted to post this prior to the playoffs, but couldn't finish it in time. John Clayton recently came out with his QB rankings and I decided to make my own. His was based around 3 tiers: elite, Pennington, and hit or miss. I thought these were too generalized and didn't take into account varying degrees and aspects that define an NFL QB. I created a ten tier classification, which led to smaller, more accurate groups in my opinion. Also, I think it helped to put these QBs in better perspective in terms of how they help their teams win, their potential, or lack thereof. I choose the 45 QBs that I find the most interesting and got some playing time. I didn't include someone like Leftwich or Kitna, because he is clearly a backup on a team with an established starter. After the top 10 or first three tiers they become a little more ambiguous. For example, some may say Jay Cutler is a better QB than Ryan Fitzpatrick. And maybe they are right. But, the point of the middle tiers is more for classification than it is ranking. So lets get started with our first group, the elite, after the jump.
This is and should be a very rare club. It is for the QBs who not only play at an extremely high level, but upgrade the talent around them. They can take bad talent and make it mediocre, or mediocre talent and make it good. They have a command on the field and dictate the defense, not the other way around. They are first ballet hall of famers without a doubt.
1a. Tom Brady
What is there to say that hasn't already been said. The guy has 3 rings, a perfect season, and his 2nd MVP award around the corner. The Patriots are the team of the decade and the only thing that has remained constant on the field is him. Its easy to see the effect he has on his receivers. Moss, Welker, and Branch were different players on different teams. Brady has made each them one of best in their respected positions at one time. The best QB in the league in my opinion.
1b. Peyton Manning
One thing Brady has usually had in the past that Manning hasn't is championship defense. That is why some will still argue that Peyton is the better QB. They are 1a and and 1b. But, its easy to see why there is a debate. Manning is the ultimate field general. He can read a defense like no other and put his players in a position to succeed. I guarantee you that Austin Collie, Pierre Garson, and Jacob Tamme would be scrubs anywhere else besides New England. The 4 time MVP misses the top spot in my book because he only has one ring.
This group is still pretty damn good company to keep. They have all the skill sets and maybe even more tools than the elite, but they obviously are not the same player in between the ears. Whether its their accuracy, pocket presence, arm strength, or mobility each of these players adds a dynamic to the game that gives defenses headaches and wins their team games.
2a. Drew Brees
Drew was a guy last year that you could say had the chance to be in the same company as Brady and Manning. He won a Super Bowl with less than elite talent at the WR position, but had a very good run game to rely on. Now that the run game is not 100% you can see that it has put too much on his shoulders. He has thrown 22 picks this season, but still managed to get his his team to the playoffs. When Brees has the time, players, and system going his way he might be the most accurate QB in the NFL.
2b. Ben Roethlesburger
Ben gets the nod over the next guy because he has a couple rings. One ring that could be directly attributed to his game winning drive. Ben may have a few flaws, but he wins a lot of games with his big body and toughness. He may have one of the most shitty offensive lines in terms of pass protection, but he still able to move the ball down field by extending the play due to the fact that no one can bring him down. His arm strength also allows for big plays by his speedy WR Wallace.
2c. Aaron Rodgers
This guy has a horrible running game, yet has been able to put up incredible numbers. He has amazing pocket presence and may have the most accurate deep ball in the NFL. He is also extremely athletic and can move the chains with his legs. He and his colleague below have the best shot to become elite players. They just have to obtain that hardware by being successful in the post season.
2d. Micheal Vick
It looks like Vick in realizing his potential of what he was projected to do when he was taken number one overall. The guy can be the scariest player on the field when he is clicking on all cylinders. Obviously, he brings the best running ability out of any QB in the league, but also processes a million dollar arm. He gets 4th on this list due to his injury concerns and the fact that he has to continue this into his future seasons.
This tier is for QBs that put up some very good statistics and are capable of having pro bowl years. However, they are still limited by one thing or the other. For two of the players its situational, in terms of manifesting game winning drives, for the other two its experience. Most have a shot of moving up to the next level.
3a. Phillip Rivers
You want to know the difference between Manning and Rivers? Both had liabilities in terms of injuries or hold outs, but one rose to the occasion and gave his team a division title. Phillip is a very good QB, but he lacks the leadership necessary to overcome difficulties and win. The Chargers were not 8-8 this season just because the special teams fucked up here and there. They lost games by dumb turnovers at horrible times in the game. Norv Turner doesn't help matters, but Manning overcomes his coaching by becoming one on the field.
3b. Matt Ryan
Matt relies on a strong run game in Atlanta and a solid defense. And although he hasn't put up the kind of numbers Rivers has in the past he has already had multiple game winning drives and has been the difference in his team winning or losing. I expect he will continue to improve and jump Rivers in the future.
