Right now is a great moment for NFL Quarterbacks. After a beginning of the decade that saw powerhouse defenses shake passing offenses down, and running backs take the steam away from QB's, the Quarterback has once again taken over as the flashiest batch of players in the NFL.
There's no doubt that a large part of the success of the leagues passing game right now has to do with the rule changes that came in the middle of the decade, but whether we agree with those or not, there are still a lot of talented QB's in the league right now; there's a reason the 00's have produced more first round QB's than any decade in league history.
This is a list of the ten best QB's in the NFL right now. It's not a power ranking of who did the best last week, or who has been doing the best this season, it's a list of who the ten best quarterbacks in the NFL are.
This list discounts no one. It's not like the NBA where we write off KG and Tim Duncan because they're older and supplant them with Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul in the Top 5. Kurt Warner and Brett Favre remain on this list, in great stature, because at this point in time they still win, perform, and show up more than the bulk of quarterbacks in the league.
Obviously Peyton Manning is number one, and the rest of the list mathematically sorts itself out after that.
Before I bore you, let me present you with the list;
The Ten Best Quarterbacks in the NFL
10. Carson Palmer - When healthy, Carson Palmer is a quarterbacking machine, and the only Pac-10 quarterback to develop this decade (sorry Matt Leinart, Kyle Boeller, Ryan Leaf, and Cade McNown). Although the Bengals have only been to the playoffs once since they drafted Palmer, he has proven leadership in what has probably been the most tumultuous locker room in league history (all the arrests). This season Palmer has the Bengals poised for another playoff run, and if things continue to work this way for Palmer he'll only be moving closer and close to elite status in the NFL.
09. Donovan McNabb - Although Donovan is dropping down the list faster than anyone, I don't think anyone should worry too much. Like Warner, McNabb has tools that can translate to any team in the NFL, and he can make any team in the NFL better, and that's what has made him so great. This decade only he and Tom Brady have been to five AFC Championship games, and only he has finished all five games (though I wouldn't exactly attribute health as a McNabb strong point). Just last year McNabb took the Eagles on a great run back to the NFC championship game that almost ended in a comeback equal to that of the 2006 AFC Championship game. Because he's been so good for so long people question how much McNabb has left in his tank, but the answer is a lot; barring another serious injury to his legs, McNabb will be a great QB in the league well into the next decade.
08. Philip Rivers - Although he's entering his late twenties, Rivers is still judged as a young quarterback and rightfully so. Although he's infamously a member of the same draft class as Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, he has been given time to grow while those two were asked to be champions immediately in their careers. Thus far, Rivers has been the most successful quarterback in Chargers history, and he could be on his way to supplanting Dan Fouts as the greatest Chargers QB of all time, but lets not get ahead of ourselves. At times he's displayed toughness, and he's shown the ability to go head to head with the top tier. The only issue with Rivers is that he may be too emotional. Whereas Eli and Roethlisberger always keep their heads on their shoulders, Rivers sometimes gets caught up in his own dilemma too much, sometimes leading to unnecessary fights and penalties. There is no doubt that Rivers has the tools to become a champion, it's just a matter of wrapping his head around the concept of adulthood in the NFL.
07. Eli Manning - Say what you want about Eli being a "one game wonder," but last I checked leading his team to the playoffs every year since 2005 would qualify Eli as a five year wonder. In that same time span only his brother Peyton Manning has lead his team to the playoffs each of those seasons (meaning Brady, Favre, Roethlisberger, and McNabb have not). Some would argue that Philip Rivers' numbers are better, or that McNabb has beaten Eli time and time again, but the difference between the three is that Eli is the one with a ring, and he got in a game in which not only did he orchestrate the greatest drive in NFL history (that's right Montana, Elway, and Peyton), but he also won the MVP of. It's easy to pick on Eli because he refused to be a Charger, he doesn't have the charisma of his older brother, and well, he's kind of the Owen Hart of the NFL; but at this point in his career, Eli is in elite company when it comes to 4th quarter aesthetic, and he currently sits just outside of being considered an elite QB in the league.
06. Brett Favre - You can't argue that Brett Favre is still a top 5 QB in the NFL, the proof is in the pudding here. Favre is about to bring his third different franchise to a winning record in three years (07 Packers, 08 Jets, 09 Vikings), a feat that no other QB in NFL history has ever done. What's even more impressive? Favre is doing it an age where Montana, Marino, Elway, Aikman, Young, and Kelly were already retired at. Some question as to whether or not he's stuck around so long to break all sorts of career records, but 2009 has proved that Favre has stuck around because he can still win. A Super Bowl win this year would shut up every member of the media that said he was washed up, and cement Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy's legacy's as goats.
05. Drew Brees - You have to wonder how much of his greatness stems from that chip on his shoulders? I mean, in San Diego he was good, a Pro Bowler even, but it wasn't until he came to New Orleans in 2006 that he became a 4,000 yards a season QB. In 2008 he even became a member of the ultra exclusive 5,000 yards a season club. The real issue with Brees, and it's not entirely his fault, is that in an eight year career he only has one playoff win, and only two playoff appearances. With all due respect that's pretty bad. If we're going to ridicule players like Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb, and Philip Rivers for getting to the playoffs and losing, at some point we need to start looking at Brees, too. All signs point to 2009 as the year that everything is finally coming together for Brees though, his team is in great shape to make a playoff run, and Brees is likely to go to yet another Pro Bowl. I'm sure the QB from Purdue is hoping he'll be starting in the other Bowl game taking place in Miami though.
