On Wednesday, the 11th- and 10th-ranked quarterbacks (Matt Ryan, No. 77, and Cam Newton, No. 73) in "The Top 100 Players of 2015" were revealed on NFL Network. While we wait to see how the upper crust at the game's most important position shakes out, NFL Media analysts are taking their turns providing their top 10 quarterbacks heading into the 2015 season. NOTE: Click on tabs below to see each analyst's list.
When Dave Dameshek asked me to list my top quarterbacks on a recent installment of "The Dave Dameshek Football Podcast" -- a topic we revisited in the following episode -- I thought it was important to avoid citing the same old names based on career achievements. In the scouting world, evaluators not only monitor and assess players on how they perform; they also project whether a player should be considered to be ascending or descending, based on his expected production in the upcoming season.
Given some time to the review the All-22 Coaches Film from last season and examine the circumstances that could affect each guy's play this fall -- which led me to make a tweak or two -- here are my top 10 quarterbacks heading into 2015:
Rodgers' spot is certainly secure following one of the most impressive seasons of his career. The 10-year veteran tallied a 38:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio en route to capturing his second MVP award. Rodgers -- who had the second-best passer rating in the NFL at 112.2 -- has finished with a passer rating above 100.0 for six straight seasons, a remarkable feat considering he's only been the full-time starter for seven. With the Packers currently boasting the NFL's top receiver corps, Rodgers could enjoy a long run as the league's QB1.
Some will question Big Ben's lofty ranking on this list, but the two-time Super Bowl winner is playing the best football of his career under the tutelage of Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The grizzled veteran posted career bests in completion percentage (67.1) and passing yards (4,952, tied for most in the league) and matched his single-season high in touchdowns (32) in 2014. Considering the impressive efficiency (103.3 passer rating) and effectiveness he displayed while directing Pittsburgh's offense with a cast of greenhorns (Le'Veon Bell at running back and Markus Wheaton at receiver, as well as rookie pass catcher Martavis Bryant) acclimating to prominent roles, it's time to recognize Roethlisberger as one of the NFL's premier quarterbacks.
It's uncommon for a young quarterback hyped as a franchise player to live up to that promise, but Luck has been better than advertised as the Colts' offensive leader. The three-year veteran continues to refine his game while displaying improved efficiency and effectiveness as a playmaker. Luck significantly increased his pass production (4,761 yards, up from 3,822 in 2013) and boosted his touchdown-to-interception ratio (40:16, up from 23:9 in 2013) while showing his ability to carry an offense with pedestrian players (aging receiver Reggie Wayne and ineffective back Trent Richardson) plugged into key roles. Thanks to Indy's offseason offensive makeover, Luck heads into 2015 with a proven runner (Frank Gore), a veteran big-bodied WR1 (Andre Johnson), a quartet of explosive pass catchers (T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett and Duron Carter) and a pair of dynamic tight ends (Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen) at his disposal. This supporting cast could help him set the football world ablaze.
Some will argue against Wilson's top-five ranking, based solely on his pass production, but keen observers recognize his value as one of the most efficient dual-threat playmakers at the position. The three-year vet nearly posted a 3,500/1,000 season (3,475 passing yards and 849 rushing yards) as the director of the Seahawks' diverse offensive attack in 2014. People mistakenly see him as a "game manager" for a team that is overly reliant on a dominant defense and a strong running game. But it's hard to dispute his record (36-12) and history of success since entering the NFL. Considering Wilson's clutch production (15 game-winning drives, including 10 fourth-quarter comebacks over his career) and the addition of a dominant "MOF" (middle of the field) target in new tight end Jimmy Graham, the two-time Pro Bowler might cement himself as a no-doubt member of the quarterbacking upper echelon in 2015.
Despite being a proven winner (four titles, six total Super Bowl appearances) and one of the NFL's ultimate clutch performers (46 game-winning drives in his 15-year career), Brady's standing on this list is a reflection of the stench emanating from the Deflategate scandal (hence the asterisk). The controversy adds to the notion that the Patriots' long-term success has been fueled by various misdeeds. While there isn't a proven correlation between deflated footballs and Brady's on-field performance, the fact that another scandal is hovering over the Patriots certainly clouds the evaluation.
