by Paul Knepper
Suspend reality with me for a moment and imagine that you are the owner of a new NFL franchise. You can pick any quarterback to head your team. Who would you choose?
Naturally, your first thought is Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but this isn’t a one year deal. You’re building a team and must consider both the short and long term interests of your franchise. Age and durability are important factors. You may also want to consider off-the-field issues for the face of your franchise.
Here’s my list of the top 20 quarterbacks to start a team with.
20) Kevin Kolb
Kolb has finally landed a starting gig in his fifth year in the league. During limited playing time with the Eagles he showed signs of greatness and at other times appeared lost. The Cardinals obviously think he’s the answer to their quarterback problem, trading Dominique Rodgers-Cromarte and a second round pick for him, then signing him to a five-year $63 million contract.
19) Matt Schaub
Michael Vick’s one-time backup in Atlanta has found a home in Texas, where he’s led one of the most productive offenses in the league the past few years. Of course, throwing to Andre Johnson always helps. Schaub’s not a franchise quarterback, but he’s probably in the top ten to fifteen QBs in the league and should remain so for the next five years.
18) Andrew Luck
The “suck for Luck” sweepstakes are in full swing and the Seahawks are the early favorite. He’s the consensus number one pick in the 2012 draft and the most highly touted pro quarterback prospect in years. His experience in a pro-style offense at Stanford should help him hit the ground running in the NFL.
17) Jay Cutler
For years we waited for this gunslinger to take his game to the next level. It’s not happening. At 28, in his sixth season in the league, the Bears know what they have in Jay Cutler, a good quarterback, with a great arm who still makes poor decisions and demonstrates questionable leadership ability. I’m not sure if I want to rest my Super Bowl hopes on that right arm.
16) Mark Sanchez
The verdict is still out on the Jets third-year signal caller. His completion percentage is cause for concern and he needs to continue to cut down on his mistakes over the middle. Still just 24, there’s room for improvement and it’s noteworthy that he’s played his best football in pressure-packed games, leading the Jets to the AFC Championship in consecutive seasons.
15) Tony Romo
Quarterback of “America’s team” is the most scrutinized position in sports and Romo’s schizophrenic play hasn’t helped matters. Take week one against the Jets for example. He was great for three quarters, then handed the Jets the game with two inexplicable turnovers. The most significant statistic attached to Romo is that the Cowboys have only won one playoff game during his tenure.
14) Eli Manning
Once you get past all the hype that comes with his last name, playing QB in the New York market and his recent statements, Eli is simply a good quarterback, nothing more. He’s in his prime right now and still led the league in interceptions last year. I can hear Giants fans screaming, “But he won a Super Bowl!” Yes, and so did Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson; their busts aren’t lining the walls of Canton any time soon.
13) Joe Flacco
The Ravens signal caller continues to improve in this his fourth season and the team has rewarded him with greater responsibility and a more dynamic group of receivers. He hasn’t missed a game in his career and should continue to be a dependable, if not spectacular player for the next eight to ten years.
12) Cam Newton
It’s way to early to jump to any grand conclusions, but 854 yards passing in his first two games, one of which was against the defending champion Packers, is unbelievable. Last year’s Heisman winner is also capable of rushing for 100 yards on any given Sunday. I’ll take his upside over more established QBs like Eli Manning and Cutler.
11) Michael Vick
It took many seasons, a stint in the big house and some tutoring from Andy Reid and Marty Mornhenwig for Vick to become the quarterback the Falcons envisioned when they selected him with the first pick in the 2001 draft. The Eagles QB played MVP-caliber football during the first half of the season last year, though he’s had trouble staying healthy and his legs will be less of a weapon as he ages.
10) Peyton Manning
A mysterious neck injury may sideline the Colts franchise player for the entire season, meaning he may be 36-years-old the next time he lines up behind center. It’s fair to wonder if he’ll be able to compete at the same level and if so, for how long. Given his condition, I’d take 10-12 years of some of the young guns over two or three possibly diminished years from Peyton.
9) Matthew Stafford
Stafford can really sling it. The third-year quarterback tossed seven touchdowns in the Lions first two games this season. The only question about this former Georgia Bulldog is his durability. His first two seasons in the league were cut short by injuries, including one to his throwing shoulder last year.
8) Josh Freeman
He doesn’t receive a great deal of press playing in Tampa, though to this point he’s been the most impressive quarterback from the 2009 draft, which included Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez. Freeman took great strides last year, playing with the savvy of a seasoned veteran on a much-improved Bucs team.
7) Phillip Rivers
The Chargers brought back memories of the “Air Coryell” days last season, with Rivers throwing for a league-high 4,710 yards. And that was without the services of stud wide receiver Vincent Jackson for most of the season. Rivers and the Chargers lack of success in the playoffs prevent him from being ranked higher on this list.
6) Sam Bradford
This Heisman trophy winner and first pick in the 2010 draft has lived up to his billing so far, passing for over 3,ooo yards in his rookie season without the benefit of a number one receiver. He’s fully recovered from the shoulder injury that ended his junior year at Oklahoma and at the age of 23 has plenty of room for growth.
5) Matt Ryan
“Matty Ice” made Falcons fans forget about Michael Vick pretty quickly. The fourth year signal caller really came into his own last season, significantly improving his touchdown to interception ratio (28/9), while leading the Falcons to the number one seed in the NFC.
4) Drew Brees
The Siants QB had an off-year last season and still led the league in completion percentage. He has a Super Bowl MVP on his resume and is rightfully mentioned among the best quaretbacks in the game. At 32, he should have a few elite years left, but you may want to consider a younger option like one of the Matts (Ryan or Stafford).
3) Ben Roethlisberger
His off the field issues are well documented and there have been rumblings that he’snot the best teammate, but Big Ben has led the Steelers to three Super Bowls, winning two of them. He doesn’t have the accuracy of Manning or Brady, but he has a knack for making plays when his team needs them most. At 29 years of age, he should have several more top notch seasons in him.
2) Tom Brady
Brady brings a championship pedigree and had perhaps his finest season last year, throwing 36 touchdowns, compared to just 4 interceptions. If you were choosing a QB for one season this former Michigan Wolverine would be your guy, but at age 34 he realistically only has two to three elite seasons left. Still, I like my chances of winning a Super Bowl in that short time period.
1) Aaron Rodgers
With his MVP performance in Super Bowl XLV Rodgers secured his place among the elite quarterbacks in the league and at just 27, he’s the youngest of the bunch. He’s the complete package on and off the field. If you were starting a franchise he’d be the number one pick.
Colt McCoy, Christian Ponder, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker