By: Chad Wilson – Editor GridironStuds Blog
I recently tweeted my Top 5 Quarterbacks in the NFL and as with any ranking of anything, especially in the World of sports, controversy ensues. The biggest bone that people chose to pick with me was concerning the fact that Andrew Luck failed to make my top 5. With all of the discussion that has arisen around this list, I thought it best to write an article with my explanation of my Top 5 and also added a couple of notes on some of the guys that did not make it.
Before I lay out the list, I must tell you that I consider decision making to be the biggest factor in being a quarterback in the NFL and thus, that weighed the most in my rankings. A quarterback is a leader of a team and as with any leader, the success of the group relies on the decisions that are made by it’s leader. The President is judged by his decisions, the CEO is judged by his decisions and a father is judged by the decisions he makes. Many fans, especially in this day and age, want to equate stats and passing ability as the number one factor and for some, it’s the only factor. We live in this Fantasy Football era but fantasy stats don’t bring championships.
Now that you know this, let me lay out the list
1. Aaron Rodgers
Why is Rodgers #1 because my eyes tell me so. The easy thing for a fan to see when evaluating Rodgers are the gaudy passing numbers. He has been at or near the top in QB rating over the last half decade or so. Rodgers is perhaps the most physically gifted signal caller in the league. He is probably the best pure passer in the league right now and also possesses an underrated amount of athleticism. Rodgers uses this athleticism to buy time in the pocket but also to sneak across the line of scrimmage at times and make the defense pay for running man coverages with one or more safeties high. However, Rodgers’ greatest gift is decision making. He just does not turn the ball over and put the defense in a bind. In three of the last four seasons, Rodgers has boasted a TD / INT ratio of greater than (+30). No other QB on this list can make such a claim. It’s amazing that Rodgers only holds one Super Bowl ring but that’s the only knock one can really make on this lights out signal caller.
2. Tom Brady
It would be hard to keep the man with the most Super Bowl rings of any active QB off this list and there’s no reason to. The reigning Super Bowl champion QB may have sagged some balls but he has proven his worth in this league time and again. With 4 Super Bowl rings in his jewelry box, it’s obvious that Brady can make the right moves on the field. Last season, Brady was asked to hand the ball off more in an era in which balls have been filling the air and Brady complied. The result was a return to the top of the mountain after a 9 year drought. Brady has also made an even more important decision at several times during his career and that is to take less at the negotiation table because he knows football is the ultimate team game. This is something that leaders do. Not only is Brady an effective passer but he has earned the respect of his teammates to the level where they can all give their most because they know it will pay off.
3. Russell Wilson
This is one of the picks that caught quite a deal of heat. I guess all these fans work for the Seattle Seahawks front office. Nevertheless, playing QB is not all about throwing the football. Again, its about making decisions. Outside of Aaron Rodgers, Wilson is perhaps the best decision maker in the league right now. While fans want to be impressed by the throws made by some of the other names that didn’t make this list, I continue to be impressed by the throws Russell Wilson doesn’t make. If you don’t believe that QB decisions aren’t the biggest factor in team success, watch the last play of our last Super Bowl. The one time that Wilson makes a bad decision in a key time, the Seahawks go down. So talk to me about how great their defense is and how great their running back is. Russell Wilson holds this team in his hands. Not only does he make A1 passing decisions, he’s as good as they come when it comes to deciding when to pull the ball out on the zone reads. Quite simply, Russell Wilson does not put his team in position to lose. It’s also not like he has a world class receiving corps to throw to. Some of that defensive success that the Seahawks are experiencing has to do with them facing less plays overall and less plays in their red zone than most other teams. Credit, Wilson’s ability to protect the ball and make quality decisions with the football. This ability to make wise decisions has put the Seahawks in the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons with only one dumb play call and bad decision keeping them from being the first back to back Super Bowl winners in a decade.
