by Devin McMillan
The NFL season is almost here. Everyone’s making lists, rankings, predictions, etc, so I’d figured I may as well jump into the mix with my 2014 Preseason NFL Quarterback Rankings. There are tons of QB rankings in existence with various criteria. While my rankings are not exactly lifetime achievement awards, consistency definitely plays a significant role in my thought process. HOWEVER, while a bad season by a good QB may drop him a notch or a few in my mind, it doesn’t necessarily mean I will rank that QB below a quarterback who has only had one or two good seasons. For example, even though Eli Manning threw the football to the opposing team 27 times last season, it doesn’t necessarily mean I will rank him under someone like Nick Foles, who only threw it to the other team twice. There are some young QB’s who still need to show and prove for at least another season to reach their potential on this list. So in essence, your past body of work does indeed have meaning here, but it is just a major variable among variables. So without further ado, here is where I currently rank the 32 starting QB’s in the National Football League:
1. Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
Now 38 years old, “The Sheriff” is coming off the very best season of his storied career as he led the 13-3 Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl, only to be destroyed by the Seattle Seahawks. The beatdown was so brutal, it makes it easy to forget that Manning completed 68.3% of his passes last season, for 5477 yards, 55 TD passes, just 10 INTs, and a hefty passer rating of 115.1, while starting all 16 regular season games. It will be interesting to see how he will come back after such a deflating loss in the Super Bowl, but after a ridiculous season this late in a ridiculous career, it’s only right that he enter the 2014 campaign in the top spot.
2. Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
Prior to the resurgence of Peyton Manning, I had Aaron Rodgers ranked as the best QB in the NFL. Even with the resurgence of the Denver signal-caller, an argument can still be made for Rodgers. What may play against him in the “best in the league” argument is the fact that injuries limited him to 9 games last season. While his bottom-line statistics suffered due to missed time, Manning lit the league on fire with record numbers. However, in those 9 games, Rodgers still proved his importance to the Green Bay Packers and his stature in the NFL. The team went 6-3 with him at the helm, while only posting a 2-4-1 record without him. His 104.9 QB rating was among the tops in the league and a healthy Aaron Rodgers will be looking to reclaim his top-spot in the upcoming season.
3. Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints
Another 5162 yards, another 39 TDs, another 104.7 QB rating, another year at the office for Drew Brees. His continuance of a consistent assault on the NFL record books, along with the return of his head coach Sean Payton, helped the New Orleans Saints climb right back into the ranks of contenders last season (11-5), after a brief fall-off (7-9) in the 2012 season. “The Little QB That Could” continues to defy the odds, and with his #1 target (Jimmy Graham) locked in, and last year’s 4th ranked defense, he should prove his ranking once again with another successful season down by the Bayou.
4. Tom Brady – New England Patriots
Tom Brady is greatness personified. While throwing mainly to a group of rookies last season, “Tom Terrific” still amassed over 4000 yards (6th time in his career) and 25 TDs (9th time in his career). Even though he had a bit of a “down” year statistically, his steady hand still helped to guide a consistent New England Patriots franchise to a 12-4 mark, another division title, and an 8th Conference Championship Game appearance under his leadership. He hasn’t displayed any real signs of slowing down, so his place in the top 5 should be secure for the foreseeable future.
5. Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts
I struggled with the decision to put Andrew Luck this high on my list. However, the proof is in the pudding with this guy. In my opinion, he is BY FAR the best QB in the newer crop of signal callers. He has not registered eye-popping statistics thus far in his tenure, but since joining the 2-14 (2011) Indianapolis Colts for the start of the 2012 season, he’s led them to back-to-back 11-5 campaigns, at a time that we all thought the team would be in rebuilding mode. He just has….”IT”….whatever “IT” is. What better answer than “Andrew Luck” is there to the question, “which NFL QB would you take to start/build a team around right now”? I imagine he’ll be shooting up to the top of this list within the next few seasons.
6. Philip Rivers – San Diego Chargers
He’s baaaack!!! Phillip Rivers has been described by Jimmy Williams of War Room Sports, as the “Nas” of NFL quarterbacks. He “went from top 10 to not mentioned at all”, but the 2013 NFL season was his Stillmatic album of sorts, triumphantly returning him to the elite of the league. In leading the Chargers to a surprise playoff berth last season, Rivers completed 69.5% of his passes, for 4478 yards, 32 TDs, against 11 interceptions, while posting a 105.5 passer rating (following back-to-back years of 88.7 & 88.6 passer ratings respectively).
7. Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers
Team success has been waning in “The Steel City” as of late, but “Big Ben” is still a very effective quarterback. It seems as if his arsenal gets depleted every year, as he has lost another big target in Emmanuel Sanders this offseason. However, with a reliable Antonio Brown, a steady Heath Miller, all-purpose rookie Dri Archer, and the “Mary-Jane Brothers” in the backfield, Ben Roethlisberger should once again justify his top 10 status among NFL signal callers.
8. Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys
Probably the most hated quarterback in the entire NFL, I feel Tony Romo is a bit underappreciated. Never lacking statistical success, Romo is usually solely blamed for the underachievement of the Dallas Cowboys as a whole, year in and year out. I’d venture to say that without Romo, the Cowboys wouldn’t even sniff the .500 record they’ve earned the past three seasons. For you stat guys out there, it’s ironic that Romo has such a reputation of being a choker, considering his 69.6 completion percentage and 105.6 passer rating in the fourth quarter just last year. He is one of the active leaders with 11 fourth quarter comebacks in the past three seasons and for his career, he has led 20 fourth quarter comebacks and 23 game-winning drives. With all those facts uncovered, I still have eyes, and yes, I’ve most certainly seen Tony Romo make several untimely mistakes that has cost his team. However, his mistakes aren’t as glaring as that Cowboys defense that ranked DEAD LAST in the NFL last season. Well, I guess it is as glaring…if that’s what you WANT your eyes to see. Romo may not even last the entirety of this season, as he is still dealing with back issues. But either way, I predict another disappointing campaign for him and his “Boys”.
9. Eli Manning – New York Giants
It is rather difficult to justify Eli Manning remaining in the top 10 of NFL QB’s, but this is a case where a guy has some historical credit in his wallet. A TERRIBLE season in 2013 saw the two-time Super Bowl MVP toss the ball to the other team at an alarming rate. With only 18 TD passes, 27 interceptions, and the lowest passer rating since his rookie season (69.4), Eli can only go back up from here. The team sounds confident that he will do just that under the Giants’ new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who brings along an entirely new system. One more season like last year and Eli can kiss my top 10 good-bye. The younger Manning has always earned his keep in the playoffs. Now if only the Giants can make it back to the playoffs, Eli can get back into his element.
10. Jay Cutler – Chicago Bears
What will another year under Marc Trestman do for Jay Cutler? Along with one of the best wide receiver tandems and one of the best receiving running backs in the NFL, I think it will do wonders. His first season under Trestman was cut short by a torn groin muscle. While on the shelf, he had to sit back and watch his backup become the most popular guy in town by actually playing better than he did. Now with McCown in Tampa, he can concentrate on performing without having to look over his shoulder. A confident Jay Cutler is a scary Jay Cutler.
11. Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons
“Matty Ice” played significant portions of the 2013 season without his main offensive weapons. Roddy White missed 3 games and was clearly not healthy throughout the season while dealing with a high ankle sprain and then a hamstring. Steven Jackson missed 4 games dealing with a hamstring of his own. Budding star Julio Jones spent the final 11 games of 2013 on injured reserve after fracturing his right foot, which already had a screw in it. Left tackle Sam Baker also went to injured reserve after missing 5 weeks with a left knee injury. Unfortunately, Sam Baker will also miss the entire 2014 campaign with a torn patellar tendon, suffered in a preseason loss to the Houston Texans, this time in his right knee. Everyone else is back, even though Steven Jackson is battling through another hamstring injury and legendary tight end Tony Gonzalez has called it quits. Many see Matt Ryan as an elite QB. Injuries are always a devastating obstacle to overcome, but elite QB’s rise to the occasion. While Ryan’s numbers didn’t suffer last season, he obviously didn’t make a big enough impact to overcome the obstacles. Will he live up to his billing this season?
12. Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions
Matt Stafford is the personification of the term “stat-monster”. In the past three seasons alone (his only three as a full 16-game starter); he has passed for 14,655 yards and 90 touchdowns. The problem is…he’s only led the talent-laden Detroit Lions to the postseason once in 5 years. In his short career, Stafford has led 10 fourth quarter comebacks and 12 game-winning drives, but cannot seem to translate his late-game heroics into playoff berths. The Lions again have high expectations in a very competitive NFC North division this season, but they’ll only go as far as their 6th year passer will take them.
13. Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks
The quarterback of the reigning Super Bowl champs hasn’t rang up eye-popping numbers, but he has been much more than a “game manager”. In his first two NFL seasons, Wilson has shown remarkable poise and maturity while being asked to lead a team that was ready to contend in every other area. He has thrived in the role of the Seahawks’ only “question mark” and has answered every question quite impressively. Blessed with special instincts and athletic ability, Russell is a passer who runs when he HAS TO, and is not afraid to slide and live to play another play. Admittedly, the way the defense played in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seahawks would have won with me under center that night. However, Russell Wilson’s impact in leading them there should not be overlooked. He went through some young quarterback struggles along the way, but he never completely hit the wall. I’m sure the Hawks’ defense will struggle at some point and we’ll get to see how Russell responds when the rest of the team is depending on him to hold them down through a rough patch.
14. Andy Dalton – Cincinnati Bengals
I didn’t understand the amount of opposition to Andy Dalton’s new deal in Cincinnati. He has shown marked improvement in each of his 3 years in the league, and has led the Bengals to the postseason in all 3 seasons as well. However, the playoffs are where Dalton’s struggles have been most prevalent. In 3 playoff games, he has thrown 1 touchdown against 6 interceptions, and his passer rating has fallen to 56.2 from 85.7 in three regular seasons. If Dalton is to stay on the top half of this list, he must start performing in the postseason.
15. Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers
Most likely the most physically imposing QB in the league, Cam Newton took no time surpassing the expectations of many doubters, including myself, after being chosen #1 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. In 3 seasons, Cam has accounted for 92 total touchdowns (64 passing and 28 rushing), two Pro-Bowl appearances, and one playoff game. The Panthers brass hasn’t exactly blessed Newton with world-beaters on the outside, but great QB’s don’t always need big-name receivers to be great. It’s up to Cam to lift the level of play of everyone else on that offense. He has. He will.
16. Nick Foles – Philadelphia Eagles
2014 is a very important year for Nick Foles. After a brilliant 2013 campaign, filling in for the oft-injured Mike Vick and becoming the Eagles’ full-time starter, Foles has to prove that last season’s success wasn’t just an aberration. The decision-making ability that led to his “27 TDs vs. 2 INTs” performance in 2013 needs to be on full display this season, in order to win over a tough crowd in Philly. Foles can go either way here. A season like, or close to last year’s, could vault him up this list, just as a bad season could easily send him on a slide down these rankings. He is currently a victim of his own sample size.
17. Colin Kaepernick – San Francisco 49ers
Prior to last season, Ron Jaworski said that Colin Kaepernick “could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever”. Even though football fans went crazy at the prospect, I understood that “Jaws” was merely making a point about Kap’s skill set and potential. If the young quarterback wants to realize anything close to that potential, he has to be more consistent. He has games where that “upside” in on full display, but he’ll follow it up with a stinker or two that makes you doubt that he can lead the Niners to a Super Bowl victory. You know the clichés: “You’re only as good as your last game”; “what have you done for me lately?”; yadda, yadda yadda. Just remember, this is only Kap’s second year as a full-time starter, and with his new contract, he has plenty of motivation to chase Jaws’ vision of him.
18. Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens
Two seasons ago, Joe Flacco concluded one of the greatest postseason runs we’d ever seen with the Super Bowl XLVII MVP award. Last season, the newly-minted $120.6 Million Man followed it up with a 19 touchdown, 22 interception, clunker of a season, that saw he and the reigning Super Bowl champs left on the outside of the playoffs. I’ve certainly seen him play at a level that would put him much higher on this list. Will we ever see that again?
