Friday, October 24, 2014

The FGR's 2014 Quarterback Rankings

As complicated as the NFL has become of late with its read-option offenses, its elaborate defensive schemes, it's make it up as we go personal conduct policy and its campaign to raise breast cancer awareness by selling pink stuff and then pocketing most of the profits,* it's ultimately a very straight-forward league with one simple question at the heart of it. "Do you have a quarterback who can win the Super Bowl?" Well, do you? Let's run through all thirty-two teams and see who's set at the most important athletic position on Earth and who's stuck on the Jay Cutler Roller Coaster from Hell. From the top Maestro!

I WAS JUST THERE THREE YEARS AGO . . . DUH

Eli gets a spot at the adult table
until he retires. Deal with it.
Right out of the gate we're going to grandfather in everyone who has been to the Super Bowl over the last three years because (a) if you've made it there, you're probably capable of winning it (and in fact, everyone in this group has except Colin Kaepernick), (b) you've been so recently that you probably have enough in the tank to go again and (c) that's as far back as we could go before running into Ben Roethlisberger (we'll get to him later). This group includes Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, Kaepernick, Eli Manning and Tom Brady. If you have one of these guys, you may not be going on your dream date but you know you've got a shot. You also know that no one in the next group will be available so you've really got nowhere else to go (and no, I will never pass-up an opportunity to insert that clip).

OOOOOOHHHH . . . SHINY

Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and (without a ton of conviction) Drew Brees . . . This category was going to be reserved for the players who would be included in the discussion of "if you could have any quarterback to start your team with today, who would it be?" and then I realized I hadn't found a spot for Brees so I snuck him in through the kitchen. Rodgers is obvious because he just won a Super Bowl four years ago with a seriously clutch performance, he's at the top of his game right now and he's only thirty years old which means that you probably have at least a five year window. Luck is equally as obvious because, unless you put him on a team that is clueless in the fine art of drafting and signing men who are good at football (currently the Jets, Raiders, Jaguars and Buccaneers . . . and by "currently," I mean since 2011), then he is going to take you to the playoffs at least four out of every five years and the more you go, the better shot you have to pull-off a winning run (no, I am not a scientist . . . I just know things like that). As for Brees, let's say that if the window is still open, it's just enough so the dog can get some air while you run into 7-11 for smokes and a Slurpee.** Out of respect for the ring he's already won and the fact that he's one of the few quarterbacks in the league who can outscore having Rob Ryan coach his team's defense, we'll continue to rank him among the elite.

WELL IF BRAD JOHNSON AND TRENT DILFER COULD DO IT

Alex Smith and Nick Foles . . . Johnson and Dilfer proved that, if you support your quarterback with a lights-out defense and a decent running game, all you really need from him to win the Super Bowl is the threat of being successful without the reality of turnovers. In their two wins, Johnson and Dilfer combined for 3 touchdown passes, 1 interception and 368 yards while their defenses created a combined 10 turnovers and held their opponents to 3 points that mattered. (The Raiders scored first against the Bucs to take a 3-0 lead and then proceeded to fall behind 34-3 before they scored again. The Ravens defense actually shut-out the Giants who only scored on a relatively meaningless kickoff return touchdown). Smith and Foles are better quarterbacks than Johnson and Dilfer ever were but they would have to be because they don't have those dominating defenses and they each have a historical burden to overcome. For Smith, it's Andy Reid and for Foles it's being the quarterback of a team that everyone fully expects to blow it in the end . . . especially its own fans.

MAYBE . . . OK . . . YES . . . WAIT . . . I MEAN NO . . . SHIT, I DON'T KNOW

Tony Romo and Phillip Rivers . . . Rivers and Romo are currently ranked 2nd and 3rd in QBR (the ESPN concocted quarterback rating system that has become all the rage among ESPN NFL analysts but, for some reason, doesn't seem to be catching-on elsewhere). Rivers has actually been on some Super Bowl caliber teams and come-up short for a variety of reasons, most notably Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner who could have coached the '85 Bears to a first round upset. 
"Told you we shouldn't draft
Johnny Football heh heh heh."

Romo may actually belong in the next category but for some reason I see him as this generation's Steve Young (note that I wrote that before looking-up the fact that Young's career passer rating was 96.8 and Romo's is currently 96.3 . . . maybe I am a scientist). Let's put it this way, you don't give-up on a quarterback who has been as consistently solid as Romo with the suspect offensive lines they've given him before this year. Even Jerry Jones recognizes that which means it's fairly obvious.   

And that covers the quarterbacks who currently give their team a shot. Sorry if your guy's name hasn't come up yet.

HIS FITNESS REPORT SAYS IT ALL

Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton . . . We could also have called this group all kinds of things inspired by their collective abilities to not win playoff games but I never pass-up the opportunity for a Top Gun reference especially when I just introduced the next generation to it a couple weeks ago (mixed reviews with a big thumbs-up from FGK2 and early departures by FGK1 and FGK3. We'll excuse the latter because she is a seven year girl and probably not the intended target audience for a 1986 movie about Navy fighter pilots). If for some inexplicable reason you haven't seen Top Gun or worse, you've forgotten the exchange, here's how it went down:

Jester: Fitness report says it all. He's a wild card. Completely unpredictable.
(Some non-relevant dialogue that doesn't help prove my point).
Viper: Tell me, if you had to go into battle, would you want him with you?
Jester: I just don't know.   

