We looked at the RBs. Then did so more closely. Now, a gander at the QBs in the National Football League. Again, this is just subjective opining from me, and I'm not evaluating careers, just who I think is the better bet at QB for the future.
The Gold Standard
Tom Brady, New England Patriots: Sure he has an inherent advantage every time out, you know, with all the insider information he is armed with. But his ability to get rid of the ball quickly, and deliver such catachable footballs with pin-point precision, is nearly unrivaled. The stats, records, and SBs all qualify him as a can't miss Hall of Famer. Edge: Brady
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts: Will probably go down as the greatest pocket passing QB in NFL history, especially if he can win one or two more SBs. The records will definitely be all his. Can he get it done in the postseason a few more times? Edge Manning
Tier 1 - Franchise QBs
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: I know we've all see Big Ben play plenty, so I'll keep this brief. I think that Roethlisberger can go down as the greatest Steelers QB ever but for now, there's still plenty to work on. Namely, throwing the ball away, protecting his body as he enters the middle and later stages of his career, and not making the costly turnover when everything's on the line. He did it against Arizona this past year, and then the problem that plagued him all of 2006 resurfaced in the first half of the Jacksonville game. Let's see him eliminate some of those mistakes, while continuing to make plays with his arm and feet, before we're ready to mention him in the same breath as Manning and Brady. For my money, there's not many, if any at all as you'll see, that I'd rather have at QB than Big Ben. His dearth of experience, both positive and negative, his playoff experience, plus his age and unique skill set all give us plenty of reason to believe that our organization will be extremely compeititve for quite some time.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: I actually think this is a very tough call. Obviously I'd take Ben's play-making ability with his feet over Brees' any day, and the physical differences between the two are substantial - Brees stands at 6'0" (generously) vs. Roethlisberger's 6'5". But I'm not sure there are many better QBs when given time than Brees, and that's including Manning and Brady. Brees is probably the most accurate pure passer in the game, and he does a fantastic job getting rid of the ball quickly when nothing's there, as evidenced by his astoundingly low number of sacks for the only so-so line he plays behind. If you need proof that Brees is unbelievably accurate, take a look at his completion %'s from the past four years. His lowest makr? 64.3%. Wow. Don't discredit the fact that Brees has basically played a ginormous role in turning around two moribound franchises this decade. Edge: Brees
Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals: If you had asked me this a year ago, I would have given the nod to Palmer. But I was unimpressed with his play this year. He's still as good as anybody on any given day, but did you know that his 20 INTs were tied for the most in the league in 2007? Palmer is still a QB the Bengals should feel blessed to have, but like Big Ben did in 2007, he'll need to rebound in 2008 to again have his name mentioned as one of the 3-5 best QBs in the league. Palmer will turn 29 in December of this year. It's time for him to take a few steps forward as a leader and as a winning QB in this league. Edge: Big Ben
Tier 1A - Franchise QBs With Something To Prove
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys: I made up the silly category Tier 1A for guys like Romo, David Garrard, and Marc Bulger. These are QBs who either earn, or will soon earn, top dollar, but in my mind, are not yet quite as accomplished as their brethren above them, or who have had their careers stalled by injuries. Let's start with Romo. Find all the comparison between Big Ben and Tony in this comment thread and decide for yourself. For my money, I'd take Big Ben though I have ample respect for what Romo can do on the field. I'm not one to judge by such a small sample of playoff games (it's for this reason why I think Schottenheimer is given one of the most unfair raps in all of sports), but I still think Romo has got lots to learn and not as much time as Roetlisberger to get it done (let alone experience at this point). Romo did put up huge yardage and TD numbers, but his 19 INTs and 10 fumbles leave plenty of room for Romo to shore up his game. Romo turns 28 in late April. Will he figure it out soon enough to put up big numbers and lead the Cowboys to the Promised Land while he's still in his physical prime? Edge: Big Ben
Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles: When he's healthy, he still can lead a team as good as anybody. With Chris Webbeter retiring from the NBA yesterday, now might be a good time to compare the two. Both incredible talents who seemed to have everything going for them when they first entered the league. But a string of playoff disappointments, plus injuries, derailed both of their careers from the glorious destinies they seemed to be heading towards. Now, it's not clear if McNabb will ever be able to recover fully enough to lead his team to a SB again and cement himself as one of the better QBs to play in the league in the past 20 years. Instead, he'll likely go down as one of those infamous 'what could have been' type athletes that probably don't get a fair shake when they are judged after the fact. Edge: Roethlisberger (for the future; let's just hope Big Ben can reach the heights Donovan did in his hey-day)
Marc Bulger, St. Louis Rams: Before last year's disastrous season, Bulger had posted only one season with below a 90 QB rating (2003), and 0 seasons with a completion % under 62%. The guy can throw the ball when he has a running game to compliment him and an offensive line that can keep him one piece. It did not in 2008. Did you know that Bulger had 37 sacks in just 12 games last year? Give him a few more games and he most certainly surpasses Big Ben's ridiculous 47 sacks in 2007. Bulger, who makes big bucks, turns 31 next week. I can't see how the Rams are able to stay competitive enough to maximize the next several years of Bulger's career. If they are not, he'll likely be just a mere footnote in the annals of NFL history, a poor man's Drew Brees of sorts. If the Rams are able to keep him upright, Bulger still has the big arm and instinctual prowess in the pocket to post more 3500+ yard seasons, something he's done 3 times in his career compared to just once at this point for Roethlisberger. Still, when you factor in age + mobility + playoff experience, only a fool would select Bulger to lead their organization in 2008 and beyond over Roethlisberger. Edge: Big Ben
David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars: I'm awfully hesitant to put David Garrard in this class of QBs based on his skimpy resume, but I'm also willing to acknowledge that in some respects, he's as good a QB as an organization can hope to have outside of the top 2 guys, Manning and Brady. The stats aren't there for Garrard at this point, and given his age, they most likely never will be. But that's more a product of circumstance and opportunity rather than ability. Since been given the chance, Garrad has been oustanding, especially protecting the football. I absolutely abhor the term 'managing games' as a QB - it usually means the QB stinks and can't be trusted to throw the ball. But in Garrard's case, he does actually fit the bill. He's capable of throwing the ball on 3rd down accurately and efficiently, and when nothing's there, he almost robotically decides to turn things back over to his defense rather than taking a sack or throwing a pick, something our boy Roethlisberger has yet to master. In his last 27 games as a starter, Garrard has thrown just 13 picks, including a league low of 3 in 2007. His 7.7 yards per attempt were only .1 fewer than Roethlisberger's and good for 7th best in the league. At 30 years old however, I can't say I'd take him for the long haul. Maybe, for the absolute immediate future, but only if my team was as complete in other departments like Jacksonville's team is. Pittsburgh's is not, meaning we need more big-play capability from our QB, something I believe Roethlisberger holds the advantage over Garrard on. Edge: Big Ben
Matt Hasselback, Seattle Seahawks: Some like Matt's game more than others. I'm not sure precisely how I view him as a QB in this league. Looking at his career stats, I basically conclude that he's a safe, proven commodity, but not necessarily one that's talented enough to single-handedly lead your team to greatness come playoff time or under tough circumstances against the league's best teams. Here's basically what you're going to get out of Hasselback every year: 58-63 completion %, 20-25 TDs, 12-15 INTs, and roughly 3,500 yards passing. Hard to dismiss that type of production over the course of a career, but at the same time, there are no oustanding outliers amongst his season totals. There's no 30+ TD seasons, only one season with a QB rating over 95, and only two for that matter over 90 (including last year, when he posted a 91.4 rating for the year). When we played Hasselback (without Clark or Polamalu mind you), I saw a QB who looked confused, emotionally frustrated, and incapable of stabilizing his team on a day when the group desperately needed some fire and emotional uplifting. Matt turns 33 next season. I imagine he'll continue his solid play for several more years, but I just don't see him as a franchise-savior type QB like Brees, Roethlisberger, Brady and Manning. That said, he's still one of the better QBs in a league filled with mediocre signal callers. Hasselback has led his team to the playoffs for a number of years now, so if we're going by career accomplishments, he belongs near the top for his entire body of work. When selecting for the future however, it's a different story. Edge: Roethlisberger
