Monday Football Primer: Your Guide to Week 2 NFL Action

The NFL is back and in full swing! Here are some of my thoughts and observations after two weeks of action.

Packers-Vikings: Bradford Shines, Rodgers Struggles

Sam Bradford has always been a bit of an enigma. He’s always had the skillset, and he looks like a prototypical strong-armed, rhythm, dropback, pocket passer. He’s just never really lived up to expectations. He’s played in a ton of different offenses, has struggled with injuries, and has often been surrounded by subpar supporting casts. Nonetheless, he just always leaves you wanting a little more. He’s never proven that he can really elevate his supporting cast, or that he can produce wins consistently (or that he can stay healthy).

History would tell you to be skeptical that Sam Bradford can be anything more than average. Nonetheless, I find myself wanting to be optimistic about Sam Bradford. That’s because, when you watch him, you see why he was a No 1 overall pick. He’s a really natural and easy thrower of the ball. His arm strength is significantly above average, and he has a quick, effortless release.

On the one hand, a Bradford skeptic could argue that last night’s win over the Packers really wasn’t anything too significant. It was only one game, and it was a 17-14 win that was mostly defensive driven. Still, two throws in particular stand out to me: The play action deep shot to Diggs, and the TD pass to Diggs running up the seam while Bradford was being hit. Those are two throws that Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t make.

I think Sam Bradford has the potential to be an upgrade over Teddy Bridgewater, at least as Bridgewater is at this point in this career. (That’s not to say that he will be, or that the Vikings should abandon Bridgewater.) I know a lot of people like Bridgewater. The folks at Football Outsiders are really high on him. But one reason why I thought the Bradford trade sort of made sense, and why I didn’t think the Vikings were necessarily doomed when Bridgewater went down, is because I don’t think Bridgewater played particularly well last year. That Vikings team went to the playoffs because of Peterson and the defense, for the most part. Bridgewater threw for 3231 yards, 14 TD, and 9 INT for a passer rating of 88.7. His 65.3% completion and 7.2 y/a are okay, but for the most part, those numbers aren’t very good.

One thing that concerns me about Bridgewater, which Greg Cosell of NFL Films brought up during the pre-draft process and which hasn’t really changed, is his arm strength and throwing process. Bridgewater throws a very slow ball, and he’s not a natural thrower of the football. He pushes it way more than he flicks it. It looks like he’s trying really hard to throw it, like I often do when I play in the backyard. One reason for this, I believe, is his small hands, which prevent him from spinning the football and really getting torque on it. People talk about his struggles with the deep ball and lack of aggressiveness, but this is all tied into arm strength. You’re not going to make throws into tight windows if you don’t think that you are physically capable of getting the ball there.

This isn’t to say that Bridgewater can’t become a serviceable quarterback. But it’s just one more thing he has to compensate for, and it limits how high his ceiling can be. Bradford, as I mentioned, has no such issue. Not only is he a better natural thrower of the ball, but he’s taller and he plays taller, with a more over the top delivery and less bend in his knees.

The Vikings are a good team built on a strong defensive foundation by head coach Mike Zimmer. Bradford in many ways has become an easy target for criticism because of some of his history– the multiple huge contracts he’s signed and inability to produce that kind of return, the demanding of a trade in Philadelphia, the fact that he’s incredibly injury prone… but as a player, there’s no doubt that he’s talented. And there’s no doubt that Minnesota can make the playoffs with him at the helm. Whether or not they will? That, only time will tell.

Now onto the Pack. Over the past few days, Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders has tweeted some interesting stats about Rodgers. He is now going on a 14 game streak without a 100+ passer rating. His yards per attempt was 6.7 in 2015 (career is 8.0) and through two games in 2016 is 5.9. He is 6-8 as a starter in his last 14 games, including the Playoffs. As Greg Rosenthal of NFL.com pointed out within the last few weeks, Brady and Manning never had streaks of futility like this in their primes.

Now, Rodgers is certainly not all to blame, and he certainly has not been horrible. But the TD/INT ratio (31/8 in 2015) does not tell the story of what a poor offense this has been recently and how poorly Rodgers has been playing.

Again, Rodgers hasn’t been awful, and he still has had a spectacular career, but you wonder how long this can go before he starts being criticized. There have been a lot of times where I’ve felt that Rodgers has been overrated and that he often gets a pass for poor play. Yes, I had him at No 1 for my QB Rankings coming into the 2015 season. Yes, he’s still probably the most talented Quarterback in the league in terms of arm strength, although that’s always a tough call to make. But people for years have taken it for granted that he’s been the best QB in the league, and many have gone on to claim that he’s on his way to being the greatest that’s ever played this game. That’s ridiculous. He’s only been playing since 2008, and he has one Superbowl ring and has been average in the playoffs since. In terms of the all time argument, he’s still in the shadows of Brady, Peyton, and arguably even Ben Roethlisberger, as well as several guys that are now retired.

But that’s beside the point. On a more micro level, what’s always bothered me most about Rodgers is the degree to which he just isn’t a rhythm player. He holds onto the ball way longer than he should at times, and he takes a lot of sacks, WAY more than the Brady/Mannings. That should play into the picture when talking about his phenomenal TD/INT ratio.

We’ve seen this lack of rhythm come to haunt Rodgers at times during losses and against high level defenses, but for the most part he’s had an effective career and done a fantastic jab of walking a fine line between structure and improvisation.

But that’s not how he’s been playing recently. Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders was talking about how the Green Bay Offense just looks broken. How it used to run so smoothly and efficiently, like a tightly oiled machine, like we used to see with those perfectly timed back shoulder fades. But recently, it’s just been so out of sync. It essentially relies entirely on broken plays. Last year, I bet if you took out of Rodgers’ numbers screens and plays where he got the defense to jump offsides to get a free play, they would be a lot worse.

This is how Rodgers is playing recently. There is no timing or play-to-play execution involved in the GB offense. He’s arguably the best in the league at making improvisational plays, but that can’t be your whole game. Every play can’t be backyard football. That’s not high level quarterbacking and that doesn’t lead to consistent execution. That’s why the GB offense has been inconsistent and struggling. It seems like almost every time Rodgers drops back, he’s running around or moving around in the pocket to try to buy time and “make a play”, or wait for something to happen.

Rodgers is consistently looked at as having great pocket movement, but it’s different than that of guys like Brady and Brees. When they move in the pocket, it is measured and methodical. And it’s fairly consistent. It’s drop back, step up, deliver. Slide left or slide right occasionally if needed. Rodgers is by no means frenetic in the pocket, and he certainly has a great feel for finding the empty space… but his movement seems more random than that of those guys. It’s a little more all over the place. It seems like he’s buying time/extending the play just for the sake of extending the play. When he moves in the pocket, it looks like he’s trying to complete a madden challenge where you’re asked to stay in the pocket without getting sacked as long as you can. It’s not very calculated movement.

In Week 1 against the Jaguars, Rodgers made an absolutely ridiculous touchdown pass. He threw it with precision down the field with a defender practically tackling him. But the talking heads were so caught up with talking about that play, that they ignored the bigger picture of how out of sync the GB offense has been. And that’s been the story for the past year it seems like with Rodgers. People just talk about the crazy broken plays, and ignore how inconsistent Rodgers has been when he’s not making those plays. Sometimes, you just have to drop back and get rid of it for a short gain. Those plays aren’t exciting and they don’t make the highlight reels. But the great ones are going to make those every time. Rodgers tries to improvise so much, that he leaves a lot of plays on the field.

And then there are the comeback woes, which reared their ugly head again on Sunday. As Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders (who keeps track of QB 4th Quarter Comeback records) has written about time and time again, Aaron Rodgers is essentially a frontrunner. This means if it’s the 4th Quarter and the Packers are behind, they aren’t likely to comeback with Rodgers at the helm. No one in the media talks about this, but if you look at his track record, it’s surprisingly accurate. Rodgers’ last pick in the Minnesota game was bad (although the receiver might share the blame), and so was the fumble before that, another example of Rodgers holding onto the ball too long (also poor RT play). 4th Quarter Comebacks have been a problem for Rodgers every year since his rookie year, so this aspect of his game is unlikely to change even if he does get back to MVP form. Some QBs just aren’t comeback QBs. This doesn’t mean you can’t be a great QB–Kurt Warner, one of my favorite QBs, is an all time great, and he too was a notorious frontrunner–but when guys like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and even guys like Eli Manning, are spectacular in this department, it’s worth at least mentioning

Now, the poor GB offense certainly isn’t all on Rodgers. The O-line has struggled at times. The run game has been hit and miss. And most importantly, the receivers have been below average and have often been unable to separate. The GB receiving core has lost pieces throughout the years (Jones got old, Driver retired, Jennings left/got old, Finley got hurt), and it just isn’t what it used to be. Cobb really struggled without Jordy Nelson in the lineup. And Davante Adams is not a good No. 3. Everyone thought he’d be so good in 2015, but people were fixated on what were essentially only two good games for him (DAL and NE) out of the whole 2014 season. Greg Cosell of NFL Films was talking about, a while back, how it seems Rodgers doesn’t trust Davante Adams when he’s running the slant (the slant-flat is a staple route combination in the GB offense), because often he didn’t pull the trigger on those throws. And I’ve seen a few times where a slant to Adams almost ended up getting picked from the defender cutting in front of him. That kind of stuff messes with a QB’s head. The QB needs to trust that the receiver is going to be where he needs him to be. Otherwise, he either doesn’t throw it at all, or throws it a clutch too late, which is the difference between a completion and an incompletion/INT in this league.

I think 2015 was a perfect storm of factors for Rodgers. Somewhat similar to 2013 for Eli Manning. That year on the Giants there was no run game, the o-line was awful, the receivers were inconsistent, and the pass game concepts weren’t helping the issue. When Rodgers is uncomfortable, he plays fast at times (goes through his reads too fast/moves around too soon), holds onto the ball too long, and leaves plays on the field. When Eli gets uncomfortable, he chucks up absurdly dumb interceptions. Yes, it’s good that Rodgers has managed to avoid throwing picks throughout this slump, but that doesn’t mean he’s been playing well. There’s more to good quarterbacking than not throwing picks. Now, Eli did not at all have a good supporting cast in 2013, but he was part of the problem. A big part. By no means has Rodgers been as bad as Eli was then, but the GB offense has been bad, and that includes him. He too has been part of the problem. The bottom line is, it can’t all be about Jordy.

And it may seem like I’m overstating the issue (and perhaps I am), but this is the part of it that gets me. If I had a penny every time I heard someone talk about Jordy Nelson coming back and him being gone last year and the impact of that on the offense, I’d be rich. I know it matters. I know he’s a great WR, and I know the comfort level with Rodgers is huge. But there has to be more to it than that. Rodgers is supposed to be one of the best in the game. Does the production of the best QB in the game entirely depend on the presence of one WR? Does that also mean that when Rodgers has been so good in the past, it’s just been because of his receivers? Of course not. When Rodgers has been great, it’s been because of him. Why can’t we acknowledge that when he’s been not so great, it’s also because of him? Again, that’s not saying there aren’t other factors. It’s simply saying that he is one of the factors.

A guy like Peyton Manning, no matter who he was throwing to, would always get rid of the football quickly. That’s simply the type of player he is. Rodgers doesn’t have to run around for ten minutes every time he drops back. He needs to be more disciplined in the pocket, and he needs to be mentally sharper. That’s on him, and not anyone else.

Rodgers is one of the best in the game and one of the best to ever do it. And there’s a very good chance he bounces back. I was thinking similar things about him at the beginning of the 2014 season, and he responded by deservedly winning his second MVP award after telling everybody to R-E-L-A-X. But right now, he’s in a slump, and he’s struggling a bit. Let’s not be afraid to admit that, instead of just talking about Jordy Nelson and fawning over every time a broken play just happens to work out positively for him.

The Giants are 2-0 Thanks to Improved Defense and the Return of Victor Cruz

As a passionate Giants fan, it’s hard not to get over-excited about this. Yes, it’s just two games. Both were close games that included some mistakes and that really could have gone either way. But the thing is, we won. And that’s what the Giants haven’t been doing recently. If my memory is correct, this is our first 2-0 start since the 2010 season. That’s six years! That’s big, especially for a young, rookie head coach. Even more exciting is why we’re winning. The defense is looking better than it did a year ago, and Victor Cruz is back and contributing big time. He caught the go-ahead TD in week 1 on a great play to get open after the initial look was covered, and he caught a huge 3rd down in the fourth quarter this past week. He was running straight down the sideline, and the cornerback was right with him as he fought for position. Eli threw it up softly, and Cruz aggressively went after the ball and wrestled it away from the defender, who was in perfect position. That first down allowed the Giants to run the clock down before kicking the go ahead FG, so that they didn’t have to give Drew Brees the ball back.

It cannot be understated how big Cruz was in helping us win the SB in the 2011 season. Not to mention, he was undrafted and wasn’t even starting at the beginning of the 2011 season. And if you’ve ever seen or heard him talk, he’s a really great kid. I’m really happy that he’s come back from injury to be productive. He was out for a long time. And I bet he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder. There were a lot of people saying he wouldn’t be the same guy coming back. But I didn’t have much doubt. Every time he’s been healthy since 2011, he’s contributed. Really cool to see him back and on the field. Not to mention, Sterling Shepard is looking good as well. What’s interesting is that Shepard was a slot guy coming out of college, with questions about whether he could play on the outside. But Cruz was looked at as being primarily a slot guy as well, and most assumed he would take the slot while Shepard would go to the outside opposite Beckham. But from what I can tell, it looks as if Cruz has been playing outside with Shepard in the slot. I’m sure Ben McAdoo will mix it up–he even put Odell in the slot at times the past few years, from which he’s been very productive, just like he is everywhere else on the field–but this is an interesting move. For all the talk of Cruz being a slot guy, he did play on the outside a fair bit in 2011 with all the WR injuries we had. And he was pretty good from there as well. If Shepard can be a productive slot WR (which it looks like he can), we have a pretty good 3 deep WR core. We thought this was the case back in 2013. But Nicks wasn’t the same after injury, Cruz started getting injured, and Randle just was always a bit of a mess. But this is exciting going forward if you’re a Giants fan, no doubt.

Texans Putting Osweiler in Position to Succeed

I’m rooting for Osweiler, if not just because like Bradford has been in the past, he’s another guy that’s going to be under the microscope after signing a big contract. The Texans are 2-0 so far. He played pretty well in week 1 and was eh in week 2. There’s certainly no guarantee he’ll succeed this season. It’s early in the year. QBs really make their money in December. Hoyer in 2014, Fitzpatrick in 2011, and Orton in 2009 were all QBs who started the season well only to implode in the second half. Having said that, I’m cautiously optimistic, and I like what the Texans are doing with Osweiler.

Osweiler, like most QBs, is a system QB. He likely needs to be in a good situation to succeed. When you look at other free agent QB deals that have gone poorly in the past, it’s because these QBs were system QBs that were in over their head and asked to do too much. Kevin Kolb succeeded as a backup in Andy Reid’s system (which has been proven to be QB friendly) throwing to Maclin and Jackson. He wasn’t going to dig the post Kurt Warner Cardinals out of nothingness. Matt Flynn excelled in the GB West Coast with talented pass catchers, but the Raiders were no good when he went there. The same can be said for Matt Cassel in New England. Outside of one very game manager-ish year in KC, he was mostly a bust there.

Yes, these QBs didn’t play well on their respective new teams. But they were brought in to make losing franchises winners again. Usually, those types of Quarterbacks need to come from the draft.

But with Osweiler it’s different. The Texans made the playoffs last year with Brian Hoyer at QB and came close the year before with Ryan Fitzpatrick. So they’re already a good team. If Osweiler can prove to be even a marginal upgrade over those guys, then the trade is justified. Furthermore, lots of people were worried about how Houston might remain a contender with Brock getting so much money. But he has lots of team around him. We all know about JJ Watt. There’s also Clowney on that line, who definitely has talent. Bill O Brien wants to rely on defense, and has proven that he’s capable of doing so in the past. (He’s also a good coach, which wasn’t always the case with the other free agent situations I mentioned.) But offensively, they drafted Braxton Miller, a pretty good prospect at the slot position, as well as the speedster Will Fuller, to go along with Deandre Hopkins, one of the best X-ISO receivers in football. They also traded for Lamar Miller, who definitely showed flashes in Miami. They can mix him along with Alfred Blue, who’s proven to be a capable backup. Lastly, Bill O Brien comes from New England, and his pass game is very well schemed. It’s multiple, and aims to get the ball out quickly. All of this puts Osweiler in a very good position to succeed. Yes, he got the big contract. Yes, he likely will have the spotlight on him. But the investments look to be paying off two weeks in. He doesn’t have to be Tom Brady at this point. He just has to be Andy Dalton: efficient and smart.

~

Quick Hits

-It’s unfortunate that Garoppolo got hurt. Because I thought he looked really, really good against Miami.

-I was glad to see Matt Ryan bounce back against the Raiders. They came away with a W, but more importantly, he was aggressive throwing the ball downfield and confident, two things that have been missing from his game recently.

-It certainly doesn’t look like Cam Newton and the Panthers are taking a step back this season. Cam looks just as good as he did last year, and the addition of Kelvin Benjamin makes this offense scary. He’s quickly becoming one of the best young wide receivers in the league. What’s so impressive is his big body and catch radius, which gives Cam Newton margin for error. Then you have Devin Funchess as well, who people didn’t mention last year. WR often take a few years to develop, but he was a big time draft prospect. If he can become something too, then watch out. You also have Greg Olsen, one of the top receiving tight ends in the league, Corey Brown and Ted Ginn for deep shots, and then you ALSO have J. Stewart and that dominant O-Line… AND Mike Shula’s multiple option scheme which is so hard to defend. I don’t like Carolina, but it looks like they could be here to stay. If they play at their peak, they’re tough to defend.

-The Bills firing of OC Greg Roman struck me as a little strange, especially only two games into the season. He fits what they want to do in terms of being run first and then using Tyrod’s athleticism. Also, their problems over the last year seem to be more about defense than offense.

-Josh McCown gave us the usual Josh McCown treatment. Some nice gunslinger throws while under pressure (see the TD pass), and some bad gunslinger INT’s while under pressure (see the game ender). He did okay for himself last year, and should have been the starter this year (which isn’t saying much when RG3 is your other QB). But now he’s hurt, and the Browns might have to draft another QB next year. What number is that, now? Not to mention, they could have taken Wentz this year (who looks like he has the makings to be a star, at least based on week 1), but they traded the pick to Philly. They even spoke negatively about Wentz in the process (because the Browns are sooo good at evaluating Quarterbacks). What an embarrassment of a franchise.

-Can Chip Kelly and his offense succeed in the NFL? The jury is still out. On Sunday, we saw both sides of the equation. On the one hand, SF allowed 46 points. Yes, CAR is a very good offense, but as we’ve seen time and time again with Chip, when your offense plays so fast, you a) get into holes quickly if your offense isn’t producing, and b) your defense tends to suck. On the other hand, the 49ers were within one score of tying it in the 4th quarter. Before the Blaine Gabbert pick that basically sealed it, there was a dropped past by the niners that could have gone for a TD and tied it. Blaine Gabbert hasn’t played well by any means, but the offense has produced, albeit inconsistently. It’s hard to see anywhere else where Blaine Gabbert could go and even come close to this kind of offensive production. But that’s the Chip offense. They play fast, they get the ball out, and they get completions. Gabbert plays fast (wayyyy too fast), but the Chip Kelly offense is a good fit for him, because Chip wants the ball out. And when you have Blaine Gabbert as your QB (and Torrey Smith as your No. 1), you have to scheme offense. There’s nowhere Gabbert could go where they could huddle up, line-up, and simply out execute the defense. But Chip’s offense is at least giving these guys a chance, with a guy that is essentially a backup QB and a below average WR corps. And we’ve seen that with Chip in the past, where guys like Foles and Sanchez have looked serviceable. It hasn’t translated to wins consistently, but it does have the potential to morph offensive production.

-Speaking of Gabbert, he’s another guy that, like Bradford, can be frustrating. Like I said, at this point, he’s ideally a backup. He plays way too fast, and is way too overreactive to pressure. Because of that, his lower body mechanics become compromised, which leads to inaccuracy and missing throws he needs to make. It’s always been a problem with him, and pocket presence isn’t really something you can teach. But he also is capable of making really impressive throws. His TD throw this past week to Torrey Smith was an example. You do see the arm talent and the type of throws that explain why he was a first round pick. It’s just the other stuff that keeps him from being good.

-It looks like Mike Tirico is replacing Bob Costas as the host of pre and post-game Sunday Night Football. It’s unfortunate; I think Costas is better. I was never a big Tirico fan. He’s definitely a professional; I just don’t really like his voice or his style. But after the NFL told NBC they couldn’t put Tirico on Thursday Night broadcasts, they probably wanted to find something for him to do.

-We’re in the golden age of passing in the NFL, and we might be in the golden age of Quarterbacking as well. From vets to young guns, there’s a lot of talent in the NFL. I saw it all over the highlights this past sunday. Like I said earlier, Matt Ryan made some really impressive throws. Derek Carr as well. Marcus Mariota’s game winning TD pass was phenomenal, and Flacco’s TD to Mike Wallace was nice as well. Then as I mentioned there was Jimmy Garoppolo who looked really good, but Tanehill, although he’s dabbled in mediocrity, has a big time arm and is capable of big time throws as well, which can be seen with his TD pass to Jordan Cameron in the endzone. And Carson Palmer is back to MVP form; he continues to be a tremendous asset for Arizona.

-If it’s the golden age for passing, it might be the golden age for receivers as well. The NFL is full of physical specimens that we didn’t use to see, and these guys attack the ball. Late in the game, Amari Cooper went up for a first down catch on a short hitch that was spectacular. The ball was high and his arm extension was crazy. I was wrong when I said Larry Fitzgerald was done a few years ago, he’s rejuvenated with Palmer and is an absolute dog, attacking the football and running after the catch. Then there’s Julio Jones. A lot of people have been mentioning Antonio Brown’s name as best WR in the NFL, but don’t forget about this guy. Hardly anyone draws as much defensive attention as he does on the Falcons, yet he continues to make plays. He has a lethal combination of size and explosiveness. On a lot of those in-breaking routes, he reminds me of Andre Johnson, because he’s practically impossible to stop. He’s such a big target and so strong to the ball. Then there was the deep ball he caught from Ryan on the second and one deep shot. The ball placement was perfect, but his closing speed to the ball was ridiculous. He was double covered and behind the ball when the camera closed in on him, but by the time the ball got there, he ran through the double coverage and right into the ball. Phenomenal stuff.

