The Quarterback Index: Ranking the starters 1-32

We live in a golden age for quarterback play. Future Hall of Famers roam the league, with career primes that never seem to end. A sensational group of quarterbacks 25 and under have an entirely different style and look ready to rule.

The Quarterback Index will be a weekly examination of the most important position in sports. I wanted to start the feature with a ranking of how things stack up heading into the season. These are the quarterbacks I'd want leading my team in 2013 only. It should be fun to revisit this list after Week 17 and see how things have changed.

The Best of the Best

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
3. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Notes: Roethlisberger is oddly underrated and a sleeper MVP candidate. It's a tough call whether Roethlisberger belongs in the same group as the best quarterbacks in the league, but he's reaching the sweet spot of a career where his improved mental approach can match his physical skill set. This year is set up to remind everyone just how good he can be.

Rodgers still is the most talented quarterback in the league, playing with an array of explosive options. As great as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning remain, there are aspects of their games that have declined. (For Brady, it's pocket presence. For Manning, it's arm strength.)

Next Level

6. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
7. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
8. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
9. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
10. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
11. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
12. Eli Manning, New York Giants
13. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
14. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
15. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

Notes: This list isn't looking back at how quarterbacks performed last season. That's been done. It's about looking ahead to how we see them playing in the upcoming season. It's predictive.

The group is purposefully huge and shows how deep the position is. There isn't that big of a gap between guys like Romo and Newton and the top 10 quarterbacks. With just a little improvement in decision-making from Romo or accuracy from Newton, both QBs have the ability to change how they are viewed in a single season.

The story I'm most fascinated by this season: The development of the young quarterbacks like Luck, Wilson, Kaepernick, RGIII and Newton. Griffin was knocked down a few spots because he's coming off a torn ACL. Everyone just expects him to return better than ever, but he missed an entire offseason of practice. The injury could affect his mechanics and accuracy. It's unfair to expect him to keep up with Luck and Wilson this year.

Mid-level options

16. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
17. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
18. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
19. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
20. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
21. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
22. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
23. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
24. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
25. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

Notes: Tannehill was the forgotten man in last year's rookie class, but he showed every quarterback trait you look for. He should improve dramatically this season. Stafford is a great fantasy football quarterback who has wild bouts with inaccuracy. He counts on his arm strength to make up for a lot.

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It's crazy to think this group of quarterbacks would be considered "below average" starters. All of them are capable of enjoying great seasons but haven't shown the ability to carry an offense consistently on their own. Dalton fans will say he's ranked too low, but wins and losses aren't the greatest measure of a quarterback. Too many other factors come into play. Put it another way: How many general managers with quarterbacks ranked above Dalton would trade their guy for him?

Looking for development

26. EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills
27. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
28. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
29. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
30. Geno Smith, New York Jets
31. Terrelle Pryor, Oakland Raiders
32. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars

Notes: This is the young quarterback group. Five players here were first-round draft picks, and Geno Smith was close. After two years on the bench, Pryor is getting the chance to prove he's a starting-caliber quarterback. Ponder has the best team around him, although it wouldn't be a shock if the Vikings turn to Matt Cassel at some point this season if Ponder can't improve.

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