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QB Index: Andy Dalton rises as young trio emerges

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The quarterback position feels turned upside down entering Week 6. Veterans like Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford are playing like rookies. Andy Dalton is building an MVP candidate resume. And a trio of young starters have taken huge steps toward proving they have real staying power.

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Derek Carr, Blake Bortles and Tyrod Taylor are suddenly among the most fun quarterbacks in the NFL to watch. Carr has made the Raiders entertaining for the first time since Hue Jackson left town, and he's disproving skeptical idiots that thought he wouldn't throw deep. Bortles' toolbox is stuffed to the brim, pulling off at least five plays a week that remind me of Andrew Luck or Cam Newton. (Or John Elway, if we want to be real generous.) Those plays were there last season, but Bortles has cut way down on the big mental mistakes.

Taylor, who is expected to miss this week's game with a sprained MCL, has been the biggest revelation. He puts together the most "wow" plays of the group, with big gains often coming in an avalanche. His running can be breathtaking but he's also asked to deliver big time throws from the pocket, and comes through showing anticipation. The scoreboard and statistics don't do him justice. Watching Taylor on Sundays, it's hard to believe Rex Ryan struggled to name him the starter. The Eagles literally rejected the guy to sign Tim Tebow.

The Bills are playoff-ready once they get healthy. Taylor has a chance to cement his status as a franchise quarterback with a big season, and a big Fitzpatrick-like Bills contract to go with it. The Jaguars and Raiders may struggle to reach .500, but they should consider the season a success if Bortles and Carr keep this up. Both teams will know they have their guy. Many teams have learned this year that a franchise quarterback doesn't solve everything, but it's a start.

The Big Two


1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Tom Brady

Rodgers is playing so well that he was practically speaking in hushed tones when describing his performance against St. Louis. Rodgers sounded like he had lost, not helped the Packers get to 5-0 against a dangerous defense. Luckily he had a totally average group of guests waiting for him at home after the game: Olivia Munn, Brad Paisley and his family, astronaut and vanquished Jeopardy! contestant Mark Kelly and his former U.S. Congresswoman wife Gabrielle Giffords, and Rodgers' personal acupuncturist. (Thanks to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee for that tidbit.)

Top Shelf


3. Carson Palmer
4. Andy Dalton
5. Cam Newton
6. Philip Rivers
7. Russell Wilson
8. Matt Ryan

Andy Dalton's season feels like a no hitter. I'm afraid that talking about it any further will jinx it. His third-and-long reliability and high level play throughout all four quarters over Seattle was impressive. He's hitting guys in stride. His outing against Kansas City was one of the best by any quarterback all season. Yep, I jinxed it. ... Matt Ryan's outing against Washington was the worst start any player in this tier has had all year. It's a good sign when his worst start including a go-ahead touchdown drive, including a clutch fourth down conversion.

Wilson was playing very well in Cincinnati before a second half red zone interception and some poor decisions late in the game. He appeared to miss seeing some open receivers, and left the pocket early. ... Rivers is the quarterback equivalent of MacGyver, scotch-taping together unconventional solutions to the myriad problems around him every week.

Next Level


9. Derek Carr
10. Matt Hasselbeck
11. Eli Manning
12. Drew Brees
13. Tyrod Taylor
14. Blake Bortles
15. Marcus Mariota
16. Joe Flacco
17. Teddy Bridgewater

Hasselbeck will probably be off this list next week, but I wanted to recognize the incredible level the 40-year-old played at for two starts. He looked like 2005 Matt Hasselbeck, but wiser. It was like he spent the last three years as a backup figuring out how he could game the system if he ever got another chance, and he pulled it off with flair. ... Bortles does it all, which is why he has such a high ceiling. He has great movement in the pocket and throws well on the run. He has a huge arm and can throw touch passes. He's aggressive down the field and squeezes passes into small zone. The Jaguars young receivers are growing up with Bortles as planned. The defense needs to catch up. 

Ken Whisenhunt's ultra-conservative game management dims the enjoyment of Titans games. Mariota still looked comfortable in the pocket against Buffalo, although hitting on deep balls has been a struggle. It was nice to see Mariota finally using his legs when necessary, nearly matching the rest of Tennessee's depressing rushing attack in 23 fewer attempts. ... Carr is ranked so high in large part because of his consistency. He hasn't had a stinker game yet, and the Raiders recent losses weren't on him. Even the pick six late in the Denver game was on the receiver; Carr just would never throw Seth Roberts under the bus. ... The Eagles dared Drew Brees to go deep, and he didnt exactly make them pay for it.

Middle of the pack


18. Jay Cutler
19. Josh McCown
20. Peyton Manning
21. Alex Smith
22. Matthew Stafford 
23. Sam Bradford
24. Nick Foles

It's so strange to see a Peyton Manning team run on third or long or throw "give up" screens just to improve field position. An offense as bad as the Broncos has many fathers, with a poor running game high among the Broncos woes. Manning's last two games have shown a pattern. He plays solid, if unspectacular, for most of a half before making a huge mental error. He's like a less flashy version of Cutler and it's all hard to get used to. ... Even Sam Bradford's outings that result in 34 first downs don't look good these days. The Eagles were often scoring despite him.

The play to the right perfectly encapsulates McCown. He escapes pressure while running to his left, stops, and delivers a pass into tight coverage while falling backward. He hit on this 16-yards toss to Travis Benjamin against San Diego and he's been hitting just about everything the last two weeks after a rough first game. It's fun while it lasts.

The Final Countdown


25. Ryan Fitzpatrick
26. Kirk Cousins
27. Colin Kaepernick
28. Jameis Winston
29. Ryan Tannehill
30. Mike Vick
31. Brandon Weeden
32. Ryan Mallett

As fun as the ending to Monday night was, I couldn't help thinking these could be Vick's last starts in the NFL. Teams are not going to be lining up to give him backup jobs after these two performances. ... Cousins is the anti-Bortles because of his low ceiling. He isn't especially accurate and doesn't make great decisions considering his other limitations. That results in a low ceiling.

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