Hopefully there’s plenty more great football on its way! Continue to stay tuned in to the blog to keep getting updates and analysis.

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What is the Value of a Quarterback?

It seems like everytime a Quarterback not named Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers is handed a new contract, criticism is rampant. For years on end now, it seems like Quarterbacks have been given massive contracts that tend to eat up most of the salary cap. Many people often think that these players are not worth this type of money, as it used to be reserved for top-notch starters like Peyton Manning, Quarterbacks who were good enough that they could compensate for other areas of the team that were weak. This supposed jump in Quarterback salary likely started with Joe Flacco’s Superbowl XLVII run in 2012. At the start of that season, the Ravens chose not to offer Joe Flacco a new deal but instead let him play out the season. This was an understandable move in some respects as Joe Flacco had been a decent, but inconsistent starter up to that point, and the Ravens were a team built on running the football and playing strong defense.

That season, Joe Flacco essentially  bet on himself and won. He got hot at the right time and led the Ravens to a Superbowl victory, earning Superbowl MVP in the process. He had a tremendous postseason, throwing for 1140 yards, 9 yards per attempt, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, and a passer rating of 117.2. At the end of the season, he knew he had the Ravens in a bind. He asked for big time money, and of course, they paid up. It was likely either that or let Joe Flacco hit the market. Letting Joe Flacco go after a Superbowl win would be a PR nightmare. Plus, they wouldn’t have a Quarterback.

It could be argued that that point changed the market for Quarterbacks as Flacco’s salary essentially became the asking price/market price for your average starter. It gave Quarterbacks and agents leverage. So since that point, we’ve seen a lot of non-elite Quarterbacks been given big time contracts. (Assuming “elite guys” are the top 3-5 guys, ie Brady, Rodgers, and Brees, that can win no matter who you put around them.) Some of these “non-elite” starters that have been given big money–and often criticized in the process–include Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton, Ryan Tannehill, Colin Kaepernick, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, and I believe since then the Ravens even gave Joe Flacco a second big contract.

Now, it is worth saying that a lot of these contract numbers are misleading. NFL contracts are almost never guaranteed and players almost never play out the entire deal. A lot of people just look at the raw number and assume that’s what the player is getting paid, and this is rarely the case. And there are a lot of people that have a problem with athletes getting paid so much money, or asking for so much money. (There are even some people who think that even when only looking at the guaranteed money, that Quarterbacks are still getting paid too much.) I would disagree with this stance, A) because NFL players are at risk of suffering severe, debilitating lifelong injuries, and B) because what players get paid is negligible compared to the money the owners make.

But that’s a conversation for another day. Putting aside the question of whether Quarterbacks, or even players in general, deserve to be paid this kind of money from an ethical standpoint, the issue I’m focusing on for this article is whether it makes sense from an NFL/business standpoint for Quarterbacks to be making the kind of big money that they often do.

As I’ve said, it seems that everytime a big new QB deal comes out, there is criticism all over the place. “They overpaid!”, “he’s not worth it!”, etc etc etc. Now, it’s easy to offer this kind of critique from at home sitting on your couch. But at the end of the day, teams need a Quarterback. It’s the most important position on the team, outside of kicker. (Kidding, kidding. But seriously, I do love Kickers.) The search for a QB drives coaches and franchises crazy. Too often, letting a serviceable guy go is just too big a risk to take, because QBs aren’t a dime a dozen. No one wants to be the Browns, Redskins, Bills, Dolphins, etc.

At the end of the day, if the market demands a certain price for a QB, the team has two choices: either pay that guy, or let him walk and not have a Quarterback. It’s easy for us to sit on our couches and say it’s not worth it, but we’re not the ones who have to put a product on the field to start the season. Someone’s gotta play. If it’s not the guy you currently have, who is it gonna be?

In the same sense, a lot of people will make the argument that paying for an average QB is paying to go 7-9, 8-8, or 9-7 and miss the playoffs, and that if you’re going to pay that much money to do that, then you might as well go 5-11 and get a high draft pick and draft a Quarterback. Again, this makes sense in theory, but no coach thinks like that. Coaches are being paid to win games. As are players. Most coaches’ jobs are on the line every single year. We know how quickly coaches get fired in this league. Their job is to create a winning product. No coach is going to tank/purposely lose games for any reason.

Most Quarterbacks that are getting paid big-time money aren’t guys that are going to single-handedly be carrying their teams to the playoffs. There aren’t that many Tom Bradys in the world. In fact, there’s only one. Yet a lot of these Quarterbacks are held to Brady-esque standards when pundits are criticizing these contracts. Ideally, should a Quarterback be paid his value proportionally to where he stands among the QB hierarchy of the rest of the league? Sure, but the league, and the market, don’t work like that.

Coaches would love to have Tom Brady, but they have to work with what they have. And outside of that group of about 3-5 elite QBs who can be successful in almost every situation, most QBs are situation dependent. I was once listening to a podcast where someone said–I don’t remember who, might have been Chris Burke or Doug Farrar, but not sure–that when it comes to QBs, there are a group of guys at the top who are going to have success no matter what situation they’re in, there are a group of guys at the bottom who are going to be bad and bring the team down no matter what situation they’re in, and the rest of the guys are dependent on situation. That rings true to me. I think when teams pay a non-elite QB big time money, they think (or are hoping) that if they can get enough team around him, he can win them a Superbowl or at least get to the playoffs, a la Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton.

This brings us back to the initial problem though: If a QB is dependent on team to be successful, why would you pay him so much money that you don’t have enough to build up the rest of the team? This is a tough question and you could argue it even applies to the elite guys–Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers have been good enough to keep their teams in the playoff mix, but they all had more success winning rings on their earlier contracts. It’s just the case that early QB contracts are more conducive to team success, which is why it’s crucial to win a ring (or multiple ones, if you can) when you have a big time QB on his first contract. It’s going to be hard for the Seahawks to keep this defensive core together now that Russell Wilson has been extended. If I remember correctly, his first contract was incredibly team friendly, seeing how he wasn’t even expected to be the starter when he was drafted.

None of this is meant to defend any particular QB contract, nor is it meant to defend the signing of supposed “non-elite” QBs to big time contracts either. It is simply meant to point out that the criticism we hear regarding such contracts is often naive and fails to recognize the reality of the situations many of these teams are in and the options that they actually face. It’s always easy to criticize “after-the-fact”. But how many of these teams would have been criticized just as much had they cutoff ties with their QB and went into the season without a QB?

For years, teams have paid the QB, because they see it as the only viable option. For years, teams have been criticized for paying the QB because people see it as the wrong option. Could we now be starting to see a change in things? There are some situations that seem to suggest that, yes, teams may not be as willing to pay the QB going forward.

The Washington Redskins with Kirk Cousins and the New York Jets with Ryan Fitzpatrick both opted to give their QBs one year, “prove-it” deals rather than long term contracts. Both QBs had good years, statistically at least, and their teams were successful–the Redskins made it to the playoffs and the Jets were one game away–but these are guys you might hold your breath signing to long term deals. At least, that’s what the Jets and Redskins thought. Neither has a long track record of success, and neither is exceptionally physically gifted. Both played in well designed offensive schemes with talent at the skill positions. The Jets, especially, took a surprisingly long amount of time to sign Ryan Fitzpatrick, much longer than people expected. They did eventually get him signed, but they played hardball, and for a while it looked like they were ready to go into the season with Geno Smith as their starter.

Then you have Sam Bradford, who, not wanting to be a placeholder for a younger QB, decided to test the market after the Eagles drafted Carson Wentz. It turns out no one wanted him, and he eventually reported to training camp with the Eagles. Teams may have been turned off by the fact that he likely wanted to be guaranteed a starting position, and wanted big time money to do so. And I know he doesn’t have a track record of success in this league, and is injury prone, but it’s still a little surprising that a former No 1 overall pick who is likely more talented throwing the football than maybe half the QBs in this league wouldn’t garner any attention, especially this day in age when so many teams are looking for Quarterbacks.

Lastly, you have the most glaring example: The Denver Broncos. Last year, Brock Osweiler stepped in midseason for an injured Peyton Manning and played pretty well, going 4-2 in his absence. I was actually surprised that they gave the job back to Peyton, to be honest. But they did, and Brock had to sit back on the bench and watch while Peyton went on to be part of the Superbowl winning team.

Osweiler was drafted by the Broncos in 2012, and everyone assumed he’d be Peyton Manning’s replacement once Manning retired. Outside of that brief period last year, Osweiler didn’t get to see the field as a starter in those four years. Yes, Osweiler was drafted under a different coaching staff than the one currently in place (although Elway had still been there, and he seems to be making the decisions with this club), but it was still surprising, to say the least, when the Broncos decided so casually to not pay Osweiler and let him seek out a trade. (Not sure if he was traded or just released and then signed, but basically Denver made a conscious decision to move on.)

What happened was Osweiler wanted a certain amount of money and Denver didn’t want to give it to him. Osweiler likely felt disrespect from a team that had him sit on the bench for four years, and then bench him again and make him watch the Superbowl from the sidelines after he thought the job was his. Elway likely watched his team win a Superbowl off the heels of a dominant defense–after a regular season during which his Quarterback, Peyton Manning, was borderline atrocious–and thought that he had a formula for success (play good defense) that he didn’t want to mess with by paying a Quarterback money that, in his eyes, he didn’t deserve based on the caliber of player he was. In theory, it makes sense for both sides, but at the end of the day, Elway is going into the season with either Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian, or Paxton Lynch as the starter (still to be determined). He essentially doesn’t have a Quarterback right now. That’s a bold move to make, but Elway’s never been afraid of doing things his way.

Then on the other end of the spectrum, you have the Houston Texans. They represent the opposite philosophy, the “pay the QB” philosophy. They gave Osweiler the money he wanted, despite going 9-7 the previous two years with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Hoyer at QB, respectively. Those QBs played okay, and Houston even got into the playoffs last year, although Hoyer imploded in the playoff game. But they saw Osweiler as an upgrade at the most important position on the field, so they gave him the money he wanted.

Both moves make sense in some respects and are questionable in others. Ultimately, only time will tell who made the best move.

The point is, it’s always easy to say from an outside perspective, not to pay the QB. But the alternative means going into the season with an unknown at QB, which could be just as dangerous, if not more. It seems that now some teams are finally beginning to take this option. It will be interesting to see what this means moving forward, as pundits who have always criticized teams for paying the QB will now get to see what the alternative looks like, and will have the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is.

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Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson: Offseason Thoughts

I’ve been meaning to update the blog for a while now, but I’ve been somewhat unsure of what to write about. Not only do posts tend to take a while, but in the dry offseason sometimes it can be hard to find things to talk about– short of another QB Rankings, which I have considered, but doing that for all 32 teams can be rough.

Having said that, the offseason generally is a time for QB analysis, if only because there’s nothing else going on or nothing better to do or talk about. And given some of the recent news that’s come out, I thought I’d focus on two things in this post that should end up tying in nicely to each other:

  1. Cam Newton’s Number One ranking on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2015 List, where his accomplishments lie as of now, and what we can expect from him going forward.
  2. Andrew Luck’s massive new contract, and whether it’s justified.

If other topics find their way into this post or I end up straying off topic, then so be it.

Let’s start with Cam. Cam Newton was ranked the No 1 player in the NFL on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2015 list–a list that historically has been advertised as being selected by the players, but in reality this claim is dubious at best, as rarely have we ever seen or heard players talking about having voted for the list. Nonetheless, Cam came in at No 1, a spot that is frustrating but not entirely surprising, considering the type of season Cam had, the hype he was getting all season long, and the fact that Cam Newton won 48 of 50 MVP votes, which is absurd given the season that Carson Palmer had.

Cam’s personality irked me big time during the 2015 season, but after watching some more tape of him over the past few months, there’s no doubt that he was really good, perhaps even better than I was giving him credit for. Yes, the raw numbers were pretty great, but he showed noticeable improvement in almost all facets of his game. I specifically noticed a greater ability to read and decipher coverage–football IQ, which is what separates the best quarterbacks from the scrubs. I specifically saw this with his eye manipulation: he was really good, especially in the redzone, at impacting coverage by using pump fakes and looking people off, then coming back to the other side where he knew he had favorable matchups. This resulted in a much better improvement in Carolina’s intermediate to deep passing game, something that hadn’t really been that good during Cam’s previous years. And while he still wasn’t and may never be a precision passer, per se, he was definitely more accurate than he’d been in the past. He also was better in 4th quarter comeback/game winning drive situations than he had been in the past. By all accounts, Cam had a good year. And while his Super Bowl gaffe can’t be ignored, he was playing a really tough defense. You can’t knock him too much for losing that game–even if you can knock him for other things about that game

I still don’t think Cam should have been the No 1 player on the list, however. But I think what this placement speaks to is his personality, and his popularity as an image. Right now, the NFL is embracing and selling the image of Cam Newton. It seems like in some ways, they’re trying to make him the face of the NFL. Or at least one of the faces. We sort of saw this with Brady around 04 and 05, where the image of him as the clutch, sexy, super bowl winning, and flawless superstar was larger than his actual performance as a quarterback–even though his performance was very good. This is all understandable, and if you’re the NFL, why not hop on board the Cam train? He’s a marvel to watch, as he’s big, he’s fast, he’s powerful, and he has a huge arm. But on top of all that, he’s young, he has personality, he’s passionate, he shows his emotions, and he has fun while he’s playing the game. And look, I’m not a fan of the dancing, the dabbing, the showboating, and all that. But I get why people would be. Even if you’re not that into football or don’t know that much about it, you can have fun watching Cam and dabbing with your friends. People know who Cam Newton is. You can also turn on the TV, see Cam trucking over defenders or firing absolute frozen ropes, and even if you don’t know football that well, you’ll still likely be impressed.

Then there’s the fact of how he plays the position. Cam Newton is a dual threat QB, and the Panthers take full advantage of this. They built the offense around his strengths and incorporated him fully into their run game. For some reason, the NFL has always loved QBs that can run. The pocket passer has always been associated with “old”, “boring” while the mobile QB is “new” and “exciting”, “the next big thing” and “transforming the quarterback position” / “changing the way the game has played”. For some reason, when you talk about the prototypical attributes of a pocket passer, people make it an emotional thing and act like you are somehow being closed-minded and stubborn. What this totally ignores is the reasons why these attributes are important. But, that’s a conversation for another day. The point is that people like and always have liked dual threat QBs. Whenever there’s a new one they always jump on the train about how this will be the one that “changes the Quarterback position”. So when there is one that’s actually had the level of success that Cam has had, of course it’s going to be emphasized.

There have always been players that have drawn fascination by the NFL more for who they are than the product they offer on the field. Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel are two examples that come to mind. Now, don’t get me wrong here. With Cam, I do think it’s both. He had a great year and he more than deserves to be praised for that. And people totally recognize that and respect that. People don’t like him just because of his personality. I want to make that very clear, because that’s not what I’m saying. His play matters. However, people also are attracted to him as a spectacle. And I think that’s what this No 1 ranking is indicative, more than anything: his ascending status as arguably the NFL’s hottest superstar–whether that’s indeed what he is right now, or whether that’s what the media wants to make him out as.

But now I would like to discuss Cam’s actual play and just where his career lies as of now. Because recency bias and hype is strong in the NFL, and it seems like because of the Super Bowl run he had last year (and I’ve been seeing the same sort of sentiments recently with the Top 100 ranking), people are getting the hall of fame busts ready for this guy. We’re seeing very strong rhetoric, such as “could be the type of player we’ve never seen before”, “will change the way the game is played”, “will be the best for the next generation”, etc. This offseason puffery is often meaningless and pointless. The narrative has been brewing for a while now–the hype was there since day one of his rookie season, and people were declaring him MVP through the midway point last season–and since Cam finally played up to his potential last year, people were more than ready to tee off on this narrative. Is the hype warranted, and can Cam maintain this level of play going forward?

Let’s be very clear about what Cam is and isn’t right now:

  • Cam did have a really strong 2015 season, aided of course by a strong supporting cast and an excellent offensive scheme. (Don’t tell me he didn’t have receivers: He had a top 5 tight end, great runningbacks, a great offensive line, a great defense, and a scheme that helps give receivers favorable matchups.)
  • Cam is also the Quarterback that came into 2015 with a losing record as a starter, 2 playoff appearances, 1 playoff win, and that win came in a season where the Panthers got in as a 7-8-1 wildcard.
  • Cam is the Quarterback who owns a career 59.6 completion percentage and a career passer rating of 88.3

“But you’re just being a hater!” No. I’m just stating facts actually.

Can Cam maintain the level of success he showed us last year? No season is going to be as easy as a 15-1 season. Those are the types of seasons where everything is going right. Cam will have to overcome adversity more than he did last year. As I said, he did show notable improvement and if I had to guess, I don’t think he’ll go back to his 2011-2014 self, even if he isn’t quite as good as he was in 2015. But as of right now, how he will play is still a question. To say he’s going to be the NFL’s best quarterback for years to come or that he’s going to be even better just because he had one good year is silly and unjustified.

This brings me into the next quarterback I want to discuss for this piece.

Andrew Luck: The Real Cam Newton

When the media talks about what makes Cam so great, when trying to justify their claims that Cam is going to be “unlike anything ever seen before”, “the best quarterback for generations”, or any similar exaggerated rhetoric, a common theme you see come up (if you can indeed find an argument in these pieces) is that Cam’s unique and grand set of skills makes his ceiling ridiculously high. Such skills include, as I’ve previously mentioned, the big arm, the big body, and his dual ability as a passer and a runner. Now, none of this is necessarily wrong. Cam is a freakish athlete and does have a really unique skillset. That’s why he was the No 1 pick in the draft back in 2011. However, as I’ve mentioned, to take any of this and turn it into some claim that Cam is going to be some demigod at the position is just meaningless editorialism and speculation.

However, in reading some of this meaningless editorialism recently, something interesting struck me that’s kind of ironic. When people talk about the ridiculous skillset and ceiling that Cam has, who they’re really talking about, even though they may not realize it, is Andrew Luck.

Again, here’s a not-so-smooth transition into the Luck situation. It seems public opinion is pretty low on luck after his poor 2015. It also seems to me that Luck is a guy that has set expectations so high that people are always going to be waiting to knock him down. But anyway, after his poor 2015 season, one might wonder about the Colts giving him the biggest contract in NFL history. Is Luck deserving of this contract? Or have the Colts made a huge mistake?

First of all, it’s worth mentioning the following: Andrew Luck will inextricably be forever linked with Peyton Manning because of obvious reasons (draft status, team, quality of supporting cast, skillset and demeanor, etc), and I did some research and found that, surprisingly, Peyton too suffered a drop in his 4th season in the league, albeit not as bad as Luck’s.

Peyton Manning 2000: 4413 yards passing, 33 TDs, 15 INTs, Passer Rating 94.7
Peyton Manning 2001: 4131 yards passing, 26 TDs, 23 INTs, Passer Rating 84.1

He threw 27 TDs/19 INTs in 2002, then threw 10 or less until 2007, and never again would throw more than 17.

Now, that’s not to say Luck is going to follow the exact same career path. He may always toss a few more interceptions because he is a bit of a gunslinger and that’s his style of play. But the point is, down years happen. It’s not the end of the world. Drew Brees is an example of a guy who tends to have a down year here and there, but always seems to bounce back the next year. Luck may have been especially bad this year, but it was also a perfect storm of lots of factors–injuries but also especially supporting cast. I don’t mean to make excuses, but that stuff matters. Just because you’ve overcome a weakness in the past doesn’t mean you’ll be able to forever. And offensive line is arguably the most important/underrated position for the quarterback, and the Colts have been bad there for just about Luck’s entire career, as he’s been hit as much as just about any quarterback in the past four years. (I don’t have the official numbers on that, but I’m fairly certain he actually has led the league in hits taken in that time span. But again, not positive.)

While it might be fair to argue that Luck was somewhat overly praised in the sense that many (including myself at times) basically took it as a given that he would be a hall of famer and expected him to consistently play at a high level–in other words, the nature of some of the praise might have been a tad premature–the bottom line is what Luck showed us he’s capable of in 2012-2014 (and even in flashes last year) can’t be ignored, and more than justified him receiving the contract he did.

I want to return to and expand on the point I was beginning to make earlier about Luck being the guy that people see Cam Newton as being or capable of becoming. I believe that Luck is the guy with the truly transcendent and incredibly wide-ranging skillset. Although people might not look at him like this–perhaps because the Colts don’t use Luck as a featured part of the running game like the Panthers do–Luck can do everything that Cam can (big body, strong, speed, elusiveness, huge arm), and then some. In addition to what Cam can do, Luck,

  • Has the ability to throw with pace and tempo, and can essentially throw the ball at any speed which the play demands
  • Throws with tremendous anticipation
  • Has superb pocket movement and functional mobility
  • Is an excellent progression reader and has shown the ability to command incredibly sophisticated passing offenses

Luck’s given us big time results in his first four years as a starter. We all know how bad that Colts team was before he came (see 2011). He’s already shown us the ability to carry incredibly flawed teams. None of the teams around him have been that good since he came into the league. Yet, the Colts had 3 straight playoff appearances with him at the helm, and got one step further in the playoffs each year. Not to mention some of the incredible numbers he’s put up, and his ability to deliver in the clutch. With Luck, we don’t have to speculate about what he could do, because he’s already shown us what he can. That, more than anything, is why Luck is being paid the number that he is.

