This is an SNL-like transition year for elite QBs

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  • By Grant Pardee
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Are we in a transition year of elite NFL quarterbacks?

Through five weeks, it certainly feels like we're in what Saturday Night Live periodically goes through with their cast -- a season in which many of the old guard begin to recede in favor of younger performers.

For over a decade, the 2004 QB class have reliably been among the Top 10 in the league at their position, drawing comparisons to the famous 1983 class that included Hall of Famers John Elway, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly.

Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to three Super Bowls, winning two of them, Philip Rivers is a six-time Pro Bowler with the fifth-best all-time career passer rating, and Eli Manning is the only quarterback to beat Bill Belichick's Patriots in the Super Bowl -- and he did it twice.

In 2017, though, Roethlisberger publicly said he "may not have it anymore" after throwing five interceptions against the Jaguars, Rivers has only one win so far, and Manning has even fewer -- and he just lost his best receiver for the rest of the year.

On SNL, the cast is anchored by Kate McKinnon, Kenan Thompson, Cecily Strong, and Michael Che, but many of the players that defined the show in recent years -- Bobby Moynihan, Vanessa Bayer, Taran Killam -- have left the show, and now most of the faces are relative newcomers.

Both the NFL and SNL seem to be transitioning in the same season.

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Of quarterbacks within their first three years, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Dak Prescott, and Jameis Winston have lead their teams to success with big play ability.

In Houston, Deshaun Watson has quickly established himself as a franchise QB for the Houston Texans and a front-runner for Rookie of the Year.

Or how about Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles nesting at the top of the NFC? Wentz's clutch stats on 3rd Down are unparalleled, and a major reason for his team's success.

Detractors were quick to label Jared Goff a bust after a rough rookie year in 2016, but now the LA Rams quarterback is surrounded by a new coach and new receivers, and thus far he's quieted his critics.

Jameis Winston threw over 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, and this year he just might lead the Buccaneers to their first playoff spot since 2007.

We're seeing a similar sea change at SNL. After only a couple of years, Aidy Bryant, Beck Bennett, Leslie Jones, and Kyle Mooney have gone from the new kids to the elder statesmen of a cast now bolstered by fresh faces like Chris Redd, Mikey Day, and Melissa Villasenor.

Bennett and Mooney have carved out a niche making weird digital videos in the vein of The Lonely Island, like this unaired gem from last week's episode:

It's easy to see why Mikey Day has received so much screen time since joining the cast in 2016. He has the kind of affable delivery that makes him a perfect straight man in the mold of Jason Sudeikis or Phil Hartman.

A superbly versatile impressionist, Melissa Villasenor was a finalist for America's Got Talent before she caught her SNL break. She's only had a few chances to showcase her talents so far, but when those opportunities have come, she's been a standout.

Chris Redd was memorable in last year's underrated Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping and only two episodes into his SNL career, he's already establishing himself in some of this season's best sketches.

Don't get me wrong: the veterans aren't finished quite yet for either SNL or the top-tier of NFL QBs.

Kate McKinnon just won her her fourth consecutive Emmy, and the ageless Kenan Thompson now holds the record for longest-tenured cast member at 15 seasons.

Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees remain the premier signal-callers in the league, and other guys like Alex Smith, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton are all playing at a high level, too.

Overall, though, I think we'll look back on 2017 as year that marked the emergence of a new generation of sketch comedians and elite quarterbacks.

And just as in previous generational transitions, like when Peyton Manning's career began as John Elway's ended, we'll say, "isn't it crazy to think Jameis Winston played at the same time as Tom Brady?"

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