This will be the first segment in a triad of rankings as we gear up for the 2012 season. First I’ll rank the quarterbacks, then the top 100 players, and lastly the teams from 32 down to 1, factoring in everything from free agency to rookies to scandals . Here we go.
1. Aaron Rodgers,
Backup: Graham Harrell
It seems pretty clear that Rodgers has supplanted Brady and Brees at the top. He compiled the best regular season ever, with a 122.5 passer rating, a 15-1 record, 45 TDs and only 6 picks. He’s entering his prime, he’s got plenty of weapons, and should be the favorite to win his second straight MVP.
2. Tom Brady,
Backup: Brian Hoyer
If Welker doesn’t let that pass bounce off his fingertips, Brady is a four-time Super Bowl champ. He may be 34, but I wouldn’t fret about his age just yet.
3. Drew Brees,
Backup: Chase Daniel
No Sean Payton, no Robert Meachem, and an “extremely frustrating” contract situation …but for the time being, I’m not worried. As long as he’s got Sproles, Graham and Colston, he should be good for 5,000 yards and 40 TDs.
4. Peyton Manning,
Backups: Caleb Hanie, Brock Osweiler
No way of knowing if he’s healthy until the games are played, but Peyton has earned the benefit of the doubt.
5. Matt Stafford,
Backup: Shaun Hill
Backup: Shaun Hill
I’m not going to apologize for all the mean things I said about
Stafford over the last two years. I was right at the time; Stafford
actually did suck and did have a chubby face. But last year something clicked about midway
through the season, and his last four games were pure magic. He always possessed
the physical potential to dominate, but last year the mental element kicked in
and he ended up throwing for 5,000 yards, which I still can’t believe. The only
hesitation I have about ranking Stafford in the top 5 is that the Madden Curse
will devastate our entire offense, but, I actually think Stafford will put
together a pretty great season even with Calvin missing 6-10 games. After all, he’s UNFLAPPABLE!
Giants Eli Manning,
Backup: David Carr
Still kind of a dope, but 2011 was by far his best season, as he cut back on INTs, became more efficient, transformed the Giants into a passing team without anyone noticing, and simultaneously turned Victor Cruz into a star. Then, he caught fire in the playoffs and legitimately outplayed Rodgers and Brady. And he was pretty dang funny on SNL.
7. Ben Roethlisberger,
Backups: Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch
Big Ben is very average in most ways. He’s not accurate, he doesn’t make smart decisions in the pocket – something most QBs learn after 8 years in the pros, and his arm strength is overrated. But he has two qualities that no other quarterback has – he’s as big as a linebacker, and he’s more clutch/lucky in the 2-minute drill than anybody.
Newton, Carolina Panthers
Backup: Derek Anderson
Backup: Derek Anderson
I’m taking a proactive stance on Cam Newton. There aren’t more than seven teams happier with their current QB situation than the Panthers.
9. Phillip Rivers,
Backup: Charlie Whitehurst
After three straight seasons with a 100+ passer rating, Rivers dropped to 88.7 during an inexplicably atrocious 8-8 season. Now he loses his favorite receiver and probably won’t ever have a healthy Antonio Gates again. Lots of trouble in
San Diego. But then again,
an 88.7 passer rating is better than most.
10. Tony Romo,
Backup: Kyle Orton
Statistically, Tony Romo was a top 5 quarterback last year – 3rd in completion percentage, 4th in rating. But losing 4 of the last 5 games to end the season and miss the playoffs was dreadful. Romo seems to be lacking some kind of intangible mental toughness. Nonetheless,
Dallas has to feel better about their
quarterback situation than the next 22 teams, especially with one of the best
backup QBs in the league.
11. Joe Flacco,
Backup: Tyrod Taylor
The self-proclaimed “best quarterback in the NFL” kind of sneaks in at 11 for lack of a better option. His 44-20 regular season record is very impressive, even when you consider he’s on an elite team with an elite defense.
