Sports Outside the Beltway

10 Best NFL Quarterbacks

Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders ranks all 32 teams at quarterback using some highly scientific formula. Actually, though, he’s mostly ranking the top 32 presumptive starting quarterbacks, since the backups barely factor into the equation.

His top 10, then:

1. Colts (2006 Rank: 1)

If you lumped together all of Peyton Manning‘s third down pass attempts from the last three seasons, you would get this stat line: 243-of-384 (63.3%), 2889 yards, 38 touchdowns, eight interceptions. The dude is pretty good on third downs.

Take four years of Peyton’s fourth quarter performances and add them together to get this stat line: 304-of-454 (66.9 percent), 3,589 yards, 22 touchdowns, 10 interceptions. He’s pretty good late in the game, too. If you are only interested in “late clutch” situations (fourth quarter, game within seven points), Peyton is 229-of-335 (68.3 percent) for 2,768 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He’s not too shabby with the game on the line.

In short, Manning is the guy you want to give the ball to in pressure situations. The “playoff choke artist” isn’t dead; he never existed. The Peyton Manning we saw in January and February — the guy who battled back from a 21-3 lead in the AFC title game against the Team of the Decade, who threw for 247 yards against the league’s best defense in the rain-drenched Super Bowl — is an all-time great, a legend in his prime.

Jim Sorgi has been in the system for four years and has looked good in mop-up duty. John Navarre provides much needed preseason comic relief as the third stringer.

(Note: Manning naysayers should email their complaints to me at, not Aaron Schatz or Rupert Murdoch.)

2. Patriots (2006 Rank: 2)

Fourteen wins. Twenty-four touchdowns. Over 3,500 yards. Another 724 yards and five touchdowns in the postseason. Welcome to an off year, Tom Brady style. When Brady comes within four points of reaching the Super Bowl, he’s a disappointment. With three rings on his fingers and a new crop of receivers to throw to this season, he’s sure to find a way to bounce back in 2007.

Brady is best in the league at spraying the ball to his backs and tight ends in space, and he has the best pocket awareness since Troy Aikman. Only Peyton is better at dissecting and dismantling coverage schemes. Some micro-analysts think he can’t throw the deep ball. Just wait until Brady sees Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth streaking down the sidelines. He’ll show you a deep ball.

Backup Matt Cassel has been with the Patriots so long that he once fumbled in Nickerson Stadium. In a preseason game, of course. Cassel is a swashbuckling scrambler with a case of fumble-itis, but he knows the system. Rookie Matt Gutierrez posted marginal numbers at I-AA Idaho State but has NFL size and arm strength.

3. Eagles (2006 Rank: 8)

Donovan McNabb surprised many by participating in a May mini-camp; it was an encouraging sign that he is ahead of schedule in his ACL rehab. McNabb underwent a grueling off-season program of knee exercises that included, among other things, long games of tag. Yes, as in “you’re it.” Don’t laugh; children’s games can help athletes improve the strength and flexibility in their legs. In fact, legend has it that Dan Marino overcame his collegiate knee injuries by riding the Double Dutch Bus.

When healthy, McNabb is an elite quarterback. He’s great at launching deep passes, but he’s even better when the Eagles offense is balanced and he has the chance to throw underneath. McNabb underthrows some passes and is starting to lose his scrambling ability, but he’s a great decision maker in the pocket and one of the hardest quarterbacks in NFL history for players not named Ronde Barber to intercept.

McNabb has missed 13 starts in the last two seasons and is coming off a major injury. Luckily, the Eagles have the best quarterback depth in the NFL. A.J. Feeley is an Andy Reid disciple who knows the system and takes what the defense offers. Rookie Kevin Kolb is a shotgun quarterback with great touch and mobility; the Lewin Career Forecast ranks him as an excellent long-term prospect. Kelly Holcomb, acquired in the Takeo Spikes trade, may be the odd man out, but he’s a heady veteran who can win a game or two if called upon.

4. Bengals (2006 Rank: 6)

As Carson Palmer continues to recover from that devastating ACL injury, the Bengals could move up this list. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

Carson Palmer slipped a bit after his tremendous 2005 season. The lingering effects of his ACL tear troubled him early in the season, and injuries on the offensive line resulted in 36 sacks. Still, 4,000 yards and a 28/13 touchdown-to-interception ratio are nothing to apologize for. Palmer may have the quickest release in football and excels at throwing deep outs and comebacks. He also knows how to check down and can buy time in the pocket. The Bengals would rank third, but mediocre backup Doug Johnson and rookie Jeff Rowe wouldn’t win many games in Palmer’s absence.

5. Seahawks (2006 Rank: 3)

You may have seen Matt Hasselbeck sporting a blonde wig during mini-camp. Do not be alarmed. Hasselbeck and Mike Holmgren just had some communication issues. Holmgren said that the quarterback had to be more like Montana. Holmgren meant “Joe.” Hasselbeck thought he meant “Hannah.”

After suffering through his worst season in five years, Hasselbeck probably felt the need to wear a disguise and lay low. Hasselbeck missed four games with a knee injury, then started forcing balls into coverage when he returned. Dropped passes and instability on the offensive line didn’t help. Hasselbeck is healthy again (the minor off-season surgery on his non-throwing shoulder is not an issue), so look for him to return to form as soon as he loses the wig. He’s a consummate West Coast quarterback who breaks down coverages well and puts tremendous touch on the ball.

