With all due respect to Manning and Rivers, two of the most unfairly maligned quarterbacks in the game, what it boils down to is one simple stat - winning percentage. Roethlisberger's borders on 70 percent (.669) with Eli at .563 and Rivers at .617. Add in the fact Roethlisberger has yet to participate in a losing season for the Steelers, it makes his two Super Bowl rings shine a bit brighter than Manning - who has out-performed Roethlisberger in his own two Super Bowl wins.
It comes down, simply, to reversing the decision. Instead of looking at the inclusion of the player on your roster, look at it as the presence of that player on your opponents' roster. Which of the three do you want to play against the most? It's not Roethlisberger.
He's the more versatile of the three, capable of finding any one of a multitude of ways to beat you on any play. Only extreme leads are safe with Roethlisberger under center. Opponents have to prepare for a style that just doesn't exist anywhere else, leading to a long week of preparation for opposing defenses.
Again, Rivers and Manning are sensational quarterbacks, and in many ways, three teams would be happy if they divided up the three of them. But none of them would pass on Roethlisberger for either Manning or Rivers now.
He's just too difficult to beat, and their career winning percentages bear that out.
You can make the argument Manning's mechanics or Rivers' stats merit their worthiness of consideration over Roethlisberger for that hypothetical pick, but again, the question is more properly framed as which one would you take for the sake of never having to go against them. That is the true measure of ability; the level of fear and intimidation a quarterback imposes.
Defenders can't rattle Roethlisberger like they can rattle Rivers. Defenders fear the spontaneity of Roethlisberger much more than the stone-footed Manning. Roethlisberger can find seldom-used Will Johnson in the corner of the end zone with two guys hanging on him as easily as Manning can fire a dart 30 yards down the field to Victor Cruz. He can savor the final drive, march his team down the field at his very best and set up the game-winning score just as easily as Rivers can hit Antonio Gates on third-and-9.
Defenses have to use considerable caution in defending Manning and Cruz as well as Rivers and Gates. But Roethlisberger is hitting Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery and David Paulson and scores of other players non-existent in terms of league value. What's Mike Wallace done since he left Pittsburgh? If anything, the best receiver to leave town was Plaxico Burress, and Manning had less production with him than Roethlisberger did, and Ben only had him when he was 24 years old. Manning's prime was aided by Burress's size.
Ben's receivers are jockeys compared to the Vincent Jacksons and Hakeem Nicks's his 2004 draft counterparts have had in their careers.
Maybe Rivers catches fire and guides his team to three straight Super Bowls. Perhaps Manning figures out whatever was wrong with him last year (when he had the worst individual season any of the three have had) and leads the Giants to their third Super Bowl championship. In all of that, they wouldn't want to face Roethlisberger during their reaches for greatness.
He's already above them in that regard.