When people criticize Luck, they like to pick on the interceptions. And while interceptions aren’t necessarily good, they need context. Just looking solely at interceptions is a very narrow way of looking at things. First of all, Luck’s never had a great defense, so he’s never been afforded the luxury of being able to go out there and be a caretaker. Instead, he knows he has to be aggressive and go out there and score on every drive. As I mentioned earlier, as cliche as it is, Luck is a gunslinger. He’s going to thread the needle and he’s going to push the ball down the field. This is not an excuse, per se. It’s just a fact that that playing style will result in more turnovers. But it’s a risk reward thing. Luck will also make plays and throws that no one else will make. Just like Brett Favre used to. The point is, some people have this perception that interceptions are just inherently bad and you should avoid them at all costs. And while you shouldn’t necessarily try to throw interceptions, the NFL game is about being aggressive, threading the needle, and turning it loose. It’s what the great ones do. As Greg Cosell of NFL Films always says, the willingness to “pull the trigger” and “turn it loose” to “make stick throws into tight windows” is a positive when evaluating quarterbacks in the NFL, not a negative.

Playing style does matter, and context matters. Brady is not going to turn it over as much as Favre, because Brady plays in a dink and dunk offense. That’s not a knock on him, that’s just the reality. If you take more chances, some of those are going to go the other way. And to say that isn’t to make excuses; it’s providing context rather than just stating a number. Now of course this doesn’t mean that every pick isn’t Luck’s fault and that he should be throwing tons of interceptions every year, or even that his interception numbers have been acceptable. But it is one reason why his interception count may always be a little higher than average.

The other thing is that a majority of Luck’s picks over his career have come when he’s been down by multiple scores in the fourth quarter. The Grigson/Pagano Colts have a terrible habit of digging themselves huge holes multiple times each year. When you’re down multiple scores with not a lot of time left, you can be overly aggressive to try to make plays, or you can dink and dunk to have a good but meaningless stat sheet. People really don’t realize how many of Luck’s picks over his career have come in these desperate situations, and those picks should essentially be tossed out.

Now, none of this is to say Luck is perfect. Of course he has things to work on. Last year proved that much. I think most important is knowing when to give up on a play. Knowing when the play isn’t there, when you have to throw the ball away or take your checkdown. There were a lot of times where it was evident the play wasn’t there and Luck tried to keep it alive or force it anyway. But Luck’s still young and he’s still learning. There’s little reason to think he won’t keep improving as he has in the past.

Also, if you don’t buy what I’m selling and you really think Luck isn’t that good, ask yourself, why have the Colts been winning so much? As I said, they had three straight playoff years and got a step further each year. What part of their team is responsible for winning if it isn’t Luck? It’d be hard to identify a team strength that has explained the Colts success over the past few years if you really think Luck isn’t at least partially responsible.

Now, I don’t know the specifics of Luck’s contract, but it is somewhat concerning that he’s been given this megadeal that is sure to eat up cap space and that the Colts have so many holes in their roster. If they weren’t able to patch them in the past, how are they going to do it now that Luck’s entering his second contract, which is that much bigger? How are they going to fix the defense and the offensive line? It definitely is a tad worrisome. However, this is all irrelevant when looking at Luck’s value as a player. Because ultimately, that’s what the contract should be judged upon when asking if Luck is worth it. And there’s no doubt in my mind that Luck is deserving of this contract when it comes to player value. Now you might argue that Luck had a bad 2015, so why not at least wait until he rebounds before paying him. However, given what Luck has done for the Colts, his skillset, his draft status, etc, he was bound to get paid at some point. He’s a franchise player, and you pay your franchise players. If it was going to happen eventually, why not do it now?

Last but not least: Don’t forget about Russell Wilson.

It’s only fitting to talk about Wilson (hopefully briefly, because I’m getting tired) because he too was drafted in 2012 (Cam was 2011, but same general time period), and he too is immensely talented, has had great success in his early career years, and should be mentioned along with this newer generation of talented young QBs.

Make no mistake: Russell Wilson has been really good since 2012. Yes, he’s benefitted from the defense and running game at times. But he’s also shown more than enough to prove that he is a special player at the Quarterback position. He’s had pretty good numbers throughout his career, he’s shown steady improvement, and he’s had tons of postseason success. At the end of last year he really started to take it to the next level. Now that Lynch has retired, we’re seeing the passing of the torch to Russell Wilson and the passing game in Seattle. And with all the Cam hype last year, I think what Russell Wilson did down the stretch was truly lost in the fray.

I’m going to give you two sets of Quarterback statistics from 2015. See if you can tell me which one is Cam and which one is Russell Wilson.

Quarterback A:

4024 Yards Passing
68.1 Completion Percentage
8.3 Yards per attempt
34 Touchdowns to 8 Interceptions
110.1 Passer Rating
25 Touchdowns to 2 Interceptions in the last 7 games
553 Yards Rushing (5.4 y/a)

Quarterback B:

3837 Yards Passing
59.8 Completion Percentage
7.8 Yards per attempt
35 Touchdowns to 10 Interceptions
99.4 Passer Rating
20 Touchdowns to 1 Interception in the last 7 games
636 Yards Rushing (4.8 y/a)

Figured it out yet? I’ll tell you. Quarterback A is Russell Wilson and Quarterback B is Cam Newton. Surprised? I didn’t include rushing touchdowns because that would have given it away. Cam had 10 to Wilson’s 1. But outside of that, the numbers are somewhat similar, yet Wilson’s actually pretty much superior in every category–despite getting close to no attention while Cam was basically unanimously considered the MVP. Yes, Wilson had a slow start to the season, but so did Cam. It just showed more for the Seahawks in the win/loss column. Also, Wilson’s production late in the season was more evenly distributed. In those last seven games, he had two 5 touchdown games and threw at least 2 touchdowns in every other game. Cam on the other hand, in his last 7, had three 5 touchdown games, but two where he threw for none.

In the playoffs, Wilson was rusty against the Vikings, and the Seahawks had one of their patented, “shouldn’t have really won that playoff game but won it anyway” games. The karma seemed to come back to them the following week as they looked nothing like Seattle and fell into a 17-0 hole early. Russell Wilson had a tough start, with pressure rushing him and causing two bad interceptions. He bounced back and rallied late, but it wasn’t enough and the Seahawks lost 31-24 to the Panthers. But make no mistake about it: Russell Wilson was playing as well as any Quarterback in the league late in the season, arguably better than Cam Newton, and not against a bad stretch of defenses either. The Seahawks were spreading it out and Wilson was in serious rhythm. All the spectacular traits he’s showed over the years, such as anticipation, accuracy, and really good arm strength were coming together, but more often than not now he was doing it from the pocket, hitting his back foot and getting rid of the ball, often at the intermediate and deeper levels. When he plays like that, like he’s capable of, from the pocket, there’s no telling what he can do. I expect him to continue to improve and really blossom as we move forward. His late season surge should not be overlooked. He’s also a guy who, since being drafted, has led the Seahawks to the following results:

2012: Lost in the divisional round by 2 points (not Wilson’s fault)
2013: Won the Superbowl by 35 points
2014: Lost the Superbowl by 4 points (arguably not Wilson’s fault)
2015: Lost in the divisional round by 7 points (somewhat Wilson’s fault, but still kept it close at the end like he always does)

Wilson’s had a lot of big time play in big time moments. The Seahawks in the Wilson era are arguably the best example of how random the playoffs are, and how playoff wins and losses are often not indicative of quarterback play. There have been multiple games where he’s played poorly and they’ve won, and multiple games where he’s played well and they’ve lost. It all really balances out in Wilson’s case. The bottom line is he’s had them in contention consistently and there have been results to show for it.

Because the Seattle offense is often inconsistent and because Wilson hasn’t always shown that advanced a level of pocket play, I’d rank his career slightly below Luck’s. If I were to rank the careers of these 3 talented young quarterbacks from 2012-2015 (and 2011-2015 in Cam’s case), I would do so in the following order:

  1. Andrew Luck
  2. Russell Wilson
  3. Cam Newton

But regardless of how you rank them, these guys are the future, and it will be exciting to see what they can produce going forward.

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Cam Newton Still Doesn’t Get It

“I’ve got a bone to pick.”
-Kendrick Lamar

~

This has been the year of the nonexistent Cam Newton critics. All year members of the media, fans, and players have been coming to Cam’s support to fight back against the “critics” and the “haters” and defend Cam’s on and off field actions. They’ve been telling them how they’re overreacting, how Cam is just having fun and doing nothing wrong, and how people need to get off his back. People refer to these critics like they’re a large bunch, as I’m always reading about how “polarizing” cam is or how he, “has his fair share of critics and detractors”. They act like they’re a minority that is only responding fairly to what they perceive as a massively unjust attack, both in its magnitude and its frequency.

The problem is that despite the massively defensive rhetoric that has been utilized by the Cam supporters, I can’t help but feel like these “critics” are few and far between, and that despite their attempt to have you believe otherwise, the supporters are those that make up the vast majority. In fact, from what I’ve witnessed, Cam has been one of the least criticized players in the league this year. This is not to say that such critics don’t exist as I’m sure they do (if you couldn’t yet tell based on the tone of this article, I could certainly be considered one of them), but there seems to be a large discrepancy between perception and reality when it comes to prevailing attitudes about Cam Newton. And what bugs me even more is not just the fact that so many people are responding to this perceived criticism, but rather the nature of such response. The prevailing sentiment is that the criticism directed towards Cam is massively unjust and unreasonable. I intend to show that the type of criticism being leveled towards Cam is more than fair and justifiable, and that if anything, there really should be more of it, not less, and at a much greater intensity than there has been thus far.

If you think Cam is treated differently than other players, you would be correct, but probably not in the way that you think. Cam is not held to a higher standard than other players; he’s actually held to a much lower standard. At this point you may be rolling your eyes, but please, let me explain.

For years, there’s been a general consensus on how professional athletes should conduct themselves on and off the field, especially when it comes to Quarterbacks. The Quarterback is said to be the leader of the team and the face of the franchise. Because of this, he’s expected to be mature and able to handle responsibility and pressure. He’s expected to be carry himself in a certain way, namely, with class, dignity, confidence, and selflessness. The Quarterback is the driving force for the entire team. He’s praised when the team wins and criticized when they lose. A true franchise Quarterback is expected to be a leader and a guy that everyone looks up to. He’s the guy in the very center of the huddle that everyone is listening to, that everyone is turned towards. When the team is down, it’s his job to pick them back up. His energy, positive or negative, permeates throughout the rest of the team. And the best Quarterbacks are supposed to be unflappable; they can’t be rattled. To put it in short, the Quarterback is supposed to be a role model.

We’ve been drilled about the importance of leadership and intangibles when it comes to playing the position by both the talking heads and by former players. Think about guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees. They are all absolute class acts. They never make excuses and almost always remain humble and composed. They absolutely hate losing and are frustrated by losses, but they almost always point the finger at themselves and say the absolute right things. They are their own biggest critics. Yesterday, Tom Brady said in an interview that he doesn’t consider himself one of the all time greats at the position. Could you ever imagine any of those three guys saying something like this? And yes, I’m sure we could all find instances where any of these guys said the wrong thing at some point. But I’m talking about a general pattern, and for the most part, I don’t think anyone would deny that these three are pretty exemplary when it comes to class and leadership at the QB position. (Brady I know can be a bit of a dog on the field, but he almost always comes across humble when speaking with the media.)

As I was saying, this standard of playing Quarterback is enforced by those in the media all the time. Character is often even attacked unfairly and for insignificant things that are perceived as poor leadership or poor character. Jay Cutler was always criticized for his “body language” and what was perceived as poor attitude, particularly during press conferences. Colin Kaepernick, during his Superbowl run, was frequently criticized for being too cocky and for the manner in which he celebrated. (Remember “Kaepernicking”?) Even Aaron Rodgers has at times been the brunt of character related critique, which makes it so curious that a guy like Cam Newton has basically gotten a free pass, despite the fact that he has shown off far more frequently and in a far more overt and intentional manner than any of these guys. And again, I realize that there have been critics here and there–such is the case with any player–but certainly not to the level you’d expect based on past standards. And when it comes to mainstream sports media outlets such as NFL.com (as opposed to commenters, bloggers, team specific websites, non sports journalists), I’ve seen nothing in the way of criticism. And I keep up with the NFL pretty frequently. And saying that theoretically you could be the target for criticism is not the same as actually criticizing someone.

Now, I know this is a results oriented league, and a lot of this has to do with wins. The Panthers had one loss coming into the Superbowl, and winning all but alleviates most criticism. Even having said that, I’m still surprised there hasn’t been more criticism. And not just that there hasn’t been criticism, but that it’s somehow wrong to criticize Cam. Like I said, Kaepernick was incredibly hot during his postseason run years ago, and he certainly was criticized more than Cam, despite celebrating less and doing so in a less showoffy manner. What really gets at me is that in a league where pointing a finger at someone is often seen as taunting (see Patrick Peterson in the playoff game vs the Packers this year), or getting on your knees after a score is considered excessive celebration (see Greg Jennings’s first TD in Superbowl 45), Cam, whose dances go on until seemingly the end of time, who dances not just after touchdowns but after first downs, and who once ran a victory lap around the stadium to hype up the crowd, does not get flagged for taunting or excessive celebration. This year, during the fourth quarter of a comfortable win vs the lowly Titans in Tennessee, Cam danced for nearly 10 seconds after a TD, and when the ref attempted to separate him from the Titans, he continued taunting them right at their face, despite knowing that they couldn’t touch him because the refs were in the way. If that’s not taunting, I don’t know what is. And don’t even get me started on the banner. Seriously, who does that? Again, he’s a Quarterback. These are the types of things we’ve been told Quarterbacks don’t do. Quarterbacks aren’t the immature ones. So why is it okay when Cam does it?

Now, let’s get something clear. I am not saying it’s not okay to celebrate or to trash talk. Almost everyone does both those things to a certain degree. Tom Brady trash talks all the time; he gives raging fist bumps and spikes the ball after he scores. All this is a normal part of the game. It’s okay to get hyped, even if you’re a Quarterback. It’s also pretty clear that when Cam celebrates, it’s ridiculously excessive, showoffy, self-centered, childish, and goes way beyond the extent to which the rest of this league, especially the Quarterbacks, celebrate. Yes, a certain amount of celebration is fine, but please, let’s stop acting like Cam hasn’t crossed that line. He’s bulldozed over that line and made sure to never return.

Having said all that, I’ve gotten a little off topic. The dancing, however much it bugs me, is rather inconsequential and has been talked about enough already. I don’t want to get too caught up on that. The main reason I’m writing this is to talk about how Cam acted after the Superbowl.

After the game was over, I wrote about on Facebook how fitting it was that Denver, with the unexciting and soft-spoken Peyton Manning, Von Miller, Gary Kubiak, and Wade Philips, was the team that claimed victory, and how on the biggest stage of all we got to see Carolina’s true colors–just like we did with the loud and brash Seattle team last year. I don’t believe in Karma, but I found it fitting that Carolina lost after all the trash talk and all the disrespect and arrogance. I found it fitting that Cam, who was constantly worshipped due to his supposedly unstoppable physical attributes, made a clear decision to not go after his lost fumble that ultimately led to the Broncos going up two scores. And I found it fitting that after months of being praised for “having fun”, “being himself” and being a great leader and teammate, we got to see the other side of Cam at the podium, the losing side. I hoped that this would help some people see Cam’s childishness and selfishness, and I hoped that perhaps he would be humbled from this experience. I talked about how, unlike some fans, I really don’t enjoy ripping on other teams and I don’t get joy out of watching players lose. I also made it clear that losing happens, that many players and teams have lost with far more on the line than Cam and the 2015 Panthers, and that this in no way devalues their accomplishments in getting this far. I explained that losing isn’t what bothers me, but bad sportsmanship is. I knew the Carolina fanbase and media would be quiet after the victory and that the focus would be on Denver, which it should be. But after, how Carolina and its supporters acted leading up to the game, I felt like I had to say something, that I had to address and reflect on what I perceived as bad sportsmanship with Cam at the center, and how it ended up going for them in the end. I thought once I posted this that would be the end of it and I’d be done with Cam. It turns out I was wrong. I need to address it further.

Cam’s behavior at the podium postgame was childish, selfish, and immature. He gave monotonous, one-word answers, ignored the media, did not answer the questions, gave no credit to Denver, and eventually got up and left in the middle of questioning. Even the normally loudmouthed Deion Sanders admitted that his behavior was immature and unacceptable.

“But how would you feel if you just lost the Superbowl??”

I would feel like shit, but I’m not a professional athlete. I’m not paid millions of dollars to be the face of my team. Again, with any professional athlete, but especially when you’re the Quarterback of an NFL team, there comes with it a certain responsibility and a certain way you’re supposed to act, one that Cam has all but ignored entirely this season, as it doesn’t apply to him for some reason.

I’m not saying I expect Cam to embrace defeat with open arms. Being upset and not wanting to talk to the media right after you lost the Superbowl is more than justified. But again, Cam moved past what is reasonable. There have been a lot of Superbowl losing Quarterbacks in the past. Has anyone been as despondent as Cam, literally pouted to the degree to which he did? Has anyone left the podium in the middle of the press conference?? If so, I’d say they’re few and far between.

And even so, talking about that press conference was also was not my intent in writing this. Furthermore, it appears that the press conferences were poorly situated so that Cam was within earshot of Denver players boasting, which would justifiably upset him. So let’s just say that that’s why he left, and for all intents and purposes let’s give him a pass for that–which I don’t, by the way–and say he was upset after losing the Superbowl and that it was in the heat of the moment.

It’s what Cam said today that prompted me to write this. Not only did Cam not apologize for his behaviors, he went in the entire opposite direction. He didn’t just give neutral answers, he defended himself. He defended his behaviors, argued that there was nothing wrong with them, and didn’t even show an inkling of understanding as to why what he did might have been wrong, might have upset people, or even deserves a coherent response. Here are some of his quotes, courtesy of NFL.com:

“I’m on record as being a sore loser. I hate losing. You show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.”

This is the headline most people are seeing, and I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with it just as an isolated quote (maybe outside of the “I’ll show you a loser” part). Once contextualized with regards to Cam’s actions, however, it becomes a little more arrogant. Still though, nothing too bad yet. It’s the rest of his quotes that I have a problem with:

“I don’t have to conform to what anybody wants. I am my own person.”

“Before you are quick to assume anything, what makes your way right?”

“If I offended somebody, that’s cool, but I know who I am and I’m not about to conform nor bend for anybody’s expectations because, yours or anybody’s expectations, will never exceed mine.”

As for the fumble he chose not to dive on:

“I didn’t get the fumble, but we can play tit for tat. I’ve seen numerous quarterbacks throw interceptions and the effort afterwards they don’t go. I don’t dive on one fumble because the way my leg was, it could have been contorted in a way.”

“OK, you say my effort? I didn’t dive down. I fumbled — that’s fine. But at the end of the day, we didn’t lose that game because of that fumble. I can tell you that. So, you can condemn and say, ‘Well, he gave up. He did this, that and the third’, but hey as long as my teammates know, as long as my coaches know, as long as anybody that’s following this team knows.”

Um, Earth to Cam…

YOU JUST LOST THE SUPERBOWL!!!!!!!!

 

I think these quotes really speak to just how out of touch with reality Cam really is. He’s coming off the absolute biggest loss of his career. The winning streak is over. There are actually things you need to answer to. And he’s still acting the same way he has all season: like he’s above everybody, like he’s untouchable, like there’s nothing to answer to. How dare anybody question the mighty Cam Newton?

I honestly and genuinely cannot fathom how someone could give the answers that Cam did after losing a Superbowl. How can you be that out of touch? He just doesn’t get it. He refuses to come down from his high horse and acknowledge any aspect of the situation. If he’s not on top, then he’s not having it.

Again, this is not even a question of what’s right or proper at this point. This is a question of what’s normal. What does it say about Cam that he literally can’t acknowledge the situation he’s in and his role in it? Most people, after losing and losing big, tend to drop the act at least temporarily. They tend to shut their mouth for a little bit. Even if they’re not showing remorse, they tend to at least ease off the aggressive and outgoing stance. But not Cam.

Pride is only a virtue to a certain point. If you’re acting prideful without anything to be proud of, that’s just being pathetic.

And let me emphasize that this is all a day after the Superbowl. You’re no longer fresh off defeat. Yea it’s still going to hurt for a while, but what Cam has done is is discredit any reason to excuse his immature behavior at the press conference by instead going out of his way to further confirm the intention behind it. Again, you don’t even need to apologize. A neutral response would be better than this. Just show some awareness that you just lost a Superbowl and that maybe now isn’t the best time to be boasting about how great you are. His answers are borderline nonsensical. You want me to empathize with Cam? I’m honestly trying, and I don’t understand how you can still be this arrogant coming off a Superbowl loss.

“But he’s just being himself. How can you fault him for being himself?”

Um, what? Just because someone is being themselves doesn’t justify their behavior or make them worthy of respect. Donald Trump is being himself in this election. His self just happens to be a total jackass.

Childish, selfish, spoiled, stuckup, immature, arrogant, full of himself, out of touch, head in the clouds. These are the words I would use to describe Cam at this point in time.

Quit acting like you’re above it all, Cam. You’re not.

As for the fumble, it’s really hard to not talk about this. It may seem petty, and I’m usually against this type of character criticism, against saying that people were “scared” or “choked” or something like that. And if it were any other game, then fine. But this is the Superbowl. This is the biggest game of your life and this was without a doubt the most pivotal moment of the game, as after the Broncos recovered they went up two scores with little time left in the fourth, basically eliminating any chance the Panthers had of tying up the game. If Cam recovers, the Panthers punt and have a very good shot at using their timeouts to get the ball back in a one score game, only needing to stop a Broncos offense that basically did nothing all day.

If you watch the shot in slow motion, it’s about as clear as can be that Cam had a direct path to the ball and could have dove, and there was a clear moment where instead of diving, he backed away from the ball.

Again, let me remind you that this is a 6’5” 245 lb Quarterback, a guy who people have been constantly praising for his supposedly unique and unstoppable ability to truck defenders and break loose of tacklers. This is a guy who has jumped over the pile numerous times to score at the goal line and stretch the ball over. This is a guy who, as I mentioned earlier, has literally bragged about his physical gifts and how unstoppable he is. And this is a guy who literally just admitted that he didn’t dive for the ball because he was afraid of getting injured. I’ve seen Tom Brady dive into piles to recover fumbles. I remember one time very distinctly, backed up at the goal line in a regular season game at the 2011 Jets. I’m sorry, but if Tom Brady can do it, then so can Cam Newton. You be the judge here, and I won’t dwell on it anymore, but I don’t see how you can spin this to not be an indictment of Cam. Biggest game of your life. Biggest moment of your life. Self admittedly shied away to avoid injury.

