The QB spectrum in the NFL is at an interesting juncture right now. Many of the established players at the position are getting older, playing alongside younger talents at the position who have only registered five years or less in the pro ranks. There is a clear disparity between the QBs who are old and young, and it's adding another layer of depth with each passing season, sure to continue into the upcoming 2016 campaign.
The question is, how much do the leagues old guard of elite QBs have left in the tank, and how many younger talents at the position are developing at a rate which will replace them? It's actually a fairly even split, and has shown to be the nature of the NFL over the years, that most of the game's stars are completely replaceable. Not all of (in fact, most) of the declining names on this list had unproductive seasons last year, but factoring in their age, and reasonable projections for subsequent years, and their drop off could start to show rapidly. The rising stars at the position on here have exhibited at minimum one season where they produced at an upper-tier level, or at least showed flashes of brilliance which could materialize in the years to come.
A fair amount of the QBs in the league also fall into a kind of tweener category, meaning they are directly in their prime right now. They likely won't get much better, but they probably aren't going to start their slide for at least the next couple of seasons. This would apply to QBs such as Andy Dalton, Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan, etc. For obvious reasons, they aren't included on here.
So take a look at how the stable of NFL QBs currently stands. Ranked below are 8 QBs on the decline, and 7 on the rise.
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29 Ben Roethlisberger - Decline
When "Big Ben" was on the field last year, he made just as much an impact as he ever had. Though the INTs were increased slightly (16 in 12 games), he showed the ability to dominate with a talented group of Steelers skill players that include the likes of Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Still, at 34 years-old, and coming off an injury plagued season, one would expect Roethlisberger's best seasons to be behind him. Pittsburgh will still be competitive in the AFC because of talent on offense, but Roethlisberger's injury and accuracy concerns could signal the downturn of his career.
27 Marcus Mariota - Rise
Mariota also suffered some injury issues in his rookie season with the Titans, but showed enough flashes of excellence to keep his future bright. He completed over 60% of his passes, and threw a respectable 19 TD passes in contrast to 10 INTs. Additionally, he proved he was a dual threat at the position, showing big play ability with his run game. Newcomers to the team Demarco Murray and second round draft pick Derrick Henry could take some of the pressure off Mariota, by establishing a run game as well. Overall, Mariota only figures to improve, as he works his way into elite QB status.
25 Carson Palmer - Decline
Though Palmer has found a career rebirth in Arizona, aided by head coach Bruce Arians, the clock is ticking for the 36 year-old QB. He had a stellar regular season last year, tossing up 35 TD passes and over 4,600 yards, and truly was one of the best at his position. The problem came in the NFC Championship game, where he looked utterly ineffective and almost lost against a very good Panthers defense. Even with the elite receiving corps at his disposal, it's unlikely that Palmer duplicates his 2015 effort, with signs of age showing instead in a down year.
23 Blake Bortles - Rise
Thus far in his pro career, Bortles has been something of an enigma, but he's shown enough of a big arm, and play-making ability to entrench himself as the certified QB of the future with the Jaguars. At a 58.6% clip in 2015, his accuracy could use a bit of work, but throwing for over 4,400 yards and 35 TD passes is no small feat itself. Plus, with a near army-sized group of skill players that includes RBs T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory, WRs Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, and TE Julius Thomas, he has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, which will only help him improve in the coming years.
21 Philip Rivers - Decline
Rivers is truly one of the most consistent QBs in the league, but his increasing age, combined with a lackluster Chargers offensive personnel is a growing concern. He will turn 35 during the 2016 season, and it's fair to wonder just how much he has left in the tank, especially considering what he has to utilize on his offensive unit. Travis Benjamin was signed in the offseason to help bolster the receiving corps, and Keenan Allen is coming back from injury, but Melvin Gordon is going to have to shoulder some of the load in the run game, in order for Rivers to lead San Diego back into the postseason. Time will tell, but I see Rivers having a down year due to his surrounding cast.
19 Jameis Winston - Rise
Winston struggled early in his rookie year, but became increasingly comfortable with the pro-level speed of the game as the season progressed. He was durable, playing in all 16 games and showed the ability to throw the deep ball, tossing over 4,000 yards; fairly impressive for a rookie QB. At under a 60% completion, accuracy could surely use a bit of work, but with veteran Vincent Jackson and burgeoning star Mike Evans both on the Bucs receiving corps, Winston can throw to reliable targets, which will only help his progression. Opposing defenses will have to play the run, with the presence of elite RB Doug Martin, so Winston will have the opportunity to shred defenses in the mid-range passing game this year.
17 Eli Manning - Decline
There's been much talk of Manning's late-career resurgence due to the presence of Odell Beckham Jr., but the 35 year-old QB has been shaky with his accuracy over his career, and it's only a matter of time until he exhibits his past tendencies again. The biggest assistance to Manning is that Beckham does so much damage after the catch, that fitting the ball into a tight window isn't always necessary. However, the few times that Beckham was neutralized last season, Manning had his worst performances, showing that the offense in New York is dependent almost entirely on Beckham's dominance. Because of that, Manning will continue to get his for a few more seasons, but if Beckham is contained enough, his career could be on the downturn.
