Dylan’s top 10 quarterbacks heading into 2015/16
In this article, I will be revealing who I have determined to be the top 10 players at the most important position in football heading into the 2015/16 season. Before we dive in, although I will freely admit to using statistics as an important factor in my judgment of a player, as we all know in sport, the numbers aren’t everything, and this list is just my personal choice based on a variety of reasons; mainly A) Who I would want leading my team, not necessarily the ‘best’ based on concrete evidence, and B) Taking into consideration the team they are playing in, who I believe will be able to perform to the highest level. It would also be wise to remember that this is not a ‘lifetime achievement award’ list, so although there will obviously be references to last season and beyond, it is predominantly about where these players are right now, and their ability to be my franchise QB in 2015. So with that in mind, and also remembering that Dan will be posting his own list imminently, ensuring that discussions/arguments will be sure to abound at Gents HQ, here are my top 10 signal callers in the NFL for 2015.
10) Joe Flacco
After throwing a career-high 3,986 yards, 27 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions last season, I have elected to put Flacco on my list ahead of some other, perhaps more noteworthy signal callers. Yes, he has his flaws, but I envision a good season for Flacco, with additional weapons, namely the explosive deep-threat Breshad Perriman added to the offence alongside the evergreen Steve Smith and intriguing Marlon Brown, who despite a reduction in targets last season, has excellent hands, shown by his leading the entire NFL in catch %, albeit from only 29 targets. Despite losing in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl winning New England Patriots last season, Flacco’s record in the games that matter most can’t be denied, and his ability to perform at the business end of the season sneaks him onto this list ahead of the dependable Matt Ryan who was very close to taking this spot, in part due to his outstanding deep ball throwing ability and fantastic completion percentage on 3rd down. He also makes the number ten spot ahead of the talented but relatively unproven Ryan Tannehill, and, of course, the quarterback with the biggest question mark of them all hanging over his weary head; Peyton Manning.
9) Cam Newton
Over the course of his four NFL seasons, the prototypical duel-threat quarterback has accounted for 112 touchdowns, 82 through the air and 33 with his feet. The 54 Interceptions he’s thrown in that time do not make fantastic reading, and his accuracy issues are well documented, but he is a winner, leading Carolina to back-to-back division titles, the first time any NFC South team has achieved that feat. With his weapons at wide receiver improving again this year with Kelvin Benjamin returning after an excellent rookie season and the addition of second round draft pick Devin Funchess, I foresee potential for a big season for Newton in 2015. In his four seasons at Carolina, he is yet to have a 1,000 yard running back take the pressure off him, but that could change this year as DeAngelo Williams’ departure puts the focus of the ground game squarely on the shoulders of Jonathan Stewart, who I believe has the ability to perform to a higher level than the man he has replaced. I firmly believe that on a roster with more depth, Cam Newton could certainly have achieved more already, and will achieve more in the future.
8) Drew Brees
This feels a bit low for a player I have been a huge fan of for many years, but as stated previously, this list is based on how I see these quarterbacks going forward into 2015, and as far as Brees is concerned, I am worried for him. Despite throwing an NFL leading 4,952 yards last season, with Jimmy Graham traded to the Seahawks (albeit to bring in some stout protection for Brees in center Max Unger) I have serious doubts about the Saints receiving corps. Marques Colston is inconsistent to say the least, and Brandin Cooks was certainly impressive before injury curtailed his rookie campaign, but there is a long way to go before he could be considered a consistently excellent target. In picking up running back CJ Spiller, the Saints clearly intend to keep the ball on the ground more this season, which will likely see a devaluation in Brees’ figures. I still see him as an elite quarterback, and if he were in a different situation team-wise I would rank him far higher, but I don’t trust this New Orleans outfit and therefore am expecting a downturn in production for Brees in 2015.
7) Philip Rivers
Through the first six weeks of last season, Rivers was on course for a monumentally good season, until injuries to both himself and key figures around him, a completely dismantled backfield, and an ever-changing offensive line put an end to the Chargers’ charge before it could truly begin. San Diego’s first six games of 2014 resulted in 5 wins and 1 loss, with Rivers throwing for 1,756 yards, 15 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. Had he carried that form on for the rest of the season (I know, I know, let’s just speculate), he’d have finished the season with the mind-blowing figures of 4,682 yards, 40 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions. Yes, mind-blowing indeed, especially when you realise just how close, relatively speaking, the number one guy on this list actually got to achieving to those stats…But let’s save that for a bit later shall we. Phil Rivers is brave, talented and comes up big in tough spots, and with the right (healthy) offense to back him up, he could make a substantial leap forward this year.
6) Tony Romo
I must give Romo a lot of credit. Last off-season I wrote an article which was highly critical of the Dallas quarterback, and in fairness to him, he had an excellent season to roundly rub my face in it, throwing 34 touchdowns, only 9 interceptions and recording the highest passer rating in the NFL on his way to leading his team to the brink of the NFC championship game. Still, number six is the absolute highest I could place him due to injury concerns and the fact that the Cowboys have made the inconceivable decision to remove from their franchise one of the major factors in last season’s success; a proper running game. DeMarco Murray leaving was expected, and would not have been a foolish decision at all had the Cowboys managed to replace him either in free agency or the draft. Alas, they did neither, and now look set to start the 2015 campaign with Darren McFadden or Joseph Randle as their feature back, either way, even behind an awesome offensive line I expect a drop-off from the production Murray enjoyed, and that in turn will hinder Romo.
