In my last article we ranked the 15 best wide receivers in the league at the moment. Now let's switch our focus to the guys who get the receivers the ball. The big-money position, quarterback.
Typically being the face of the franchise, qarterbacks get all the glory and all the blame for thier teams' successes and failures. The camera is trained on them for most of the game, which can be frustrating when trying to watch what is going on in coverage down field.
A good quarterback can propel a franchise to greatness, but football is by no means an individual sport. Every aspect of the game must be crisp and coordinated, with plans of attack developed weeks ahead of time to counter opponents' strengths and capitalize on their weaknesess.
Football is the "American sport," and that's probably because we modelled it after our next-favorite past time; war. George Carlin summed it up best in his classic "Baseball vs. Football" monologue:
"In Football, the object is for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault; riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use the shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing his aerial assault with a sustained ground attack, which punches holes in the forward wall of the enemies’ defensive line."
Keep that in mind next time you're watching the NFL.
16 Honorable Mention: Blake Bortles
We'll launch our attack with an up and coming talent in Jacksonville. The Jaguars struggled for years in search of a solid franchise-caliber quarterback. It appears like they have finally found a guy that should be able to win them some ball games, in Blake Bortles.
Bortles was the third overall pick out of Central Florida, and has proven himself capable of handling an NFL huddle. He's not particularly great at any one thing, but he doesn't have any glaring flaws either.
The Jags also have a couple young receivers in Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson. They're a developing squad, so it will be interesting to see if they can take the next step into the playoffs this season. It will be tough with the perennial playoff reaching Colts in their division.
Bortles has a bit more growing to do, but deserved to have something said about him, so he (barely) makes the list.
15 Teddy Bridgewater
The sky is the limit for this kid. A little bit of a raw talent, Teddy Bridgewater has the physical attributes that can make him an NFL great. He has an unconventional arm-action on his throws; it is long and loopy - almost like a baseball - but he makes it work, and can really fling it.
Combine Bridgewater's arm strength with his ability to run, and you have the makings of a dangerous dual threat. He needs to improve his pocket awareness, and have more confidence on his throws. He has a tendency to second guess himself and hesitates to let it fly, which leads to bonehead mistakes.
Once Bridgewater finds his comfort, he should be a pro bowl caliber quarterback. Him and Adrian Peterson plodded and plunked the Vikings to the playoffs last year. They should be right in the mix again this season with Bridgewater taking another step forward.
14 Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford has turned into a conventional modern-day veteran quarterback, if that's not an oxymoron. He is above average in all the places quarterbacks 20 years ago would've envied. Good pocket presence and awareness, strong arm, able to make a touch pass.
Stafford has relished his opportunity to play with one of the best wide receivers of all time in Calvin Johnson. Johnson is gone now, though, so it will be incumbent upon Stafford to spread the ball a round a little more. He did a good job of that last year, and Golden Tate helped to ease the burden already.
Detroit hasn't been able to rely on much else for years, but Stafford isn't a cub anymore, he should have them prepared for battle.
The Lions go the way Stafford goes. If he can reach 4,000+ yards for the sixth consecutive year, and toss 30+ touchdowns again, then Detroit will have a lion's chance.
13 Kirk Cousins
Robert Griffin III is now in Cleveland, which is exactly where Kirk Cousins wants him. Finally, Cousins can just play football. No more fielding questions about RGIII swiping the starting job away.
Cousins did enough to prove that he is the better option at quarterback for an NFL franchise. He has all the tools you look for from a young guy, and doesn't bring the media headache that comes along with RGIII (for whatever reason, still haven't figured out why the media loved that guy - I blame Skip Bayless).
Cousins threw for over 4,000 yards with 29 touchdown passes last season. He missed Desean Jackson in the early season contests, and could've had about four more touchdown passes if Pierre Garcon could do his job, but still got the Redskins into the playoffs in a very contentious NFC East. The Skins should be right in the mix with Big Cuz again this year.
12 Ryan Tannehill
Ryan Tannehill has slowly turned himself into one of the more consistent quarterbacks in the league. There was a time when he was scrutinized for his issues with accuracy, but he's settled any doubts about his precision.
