You hear the debates all the time as to who the best quarterback in the NFL is right now, whether a quarterback is "elite" or not, and why a quarterback can or can't be considered a "franchise" signal caller. New York Giants' Eli Manning was one of the most polarizing candidates for the debate going into last season. Last season, after Manning won his second Super Bowl and silenced the majority of his critics, the debate has shifted towards guys like Tony Romo and Matt Ryan.
Today at Giants 101, we rank the twelve best quarterbacks in the world going into the 2012 NFL season. Factors considered include (but are not limited to): accomplishments in the league, pure passing ability – accuracy, arm strength, pocket presence, performances in big games and clutch circumstances, the player's value to their team, as well as the direction their career seems to be moving in going forward.
NOTE: Peyton Manning will NOT be included in this list because it is very hard to estimate just how much of an effect his neck injury will have on his play this season and going forward. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are also excluded from the list as rookies.
1. QB Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
The best player in football right now, Aaron Rodgers has a chance to not only have a better career than his Hall of Fame caliber predecessor Brett Favre, but with his unbelievably complete skill set and already impressive list of accomplishments it's not a stretch to say that Rodgers is capable of being one of the four or five best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Accurate with the ability to fit the ball into very tight windows, Rodgers is also very athletic, an extremely capable passer on the run, and a guy with a work ethic that may even exceed his immense talent. The total package.
Here are the facts: Eli Manning has beat Tom Brady, a man widely considered as one of the five best quarterbacks to ever play the game for his two Super Bowl rings. He made more plays than Brady when it counted in both games, and outplayed him in the fourth quarter. Eli Manning has two Super Bowl MVPs. Eli Manning has raised his level of play a notch in clutch situations – whether it be in the fourth quarter or in playoff games. Eli Manning is the most successful quarterback in Giants history and is only about halfway through his NFL career. They say the true measure of a quarterback is how much he can improve the talent around him. Well, take a look at the careers of Plaxico Burress, Steve Smith, and Kevin Boss in their time with Manning and without Manning and you'll get the idea.
Just look at what Manning was able to do last year with an injury riddled offensive line, one of the worst running games in football, and an inconsistent defense that came on late in the year. In short – if you want to be in position to win championships, you want Eli Manning under center.
3. QB Tom Brady – New England Patriots
The second half of his career may not have been filled with as much postseason success and accomplishment as the first, but Tom Brady is still one of the most accurate, consistent, and poised passers in the NFL game. He took a team with a very shaky defense to the Super Bowl last season and was just a drive away from his fourth Super Bowl ring. Clearly one of the best signal callers in the game, but also one of the best signal callers to ever take a snap in the league – Brady has been surrounded with some impressive weapons down in New England and still has a legitimate shot to make a run at one or two more Super Bowls before the end of his career.
4. QB Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints
Extremely accurate and the type of quarterback to rarely have two bad games in a row – Brees broke Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season in 2011 with 5,476 and is clearly the nucleus of that explosive New Orleans offense. He's completely mastered the Sean Payton offense and has shown the ability to overwhelm opposing defenses with his quick decision making and precise accuracy on short and intermediate throws. The Saints need to lock this guy up for the last four to five years of his career here if they want to remain relevant in the NFC will all the issues surrounding their franchise.
5. QB Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers
A two-time Super Bowl champion, Roethlisberger is one of the more unique passers in football. He's almost the size of the defensive ends trying to bring him down and one of the most creative signal callers in the game when he is forced to leave the pocket or make something positive out of a broken play. Roethlisberger's most admirable traits may be his combination of both physical and mental toughness, as he's one of the league's most fierce competitors and someone who inspires teammates around him. He takes good care of the football and rarely puts his football team in bad situations, but also shows the ability to pull them out of those very situations.
6. QB Philip Rivers – San Diego Chargers
He may be coming off a rough season, but there's no question in my mind that Phillip Rivers is one of the best pure passers in the game. He's extremely accurate, very good with his pre-snap reads, and instinctive. The 2008-2010 Phillip Rivers was without a doubt a top five passer in the league. He's taken a step back, but when you look at what he's done over the course of his career, the type of offensive line play he got last season, and the type of competitor he is, it's hard to see Rivers not bouncing back in 2012.
7. QB Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys
His struggles in advancing in the postseason are well documented, but Tony Romo has been one of the more effective passers in the league over the past three seasons. He's athletic, very good at throwing the football on the move, accurate, and knows how to manipulate opposing defenses to his advantage. Romo still has got to show that he can make the big plays when it counts most, but it's hard to overlook this guy's talent and ability to move an offense up and down the football field. If he truly wants to be considered elite however, he will have to take the next step and advance Dallas in the postseason.
8. QB Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons
His strengths come in his knowledge of the game, work ethic, and competitiveness on and off the field. That's not to see Ryan doesn't have the skill set of the league's elite – he's got more than adequate arm strength and throws those vital intermediate routes accurately. But his intangibles set him apart, and he's a guy you can count on consistently as the leader of an offense. He's led the Falcons to the playoffs in three of his first four NFL seasons and while the future certainly looks bright for Matty Ice, he's another player that is now under the microscope as the pressure is on to win a playoff game and take the next step in his career.
9. QB Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions
He's known for his rocket arm and ability to make difficult throws in tight windows, but Stafford is also becoming an efficient passer with a TD-INT ratio of over 2.5 and one of the most productive seasons for a quarterback in NFL history with over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdown passes. It's all about health with Stafford, and just how far along he gets in his development and how far he can lead these Lions team will depend on how much of an affect injuries have on his time on the field and practice field. Ton of potential, but has got to stay on the football field to continue to improve as a football player.
10. QB Michael Vick – Philadelphia Eagles
Dynamic, explosive, and very capable of taking over a football game, it was just a couple of years ago that Mike Vick was in contention for the NFL MVP award with an incredible 2010 campaign with over 3,000 passing yards and 650 rushing yards, along with 30 combined touchdown passes and rushes in just 12 games. Health and consistency are issues here, but Vick is one of the most dangerous players in the league when he's on the field.
11. QB Matt Schaub - Houston Texans
One of the league's more underrated quarterbacks, Schaub is a good decision maker that takes care of the football but also shows good aggression and accuracy as a passer. He shows good football IQ and has been very productive for the Texans, although injuries have certainly held his career back at times, including last season where many felt that Houston could have made a real run at the Super Bowl if he wasn't forced to shut it down for the season.
12. QB Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers
Yes he's young, yes he only has one year in the league – but Newton is coming off one of the most impressive rookie campaigns in NFL history, and did it all with a limited group of offensive weapons outside of Steve Smith. Newton threw for over 4,000 yards and 21 touchdowns, while also rushing for over 700 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Just astounding numbers for a first year player who shows the confidence, poise, and competitiveness of a ten year veteran to go along with his athleticism and big arm. Cam Newton has everything you look for in a franchise signal caller – if he can stay healthy, and keep his focus on football, he will quickly become one of the top passers in the National Football League.
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