NFL

Ranking the 2011 NFL Quarterbacks Eight Weeks Into the Season

Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated (a writer who I really like and who is generally thoughtful and fair) came out with his mid-season list ranking the 2011 quarterbacks. Of course, we all have opinions, and so I’ll provide mine. You then provide yours in the comments, telling me how wrong I am.

To be consistent  with Trotter, I am basing these on the 2011 season so far (with the exception of Carson Palmer, since we only saw him in late desperation action already down big). It’s not based on age, experience, and who I would want for next year or the next five years. It’s going to be more retrodictive, which means that while things like turnovers can be random and often not the quarterbacks fault, big plays like Rivers’ costly fumble do affect how the quarterback did perform. They just won’t necessarily continue. Here’s the list, with comments to follow:

  1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
  2. Tom Brady, New England
  3. Drew Brees, New Orleans
  4. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
  5. Eli Manning, NY Giants
  6. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo
  7. Matt Schaub, Houston
  8. Michael Vick, Philadelphia
  9. Cam Newton, Carolina
  10. Matt Stafford, Detroit
  11. Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee
  12. Tony Romo, Dallas
  13. Alex Smith, San Francisco
  14. Jay Cutler, Chicago
  15. Matt Ryan, Atlanta
  16. Philip Rivers, San Diego
  17. Mark Sanchez, NY Jets
  18. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati
  19. Matt Cassel, Kansas City
  20. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay
  21. Joe Flacco, Baltimore
  22. Colt McCoy, Cleveland
  23. Christian Ponder, Minnesota
  24. Sam Bradford, St. Louis
  25. Carson Palmer, Oakland
  26. Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle
  27. Kevin Kolb, Arizona
  28. Tim Tebow, Denver
  29. Curtis Painter, Indianapolis
  30. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville
  31. John Beck, Washington
  32. Matt Moore, Miami

Aaron Rodgers is the clear #1, but then I have Brady and Brees as the next two, pretty clearly above the rest for me. Trotter has Roethlisberger #2. This feels like a recency thing, based on Big Ben carving up the 32nd best pass defense in the league and Brady and Brees both playing perhaps their worst games of the year. I cannot forget the rest of the year, though. Fine, Brees has 10 interceptions. He also touches it a lot. His interception rate is 2.9%, which is exactly league average, and he’s well above average in everything else–high completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns, avoiding sacks. Accounting for the fact he has no fumbles, Brees is actually above average at avoiding turnovers. He’s been involved in 375 plays as a passer or runner (46.9 per game!). Big Ben has 11 turnovers in 329 plays, it just so happens that 4 of them are fumbles.I have Big Ben at the start of the next tier, along with Eli Manning, who is playing well with turnover at the skill positions. Fitzpatrick, Schaub, Vick, Newton and Stafford round out that tier for this season. Schaub has played well since the interception near the end of the Oakland game (and he wasn’t going to make it running, and he had to force it there with the clock expiring) without Andre Johnson. If Vick plays like this last Sunday, then he shoots up, but he had some costly turnovers and inconsistent play earlier. Cam Newton is higher on Trotter’s list, and would be in my top 5 if we are talking future value. I said he would be one of the five best rookie quarterbacks of the modern era, and I stand by that. He’s been amazing at times. He’s also made some costly errors and missed some red zone throws that could have swung games. Outside the top 5 but in the top 1o feels right if we are talking just this year, taking the good with the bad.

In the next tier, Hasselbeck is underrated for how he has played, considering how bad the running game has been, and that he has a very pedestrian group of receivers with Britt gone. He has also played a very difficult passing schedule and is doing better than the average quarterback once we account for opponent. Romo had the costly plays in the Detroit game and Jets game that bump him down, but also has dealt with a lot of injuries and an inexperienced line and made several good ones. Alex Smith, I cannot put higher, but he is playing well. He simply is not asked to do what many of the quarterbacks in front of him are, has a great running game and defense. Jay Cutler has played better than last year and better than his numbers. That line, and Roy Williams, and losing his tight end? A lot of quarterbacks would have crumbled there.

Matt Ryan has come on recently after a rough start behind a struggling line, Rivers would normally be in the top 6 to 8 but has had some costly errors. Sanchez has been too inconsistent, going long stretches without first downs, but also continues to show flashes. Dalton’s getting a little too much credit now, playing well for a rookie but shouldn’t be top 11. He threw 2 picks when leading in the 4th in the last game, which gets guys like Romo and Rivers crucified. They just people to confuse special teams and defensive touchdowns as being magically caused by the quarterback.

I want to put Josh Freeman higher, and I think he improves, but he’s been too hit or miss in games this year. Mike Williams disappearing hasn’t helped. Joe Flacco is the elite of the quarterbacks ranked in the 20′s.

I add Carson Palmer, not at the end, but in the “here’s where I would take a chance on Carson Palmer” tier, based on how he played last year, and with a layoff and a bye week now in Oakland to get practice time. Christian Ponder we’ve had too small of a sample size, and I’m giving Sam Bradford a bit of a pass for the Amendola injury, the bad supporting cast and his own injuries. He’ll get a chance to throw to Lloyd when he returns, and gets some better matchups.

Below the Palmer line, Kevin Kolb has to be the biggest disappointment. I didn’t expect him to light it up or be a pro bowler, but I thought he would fall more in the Matt Cassel range. He’s an upgrade over what they had last year, but that’s because the Arizona QB’s from 2010 would be #33 on this list. I actually don’t have Tebow last. He’s been brutal for stretches, but he also had that late charge against San Diego and the comeback at Miami. His receivers aren’t nearly as good as what Curtis Painter has in Indianapolis with Lloyd gone. Painter strikes me as a guy who will never get to 8 more starts after this season, ever.

Blaine Gabbert has been the worst by the numbers, but at least flashes some good throws. He has faced a really tough slate of pass defenses also, so he hasn’t gotten an opportunity against a weak defense and his “best” receiver is Jason Hill. John Beck is John Beck. I mean, he is a master at not scoring points, and I know his line is a wreck. I would still have Grossman more in the Tarvaris range on this list. Finally, Matt Moore isn’t so bad. He can get you a good pick. Just ask Carolina.

[photo via Getty]

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