Statistically speaking, Brady remains one of the top players at the position, posting a passer rating of 97.4 and a 33:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season. He continues to pick apart defenses with exceptional precision, albeit in "dink and dunk" fashion (see: Brady's 7.1 yards-per-attempt mark in 2014). Granted, the Patriots' title run was truly sparked by a defense that played at a championship level for most of the season, but it was Brady's solid play in key moments that ultimately helped secure the crown. Brady remains one of the elites at the position, even as he's settling in as the NFL's ultimate game manager in the twilight of his career.
It's possible that Romo is underrated on this list, based on his sensational production over the years. He's quietly ranked as one of the most efficient quarterbacks in NFL history -- his career passer rating of 97.6 is the second-best all time -- and he is a better clutch performer than the commonly held narrative suggests. Romo has engineered 28 game-winning drives in his nine seasons as the starter, including 24 fourth-quarter comebacks. Although his spectacular failures in a few late-game situations have created the perception that he underperforms when the game is on the line, Romo is at his best more often than not when everything is hanging in the balance.
Consider that in the last two minutes of the half in last season's games, Romo compiled a passer rating of 123.1 and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 7:0. In fourth-quarter situations when the game was within seven points, Romo completed 75 percent of his passes and posted a passer rating of 120.7. In other words, he delivered when it mattered. With the Cowboys shifting to a physical, run-first offense behind the best offensive line in football, Romo should continue to play at a high level as an efficient distributor from the pocket.
It's hard to suggest Brees is a descending player when he's topped the 5,000-yard mark in three of the last four seasons (and was just 48 yards shy of making it four straight in 2014). The numbers suggest the 36-year-old's still one of the best in the business, but the Saints' lack of perimeter weapons could prevent Brees from playing at the level we're accustomed to in 2015. The loss of Jimmy Graham robbed Brees of his most reliable red-zone threat, while Kenny Stills' departure took away a legitimate big-play receiver on the outside. The presence of Sean Payton ensures Brees will play in an imaginative offense suited to his skills as a pinpoint rhythm passer, but the suspect supporting cast could make it hard for the veteran to perform at a high level at his relatively advanced age.
The 11-year veteran was squarely in the conversation as the prospective league MVP during the first half of 2014, but then the Bolts' playoff push collapsed, sunk in part by Rivers' turnovers in the final eight games of the season (13 interceptions and two fumbles lost). Despite his shaky finish, Rivers deserves a spot among the elites based on his solid play over the past two years under Mike McCoy. The Chargers' head coach helped the former Pro Bowler rediscover his game following a lackluster 2012 by installing a quarterback-friendly offense that features more short- and intermediate throws on the perimeter.
Additionally, the Chargers have surrounded Rivers with a big-bodied WR1 (Keenan Allen) and a dynamic runner (Melvin Gordon), factors that alleviate some of the pressure on him to carry the offense solely on the strength of his right arm. Considering his strong production (he's coming off back-to-back seasons with at least 4,200 passing yards, and he posted a 63:29 touchdown-to-interception ratio in that span) and efficiency, Rivers certainly remains among the top quarterbacks in the game.
Seeing Manning's name here will raise eyebrows, but skeptics should focus on the efficiency with which he played down the stretch in 2014 under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. The two-time Super Bowl winner posted a passer rating of 100.0 or better in four of the Giants' last six games, and he developed a strong rapport with youngsters Odell Beckham, Jr. and Rueben Randle on the perimeter. With Victor Cruz expected to return from a knee injury, the Giants should have a dynamic receiving corps with the firepower to overwhelm opponents with its collective speed, athleticism and explosiveness.
Given another offseason to master the intricacies of Big Blue's quick-rhythm system, Manning should build upon his solid performance in 2014 (passer rating of 92.1 and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 30:14). He could play at a top-five level with one of the best supporting casts in football enhancing his performance.
It seems almost blasphemous to rank Peyton Manning -- who has enjoyed an illustrious career -- at the bottom of this list, but there is no disputing the regression in his game. The Broncos' playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts showcased his flaws for the NFL world to see: He seems to lacks the arm strength to push the ball down the field. Yes, it's certainly possible a lingering quad injury robbed the veteran of his tools as an elite player, but it's just as likely that Father Time has stepped in and cast a spell on Manning toward the end of his playing days.
I fully expect Manning to continue to post big numbers, based on his exceptional supporting cast and extraordinary work ethic and new coach Gary Kubiak's clever play-calling. But the five-time MVP is no longer the premier player at the position.