19. Alex Smith – Kansas City Chiefs
What you CANNOT deny over the past three seasons is that Alex-Smith-led teams win. However, the issue with many fans and analysts is whether or not his teams win BECAUSE of him or simply because they are good teams. He has been branded with the dreaded title of “game manager”, and though he boasts the 4th highest TD to INT ratio in the NFL over the past three seasons, I am tempted to attribute that statistic to his perceived fear of letting the ball fly in certain situations. Alex Smith believes he is a franchise quarterback. He also believes that he is a major reason behind last year’s turnaround of the Kansas City Chiefs. Strapped with a new 4-year/$68 Million extension, Smith will set out to make the rest of us believe it as well.
20. Robert Griffin III – Washington Professional Football Team
Even coming off the knee injury suffered in the lone playoff game of his brilliant rookie season, I personally thought year two was a great opportunity for Robert Griffin III to shake the growing “running quarterback” label and show off his chops as a passer. The scouting report coming out of Baylor read that RG3 was a passer that just happened to possess world-class speed. In a year where his mobility was limited, he didn’t show this to be true. Now with a new coaching staff in place, he has another opportunity to show us that he can achieve super-stardom in this league as a passer. He has a full cupboard of weaponry to utilize in his quest to prove doubters wrong. Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts, Jordan Reed, and Alfred Morris in the backfield could be a frightening prospect for opposing defenses. It all comes down to what Griffin can do behind an improving offensive line. It’s a HUGE year for RG3.
21. Carson Palmer – Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer will never again be the quarterback that he was on his way to being in his second and third seasons in the NFL, but he still has enough left in the tank to lead a talented Arizona Cardinals team to a playoff berth. In order to be that guy, especially in the tough NFC West, Palmer must cut down on the turnovers. A focused Carson Palmer can still pull out the carving knives from time to time, but in those moments that he loses focus, he’s prone to bad mistakes. Without a legitimate threat holding the clipboard behind him, the team is his. What he does with it in 2014 remains to be seen.
22. Ryan Tannehill – Miami Dolphins
From year #1 to year #2, Ryan Tannehill improved his completion percentage (+2.1), his passing yards (+619), his TD passes (+12), unfortunately his interceptions (+4), and his passer rating (+5.6). However, his improvement only contributed to one more game in the “win column” for the Miami Dolphins. The young signal caller has shown plenty of poise in the pocket and he’s on track to becoming a very good quarterback in this league. What I question however, is will his impact increase with his quarterback skills? That remains to be seen.
23. Josh McCown – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
66.5% completions, 1829 yards, 13 TDs, 1 INT, 109 passer rating, 3 wins, 2 losses. These are Josh McCown’s numbers in the 8 appearances (5 starts) he made for an injured Jay Cutler last season in Chicago. This put the 12th-year journeyman back onto to NFL radars, which resulted in a starting job in Tampa Bay. The pressure to perform is high, as the Buccaneers are being touted by many as a team on the rise this season. McCown has unseated a capable second year guy in Mike Glennon, who played fairly well in 13 starts in his rookie campaign last year. I don’t think anyone expects Josh to play at the clip in which he played last season in Chicago, but how well does he have to play to keep the youngster on the bench?
24. Matt Cassel – Minnesota Vikings
After a pretty good preseason by both quarterbacks, Matt Cassel beat out rookie Teddy Bridgewater for the starting job…but how long will he keep it? The only way I see Cassel holding onto the spot for the duration of the season is if the Vikings are winning games. That’s a tough order in the competitive NFC North division. Cassel played in 9 games last season and started 6 for the Vikings, so it’s obvious that he has the edge due to knowledge and experience. Though he’s a viable NFL quarterback, make no mistake, Cassel is simply playing the role of “seat-filler” for the next “future of the franchise” in Teddy Bridgewater.
25. Ryan Fitzpatrick – Houston Texans
Ryan Fitzpatrick is with his third team in three years. How much should we read into that? The 2005 seventh-round pick from Harvard has had some semblance of success in this league, which prompted the Buffalo Bills to pull the trigger on a 6-year/$59 Million deal ($24 Million guaranteed) after a 4-2 start back in 2011. The Bills won only 2 more games that season and Fitzpatrick finished with a career-high 23 interceptions. As a matter of fact, he’d only go on to win 8 more games as the Bills’ starting QB after the ink dried on that contract. Last year, he started 9 games for the Tennessee Titans and led them to a 3-6 record while tossing 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, while filling in for the oft-injured Jake Locker. The Houston Texans have the talent to bounce back from a disastrous 2013 season, but I’d say the biggest question mark is the quarterback position.