3c. Joe Flaco
Another young QB that has established himself as a very good QB. He has also had his fair share of game winning drives as well as playoff wins. But, hasn't been able to just take over an offense and dismantle the opposing defense. I see a lot of Ben Roethlesburger in this kid and he could be a superior player sooner than later.
3d. Matt Schaub
Schaub is one of the harder QBs to classify. He puts up big numbers, but it seems like there is always something missing. Although he was tick below Cassel in terms of passer rating I'm giving him the go ahead because he had to air it out a lot, despite having a solid running game, due to a horrible defense. He never really had any breathing room at all this season. He still gets knocked for this and I would say he has reached his ceiling at this point.
This tier would be comparable to Clayton's Pennington division. The game manager types. Although I think that sells this group short. Yes, they have ceiling only to be great, not superior or elite. But, they still exhibit qualities that win you football games on a consistent basis. In order to be great, however, they need superior talent surrounding them. I would say Schaub wouldn't be in the next tier without the likes of Andre Johnson or Arian Foster.
4a. Matt Cassel
Matt doesn't have the greatest arm, the most accurate pass, or Vick's running ability, but he displays winning football through his leadership and poise. He doesn't turn the ball over and is capable of making that 3rd and long throw or getting the ball to playmakers like Charles or Bowe. He is also capable of leading his team to a game winning drive. Not to mention Matt is does bring athleticism to the position and can make plays with his feet. But, he isn't going to make McCluster into Welker or Moeaki into Gates. Still, he has the respect of his teammates and as long as they do their part Matt will do his. (after the playoff loss I think we can all agree that Cassel deserves the benefit of the doubt until his rookie's develop in McCluster and Moeaki and we add a threat across from D Bowe.)
4b. Kyle Orton
He may be the most underrated QB in the league since Cassel has finally got some recognition. He has played at a very solid level from his last season with the Bears to his two with the Broncos. And he can air it out, however, he is limited by his own abilities and the talent around him. If I were the Minnesota Vikings I would be calling the Broncos to obtain his services.
4c. David Garrad
David relies on a strong running game by MJD, but may have the most underwhelming group of wide outs in the NFL. He protects the football and is able to make plays with his feet. He kept his team in the division hunt through the season, but couldn't overcome a Manning led team. Still, when he had a very good group around him he has shown the ability to win playoff games.
4d. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Buffalo is in limbo now with the play of Fitzpatrick this season. Do they go for a high upside guy in the first round or build the team around Fitzpatrick? He is obviously limited, but does bring some qualities that has prevented Buffalo from being the worst team in the NFL despite many people's prediction that they would be by season's end. He is very smart and capable of reading defenses and making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. But, he will never be superior or great.
This tier is what I like to call the overrated group or the inconsistent group. The Gunslinger name comes from someone with a lot of fire power, but will take risk which don't always pan out. They do show signs of superior play from time to time, or they process a really sexy tool, but do not have what it takes upstairs to utilize these tools or sustain this superior play week in and week out.
5a. Jay Cutler
If I have to hear about his incredible arm strength or underrated mobility one more time I think I'm going to puke. Cutler is the epitome of this classification. Every Bears fan on Sunday wakes up wondering which Cutler is going to show up. The big play machine capable of throwing for 400 yards and 4 TDs. Or the choke artist, risk taker that throws 4 picks and cost them the game. He looked better toward the end of the season, but he hasn't proven that he is reliable enough to show up in the playoffs. We will see.
5b. Tony Romo
Speaking of playoffs, remember when Romo choked both times he was in them? Romo is a hyped player because he plays for America's team. The guy is capable of putting up some great numbers, but he lacks the leadership and poise in my opinion to ever be a superior player. He is a very good improviser in the mold of Brett Farve and is extremely mobile. However, like Farve he is capable of throwing away a game with a costly pick. Maybe he puts it all together, but it has yet to be seen.
5c. Eli Manning
Eli threw 25 interceptions this year. 25! The Giants have talent everywhere on the roster, but Manning cost his team big time this year. However, if there is anything redeemable about Eli its that he proved the gunslinger type is capable of winning a Super Bowl. You just have to string 3 to 4 great games together as he did. With a little luck of course.
5d. Vince Young
You know a player belongs in this category when there is debate surrounding his capabilities. Some will say Young can win you games, while others don't want to touch him with a ten foot pole. He hasn't shown to be a good leader and has cost his team games with dumb turnovers. But, Young does have a winning record as a starter and is the best in the NFL outside of Vick of making plays with his feet. He needs a change of scenery and the work ethic to put it all together. I think he would be a good fit in Miami, but who knows.