Last season Tannehill set an NFL record with 25 consecutive completions - it was over the span of two weeks, but still worth note. He's also only the fourth quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards in each of his firsr four seasons.
Jarvis Landry could be the real deal at wide out, but other than that, Tannehill has never had too stellar of a receiving corps to work with. Mike Wallace under achieved. Tannehill actually made Brian Hartline look good for a while.
The only chance for the Dolphins to nab a playoff spot in their division is if Tannehill can propel himself into the elite category, and crack the top ten on this list next year.
11 Matt Ryan
Here's another guy that's just on the verge of elite status. He's thrown for over 4,500 yards for four consecutive years, but his touchdown numbers plummeted last season. It's not because he lost Tony Gonzalez, 17 of his 21 TDs were inside the redzone.
He certainly has some receivers that can serve some stew of their own, so Ryan should be able to bounce back into all pro mode with ease.
The Falcons have missed the playoffs for the last four years, but that's not all due to Ryan, he didn't earn the nickname "Matty Ice" for no reason, he is clutch.
Ryan has put up some gaudy numbers in many of Atlanta's seemingly weekly shootouts. Their defense has been extremely suspect for years, until the latter part of last season. If they can keep the score down to reasonable level, Ryan and the Falcons have a shot at competing with Carolina for this division.
10 Philip Rivers
If there was a top 15 list for most passion in the league, Phillip Rivers would easily be number one. The guy is kind of a freak on the field; he'll talk trash to anybody, even if they just rocked him.
He will never cuss at them though, that's something Rivers doesn't do. He understands that the trash talk and head games he plays on the field are just that, games. He doesn't ever let it get him out of his comfort zone. Once the ball is snapped, he snaps back into the varitable "zone," aka loss of conscious thought.
Rivers just keeps doing his thing, year in and year out. Him and Antonio Gates plug along and constantly make the AFC West interesting.
Rivers should be up to his regular antics again this season, and the Chargers will need everything out of him in what is assured to be a wild AFC West.
9 Drew Brees
Some people may be appaled that Drew Brees appears so far up on this list, but this is a breakdown of the best quarterbacks right now. If it were the list of best careers, Brees would be in the top five.
That being said, Brees still has some gas left in his proverbial tank. It's hard to believe he's already 37 years old, but the consistency he has shown throughout the years has kept him young in many fans' hearts. He currently owns the record for career completion percentage at 66.4%. He also owns the record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass at 54 games.
The Saints have drafted well at the wide receiver position, well enough they thought they could let Jimmy Graham walk and not lose much production. Brees will help his group of receivers continue to grow, but playoffs in the AFC South are no sure thing.
8 Derek Carr
Get used to seeing this guy's name. Derek Carr is going to make the Raiders a force to reckoned with in the NFL. He has the makings of a super bowl caliber quarterback, and should take Oakland to the next level, and soon.
The Raiders have young talent all over the offensive side of the ball now. They have Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to space things out for Latavius Murray on the ground, and of course Carr to distribute the ball accordingly.
Carr completed just two more passes last year than he did in his rookie season, but threw for 700 more yards (3,987) and 11 more touch downs (32). The growth in just one year was apparent, as Carr's efficiency went through the roof.
This Raiders team has a lot of promise with Carr at the helm, and they make the AFC West one of the more interesting divisions in football.
7 Tom Brady
I hope people have a problem with Tom Brady being number seven on this list. He may actually be the most over rated quarterback of all time. Yes, he's always in the playoffs and has been to numerous Super Bowls. He is a product of a system, though.
Brady does one thing excellent, and that is his ability to get the ball out on time. The Patriots have ran a run 'n gun style offense since Randy Moss departed. This has allowed Brady to dink and dunk his way to the post season every year.
Now, the guy does spend untold numbers of hours grilling his receivers with drills and preparation for their 5-10 yard hitch and post routes, but that's just it; Brady's receivers do all the work - he has the advantage of Belichick's scheme to get him over the top.
Still a good quarterback, still as consistent as anyone, so still in the upper echelon.
6 Russell Wilson
Cut from the mold of Drew Brees, Russell Wilson makes the most of his over-scrutinized under-size. It doesn't matter what your heighth is when you can make anybody in the league look foolish in and out of the pocket. Wilson's knack for sensing pressure is uncanny.