26. Geno Smith – New York Jets
Geno Smith was thrown into the fire last season in his rookie year. His response wasn’t very consistent. He had his moments where he appeared to be “steadying the ship”, but overall, turnovers were his undoing. In 16 starts, he tossed 12 touchdowns against 21 interceptions, while leading the NY Jets to an 8-8 record. The Jets believe they can contend for a playoff spot this year so they’ve hedged their bet by adding veteran QB Michael Vick, to give Geno a little push. We’ll see how he responds in his sophomore year.
27. Shaun Hill – St. Louis Rams
Thrust into the starting role due to yet another ACL tear for Sam Bradford, Shaun Hill evidently inspires enough confidence in Rams’ head coach Jeff Fisher to stand pat, instead of making a desperate move to bring in another QB. On the other hand, it could be that Fisher doesn’t want to give up drafts picks for someone else’s backup and actually save them for a run at his own rookie stud in the upcoming draft. Yeah, I’ll go with that. However, Shaun Hill has ample experience in this league and could prove to be a very good stopgap in the meantime. He has started 26 games between San Francisco & Detroit, and has thrown 41 touchdowns against 23 interceptions. He is steady, and besides, it’s not as if we knew exactly what we would get from Bradford in the first place.
28. Chad Henne – Jacksonville Jaguars
Just like Matt Cassel, 4 spots up this list, Chad Henne will start the season filling a seat for the “future of the franchise”. The difference in this situation, is that his rookie backup (for now), Blake Bortles, clearly outplayed him in the preseason. It’s clear that Jags’ head coach Gus Bradley isn’t quite ready to throw his new toy into the fire, but judging from Chad Henne’s NFL resume (55 TDs/62 INTs/ 18-32 record as a starter), I presume that we’ll see Bortles at some point this season.
29. Jake Locker – Tennessee Titans
Jake Locker is entering his 4th season in the NFL, but we still don’t know enough about him. Since becoming the Titans’ starter in 2012, he has missed significant time, only starting 18 of 32 games, with a myriad of injuries (foot, hip, and shoulder). Any time he has started to show promise, he goes down with an injury. I believe this is a “make or break” year for Locker. If he can remain healthy, he has a lot to prove.
30. E.J. Manuel – Buffalo Bills
Manuel’s shaky rookie campaign was limited to 10 games due to not one, not two, but THREE knee injuries. In those 10 games, we really couldn’t get much of a glimpse into the future, so this is the year for him to prove to Bills fans that their team made the right decision in making him the first QB off the board in the 2013 NFL Draft. He hasn’t looked great in this year’s training camp and preseason, but hopefully that all will change when the ball is kicked off on Sunday. In an attempt to sure up the depth at the position, the Bills have signed veteran Kyle Orton to be the team’s backup. If at any point during the season, the keys need to be turned over to Orton, the Bills may be back in the market for a QB in the offseason. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
31. Brian Hoyer – Cleveland Browns
With a lot of help from his teammates, Brian Hoyer struggled throughout the 2014 preseason; however this did not prevent Browns’ head coach Mike Pettine from naming the 6th year backup QB his starter over rookie sensation and Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel. Hoyer started 3 games last season, subbing for the injured Brandon Weeden, before going down in the third game with a torn ACL on an awkward slide and hit from Bills’ linebacker Kiko Alonso. He was impressive in the first two games however, throwing 5 touchdown passes and 2 interceptions, while leading the Browns to consecutive victories (they also won the third game, even though Hoyer went down in the first quarter). How long will his leash be, considering the highly-touted “Johnny Football” is lurking behind his shoulder?
32. Derek Carr – Oakland Raiders
Derek “was just handed the keys to this” Carr a couple days prior to the official start of the NFL season. Even though his head coach touted Matt Shaub as the starter all throughout camp and preseason, Carr’s early development gave Dennis Allen the confidence to roll the dice on his 2nd round rookie. We’re hoping that playing right away doesn’t have the same effect on Derek as it did on his brother David, but Oakland’s offensive line should be good enough to avoid that from happening.
HAPPY FOOTBALL SEASON EVERYBODY!!!
Devin McMillan of The War Room, for War Room Sports