12. Matt Ryan,
Backup: Chris Redman
After a promising start to his career, Ryan has hit a plateau as a good but not great QB who excels at home, struggles on the road, and stinks in the playoffs. I don’t know if he can shake that reputation anytime soon, but having one of the best duos of receivers in Julio and Roddy will help.
13. Michael Vick,
Backups: Trent Edwards, Mike Kafka
There’s a lot of good mixed with a lot bad. Vick extends the play like no other, he ran for more yards than Felix Jones, he makes electrifying plays and he sells tickets. He also gets injured, turns the ball over, throws erratically, and murders dogs. Vick’s statistical decline from 2010 to 2011 was brutal – 30 TDs down to 19, 6 INTs up to 14, and a 62.6% completion percentage down to 59.8%. What a difference a $100 million dollar contract makes, huh?
14. Matt Schaub,
Backup: TJ Yates
If his foot heals completely, Schaub jumps up to 11. But I would be severely worried about that foot if I were a Texan fan.
15. Andrew Luck,
Backup: Drew Stanton
Call me crazy, but I think there’s a real chance that Luck finishes the season as the 4th best quarterback in the NFL. Remember, he would have been the #1 pick last year, ahead of
Newton. Of course, there’s also a chance that he
totally stinks, so ranking him at 15 is a safe bet..
16. Andy Dalton –
Backup: Bruce Gradkowski
Let’s get a few things straight: Andy Dalton shouldn’t have been a Pro Bowler last year, and
shouldn’t have made the playoffs last year. The Red Rifle had a nice little
rookie year, but people really got out of hand. He made the Pro Bowl because of
no less than four injuries, and he still shouldn’t have made it; and Cincy only
made the playoffs because the Jets and Chargers imploded and nobody else was
any good. Dalton’s okay, and he probably won’t regress,
but my hunch is that Bengals’ fans think they have a future superstar and
that’s just not the case.
17. Josh Freeman –
Bucs Tampa Bay
Backup: Dan Orlovsky
Watching Freeman’s QB rating plummet from 95.9 to 74.6 was like a bad Bruce Willis movie: you could totally take your eyes off it. It was just sad, and barely interesting. I doubt he’ll ever replicate his 25 TD, 6 INT season, but he should be a whole lot better with Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks on the offense.
18. Alex Smith – San Francisco 49ers
Backups: Colin Kaepernick, Josh Johnson
I’m not buying it. The chances of Smith playing all 16 games again and only throwing 5 interceptions is about .000001%. More likely, he’ll throw 10 or more picks, he’ll cost the Niners 3 or 4 games, and his inevitable regression will directly cause San Fran to miss the playoffs. I just haven’t figured out yet which NFC West team will swoop in and take the division.
19. Jay Cutler –
Backup: Jason Campbell
Sure, the Bears were 7-3 with Cutler last year and 1-5 without him. Plenty of people have used that data to argue for Cutler’s greatness. But that’s absurd, for one simple reasons: Matt Forte missed 5 of those 6 games! Forte is the Bears’ offense, not Cutler. For all his physical talent, Cutler is still a pompous douchebag with no leadership skills or chemistry with his teammates. That kind of stuff matters. Nobody likes him.
20. Sam Bradford –
Backup: Kellen Clemens
21. Mark Sanchez –
Backup: Tim Tebow
This is where we officially begin the QB controversies. Although Sanchez will be the week one starter, the Tebow chatter will be omnipresent. And rightfully so. Tebow can’t throw worth a crap, but he can win you games, and he’s the biggest name in the NFL right now. Rex Ryan is all about the spotlight, and this will be Rex’s last season as the head coach if the Jets don’t make the playoffs, so you can bet he’ll milk Tebowmania as long as he can.
