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Thursday, August 1, 2013

NFL Quarterback Rankings 2013

It is that time of year again. Football is right around the corner! Last year, just before the beginning of the preseason, the Hat Trick ranked the starting quarterbacks from all 32 NFL teams. Today, we will do the same for the 2013 season.

Are you ready for some football?
Top Tier

1) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers - Last year's preseason rank: 1 (difference = 0)

I think he is the best in the game. He has it all: arm strength, accuracy, footwork, agility in the pocket, and scrambling ability. On top of that, all he does is win.  Rodgers is so elite that he threw 39 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions and his quarterback rating was down from 2011. The Packers will be Super Bowl contenders as long as he’s healthy.

2) Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos - Last year's preseason rank: 4 (difference = +2)

Manning answered his critics questioning whether or not he could return to dominance after neck surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. Manning guided the Broncos to the best record in the AFC last season and stayed healthy all year. He’s back and so are the Broncos. There’s a big feather in Executive Vice President John Elway’s hat for signing Manning.

3) Tom Brady, New England Patriots - Last year's preseason rank: 2 (difference = -1)

Brady had another outstanding season in 2012, but is headed for hard times in 2013. First Brady took a pay cut to free up cap space and was rewarded by the organization lowballing his favorite wide receiver, Wes Welker. Then star tight end Rob Gronkowski had surgery on his arm in the offseason and is likely to miss the start of the regular season. Then his other former Pro Bowl tight end, Aaron Hernandez, was cut from the team due to a thorny legal situation. Expect Brady to face his toughest test as a QB in years.

4) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints - Last year's preseason rank: 3 (difference = -1)

Nobody could have faced the circumstances Brees and the Saints faced last year and come out shining. The head coach, assistant head coach, and general manager were suspended for part or all of the season due to their roles in the Bountygate scandal. This is a new year with all of the key pieces in place and, by the way, Brees is still coming off of consecutive 5,000 yard passing seasons, notwithstanding the team’s turmoil last season. Brees still needs to take better care of the football (19 interceptions and five fumbles in 2012) if he wants to add another Super Bowl ring to his hand.

5) Eli Manning, New York Giants - Last year's preseason rank: 6 (difference = +1)

The last season collapse of the Giants kept Eli Manning from the playoffs and having a chance to defend their Super Bowl championship from the year before. The defense reverted back to its porous self from the early part of 2011 and placed Manning in a position where he had to take bigger risks with the ball. Still, Eli Manning is a leader, a winner, and a play maker. Two Super Bowl MVPs and a host of clutch performances offset a tough year on the stat sheet and in the win column.

Manning has the best chance of any of the elite quarterbacks to return to the Super Bowl. 1 
Tier 2

6) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers - Last year's preseason rank: 5 (difference = -1)

Nobody is tougher, but at age 31, that could be a liability for Big Ben. Divisions and playoff berths are decided by the slimmest of margins with the high degree of parody in today’s NFL. Roethlisberger has played in all 16 regular season games only once in his career – in the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII winning season of 2008.

He has missed three or more games in two of the past three seasons. In addition, Roethlisberger throws fewer passes than his peers in the top, elite tier. For these reasons, I can’t justify grouping Big Ben with the aforementioned best of the best, but he’s pretty damn good and I doubt Steelers Fan would trade him for anything.

7) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons - Last year's preseason rank: 10 (difference = +3)

Matty Ice finally got the playoff monkey off of his back last season, with a narrow win against the Seahawks in the Divisional round of the NFC playoffs. Ryan’s growth was evident last year. He has the best season of his career by virtually any standard. This year is Super Bowl or bust.

8) Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens - Last year's preseason rank: 14 (difference = +6)

That “boring, efficient, game manager” was the MVP of the Super Bowl last year. His clutch performances against the Broncos in the Divisional round of the AFC  playoffs and against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII vaulted him into the top ten of NFL quarterbacks and the very top of QB salaries. He’s going to earn it in 2013, as an alarming number of players on last year’s championship winning team were either released or left for greener pastures via free agency (or retirement).

9) Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers - Last year's preseason rank: 7 (difference = -2)

Rivers' days near the top may be numbered. Last season was a catastrophe in San Diego. Not all of it was Rivers’ fault. He was more feast than famine. But when Rivers served famine, the Chargers had no chance to win. His supporting cast seems as questionable this year as last year, though running back Ryan Matthews should be playing when the regular season starts. Rivers has put his team on his back and start making the players around him better.

10) Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys - Last year's preseason rank: 9 (difference = -1)

The chances of Tony Romo leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl get slimmer by the year. That is more of a reflection on the Cowboys and their management than Romo. Make no mistake; Romo is a top flight quarterback. However, he is not an "elite" (top tier) QB and he is not a magician, either. Some help in the backfield would be a welcome addition for Romo.

11) Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears - Last year's preseason rank: 8 (difference = -3)

Last year, I mentioned that Joe Flacco was one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the league. Flacco led his team to a Super Bowl win. I am going to say the same for Cutler this year, though Bears Fan should not expect the same good karma. Cutler is a guy who will have to win games by carrying his team because the help he has had, except for receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte, has been mediocre. He may have to overcome yet another patchwork offensive line, but time will tell if the Bears made enough improvements up front to give Cutler a better chance to help the team win.

Everything changes for the guys who win one. 2
Tier 3

12) Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals - Last year's preseason rank: 17 (difference = +5)

Dalton’s stock has quietly but quickly risen since his 2011 rookie season. He’s smart, efficient, and knows what not to do as much as he understands how to read the defenses he faces. The Bengals’ 2013 prospects will improve as much as Dalton’s performance improves.

13) Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions - Last year's preseason rank: 11 (difference = -2)

Stafford and the Lions had a setback in 2012. Stafford is a very good quarterback and a playmaker. He is capable of winning a lot of games. But he can’t do it alone and he has not had the sustained, long-term success to give him the confidence to stay as cool under pressure, week in and week out, as a Drew Brees or Tom Brady type.

14) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts - Last year's preseason rank: 20 (difference = +6)

Andrew Luck showed that he was up to the hype during his rookie season, guiding the Colts back to the playoffs after a one year hiatus in 2011. Luck found ways to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat last season. However, he was often responsible for the team’s close up view of said jawline. Luck suffered from accuracy issues that he didn’t experience in college and turned the ball over too much for a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Still, the fact that the word “Super Bowl” can be used in any present tense context with the Colts just a year after they had the first pick in the draft is a testament to Luck’s remarkable rookie year.

15) Robert Griffin, III, Washington Redskins - Last year's preseason rank: 23 (difference = +8)

Griffin single-handedly brought his team back from the dead in his sensational rookie year. Head Coach Mike Shanahan risked sending Griffin’s young career to the land of the dead by playing him in the playoffs in spite of a knee injury (which was aggravated in that playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks and required surgery). Griffin is reportedly wearing a knee brace in training camp and may have to all season. For this reason, I am taking a wait-and-see approach before ranking Griffin any higher this preseason.

16) Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks - Last year's preseason rank: none

Wilson came on like gangbusters in the second half of the 2012 season. He helped vault the Seahawks to top contender status in the NFC. He is the prototype of a quarterback who can use his feet to buy time to make a play. His rapid movement along the learning curve was nothing short of astonishing. He has an opportunity to be among the elite NFL quarterbacks in a few years.

17) Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers - Last year's preseason rank: none

Kaepernick's rapid rise was one of the most compelling, unexpected, and significant stories of 2012. Alex Smith, the first pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, was the 49ers long established starter, in his 8th season as the Niners' QB. The football gods can strike unexpectedly, though. Smith gets hurt and misses a start and Kaepernick, on Monday Night Football, demonstrates the versatility and explosiveness that Smith never had. A few starts, a few repeat performances later and Kaepernick is leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl while Smith is leading the moving vans out of town.

Can Kaepernick provide an encore? Teams will have the entire offseason to study film and prepare for Kaepernick. The 49ers took a risk in keeping him and trading Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith was a game manager with a ceiling, but a ceiling that could include a deep playoff run. Kaepernick could have a sophomore slump. Time will tell, but the potential for Kaepernick's star to continue to rise is tremendous.

Shanahan's entire Redskins legacy will be tied to how well Griffin plays, post knee injury. 3
Tier 4

18) Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers - Last year's preseason rank: 15 (difference = -3)

This is a telling year for the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner. Newton was another feast-or-famine signal caller. Like Philip Rivers he also had more feast than famine but also like Rivers, his team needs him to carry them. The Panthers run the ball well when the threat of Newton loosens up the defense. How Newton plays in 2013 will be a likely barometer for him in the coming seasons.

19) Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs - Last year's preseason rank: 22 (difference = +3)

I am sold on a couple of positions on Alex Smith. First, I am sold that he is an efficient game manager who can help his team win if everyone else does the things they are supposed to do (like blocking, tackling, not committing foolish penalties and not coughing up the ball). Second, I am sold that Kansas City is not that team on which the supporting players will do enough of the little things properly to help Smith help them win.

20) Matt Schaub - Last year's preseason rank: 12 (difference = -8) 

Schaub has always looked pretty good on the stat sheet but he is like a banker: he'll only lend you an umbrella on a sunny day. OR...he's like an automatic transmission: no clutch. Schaub is a quarterback who will get the Texans wins when they can get ahead early and stay ahead.

He is not an ice-in-the veins fourth quarter comeback type of quarterback the likes of Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger. He isn't as surgically ruthless as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. He isn't explosive like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. He isn't leading the Texans to the Super Bowl this year.

21) Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams - Last year's preseason rank: 19 (difference = -2)

This is a make or break year for Bradford. The flashes of star potential have made themselves present during his first three years in the league. The Rams have been drafting some quality pieces to help him on both sides of the ball. It is time for Bradford to show why he was the first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and was paid a king's ransom in his rookie contract.

22) Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles - Last year's preseason rank: 13 (difference = -9)

"Make or break" appears to be the theme to Tier 4 and it also applies to Mike Vick. The difference is that the other, younger quarterbacks will demonstrate where they will fall in the league's quarterback hierarchy. The 33 year old Vick is attempting to demonstrate that he still has something valuable left to offer an NFL offense.

Given Vick's small stature but strong arm and quick feet, former University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly may be just what Vick needed. Kelly's scheme at Oregon was a system suited to speedy players and mobile quarterbacks who can air the ball out. Unfortunately, primary receiver Jeremy Maclin was lost for the season earlier this week with a knee injury and his number two healthy receiver, Riley Cooper, may have damaged his chemistry with the team.

In addition, Vick has only played in all 16 regular season games once in his career in large part due to his propensity to scramble outside the pocket. Father Time is not going to improve that. The season is not starting off well for Vick.

23) Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Last year's preseason rank: 27 (difference = +4)

Freeman is an enigma. Rookie year: down (no problem; he's a rookie). Second year: up. Third year: way down...abysmal. Last year: not bad, up a little. I don't know what to expect this year but the one constant throughout Freeman's career is that he has had trouble with accuracy, no matter how well he has played overall. He may be on track to be a career game manager, but I would like to see him string together two solid seasons before giving him that benefit of the doubt.

Brady to Schaub: "That's how it's done, son!" 4
Tier 5

24) Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins - Last year's preseason rank: 29 (difference =+5)

This guy grew last year and I think he has a lot of upside. If he can improve his consistency and accuracy, week in and week out, he will have the Dolphins in a position where they have a chance to win most weeks.

25) Mark Sanchez, New York Jets - Last year's preseason rank: 16 (difference = -9)

His stock is plummeting. So is the stock of the Jets, but that isn't all Sanchez's fault. The Jets have no running game and the only receiver (some may argue the only offensive player) who is worth a damn, Santonio Holmes, is still recovering from Lisfranc surgery for a season-ending foot injury last season. Holmes may not play in 2013. Still, neither opponents nor Jets fans will have much mercy on Sanchez. This may be his last season in New York if the Jets anemic passing game does show some signs of life, assuming rookie Geno Smith doesn't take his job in camp.

26) Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals - Last year's preseason rank: 21 (difference = -4)

Going from the Oakland Raiders to the Arizona Cardinals could be what the doctor ordered. There is a new Head Coach in Bruce Arians, who impressed the world filling in for an ill Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis last season. There is an actual running threat in Arizona with the acquisition of Rashard Mendenhall. Finally, there's some Larry Fitzgerald guy lined up at wide receiver. This may be Palmer's last chance to contend, but it is a real chance and, I would imagine, a welcome change of scenery.

27) Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans - Last year's preseason rank: none

I'll wait until he plays the bulk of an entire season before lowering my long term expectations for Locker to be in the pit of perpetual mediocrity. However, he needs to settle down in the pocket and take better care of the football. This is a quarterback with some long term upside, but he is entering his third year in a modern-day NFL with a short learning curve for quarterbacks.

Sanchez (left) and Smith (right): AWK-WAAAAARD!
Toilet Tier

28) Matt Flynn, Oakland Raiders - Last year's preseason rank: 28 (difference = 0)

I fell like I am being somewhat hard on Flynn but his only meaningful experience in the NFL has been off of the bench. When the Seattle Seahawks took a flyer on him with a lucrative free agency contract, he could not beat out rookie third round draft pick Russell Wilson for the starting job. It is really tough for me to envision the same Matt Flynn having a breakout year on his third team in three seasons, especially when that third team is the Raiders.

29) Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings - Last year's preseason rank: 30 (difference = +1)

As much as the NFL has completely transitioned from a running league to a passing league, last year Christian Ponder demonstrated that you can not throw the ball very much or very far and still quarterback a team into the playoffs when the man behind you in the backfield is Adrian Peterson and he runs for over 2,000 yards in a single season. That lightning won't strike twice.

30) Kevin Kolb, Buffalo Bills - Last year's preseason rank: 24 (difference = -6)

The only thing I can say for Kolb is that the Bills do have offensive talent. But they are a franchise without much direction and were without a quarterback before they traded for Kolb. Kolb showed in Philadelphia that he can be an efficient game manager and if he does that in Buffalo, the Bills could hover around .500, give or take a game. And if they can get a "give" of a game, that would make them 9-7 with a shot at the postseason. Based on recent history, it isn't likely, but Bills Fan has a ray (an itty bitty ray) of hope.

31) Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns - Last year's preseason rank: 32 (difference = +1)

2012: Grand opening

2013: Grand closing...assuming that Jason Campbell doesn't beat him outright in preseason for the starting job.

32) Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars - Last year's preseason rank: 31 (difference = -1)

Mel Gibson in "Ransom" (1996)

Jaguars Management (2012)

Blaine Gabbert (some time in 2013)

If Peterson has the misfortune of being injured again, Ponder would probably be willing to take All Day's place on the cart. 5
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