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Patrick Daugherty

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NFL's Best QB Situations 2018

Sunday, August 19, 2018


If you don’t have a Peyton Manning, you better have everything else. This is a lesson Manning himself learned in 2015-16, when the shell-of-his-former-self quarterback was dragged to his second Super Bowl title by the Broncos’ elite defense. Champion aspirations always begin and usually end in the quarterback room, making it the most important position in North American sports.  


Everything is taken into account as we evaluate the league-wide landscape. Age, track record, future projection, injury history, retirement rumblings, etc. As I stress every year, this is why simply having the best quarterback does not mean you have the best quarterback situation. Tom Brady and Drew Brees are year-to-year propositions. Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan are not. Last year’s list can be found here. 2016’s is here.     


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1. Seahawks, Russell Wilson


Russell Wilson is older than you think (30 in November) but younger than the rest of his elite brethren. Although Wilson has never won an MVP award, the Seahawks have never had a losing season on his watch. That could change in 2018 but it won’t be because of Wilson, who rebounded from an injury-marred 2016 with an electric 2017. Wilson accounted for 37 touchdowns while turning the ball over just 14 times. He did so despite getting walloped for 43 sacks behind the league’s worst group of blockers. Trying times are ahead for Seattle. The defense’s heart has been cut out while the offensive line has scarcely improved. Wilson’s proven “weapons” are Doug Baldwin and little else. 2018 figures to be his most challenging campaign. The reason it won’t be a lost cause for the Seahawks is their quarterback’s presence under center. Wilson’s combination of proven production and safely-bankable future seasons gives Seattle the league’s best quarterback situation.   


2. Packers, Aaron Rodgers


The NFL’s best player turns 35 in December. That age has hardly been a precipice for elite quarterbacks, though it can be a warning light for the more mobile-minded. Steve Young, John Elway, Tony Romo, etc. Aaron Rodgers himself can attest to the increased difficulty of scrambling around in your mid-30s. 2017 saw him miss half the season with a broken collarbone for the second time in five years. The older the human body gets, the less it likes getting crunched by 300-pound linemen. This is the minefield Rodgers must navigate as he looks to age like a fine Tom Brady wine. We will continue to give Rodgers the benefit of the doubt, as his play has yet to slip. Perhaps he will have to spend less time gliding around the pocket, but mobility is not his only weapon. There’s also his league-best arm, and more than anything, his brain. As gifted mentally as he is physically, Rodgers should have the computing power to provide another half decade of elite play.    


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3. Eagles, Carson Wentz/Nick Foles


Carson Wentz is coming off one of the best sophomore seasons in NFL history. His 33 touchdowns — which he managed in 13 games — were tied for the sixth most ever for a quarterback 25 or under, while his seven interceptions were the fewest for a pre-25 30-touchdown campaign. He was on pace to become the league’s youngest MVP since Emmitt Smith in 1993 before tearing his ACL in Week 14. Wentz’s knee is his only question mark going forward. Already bound to regress on last year’s sky-high 7.5 touchdown percentage, Wentz’s recovery figures to limit his mobility as he gets his legs back underneath him. He won’t be matching or exceeding his 2017. Thankfully for the Eagles, he should have at least another decade to do so. A Favreian-type talent, Wentz is poised to turn the Eagles into annual Super Bowl contenders.          


4. Lions, Matthew Stafford


One of the league’s most underappreciated players, Matthew Stafford got in nine years of NFL football before turning 30. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 draft has not missed a game since 2010. Once inefficient and turnover prone, Stafford has grown more careful and precise with age. Amongst the 18 quarterbacks to make more than 40 starts since 2015, Stafford’s 33 interceptions are 12th. In that same group, his 66.1 completion percentage ranks fifth. At one time the owner of a curiously-low touchdown percentage — 3.6 from 2012-14 — Stafford has seen it normalize to 4.9 over the past three seasons. He has accomplished all this while remaining prolific, averaging 4,345 yards since 2015. Maybe Stafford will never become a true superstar, but he’s cultivated one of football’s highest, safest floors. There is still time to establish a new ceiling.        


5. Falcons, Matt Ryan


Now 33, Matt Ryan hasn’t missed a game since he was 24. In between has been the highest of peaks and lowest of valleys. 2015 was the nadir, with Ryan providing as many turnovers as touchdowns (21) as the Falcons limped to an 8-8 record to complete an 18-30 (.375) three-year stretch. He stunningly rebounded in 2016 to win the Falcons’ first MVP award and bring them within an improbable choke of their first Super Bowl title. Ryan split the difference between these two extremes in 2017, throwing for a disappointing 20 touchdowns but posting the third-highest YPA of his career (7.74). Ryan can’t single-handedly win you a division like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but he can make hay with excellent supporting casts. That’s what he has for 2018 with Calvin Ridley joining Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Mohamed Sanu. Ryan has the kind of big-armed skill-set that has aged exceptionally well in the 21st century. He should have a minimum of 4-5 prime seasons left in the tank, enough for the Falcons to reach at least one more NFC Championship Game. They have averaged an appearance every five years with Ryan at the controls.       