Less than half a week after the Superbowl and I’ve already seen people come out to defend Cam. And with little to no justification as well.

At this point it may seem excessive, but the Cam excusing–and not just excusing, praising for what should be looked on negatively–has to stop. There are no reasons he shouldn’t be held to the same standard than every other player who comes into this league. And it’s not just off the field that this is the case; it’s on the field as well.

I’ve made it clear where I stood on the MVP race. I believe an objective analysis brings out Carson Palmer as the top dog, and despite what the mainstream media may have you believe, I’m not the only one. However, I have come to understand why people may have voted for Cam. He ended the season on a very high note, he improved as the year went on, he gives you the ground element, and his raw TD total when you include rushing is very high. This may just be more a case of people not recognizing Carson Palmer than overrating Cam, which would be understandable seeing as the narrative has already been written on Carson Palmer.

Having said all that, Cam got 48 MVP Votes. To put this into context, there are 50 voters, and there has only been one unanimous MVP in the history of the league. That was Tom Brady in 2010, when he had the 36/4 TD/INT ratio. Peyton Manning, after setting league-round records in yards and TD passes, got 49 votes. And Cam was this close to being unanimous. I’m sorry, but there’s no justification for that.

I don’t like trash talking and arrogance by anyone at any point in the game, but if you are going to be that guy, at least be able to back it up with your career. Then it’s still obnoxious, but at least it’s somewhat justifiable. Joe Namath was a loud-mouthed Diva, but when he guaranteed a Superbowl win, at least he came through. Now I understand Cam had a very good season, but people are getting the hall of fame bust ready at this point, assuming he’ll be dominant for the next 10 years, even drawing comparisons to Steve Young. Seriously? Give me a break. He had one good season. I know everyone’s been waiting for him to break out, but it’s still just one season, and it’s still no guarantee you can repeat. Consistency is what matters in this league. Anyone can be good for one year. Let’s not forget that coming into this season Cam had a losing record as a starter, four years into career. Yes, he beat what many considered to be the two best teams in the postseason, but he was also up 17-0 in both those games without contributing that much. Those are fluky games. He also had the easiest schedule in the league, and we’re playing in an age where passing is easier than ever. Kirk Cousins and Tyrod Taylor had pro bowl level seasons. Now, none of this invalidates what Cam did this year. But it also should make you at least skeptical that he can keep it up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does, but let’s not treat him like he’s a hall of famer or the next big thing at QB just quite yet. I’m just trying to keep everything in perspective. Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, and Andrew Luck all came into this league, had success right away, and did it for longer than Cam. You can say they were all on better teams–in some cases true, others not so much–but they also just played better than Cam. And are we really going to ignore the fact that three years ago, Colin Kaepernick had one of the best postseasons ever both in terms of rushing and passing? To act like Cam is doing things no Quarterback has ever done before is disrespectful to all the QBs that actually have had success in this league, moreso than Cam. So as you can see, Cam is held to a ridiculously low standard not just off the field, but on the field as well. And there’s very little in terms of career accomplishment to begin to justify how insanely self absorbed he is.

“But he’s so talented!” people say. “There’s no one like him!!”

You know who else was talented? Jamarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf. At the end of the day, that stuff means nothing if you don’t have the character to back it up. Being talented isn’t intrinsically valuable. It doesn’t automatically make you a good QB, and it doesn’t automatically make you deserving of respect. There’s a lot more to being an athlete.

Ultimately, nothing I say or do will affect how Cam Newton acts. He’s free to do whatever he wants and do it however he wants. But if he’s going to act the way he has, he certainly isn’t entitled to a lack of criticism along with it. There are certain standards of action and behavior for all realms of everyday life. These seem to be getting lower and lower when it comes to football, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Call me a hater, call me racist, call me whatever you want. But character? Responsibility? Humility? Respect? I believe this stuff matters. And to be honest, I’m a little surprised more people don’t feel the same way.

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Does Cam Newton really deserve to be MVP? (Hint: The Answer is No, Carson Palmer does.)

Cam Newton has been hyped up ridiculously all season for the MVP award and at this point it almost seems like a given that he’s going to get it. For a while now, most of the talking heads have assumed it to be fact that Cam is the number 1 MVP candidate out there. And this isn’t just coming from the blabbermouths; a lot of smart writers have jumped on the Cam train as well.

I’ve had this article in the (mental) works for about half of the season now but haven’t gotten the chance to sit down and write it. Sure, it may have been early to be thinking about MVP back then, but that doesn’t change the fact that the majority of the media starts throwing names out from week 1, and this is really just a response to a lot of what’s out there. However, now that the regular season is over and all the games are in the books, all that won’t be an issue, and we can truly evaluate who has been the most valuable player for 16 games. It will also be good to get this article out of the way before the playoffs start and we’re all focused on, well… the playoffs. Plus, if any of the MVP candidates play well or poorly in the playoffs, that might cloud peoples’ minds.

If I had indeed written this article back at the mid point of the season it would have been a lot easier. Earlier in the season there were several quarterbacks playing better than Cam. It just seemed like another case of Cam being overhyped just like he had been in previous years. This isn’t the first time analysts had mentioned his name in the MVP convo, but they had been forced to drop it seeing as his teams were in the constant  8-8 zone. But seeing as the Panthers were undefeated for the majority of the season, the hype train could justifiably be continued.

What complicates the matter, however, is that Cam has indeed been playing very very well for the second half of the season. This has blurred the lines much more between Cam and the other high level quarterbacks and has given Cam fans just the results they needed to see to seal in their minds the MVP argument.

Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders was talking about on Twitter a few weeks back about how Cam’s preseason overhype combined with his late season level of play, which finally actually matched the level people had been elevating him to, was a perfect storm to make Cam an MVP lock in most peoples minds. To me, I see many similarities to the public view of Tom Brady’s career. During the early New England dynasty when Brady was winning Super Bowls (01-06), people were elevating Tom to godlike status. Don’t get me wrong, he was very very good at the time. But in many peoples minds, he was already in contention for GOAT and was already arguably better than Peyton Manning. Tom was a complementary player–albeit a very good one–on some great teams, but he wasn’t quite at the level people were raising him to in their conversations. However, in the later years (2007+), he actually reached this level, consistently throwing for 4000+ years, 30+ TDs, 100+ passer rating, etc. Once Tom got to this point, seeing as most already viewed him as in contention for GOAT status, his escalation from that already ascended point in their minds all but sealed him as the unarguable GOAT, for these people.

That’s a bit of a tangent, but the point is Cam’s always been overhyped, and now his level of play is actually matching the hype. That’s great for Cam and I don’t mean to belittle his improvement. I would not have foreseen it at the beginning of the season. But my point is it doesn’t automatically make him the MVP. As much as there has been some pretty disappointing QB play this year (Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill), there’s also been some very good QB play (Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer). Most of those guys I just mentioned you could make a reasonable case for Cam being the MVP over them. (By the way, I’m just focusing on Quarterbacks because in this day in age, and rightfully so, it’s generally a given that quarterbacks win the MVP award. They’re just too influential when compared to the other positions.) Tom Brady had a great start to the season but fell off once the Pats injuries settled in. Drew Brees has been very good, but the Saints finished the season 7-9 and their offense has been eh. Andy Dalton has been having a career year, but most view him as a very good game manager but not quite the guy that carries the team on his back. Ben Roethlisberger is playing better than most people probably recognize, but he’s always been overlooked. Also, he missed a quarter of the season due to injury.

However, there’s one guy out of all of these that has had a rightful claim to the MVP award since week 1, and that guy is Carson Palmer. Most acknowledge Carson as an MVP candidate but put him second to Newton–often with little to no explanation. Well here’s my challenge to those people: Seeing as what Carson Palmer has accomplished this season, why wouldn’t he be your number 1 choice for the MVP?

carson cam

If you want explanations for the meaning any of these stats, click here: Passer RatingESPN QBRDVOADVOA In Depth ExplanationEPAPro Football Focus Grades

As you can see, Carson Palmer has the statistical advantage in almost every significant category and measure. Stats of course, do not always tell the whole story. But more often than not, they tell most of the story. And this should set an alarm off in your head that maybe Cam hasn’t been the best quarterback in the league this year. You might not buy into some of these statistics, but when the majority of different statistics agree on something, it tends to be more likely the case.

I didn’t include rushing touchdowns and yards because obviously Cam has more of those. But it is important to remember that metrics like QBR, DVOA, EPA, and PFF grading all account for rushing. So according to those, even after you account for Cam’s rushing, Carson was still the better player.

Which makes sense, because most people tend to overestimate the influence of a quarterback’s legs, often forgetting that the best quarterbacks in the history of the game were pocket passers. Over all these years, that hasn’t really changed. People have been trying to hype up the mobile QB as the next big thing ever since Michael Vick first came into the league. And while there is no doubt that defenses need to account for the ability of these guys to run with the football, the quarterback position never seems to be “revolutionized” in the way many say it’s going to be. And the reason for that is because passing is still the most efficient way to move the football. That’s just a basic fact of physics that’s never going to change. From an energy lost and success perspective, it’s easier and quicker to throw a ball ten yards in the air than it is to tuck and stride for ten yards on the ground.

Again, that’s a bit of a tangent, but the point is you can’t simply point out Cam’s rushing numbers and have that be your case for MVP, especially when his passing numbers are inferior AND when metrics that account for running and passing still rate him as inferior. It’s also important to mention that Cam gets a lot of touchdowns on the ground because he simply gets more opportunities to run the ball at the goal line than other QBs do. Am I saying that Carson Palmer could score that many touchdowns if the Cardinals chose to give him goal line carries? Of course not. But he has no reason to have to do this, because most carries that close to the goal line are reserved for the running back, and most of those carries are guaranteed scores anyway. This is not to discredit all of Cam’s rushing success, but it certainly has to be taken into account.

Then you have to think about what kind of team these Quarterbacks are on and, perhaps more importantly, what their role is on that team. This is where most people get their arguments for Cam from. “He’s throwing to Ted Ginn as his No 1 receiver!” they say. There are lots of elements to this statement that need to be analyzed. It’s a classic case of “if x quarterback had y players, he’d be unstoppable!” It’s always tough to argue against because it’s built on hypotheticals so it’s technically impossible to prove wrong. But such arguments are classic cases of failing to isolate the play and attributes of the quarterback themselves and also failing to recognize that WR is the most QB dependent position in the NFL. More often than not, the QB makes the receiver. Also, just because a QB is playing with lesser players doesn’t excuse him for having inferior stats, just like a QB can’t simultaneously have good receivers and also be playing well. Also, for some reason, most people who acknowledge wide receivers fail to look at the rest of the team. It doesn’t matter if your wide receivers are average if your defense holds the opposing team to ten points a game, but again I’m digressing here. I’m not saying wide receivers don’t matter at all, but it has to be looked at in conjunction with and on a case by case basis.

So let’s look at how this relates to Carson and Cam. First of all, it’s not like Carson Palmer’s receivers are that good either. Larry Fitzgerald is Larry Fitzgerald, obviously, but funny how every other QB he’s had outside of Kurt Warner was terrible, despite having him to throw to. Then on the outside you have Michael Floyd and John Brown, not top 5 guys but very good players. However, Carson’s been at the top of his game in every sense: pinpoint accuracy, decision making and reading defenses, pocket footwork, etc. He’s dropping balls in the bucket on tough throws. It’s not like his receivers are bailing him out. It’s also worth mentioning that when Floyd and John Brown have been injured, JJ Nelson and Jaron Brown have stepped in and the passing game doesn’t skip a beat. Brown and Floyd are definitely better than Ginn, but it’s worth mentioning that Ginn seems to be running past cornerbacks in just about every game. He may do one thing (get deep), but he does that one thing extremely well.

Then you have to look at the rest of the team. Cam has a top 5 tight end in Greg Olsen, and that matters in today’s NFL, where the rules make it so QBs thrive in the middle of the field. Arizona has Jermaine Gresham playing tight end, and they’ve built the offense around tough throws to the outside receivers. In Cincinnati, Gresham has been replaced by Tyler Eifert, who currently leads the league in TD catches. Tight ends shouldn’t be ignored when talking about “weapons”.

Outside of those aspects I would say the teams are fairly similar. Arizona has run the ball surprisingly well, but I still give the edge to Carolina (2nd to 8th for Arizona). That includes Cam and he certainly is a factor, but there’s a difference between acknowledging how he affects the defense and saying that he’s the entire reason the run game is so good. You still have to have a back, and Jonathan Stewart has been balling. Carolina is also a run first team. Arizona has the 2nd best passing offense in the league compared to 24th best for Carolina. Yikes.

Then you have defense. I once again give the edge to Carolina, but this one is about as tight as it gets. Its 5th (ARI) And 6th (CAR) for yards, but 6th (CAR) and 7th (ARI) for points.

Furthermore, an aspect of QB play most often ignored by analysts, is offensive scheme. Cam Newton has rightfully shedded the game manager label over the second half of the season. But his offense is built around the running game (which includes him). He runs what is basically a college option offense based on deception in the backfield. It’s not as simplistic as the 2012 redskins with RG3, but there’s no doubt that the backfield play action and option threats simplify the reads for the quarterback. Palmer, on the other hand, plays in an aggressive pass-first Bruce Arians offense that spreads the field and asks the Quarterback to take deep drops and push the ball down the field consistently. Arians consistently utilizes empty backfields and full field reads, which make it difficult on the Quarterback. You need a smart quarterback that can read defenses, move in the pocket, and get the ball out of his hands. We know Arians is a good coach and has good route concepts, but the level of difficulty of his offense is incredibly high. And Palmer is thriving. The fact that he’s close to 64% completion and 9 yards per attempt in such a tough throw/low percentage throw offense is not getting nearly enough credit. Those are excellent numbers, and Palmer is thriving. On the other hand, the fact that Newton is below 60% completion speaks to the fact that he is still having accuracy issues and missing throws, although not as much as in the past.

Lastly, and I think this is really the tipping point, is protection and pressure. Offensive line play is crucial yet it is often ignored when evaluating quarterbacks. Cam Newton has a significantly better offensive line. Carson Palmer is as good as anyone in the league at getting rid of the ball quickly to protect his offensive line. He’s also going to hang in the pocket and take the hit and still deliver the throw where it needs to go. He’s also improved his footwork this year and is moving really well within the pocket, arguably better than Newton who, despite his excellent ability to run outside the pocket, can still be statuesque at times. And worst of all, although Cam Newton isn’t pressured much, he’s significantly worse when he is pressured, while Carson has thrived under pressure.

None of this is meant to criticize Newton, although the process invariably does lead to some of that. What it is meant to do is show that despite the fact that nearly every analyst has declared it gospel that Cam Newton is the MVP, any analysis shows that it is Carson Palmer who rightfully deserves the award. Both players have had career seasons, but the better player is pretty clear. So if Carson Palmer is playing so well, why isn’t he talked about like that?

I think Cam Newton is getting the hype for a variety of reasons. Like I already mentioned, there’s the lazy analysis of overemphasizing the impact of receivers and of a quarterback’s ability to run. These are definitely factors. But even moreso influencing the hype, in my opinion, is that Cam Newton is a more popular player than Palmer. Carson Palmer is a boring old pocket passer who was written off long ago in his Cincinnati days. He doesn’t dance after every play (although he did do this), and he gives boring, even-tempered interviews. (His throws are pretty impressive, but apparently that’s not good enough for people.) To talk about Palmer as being good now would be to go against the narrative. Meanwhile, Cam Newton–similarly to Johnny Manziel, who was also overhyped for no apparent reason–is a spectacle. He’s got a gun for an arm and can bulldoze people on the ground. And right now he’s the league’s baby, the next big thing at Quarterback they’re waiting to sell. And we all know this is a league of superstars. Coverage is rarely even.

If you like watching Cam do obnoxious and childish 20 minute celebrations after every score and every first down, then fine. Whatever. But that has nothing to do with who is deserving of an MVP award. Even if Cam has played well–and he has, without a doubt–he hasn’t been the best, most consistent, and most valuable Quarterback in the league. When you take the names off the jersey and look at the players themselves and what they have done on the field, there’s only one right answer, and it’s Carson Palmer. What other quarterback would be first or close to first in every major passing category, lead the league’s highest scoring offense and second best passing, and not be widely considered the MVP? Also, not that any of this matters, but Carson Palmer is 36 years old, has been in the league since 2003, is on his third team, hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009 (and 2005 before that), and is coming off his second ACL tear. If the league is about stories, that sounds like a pretty good story to me. Bottom line, Carson Palmer is the MVP of the 2015 NFL Season, and to give it to anyone else while relegating him to Comeback Player of the Year would be an absolute slap in the face.

As always, thanks to those who read the whole article. I now have an archives page! Be sure to check it out at https://footballck.wordpress.com/archives/. Until next time!

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Ranking the Quarterbacks

Preface

I’ve wanted to do this for a while, really for most of the summer, but it’s such a big project and takes so long to really think about and get out. Despite what the mainstream media may lead you to believe, quarterback analysis is far from simple; it’s actually one of the most complex things to do. In fact, writing these articles no matter what the topic really takes time to get your thoughts out in a (somewhat) organized manner, and topics are so time sensitive that a lot of stuff I want to write about I often don’t really get out on time. But this project has been bugging me for some time and I want to get it out there. It feels like a waste to spend so much time thinking about this stuff (which I do way too often) and not get it on paper. So since the season is going to start soon I’m going to give a list of my quarterback rankings and analysis. I could write a whole essay one each of these quarterbacks and to do a fully comprehensive analysis with responses to objections would take forever. So for the sake of time I’m going to rush this a little bit. It may not be my best work and the rankings may not be perfect, but at least it will give you something to think about before football season gets underway.

I’m not sure anything represents the world of football analysis among media and fans better than quarterback rankings. While fans and analysts will talk and argue forever, nothing they really say means anything. This is absolutely the case with quarterback rankings, which could not be more meaningless. Where a quarterback “ranks” with regards to his peers is just a thought exercise intended to create debate; it means absolutely nothing in the football world. It doesn’t matter if a quarterback is “elite” or “greatest of all time” or “number 2 vs number 3” in the league for the respective teams; it’s a worthless comparison. All that matters for coaches is getting their players and their team to play their best and win a superbowl. That’s why when quarterbacks get asked dumb questions with regards to stuff like this, you hear them say things like passing yards don’t matter and winning is the only stat that matters. Stupid analysts mistakenly use this as an argument for players in their ranking; but what it really shows is that stuff is all pointless. We really just create it because we have nothing better to do.

Furthermore, the idea of ranking quarterbacks is conceptually ridiculous in and of itself. It oversimplifies a vastly complex position in the ultimate team sport. Quarterbacks can’t just be compared apples to apples. There are too many variables, including surrounding cast, coaching, era during which the player played, strength of schedule, luck, playing style, etc. Football is a very random game and often a superbowl win or loss is really just a question of how the ball bounces. To say a quarterback is “better” or “worse” than another implies that there is only one variable being analyzed, the “goodness” of the quarterback. But there is so much to playing quarterback that all quarterbacks have strengths and weaknesses. Some are better at some things and some are better than others. How do we choose what to value more? How do we balance this all out?

If all this is so pointless and ridiculous, why do we do it in the first place? Simple: it’s fun. It gives us something to talk about, especially during the ever so boring offseason. And just because it is a silly exercise doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. We can and often do use rankings and speak of quarterbacks in these terms, and that’s okay. It helps us to understand the position and analyze the game. I just think it’s important to go in knowing all this stuff, knowing that it is really arbitrary and not to take it too seriously.

The Criteria

Ranking quarterbacks is so hard that you could switch around a lot of these names on the list and I’d be okay with it. I’m not even sure it’s an ideal list. Like I said, if I tried to come up with a perfect list I’d be thinking about this forever. So the rankings are not set in stone and there are some changes I’d be more comfortable with than others, but keep in mind that I will try to bring a sophisticated level of analysis or at least sufficient justification for my rankings. The analysis is the important part, probably moreso than the ranking, as that will tell you what I really think about the player. There are a lot of quarterback rankings out there and to be honest most of them suck. We see bad arguments–and often just lack of arguments–in football analysis all the time. What I’m trying to do here is break through the shitty reasoning and provide good analysis, so even though I’ve prefaced this all with ramblings about how arbitrary and meaningless this is and how unsure I am about it and all that, I urge you to give merit to my analysis because like I said, I do spend a lot of time thinking this stuff through and I haven’t just pulled it out of my ass. Also, just because I haven’t mentioned something about a quarterback’s achievements or shortcomings doesn’t mean I don’t know that it’s there. Like I said, there are so many factors that go into this and organizing it is so hard that I can only go into logically organize and remember so much at a time.

These are not career rankings, but they’re also not just rankings of last year’s play. It’s sort of a mix of both. They’re essentially rankings for the quarterbacks in the NFL right now going into the season, so there is a recency bias and they’re mostly based on last year or the last two years, but I do still take career into account. It’d be hard to entirely separate the associations we have in our mind of the elite quarterbacks and their careers, and it’d also be kind of dumb and shortsighted to do so, ranking solely based on last year. At the same time, career rankings are too hard, and seeing as we’re headed into the season and last year is fresh in our minds there should be a recency bias. So to sum up, it’s basically where do the quarterbacks in the NFL stand right now going into the season, based on what we know about them and their skillsets from their careers and the confidence we have in them because of those but also based off of where they left off in the last year or two.

I don’t have an exact scale or value system where postseason is worth this much, arm strength this much, leadership this much, etc etc etc. I’m not sure we gain a ton by doing that as that’s also oversimplifying by saying we can compare certain traits with explicit values. I really just think people say that stuff to make their rankings look more complex and objective than they are. Plus that also takes a while, so just trust me when I say that I take it all into account.

I often feel like I spend too much time defending shitty arguments instead of establishing my own, so I’m going to try (and maybe not succeed) to do that less here. There reaches a point where answering bad arguments is just a waste of my time. Keep in mind if you have a problem you can always comment and we can hash it out after this, but I want to get the arguments out there.

