By: Kevin Levine
Right now, the two best quarterbacks’ in the league are Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. I don’t care which order you want to put them in, because an argument can be made for each. Both are leading their teams to the top of their respective divisions. Between the two, they are a combined 11-0 this season, with a 29 to three TD to INT ratio. They are the two most dominating QB’s in the game, and there is nothing any opposing defense has been able to do to stop them. However, their dominance is not the question that remains unanswered. The question is who falls next?
There is nothing like a good controversy at the most heralded position in professional sports. No position gets as much scrutiny as the QB, no praise is as high, and no fall is as dramatic. So when the NFL has no clear-cut third best quarterback after six weeks of the season, somebody has to take a stand and declare a winner. I will not be that man. I do not have the qualifications nor the knowledge to be that man. However, I’m very curious as to which analyst has the bravado to take a mighty leap and declare who comes after the mighty two at the top, because right now they have a dozen names to pick from.
Let us start with the QB’s thought to be up-and-comers. Of course, Andrew Luck has to be the first name mentioned. Coming into the season, Luck was a thought to be a contender for the MVP. His career trajectory, once on an exponential curve, has taken a sudden dive off a cliff. Will he rebound? Probably. But as of today, his mighty Colts, once thought to be a Super bowl favorite, are a mediocre 3-3 in the worst division in football. Luck himself only has one more TD than INT, and is boasting a 25th best 42.3 QBR, behind such QB’s as Blake Bortles, Josh McCown, and Brandon Weeden. While Luck seemed surefire to join the group of elite QB’s, his path to dominance has been subdued it seems for at least one more season. Another QB’s poised for greatness that fallen short has been Russell Wilson. Wilson sits 15th in total yards, with a measly 7 TD passes this year. Only three full-time QB’s fall below that mark: Colin Kaepernick, Kirk Cousins, and Alex Smith. Not any names you associate with greatness. But Wilson’s defining mark is that he normally leads great teams without putting up stellar numbers, and if that were true this year he might make a case to be at the top of everyone else. But his mighty Seahawks are 2-4, 3rd in their division and not even in the hunt for a playoff spot at this juncture.
The next set of quarterback’s we have to look at is guys who were at the elite level and have fallen off the pedestal of greatness. I know what you’re thinking, that it was just a fancy way of saying Peyton Manning. Well yea, but I also had Drew Brees in mind. Two QB’s that were once, not too long ago, considered elite, and have fallen back to the rest of the pack. While Manning’s Broncos are undefeated, for the first time in Manning’s career it is on the heels of his team’s defense rather than the offense. The Broncos have won two games this year where the defense has scored more TD’s than the offense. Manning leads the league in just one category: Interceptions. To top it off, he has thrown three less TD’s this year than INT’s. Something he hasn’t even come close to since his rookie year. Brees on the other hand hasn’t had any particularly outstanding stats to signify his downfall, just a rather lack of superior stats that he once had. The Saints are no longer the powerhouses of the NFC South, the Superdome is no longer feared, and Brees is not the passing machine he once was. While the Saints are managing, they aren’t thriving like they once did in the glory years of the Sean Peyton spread ‘em out offense we became so accustomed to seeing, as signified by Brees’ measly 7 TD’s.
Next, I think we have to look at the “Holy Cow, where did these guys come from group?” These are guys who have been solid QB’s but have never been at the top…. Until this season. This is what has made the race for third especially cloudy. Guys that have been mediocre are suddenly rising to the top of the list. Andy Dalton for example. Long considered to the bar for average, Dalton is leading the league in QBR, and is second in yards, TD’s, and INT’s. The Bengals are undefeated and looking like one of the top teams in the NFL. So why not Dalton? The only thing keeping people from proclaiming him as the third best QB in the league is his past. Season after season of mediocre. Always right in the middle of every major stat, with a team that was always on the edge of the playoffs and would always lose in the first round. Another example would be Matt Ryan. Not a guy most thought to be elite, but has gotten off to a hot start this season. He’s third in yards, seventh in QBR, and is leading one of the best teams in the NFL. So what the Falcons went 6-10 last year, and Ryan barely cracked the top ten in TD’s? What about Philip Rivers? Leading the league in yards and a 70.0 percent completion percentage is extremely impressive, but the Chargers are floundering at 2-4.
Finally, I’d like to bring one more guy into the mix. I’m calling him the “Most people think I’ve lost my mind candidate.” Blake Bortles. Tomato is thrown. Hold one second Ducks from another tomato. Hear me out. This last guy is sixth in yards and fifth in TD’s, and he’s doing it with no offense line to speak of, a list of WR’s that would never be described as household names, and a running game that would generously be described as weak. Yes, his team is 1-5, but this is where they were expected to be. He may not be superstar material yet, but he is slowly crawling his way into the conversation. Just don’t be surprised when people bring his name into the mix when the final game is played and all the stats are tallied is all I’m saying.