6. Panthers, Cam Newton


Cam Newton in a nutshell? His 59.1 completion percentage last year was his highest since 2013. Now 29, Newton is a finished product as a passer. The “next step” isn’t coming. That’s why the Panthers ultimately decided not to change him as a runner. The buzz going into 2017 was that Newton was going to run less and get the ball out quicker. After four games where he averaged just 5.5 rushes and accounted for only seven total touchdowns, that plan went out the window. Newton was unleashed to the tune of 10 weekly rushes for the season’s final 12 games, resulting in the Panthers’ fourth playoff appearance in seven years with Newton at quarterback. Newton’s play is never going to be easy on the eyes. Whatever city he’s playing in will be the overthrow capital of the world that day. But it’s pointless to hope for Newton to be someone he’s not. He’s a monster truck under center, one fitted with a cannon to get the ball down field. It’s a style that could burn out early, but Newton is still on the right side of 30. At the bare minimum, he should have 3-4 years of elite football left in the can.       


7. Colts, Andrew Luck


It’s been forever since Andrew Luck started a game but it won’t be much longer. The human body does heal. Luck will be out there. When he is, it will be as a 29-year-old former No. 1 overall pick who has posted a 5.9 touchdown percentage over his past 38 games. That’s going back to the start of the 2014 season. It’s a small, skewed sample size, but only Aaron Rodgers had a higher percentage of his throws go for six during that timeframe. It’s possible Luck will never be the same but it is more likely he will pick up where he left off. Luck was already hobbled during a 2016 where he averaged 7.78 yards per attempt and posted a 31:13 TD:INT ratio. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league, one who still has over a year on the right side of 30. He should be under center for at least another half decade in Indianapolis, and likely longer. Luck’s career hasn’t been what was expected. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been good. There’s still lots of time for it to get where it’s been going.     


8. Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger


Ben Roethlisberger’s latest gambit on his 4D chessboard? Saying he hopes to play at least three more seasons. This, after the then 34-year-old supposedly flirted with retirement during the 2017 offseason. It’s never easy to tell which way the Roethlisberger wind is blowing, but the overall weather is always the same: Dominant football. His 7.90 YPA over the past four seasons is second only to Matt Ryan’s 7.95, while his 5.1 touchdown percentage is fourth. As accurate as he’s ever been — a completion percentage of at least 64.0 each of the past five years — Roethlisberger continues to balance efficiency with aggression. According to Pro Football Focus, 15.7 percent of Roethlisberger’s 2017 attempts were directed more than 20 yards down the field. Only Russell Wilson and DeShone Kizer threw deep more often. Years of savage hits have reduced Roethlisberger’s mobility, but he’s missed just one game with injury over the past two seasons. The only thing keeping Roethlisberger from ranking higher on this list is his year-to-year outlook. If his mind sticks with his “three more years” pledge, his body should be able to honor it.     

 

9. Patriots, Tom Brady


Tom Brady’s 2017 was nothing if not Shakespearean. Along the way to becoming the league’s oldest MVP at age 40, Brady is rumored to have forced the trade of his understudy while falling out with his mentor. These unpredictable contours still ended in a familiar spot: The Super Bowl. It was Brady’s eighth appearance in 16 non-injury shortened years as starter. Brady has long talked of playing beyond the bounds of what was previously possible, but that was before his bitter 2017. A more sober Brady admitted to Oprah in June — seriously — that time is running out. “I think about it more now than I used to,” Brady said. “I think now I’m seeing there’s definitely an end coming sooner rather than later.” It sounds revelatory coming from Brady, but elementary from a 41-year-old. Regardless of his intentions, Brady is year to year at this stage of his career, perhaps even game to game. Peers like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre learned this lesson in real time. With Jimmy Garoppolo gone, the Pats don’t have a backup plan. Brady’s ceiling remains the highest in football. That’s why even one year of Brady merits a top-10 ranking. It’s just that the floor could fall out at any moment.   


10. Saints, Drew Brees


There have been nine 5,000-yard seasons in NFL history. Drew Brees has five of them. The nine times a quarterback has finished with a completion percentage north of 70? Brees was four of them. That’s … insane. Brees is every bit as good as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, and when the dust settles on this era of NFL football, it’s possible future generations will decide he was the best to ever do it. The only thing holding Brees back on this list is age. He turns 40 in January. Brady crossed that Rubicon without breaking a sweat. It’s possible, if not likely, Brees will, too. You just can’t take anything for granted when it comes to a 39-year-old human body and the NFL. Brees is year to year. For 2018, the Saints will gladly take it, paying Brees roughly $25 million. When it comes to 2019, check back next year.


Don't forget, for the latest on everything NFL, check out Rotoworld's Player News, or follow @Rotoworld_FB or @RotoPat on Twitter.


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Patrick Daugherty is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Patrick Daugherty



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