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Monday, September 22, 2014

NFL Quarterback Rankings 2014

It is that time of year again. Football is here! Last year, just before the beginning of the preseason, the Hat Trick ranked the starting quarterbacks from all 32 NFL teams.

This year, it comes a little later. Several teams did not decide their starting quarterbacks until after the conclusion of the preseason. There are 10 starting NFL quarterback who were not starters heading into training camp in 2013 Today, the Hat Trick will toss in its two cents for the 2014 season. Better late than never...!

Are you ready for some football?
Top Tier

1) Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos - Last year's preseason rank: 2 (difference = +1)

Welcome back to the top of the mountain, Peyton Manning. Manning demolished records as he led the Broncos roughshod over the AFC on the way to Super Bowl XLVIII. This year, the Broncos are expected by many, myself included, to repeat as AFC Champions. John Fox is a good coach, but the expectations are a Mile High because of the future Hall of Famer.

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

I wrestled over whether or not to put Brady in the top spot. He did more with less last year than any quarterback in recent memory. However, Manning's (far from eroded) physical skills, the results of their AFC Championship Game meeting, and expectations for 2014 for both Manning and his team (compared to Brady and the Patriots) give Manning just a tick over Tom Terrific. My fanhood may tip the scales ever so slightly, too!

3) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers - Last year's preseason rank: 1 (difference = -2)

If I were starting a franchise today, I would draft Aaron Rodgers first. His dip from #1 to #3 is more of a reflection on the superhuman performances of his two outranking elders last year than any fault of A-Rodg. The absence of recent playoff progress is not boosting his ranking, either. Still, this guy has everything: feet and footwork, arm strength, quick decision making ability, and the "it factor".

4) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints - Last year's preseason rank: 4 (difference = 0)

Several years ago, a Falcons fan said (in a chain email including me and a number of Louisianians) that he thought Drew Brees was the most accurate passer in NFL history. At the time, I thought he was in Rome and doing as the Romans. Now, I think he was swallowing his Dirty Bird pride and admitting what he was observing. If you cut me, I bleed Black & Gold, but I can also take off my black and gold colored shades. Brees would be well atop Mount Hat Trick were it not for his tendency to commit the few turnovers he commits at the most painful and costly times for the Saints.

5) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts - Last year's preseason rank: 14 (difference = +9)

This guy is a superstar. Leading his team back from the second-largest deficit in NFL history in the first round of last year's playoffs against the Kansas City Chiefs illustrated a microcosm of his potential. Luck, like Tom Brady, also did a lot with a little, especially after his primary receiver, Reggie Wayne, went down with a knee injury at mid-season. The offensive line was average. His receiving corps was average. The defense in place to take pressure off of Luck and the offense was mediocre at best and the special teams (sans Adam Vinatieri) often looked confused. It won't get much better this year, but Luck will always give the Colts a chance to win.

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: 6 (difference = 0)

Big Ben can makes plays and keep the Steelers in any game at any time. Judging by the roster, he will need to do just that. The defense is long-in-the-tooth and the offensive teammates surrounding Roethlisberger are average. Expect a win-loss records not consistent with his QB ranking of #6. Expect Roethlisberger to pump the Steelers into the .500 neighborhood in spite of lacking .500 talent.

7) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons - Last year's preseason rank: 7 (difference = 0)

Last season was an aberration for the Falcons and hence Ryan's performance. With healthy receivers and the first unit defense back in place, expect the Falcons to remain competitive through the end of the season. Matty Ice can flat out ball when he is in a rhythm and help his team outscore any opponent. They'll need it. The Falcons' defense is as intimidating as vanilla ice cream.

8) Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers - Last year's preseason rank: 9 (difference = +1)

It is simple. When Rivers is not making mistakes the Chargers' air attack is very hard to stop. He has already sucker punched the Legion of Boom from Seattle. Rivers has proven he can solve Denver's defense. Rivers is a QB who can lift up the players around him and for that reason, his team can never be overlooked in any week.

9) Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks - Last year's preseason rank: 16 (difference = +7)

Winning a Super Bowl has that effect on a QB's Hat Trick ranking. To borrow a line from the 1988 classic, "Coming To America", THE BOY GOOD! Wilson is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league. What he lacks in stature and arm strength, he compensates for with the old gray matter and his ability to extend plays with his feet.

I think of Russell Wilson as Tom Brady with quick feet. Wilson is the prototype of a new wave of quarterbacks that will dominate the league in the coming decades. Super Bowl XLVIII was just the beginning.

10) Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys - Last year's preseason rank: 10 (difference = 0)

The Cowbys are going to suck this year. They will suck less because of Romo. Romo is not in the elite tier of QB's but he is a playmaker who keeps drives alive and games alive in spite of the people around him and in spite of the playcalling.

The magnified late turnover keeps Romo down. But I think that the eye of the average fan often misses the fact that said turnover would not be in a position to be costly were it not for Romo keeping his team alive longer than is often deserves to be.

11) Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears - Last year's preseason rank: 11 (difference = 0 )

Yeah, yeah...he is kind of a jerk. It's getting old. Cutler is a physical specimen with a rocket for an arm and good intestinal fortitude. He makes plays that lesser quarterback cannot. I've observed Cutler's maturity since joining the Bears and he appears, to my untrained eye, to have evolved, over the past two seasons, into the kind of teammate a teammate would want to have.

Don't hate the player; hate the game.

12) Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers - Last year's preseason rank: 17 (difference = +5)

♪ "He's the man; he's the man; he's the ma-an!" ♫

Any doubts I had about Kaepernick going into a sophomore slump were erased last season. Kap is on his way to becoming an elite NFL QB in the coming years. At the moment, I think of him as a poor man's Russell Wilson. Slightly more physically gifted...prone to occasional games in which one wonders where his head is. Still, the 49ers will be a Super Bowl contender every year a healthy Kaepernick is under center.

Steelers fans are going to witness the value of Ben Roethlisberger during a season they may likely want to forget. 2 
Tier 3

13) Eli Manning, New York Giants - Last year's preseason rank: 5 (difference = -8)

Eli Manning was able to help his team win because he could compensate for his physical deficiencies with the players around him. The pieces around him are not the same as when the Giants were winning Super Bowls and it shows. It has significantly affected his decision making. Eli and the G-men may be in for some lean years until the roster is rebuilt and gains experience.

14) Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers - Last year's preseason rank: 18 (difference = +4)

Newton is on the cusp of breaking into the ranks of the "top two" tier quarterbacks. Newton can not only make plays with his legs, but run opponents over in the process. At the same time, he has demonstrated the ability to stretch the field. Seasoning and experience could give him a chance to evolve into a very special player.

15) Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens - Last year's preseason rank: 8  (difference = -7)

Considering that the Super Bowl XLVII champions were completely dismantled on the defensive side of the ball prior to the 2013 season, I thought Flacco held it together. Still, Flacco was exposed as more of an advanced game manager than a play maker.

Putting the right players around Flacco will give him an opportunity to win games every week, including the big game - the Super Bowl. But at this point in his career, it is clear to this blogger that he cannot put a team on his back and carry it deep into the postseason like a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning type.

16) Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals - Last year's preseason rank: 12 (difference = -4)

With the talent around him, all Dalton has to do is not put his team in harm's way during the postseason to contend for a Super Bowl. Dalton has flashes of excellence. But his team does not need him to be excellent, just competent. The sooner he realizes this, the sooner he can grow into a QB approaching excellence.

17) Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions - Last year's preseason rank: 13 (difference = -4)

Stafford is a tough QB to read. Without a doubt he has the physical tools - size, arm strength, toughness. Six years into his NFL career, I am still undecided as to whether or not Stafford has "it" and can rise to the level of one of the star signal callers in the NFL. For another year, I have to reserve judgment.

18) Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals - Last year's preseason rank: 26 (difference = +8)

Arizona was the perfect fit for Palmer and as a result, he has shown that he can give a good NFL team a chance to contend for the playoffs.

19) Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs - Last year's preseason rank: 19 (difference = 0)

Alex Smith will not lose games for his team. If everyone else (including the Head Coach) does what they are supposed to do, he can help make sure his team wins the games. Guys like Smith don't make it into the Hall of Fame, but they play for a long time and, every now and then, they get their squads to the Super Bowl.

20) Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles - Last year's preseason rank: none

Foles came on strong for the Eagles last season and played a big part in getting them to the playoffs. Still, the information on Foles' ability to perform is limited. I need to see a solid sophomore season before moving him up the Hat Trick ranks.

Gravity is real. 3
Tier 4

21) Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins - Last year's preseason rank: 24 (difference =+3)

I was on the fence regarding whether or not to place Tannehill into Tier 3 or Tier 4. Tannehill can make that choice easy for me in 2015 - one way or another.

22) Robert Griffin, III, Washington Redskins - Last year's preseason rank: 15 (difference = -7 )

I have crystal stemware that doesn't break as easily.

23) Geno Smith, New York Jets - Last year's preseason rank: none

This guy could have a long, above-average career or be a fly-by-night QB on the bench by the time his rookie contract expires. Either way, a Rex Ryan team is not the place to maximize his potential. Regardless, young Smith has to play the cards he was dealt. Having veteran Mike Vick as his backup and possible mentor could aid in his development. But in his second season, there are more "unknowns" than "knowns" surrounding Smith.

24) Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns - Last year's preseason rank: none

Someone told Brian Hoyer he could be a legitimate starting NFL quarterback. Someone told him he could outperform first round draft pick and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and keep him on the bench during his rookie year. Apparently, Hoyer believed it.

Because the Browns lack the offensive skill position players Hoyer needs around him to make the Browns into a serious playoff contender, I think that it is only a matter of time before Hoyer yields the starting job to Johnny Football. Still, Hoyer has shown that he can add value to an NFL roster and has greatly helped increase his expected career longevity.

25) Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans - Last year's preseason rank: 27 (difference = +2)

He'll win some games by default but he'll be on someone's bench next season.

Perhaps Tannehill would be more motivated if he didn't already have the hot wife. 4
Tier 5

26) Ryan Fitzpatrick, Houston Texans - Last year's preseason rank: none

He clearly went to Harvard. He has outsmarted the entire Texans' coaching staff into letting him start.

27) Matt Cassel, Minnesota Vikings Last year's preseason rank: none

T-minus x-number of weeks before the Teddy Bridgewater era begins in Minnesota. In fact, it may have already started. Cassel's 15-minutes will be up and long overdue after the 2014 season.

28) Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders - Last year's preseason rank: none

Carr might not be a bust like his brother (first pick in the 2002 NFL Draft) David. But, like David, he is on the worst possible team to cut his NFL teeth.

29) E.J. Manuel, Buffalo Bills - Last year's preseason rank: none

In my opinion, Manuel should have been more of a developmental project than a high first round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He may be on his way out of Buffalo after just his second season. That is what happens to teams that overreach at the most important position n the field.

Just because he went to "Haaaaaaah-vard" doesn't mean he can think the Texans to victory. 5

Toilet Tier

30) Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Last year's preseason rank: none

It's nice that McCown parlayed his fill-in duties with the Bears into a starting job. Now you see why he is a career backup.

31) Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars - Last year's preseason rank: none

I cannot think of a worse place for an NFL rookie QB to try to have an impact. Still, he's a better option than (former Jags starter) Chad Henne.

32) Austin Davis, St. Louis Rams - Last year's preseason rank: none

Who the hell is this guy?

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