5) Russell Wilson
Make no mistake, Russell Wilson is an excellent quarterback. Yes, it’s true that having Marshawn Lynch in the backfield and the most dominant defense in the NFL over the last three years on his side has helped immeasurably in his development, take nothing away from the third round selection who has demonstrated supreme ability with both his arm and feet since he entered the league in 2012. I am in no doubt he is deserving of his place in my top five. His intuitive ability to understand pressure, and the calmness he shows to stay in the pocket is key to why I rate him so highly. It is not often noted that when a player has the ability to scramble, and scramble effectively, it’s incredibly difficult for them to resist doing just that, even if remaining focused on playing from the pocket is the better option. Wilson’s maturity belies his years, and his athletic skill is second to none. He is a born underdog, a fighter, and no matter what one feels about the Seahawks as a whole, it is very hard to root against him. With the Seattle defense seemingly set to remain just as impressive as we’ve come to expect, and with the addition of Jimmy Graham as not only a weapon for Wilson in the passing game, but also as a distraction to allow even more impact from both Wilson and Lynch on the ground, I expect another dominant season in 2015.
4) Ben Roethlisberger
I’m a huge fan of Big Ben, just like everyone else seems to be now. I’ve seen him ranked very highly by many NFL experts this off-season, and though I toyed with moving the 3, 4 and 5 placements around, in the end I think the number four spot was right. His statistics for last year are seriously impressive, a career high 4,952 passing yards and 32 touchdowns and his third best season even in terms of interceptions thrown, with just 9, he looks far from a veteran quarterback and more like a player entering his prime. He had the third highest pass completion percentage of any QB in my top 10, behind Brees and Romo, and his 3rd down completion percentage of 43.54% was higher than two of the names that have yet to feature. He is arguably the best quarterback in the league at extending plays, and one of those players who transcend mere statistics with the entertainment level they bring. He is a joy to watch, and with an abundance of talent surrounding him (even if star running back Le’Veon Bell will miss the opening 3 games of 2015), the pieces are all in place for Roethlisberger to continue to perform at the same sky-scrapingly high level he achieved last term in 2015.
3) Andrew Luck
Although I’m not one of those who has already anointed Andrew Luck the greatest quarterback on the next 15 years, and though I certainly believe he has faults in his game that he must improve to reach the next ‘tier’, he is without doubt a sensationally talented quarterback, and a player who heading into 2015 has all the tools within himself and all the necessary weapons around him to have a historically good season. That’s why he makes number three on my list. The amount of turnovers lost, both via interception and fumble, are probably the most obvious detracting issue in Luck’s game, and there is no denying that at times his decision making appears to be somewhat lacking, but that particular fault is offset keenly by his sensational play-making ability, and resourcefulness in broken play situations. There is also a slight concern for some generated by his lack of production towards the end of last season, including the playoffs, where after a strong performance against Cincinnati, he was less than stellar against the Broncos and hugely disappointing in the AFC title game against the Patriots. Luck is hardly ‘under pressure’ in terms of his long-term future as an NFL star, but this is a big year for him to prove that he is deserving of being put in the same category as the very best, or whether he is just another of the chasing pack.
2) Tom Brady
First things first, deflated footballs and the surrounding hoopla that has ensued since the AFC championship game last season does not factor into this article. Tom Brady being banned for four games, or two games, or however many games for whatever he may or may not have done/been aware was being done is not something that has any bearing on my selecting him as the second best quarterback heading into 2015. 4,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and 9 interceptions are impressive figures, not quite as impressive as other QB’s listed previously, Ben Roethlisberger in particular, but obviously, it’s not just numbers that have weighted this decision. Brady’s ability to lead, his ability to step up and be ‘clutch’ when it really matters, and force players around him to perform at a higher level than is generally expected is what makes him so great. With a completion percentage of 44.83% only two quarterbacks had a higher success rate on 3rd down in 2014, (Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning, in case you were wondering), and his performances in the playoffs were terrific, and in the Super Bowl against one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, he was nothing short of magnificent.
1) Aaron Rodgers
Well isn’t this a surprise? Seriously though, is there anyone anywhere who wouldn’t have this man number one on a list such as this? The reigning 2014 MVP is both statistically and aesthetically unparalleled, and couldn’t have been placed anywhere else but out on his own as the clear number one quarterback in the NFL. In 2014, Rodgers threw for 4,381 yards, 38 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions, and that wasn’t even his best season in recent memory. He will head into the 2015 season having not thrown a pick at Lambeau field since the 2nd December 2012, with a home record since then of 17 games played, 41 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Since 2007 his passer rating for the season has dipped below 100.00 only once, in 2008 when it fell to 93.8, which, to put it in perspective, is the quarterback rating achieved by Philip Rivers last season. His ability to extend plays, and bravery to remain upright and take hits as he throws is among the best, as his desire to play through injury, as we witnessed last season when he lead the Packers to a come-from-behind Divisional round victory over the Dallas Cowboys effectively on one good leg. His decision making and pre-snap awareness is second to none and above all, he makes it all look very easy at times, something that only the truly great can do. Heading into 2015, he has an abundance of weapons to work with, with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams at wide receiver as well as a the powerful running back tandem of Eddie Lacy and James Starks. Last year’s offensive line was the best Rodgers has enjoyed in Green Bay so far, and the unit will be returning again, leading me to firmly believe everything is in place for Rodgers to out-perform even his own incredibly high standards in 2015.
Agree? Disagree? As always feel free to comment, like, share and review at all the usual places, and find me on Twitter @Dylanbaker1986