Pretty much sums-up the five quarterbacks in this group right? I see Jay Cutler as the poster boy, especially after last week's debacle against the Dolphins. His enduring legacy will be the guy who was thrown into the most fantasy football trade offers to make them look better than they really were. "OK, but what about T.Y. Hilton AND Jay Cutler for Marshawn Lynch?" To paraphrase Gordon Gecko (staying with the 80's movie theme) Ryan, Dalton, Stafford and Newton might be a shade better than Cutler but really they're just dogs with different fleas. 

JIMMY KEY? . . . WHAT'S HE LIKE 45?

Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer . . . This category is for the guys who have either won a Super Bowl or at one time had dreams of Lombardi Trophies dancing in fans' heads but have since lost their fastball. (The reference in the title is to my favorite This is Sportcenter ad of all-time which you can check-out here). Roethlisberger looks like a heavyweight boxer hanging-on for one too many paychecks and watching Palmer play is like watching your kid ride a bike down a steep hill for the first time. "JESUS WATCH THE POTHOLE!!!"   

I DON'T THINK SO BUT GET BACK TO ME

Might want to return that call from
Maxim while you're still relevant.
Ryan Tannehill . . . This is only Tannehill's third season and he hasn't quite shown the bust potential of the crew we're about to get to in our next category but he ain't Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson either. Then again, he is married to Mrs. Ryan Tannehill so we're going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

WE'LL JUST BE OVER HERE

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Orton, Mike Glennon and Brian Hoyer . . . These guys are like seat fillers at the Oscars and, in most cases, the team and the fans know it. They're either waiting for a recent draft pick to get his shot or for next year's draft to yield new hope. The exception of course is Hoyer because anytime the Browns stumble onto a quarterback who can throw a five yard pass on 3rd and 9 AND chew gum at the same time, they convince themselves they've found their savior. (See also: Derek Anderson, Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy, Charlie Frye and Kelly Holcomb).

THE JOB CREATORS

RG, III, Sam Bradford, Jake Locker, E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith . . . Every time a head coach is fired for putting his life savings on the rookie quarterback roulette wheel spot and coming-up empty, a new head coaching job is created. Thanks to these five young quarterbacks, Mike Shanahan, Steve Spagnuolo and Mike Munchak are already gone while Doug Marrone and Rex Ryan will not be far behind. Coaches who don't fall ass backwards into a Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers like John Fox and Mike McCarthy did often find themselves in a Catch-22 where the general manager who drafts a crappy quarterback then has to cover his ass and, because he can't fire the quarterback he just drafted (because that would be an admission of failure), he fires the coach. That was one of the reasons the end of the Shanahan era in Washington was so entertaining. He picked and coached the quarterback and, when things went south, he basicallly did everything but start calling Dan Snyder "shorty pants" to get himself fired so he could keep the $5M or so left on his deal and watch the current Redskins train wreck from a beach somewhere. There's a lesson in there somewhere about hiring 60+ year old coaches who already have two Super Bowl rings and a year round tan.

TOO SOON

Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater . . . So far, none of these three newbies have shown the instant gravitas that we felt with Wilson, Luck and Kaepernick but that doesn't mean they won't one day rise into the Alex Smith/Nick Foles category. If there is one lesson that we should be learning, however (other than the 60 year old tan coach lesson), it is that you don't want to draft a quarterback with a spindly/fragile base a la RG, III, Sam Bradford and Jake Locker which does not portend well for Bridgewater who looks like he could get broken in half on every play. Remember kids, 80% of life is just showing-up and every team in the league is one hit away from being 4-12 so durability counts (cut to every Redskins fan nodding). Come to think of it, after accuracy and arm strength, there may not be a more critical scouting component for quarterbacks than "looks fat in those jeans."

Conclusion

So that's thirteen out of thirty-two teams that have the goods under center to win the title. Even if you moved a few more borderline guys like Roethlisberger, Newton and Stafford into that category, that would still only be half the league. For the rest it's back to the scouting trail to try to find the next Wilson, Rodgers or Brady. Well except for the Browns who will continue to prove Segal's law that the team with one starting quarterback has a starting quarterback while the team with two starting quarterbacks has none.***

Footnotes

Come on NFL . . . your
moral compass is now
actually spinning.
* According to this Business Insider article, only about 8% of the money collected through the sale of NFL pink merchandise actually goes to cancer research while about 87.5% of the money goes to the retailer and the manufacturer of the merchandise. That doesn't seem too egregious until you consider the amount of NFL merchandise that is sold by the NFL making them the "retailer" in that scenario. Oh NFL, you've done it again.

** Is there a more underrated "refreshment" than the Slurpee? Ten times better than a crappy Sno-Ball, lighter than a milkshake and more satisfying than a soda. Maybe it would have enjoyed greater success if its name didn't sound like a porn search term.

*** Segal's law is actually that a man with one watch always knows what time its is while a man with two watches is never sure but you get the picture.

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