6. Young Guns +
The Young Guns Plus Tier is for the first or second year players that have shown promise in varying degrees. They haven't yet fully molded their identity as a starter yet. Some have higher ceilings than the others, but the common theme is that their arrows are pointing more up than down.
6a. Sam Bradford
St. Louis has to feel the same kind of optimism that Indianapolis felt in Peyton's rookie season. He broke Manning's 12 year rookie record for completions in a game against the 49ers and fell just short of rookie passing yards in a season. The kid looks like he has all the tools: accuracy, pocket presence, leadership, and the ability to upgrade the talent around him through his play. Ceiling: Elite
6b. Josh Freeman
Wow, I did not see this kid making as big a leap this year as he did. This Kansas City born player put up a 5 to 1 TD to INT ratio and a 96 passer rating. He is already playing at a great level, but he has to prove it again next season. He has all the measurables as well as a cannon. Ceiling: Superior
6c. Kevin Kolb
Kolb is the only non-freshman/sophomore on this list. He has shown flashes with limited playing time and its obvious that Andy Reid likes this kid. I expect he will be traded in the offseason and he could end up like another Cassel or Schaub. Ceiling: Great
6d. Mark Sanchez
Sanchez has looked great at times and at others lackluster. He has won his team games and cost his team games. Sounds like a gunslinger, huh? Ceiling: Gunslinger
6e. Colt McCoy
McCoy showed signs of life this season. His was pretty accurate with the ball, but didn't wow you with anything. Ceiling: Solid
6f. Joe Webb
He had one good game, but he hasn't secured the Minnesota QB spot in the future by any means. Ceiling: ?
7. Young Guns -
This group is for young QBs that haven't shown much on the field either through bad play, injury, or just lack of playing time in general. Their fates aren't sealed by any means, but they need to prove something before they fizzle out.
7a. Matthew Stafford
He has looked pretty good when he has been on the field. But, the problem is he can't stay healthy. It looks like he has the arm and leadership qualities, but it would be nice to see him play a full season. Ceiling: Superior
7b. Tim Tebow
He looked ok when he got the nod to start, but lets chill out with all the hype. Obviously, this might be my greatest bias considering I want the Broncos to stay in the gutter and I can't stand the ad nauseam that is the chosen one. Yes, he has great intangibles. Yes, he can make plays with his feet. But, he is going to have to completely change his instincts as a player if he wants to become the next great QB. Ceiling: Great, but please God don't let this happen!
7c. Chad Henne
Henne took a step back this year despite getting a number one in Marshall. He might lose the starting job next year due to his inconsistency. Ceiling: Gunslinger
7d. Jimmy Claussen/Matt Moore
It looks like Moore is done as a starter in the league and Cluassen didn't exactly impress when he replaced Moore. Moore's Ceiling: backup material. Claussen's Ceiling: Solid
Both of these rookies rode the carousel that is Arizona's starting QB job. Hall didn't impress and neither did Skelton, although he has a better arm and might stick in the pros longer. Ceilings: backup material
8. Old Guns
These are players that were or are on their last legs. They may have been great players at one time, but they are clearly on the decline. They can come in to a good situation and help your team win in a very short window. A smart destination for these types of QBs would be a place like Minnesota or Arizona.
8a. Donovan McNabb
It looks like Andy Reid knew what he was doing when he sent McNabb to the Redskins. McNabb will undoubtedly be cut and should go to Arizona in my opinion. He can use his arm strength to throw Fitz jump balls.
8b. Carson Palmer
Its hard to tell whether Carson is on the decline or if it was the result of his WRs yapping in both his ears. Regardless, he will probably return to Cinci for next season, but it will be his last chance. Lets see if he gets better without 85 or T.O.
8c. Matt Hasselbeck
It looks like he is still capable of winning playoff games. The Seahawks have a decision to make. Do they draft a a QB in the 1st and let Matt walk to a team like the 49ers. Or do they stick with him.
8d. Brett Farve
It looks like the old gunslinger is done for, but I can't help but think he would sign on with a good team late in the season next year if they got desperate at QB.
9. Backup Material
I'm not going to give long or any explanations for this group. In my opinion they should be considered good or decent backups at this stage in their career.
Good backups, but nonetheless backups.
Bring an added dimension with their feet, can come in on wildcat packages.
9d. Alex Smith/Charlie Whitehurst
Should be out of the league.
10a. Derek Anderson
How he sucked that bad with Fitzgerald and Breaston I don't know. I wouldn't trust him with the ball.
10b. Jake Delhomme
He should have been out of the league last year.