When the NFL Network rolled out its Top 100 players in the NFL series last summer, eyebrows were raised by Eli Manning's complete absence from the list. The Giants quarterback was coming off a 25-interception season and in the eyes of his peers, who voted on the list, that was enough to leave him out.
In the spirit of that omission, we asked NFL Network analyst Brian Billick to rank his top 12 quarterbacks right now. Why a dozen? That was how many QBs were on the original Top 100 list.
1. Aaron Rodgers
When looking at the total body of work, it is hard not to put Tom Brady at the No. 1 spot. But if I were to start a team right now, I would build it around Rodgers. He has exactly what you want in a traditional quarterback with arm strength and accuracy and also has the athleticism to make plays outside the pocket or run for the first down. Rodgers can make all the plays, but his most impressive is the back shoulder toss in which he throws his receivers open. No one did that better this year than the Packers.
2. Tom Brady
With the chance to win a record-tying fourth Super Bowl on Sunday, Brady is clearly one of the best to ever play the position. What seperates him? Brady is the ultimate leader who makes everyone around him better. Wes Welker was a below-average player with the Dolphins; now he is a superstar. Randy Moss was washed up with the Raiders; Brady brought back his Hall of Fame-type numbers. Deion Branch earned a Super Bowl MVP with Brady, left for the Seahawks and was basically invisible for four-plus seasons; back with the Patriots, he's a steady contributor yet again.
3. Drew Brees
He may not have the prototypical size of an NFL quarterback, but he is now the record holder for most passing yards in a season (5,476 in 2011). Brees is the leader of the Saints, and it is his ability to take advantage of matchups that lands him at No. 3 on this list. He has an exact understanding of his offensive scheme and furthermore the weak spots in the opposing defense. No one spreads it out better and keeps defenses guessing more than Brees.
4. Peyton Manning
While it is yet to be known if Peyton will be healthy enough to play again, he is still worthy of top-five consideration. If the Colts release him, as many expect they will, he will be the most popular free agent since Reggie White. He may not throw the prettiest ball, but it is always accurate and on-time. It is cliché, but it is his football smarts that differentiate him from the rest. There has never been a quarterback that can go to the line of scrimmage, read a defense and call a subsequent audible with the success that Manning has. He is a student of the game, and it shows.
5. Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger has made some questionable decisions off the field, but his performance between the white lines is unquestioned. He may be the toughest quarterback on this list and has shown the ability to play effectively with injuries that would keep others on the sidelines for multiple games. He is at his best under pressure as he has the uncanny ability to make a tackler miss, prolong the play, and make a throw on the run better than anyone. He is a true playmaker at the position, and that can't be coached.
6. Eli Manning
Eli has forever lived in the shadow of his brother, but now has the chance to upstage him with his second championship. He started the year by making the statement that he deserved to be named among the elites at the position, and his play has justified that this season. Manning is simply unflappable. He could have a bad game for 58 minutes, and then lead his team to an 80-yard game-winning scoring drive.
7. Matthew Stafford
Stafford's biggest criticism coming into 2011 was his inability to stay healthy. After a full season, he proved that he can carry the Lions into the future. He quite possibly has the best arm strength of anyone in the NFL, but that isn't the entire story. When you compare his first 29 starts in the NFL, he ranks right there with Rodgers, Brady and Brees in regards to winning percentage, completion percentage and yardage, but his 52 touchdowns are the most of all of them. He has a bright future.
8. Phillip Rivers
Before this season, Rivers would have probably found himself much higher on this list. His career-high 20 interceptions were the downfall of his 2011 campaign, but some of that can be attributed to the offense. With two 6-foot-5 receivers, he takes more chances than anyone on this list by throwing it up for grabs and hoping his player comes down with it. For him to get back on track, he will need to be better at reading defenses and throwing the ball to the open receiver rather than relying on the jump ball so often.
9. Matt Schaub
Schaub is often a forgotten man, but he is definitely worthy. Andre Johnson tends to get a lot of credit for Schaub's success, but in my opinion, Schaub has been just as important to Johnson's success. There isn't a throw that Schaub can't make on the football field.
10. Jay Cutler
We all witnessed just how important Cutler was to the Bears when they completely spiraled out of control without him behind center. Like Stafford, Cutler has elite arm strength, but he can be a little careless at times. I am curious to see how this offense changes without Mike Martz and if Cutler can flourish in a traditional offense. I think he can, and I think he will.
11. Matt Ryan
He is known as Matty Ice for his coolness under pressure, but until he wins a playoff games he will never get over that hump. He has all the tools around him to put up great numbers in Atlanta, he just needs to do it.
12. Tony Romo
Romo carries around the biggest burden with all that he has around him -- Jerry Jones, the stigma of America's Team, the biggest and most flashy stadium. The Cowboys have been relatively disappointing during Romo's tenure as starting quarterback, but there are much more pressing issues on this team than the quarterback position.
Follow Brian Billick on Twitter @coachbillick