22. Ryan Fitzpatrick –
Backup: Vince Young
For just one game, I’d rather have Fitz than the six guys ahead of him on this list. But you’ve got to factor in the six-year, $59 million atrocity and what it does to the future of
Fitzpatrick is the highest-paid player in Bills history – a history that
includes Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas …. yikes. It’s safe to say that
Fitz’s disaster of a contract will be one of the primary reasons that this
franchise moves to Toronto
in 3 years.
23. Jake Locker –
Backup: Matt Hasselbeck
The jury’s still out on if Locker can be a serviceable starter, but having a reliable backup gives the Titans stability at the QB position. My gut feeling is that Locker is significantly better than people realize, and will be better than
by the end of this season. But let’s see.
24. Kevin Kolb –
Backup: John Skelton
I’m not quite ready to give up on Kolb, though everyone in
Arizona seems to
be. He only played 9 games with the
Cards last year, and they protected him with the league’s worst O-line. He’s
got the physical tools and he’s got a good head on his shoulders, and now he’s
got Michael Floyd next to Larry Fitzgerald.
I’m not saying he’s my fantasy sleeper, but I don’t completely hate him
25. Robert Griffin –
Backups: Kirk Cousins, Rex Grossman
26. Christian Ponder –
Backups: Sage Rosenfels, Joe Webb
Tons of upside, tons of downside. Most of the teams remaining on this list only have downside.
27. Matt Flynn –
Backups: Tavaris Jackson, Russell Wilson
After winning what was dubbed as the “Flynn Sweepstakes” and giving their new quarterback a 3-year deal, Pete Carroll thought it was a good idea to announce that the competition for the week one starter is wide open between Flynn, Tavaris, and third-round pick Russell Wilson. What an idiot.
28. Matt Cassel –
Kansas City Chiefs
Backup: Brady Quinn
It’s hard to believe there are four teams in worse shape than Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn. But it’s true.
29. Matt Moore –
Backups: Ryan Tannehill, David Garrard
It’s nearly impossible to take a QB with the 8th overall pick and not start him, but I think Ryan Tannehill is bad enough to warrant such an exception. Also, Matt Moore is not getting nearly enough credit for taking over an 0-4 team and finishing 6-10 with an 87.1 passer rating. While it’s true that all 6 of his wins were against bad teams, that’s still 6 wins.
Moore is the better QB,
but Tannehill will probably start.
Carson Palmer – Oakland Raiders
Backup: Matt Leinart
Revisionist history is always fun. The Raiders gave up their 2012 first round pick (turned out to be Dre Kirkpatrick) and their 2013 2nd round pick for Palmer, who was in his thirties and mulling retirement. Their reasoning was that with a 4-2 record, they were pretty much on the doorstep of the Super Bowl, and all they needed was that one final piece at quarterback. Then, in Palmer’s first game (a 0 TD, 3 INT catastrophe which the Raiders lost 28-0 at home), Darren McFadden broke his foot and ruined the Raiders’ season. Palmer then went for 13 more INTs and a 4-6 record to narrowly miss the playoffs. A really hideous stat - Palmer was 7th in the league in INTs, but 25th in attempts.
31. Brandon Weeden –
Backups: Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace
After missing Flynn and
Griffin and not drafting Tannehill, it
appeared the Browns would stick it out for another year of Colt McCoy and try
to find their franchise quarterback next year. That was the right move. And then, they took Brandon Weeden with the
22nd pick. Weeden is the same age as Aaron Rodgers, who is seven years into his
career. Weird. Now Cleveland
has pretty much ensured another 5 years of mediocrity at best.
Blaine Gabbert – Jacksonville Jaguars
According to the Football Outsiders website, Gabbert’s 2011 season was the fifth worst season any QB ever had. I can’t find the list, so I’ve got to assume the other four were all Joey Harrington. Gabbert led the league in fumbles and was third in sacks, and that’s on an offense that was the fourth most run-heavy in the NFL. He completed a lower percentage of his passes than every single QB in the league except for Tebow, and the Jags went 5-11 with two of those wins against the Colts. There’s every reason to believe the Gabbert Era in
Jacksonville won’t even
last two full years.