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The Quarterback Index: Colin Kaepernick rises in top 10

In the inaugural Quarterback Index last week, I noted that we live in a golden age for quarterback play. Week 1's results emphatically made the point.

NFL teams combined for 8,143 net passing yards in the opening week, more than any week in NFL history. There were 63 touchdown passes, also the most in any week in NFL history. It's a passing league more than ever.

I ranked all 32 NFL starters in the first installment of the QB Index, an exercise that will be re-visited periodically throughout the season. This week will include a ranking of the top ten for this year only, and a look deeper at some other quarterbacks moving up and down the index.

The best of the best

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

Notes: Rodgers quietly had a vintage performance in San Francisco. The Packers' running game was non-existent and his protection was mediocre, but he delivered darts up and down the field. His only interception came on a drop by Jermichael Finley. Rodgers escaped pressure well and delivered often while getting hit. Rodgers' pocket presence and ability to get the ball out on time were his biggest issues during a slow start to last season. That wasn't a problem in Week 1; he played better against the 49ers than he did in either matchup from a season ago.

Manning wasted no time establishing Julius Thomas as someone that opposing defenses had to account for. I'm going to wait another few weeks before breaking out the 2007 Patriots comparisons, like Chris Wesseling. ... Brady and rookie Kenbrell Thompkins struggled to get on the same page. The Patriots have a famously difficult offense to get a handle on for young receivers. New England needs Thompkins to step up with so many injuries ravaging the offense.

It's a great sign for Brees that he controlled Sunday's win over Atlanta despite only 68 yards combined from Jimmy Graham and Lance Moore. Brees had excellent protection all game. Rookie Kenny Stills fits right in. This is an offense primed for a huge season.

Next level

5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
6. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
7. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
8. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
9. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
10. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

Notes: I'm not going to overreact to one game from Roethlisberger. Let's give him another week. ... Kaepernick is going to become increasingly difficult to keep out of the top tier. When was the last time he wasn't unstoppable? Of all the young quarterbacks, his talent is the most terrifying because it seems like he is only scratching the surface.

You would think Kaepernick needs another outside receiver, but you would also think he couldn't rack up over 400 yards passing on throws up the seam with virtually no read-option concepts. Kaepernick is not afraid to throw the ball into tight windows, which matches up nicely with Anquan Boldin.

Ryan is going to be tested early this season. His pass protection was terrible against New Orleans, which does not bode well. Roddy White might not be healthy for weeks. ... Both Russell Wilson and Cam Newton play for defensive-minded head coaches that love the running game. Wilson is far better at creating opportunities for big plays when they aren't there. ... Flacco played just fine in Week 1. Like Ryan, he's going to be challenged in September because of shortcomings around him.

Rookie report

I watched EJ Manuel and Geno Smith's first starts on Game Rewind. Both players had their moments, but Manuel was more impressive. He was very accurate on his short passes, hitting his receivers in stride. He missed a few throws down the field, but mostly made good decisions. He's deceptively fast as a runner, but didn't look to escape the pocket unless it was necessary. Manuel and Smith both received laudable protection.

Manuel handled pressure better when it arrived, delivering a few nice passes just before getting hit. I counted just five plays where the Bills rolled Manuel out of the pocket. Geno was rarely on the move by design, but he is better at scrambling than he's given credit for. Smith looked like a rookie with a number of mental errors on sacks, a fumble, and his interception.

Smith's best trait: He can throw a rocket when given time. The Buccaneers wound up with five sacks and eight quarterback hits, but Smith mostly had good protection. It was on him, not the protection. He holds the ball forever and doesn't make quick decisions. The flip side? He doesn't force the ball into bad situations.

Trending down

Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The entire Bucs offense was discombobulated and sloppy. Freeman threw in his occasional beautiful throw -- his only touchdown -- but it was an ugly performance. There was a lot of miscommunication between Freeman and his receivers, a problem that goes back to last year. The Jets successfully prevented Freeman from even trying to go vertical. This was a discouraging continutation for Freeman from the preseason.

Stuck in neutral


Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: Newton played well, yet his team scored just seven points. He threw for 125 yards. There were just seven incompletions, and that included a few drops. He went through his progressions. The Panthers had eight true offensive drives, which is partially to blame for the low numbers. But even Ron Rivera knows the Panthers were too conservative. They didn't stretch the field.

That plan should change in the coming weeks, but do they really have the roster for it? Steve Smith is not the vertical threat he once was. The rest of the wideout depth chart is rough.

Trending up


Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals: Palmer never lost his ability to throw. And he has never been afraid to let his receivers make plays. With Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd, Palmer has a trio of receivers that could rival any in the NFL for making contested catches. This is Palmer's best supporting case since Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry on the '05 to '06 Bengals.

Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears: Cutler Nation is trying to contain our excitement. Part of Cutler's appeal has always been his ability to make random plays, but coach Marc Trestman appears to be doing a great job helping Cutler make the routine throws on rhythm.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" recapped every Week 1 game. Click here to listen and subscribe.

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