The Brandt Report  

 

Packers, Colts among few teams whose QB is their best player

Print

As the Russell Wilson contract drama shows, quarterback is an extremely important position -- even for teams with better players at other positions.

The headlines about Wilson and the Seahawks got me thinking: How many teams in the NFL can say their quarterback is also their best overall player?

Given the emphasis placed on finding good signal callers, the final count, upon closer examination, is surprisingly low -- as you can see in the following list:

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers

Second-best player: Jordy Nelson, WR

Unlike most of the other teams here, the Packers have an outstanding roster filled with exceptionally talented players, like Nelson and fellow receiver Randall Cobb, running back Eddie Lacy and linebacker Clay Matthews. Rodgers is just that good. The quarterback simply is Green Bay's offense; as productive as Nelson and company are, they wouldn't be as effective on a team with a lesser quarterback. To go through an entire season with just five interceptions and none at home, as Rodgers did in 2014, is almost totally unbelievable. He's also the only quarterback in history to have notched three seasons with 500-plus pass attempts and seven interceptions or less. The 31-year-old Rodgers is like a fine wine -- he gets better with age.

Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck

Second-best player: T.Y. Hilton, WR

Indianapolis upgraded its supporting cast, bringing in veterans like Frank Gore, Andre Johnson and Trent Cole and adding first-round pick Phillip Dorsett to the receiving corps, but Luck still basically means everything to the Colts, both on and off the field. Of course, this is nothing new for the team, which pretty much went right from the end of the Peyton Manning era to the beginning of Luck's reign. Luck is a quiet superstar who prioritizes football above all else. This all-around athlete is trending firmly upward, getting progressively better each season; in 2014, he reached personal highs in completion rate (61.7 percent), yardage (4,761), yards per attempt (7.7), touchdown passes (40) and passer rating (96.5). I could see him surpassing Rodgers in a year or two, provided he stays on this trajectory.

San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers

Second-best player: Antonio Gates, TE

Rivers makes the Chargers nearly perennial contenders despite being stuck with a supporting cast that, Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson aside, has been less than extraordinary for much of his nine seasons as San Diego's starter. He has kind of a sixth sense, reminiscent of Dan Marino, that allows him to get rid of the ball before the pass rush can get to him. He's an intense competitor; if you're playing the Bolts, you don't want to see him take the ball with the game on the line in the closing moments. He's also been dependable, starting 16 games per year since 2006. It's hard to be critical of a guy who threw for 4,286 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2014 despite, for all intents and purposes, not having a running game to back him up. But the fact is, the lack of talent around him is holding him back to a greater degree than it is some of the other quarterbacks listed.

New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees

Second-best player: Cameron Jordan, DE

It's hard to fathom, especially given that he tied Ben Roethlisberger for the league lead in passing yards last season (4,952), but 2014 was a down year for Brees. He finished with just the fifth-most yards (behind his jaw-dropping four 5,000-yard seasons), fifth-most touchdown passes (33), third-best completion rate (69.2 percent) and fourth-best passer rating (97.0) of his career. He still knows where the windows are and he still has a knack for getting rid of the ball just before defenders converge on him in the pocket. But I think the fact that the next-best player on the roster is a defensive end is indicative of a shift in strategy in New Orleans. It looks like the Saints, who shipped pass-catching tight end Jimmy Graham to Seattle in March for center Max Unger and a first-round pick that was used on a linebacker (Stephone Anthony), are going to focus on being a more balanced team with regard to the defense and ground game. So I don't think we'll see Brees get close to 5,000 yards this season; though he hasn't thrown for less than 4,300 yards in any season since joining the Saints in 2006, I see him finishing with something around 4,200.

Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco

Second-best player: Elvis Dumervil, OLB

In the early part of his career, Flacco was overshadowed by a dominant defense that starred Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs and regularly rated as one of the best in the NFL. In Flacco's rookie season (2008), the Ravens finished 11-5 while notching many more rushing attempts (592) than they did pass attempts (433). However, in every season since, that ratio has flipped, especially recently: Baltimore has recorded at least 100 more passes than it has rushing attempts in 2012 (116), 2013 (196) and 2014 (106). And of course, Flacco went nuts in the 2012 playoffs, posting 11 touchdown passes against zero picks in four games en route to capturing the Lombardi Trophy. At this point, Flacco -- who just had one of his best seasons ever, reaching career highs in passing yards (3,986) and touchdown passes (27) and recording a career low in sacks (19) -- is extremely underrated. People look at him and see a big, lumbering guy, but he's sneakily nimble for someone who checks in at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, having posted a time in the three-cone drill of under 7 seconds (6.82) at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine. I like Dumervil, and he's obviously a guy who's racked up a lot of sacks (90 in eight seasons) -- but at the end of the day, this is an inherently subjective exercise, and in this instance, I just like Flacco more.

But what about ...

Here (in alphabetical order) are some of the teams with top-notch quarterbacks who did not fit the bill:

Atlanta Falcons: Not to take anything away from Matt Ryan, who helps make Julio Jones what he is, but when the receiver is healthy, he's the better player.

Carolina Panthers: It pains me to say it, because I like Cam Newton, but I think linebacker Luke Kuechly has done a bit more for the Panthers' defense than Newton has for the team's offense. Plus, Kuechly ranks much higher among NFL linebackers than Newton does among NFL quarterbacks.

Dallas Cowboys: This is a push between receiver Dez Bryant and tackle Tyron Smith, who is the best left tackle in the NFL. Tony Romo is good, but Smith plays a very, very important position, protecting the quarterback's blind side and making the running game go.

Denver Broncos: I wouldn't have said this three years ago, but linebacker Von Miller and receiver Demaryius Thomas slot above Peyton Manning, with whom Father Time seems to be catching up.

Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill had an excellent 2014, but free-agent signee Ndamukong Suh is one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL.

New England Patriots: Tight end Rob Gronkowski means more to the team's success than Tom Brady, as we saw last season; when Gronkowski kicked it into high gear in Week 5, so did the Patriots.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger is great -- but I would say the same about receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell. It's unlikely Big Ben would have had the career year he had in 2014 without Bell and the sensational Brown. This looks like a three-way tie.

San Francisco 49ers: If Aldon Smith stays out of trouble, he has more potential than Colin Kaepernick, who has struggled to live up to the expectations set by his off-the-charts debut as a starter. Kaepernick hasn't necessarily regressed, but I don't think he's taken a step forward, either.

Seattle Seahawks: I'd rank cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Earl Thomas and running back Marshawn Lynch -- the latter of whom plays a crucial role in the quarterback's success -- above Russell Wilson.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop