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Ranking the NFL quarterbacks

Last week, my Around The League colleague Dan Hanzus unveiled his list of the NFL's top running backs.

That Herculean effort was met with a swirl of wonder, agitation and pressing questions, so, naturally, we're back for more.

This week, I humbly offer you my compilation of the NFL's top quarterbacks.

The ground rules are simple: Taking rookies out of the mix, I ranked signal-callers from top to bottom based on how I believe they'll perform in 2013.

I am prepared to be pistol-whipped by readers, coworkers, friends and family.

Off we travel:

Three kings


1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Peyton Manning
3. Tom Brady

Age to age, these men deliver. What Rodgers has accomplished since his Super Bowl-winning season of 2010 is even more impressive when you factor in the lack of a potent ground game and often subpar protection. I was among those who thought a neck-surgery-addled Manning wouldn't be the same guy. Instead, he was better, and he'll do it again in 2013. As for Brady, I won't be surprised when documents unearthed in 2077 reveal that Tom was, in fact, a robot patched together by a team of frustrated Foxborough-area scientists. His mission: To wreak havoc forever on the AFC East and merge with a dangerously attractive female humanoid.

Franchise gold


4. Drew Brees
5. Ben Roethlisberger
6. Matt Ryan
7. Eli Manning

Roethlisberger, in my eyes, is the toughest quarterback in all of football. Eli comes off a down year, but I'm done doubting him. Brees is a flat-out executioner. With five Lombardis between them, these three have proven they can go the distance. Ryan hasn't, but he's coming off a monster season and sits out there as legitimate MVP material. It's no coincidence that the coaches teamed with these passers -- Sean Payton, Mike Tomlin, Mike Smith and Tom Coughlin -- are in zero danger of losing their jobs.

The future, Part I


8. Andrew Luck
9. Robert Griffin III

Luck took a beating last season behind Indy's patchwork line, but he kept getting back up. In that sense, he reminds me of Roethlisberger. He might ultimately be the finest of the 2012 class. In Washington, I'm assuming RG3's knee regains full strength and allows him to spin his magic all over again. It's easy to get lost in Griffin's abilities on the ground, but his pocket presence, decision-making and crisp mechanics make him a top-10 passer.

The future, Part II


10. Colin Kaepernick
11. Russell Wilson
12. Cam Newton

Gregg Rosenthal informs me that I've given too much love to the newbies. I disagree. Last year's rookies -- and the schemes they operated -- altered the game. Wilson is a thing of beauty: technically clean, a fiery leader, never cowed by the moment. Kaepernick won me over during that chaotic first half of the NFC title game. He never panicked. Nothing about either player tells me they'll regress. Newton -- entering a huge year three -- sits at No. 12 because his physical tools are insane. So much pure ability. Cam can chart his fate, for better or worse.

Solid dudes


13. Joe Flacco
14. Tony Romo
15. Matthew Stafford
16. Jay Cutler

Citizens of Baltimore: Hear me out. Admittedly, Flacco's place on this list haunts me. His work in the playoffs was otherworldly. I might eat raven on this one, but I can't wait to see where Flacco goes in 2013. I also struggled placing Romo this low, but how much higher should he be? I don't blame Romo for the mess in Dallas, but he isn't saving the day, either. Stafford is still too inconsistent. And quick: List five truly memorable performances by Cutler. A tough group to grade.

Critical seasons ahead


17. Philip Rivers
18. Alex Smith
19. Ryan Tannehill

Rivers is an aging but tough-as-nails quarterback. Still, I'm not certain he's even on the Chargers in 2014 if he doesn't rebound from back-to-back down seasons. Smith's work in San Francisco was underrated. His handling of the situation was even more impressive. Tannehill, in his second season, will shoot up this list if he clicks with Miami's new toys.

Trick or treat


20. Matt Schaub
21. Sam Bradford
22. Andy Dalton

There's hope for this group, because this tier is where Flacco lived a year ago. Still, Schaub and Dalton -- playoff quarterbacks both -- leave me wanting. Dameshek has a growing man-crush on the Glowing Ginger Man, but I don't see it. Schaub concerns me, too. In summary: two big bowls of vanilla ice cream. Down in St. Louis, the Rams have paid Bradford $50 million guaranteed, and it's still unclear if he's the right guy. All three quarterbacks are surrounded by talent. Time to make it happen.

Stopgaps


23. Michael Vick
24. Carson Palmer

In theory, Vick gives coach Chip Kelly a quarterback who can run his up-tempo offense. In reality, does anyone trust Vick to stay on two feet past September? People talk about Palmer's big numbers in Oakland, but the Raiders eternally played from 20 points down during his run. Carson's not the future for the Cardinals -- or any team.

How can I trust you?


25. Josh Freeman
26. Christian Ponder
27. Jake Locker
28. Nick Foles
29. Kevin Kolb
30. Matt Hasselbeck

Ponder has been wonderful as an 'Adrian Peterson Handoff Machine 1.0,' but we need to see him take over games. Kolb can't go a fortnight without breaking a body part, and we're still waiting for Locker to exit the starting gate. Foles showed promise last season, but he's mired in a jam-packed quarterback room. In Indy, that song you hear? It's the closing credits on Hasselbeck's proud career. Of the group, it's Freeman who intrigues me most. He caught fire last season, before falling to pieces. As it stands, he's a candidate to lose his job in 2013.

JAG


31. Matt Cassel
32. Ryan Fitzpatrick
33. Brandon Weeden
34. Blaine Gabbert
35. Mark Sanchez

We're back with this Hanzus-inspired category: JAG, as in, just another guy. These are gentlemen on the fringe of a promising career at CVS. Apologies, Jets fans, but I don't have a problem ranking Sanchez this low. He's been a statistical train wreck ever since Gang Green abandoned the ground and pound. ESPN's Chris Mortensen this week spoke with league sources who insist Sanchez "is not throwing the ball as well as he was as a rookie." I'd argue that if Sanchez and Blaine Gabbert were both available, just as many clubs would take a chance on Gabbert, thinking they could fix him. Sanchez needs a full reboot. Weeden might fight his way out of this group if he takes off under Rob Chudzinski. If he doesn't, he'll be looking for work.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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