This is something I put together every year when things hit a dead period in the NFL. Unfortunately, the NFL has been in a dead period for about two months now with the exception of the draft, and even that seemed lacking without the ability to make proper trades.
I’ll be giving you my top five at every position, and naturally we start with the quarterbacks in reverse order.
5. Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints
It was a down year for Brees who played most of the season with a bum knee, and he still managed to complete over 68 percent of his passes and throw for over 4,600 yards and 33 touchdowns. Brees did sling an unimpressive 22 interceptions, but a lot of that can be put on the injury and a path-work backfield for most of the season.
When quarterbacks are asked to do it all, especially while injured, they’re going to throw a bit more interceptions. Given his track record, we can forgive this past season’s high number.
The Saints drafted Mark Ingram in the first round to help give Brees a break by giving him a more consistent running game and his knee should be 100 percent when the season starts (that’s right, I said when), so I expect him to pick up where he left off in 2009 and have the Saints making a serious push in the NFC.
4. Philip Rivers – San Diego Chargers
There’s a strong possibility that Rivers is the most underrated non-lineman in the league. I qualify that statement with “non-lineman” because there isn’t a single offensive or defensive lineman that gets the full credit he deserves. So after all those guys, Rivers is probably next in line.
Even without his top two receiving targets last season and a lacking running attack, Rivers still managed to throw for over 4,700 yards, 30 touchdowns to 13 interceptions and completed 66 percent of his passes. Once Chargers owner Dean Spanos wises up and tosses GM A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner and replaces them with someone even a notch above competent, the league won’t be able to stop Rivers from winning Super Bowls.
3. Tom Brady – New England Patriots
I know this one is going to draw some ire and earn me some new less-than-flattering nicknames, but I can’t shake the feeling that Brady is propped up by the system in New England. That’s not to say he’s not a great quarterback, it’s just to say there are at least two quarterbacks I would take ahead of him if I were going to build my franchise.
When things go the way he expects them to go, Brady is almost unstoppable. However, when he has a curveball thrown at him he seems to freeze up a little bit. It doesn’t happen often because, for the most part, things go the way they should thanks in large part to the system, but I always think back to the 2007 Super Bowl as an example.
The Giants got in his face and gave him something for which he was not prepared. He had to pick himself up out of the dirt and it really seemed to stick in his head throughout the entire game. He didn’t step into his throws as much and just seemed generally rattled.
The problem here is I spend so much time defending my lower ranking for Brady than most would give him that it starts to look like I don’t appreciate what he does as a quarterback, and that’s just not true. He is coming in at third, after all.
2. Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
Perhaps I’m guilty of hopping the bandwagon and giving this ranking based on what I think Rodgers can accomplish in the future rather than what he’s done to this point, but it’s hard not to love Rodgers. The way he commanded that Packers offense all season long, and especially in the playoffs, was nothing short of spectacular.
He got more help in the playoffs than in the regular season from his running game, but it was basically non-existent all year and he was still able to get the Pack into the playoffs and do his damage from there. Sure, they only squeaked in the playoffs, but he did just what he had to do to get them to the dance and then he tangoed his ass right to a Super Bowl ring.
His ability to throw the ball on a dime paired with his underrated running abilities could make him the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL for a long time if his offensive line can keep him upright and injury-free.
1. Peyton Manning – Indianapolis Colts
It’s incredible how much talk there is about Manning and his down year in 2010. When you’re the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, I suppose completing 66 percent of your passes while throwing for over 4,700 yards, 33 touchdowns to 17 interceptions certainly seems like a down year.
When it comes down to it, no one does more for their team than Manning. He not only plays quarterback, but he’s essentially the offensive coordinator and always has been. Most mistake what he does at the line of scrimmage for audibles, but in reality what he’s doing is reading the defense and calling the play at the line. The most Tom Moore has ever done for him is call in concepts and allowed Manning to make a choice from about three different concepts.
If he were allowed to just play quarterback, his stats would be mind-boggling and he might have four or five Super Bowl rings right now, regardless of the poor defenses he’s had over the years.
On top of everything he usually has to do for the Colts offense, he had to do even more in 2010. The skill guys around him were dropping like flies all year and he was asked to throw the ball more than ever has in his career — a whopping 679 times.
To put that in context, Manning completed almost as many passes (450) as Brady even attempted (492).
So while 17 interceptions might seem like a lot, it looks a lot better when you considered the fact that in 2009 he threw the ball over 100 times less (571) and threw 16 interceptions.
Most quarterbacks given the responsibilities Manning is given would completely crumble. I don’t know if there’s a single quarterback in the league now or ever who could handle what Manning seemingly does with ease. He is not only the best quarterback playing today, he is the best quarterback to ever throw a football.