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Monday, June 25, 2018

Ranking the 10 best quarterbacks in the NFL

The NFL has morphed into a high-powered passing league, which means wide receivers have become paramount to a team’s overall success. We recently ranked the top 10 talents in the league.

But all talented receivers need an equally talented quarterback to throw to them. And while some can find success without an elite gunslinger (see: DeAndre Hopkins), they generally go hand-in-hand.

At the end of the day, the quarterbacks get all the glory (and on the other side of the coin, all of the blame). So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the 10 best quarterbacks currently getting it done in the NFL.

10. Eli Manning, New York Giants

This spot could have just as easily gone to Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer or a handful of others, but what’s a list without a little controversy?

Eli Manning is the NFL’s current iron man, having started 199 consecutive regular season games and 211 consecutive games overall. In fact, since taking over for Kurt Warner in 2004, Manning has never missed a start. It’s one of the more underrated and overlooked aspects of what makes Manning a top-end quarterback.

Although the Giants’ offense as a whole struggled in 2016, Manning still managed to pass for 4,000-plus yards and 25-plus touchdowns for the third consecutive season. He’s eclipsed 3,200 yards passing in 12 straight seasons and thrown for over 4,000 yards six different times.

While many focus on his interception totals, which have dropped since the departure of offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, Manning ranks in or near the top 10 in almost every single major passing category all-time. In 2017, he will eclipse 50,000 passing yards for his career and he already has 320 touchdowns to his name. He’s a two-time Super Bowl champion, two-time Super Bowl MVP, four-time Pro Bowler and now has more talent at receiver than he’s ever had before.

If Manning keeps his iron man streak alive, he could realistically end next season with over 52,500 yards and 350 touchdowns for his career, making him only the sixth player in league history to compile those numbers.

9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger is one of the most consistent and tough quarterbacks in the NFL. Unfortunately, that extends to his health and is the primary reason he’s not placed higher on this list.

Only three times in his 13-year career has Roethlisberger played in all 16 of the team’s regular season games, and in one of those seasons he was limited to only 17 touchdowns.

Still, despite that one downfall, Roethlisberger has been near dominant when healthy. He’s compiled a career record of 123-60, thrown for over 300 touchdowns and will likely eclipse 50,000 yards passing in 2017. He’s a two-time Super Bowl champion, a five-time Pro Bowler and won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2004.

Roethlisberger has passed for 3,000 yards or more in 11 consecutive seasons (4,000-plus in four of those seasons) and has thrown 20 or more touchdowns in six consecutive seasons. He also has a career completion percentage nearing 65 percent, so it’s easy to see why he ranked within the top 10.

8. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

Derek Carr signed a five-year, $125 million contract with the Raiders this offseason that speaks far more to what he’s going to do as an NFL player than what he’s already done. But either way, make no mistake about it, Carr deserved that massive deal and he’ll prove it in the years to come.

Carr may only check in at No. 8 right now, but he’s trending in the right direction. He’s become a young leader for the Oakland franchise both on and off the field, and he’s singlehandedly turning the team’s recent misfortunes around.

If not for a broken fibula suffered in Week 16, Carr would have eclipsed 4,000 yards passing last season and, quite possibly, reached the 30-touchdown threshold for the second consecutive year. He also completed a career-high 63.8 percent of his passes, which speaks to his rapid development.

Perhaps most impressive of all were Carr’s career-low six interceptions. Not once did he throw two or more in a game, which — paired with his rising completion percentage — tells the tale of what’s to come.

Top five on this list is in the very near future for Carr.

7. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Early in his career, Matthew Stafford was a true gunslinger. He could rack up yards and touchdowns with the best of them, but it would come at the cost of a lower completion percentage and a higher interception total.

In the last three years, Stafford has gotten away from that style of play to some degree and, as a result, his completion percentages have risen and his interception totals have fallen. And never was that change more evident than last year when Stafford finished the regular season with 4,327 yards, 24 touchdowns, a career-low 10 interceptions and a completion percentage above 65 percent.

For a player who has thrown for over 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in a season, some of those numbers may feel lacking. But perhaps more importantly than anything else, Stafford prevented offensive mistakes in 2016 en route to only his third winning season in the NFL.

With a little bit more time and some added offensive weapons, it will be interesting to see just how good this new and improved Matthew Stafford can be.

6. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson struggled at times during the 2016 season, but he eventually rounded back into shape and finished the year off strongly. However, some of those struggles did some real damage to his year-end numbers — particularly his five-interception performance against the Green Bay Packers in Week 13.

Despite that poor game, which added to a career-high 11 interceptions, Wilson still finished the season with some impressive statistics and the newly-proven ability to bounce back.