Backup Seneca Wallace is a 5-foot-10 scrambler with an average arm. Mike Holmgren changes the offense when Wallace is in the game, calling more shotgun formations and rolling pocket plays. Despite his physical limits, Wallace has a little bit of Flutie Magic and can surprise opponents.

6. Saints (2006 Rank: 10)

He’s short. His passes don’t exactly whistle in the air. He can run a little, but he’s no Michael Vick. He came from the type of spread college offense that has been churning out NFL busts for two decades. Drew Brees‘ measurables don’t add up to a Pro Bowl quarterback, but here he is. Brees has now enjoyed three straight outstanding seasons for two different teams, so it’s time to give him his due. Brees is a mechanically sound technician with great touch and accuracy who has good pocket awareness and gets rid of the ball quickly. Combine all of those “little” skills, and you get 4,400 yards, 26 touchdowns, and a deep playoff run.

Backup Jamie Martin has been in the NFL for 13 seasons, most of them as a third stringer. He’s auditioning for an offensive coordinator’s job. Second-year pro Jason Fife is a project.

7. Rams (2006 Rank: 17)

Another year, another 4,000 yards or so and 24 touchdowns. Bulger may be the most consistent quarterback in the league. He rarely has a truly bad game, and when he does (like last season’s 151-yard, zero touchdown, seven-sack effort against the Panthers), it’s pretty obvious that there were breakdowns elsewhere on offense. If Rex Grossman could take Marc Bulger pills, Bears fans wouldn’t need so much ibuprofen to get through the fall.

Backup Gus Frerotte is a streak shooter with a great arm and tons of experience. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a fleet-footed Ivy Leaguer who throws well on the run. Neither could lead the Rams to the playoffs, but both could win a game in a pinch.

8. Steelers (2006 Rank: 4)

He led his team to a 15-1 season. He won a Super Bowl. Then he turned 24. He accomplished so much that it was easy to forget how young Ben Roethlisberger was. He crashed his motorcycle. He needed an appendectomy. He battled back, but he couldn’t overcome the distractions and the expectations. He was awful early in 2006, throwing no touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first three games. He got better, but he kept pressing. Roethlisberger was a terrible fourth quarter passer in 2006: four touchdowns, 11 interceptions, many of the picks coming at the worst possible times. He was trying too hard, playing outside the system. It was a miserable year.

Now, the good news: Big Ben is healthy and focused. The new coaching staff plans to maximize his strengths by introducing more spread formations and a no-huddle package. And he’s still only 25 years old. Think of last season as his “rookie lumps” year. He just had it out of order.

Backup Charlie Batch has a poor arm and has lost much of his athleticism, but he’s crafty and played well in relief over the last two seasons. Brian St. Pierre has been hanging around practice squads for four years. Brian Randall, a former standout at Virginia Tech, will try to make some noise in camp.

9. Ravens (2006 Rank: 12)

Steve McNair is Captain Checkdown, a dink-and-dunk specialist who never met a slant, hitch, or curl route that he didn’t like. McNair still has the arm to throw deep but rarely does; just 13 percent of his passes traveled 16 or more yards in the air, easily the lowest figure among starters. McNair is a marksman on short routes, and while he isn’t very fast, he knows when to tuck and run for positive yardage.

Backup Kyle Boller has plenty of experience, throws a great deep ball, and can run away from trouble. Boller played well when McNair was hurt last year but still overthrows too many receivers. Rookie Troy Smith has all the intangibles but must prove that he is more than a shotgun-option rollout quarterback.

10. Chargers (2006 Rank: 22)

Philip Rivers finished fifth in the league in DPAR (88.6), threw for 3,388 yards, and led his teams to a 14-2 record. Still, his performances against the Raiders in Week 12 (14-of-31, 133 yards, one interception) and Chiefs in Week 15 (8-of-23, 97 yards, two interceptions) suggest that Rivers is still suffering through some growing pains. New coach Norv Turner will focus on fundamentals to improve Rivers’ awkward backpedal and delivery style. But Turner’s system lacks creativity, and Rivers may struggle when opponents figure out the game plan. Backup Billy Volek went from heir apparent to dirty dishrag in Tennessee in just a few weeks last year. Volek has a live arm and has proven he can win games off the bench.

11. Cowboys (2006 Rank: 21)

Tony Romo is no half-year wonder. Romo spent three years on the Cowboys bench learning the ropes from Sean Payton before bursting into the spotlight last October. When he’s focused, his mechanics are solid, his release is quick, he makes good decisions, and he can make plays on the run. Focus, though, is the key. By December, Romo seemed to be reading his press clippings; he started scrambling around in search of highlight-film touchdowns and carrying the football like it was an overfilled diaper pail. With a season to settle into his role as a starter, Romo will calm down and return to the form he displayed during his nine-touchdown, one-interception November run.

Backup Brad Johnson aged quickly last year. He’s a fine sounding board and mentor for Romo, but the Cowboys are in trouble if he plays.

Okay, so that’s 11. But I wasn’t going to leave the ‘Boys off the list when they were so close! Moving up 11 spots over last year is quite impressive, especially considering that Romo fell apart down the stretch and single handedly (quite literally) lost the Cowboys’ playoff game against the Seahawks.

The other 21 teams are rated at the link.

Related Stories:
Recent Stories:

Comments are Closed


Visitors Since Feb. 4, 2003

All original content copyright 2003-2008 by OTB Media. All rights reserved.