And lastly, I’m not going to rank all 32 quarterbacks. That takes a lot of time, and also it gets to a point where it just doesn’t really matter anymore. No one’s arguing over how to rank Josh McCown, Mark Sanchez, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. I’m also going to stick to quarterbacks that have been embedded as starters and haven’t just changed teams, ie no Sam Bradford. I’ll do a separate section at the end with some of my thoughts on the rookies, without ranking them as it’s far too early.

Finally, let’s get this thing started already!

The Rankings 

Note: These are just quarterback rankings. If you don’t like them, please don’t yell at me or kill me or threaten to kill me. To quote Tom Brady, “This isn’t ISIS. No one’s dying.” (Yes, he actually said that.)

Number 1: Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers takes the top spot here, and it’s because no one makes playing the position look as easy and as effortless as he does. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that he has the league’s strongest arm, and I’m not even sure it’s close. Combine that with his absurdly quick and compact release and he makes throwing the ball 60 yards down the field as effortless as throwing 5 yards down the field. As Greg Cosell of NFL films says, “no one throws the ball like he does”. The other part that makes Rodgers so special is that there’s a calmness to his play. Everything from his cadence to his footwork  to his movement to his throws is very very relaxed and poised. He never panics in the face of pressure. I’ve seen him have happy feet just once in my life (the play he fumbled in the 09 playoffs vs Arizona to end the game). When he plays, when you see him move and throw, it just looks like he’s in absolute control, like he’s playing with kids or like he’s playing Madden. And everyone knows about his mobility, but more importantly is how light he is on his feet, probably moreso than any other Quarterback in the league. This combination of traits is absolutely deadly. Everyone’s afraid to blitz him because of how easily he’ll make a throw down the field. (He’s always looking deep and the degree to which he is effective at doing so is incredible–It’s insane how often Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson find ways to beat the defense deep; if I’m not mistaken, the stat I heard was that those two have more 80+ yard TDs than any other combo in the league (something like that, might have been starting from a certain year)). But if you rush four, he’s so good at buying time that he’ll sit back and move around in or out of the pocket for so long that someone will open up. If you can’t get to Rodgers with four, it’s over. And how could I forget, the pinpoint accuracy at all levels of the field, short, intermediate, and most impressively, deep. His receivers never have to break stride. What’s crazy is that he throws so few interceptions, yet it’s not like he’s not a risk taker. He makes throws into such tight coverage, throws that literally no other quarterback in the league could make. I feel like the arm has something to do with that. It seems like he throws it so fast that the ball gets to his receiver before the defender even knows what hit them; either the receiver’s catching it or no one is. He sets the bar so high. I’ll go back to some of his earlier seasons, and he’ll have these great games where they only win by like one score, and you think, oh that’s not even that good by his standards, seeing as nowadays how his offense routinely blows out the opponents.

Now I will say this: Rodgers is not as perfect as some members of the media make him out to be. He does have flaws. Records have shown he’s not a very good comeback quarterback. He has one of the worst records when it comes to 4th quarter comeback opportunities vs successes. (For more look into Scott Kacsmar’s work, key words: comeback, frontrunner, green bay, Aaron Rodgers) He’s more likely to hold onto the ball while waiting for something to open up downfield than to take what the defense gives him, and this often results in unnecessary sacks. While he’s mostly incredibly consistent, he’ll occasionally have a bad game like the Buffalo one last year where he’s under 50 percent completion, and you’ll almost never see that from the Brady/Brees/Mannings. This is because while he is mostly very good at reading defenses, I don’t view him as quite as cerebral as that bunch; he’s less of the field general type and more of a physical freak. Those guys are reading the defense and getting rid of the ball. He’s more likely to hold onto the ball, buy some time, and then sling it downfield. He’s not really a rhythm player in terms of getting rid of the ball. However, because he’s so gifted he can play like this and more often than not the outstanding plays he makes more than make up for any shortcomings in his game. Also it’s worth mentioning that since the 2010 title run he’s been just average in the playoffs and against quality defenses. Most of those crazy six TD games tend to come against bad defenses and often at home, as rarely have you seen the Packers find an answer for the Seahawks and 49ers in multiple meetings in the past few years. While those in the media tend to view him as easily consensus best QB for many years now, I would argue that he reclaimed that title during his MVP year last year and was that during his MVP 2011 year and in the 2010 playoffs, but in 2012 and 2013 it was Peyton.

Back to positives, I forgot to mention his improvisational skills. It’s a huge part of his game and it makes him even harder to defend. He can throw on the run and he can throw from all sorts of arm angles to get the job done; see the TD he threw against the Lions in week 17 and then on the first drive against the Cowboys in the playoffs. That’s just playmaking.

He’s lost receivers since his Superbowl winning 2010 and his record setting 2011, but it hasn’t impacted his production. Nelson and Cobb get the majority of his targets, yet he finds a way to make it work. Detractors say that he’s had good receivers and that backups have played well in the GB system, but those are just bad arguments in this case; that stuff’s totally irrelevant when isolating the player. I do believe that no one elevates the play of his surrounding cast like Rodgers (Peyton’s a very close second) for all the reasons I’ve given, and no one makes playing quarterback look as easy as him. Because of his truly unique skillset and gifts, Rodgers is the no 1 rated quarterback for now.

Number 2: Tom Brady

I don’t have a problem with Tom Brady so much as I have a problem with all the annoying New England fans as well as the members of the media who treat Brady as a king and think that he can do no wrong, AND who praise him as being a great quarterback for all the wrong reasons. Having said that, there’s no denying Tom Brady’s greatness. I was really impressed with his 2014, both regular and postseason. After so many postseason disappointments from so many high scoring New England offenses and ten years removed from his last title, I really did not think Brady was ever getting the 4th ring. In the regular season he checked in what I thought was his best season since 2011. He was more poised in the pocket than he had been in recent years and he looked a lot more comfortable at moving around when defenses got him off the spot. In the postseason, he came back from down 14 twice against Baltimore (with some help from the arm of Julian Edelman), and that game set a record for fewest rushing yards in a postseason win, as it was all on Brady’s arm. He had a pretty easy AFC championship matchup, and then there was the Superbowl. I remember a point down 24-14 after a few NE punts where the New England offense had stalled and I thought it was over. But Brady rallied in a way he may not have in the past. He had four touchdowns in that game including the game winner. He again had 50 attempts, which is tough to do against a defense of that caliber. Some people have mentioned his (regular season) low Y/A, but the pats offense outside of 2007 and sometimes earlier in the decade has always been a dip and dunk offense. Nothing really changed during this postseason except that defenses didn’t really play it that well. You could also argue the only difference between this postseason and previous recent failures was that now Brady had Gronk healthy, and you can’t underestimate the effect of that. Also, Seattle had some injuries in the secondary during that game. Nonetheless, you have to give Brady credit, as throwing it that much and being that effective is hard to do.

So what specifically does Brady do well? Mechanically, he’s one of the best in the game, from his drops to his footwork to his release. At age 38 he still has a very strong arm. He is a great athlete with great agility which leads to excellent pocket movement; he can step up and slide left and right with the best of them. He’s also a field general and excels at reading defenses. This is what allows New England to be so successful being so pass heavy and running so many spread/empty sets. He always knows where the rush is coming from and where to set his protection, and he always knows which receiver to throw to. This is what made the combo of him and Welker so dangerous; they both were incredibly smart players that always were on the same page and always saw what was happening with the defense, and because of that Brady always knew where Welker was going to be. This is also why the Pats are so effective at running hurry up offenses. Brady is the king of audibling and you really have to disguise your coverage against him. His pocket presence has been up and down depending on the year, but when it’s on, it’s the best in the league. Brady’s short accuracy is unmatched, he’s probably the best short passer in the history of the game. He’s also an excellent seam thrower, which is a big reason he and Gronkowski are so dangerous. He’s also very good at protecting the ball; he rarely throws interceptions. Not to mention he has 35 4th quarter comebacks and 46 game winning drives in his career. (profootballreference)

Negatives? He’s not a very good deep ball thrower and he’s not very good at throwing to outside receivers in general. This has especially been the case since he tore his ACL in 2008. People tend to think it’s because he hasn’t had a good outside receiver, but if you watch the games you’ll know that’s not it. He’s just more comfortable working the short intermediate area. I would argue that contrary to popular belief, when it comes to outside receivers, he does not elevate the play of his receivers at all. This is why outside receivers are rarely utilized in the New England offense. It’s about slot guys, tight ends, and running backs. I was very torn between Brady and Rodgers for No 1, as Brady is the reigning champ and he’s a much more cerebral/rhythm quarterback. But I think he simply has more limitations to his game than Rodgers. I think he needs a shifty slot guy like welker/edelman as a safety blanket. People like to talk down those guys when discussing Brady’s legacy, but in that role in that offense, they’re the best at what they do, and a large part of Brady’s game has depended on the overuse of those guys. I’m also not sure Brady would be as successful without a big tight end either. This is also a conversation for another article, but a lot of his postseason success and winning in general has been the result of a lot of things outside of his control, a lot of lucky bounces, and in general being part of one of the best organizations in the league with arguably the best coach in the league, an organization that has always been at the forefront of offensive innovation during Brady’s time, back to back two of the best clutch kickers this league has ever seen, and a turnover hungry defense that just doesn’t allow for comebacks, especially in New England. Just to use one example, Brady’s first lost comeback (game where he led them down the field to take the lead but then the defense gave up the lead) was super bowl 42, seven years into his career. (source: Scott Kacsmar–off memory could be wrong on that one but pretty certain) That’s astonishing and unheard of. Outside of not turn the football over, Brady didn’t do a ton to get the Pats to a 10-0 record in the postseason, and he was lucky to get to his next two superbowls given his performances in those 2 AFC championship games. It’s just not clear that guys like Brees Rodgers and Peyton get as much help as Brady does. People don’t like to hear this, but it’s the truth. (If you want more examples I can give you some)

Nonetheless, I don’t mean to diminish what Brady’s done in this league. You’ll have a lot of trouble finding guys with the consistent success that Brady has had over his illustrious 14 year career, and there’s no doubt he’ll go down as one of the best to ever play the game.

Number 3: Peyton Manning

Peyton’s “decline” has been way overblown, as has practically everything negative said about Peyton Manning, who it seems people just want a reason to hate so they can discredit his success or find some flaw in his game. Truthfully, there’s an argument that could be made that Peyton is the best of all time, as I’m not sure anyone is ever going to replicate the type of production and consistency he has over his 16 year career, not to mention his impact on the game and on offense. But that’s another conversation for another day.

After the playoff loss to the Colts, an unusually bad game for Peyton and the denver offense, it really was starting to feel like it might be the end for Peyton. He had shown noticeable decline toward the end of the season, despite the increased help he was getting from CJ Anderson. (It is worth mentioning that the schedule did toughen up. But still, it wasn’t what you expect from Peyton.) However, now that I’ve had some time to get away from the vibes of that loss and the dramatic gut reactions, as has Peyton, I’m much more confident about his return. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s never to count out Peyton Manning. Lets not forget that after the Colts let him go people thought he was done. When they saw him throw in the preseason, they thought he was done. When the 2012 Broncos started 2-3, they thought he was done. He responded with an MVP-worthy season. After the Baltimore playoff loss, we heard the same things. He responded with one of the greatest seasons in the history of all time, setting records for most TDs and yards in a single season. After the Superbowl clusterfuck to Seattle, we heard the same things. We can nitpick about the end of 2014, but he still led them to the playoffs and finished the season with very respectable numbers. The point is, we’ve heard this story before. Everyone won’t shut up about arm strength and if Peyton’s arm is okay. It’s really stupid to be honest. His arm has not been the same since surgery. We know that and we’ve known that for years. It hasn’t stopped him from playing efficiently. It doesn’t have to be brought up every time the Broncos lose a game.

So despite Peyton’s less than satisfactory end to the year, I’m not moving him any lower than 3. (Some people have him outside of their top 10, which is ridiculous). He’s still Peyton Manning and you can’t count him out until it’s all over. I don’t think I have to talk about what he does well too much as everyone basically knows. He is the surgeon and his understanding of the game is unmatched. He runs the game from the line and he knows where everyone is at all times, a coach on the field. What’s most impressive about Peyton’s career is the level of consistent success he’s been able to maintain. He’s now been with 2 different teams and 4 going on 5 different head coaches. Joe Montana and Brett Favre had one good year on the Chiefs and Vikings, respectively (Brett’s was top notch). Peyton’s now had 3 (2 and a half if you’re being picky) excellent seasons on the Broncos and is returning for a 4th. The only player that’s ever come closer to winning a Superbowl with two different teams is Kurt Warner. Not to mention he’s totally adjusted his playing style, going from an aggressive down the field offense in Indy to a shorter passing offense in Denver. I also think he’s looked a little more comfortable moving in the pocket during his Denver years. The line there has been average as has the running game. 2012 was especially impressive, as Julius Thomas had not yet emerged and Peyton was working with Jacob Tamme at tight end and a 36ish year old Brandon Stokley at slot WR. Sure, Demarius and Decker have been good, but the balls are always perfectly placed. And despite all the arm strength talk, Peyton continually finds ways to go deep and remains a very effective deep passer. He is probably the best anticipation thrower in the league, throwing balls way before receivers break.

I could go on, but I’m probably boring you. Point is Peyton’s one of the best to ever play the game. I’m not positive that he’ll be great with Kubiak, but I’m not going to count him out. If this is the end, he’s had one hell of a career.

Number 4: Ben Roethlisberger

It’s unfortunate that Ben is still playing football and is not in jail after his sexual assault allegations. He’s married and has been fairly clean off the field since the incidents, but rape generally isn’t something where you’re supposed to get a second chance. Nonetheless, there’s no denying that on the field Ben has been one of the best and underrated quarterbacks of this generation and of all time. Despite often being overshadowed by the pittsburgh defense (which he has often been forced to bail out late in games), Roethlisberger has always been a very skilled quarterback. He has the arm, he has the size, he’s good late in games, he’s very accurate, and he’s had plenty of postseason success. Sure, he had a cruddy stat line in super bowl 40, but you’d think that his game winning drive in super bowl 43 would make up for that. He really helped that Bill Cowher coached team get to the next step, and did so very early in his career. What’s always stood out to me the most when watching Roethlisberger is his willingness to stand in the pocket until the last second, throwing the ball just when he’s about to get hit. He’s of a rare breed of quarterback that I think is really unique and valuable because they’re essentially indefensible at times. He’s a big man with a big frame and he’s really hard to bring down. Because of that, he’s not as rattled by pressure. So if the first read isn’t there, or there’s a rusher that’s beat your tackle, he can just shake them off and make a play late in the down. It’s inevitable that things go wrong, that plays don’t always go as planned in the NFL, and to be able to stay in the play when that happens, to get to your next read is a huge asset. (Although I don’t feel this way about quarterbacks who run around and out of the pocket to extend the play, for reasons I won’t go into here) We’ve seen it time and time again from Roethlisberger, and the late in the down throws are incredibly accurate and often big time down the field throws. (Roethlisberger is also a great deep passer.) The only other quarterback I can think of that is like him in this sense is Andrew Luck.

However, most people in the media see Roethlisberger as just that, as someone whose value is that he can extend plays, including running out of the pocket. But he’s also very very good inside the pocket and I think that goes overlooked quite a lot. He can get rid of the ball in rhythm and read defenses. That’s what leads to consistent qb play and that’s why he’s been around for so long. He might not be a field general in the sense that Peyton/Brady/Brees are, but he’s not far behind. What we’re seeing now is that he’s reaching the point in his career where his physical prime and mental prime are overlapping, and that doesn’t happen with all quarterbacks. The results have been really fun to watch and he’s a true engineer of this Pittsburgh offense. He’s throwing with power, accuracy, and touch, and he’s reading progressions, getting rid of the ball when he needs to, and buying time when he needs to. You can just see it in his game how much better he understands the position with how comfortable he’s playing and how quick he’s moving ahead of the defense. He’ll drop, look one way, check to the next read, bam, fire, touchdown. He’s been very effective out of empty backfield, which your quarterback needs to be very smart to be able to do. Also, it helps that Todd Haley isn’t calling plays like an idiot anymore. Ben is another guy people might try to bring down by mentioning his receivers (always a bad argument), but a guy like Antonio Brown, while an excellent route runner and speedster, is a short receiver. It’s hard to have success with an under 6 foot receiver in this league; those guys need the ball to be perfectly placed, and Ben does that. At this point, when you look at the entirety of their careers, Ben’s probably been the best and most consistent of the 2004 QB draft class.

Negatives? He obviously hasn’t consistently put up the type of numbers that the other elites have, he hasn’t made the playoffs quite as often, and he hasn’t played great in the playoffs in a while. Also, like I said, he’s not quite as cerebral as those guys. But there’s really not many flaws to his games. Oh and did I mention he’s a two time Superbowl champion. I think spot number 4 is more than justified.

Number 5: Drew Brees

For a while it really didn’t feel right putting Roethlisberger ahead of Brees. Brees has been one of the top QBs of this generation and is always mentioned along with Brady, Peyton, and Rodgers. Remember these are not career rankings; there is a recency bias. And I think Brees has a little something to prove after the last couple of years. In 2013 we saw a decline in arm strength, with less of the seams and deep routes and more Jimmy Graham and screens. Brees started off in MVP form but fell off towards the end of the year, and It culminated with an absolutely terrible playoff game in Seattle. The Saints were 7-9 last year, although it felt more like 4-12. I again noticed a decrease in arm strength with Brees and some wobblers I had not seen out of him before. Of course, I don’t blame him for this. When you’re 36 and you’ve thrown over 650 passes almost every year it’s inevitable, and Brees really has carried the Saints throughout his career. He’s the volume king, with four 5000 yard seasons, which show how much they ask of him. Picking on Brees for last year might seem unfair and even ludacris to some, considering he completed 69% of his passes (led the league I believe) and threw for almost 5000 yards again to go along with a 97 passer rating. But I think a lot of these numbers were pretty empty. A lot of checkdowns, and a lot of garbage time. The turnovers from Brees often came at the absolute worst time, often late in games last year. (It didn’t help that Rob Ryan’s defenses tended to breakdown late as well.) But if you look away from the numbers and watch the highlights, you see a lot of mistakes from Brees. He had a lot of bad turnovers, and in a lot of the big games he really didn’t show up. Brees’s season held some similarity to Matt Ryan’s in 2013: mostly very accurate, high completion and yards percentage due to a lot of throwing and a lot of checking down, but overall disappointing and a lot of turnovers late in games. Brees was far from the whole problem, but hall of fame QBs need to be held to hall of fame standards, and that’s why I’ve knocked Brees down a bit.

Of course, he’s still one of the premier signal callers in the game. He’s super accurate and a pro at reading defenses. This is how he gets so many completions; he knows where to go with the ball at all times. He rarely predetermines throws and is an excellent reader of progressions. Mechanics, pocket movement, it’s all there. He’s an explosive quick twitch athlete which leads to pocket movement that is some of the best in the game, and his success at his height is shocking. He has a unique ability to be able to not only create passing lanes but to get up on his toes and play like he’s much taller than he is. He has an over the top delivery and is able to arc balls over the defense in a way that’s really impressive for a man of his height. It also helps that he’s an absolute master of the game and of the position and he knows where his receivers are going to be, even if he can’t see them. And like I alluded to before, the Saints ask an absolute lot of him; rarely have they had consistent defenses, and his defenses give up the lead late a lot more than those of Brady/Peyton, as he has an absurd number of lost comebacks.

Maybe Brees has spoiled us in the past. When the Saints passing attack was really fire back in 2009 and 2011, what was so special about it was the aggressive throws he was making down the field, to receivers that were covered, yet he still would fit the ball in there. The seams to Colston were some insane shit, as well as the play action posts. Now that he’s just a very efficient ball distributor but not quite as flashy or aggressive, it almost seems like a disappointment, even though he’s still one of the best signal callers in the game.

I think one thing that has always kept Brees below Brady and Manning is that he’s not quite as consistent, both year to year and week to week. The Saints don’t make the playoffs every year, and it seems like every other year he has a whole lot of turnovers. One thing I’ve noticed from him is when the play is rushed and there’s a free rusher on him before he’s ready to throw, instead of taking the sack he’ll try to get rid of it at any cost, even if it means flicking it away left handed, often similar to what Eli Manning has done a lot of in the past. I think this hurt Brees last year as his O-line wasn’t quite up to its usual standards. Brees can compensate for poor tackle play, but he needs the interior of the line strong so he can step up and see the defense at his height. He’s had a few all time great seasons, and he’s been money when he has made the playoffs. Losses in 2010 and 2011 were not his fault.

Brees has had one hell of a career and arguably should have more rings given his production, and he can easily climb up if he has a rebound year. I just think he has a little bit to prove. The interior line should be stronger with Max Unger (who they got when they traded Jimmy Graham), and in the first preseason game his TD pass to Cooks was absolutely gorgeous, a spiral I hadn’t seen from him in a while. A good year is very much a possibility for Brees.

Number 6: Andrew Luck

To some this may seem a little premature, but I’ve really seen all I need to see from Andrew Luck at this point. Is there any doubt that barring some sort of injury or crazy regression, he will be one of, if not the, top QBs of the next generation? I know at times it may seem like piling on, but the kid really has it all, and the scariest thing is he probably hasn’t even peaked yet. Luck’s rookie year was one of the most impressive jobs of carrying a team I’ve ever seen. He was basically thrown to the wolves, on a team that was 2-14 the year before and was basically looked at as a complete rebuilding project– entirely new coaching staff and general manager, very poor offensive line, defense, receivers, everything… their best players were Adam Viniatieri and a post 30 year old Reggie Wayne, who had considered retiring in the offseason. Analysts were predicting a 4-6 win season at best. Luck stepped into a Bruce Arians led offense which asked the quarterback to make aggressive deep throws down the field out of empty sets with full progression reading. How did Luck respond? 11-5, playoffs, and 7 fourth quarter comebacks. Some of the throws he made were absolutely breathtaking, chucking it down the field into coverage accurately with defenders draped all over him. Luck was seen coming out of Stanford as a smart, conservative, game manager, but once he stepped into the NFL he destroyed expectations, becoming an aggressive gunslinger who made some throws that were as good as any in the league that year. And for those who like to use a quarterback’s “weapons” (WR) as a detraction, which I’m never really a fan of, Luck’s receivers honestly weren’t even that good that year. Donnie Avery, seriously? Lavon Brazil? Tons of drops that year. TY Hilton has become a big name now, but that was his rookie year, and I guarantee you we wouldn’t know who he was if it weren’t for Luck. Luck got a lot of flak for interceptions that year, but he also set a rookie record for passing yardage with 4374 and averaged 7 yards per attempt. When you consider the kind of offense he was asked to run, that he had 627 pass attempts that year, and that most of his interceptions came trailing by multiple scores, 18 really isn’t that bad a number. Not to mention that he took a ridiculous amount of hits that year. Anyone who was claiming Luck was overrated clearly wasn’t watching the tape and the throws he was making. He easily should have been rookie of the year that year, not even a question. (Instead it went to Robert Griffin III, who led a run-first gimmick offense.)