Tier 2 - Plenty to be optimistic about, but still question marks
Eli Manning, New York Giants: Let's start by giving Manning his due for a phenomenal late season run and for his remarkable poise, consistency, and leadership during the playoffs. If he can carry that type of play over to the regular season in forthcoming years, Manning will quickly catapult himself into Tier 1 in my mind. For now, he's not quite there, even though he deserves tremendous kudos for his durability, having started 48 games in the past three regular seasons. Even with his solid play late last year, Manning still tied for the league lead in picks, and again failed to post a QB rating over 80, something he's yet to do in his 4 year career. He's also failed to complete 60% of his passes for the year yet, or average at least 7 yards per pass attempt. Some of that can be explained by the rough weather he plays in; some can be attributed by the handcuffs his coaching staff put on him earlier in his career; and some can be explained by the fact that Tiki Barber anchored one of the league's best rushing attacks for his first three years in the league. However, that doesn't excuse him of all the poor decisions and bad mechanics he's displayed since being drafted #1 overall and refusing to play in San Diego. Just show us it wasn't a fluke Eli and we'll take you seriously for years to come. Cool? Cool. Edge: Big Ben
Phillip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: Time to make these assesments a bit shorter, now that we're down a bit on the food chain. Rivers has talent, we know that. But his mechanics are funky, his arm strength isn't as good as initially advertised, and he doesn't have the same calm demeanor that is needed at times to successfully lead an NFL offense over the course of an adverity riddled 16 game NFL season. His win-loss record is outstanding. And his wealth of college experience has seasoned him plenty for big moments, as we saw demonstrated in the playoffs and at times in 2006. We'll have to see how he fares as LT is phased out of the offense a smidge over the next 3-5 years. Edge: Big Ben
Matt Schaub, Houston Texans: Who knows. Has looked good at times as a starter, but a huge void in data makes it hard to assess this guy's potential. I'll put him here because he doesn't make a ton of mistakes, has a good command of the huddle, has a decent enough of an arm, and actually has the Texans thinking they're close to breaking through, something I'm not sure was ever possible. Edge: Big Ben
Yet to be determined but worthy of recognition
Vince Young, Tennessee Titans: Young, gaining experience, and much improved as a thrower, despite the hideousness of the statitistics. Bottome line is he's won a lot of games leading a very suspect collection of offensive talent.
Jay Cutler, Denver Broncos: Lots of talent; all the skills; prototypical frame and skill set. Zero history of winning tough tight games though. Denver has plenty to be optimistic about, but it's about time Cutler led a playoff march, even in the tough AFC.
Derek Anderson, Cleveland Browns: An enigma of sorts. Has looked All-World at times and All-Arena League bound at others. He's young and extremely raw. If he gets the mental part of the game down, he should settle in to a long NFL career somewhere. Then again, he might be one of those big-armed QBs (see Jeff George), who jumps from team to team over his career due to teams not quite wanting to invest their long-term future in him at QB.
Jon Kitna, Detroit Lions: Only mentioned because of his competitive spirit. On a one-game basis, he's an accpetable option capable of willing his team to victory. Over the long-haul, he's not consistent enough I don't believe to ever lead a team to sustained excellence over the course of multiple seasons. At his age, we pretty much know what to expect from him: lots of numbers, lots of sacks, plenty of printable quotes, and a losing team record.
I'm out of time for now. Who else might deserve to be in one of these tiers. I raced through this due to time constraints, so it's entirely possible I've left out a very obvious name.