Wilson passed for over 4,000 yards for the second consecutive season and pushed his overall record as a starter to 56-23-1. He also has that one Super Bowl championship you can’t overlook. And although his touchdown numbers were down and interceptions were up last year, he continued to prove he’s an ascending quarterback capable of getting things done through the air and on the ground.

Although he didn’t run as often in 2016, Wilson still gained 259 yards rushing and maintains an average of 5.6 yards per rushing attempt for his career. It’s that added element that makes Wilson so much more dangerous than many of his peers. With a few more adjustments, perhaps he can propel himself into the top five league-wide.

5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck has had some ups and downs over his first five seasons, but he’s shown glimpses of a truly elite player. In fact, if not for an injury-riddled season in 2015, the perception of Luck might be very different.

That down year — a year in which he played poorly when he was able to take the field — was sandwiched between two remarkable seasons. In 2014, Luck completed nearly 62 percent of his passes for 4,761 yards and a league-leading 40 touchdowns. Then, in 2016, the former first overall pick bounced back and completed a career-high 63.5 percent of his passes for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns.

Luck has already been named to three Pro Bowls, but he now seems to be hitting his stride. And while it may have taken him a few years to really round into shape, Luck is more than capable of propelling himself into the top tier group of quarterbacks throughout the league.

If the Colts can find a way to keep Luck upright (he was sacked 41 times in 2016), he might be higher on this list a year from now.

4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

An argument could be made that Drew Brees deserves a higher ranking on this list and it would be entirely warranted. In fact, if the Saints were a better overall football team, perhaps that would be the case.

Either way, the 38-year-old Brees will be enshrined in Canton one day and remains one of the truly elite quarterbacks in the NFL.

In his 16th professional season, Brees completed 70 percent of his passes for 5,208 yards and 37 touchdowns. It was the fourth time in his career he’s eclipsed 5,000 yards passing and the 11th consecutive time he’s eclipsed 4,300 yards. It was also the ninth time — also consecutive — he’s thrown for more than 30 touchdowns. On two other occasions (2011 and 2012) he has thrown 43 touchdowns or more.

Brees has led the league in passing seven times and in touchdowns four times. He’s a 10-time Pro Bowler, a four-time All-Pro, a two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year and so on and so forth. Needless to say, he’s won a lot of awards and broken quite a few records.

The most amazing thing about Brees is that he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. At this pace, he could be effective well into his 40s.

3. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

It took Matt Ryan a few seasons to establish himself as one of the best in football. But since 2011, there’s been very little doubt about his status among the NFL’s elite.

With his NFL MVP performance last season, Ryan has now strung together six consecutive seasons with 4,150-plus yards and at least 26 touchdowns. He has eclipsed 30 passing touchdowns twice during that span and was only two shy of 40 in 2016.

Ryan has been named to the Pro Bowl four times, and he earned his first All-Pro nod last year. Unfortunately, Ryan and the Falcons weren’t able to hold on long enough for him to add “Super Bowl champion” to his rapidly increasing resume.

Still, at 32 years old, Ryan has room to grow as a quarterback and has a roster talented enough to potentially make Atlanta contenders for the next several years.

2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

It’s still hard to believe the San Francisco 49ers selected Alex Smith in the first-round of the 2005 NFL Draft instead of Aaron Rodgers, but hindsight is always 20/20.

Since then, Rodgers has won the NFL MVP award twice, been named to six Pro Bowls and earned three All-Pro nods. He also led the league in touchdown passes in 2016 and owns several all-time records, including the most consecutive seasons with a passer rating of over 100.0 (six, 2009-2014).

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Rodgers’ game is his accuracy coupled with decision-making. He has completed over 65 percent of his career passes and only twice eclipsed double-digit interceptions (13 in 2008 and 11 in 2010). On six separate occasions, Rodgers has thrown 30-plus touchdowns and fewer than nine interceptions.

If not for the next guy, Rodgers would easily be the No. 1 quarterback in the NFL.

1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

Tom Brady may be the obvious No. 1 to conclude this list, but what he’s managed to accomplish since being selected in the sixth-round of the 2000 NFL Draft cannot possibly be overstated. In fact, Brady has already made a legitimate case to be considered the greatest of all time and he’s not even finished yet.

Brady is already fourth all-time in passing yards (61,582), touchdowns (456) and completions (5,244). He’s a 12-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, five-time Super Bowl champion, four-time Super Bowl MVP and two-time NFL MVP. And those are just some of the incredible numbers and awards Brady has amassed throughout his career.

It’s consistency that sets Brady apart, however. No matter who his receivers, running backs or tight ends, the veteran is routinely the best or among the best passers in the league on a year-by-year basis. He’s had eight consecutive seasons of 3,500 or more passing yards and 25 or more touchdowns. In fact, only injury and a suspension have prevented a more impressive string.

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