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Every three weeks, Sports of New York will examine the top ten quarterbacks in the NFL. As the year takes shape, intangibles such as leadership 4th quarter effectiveness will be factored in with greater proportion to statistics and performance indicators based on the 2010 season.
1. Tom Brady: Aaron Rodgers is an imminent threat to dethrone Brady after the New England Patriot QB misfired for 4 INTs against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Still, Brady’s 900+ yards passing the first two weeks are so gaudy, that you can’t help but to think another mesmerizing clip is just around the corner. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Brady has put up sublime ouput before: in 2007, he passed for 50 touchdown passes in route to arguably the best regular season quarterback performance of all time.
2. Aaron Rodgers: The median number of pass attempts this season has thus far been at a staggering 36 a game, which gleans that many average to mediocre quarterbacks are passing the ball too frequently. It also supports just how terrific Aaron Rodgers’ game has been this year- his average pass attempts is currently in the bottom third of the league (21st), and yet his game has been the model of torrid efficiency: Rodgers has a 120.9 QB rating, 7 TDs to 1 INT, and is averaging an impressive 12 yards per completion. What’s most awe-inspiring about Rodger’s performance has been his career red-zone conversion-to-interception ratio: a godly 60 to 2.
3. Peyton Manning: He’s listed because his absence in the NFL changes the regular season landscape like no other player’s in the league would. Because he’s still the best regular season quarterback of all time, at least until Tom Brady passes for 5,000 yards this season. Because a top ten QB list without paying reverence at least once to Manning, reminding the rest of the NFL for the umpteenth time just how lucky they are not to have to deal with him this year, would be sacrilege.
4. Drew Brees – Brees is an old fashioned, pass-happy in the pocket QB who’s averaging a tidy 43 passes a game thus far in the 2011 season. High-volume passing has become the routine trend for Brees – in 2010, he averaged 41 throws a game, not factoring in the 60 pass attempts he made during New Orleans shocking loss to the woeful NFC West charity berth Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs. Brees’s offensive production has been tremendous thus far – last year he completed 68% of his passes, and this year is QB rating is a 109.7. Still, you can’t ignore the toll that New Orlean’s inflated pass offense will have on Brees’s arm strength and acuity – along with Brees’s 33 touchdowns in 2010, he had 22 interceptions last year. One has to wonder at 32 years old, if the demands on Brees remaing so staggeringly high, whether he will run out of gas and commit even more costly errors later in the season.
5. Michael Vick: Before his head was walloped like a piñata during last Sunday’s physical contest against the Falcons, he was pacing for ~350 yards passing and three or four touchdowns against a formidable Falcons defense. The following week, against the Giants, Vick had amassed a respectable 16-23, 170 yards, 0TD, 0INT with the Eagles down 14-13 before, once again, he sustained an sidelining injury, this time a bruise to his right hand. It’s inferable that if Vick remained in last Sunday’s contest and had the opportunity to continually apply pressure against a questionable Giants secondary, and he may have passed for close to 300 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Bottom line: it’s only Week 4, and I’ll still take a questionable Michael Vick who is performing extremely well when he is on the field, to any quarterbacks listed below on this list. This is particularly so considering that Vick doesn’t need to be a high-volume player in order to win games: as defenses may adjust properly to one-dimensional pass first offenses later this season, they will still struggle against Vick’s multifaceted game.
6. Phillip Rivers: Too many costly errors during key points in football contests, a lack of great options and a strong running game and a team defense notwithstanding. He has thrown for two interceptions in each of the last two games, once against a porous New England Patriots secondary, and the other against an otherwise hapless Kansas City Chiefs squad. Ironically, while Rivers seems to be making more errors on the field, his aggressiveness has receded thus far in the season: Rivers is dumping 38% of his passes to running backs as opposed to 28% from 2010. He currently ranks this high because he has, arguably, been in the top three most dominant regular season quarterbacks over the last three seasons, which augurs well for an explosive Rivers’ stretch in the near future.
7. Ryan Fitzpatrick: Based strictly on a qualitative analysis, it was to be expected the Fitzpatrick would put up strong numbers against the Patriots last Sunday, whose defense has been shoddy this year. It was by far more dubious whether the upstart QB, who came into Sunday’s game with a 109 QB rating, 7 TDs and 2 INTs, would perform admirably against a dynastic football team in a contest touted as a true indicator of whether the Bills are legitimate playoff contenders. Fitzpatrick passed for a respectable 27-40 for 369 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Not an impeccable performance, but the kid can hold his own and put up an effective performance in big games.
8. Ben Roethlisberger: He was number five on my prior list, unti my buddy “E” (what Entourage has done for the all the Eric’s in this world), a professional poker player, explained that my reasoning was fallacious. According to “E,” I weighed Superbowl rings a little too heavily and contextual factors such as to which team a quarterback belongs and just how influential his play on its own is to his team’s overall success too lightly. I still wasn’t buying E’s argument, but then Big Ben threw up a total stinker against the rival Baltimore Ravens, and followed that up with an unremarkable performances against woeful Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts squads, his arguments appeared by far more meritorious. Think about it- place Roethlisberger in San Diego, New Orleans, or Philadelphia, and do any of these teams enjoy the same success they’ve had since they acquired the quarterbacks ahead of Big Ben on this list?
9. Matt Stafford: Yes, he’s arrived, and so have the Detroit Lions. Too soon? Too unproven? Consider this: you know how the “dark horse” tag is just a hip label as opposed to a real assessment? Virtually every media pundit in the country predicted the “dark horse” Lions to make the playoffs coming out of the ultra competitive NFC North, and to do well once there. Or, when during a fantasy draft, when someone picks up Stafford in an early round, first there is an acknowledgment that the choice was to be expected, followed by a few reverential groans spread across the room as owners cross him off the top of their draft lists. Stafford’s play thus far this year? 9TD, 2 INT, and a 110.7 QB rating. If he performs well against tougher competition, he may very well leap-frog ahead a couple of names whose rankings were buoyed by their 2010 regular season performances.
10. Matt Schaub: On a statistical basis, factoring in his 2010 season performance as well, he deserves to be a couple of ranks higher than 10th. However, Stafford and Fitzpatrick have had such blazing performances to open 2011, and show more upside than Schaub. Maybe I’m a sucker for new-found sensations and should be Schaub ahead of both of them, or maybe I’m letting the Houston Texans’ continual string of mediocre seasons adversely influence an objective analysis of Schaub’s performance alone. Then again, Schaub’s paltry 1 INT to 2 TDs against a wilting Colts secondary in Game 1 makes me wary to rank him higher for now, and I forsee those players ranked ahead of Schaub making more special plays as the season proceeds.
Sanchez, thus far, is still an inconsistent quarterback with remarkable arm strength and uncanny 4th quarter composure; he ranks in the middle of the pack amongst other young quartertbacks with unfulfilled upside. Eli Manning’s performance against an albeit still-gelling Phladelphia Eagles secondary was impressive, particularly given that Manning is working with such a green receiving core. Still, you have to wonder about how Manning would have performed if Vick were still on the field, and the Eagles were either ahead in the 4th quarter or breathing heavily down the Giants’ necks. Let’s see if Eli can continue a string of strong performances during key inter-divisional contests, and maybe there will actually be a legitimate reason to label him as a “top 10” quarterback.