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1. Aaron Rodgers: He has put in such a blindingly radiant performance , that its tempting to bask in it, and just consider each individual QB in the NFL as just a part of one mortal clump. Rodgers of the currently 7-0 Green Bay Packers is posting what may turn out to be the most dominating performance in NFL history. A list of his statistical accomplishments thus far reads like an All State High School quarterback’s resume against inferior 14-17 year old competition, let alone world class NFL defenders. Rodgers is 1st in the league in completion percentage (a staggering 72%), touchdowns (20), yards per attempt (10), yards per completion (14), and quarterback rating (125.7, which is godly). For those naysayers who maintain that statistics don’t necessarily translate into big wins:
Rogers right now is dominating football contests on both ends of the floor like a multi-ring adorned NBA superstar once did on the hard court. No need to go further in that comparison; don’t want to jinx it for Packers nation.
2. Tom Brady: What makes Tom Brady an elite quarterback is that even during his “rough stretches,” he puts up borderline pro-bowl quality numbers. To paraphrase an important sports axiom, a champion is defined by how he performs on his mediocre days just as much as on his stellar ones. After opening the season on pace for ~5,500 yards passing, Brady has encountered for what by his standards has been a substandard last four games. Still, during this period, he has passed for an average of 240 yards a game, and accumulated 7TDs to 3 INTs. During this period, he has faced two of the best secondaries in the league in the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers. Brady’s yard accumulation versus the Steelers was a paltry 198 yards, and yet, he had two touchdowns and no interceptions in that contest.
3. Drew Brees: As per usual, Brees’s performance in 2011 has been outstanding: he’s averaging a stratosphereic 340 yards a game, and has compiled 19 TD to 10 INT thus far. However, by virtue of being a gunslinger (Brees is averaging a league leading 38 passes a game), Brees’ game also comes with a little bit of disconcerting variance. Most of the times, Brees will throw for an avalanche of efficient passes; however, more so than Brady, he is good for a couple of big implosions per season. Last week, Brees chucked 44 passes for only 269 yards, 1 TD / 2 INT against a woeful St. Louis Rams squad in a 31-21 loss. Granted a Brees implosion may only happen ~15% of the time, there is always a looming question of whether it may occur in the playoffs.
4. Ben Roethlisberger: The perfect exemplar of how cumulative statistics do not mirror the value of a Quarterback. Yes, Big Ben is only 8th in Quarterback Rating and is (albeit slightly) behind both Eli Manning and Matt Stafford in several major statistical categories. Also, Big Ben will never have an immaculate year as have the higher ranking quarterbacks on this list, nor does his unorthodox style cater to the thought of a perfect season. And yet, what makes Roethlisberger elite, and for that matter, very difficult to justify ranking in a linear fashion such as “fourth” versus “first,” is thoroughly dominate in big games. An isolated example: 36/50 passing for 365 yards, 2 TD / 1 INT in a pivotal regular season match-up against the New England Patriots. A more cumulative one: thus far in his career, Roethlisberger has a 10-3 playoff record, a 2-1 Superbowl record, and has orchestrated three playoff winning drives.
5. Peyton Manning: Really, who else? His little brother Eli? No. Phillip “I couldn’t hit water if I fell off a boat” Rivers? No. Michael Vick? Let’s see him get the “Dream Team” Eagles above .500 while putting up strong numbers over a string of games, and then he’ll buoy up a spot or two. For the time being, Peyton Manning, who has already cemented himself as one of the best NFL quarterbacks of all time, remains on this list by virtue of the oftly criticized yet extremely convincing “enhanced value by absence” argument. How many other quarterbacks can you say are so important to a football team that with him, the team is a perennial Superbowl contender; without him, a perennial top three draft choice? Indianapolis, fresh off a 10-6 2010 season, is currently the laughing stock of the NFL at 0-7 without Manning; their offense is anemic offense, and defense porous
6. Michael Vick: For those of you Eli Manning lovers who have read too deeply into the current edition of recycled debate as to whether Manning is an “elite” QB, he’s still no nearly as valuable as Michael Vick. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. First, although the Eagles are 3-4, this is a deceiving statistic as Vick was injured by half-time in two of those losses. In both of those games, Vick was pacing for 300+ yards passing and a strong TD/INT ratio.
After being restored to health, in a loss against the formidable San Fransisco 49ers, Vick passed 30-46, 2 TD / 1 INT, and rushed for 75 yards on 8 attempts. What else does a quarterback have to do to get a win against a team that currently boasts the second best record in the NFL (6-1)? Vick had a rough day against the Bills, passing for 315 yards, 2 TD / 4 INT; though, depending on if you want to view his 90 yards rushing as that of a rogue quarterback who was “out of control” or one that is just an awesome force, Vick’s day wasn’t that bad. In any event, two weeks later in a key divisional contest against the Dallas Cowboys, Vick through for a tidy 21 / 29 for 279, 2 TD / 0 INT in a thorough 34-7 romp.
7. Matt Schaub: Still no Eli? But he’s in the “elite” debate again, so what gives? Matt Schaub has a 95.9 QB rating, 13TD / 5 INT. He’s accumulated his statistics in part against two of the toughest defenses in the NFL, the Steelers and the Ravens. Also, the Texans have been without elite wide receiver Andre Johnson all year; meanwhile, the Giants receiving core of Cruz, Nicks, and Manningham are arguably more talented than the Texans’ thus far. Moreover, even though Schaub’s numbers are strong, at the chagrin of a lot of fantasy football owners, he’s having a mediocre year thus far. Eli’s numbers, while stronger (see below), have been a welcome surprise for the Giants, and, have been compiled against very weak defenses.
Put another way, we can trust that Schaub, even in an off year, will have a nice 2:1 TD/INT ratio and a respectable QB rating. Eli Manning? You really can’t be that sure.
8. Matt Stafford: It’s tempting to place Eli in the 8 slot, as anyone who puts up an average of 335 yards on 7 TD / 3 INT over the last 4 games deserves to be firmly planted within an NFL Quarterback Top 10. And yet…Matt Stafford’s 19 TD / 4 INT at 272 yards /game is simply more impressive than Manning’s overall output thus far. Stafford has also proven to have some mettle against tough defenses, posting a clean 216 yard, 2 TD / 1 INT performance against the stingy Chicago Bears defense. Yes, Stafford has the freakishly athletic Calvin Johnson at wide receiver while Manning is captaining a wide receiver by committee offense. Still..
9. Eli Manning:…let’s see Eli Manning put up some strong games against tough defenses before propelling him deeper into the Top 10. Producing 300+ yards output against mediocre teams definitely adds some padding to a quarterback’s resume. And, certainly, it impels the media time and time again to make bold claims and predictions as to one its favorite golden boy’s “elite” play. Still, Eli Manning cannot be elite until he proves himself to put up consistently solid numbers when the pass rush gets tough and secondaries less easy to dissect.
The second half of the year will be Manning’s litmus test.
10. Tim Tebow. Just because.