Luck has taken this Colts rebuilding project and turned them into a legitimate contender for three straight years. Not only that, but they’ve managed to get a step further in the playoffs each year. (Not to mention the 31-10 comeback to beat the Chiefs 44-45 in the wild card round. That’s tough to do in the playoffs.) The next logical step is Superbowl and that’s where a lot of people see the Colts going, yet they’re really still not that great a team. Their receiving core is stacked and their corners are alright, but that’s about it. Don’t mistake the fact that they continue to win and them being in the playoffs as meaning they’re a good team. We see Quarterbacks like this spoil media and fans with the ridiculously high expectations they set for themselves. I really hope Luck gets a Superbowl win before people start writing the “Luck chokes in the playoffs” narratives. You can only carry a flawed team so far. I’m sure the “Luck can’t beat the Patriots” narratives have already started going. Maybe the Colts figuring out how not to allow 200 yards rushing every time they play the Patriots would help that. If the Colts win the Superbowl that’d be pretty impressive, but if they have a huge meltdown in the playoffs against a good team don’t be surprised, and don’t blame it on Luck.

So why exactly is Luck so good? Well basically everything you want in a Quarterback, he has. Go down the checklist. Size, amazing arm strength, touch, mechanics, pocket movement, toughness, football intelligence (reading defenses), mobility, speed, leadership/maturity (I usually hesitate on that one, but watch this kid speak and you’ll see he’s way beyond his years). Luck is a guy who continually makes throws that wow you. He’s going to hang in the pocket until the last second and aggressively throw it down the field into very tight windows. What was clear also starting in his rookie year is that he always had an intuitive sense of pocket movement and where the rush is coming from, which is something you can’t really teach. In terms of playing style I’d say he’s like a mix of Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger: The size, strength, aggressiveness, and pocket toughness and patience of Roethlisberger with the intelligence of Manning. It’s a very unique combination. He’s going to hang in the pocket to make the wow throws, but he also has excellent command of the offense and he’ll read/manipulate defenses and check it down when he needs to. He’s the best of both worlds; he doesn’t rely solely on his physical skill set or his mental IQ. Usually quarterbacks with one are lacking in the other. Not the case with Luck. Oh, and then there’s the fact that he can run and he’s an incredibly efficient runner. It’s easy to forget that because he’s such an efficient passer that we rarely see him run.

Again, I know it sounds like piling on, but it’s really hard to find a flaw in Luck’s game. It also cannot be emphasized how much he’s carried this Colts team. Often, he wins in spite of them. There’s no other quarterback in the game that consistently walks into as many holes as he does. It seems like every few games he’ll be getting the ball on his second drive down 17 nothing, through no fault of his own. It seems like every few games they give up a 50 burger, an 80 percent passer, a 200 yard rusher, or something of the sort. Hell, what other team trades a first round pick for Trent Richardson? (And no, that’s not hindset being 20/20 because I said that was a terrible move when it happened.) To put things in perspective, Luck had a lost comeback his third game as a starter. (QB drives down the field to take the lead, defense gives up the lead right after.) Brady’s first lost comeback? Super Bowl 42. Last year, Luck threw 40 touchdown passes to lead the league. He also threw for over 4700 yards. That’s probably the quietest 4700 yard, 40 touchdown pass season there ever has been. If Brees or Manning put up those numbers, we’re jumping out of our chairs.

Point is, regardless of how many Superbowls come, Luck’s got one hell of a career ahead of him. It’s been fun watching him up to this point and I look forward to what he can do in the future. We’ll probably reach the point soon where Luck is taken as one of the top QBs in the league and held to such standards. Maybe we’ll reach a point where every failure he has is magnified as an indictment on his legacy, similar to where Peyton Manning is at right now. Hopefully when that day comes we can all remember the 23 year old that came out of Stanford and onto the previously 2-14 Colts, and lit the NFL on fire with his play.

Number 7: Tony Romo

Ah, Romo. One of the more polarizing QBs in the NFL, for some reason. Poor Tony has long been the butt monkey of the NFL and of many jokes. As a Giants fan I used to dislike him, but after seeing the shit he’s been put through I honestly just feel bad for him. Romo’s a guy who plays in a big media market like Dallas for the blowhard that is Jerry Jones, and as a result anything short of a Superbowl is seen as a failure. For those who actually watched the games, or even just the highlights, it’s pretty clear Romo’s not the problem in the Dallas.

Romo’s been one of the most consistent and succesful QBs of our generation. He’s borderline hall of fame at this point. Did you know that he ranks second in all time passer rating? He’s consistently a high volume, high completion percentage, high yards per attempt guy. He’s always understood how to play the position and has had excellent command of the passing game. For most of his career he’s had excellent arm strength, and we all know about his trademark improvisational skills. Yet for every defensive meltdown, Dez Bryant drop/bad route, or Jason Garrett game mismanagement, Romo’s the one who shoulders the blame. He gets nailed a lot for having only one playoff win, but when the Cowboys are consistently 8-8 and miss the playoffs, these kind of losses add up. But of course, Dez Bryant, the NFL’s media darling and athletic freak, god forbid he would ever make a mistake. The Romo “choker” reputation is purely a result of selective memory. He’s got 25 fourth quarter comebacks and 29 game winning drives (pfref). Those are some of the best numbers in the league, and yet only the failures are focused on. “Playoff wins” is an overly simplistic way of looking at things. Romo plays for a very incompetent franchise, yet he continually keeps the cowboys in contention. The defense has been historically bad in recent years; Demarco Murray was often hurt, and Romo continues to have success whoever you put around him: Cole Beasley, Roy Williams, Dwayne Harris, Miles Austin, Laurent Robinson, remember these guys? Where are they now?

Romo is a classic example of how quarterbacks are unevenly evaluated. For a guy who consistently puts up 65% comp, 7 y/a, and 4000 yards, it becomes “numbers don’t matter”. The thing is they actually do, and there are guys who have never put up numbers like these but are treated as stars. Cam Newton? Sam Bradford? Insert trendy young QB here? I’m sure there are plenty of people who think those guys are better than Romo.

Flaws? There’s been times he’s tried to do too much in terms of improvising or holding the ball. He hasn’t always been great against the blitz in terms of getting rid of the ball. He’s not quite at the level of TB/PM/AR/DB in that sense. But if your biggest criticism of Romo is that he’s not as good as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, well, let’s just say things could be worse. Hopefully last season started to bring to light how good Romo is. They finally took the load off Romo and see what happens. Demarco Murray finally stayed healthy and they committed to the running game. Dez Bryant finally came together to be what people have been expecting him to be, and the line solidified itself as one of the best in the league. The result when you give Romo an above average team? He becomes super/uber efficient: 69.9% comp, 8.5 y/a, 34 TD to 9 INT, 113.2 PR. He was also great on third down, so it wasn’t just about the running game. They should have been in the NFC Championship game too, if not for a bad application of a bad rule. Romo was 15/19 in that game, by the way. You could have made a serious argument for Romo deserving MVP last year. That was the year everything came together for Dallas and the NFL screwed them over. Who knows how many more chances Romo will get? He’s not young, and injuries have started to pile up. If Dallas could find some way to maintain consistent success, a ring would really be nice for him to have before he retires; he and Witten deserve it. But if not, don’t let that deceive you into thinking Romo isn’t a great quarterback. He was undrafted and should be celebrated as one of the best success stories in the NFL. Instead, people treat him like he’s a first round pick and hold him to unreasonably high standards.

Number 8: Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers is another guy who gets overlooked a lot. At this point in his career he’s essentially become a poor man’s Peyton Manning. The run game has been inconsistent and the O-Line average, and he’s made a living the last few years out of the gun and 3 wide sets being the commander of this no huddle offense. He’s a master of the subtleties of the game, whether it be manipulating coverage, throwing guys open, reading defenses and audibling/getting rid of the ball, buying time in the pocket, etc. His game is timing and rhythm and he throws with excellent anticipation. He’s very cerebral and his command of the game is right up there with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. He’s also never been a QB that’s particularly pretty to watch. He can be sort of heavy footed at times and we all know about his funky “push” delivery. He’s never looked like a guy that could naturally flick the ball down the field with arm strength, yet he makes aggressive throws and the balls always seem to get there. He’s done a great job keeping this chargers team in contention the last few years and has been one of the best quarterbacks of the decade. His numbers reflect this as well.

For most of his career with Norv Turner he was a different type of quarterback than he is now. It was impressive in a different way. He had a lot of big play guys; Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson in their prime certainly are big targets to throw to that can elevate QB play, and we saw that a lot with Vincent Jackson. Not to mention Sproles, the king of YAC who’s a nightmare to tackle in open space and a serious matchup problem for any defense. At the same time, this offense asked rivers to make a lot of deep seven step drops off play action and from under center. He had to drop back and climb the pocket and stand tall, not lose composure, flinch, lose clarity, or lose track of his footwork. He always was great at this and it’s something not a lot of QBs would have been able to do.

Rivers had an MVP like start last year before the injury bug hit him. So why isn’t he up there in the rankings with the big five? Well, like I said, at his peak his command of the game and the position is as good as anyone’s but he doesn’t always play to that level, whether it be game to game or season to season. The stretch from 2010-2012 was as bad as it can get when it comes to clutch play. His percentage of 4QC/GWD success during that time was one of the worst in the league; every time the 4th quarter came around there would be a bad interception. He also hasn’t been that special in the playoffs, although he has played some tough defenses. Like I mentioned, he also has some physical weaknesses that can derail him at times. He’s probably the worst QB in the league out of the pocket. If you get him out of the pocket or on the run you better close your eyes. In terms of mobility he’s not quite as light footed as a guy like Tom Brady. There are just times where it seems like because of his funky release and heavy feet that he looks like a sitting duck when pressure is going to get there. His arm strength, like I said, is very confusing. He’s shown the ability to make every throw, and yet he just doesn’t look like a very natural thrower. I wonder if the strength comes from weight transfer, because like I said, if you get him to throw on the run, it’s not going to be pretty. When you think about guys like Rodgers and Romo that make throws look effortless with their light feet and quick release, well, with Rivers it can be the opposite. He makes quarterbacking look like a lot of work at times.

At the end of the day though, this is all nitpicking and may not mean anything. Rivers is also a guy that’s been screwed over by shitty management and coaching. Why do you think Archie wanted Eli in New York? It’s a proven successful franchise. If Rivers wasn’t stuck with Norv, if Marty had stuck around–seriously, who fires a coach with a winning record overall after a 14-2 season and three point playoff loss to the defending world champions–who knows where the Chargers would be.

So again, Rivers may not have the playoff success or physical attributes of some QBs out there, but when it comes to command of the offense and understanding of how to play the position, he’s as good as anyone.

Number 9: Matt Ryan

I’ve always been a Matt Ryan fan. He’s been a very solid quarterback ever since the day he was drafted. He’s not going to wow you with too many splash plays; he’s not going to make amazing runs or absolute bullet passes into coverage. But he’s been a very solid quarterback who just understands how to play the position very well and who has brought winning and relevance back to Atlanta.

Matt Ryan had a number of strengths coming out of Boston College indicating that he was pro ready. He always threw with great anticipation and got rid of the ball very quickly, often as soon as he hit his back foot. As a result, his sack numbers were very low at the start of his career. He was naturally accurate and understand coverages pretty well, and he was aggressive and willing to pull the trigger despite not having a gun for an arm. Yet he wasn’t reckless; he was always a pretty efficient player with a high completion percentage. His 21 fourth quarter comebacks and 28 game winning drives rightfully earned him the nickname “Matty Ice”. Though the offense ran through Michael Turner for years, Ryan clearly played a big role in the wins through his understanding and execution of the game. His rookie season was one of the best ever, and he continued to show improvement as the years went on. He ranks very highly in advanced stats and he’s got pretty good traditional stats as well. He’s been a consistent, smart, and professional quarterback that probably hasn’t gotten enough credit throughout his career.

Matt Ryan really impressed me with his 2012 season. For years people talked about how the key to success for the Falcons was Michael Turner. In 2012, Matt Ryan bulked up and strengthened his arm and looked and played like a different quarterback, similar to the transition Tom Brady made in 2007. Turner fell off the map and the offense became pass first and Matt Ryan showed incredible command. He had always been good at the line but he really became the master this year. The Falcons often employed the no huddle and Ryan was clearly the master of the show. The biggest change I saw was in his footwork. He wasn’t necessarily slow twitch, but he had been a little stiff, uncomfortable when he had to navigate the pocket or when the ball wasn’t coming out quick. This year he looked a lot more like a normal quarterback, swiftly getting through deep drops, planting on his back foot, and showing flex in his knees as he climbed the pocket and read progressions. The year was a huge success as Ryan was money in both playoff games, leading the game winning drive against Seattle–and in the process becoming the only QB to put up 30 points on them post legion of boom–and arguably played even better against San Francisco. Unfortunately the drive stalled in the red zone and the Falcons finished ten yards short of the Superbowl, the closest they would ever get.

The next two years were a disaster, and Ryan has been tough to evaluate. After 2012 I really thought he was becoming a big time Quarterback and joining the ranks of Brady Brees and Peyton in the upper echelon of quarterbacks. He’s still better than most quarterbacks, but I can’t help but feel I haven’t been seeing the same guy as 2012. The team hasn’t been great and most have acknowledged this. The O-line and defense have fallen off and his top receivers have been injured. There’s also been no running game. By no means has he been a bad quarterback. His numbers have still been top notch and he’s been asked to throw it an awful lot. There has been no consensus that he’s dropped off among top analysts and advanced stats. So why do I feel like he hasn’t quite been as good as he could be? Was I simply just expecting too much of him?

I think what’s happened to Ryan is somewhat comparable to what I was saying about Drew Brees this year. Ryan’s a smart quarterback and because of that he’s put up a lot of good numbers. He can use the short passing game to replace the running game because if you spread them out he’s going to know where to go with the ball and he’s going to complete a lot of passes. I just felt like some of the numbers were empty and that when the time came for big time throws, I really didn’t see that many. The last few years it feels like most of his touchdowns and most of his highlights have either been screens with a lot of YAC or wide open play actions at the goal line. He hasn’t seemed like a very aggressive passer as he’s been checking it down a lot. Like I said, that probably has to do with the O-Line. I just have expected a little more. In 2012, it felt like he was elevating the play of his receivers. The past few years, I felt like it was more about Tony and Julio than Ryan. Don’t get me wrong, he still was impressive at times and he did a great job given what he was dealing with. But those really stick throws that you see quarterbacks make to win games, those throws where the pocket is crowded and the first read isn’t there, but the QB is throwing with aggressiveness and confidence, I just didn’t see those from Ryan. I do recognize how cliche I’m sounding, and it’s something that I can’t really explain, just something I’ve noticed on film. I think part of it is how he looks. He’s dropping back a lot on the balls of his feet sort of slowly, rather than planting on his heels with his weight shifting back and then springing forward as he climbs the pocket. He’s holding the ball a little bit higher and he throws it kind of softly. It doesn’t look like he’s really getting all his weight transfer into the throws. I think he’s just not quite as confident and aggressive a passer as he was a few years back.

Matt Ryan’s had a great career and I really hope the Falcons can get back on track. I hope the change in coaching helps him and I think it will. Sometimes you just need a change. At this point I’m not sure Ryan will ever be quite on a par with Peyton and Brady. I think as good as he is, he needs some team around him. He needs a run game and some protection and I think he’s been asked to throw it too much. Having said that I think he is a very able quarterback and I really hope this isn’t the end for him and the Falcons. Crazy as it is, he’s 30 years old and is entering his eighth season in the NFL, so he’s not going to be around forever.

Number 10: Joe Flacco

Remember how before Joe Flacco won a Superbowl, everyone thought he was the problem in Baltimore and was holding them back? Now after his miraculous 2012 postseason run he’s rarely criticized ever, if at all. Again, the truth is somewhere inbetween.

Flacco has a lot going for him at the Quarterback position. He’s a prototypical tall, strong, pocket passer with a gun for an arm. He’s been very reliable and has never missed a start. He’s probably a little more mobile than he’s given credit for as he’s not bad at moving around in the pocket and can get out on the edge or leave the pocket if he needs to. He’s also been very mechanically sound, an aspect of his game which is never mentioned. His drops, throwing motion, and base are right where they should be.

Most people know that arm strength is Flacco’s game, to the point where I don’t really have to talk about it too much. I think a good comparison for Flacco is mid-career Eli Manning. He’s aggressive and wants to throw it down the field. He’s going to give his guys a shot, and that might mean not a great completion percentage. His ceiling is high and he can get hot, as shown by his amazing postseason run, but for the most part he can be inconsistent and leave a bit to be desired at times. He’s never missed a start and he’s lasted for a long time in this league.

There’s not much else to say about Flacco other than the fact that he’s just that, a solid, strong armed quarterback that you can count on even though he’ll be inconsistent at times. I don’t think he’s ever going to be great. He’s not a precision/executioner type quarterback. He doesn’t read defenses well enough and isn’t accurate enough. He holds the ball too long at times and it seems like every year he has those headscratcher losses on the road against bad teams where his completion percentage is awful, like the 21/50 game at Houston the past year. The Ravens were wildcard teams both this year and 2012, and though Flacco went on to have great postseasons both those years, losses like those could have easily kept the Ravens out of the playoffs if other scenarios outside of the Ravens control had transpired. His numbers are usually not horrible but not great either; they’ve been fairly consistent since 2008–not a ton of improvement, really–and Flacco’s never thrown for 4000 yards, which is kind of shocking in this era. I think he needs to be on a run first offense; that’s what happened last year with Forsett, that’s what he had with Rice, and in 2013 without a run game he was very poor. He got a lot of credit for his playoff wins early, but he actually played better in the losses. The 2010 loss to the Steelers and 2011 and 2014 loss to the Patriots were not his fault. And I can’t neglect to mention how well he played in the 2012 postseason. I mean, yea, the Jacoby Jones play was a little fluky, but people need to get over that in my opinion.

Like I said, Joe’s not a great quarterback, but he’s a very good and very solid quarterback that has done a lot for the Ravens. There are a lot of teams that would love to have him. I put Ryan ahead of him because I think Ryan has greater command of an offense with regards to getting rid of the ball, audibling, accuracy, etc. I also have to think if Ryan had the running game Joe had last year he would thrive. Joe and Ryan both didn’t have a run game in 2013 and Joe was much worse. Having said that, if Flacco has another good year and Ryan has another meh losing season, I’m moving Flacco ahead.

Number 11: Russell Wilson

It’s hard to get a read on the public perception of Russell Wilson. It seems like half the people think he’s a top five quarterback and the other half think he’s just a guy that’s benefitted from having Marshawn Lynch and the legion of boom. I’d say the truth is somewhere inbetween.

What Wilson’s done in the last few years cannot be ignored, as he’s had about as good a start to his career as any quarterback could have. For a while I thought Wilson was pretty overrated, because he’s been pretty impotent in a lot of his playoff wins (see NO, SF, GB). While there’s no denying that he does benefit a lot from the team he’s on and while he’s certainly not in the same class as most of the names above him on this list (certainly not 1-6), after watching him this year I’m past the point of thinking that any quarterback could win on that Seattle team. When you see the plays that this kid makes, they are unique, and if Tarvaris were to start I can guarantee you he would not be able to do the same things.

In terms of skillset Wilson has a lot of positives. He has a very very strong arm and a really nice square delivery. His mechanics are top notch; he’s smooth on his drops and always squares his shoulders to throw, whether it be from the pocket or on the run. He also has tremendous anticipation; if you blitz him he’ll loft it with perfect trajectory, often doing so before the receiver has beaten the defender. And yet the receivers always end up running underneath the balls. This is especially evident with his seam throws. He’s also a pretty poised player; there have moments in his career where he’ll overreact to pressure but for the most part he’s pretty calm and oblivious to it. Not to mention, he’s a tremendous deep thrower. His deep posts are about as pretty as it gets.

However, what really separates Wilson from other running quarterbacks and from other so called “game managers” is his awareness. When you watch Wes Welker in his prime, one of the things that made him so frustrating was how shifty he was and how hard he was to tackle. He’d continually make defenders miss and turn what looked like a sure tackle for loss into a huge gain. Russell Wilson is like that in quarterback form. Watching him avoid defenders is like watching someone play madden. He makes avoiding defenders look so easy. He’s very gifted in the sense that he has an intuitive awareness of where defenders are coming from. Most “running QBs” like RG3, Kap, Manziel, and Cam are guys that make a lot of random plays. It doesn’t really impress me because there isn’t much skill involved. They’ll run around because they don’t really know what’s going on. They don’t know where they’re going most of the time and often they’ll be running into guys even if they manage to escape. When it works people are impressed–which often it doesn’t–but it’s not really a skill. It’s just something they do because they don’t understand what they’re seeing in the defense. With Wilson it’s different; he’s almost always one step ahead of the defense. He’s not making guys miss by change; he’s making guys miss because he knows where they are and he knows how his movement impacts them. It’s actually pretty ridiculous how aware he is. You also see it with his spins and his pump fakes- he knows right when to do it so that it always affects the defense. This is a big reason why he’s somehow managed to stay healthy; defenders aren’t getting that many shots on him. It’s also why the Seahawks are one of the only teams that continue to successfully run read option; Wilson rarely makes the wrong decision.

Wilson certainly is not without flaws. He’s a different kind of quarterback than a lot of the top guys and is kind of an outlier with regards to his unconventional style. Being as short as he is, he runs around more than he theoretically should because if the ball’s not coming out quick, he’s unlikely to be able to see well enough to get through all of his progressions as the pocket gets tighter. Because of this he’ll miss some things; he’ll miss some throws that he should be making, and as a result the Seahawks pass offense is somewhat inconsistent. A lot of games it’s not really there and the defense is what keeps them in the game. As I alluded to earlier, there have been stretches in his career where he overreacts to pressure and leaves the pocket way too soon or runs into pressure. What really gets at me is how hesitant he can be at times. A lot of times Wilson is protected well and you can tell when the ball’s supposed to come out and where it’s supposed to go and for whatever reason he’s just not letting it go. Sometimes he’ll run around and make another play or check it down, but the disappointing thing is that he has the arm to make these throws; I’ve seen it. He throws a lot of fade type balls, a lot of improvisational/run around stuff, but you don’t see him drop back and gun it in there very often. Part of this is because of the defense; he may not be that aggressive because he knows that because of their defense avoiding turnovers and staying ahead of down and distance is more important than making the high risk throws. Still, it seems like since his rookie year he’s moved away from the conventional dropback/timing game and has become more and more of a runner and improvisational player. For me that can be frustrating to watch but that’s also just a personal preference; at some point I had to acknowledge that how he plays works more often than not.

Sure, Russell’s not the only reason for Seattle’s success. He’s had some poor games in the playoffs where Seattle still won. In fact, his best playoff game was the loss to Atlanta. He’s also had some poor regular season stretches, namely the beginning of 2012 and the end of 2013. However, his regular season stats are very good and for the most part he’s a very efficient player. He didn’t have to do much in the SB win against Denver, but he also arguably should have gotten a ring last year when Butler picked off the slant. Butler undercutting that was a one in a million play that rarely happens. The way they designed that pass, it should have been guaranteed or at worst an incompletion. Then again, there was also the lucky Kearse catch before that you could argue should have been a pick. At the end of the day, you could play these “what if” games a million times in your head, but I think that Wilson has ultimately done enough to prove that he’s an above average quarterback and is definitely a big part of Seattle’s success. He also has 10 fourth quarter comebacks and 15 game winning drives. Considering that he’s only been in the league for three years, he’s done pretty darn good. It’s also interesting how Wilson’s situation is very similar to early Brady’s in that his early title runs were largely defensive driven, yet rarely do people use that to knock him. What will be interesting to see I think is how Wilson’s career plays out in the future. What if the defense falls off eventually? What if he has to start throwing it more than he’s used to? Will he be able to become more of a traditional dropback passer? Will his improvisational style still work then? It will be interesting to see.

Update: I originally had Wilson at no 9 above of Ryan and Flacco, but it just didn’t feel right. Those guys are the more advanced passers. However, I’d understand putting him above seeing what he’s done the past few years. Remember, this is a very hard exercise and given all the variables involved, there really is no one right answer. (But there definitely are wrong answers, lol)

Number 12: Eli Manning

Ah, Eli. My beloved QB of my beloved Giants, Eli Manning can really give you a headache. Some would argue that he’s one of the most clutch QBs in the game and deserves to be a hall of famer. Others would argue that he’s one of the most overrated QBs in the game and is just a turnover machine that hasn’t lived up to his No 1 overall draft status. You could make a compelling argument for both and both could be right, which is why I’m not going to attempt to evaluate Eli’s entire career here.

Eli had a very impressive 2014. You could argue it was the best year of his career, especially considering the circumstances. Eli was learning a new offense for the first time since he came into the NFL back in 2004, and it was unusual in the sense that this offense asked Eli to change almost everything he had been used to doing in a way that you rarely see from system changes. Some examples are how he hands off the ball, how he stands in the shotgun, the entire language/code system with regards to audibles, cadences, and how he identifies protections, the footwork and how he reads progressions, everything. It was about as drastic a change as there could be. Rarely have I seen an offense change a quarterback’s footwork like this. In the Kevin Gilbride offense Eli was asked to take risks down the field, call all the protections and recognize fronts, and read the defense in a similar way to the receiver with a lot of option routes. This offense was the polar opposite: It was a classic West Coast and the ball had to come out, especially in rhythm with the Quarterback’s footwork and each step that he takes. (All offenses have rhythm and timing to them, but some more than others. The Gilbride offense was not a simple 1-2-3-checkdown progression reading offense like most.) There was a bit of a learning curve, but for the most part Eli was very good, and many doubted whether this offense fit his style of play. He finished with over 4400 yards, a career high 63.1 comp %, and a 30/14 TD/INT ratio. However, the team was not very good, and the Giants finished 6-10. Most of the losses were not his fault.

So why is Eli not higher on the list? After Eli’s phenomenal 2011 season I thought he was destined for big things and his career was going in a new direction. His next two seasons were disappointments, especially the 2013 season which was arguably the worst of his career, where he finished with an 18/27 TD/INT ratio, had a passer rating of 69.4, and was dead last in win probability added. Eli may never be his brother, but I need him to build on his 2014 and prove that good Eli, or at least not-terrible Eli, is here to stay. If that happens, I’ll move him forward.

Number 13: Carson Palmer

Consider this ranking a going away gift for Carson Palmer, who just came off a career year in Arizona and is getting up there in age and really might not play that much longer. I like Palmer and he has a lot going for him. He’s a very natural thrower of the football. He’s a professional veteran quarterback that understands defenses and can read progressions. He’s also aggressive and willing to gun it deep, a good match for Bruce Arians. On paper, Palmer has everything you want. So why does he always seem to leave you wanting more?

It’s usually cliche and meaningless to say that a quarterback isn’t a winner, but that’s what it truly feels like with Palmer. In eight seasons with Cincinnati he has two playoff appearances and one win. You expect a little more from a No 1 overall pick. Palmer also doesn’t have a great 4QC/GWD drive record. Palmer can certainly throw for a lot of yards, but it seems like the games he throws for the most yards in are usually losses. He’s compiled a lot of garbage time yards in his career, perhaps none more than his 4000 yard 4-12 2012 season in Oakland. I want him to do well, but his pre injury 11 TD/3 INT ratio from last year seems a little fluky and I doubt we’ll see a repeat of that.

It is worth mentioning that the Bengals aren’t the greatest franchise. Marvin Lewis… well, let’s just say that it’s pretty mind boggling that he still has a job at this point. The pass game wasn’t super creative, and Palmer had to deal with quite a few diva WRs. Not to mention, he was one of the best QBs in the league before the ACL injury.

There are two main things that are problematic with Palmer. One is that when you get a clean rusher on him, there’s a good chance he’ll throw an interception. The second is his footwork. He’s mechanically sound, but he’s the definition of a statue in the pocket and just isn’t very comfortable navigating the pocket. Remember how I talked about Matt Ryan’s stiffness early in his career? It’s a similar thing with Palmer. It’s not that he’s slow twitch, but that he’s sort of static in the pocket, and doesn’t show the comfort navigating it whether it be a step-up or a slide around. A lot of the things I said about Matt Ryan recently apply too (although Ryan moves better than Palmer): not enough flex in his knees, doesn’t plant back on the last step of his drop and then comfortably climb up. It is worth mentioning that a lot of these things are maybe just personal things that I think look better and make a QB look more comfortable when I watch QBs and they may not be of that much importance. They may just be personal things that bug me that I need to get over. Nonetheless, it is generally accepted that Palmer is a bit of a statue in the pocket.

However, he’s on a good team in Arizona. He’s got some nice receivers that attack the ball–I’m talking about Michael Floyd and John Brown, by the way. I know you don’t want to hear it, but Larry is past his prime and hasn’t done much since Kurt left–and the Arizona defense has been really good. He’s in a pretty good situation, and he’s been playing well. Most of the time No 1 overall QBs are asked to carry franchises, and there aren’t a lot of quarterbacks like this. Carson’s had a nice rebound to his career in Arizona and I hope that he has success. But I’m skeptical and I struggle to see them getting a ring before Palmer retires. Let’s not forget too that he’s very injury prone.

Number 14: Matthew Stafford

Stafford had a phenomenal and somewhat underrated 2011 season. In really his first full year as a starter, he threw for over 5000 yards and 41 touchdowns. That year is starting to look like a fluke as he hasn’t really been that guy since. The yards have been there, but the efficiency, touchdowns, and wins haven’t. 2012 was a major disappointment. Most of Stafford’s yards were garbage time as he just could not come through when they needed a drive to win. He threw 20 td to 17 int, was under 60%, and his mechanics went down the drain. He started side-arming it all over the place, which is not something you should do unless you absolutely need to. This affected Stafford’s accuracy. For a guy with an arm as strong as his, his deep passing and passing under pressure just was not where it needed to be. 2013 was definitely better, but a late season slump kept them out of the playoffs. In 2014 we started to see some footwork improvement and there were some nice late game moments, but overall the offensive output was worse and the playoff run was mostly led by a much improved defense.

What to do with Stafford at this point? There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad as well. He’s your classic gunslinger and can throw it effortlessly to any point on the field. He’s a pocket passer, but he’s never really been much of a timing and rhythm guy. He’ll hold the ball at times and can be sort of improvisational and Favre-like at times, which leads to both good and bad. Stafford is a talented kid and there are always throws that will impress you. He’s boom or bust in the 4Q and doesn’t have a great record in that department, but when it has worked its been phenomenal, as he actually has multiple comebacks from down 17+. (Not positive on that one but pretty sure.) He’s an aggressive thrower and will give his guys a shot, and like I said, he has a unique playmaking ability that you can’t help but be impressed with at times. But then there are the negatives. His footwork and mechanics have been a mess. He throws off his back foot, throws side arms at times, and is sort of erratic with his feet. He’s not really a precision mover within the confines of the pocket; he’s sort of all over the place when he moves. And while he can make the amazing throws, accuracy certainly leaves a lot to be desired. Lastly, when he’s on the road against a good team he just doesn’t get the job done. It’s hard to see the Lions taking it to the next step if that continues.

It hasn’t all been his fault. I mentioned this with Palmer previously. Stafford is an extremely talented kid who was drafted No 1 overall and expected to carry the franchise, and he hasn’t quite been able to do that, outside of 2011. The line has been average, there really hasn’t been much of a running game at all (the Jahvid best experiment was a massive failure), the defense outside of last year hasn’t been good, and he hasn’t had much to throw to outside of Calvin (the Titus Young experiment was an even massiver failure.) Some help last year did good, as Golden Tate emerged as a fantastic and gritty no 2, while the defense allowed them to win some low scoring games and not have to outscore anyone. Jim Schwartz probably wasn’t the greatest coach for Stafford either. If you watch him during his rookie year he wasn’t really throwing sidearm. Schwartz said in press conferences repeatedly that he didn’t see it as a problem. Coaching is huge, and Caldwell and staff have been working on the fundamentals with Stafford. It’s been a work in progress.

I don’t want to say Stafford’s hit a ceiling, but I think at this point we have a fairly decent idea of what Stafford is. He’s a really talented kid with a cannon for an arm that can put up yards but won’t be super efficient, that isn’t super consistent and can be shaky with mechanics and frustrating, but has all the tools and has shown that he is capable of getting the job done before. He’s a solid quarterback and I like Stafford. He certainly has flaws, but when you watch him I really do think he makes enough plays to justify him being a starter in this league. Cutler Kap and Cam also fit this “talented but frustrating” model, but I believe Stafford is definitely a step up from them. It’d be nice to see Stafford and the Lions in the playoffs a little more often, and if the defense can maintain decency without Suh and Stafford can continue to at least be solid, the Lions should have a shot.

Number 15: Ryan Tannehill

I wanted to put Tannehill higher, but he’s young and just hasn’t shown enough to this point. Nonetheless, I really like Tannehill and think he has a lot to offer. I didn’t quite get the hype his rookie year, but he’s improved each year he’s been in the league. 2013 I started to see some nice timing and rhythm and some nice understanding of quarterbacking. Last year with the addition of Bill Lazor the offense became actually not boring to watch and Tannehill really started to look nice and flash potential.

Tannehill has the mindset and feel of a pocket passer. He can run probably better than most people think–he was a WR in college–but he doesn’t that much because his game is timing and rhythm from the pocket. Timing and rhythm is another thing that it’s pretty easy to tell which guys intuitively have it and which don’t. I’ll say it again, you can really tell how comfortable a guy is by watching his feet. With Tannehill, there’s just a rhythm to his drops and throws that you don’t see with other QBs. His upper body and lower body work together, he’s quick twitch and drops back pretty fast, and when he hits his back foot he’ll bounce and transfer his weight to his flexed front knee as he follows through. He also has shown some nice progression reading in his career. I’ve seen it quite frequently. That’s also not something you see with all QBs. He also has a very strong arm. I didn’t totally see it when he first came out because he had a bit of a late, casual release which made it look like he wasn’t really driving it. Sometimes for me, if a guy has a funky release it will mask their arm strength. But Tannehill seems to have fixed that a bit. Could be just my imagine. But the arm is definitely there.

Tannehill definitely has the ability. Now we just need to see the consistency and the wins. They need to get past the 8-8 hump. All the pieces are there. With the additions of Greg Jennings, Jordan Cameron, and Kenny Stills, they’re a bit loaded on offense now. Let’s see if Tannehill can get the job done.

~

Note: Serious drop off from this point on. These are the lower echelon starters, the guys that have been and are embedded as starters on their respected teams, but really leave a lot to be desired. I’ll rank them for the sake of ranking them, but their isn’t much separation between any of these guys, and really any order of them would suffice.

Number 16: Cam Newton

One of the more overrated QBs in this league, I’m not sure anyone gets more excuses than Cam Newton. “He doesn’t have enough weapons!” Gimme a break. There is a serious gap between perception and reality of Cam Newton. He just hasn’t done much in this league. And yet I’m sure there are those who think he’s better than guys like Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, etc. Not even close. His teams haven’t been great, but they haven’t been awful either. More importantly, a No 1 overall pick should be successful regardless of who he’s surrounded by. We’ve seen that this isn’t always a reasonable expectation, but Cam’s been in this league for four years and has a losing record as a starter. That’s not going to cut it. He really impressed everyone during his rookie year, but doesn’t it feel like that was still his most impressive season and he hasn’t improved at all since then, in fact maybe he’s gotten worse? He hasn’t broken 4000 yards since then. That could partially be explained by his back to back 400 yard games to open his career which blew most people away, but people forget that the lockout was a big reason for increased offensive numbers the first few weeks that year.

Seriously, what has Cam done in the NFL up to this point? This may seem harsh, but the only thing on his resume up to this point it seems is “not be Jimmy Clausen”. Carolina fans will point you to a bunch of random meaningless rushing records, but the fact that they give him so many rushing attempts is a big reason for this. Maybe if he was better at throwing touchdowns he wouldn’t have to run for so many. People just can’t seem to get over his physical skillset, namely, his arm, size, and legs. But what good is a huge arm if you barely get to use it? It seems like when I’m watching Cam highlights he’s either running or holding the ball and getting sacked. As is also the case with Cutler and Kap, the wow throws are showing up less and less. He also continues to have accuracy issues, and no amount of team support is going to change that. Perhaps a reason for that is his aggressive delivery. It’s not very natural, and so often his mechanics are just off. We know he can run, but honestly who cares? That’s a different skill than navigating the pocket, and in that regard Cam isn’t anything special. He actually looks kind of slow twitch at times and the awareness just isn’t there. He holds the ball a lot and doesn’t seem to understand coverages. He’s still a one speed thrower at this point in his career. He doesn’t make touch throws, and he doesn’t take anything off the underneath throws that need to be thrown a little softer. Not to mention that because of all the running he’s always injured. Andy Dalton gets nailed all the time for his performance in the playoffs, but Cam’s only been to the playoffs twice and also has zero wins. Both trips were defensive driven, and last years wasn’t even the result of a winning season. You think Cam doesn’t have any weapons? How do you think Andrew Luck felt? The difference is Andrew Luck can actually win games.

Don’t believe me? Don’t take my word for it, just ask the Panthers. Four years and one huge contract later, and the Panthers are essentially running the Auburn offense. They wouldn’t be doing that if they felt Cam could execute a regular offense. We know Cam’s talented, and he has shown potential here and there. One example that comes to mind is the throw to Ginn he made during the game winning drives against the Saints during the last game of the 2013 regular season. But if Cam wants to justify his contract and his No 1 overall draft status, we’re going to have to see those moments a lot more often. But four years in, what makes you think anything is going to change? When reading nfl.com I was shocked how many people were emphatic about Cam’s new contract and thought he was close to being a big time top quarterback. Forget about the arm and the legs and the size and whatnot and look at what he’s actually done. Four years in and he’s shown close to no progression. He’s not terrible, he’s just average. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s why he’s ranked where he is, and until that changes, he’s not going to be moving up anytime soon.

Number 17: Alex Smith

Alex Smith is another case where perception dominates reality. Somehow the extent of analysis surrounding Alex Smith is that he’s a “winner”. This is a generally meaningless term reserved for QBs with poor stats that are on good teams and do generally very little to add to those teams, sometimes even being the weak link. Whatever it means, if it’s implying that Alex Smith is a special QB, well then it’s just plain wrong. First of all, it ignores the fact that for the first, oh, I don’t know, SIX YEARS of his career Alex Smith was widely considered to be a bust. Then there’s the fact that since then he’s been coached by Jim Harbaugh and Andy Reid. People somehow turned this into a claim that his problem was that he never found a good coach that allowed him to thrive, as opposed to the truth that these coaches were the reason for his success, not his ability. Harbaugh was a magnificent coach that instantly turned the 49ers into a title contender. He essentially hid Alex Smith and asked him to hand the ball off and throw a few easy read play action passes a game. He coached the turnovers out of him, instead turning him into the overly conservative guy he is today. People gush over his low INT total, but some interceptions are actually a good thing as you gotta take your chances in this league. He may not throw many INTs, but he doesn’t throw many TDs either. He has a career high 23 TD, and every other year he has thrown less than 20.

Once Harbaugh realized he had a better QB on his roster, Smith was shipped to Kansas City and paired with Andy Reid, a guy who has been proven to elevate the play of QBs– see Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Kevin Kolb, AJ Feeley, etc. Smith is asked to pass a little more in KC than he was in SF, but he’s still not asked to do very much. It’s a lot of checkdowns, screens, and slants. Jamaal Charles is the focal point of that offense, and outside of a late stretch in 2013, Smith hasn’t let a very productive passing game. It’s well known that last year KC was the only team to not have a td pass to a WR since last century. While many may look at that as meaning you need new WR, to me it means you need a new QB. In this day in age of the golden era of passing, not throwing a TD to a WR is pretty hard to do. I’ll admit Smith has looked a little more capable in KC than he did in SF. There his footwork was really bad in terms of navigating the pocket and he often lost clarity and dropped his eyes to look at the rush. His pocket presence and footwork has improved marginally in KC, although he still is rather heavy footed. Reid has also made good use of Smith’s mobility, which Harbaugh didn’t do much (he didn’t really need to).

It certainly helps public perception that Smith has played in 3 playoff games. The Colts game was great and that loss was not on him. The Saints game he really came to life at the end, and many people see the Giants game as not his fault, although I’d probably disagree a little on that one. Nonetheless, that’s two out of three great playoff games and we all know how much that weighs in people’s minds. However, for the majority of games, Smith is just an average QB and really nothing special. His “winning” is the result of being on two great teams with two great coaches and having a minimal role on both of them. He may be a steady, likeable, risk-averse veteran–you know what you’re going to get with him–but he’s not a guy you’re going to win a championship with. If I were the Chiefs, I’d want to start Chase Daniel and see what he’s got, but we know that sort of stuff doesn’t just happen if you’re winning and your starter is healthy. None of this is to say Smith won’t have a successful year. Jeremy Maclin is a nice addition, we all know how good Jamaal Charles is, and Travis Kelce seems to be on the path to breaking out this year. Smith will probably continue to have success on the Chiefs; I don’t see him epically breaking down anytime soon. Let’s just remember what he is: He’s Alex Smith, an average QB and nothing more. I know all this seems harsh, especially for a guy that has been successful recently, but it’s not personal, it’s just the fact of the matter. Don’t think that just because he’s on a winning team and just because he’s a good guy that he’s a special quarterback. He’s not, so lets cut all this nonsense of him being in top 10 lists or above guys like Matt Ryan or other silly shenanigans like that.

Number 18: Andy Dalton

Maybe next to Peyton Manning, Andy Dalton seems to have become the NFLs biggest punching bag. People love to hate on this guy and it really just feels like piling on. There’s nothing original being said anymore. I always thought it was strange how Smith gets the “winner” treatment and Dalton gets the hate, when they’re actually very similar players. In fact, until last year I had Dalton just ahead of Smith. This is not to say that the criticism isn’t justified, it just becomes repetitive at some point. I know he gets paid a lot of money, but so do a lot of QBs, it’s just the market right now. Dalton was a second round pick; expectations shouldn’t be that high.

I always liked Dalton and he’s let me down a bit. There were a lot of positives his rookie year. He threw with good anticipation and accuracy and he had a very quick release and made good decisions. The problem is he’s shown very little improvement since then. At his best, he’s a quarterback that’s going to get rid of the ball, be accurate, throw to the right receiver, limit mistakes, and run your offense like it’s supposed to be run. The problem is he doesn’t frequently play like he’s at his best. His accuracy has seemingly gotten worse as he’s been throwing a lot of high balls recently. He also leaves a lot of plays on the field and seems to be trigger shy at times. You see him make a lot of dumpoff throws, but when it comes to that third down where he’s gotta gun it in there down the field, it seems like he’s more likely to take the sack or run out of the pocket. A lot of noise is made about his arm strength. I think with Dalton the ball needs to come out. If he can step into his throws he can get nice zip on the ball, but if he’s sitting on his back foot and the pocket’s closing in, rarely do you see him shoot it down the field. He can run pretty fast and his footwork and mechanics are solid, but he’s not great at navigating the pocket and he’s not super quick twitch. When he’s staying in the pocket, he gets kind of stagnant. He also has been noticeably worse on the road and against good teams, which isn’t a good sign if you’re trying to get to the next level.