4. Joe Flacco
This pick drew the most venom. I guess it’s easy to attack Joe Flacco if you are Joe fan. He’s not as sexy as Rogers or Brady or Manning or Brees or Luck when it comes to putting up numbers. Cut Brady out of that group and Flacco holds as many rings as those other guys. Since he became the starter for the Ravens, they have been in the post season all but one year. During those playoff runs, Flacco and the Ravens have bounced the evil empire (New England Patriots) twice out of the post season and both times came in Foxboro. You don’t achieve this feat without a QB that can make wise decisions with the football. Flacco has shown up in the post season and that’s when you need your QB to be at his best. The murderous route the Ravens had to take to get to their Championship in 2012 is something to behold. Baltimore was a wildcard that beat the Colts then went to Denver and New England and out dueled two titans in the QB game to face a San Francisco team that everyone pretty much thought was going to take the trophy. This doesn’t happen without some good decisions being made at QB. Not to mention that Flacco has to deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals every year to get into the post season. Here’s a stat many fans don’t know about Joe Flacco. In post season play, Flacco has thrown 25 TDs and only 10 INTs. His +15 spread in that department is better than Manning, better than Roethlisberger, better than Luck’s and better than Wilson’s. Only Brady, Rogers and Brees rank better than him in that department. Wake up to Joe Flacco folks.
5. Peyton Manning
I guess most would say Manning should be number three on this list. I am not impressed by gaudy regular season numbers. They only serve to set fans up for disappointment. Peyton Manning has been entertaining in a video game type of way. Two seasons ago, he threw for a ridiculous 55 TDs but when it came nut cutting time, Manning and the Broncos couldn’t bust a grape. It has been a familiar scene throughout his career. Manning has a career that mirrors Dan Marino’s. Impressive ability to throw the football and put up numbers but championships, eh that’s for other people who have QBs that are willing to have running games that lead to solid and timely defense. Manning’s need to put up the video game numbers have kept him from the multiple rings. He can look no further than to John Elway for guidance on this. Elway was a ball throwing exhibitionist in the early part of his career. He was forced to learn that passing is pretty but the inability to have a balanced offense leads to ugly results in the big dance. Manning has not learned this lesson. He has been at it longer than anyone else on this list and holds no more rings than any of them. There’s a penalty for that. Do it when it counts. However, no one has done it better than Manning in the regular season and for that, you must acknowledge him on a list such as this. Besides, has won a Super Bowl in his lengthy career.
Other Notable Near Misses
A strong case could be made for Big Ben who holds multiple rings and had a monster stat year last year. However, I can’t put him ahead of Manning for obvious reasons and I put Flacco on over him because Ben makes those questionable decisions in the crunch that hurt. In his post season career, he has thrown 19 INTs against 21 TDs. If you’ve watched him play you have marveled at his pocket wizardry but there have also been many times when you have had to scratch your head on some of his decisions. He was mighty close though.
He was another one with an impressive resume that one could say deserved Top 5 recognition. Brees and Sean Payton have presided over a gimmicky offensive attack by NFL standards that has dazzled folks in the regular season but has disappointed in the post season. With the magical numbers Brees has put up over his career, one would expect more post season success but that has not been the case. Brees and the boys have only made the playoffs in 5 of the 9 years since he arrived in the Big Easy and are 6-4 in post season play. Match that up against the Ravens being the playoffs in 7 of Flacco’s 8 years and owning a 10-5 post season record over that time.
This was the name most expected and wanted on the list. Pump your brakes. For starters, you stat whores love Luck because he wins you Fantasy games on Sundays. Luck has thrown the ball over 600 times in each of his three seasons in the league. Of course he’s going to put up some stats doing that. What Luck does not have that every other person mentioned in this entire article does have is a Super Bowl ring. Luck certainly has the looks of a franchise QB and someone who’s going to have some great success in this league but he’s not yet a Top 5er. For one, he plays in a cuddly soft division. Who wouldn’t put up numbers in a division that also has foot rests like Houston, Tennessee and Jacksonville? Indy went 6-0 vs. those stone cold cupcakes in 2014 and managed a mere 5-5 vs. everyone else. To drive home that point, Indy was clobbered by post season foes Dallas (42-7), New England (42-20) and Pittsburgh (51-34) in the regular season. What other guy on this list has that happening to him? Not to mention that in the last two seasons, Luck and the Colts have been embarrassed in their final game of the season. A QB should be measured by his team’s success otherwise, guys like Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler start finding their way onto lists like this. Perhaps Luck will be a top 5 guy one day but not on my list, not today.