There hasn't been a quarterback who can throw on the run like Wilson since the 90's (John Elway, Steve Young). He has an innate recognition of defensive coverage, so moving out of the pocket away from the strength of a defense seems second nature to him.
Wilson became the first quarterback in NFL history to have 4,000+ passing yards, 30+ passing touchdowns, and 500+ rushing yards in the same season in 2015. More of the same coming in 2016.
Marshawn Lynch leaving should not hurt the Seahawks whatsoever. Wilson has blossomed into a true dual threat stud, and will keep Seattle relevant for as long as he is there.
5 Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben Roethlisberger sometimes looks like a man playing a little boy's game. There's times when the defense is ready to wrap him up and throw him to the ground, but he powers his way out of their arm tackles. There's times when he absolutely explodes all over opposing secondaries; he holds a record with back to back six touchdown games, and is the only quarterback to ever have two 500+ yard passing games.
Roethlisberger makes all of his teammates better. He is the consummate pro who can command the huddle regardless of what his options are. It helps that one of those options is fellow All Pro Antonio Brown. These two have nuclear-level chemistry, and continue to set countless battery records.
As long as the Steelers stay healthy, then Big Ben can lead them back to the playoffs through what is sure to be a black and blue AFC North.
4 Cam Newton
Cam Newton may have intentionally thrown the super bowl last season, but that's another story entirely, and would require a lot of conjecture to make the case solid. Either way, he didn't have the best super bowl appearance.Newton is easily the best dual-threat quarterback the league has ever had. He may not have the finesse that Vick displayed, but that may be to his advantage, as he doesn't have to deal with the injuries Vick constantly suffered. He is a next-level kind of specimen of physicality.
Cam holds records for most rushing TDs all-time by a quarterback, most rushing TDs in a season by a qb, most games with a passing TD and a rushing TD, and the most combined yards in a player's first five seasons.
He leapt into the elite category last year, and lead the Panthers to the super bowl while winning MVP. Something similar is possible this year.
3 Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer was the number one overall pick in 2003, but had his early successes with the Bengals cut short after sustaining a knee injury in a playoff game against the Ravens. The Bengals subsequently drafted Andy Dalton, and Palmer demanded his way out. He spent a year in Oakland, then landed in the absolute best place he could've wished for, Arizona.
Palmer is like wine; the older he gets the better he is. He threw for a career high 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns last year, at 36 years old. Having a quarterback guru in Bruce Arians as his head coach certainly has played into Palmer's growth into one of the league's most formidable football flingers.
If Palmer can reproduce his 104.6 quarterback rating from a year ago, and with a healthy Tyrran Mathieu back to anchor the defense, the Cardinals should vye for the super bowl once more.
2 Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers' numbers were actually slightly down last year, but that's to be expected when you lose an All Pro wideout (Jordy Nelson), and you get basically nothing out of the ground game the entire season. Teams are able to defend one dimensional offenses fairly easily.
Rodgers still had a 92.7 quarterback rating, which isn't bad by any means, but it snapped his NFL record six consecutive seasons with a rating over 100. That's the kind of consistency that has put Rodgers on a level few other signal callers have been able to reach. Rodgers just doesn't make mental mistakes; he also owns the record for all-time touchdown to interception ratio at 4.05.
With a healthy Jordy Nelson back in the fold, and an extremely slimmed down and streamlined version of Eddie Lacy, Rodgers will undoubtedly have the Pack back in the mix with the Vikings for the division crown.
1 Andrew Luck
Before anyone has a conniption fit over Andrew Luck being number one on this list, remember, this is the best quarterbacks for the 2016 season!
Luck was banged up bad last season. He only played seven games, and most of those were while injured. Luck himself isn't making any excuses for his level of play, and he agreed that he does need to be better.
For Luck, playing better means the difference between All Pro and Hall of Fame. His scale only slides from good to great. He has all the tools, the intangibles, the intelligence you want and need from your field general. If he has health this season, watch out, the Colts could make a run at the super bowl again.
The motivation will be there from watching old-man Hasselbeck plod his away around the field a season ago. Luck is ready to grab the reigns and take the Colts to the promised land.