Again, I like Andy Dalton, and he’s not a bad player, but he just hasn’t shown enough at this point. Jay Gruden became a bit of a scapegoat as many blamed him for Dalton’s problems and they fired him because they had to make a change, but it’s starting to look like he wasn’t the problem; in fact, I think his offense fit Dalton pretty well. You always have to give guys some leeway in the first year of a new offense, but Dalton’s numbers got noticeably worse this year without Jay Gruden. 2013 was a good year and he threw for over 4000 yards and 33 touchdowns. Last year, under 3400 yards and 19 TD to 17 INT. They were his worst numbers since his rookie year. The other thing is they drafted AJ McCarron a few years back, but it was a strange move as he’s a pretty similar type of player to Dalton. I don’t think they would get anything better if they started him, so there’s really no one to press Dalton.

The biggest knock on Dalton has been his performance in the playoffs. I’m no fan of critiquing a guy based on his playoff W/L record, but with Dalton it’s been so bad that it’s actually kinda valid at this point. They haven’t scored more than 13 points in any of those game (10 in 3 of them). It seems like he’s actually gotten worse in the playoffs. The first Houston loss didn’t bother me; it was his rookie year and he played okay. The next couple years were a lot worse. In a lot of these games Dalton has had a lot of possessions and just hasn’t been able to produce offense. The Chargers game was close and within a score for almost all of the game. Same with the second Texans game. What has been especially notable in these games is Dalton’s inaccuracy with the deep ball. We’ve seen him hit those bucket throws to AJ Green down the sideline before, but he’s missed some big ones in the playoffs. You could feasibly compare Dalton to early Matt Ryan, but honestly Ryan was a lot better. As a QB he did a ton of things better than Dalton, plus the playoff losses were higher scoring (except for the Giants one) and to better teams. The other thing is that Dalton hasn’t really had a bad team by any means. Through all these years they’ve managed to maintain an elite defense. Not to mention he’s throwing to one of the best wide receivers in the game.

It’d be nice if Dalton put it together. I don’t think all hope is lost. It’s the second year into the offense, we’re hoping for a breakout year from Tyler Eifert, a healthy Marvin Jones (and AJ, who was missing in the playoffs last year) as a no 2 should make a big difference, and the Bengals should be purely run first as I think they’ve really found a hidden gem with Jeremy Hill. But at the end of the day, it’s going to come back to Dalton. He’s still young and he’s good enough to be a starter, but it’s hard to see him changing too much from what he is, and if the Bengals want to take the next step he’s going to need to. They’ve already done as much as they can to help support him, now it’s on him.

Number 19: Colin Kaepernick

It’s hard to believe that Kap is this low, that he’s fallen this much from grace since his incredible 2012 season. It really was incredible, and it was just as much the arm as the legs. Once Kap took over, what was once a conservative offense became a dynamic, aggressive, and multidimensional attack, and Crabtree all of a sudden burst onto the scene and quickly became a household name. Making his play all the more impressive was that it was Kap’s first season as a starter; he had only been drafted the year before. He was just making throw after throw after throw. Kap stole the show from Aaron Rodgers in the divisional round, putting up a 45 point clusterfuck against Green Bay, killing them with both his arm and legs. Next week he went into Atlanta and rallied the troops back from down 17-0 with absolute precision throws in one of the best playoff games you’ll ever see. Advanced stats rank his postseason numbers from that year as some of the best ever. QBR has that game at 94.8 (out of 100). He did the same against the Ravens in the Superbowl, helping them come back from 28-6, but ultimately failing in the redzone at the end in a very similar way that Matt Ryan did to his team two weeks earlier. He took some heat for his redzone play in that game, but the Ravens were able to get quick pressure on a lot of those plays. Overall it was a pretty impressive performance, especially considering that the niners defense really wasn’t playing all that great ever since Kap took over and especially in the postseason (although they were facing some big time QBs). Same with Gore: He’d break a few big runs out of the pistol here and then, but for the most part it was Kap’s show. The kid played with attitude, with swagger, and he really was looking like the next big thing at the quarterback position.

So what happened..? He also had some great playoff moments in 2013, leading the game winning drive against GB and almost doing so against Seattle despite a ferocious pass rush. But even that year, particularly during the regular season, we started to see some regression, as he had some games with close to no passing output. This past year was even worse. The 49ers were still 8-8 though and Kap’s numbers weren’t terrible, but there’s just this sense that he’s not the same guy he was. So what changed? There’s no doubt defenses have caught up to running QBs and option offenses haven’t been nearly as successful. Running was a big part of Kap’s game and the pistol scheme helped to give Kap some nice windows to throw the ball and some nice quick reads. But even so, I wouldn’t so these were the sole reasons for Kap’s success. You don’t look back and say, “wow, they really schemed that passing game well”, or “wow, Kap was just totally reliant on his legs”, like you might say for RG3 back in 2012. He made throws, he made stick throws, and he did it against good defenses. In the Falcons game he barely ran. Trust me, if he was just a runner / scheme guy I wouldn’t have been this impressed with him.

Certainly the longer you play the more likely you are to regress to the mean. That’s the risk of small sample sizes. And we do forget that he is still a young quarterback. So young, that it’s surprising how little optimism there is regarding his future. Why does it feel like Kap’s headed down a path he won’t recover from?

Perhaps I’ve jumped ahead of myself here. First let’s talk about his skillset and what he’s been doing wrong. Kap’s game was arm strength no doubt. As Greg Cosell put it, he’s a “power thrower”. He winds up and he guns it. I saw him playing in rhythm really nicely in 2012 and that was what was so fun to watch. He’d fake, drop, set, wind, and gun. And he showed the abilities to make all the throws all over the field. The anticipation wasn’t always quite there, but for some guys that’s just not their game. Now, you can tell he’s just not playing with the confidence. He’s not seeing the field with clarity at all, and he’s relying too much on his legs. He’s light on his feet, but his legs are so long that the strides he takes are very big. He’s not great at subtly moving and working the pocket, in fact this is barely something he does at all. Because his stride is so long and because he doesn’t slide so much as he runs, he get’s trapped and lost in the pocket very easy and looks to escape too soon. He’s making close to no attempt to read progressions; he’ll drop back and drop his eyes almost immediately, especially if he’s under pressure. This isn’t how you play quarterback. It also makes your line look worse because you create your own pressure. Kap’s recent play is a great example of why I don’t like the argument that a QB having good “weapons” (receivers) is a detriment to his skill. It’s because there is so much that goes into getting the ball where it’s supposed to before the receiver even gets a shot at it. The QB has to read the defense, drop back in rhythm, find the right receiver, know how the routes sync with the timing of his drop, and get the ball their on time in the right place. Kap doesn’t understand any of this, and as a result it doesn’t matter who you put out wide, because so often his receivers won’t even get a chance. They have Torrey Smith now who gives them some much needed speed, but they need to figure out how to execute a pass game before they expect to start throwing deep successfully.

I am not optimistic that Kap can get back to where he was, and it’s quite unfortunate. This is mostly because it’s very hard to change the mindset of quarterbacks whose instinct it is to run. It’s almost like they’re wired differently. With pocket passers, many of which who can’t run because they just aren’t fast enough, their instinct is to get rid of the ball when the pressure closes in. With QBs with a running mindset, their instinct is to run– it’s what they’ve been doing their whole life and they know they’re capable of doing it. The problem is that doesn’t work for consistent offense in the NFL. You can’t execute a pass game if you play randomly and are unclear of the concepts, and you can’t just expect to outrun defenders on every play. The most efficient way to move the ball is to throw it. But with Quarterbacks who have the instinct to run, they’ll never learn how to read progressions because they won’t be staying in the pocket, they’ll always be leaving when they see or feel pressure. And with guys like Kap, the lesser his confidence becomes, the more he’s going to run. There’s close to no precision to any part of his game. The accuracy, the timing, none of it’s there, and it’s really unfortunate because he’s so talented. The other thing is these guys have been running for so long that they don’t have the instinctual feel for the pocket and for reading that other guys have. That’s why when you do see guys like Kap, RG3, or Cam hang in the pocket, they look stiff, uncomfortable, like a deer in headlights and unsure of where to go with the ball. It’s not something they’re used to doing. But if these guys want to be successful in the NFL, they better learn to adjust and do it fast.

I’ve went on a bit of a tangent here, but the point is Kap’s going down a bad road and it’s crazy how quick he’s fallen from grace, and he needs to turn it around and do it fast. He’s young and there still is hope, but we’ve seen very little to think he’s shown any modicum of improvement, and you just don’t get the sense that a change as big as the one he has to make is going to just happen. Again this all sounds harsh and I may be exaggerating a bit; I hope it’s not the case because I was a big fan of Kap and at his best he was really fun to watch. Will he ever become a subtle-nuance player? Only time will tell.

Number 20: Jay Cutler

Oh, Jay! I’ve always been a fan of Jay. People always get pissed by of his “attitude” but I think his nonchalant facial expressions and the degree to which he doesn’t give a fuck is kinda funny. Jay is the last QB I’m going to rank, as after him you just get to the backup-ish / new team guys that no one really cares about. Plus, it’s highly unlikely anyone is still reading at this point.

Like the quarterback above him, it feels very wrong to put someone this talented this low on the list. It’s always funny how the media works at evaluating QBs. For years Jay got a lot of excuses, mostly on the O-line, and he was injured a lot too. Last year finally seemed to be the year it clicked in everyone’s head that Jay is Jay, and he just isn’t that good. And then all of a sudden it became a story. Um, Jay’s been in the league since 2006. That he’s not going to become a top five QB isn’t really news.

I don’t think last year really told us that much. The Chicago defense was dreadful; very few QBs would have succeeded in that situation, especially not Jay. It just wasn’t really a situation where you could properly evaluate a quarterback. Having said that, we have seen enough of Jay to be able to say what he is and what he isn’t. Jay’s a quarterback with a big time arm that can make big time throws. He’s also a quarterback that mechanically is a little funky, isn’t a great reader of defenses, isn’t going to take what the defense gives him, will sometimes force it, and will make a lot of head scratching decisions. 2012 was the year I started getting off the Jay Cutler train. For years I had believed that the O-Line was a big issue, as was Mike Martz, who continued to call plays with minimal protection, exposing Jay to hits and not giving Forte the ball enough. But in 2012 Jay reunited with Brandon Marshall and with his QB coach from Denver Jeremy Bates. Yet the season was largely unimpressive, actually it was one of his worst in a while. 2013 was the year we were all deeming Marc Tresman a genius, and to my surprise Jay really was looking different. He was stepping up in the pocket, he was getting rid of the ball and taking what the defense was giving him and he wasn’t forcing it. But in 2014 the defense fell apart more, Trestman seemed a little less creative with regards to play calling, and Jay fell back into his old ways.

Jay used to make a lot of impressive throws. He was always a guy that never had great stats but you’d see a few big time throws every game. Now I’m seeing those throws less and less, which seems to be the case with talented but undisciplined QBs. Eventually, they can’t survive off of just talent and they reach the point where they’re so inept at running an offense that the time they get their drops, reads, and throws right are few and far between, and most plays you see are of them getting sacked or turning it over. It’s tough with Jay because he’s definitely the gunslinger mold. He seems to excel best when you give him single coverage isolation routes on the outside and let him throw it down the field. But at the same time, he’s far too reckless to function well enough in that type of offense. However, the more dink and dunk complex route concept offenses like Trestman’s don’t really suit him that well. Today’s pass happy NFL is built around being able to make the shorter throws consistently. Because of the rules, athletes, and scheme advantages, that’s the easiest way to move the ball. If you can’t do that efficiently, there’s not much of a place for you in the NFL today. If you’re only going to succeed as a gunslinger, you better be pretty darn productive at doing it.

With Jay, most “analysts” have reduced his problem to throwing too many interceptions (or they claim he has an attitude problem, something people say when they don’t know how to analyze actual football). But as usual the reality is more complicated. To me it’s that Jay’s always been somewhat unconventional when it comes to doing just the little things. He’s just not that mechanically sound. I remember when I watched Josh McCown in Trestman’s offense I thought to myself, this just looks like more of a normal quarterback. Again, maybe I focus too much on looks, but with Jay, everything about him looks funky. His footwork is funky. He sits in the pocket flat footed, not really ready to throw and often holding the ball way too low. He’s never been that great at moving around in the pocket. He also has a pretty funky delivery; it’s not that compact and and there’s too much windup and movement. I think this leads balls to getting away from him. So often I’ve seen him sail seams and posts over the Receiver’s heads and into the hands of safeties. I talked about how some quarterbacks just look natural when they drop back set and throw. He’s not one of those guys. I remember back in the Martz days he used to take ten step drops from under center! I guarantee you that was not what he was coached to do.

Jay gets shit on a lot, but he’s a talented kid and he can play. Unfortunately, he’s 32 and pretty far into his NFL career. He is what he is at this point; if he was going to make some “leap” he would have done it already. His best season is still his 2008 back in Denver. The move to Chicago never really seems to have worked for him. If anything, he’s on the downslide of his career, which is not given given the instability of his starting situations these days. If Foxy can get the bears back to running the ball and playing good defense, they might have a shot. Unfortunately, they’re pretty far gone from being a good offense. Jay’s best shot was while the defensive core of Urlacher, Briggs, Tillman, Jennings, etc was still there, and during those years he was either INTing his team out of playoff contention, getting hurt, or riding the bike on the sidelines in the NFC Championship. (Too soon?) Not to mention, he’s been absolute shit against the Packers, and you kinda have to beat the Packers if you want to be in the playoffs in the NFC North.

Jay, I love ya buddy, but it’s looking like the end is closer rather than further.


Oh man, was that exhausting! Before I finish up, I’m going to do a quick ranking of the rookies from last year.

The Rookies

I want to give my thoughts on Bridgewater Carr and Bortles, but you can’t really put rookies into a list with the rest of the starters. It’s too soon. There’s too small a sample size and you don’t know what they’re going to be. (I remember back in 2012 people were putting RG3 in the top ten, lol.) With rookies what you’re looking for is potential. Every rookie is going to have his fair share of mistakes; that’s what being a rookie in the NFL is about.

Number 1: Derek Carr

I was surprised how much negativity there was surrounding Derek Carr at the end of the season. A lot of people are making noise about his low yards per attempt (5.5), but I don’t think you can judge solely based off the numbers  with rookies. They’re going to make mistakes and they’re usually going to be on bad teams. Like I said above, you have to look for potential and signs of good things. Also let’s remember Carr threw 21 TD to 12 INT. That’s a pretty good ratio for a rookie. Let’s remember that people were praising Sam Bradford big time for his rookie season, which was pretty similar to Carr’s, a lot of pass attempts and not a lot of picks but also a low yards per attempt. Bradford averaged 6 y/a, but he also threw 18 TD to 15 INT. As the years go on you want to see a QB be more aggressive, but as a rookie avoiding mistakes is a good thing, as is showing you can handle a high number of attempts. Let’s also remember y/a is affected by completion percentage as well, not just length of throw. I know Carr seemed to have a decent line, I didn’t see the Raiders games specifically (I did see the highlights) and supposedly he may not have been great on the deep ball, and supposedly advanced stats don’t love him. I don’t know, these are all things I’ve been reading, but I still don’t buy it. I think like I said you can’t judge a rookie based on raw stats, which considering that he was a rookie actually aren’t that bad. But enough of other people’s arguments, lets get to mine.

What really impressed me about Carr was his adjustment to the NFL game. He did a lot of things that are indicative of NFL qb play, and he did so coming from a spread offense. That’s especially impressive, as those guys are always more likely to struggle. This is especially the case with regards to pressure, but Carr seemed to handle pressure very well and showed nice poise. He threw the back shoulder ball very well, which is pretty advanced for a rookie. You saw him read progressions. You saw him move his feet along with his eyes as he went from one side of the field to another. You also saw him do things like check one receiver, come off that receiver, navigate the pocket by sliding his feet, resetting, and hitting another receiver down the field as the pressure closed in. This is all pretty advanced quarterbacking stuff. The raiders lost a lot of games last year, but Carr’s three wins were against very good teams and defenses. Forget his overall numbers, in those wins he was phenomenal and really looked the part. He’s also got the physical skillset. He has a quick release and a strong arm. He reminds you a bit of Aaron Rodgers, in that he’s a medium sized QB with light feet that moves well and has a big time arm with a quick effortless release and throwing motion. His footwork also looks very similar to what Rodgers’s footwork looked like as a rookie. Carr also throws very well on the run. I think after one year the Raiders are very happy with what they saw from Carr.

Number 2: Teddy Bridgewater

Teddy Bridgewater is a savvy kid with a really good feel for the game. He had a great rookie year, probably a little overlooked including by myself as I know he put up some historically good rookie numbers especially to end the season–I’m not going to look them up specifically because I’m trying to not make this analysis just reciting a bunch of stats, but I remember reading that they’re definitely up there for a rookie. He does a lot of things naturally really well. He’s naturally an accurate passer. He’s very quick twitch and does his five step drop and step up very quickly. In that sense he’s similar to Drew Brees, and I think a Drew Brees type player is his ceiling: a very athletic quick twitch athlete who excels at the subtleties of the position, at accuracy, pocket movement, progression reading, and understanding defenses. Brees has a much stronger arm now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you looked up some tape from his old Charger days or even from his college days if he would look similar to Bridgewater. Bridgewater navigates the pocket very well and he understands defenses very well for a rookie. He’s a high completion percentage guy as he’s going to get rid of the ball and take what the defense gives him. His intuitive understanding of pocket movement and where pressure is coming from is a big plus for me. As I believe I talked about with Luck, that’s something you either have or you don’t. I also talked about how a QB’s feet are very indicative of how comfortable he is, and you can see that with Bridgewater. He had some fairly high scoring games to finish the season, and as I mentioned he’s just overall a very poised and savvy kid that understands the game really well. He also can move and throws very well on the run.

So why isn’t he No 1? Indeed I’m sure most people have him as the clear No 1 after last season. For me, it’s because I have big time questions about his arm strength. The ball just does not come out with a lot of pop at all. He throws a very slow ball. He has small hands, and as a result he doesn’t seem to be able to spin the ball. He kind of pushes it. Smart quarterbacks can compensate for arm strength limitations and Bridgewater did this last year. You see it with Peyton all the time. They understand their arm and how long the ball will take to get there, so they throw it at the right time on the proper line. Timing can compensate for a lot, but at some point there are going to be throws you simply can’t make. People get on Dalton a lot for lack of arm strength, but I would say Bridgewater’s arm is worse. I didn’t see the lack of arm strength be a problem for him last year, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future. Also, arm strength isn’t about just throwing it deep. Most QB’s can throw deep. It’s about driving the ball. Drive throws are different than lob/touch throws. I guarantee you the Vikings coaching staff acknowledges this as we saw Norv tweak his offense to fit Bridgewater. You don’t see the deep digs and sideline routes, the seven stop drop and long play actions that you saw with Rivers. There was a lot more shotgun and spread and a lot more quick stuff. It’s great coaching, but always remember that whatever coaches are doing is for a reason: how coaches coach tells you what they think about their players. Bridgewater’s also a little short, and he doesn’t play to help this at all. He doesn’t have as over the top a delivery as he could, and he plays with his knees bent. He’s also kind of a small kid. These physical attributes are a big reason why he likely dropped in the draft process. I worry what happens if the ball’s not coming out, if the pocket’s getting crowded. Will he be able to hang in there and make the throws? Will he get lost in there? That sounds silly but I’m serious. He’s the type of Quarterback that is likely to not be as comfortable in a muddy pocket.

Bridgewater definitely has some limitations, but overall he’s a very smart player and has shown a lot so far, and the Vikings should be in decent shape with him moving forward, especially with AP and Mike Zimmer.

Number 3: Blake Bortles

Bortles is No 3, but that’s not necessarily a knock on him. I like Bortles. He just had your typical tough rookie year. It doesn’t mean at all that he can’t or won’t be successful in the NFL. Let’s not forget he was playing on a jaguars team that lacked playmakers and could not run the ball at all. They wanted Chad Henne to play the year out and ended up playing Bortles sooner than they wanted to. He was thrown to the wolves a bit, and while his individual play wasn’t great, there still is a nice skillset there that you can build on.

Bortles just looks the part. He’s a big kid and as a result he’s fairly calm in the pocket. The bigger the better is usually the case when it comes to quarterbacking. He stands up there on his toes, he can definitely move around if he needs to, and he’s got a nice arm and delivery. He really rips it, but his motions are fairly natural. While it’s not the quickest release, he doesn’t strike me as a guy like Cam or Cutler that will struggle to control his arm and let balls get away from him.

I know it’s preseason, but last year’s preseason he looked phenomenal. During preseason you can’t look at the numbers because it’s easy to put up numbers in preseason. You have to look at the type of throws that are being made, and Bortles was making big time NFL throws. He was throwing it down the field in between coverage, he was audibling when he needed to, and he showed the ability to attack multiple levels of the field while on the run. Once again, he just looks the part.

Now obviously the regular season was a struggle, and he had some things to work on this offseason. His delivery became way too long by the end of the season and he really tightened it up this year, which shows that he’s receptive to coaching. I’m curious to see how he does his sophomore year. The tools are there. I’m not sure if it’s going to happen overnight, and I’m not sure if he’s going to be able to carry a flawed Jacksonville team (if they end up being/staying flawed, which they might not be), but Quarterbacks are always hard to predict after a year. All I can say at this point is he’s got a shot.


Oh, boy! Did I just write over 20,000 words of a blog I’m not getting paid for that two people are going to read? Jeez, what is wrong with me… Imagine all the productive real life stuff I could have finished during this time. Oh well. This is stuff I think about all the time and I wanted to get it out there. It’s a waste just sitting in my head. I didn’t realize it would take this long and it could probably use some… ok a lot… of editing, but I’m glad I did it. Couldn’t quite get it out before the season started, but I think a week in isn’t too bad. Well, I guess that’s it, until next year’s list at least! (Just kidding, I really hope I don’t feel the need to do this again anytime soon…)