04. Kurt Warner - In 2006 his career looked over and Kurt Warner was going to go down as nothing more than an NFL trivial pursuit question. Then in 2007 he began a career resurgence that has been nothing short of spectacular. In 2008 Warner reminded us all why he was a 2 time MVP and former Super Bowl MVP when he lead the Arizona Cardinals all the way to Super Bowl XLIII. What Warner has done in turning the losing culture around in Arizona is worthy of all time great status, and it's the second time Warner has turned a franchise around in his career. If you really dissect it, what Kurt Warner has done in his career is nothing short of remarkable, and the way he still plays every single Sunday is absolutely astonishing.Warner is nowhere near a mobile QB, and he has some nagging injuries that you can tell still bother him, but if you need a quarterback for just one game, it'd be hard not to have him on a short list. He's a proven winner, and his arm strength is still in the elite level.
03. Ben Roethlisberger - I think we're still waiting for this guy to come down to Earth. Roethlisberger started his career with a 15-1 record as a rookie, won the Super Bowl in his second season, won the AFC North for a second time in his fourth season, and in his fifth season won his second Super Bowl. If you don't think that's great, then it's time to digest the fact that Roethlisberger has developed into a legitimate passer as well. Roethlisberger is following in the footsteps of Tom Brady in developing from elite game manager, into elite quarterback. He hasn't reached his prime yet either.
02. Tom Brady - He started his NFL career better than any quarterback in NFL history (though Big Ben is rapidly approaching him), and has since continued to help his team win. After suffering a season ending knee injury in 2008, his backup Matt Cassell still took the Patriots to an 11-5 record and put up better numbers than Brady put up in his first seven seasons as a starter raising the question as to how good Tom Brady really is? That's a dumb question because Brady is still a great player, and he's not far from being the best in the game. His 2007 season is without question the best single season performance any quarterback has ever had, and likely ever will have. Like Roethlisberger he's had the benefit of having a very good defense to guide him to championships, when he you need 40 yards to get a game winning field goal, there's no better QB in the NFL than Tom Brady.
01. Peyton Manning - The best Quarterback in the league, and he has a chance to become the greatest of all time. It's scary to think that those years of 2003-2005 were nowhere near his prime. This half of the decade he's silenced his critics about winning the big one, picked up a Super Bowl MVP to go with his three MVP awards, and has earned a reputation as a great "clutch" performer as well. Love him or hate him, we treat Peyton Manning the same way we treat all the greats; Ali, Jordan, Kobe, Gretzky, Tiger, A-Rod: we dissect every single move he makes, and every game he plays is his make or break moment. When his team loses we blame him, when his team wins then they should have won by more... Because they have Peyton Manning. A scary thought is that if Manning wins another Super Bowl this season, he will have equaled John Elway's entire 16 year career in only 11 seasons (50,000 passing yards, 2 Super Bowl championships... Manning will likely have 4 MVPs after this season to Elway's one). Manning has also replaced Elway as the guy whose hands you place the ball in when you're down by six and need 90 (or 28) yards for a score.
So there you have. A majority of the list was easy to create. Initially I wanted to put Brees at #5 but after writing up what Kurt Warner has done since 2007, you can't put Brees ahead of him. Although it's amazing that Brees has turned the culture around in New Orleans, it's even more astonishing that Warner has turned the culture around in Arizona. Also, as mentioned, Brees has only one playoff win since 2006 (and in his career), while Warner helped take the Cardinals to the Super Bowl.
Rivers versus Eli is tough because Rivers has better numbers, but Eli has a Super Bowl. Eli's ring is enough to put him ahead of Rivers at this point in his career, especially since they've each been to the same amount of Pro Bowls, and Eli has yet to miss the playoffs as a full time starter.
Rivers over McNabb was the toughest decision, but this was a list of who is the best NOW, not this decade. There is no doubt in my mind that Donovan McNabb is one of the five or six best quarterbacks of the 00's, and if I had a vote I'd put McNabb in the Hall of Fame when he retires, but right now, one game, i'd take #17 over #5.
Missing the list were Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Ryan who I'd put at numbers 11 and 12. At this point Hasselbeck is on his way down while Ryan is on his way up. Tony Romo needs to make a good playoff run before he can get consideration, while Vince Young needs to get some numbers to along with his commendable winning percentage. Joe Flacco would round out my top 15. Personally, I'm not the biggest Jay Cutler or Aaron Rodgers fan, in part because neither has been to the playoffs, and in part because I consider them "fantasy football players," meaning they put up good numbers, but where are the wins? Both inherited teams that hosted Championship games before they took over, neither team has been back to the playoffs since.
I hope you enjoy the list and I'd love to hear your feedback.