This week, we turn our attention to the top franchise cornerstones (Note: This one goes to 11). In other words, the player would you choose as the foundation around which to build your franchise.
Manning continues to pry open the Broncos' Super Bowl window, but he has also openly conceded that he has reached a stage of his career where retirement will be contemplated every March. As blatantly contrived as the "washed-upBrady" narrative was coming out of the Patriots' embarrassing loss in Kansas City, the early-season slump served as a useful reminder that successful NFL quarterbacks don't turn stale over time. The fall is sudden and steep.
On to the list:
1. Andrew Luck, Colts: Already a prodigyin the pocket and a fourth-quarter comebackartist entering his third season, Luck is now leading the NFL in attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdowns. He's second in first-down percentage and third in throws over 20 yards. The Colts offense is No. 1 in both yards and points per game.
He combines youth, ideal body type, athleticism, arm strength, football IQ, leadership and commitment. Former NFL general manager Charley Casserly has anointed Luck the best young quarterback he has ever seen since entering the league in 1977. Current Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has compared his quarterback to Michael Jordan with the game on the line.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers: Rodgers has been the NFL's best quarterback since the start of the 2010 postseason. He's also six years older than Luck, closed out the 2006 season on injured reserve with a broken foot, missed seven games last season with a fractured collarbone and has sustained multiple concussions. As phenomenal as Rodgers is right now, Luck is the safer long-term investment.
3. Cam Newton, Panthers: Even with improvements in pre-snap reads and post-snap progressions, Newton wouldn't have been this high a year ago. His accuracy was simply too scattershot, due in part to inconsistent footwork. As Gregg Rosenthal has pointed out repeatedly on the Around The NFL Podcast, Newton has been on point this season while taking control of the Panthers offense. Much like an early-career Ben Roethlisberger, that improvement as a passer will serve Newton well when age and hits catch up to his legs.
4. Russell Wilson, Seahawks: Wilson isn't tasked with carrying his team to the degree of Luck, Rodgers and Newton, but he's far more dynamic than his "game manager" critics charge. He has a first-in-the-building mentality, is undefeated in head-to-head matchups versus the cream of the NFL's quarterback crop and is the face of a franchise with dynastypotential.
5. Philip Rivers, Chargers: The Bolts look poised to make a Super Bowl run with Rivers as the early-season MVP front-runner. One of the NFL's most cerebral quarterbacks, Rivers has the skill set most similar to Peyton Manning's. That bodes well for another half-decade of success as long as the surrounding talent remains strong.
6. Matt Ryan, Falcons: If Nick Foles is the quarterback whose game film exposes his inflated statistics, Ryan is the one whose game film highlights excellence that goes beyond the box score. Stuck behind a patchwork offensive line, Ryan has been a top-six quarterback over the course of the past three years. If Ryan was on the Bengals' roster, Cincinnati might have had its victory parade on Fountain Square by now.
7. Drew Brees, Saints: Brees sincerely believes he can play until he's 45 years old. If he can do so at a consistently high level, it will be six to seven years longer than any quarterback in NFL history. Brett Favre and Warren Moon excelled at age 40, but those outlier seasons were prefaced by disappointing campaigns in their late thirties and early forties.
8. J.J. Watt, Texans: It's a testament to J.J. Watt's game-wreckingexceptionalism that he managed to push a quarterback off this list. As Vince Lombardi explained to his friends, football would be the perfect team game if not for the glaring imbalance of the quarterback's value. It shouldn't surprise anyone if Watt ends up higher than any player on this list when the 2025 iteration of NFL Network's "The Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players" of all time is unveiled.
9. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers: Would you believe that Kaepernick is actually older than Matthew Stafford? Turning 27 next month, Kaepernick is a tough call. He's as physically gifted as any quarterback in the league, capable of executing throws other passers don't even attempt. He has already experienced postseason success. On the other hand, where is the growth in his ability to throw with touch, recognize defenses, go through his progressions and manage game situations?
10. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Roethlisberger is a proven big-game quarterback with only one losing season in his entire 12-year career. So why isn't he higher on this list? His 403 sacks absorbed are 152 more than any other quarterback over the past dozen years. Can we be confident that his body will hold up to the pounding for 16 games in each of the next five years?
Bonus pick -- Calvin Johnson, Lions: The list of Super Bowl winners over the past decade and a half proves NFL teams don't need a dominant wide receiver to build a winner. Megatron has a chance to go down in history as the second-bestreceiver of all time, but he's looking down the barrel of age 30 and has only been on one winning team in his seven seasons prior to this one.
Honorable mention:Von Miller, Ndamukong Suh, Robert Quinn, Earl Thomas, Matthew Stafford, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Gerald McCoy, Tyron Smith, Luke Kuechly, Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, Dez Bryant, Lavonte David, Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson