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Aaron Rodgers tops preseason list of NFL's best QBs

Russell Wilson will be unveiled as a top-five quarterback in this week's edition of the NFL Network's The Top 100 Players of 2014. That's a little high in our estimation.

Since we are rolling out the power rankings for each specific position this summer, let's turn our attention to the quarterbacks.

Alone at the top: Aaron Rodgers

A surgeon as a passer and an escape artist in the pocket, Rodgers has been the NFL's best player since the 2010 postseason began. Despite a porous defense and a slew of injuries to his receiving corps, he has won 77.5 percent of his games and a Super Bowl over that span. Unlike the rest of the elite quarterbacks, Rodgers remains at the height of his physical powers while still mastering the mental side of the game.

Canton-bound: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees

What's more likely: That the quarterback molding art and science as the NFL's 1-minute drill virtuoso is declining in a major way, or that Brady was temporarily disoriented as receivers responsible for 90 percent (!) of his 2012 receptions were out of the picture for a good portion of last season? Once Rob Gronkowski re-entered the lineup at mid-season, the Patriots boasted the NFL's best offense for a five-game stretch before the All-Pro tight end went down with an ACL tear. Via Game Rewind, I recently watched every throw of Brady's 2013 season. No one can convince me he wouldn't have matched Manning's production if he had the Broncos' weapons. Peyton acknowledged as much in December.

Once we saw Wes Welker and Julius Thomas turn the Broncos' offense into an unstoppable juggernaut last August, we fully expected Manning to break Brady's 2007 records. To Manning's credit, he has compensated beautifully for a lost fastball by becoming the NFL's version of Greg Maddux, translating opposing defenses before the snap, processing information in the pocket quicker than any quarterback and consistently squeezing accurate passes into small windows. Can he succeed to a similar level against versatile, physical defenses copying the Seahawks' Super Bowl blueprint?

Look for Brees to bounce back to career-best 2009-to-2011 form with rookie Brandin Cooks adding a game-breaking element to the aerial attack. He should also benefit from increased roles for young deep threats Kenny Stills and Nick Toon.

Pro Bowl-caliber: Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers

Finally allowed to take the reins in a no-huddle attack with a healthy Heath Miller and Le'Veon Bell to go with a stabilized offensive line, Roethlisberger led his team to the AFC's best record in the second half of the season. The Steelers averaged four more points per game than the Saints' high-octane offense during that span.

The Colts would have been a tire fire in 2013 without Luck, who put the team on his back following Reggie Wayne's season-ending injury. There were games that saw Luck escape consistent pressure to find the likes of David Reed, Weslye Saunders, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Griff Whalen down the field. A prodigy in the pocket and the league's most successful scrambler, Luck is already taking the fourth-quarter comeback to new levels. Don't be surprised if he's rivaling Rodgers for the top spot on this list next summer.


Of all the quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers stands alone at the top. This summer, Around The League will rank the best players in each position heading into the 2014 season.
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Ryan was the same player in 2013 as he was in 2012 when he led the league in completion percentage and finished in the top five in every other meaningful category. He attempted more throws under pressure than any quarterback, playing the majority of the season without Julio Jones and a healthy Roddy White. "To see what he went through on a weekly basis was incredible," one Falcons staffer recently told Pete Prisco of CBS Sports. "And he never complained. Not once. He took some big shots too. Anybody who doesn't think he played well last season needs to go back and watch the tape."

Rivers finished second only to Manning in Gregg Rosenthal's year-end rankings last December. Essentially Manning Lite, Rivers beat defenses by diagnosing their intentions before the snap and torching blitzes with quick, accurate strikes. Can he duplicate that success without Ken Whisenhunt as defenses force him to change his formula?

New wave: Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III

Like an early-career Roethlisberger, Wilson is bolstered by his defense and running game. The Super Bowl victory came just two weeks after questions swirled around a Seahawks' aerial attack that had been ailing since early December. Wilson deserves credit, though, for overcoming a porous offensive line and shaky play from his wide receivers. ... Newton made important strides toward mastering the nuances of the position such as pre-snap recognition, going through his progressions and remaining poised in key situations. His accuracy still comes and goes due to shoddy footwork.