15 Derek Carr - Rise
Carr's quality play in Oakland has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the last few seasons, especially with the 50/50 consensus on him as he was coming into the league, on his ability to start in the NFL. In two seasons he's thrown 53 TD passes, in contrast to just 25 INTs, and looks to be well on his way to a long career. Alabama product Amari Cooper figures to be an elite WR for the Raiders, and become Carr's go-to target for years to come. Carr has the ability to lead Oakland back into the playoff picture, and it will probably happen sooner rather than later. Look for him to have a big 2016 season.
13 Alex Smith - Decline
At this point in his career, Smith is what he is, and while that's not a bad thing, the first overall selection in the 2005 draft will never boast elite numbers. He's not asked to do much in the Chief's offense, which essentially amounts to controlling the short and mid-range passing game, and not turning the ball over. However, at 32 years-old, he figures to be on the slide down to a backup QB role, given his limited skill set at the position to begin with. Smith has never eclipsed 3,500 yards passing in an era where almost all starting NFL QBs of his tenure reach it every season. Overall, he's unlikely to make much more of an impact, and predicts to be on the decline.
11 Russell Wilson - Rise
Though Wilson already has a Super Bowl to his name, and has proven himself as one of the elite QBs in the league during his young career, I still don't think we've the best of what he has to offer. His stat line has been remarkable so far; 106 TD passes to 34 INTs, with a 64.7 completion percentage in four seasons. On top of that, he has a knack for making a big play, more than any other QB in the league. With Marshawn Lynch out of the picture in Seattle's running game, Wilson should have the opportunity to achieve peak production out of the passing game, allowing his ability to improvise take center stage, and create some truly all-time seasons at the position. Look for him to have a career year in 2016.
9 Colin Kaepernick - Decline
Just a few short years ago, Kaepernick was on the verge of leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory. Now, he's become one of the biggest enigmas in the league; the talent is there, but can he overcome accuracy and decision making concerns, to once again be a perennial starter? It doesn't seem to be the case. Even at his best, he never eclipsed 21 TD passes. He was never really the out and out, home-run threat at the position he was claimed to be by his supporters. At age 28, time is running out for him to prove himself, and while some have thought that Chip Kelly's tempo offense could be serviceable to Kaepernick, the complete lack of proven skill players around him means that he's probably in for another rough season.
7 Cam Newton - Rise
Newton was the most polarizing player in the league last season, but he had reason to be. He finally found his footing in the NFL after four years, and had a complete breakout season. He was a dual threat, possessing a rocket arm (35 TDs thrown) and the ability to take contact as a runner (10 TDs). Overall, he was easily the MVP of the league, and though a loss in the Super Bowl wasn't the ideal way to end the season, the Panthers are equipped with a true juggernaut at the QB position for a long time. The return of WR Kelvin Benjamin will only help this to materialize, and the Panthers offense looks to be just as good next season, with Newton leading the charge.
5 Tom Brady - Decline
If Brady were to ever begin his decline, this would be the most appropriate season. He will be 39 years-old when the season starts, and is (presumably) going to be serving a four-game suspension to start the 2016 campaign. This punishment, along with age and all the pressure that has been mounted on him for last several seasons, has got to be starting to take a toll on the Patriots QB. There has to be a tipping point somewhere in the near future, due to every bit of evidence we have for the life-span of a productive NFL QB. Maybe Brady is different, and maybe Belichick's presence makes this a unique case, but this predicts to be the year Brady is seen struggling, marking the beginning of the end for the future Hall of Famer.
3 Andrew Luck - Rise
In an injury riddled season during 2015, Luck posted the worst numbers of his career. In seven games played he racked up a 55.3% completion and just 15 TDs to 12 picks. All signs would point to Luck suffering a change of career trajectory, but he has enough elite talent to resurface as a top 3 QB in the league next year. With head coach Chuck Pagano firmly established for the next several seasons, which was up in the air last season, the Colts will have a bounce back season, if Luck can stay healthy. With so many young QB talents having breakout seasons last year, we tended to forget just how good Luck was. Expect that to be recognized again in the upcoming season.
1 Tony Romo - Decline
It's definitively "now or never" for Romo in the upcoming season. The 36 year-old Cowboys QB suffered an injury plagued season in 2015, with many putting his future in question, along with the possibility for a deep playoff run from Dallas. A well-stocked Dallas offensive line is going to have their hands full keeping the pocket protected for him. However, at Romo's age, with his injury history, a drop in quality play seems to be the most likely result, topped off with a several game absence. There's no question that Romo has elite level talent, but he may have to use it watching from the sidelines, as less than suitable backups are forced to take his place.
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