Kaepernick struggles in the same areas in which Newton improved last season. He's inaccurate under pressure and doesn't go through his reads. In his defense, he spent the majority of the season staring down wide receivers failing to get open. That will change with Stevie Johnson and a healthy Michael Crabtree, joining Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. ... Change happens quickly in the NFL. RGIII would have fronted this group at the end of the 2012 season. I fully expect him to take home Comeback Player of the Year honors.

Established franchise quarterbacks: Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning

In the book Collision Low Crossers, Jets defensive coaches were lamenting Romo's late-game stumbles four offseasons ago. Fair or not, quarterbacks are judged on how they perform on third downs, in close and late situations and in the postseason. Rosenthal recently pointed out that Romo has begun a slow decline. The Cowboys star still boasts excellent numbers, but has been less willing to push the ball down the field the past two seasons. ... Would you believe Stafford ranks first in NFL history in passing yards, attempts and completions per game? The problem is that he has yet to prove he can beat good teams five years into his career.

Cutler is set up for a career year after getting outplayed by his backup in 2013. It's time for him to make good on his arm talent and stop being a tease. ... Flacco and Manning are under pressure to bounce back after the talent around them disintegrated in 2013.

Borderline franchise: Alex Smith, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill, Josh McCown

Smith graduated from glorified game manager to playmaker down the stretch last season, but the Chiefs did nothing significant to help the offense during free agency and the draft. ... Foles' numbers are more impressive than his game tape. ... Dalton's surrounding talent makes him look better than he is; it should work the other way around. Entering a contract year, Dalton remains the prime meridian of NFL quarterbacks.

Palmer has stretches (i.e. Weeks 11-14 of 2013) as one of the NFL's best passers. On the other hand, he has more frequent stretches as a turnover machine. ... We're still waiting for Tannehill to "make the leap" after leading the NFL in sacks absorbed last season. ... The Game Rewind clips of McCown's 224 pass attempts last season suggest he's now a solution as opposed to a question mark. He has to prove that scintillating seven-game stretch wasn't a byproduct of Marc Trestman's system and a dynamic wide receiver duo.

Question marks: Jake Locker, Sam Bradford, EJ Manuel, Geno Smith

It's a shame Locker can't stay healthy for 16 games. He was making real strides before a season-ending Lisfranc injury struck him in November. Entering a make-or-break season, Locker should benefit from Ken Whisenhunt's guidance. ... The Rams played their best ball of the season after Bradford went down with an ACL injury. Sporting an 18-30-1 record through four seasons, Bradford is under the gun after watching his franchise pass on opportunities to galvanize the fan base by drafting RGIII or Johnny Manziel.

Manuel brings many strong attributes to the quarterback room. Unfortunately, his rookie-year game tape suggests passing isn't one of them. ... Smith was the NFL's worst starting quarterback for a long stretch of the 2013 season. He'll need a lot more performances like the Week 5 comeback victory in Atlanta if he's going to keep Michael Vick at bay through Halloween.

Bridge quarterbacks: Michael Vick, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Cassel, Chad Henne, Brian Hoyer, Matt Schaub

Vick gives the Jets their best chance to win right now. Can he beat out Smith in a rigged competition? ... Fitzpatrick, Cassel and Henne are textbook stop-gaps. The season won't go down the rabbit hole with them at the helm, but playoffs are a pipe dream.

Hoyer is a journeyman with subpar arm talent and four career starts under his belt. Once he's fully recovered from ACL surgery, he will be an ideal backup to Manziel. ... The last 20 games of Schaub's career inspire less confidence than any NFL starter's over the same time period. Derek Carr will be under center in Oakland sooner rather than later.

Impact rookies: Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles

The latest "Around The League Podcast" debates Jay Cutler's ceiling and looks back at the NFL in the '90s.

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