Over the past three seasons, several young quarterbacks have established themselves as young stars in the making. For this debate, we included Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman and Sam Bradford. With that, we asked our experts: Which quarterback with three or fewer years of experience would you pick to start a franchise with?
Each of the guys on the list is worthy of being considered as a franchise quarterback. However, I would choose Matt Ryan as my team leader. He has the game and intangibles to thrive as the leader of any franchise. I love the way that he has been an integral part of the Falcons' revival following the Michael Vick saga. Ryan's maturity and leadership have been on display since he stepped into the huddle as a rookie, and the team has won at a high level under his direction. I doubt many others would have been able to handle such a tough situation with the grace and elegance that Ryan has showed.
On the field, he has all of the physical attributes that you look for in a quarterback. He has a strong arm and flashes the accuracy to make the requisite throws. He combines those skills with excellent instincts, awareness and football intelligence. His steady development is a byproduct of his work ethic, which also sets the tone for his teammates.
Each of the candidates could be capable of being a top-notch franchise quarterback. Ryan is the most accomplished, but Freeman has demonstrated that he might very well have the most overall physical talent of the group. Nevertheless, my pick is Sam Bradford. It isn't just his talent, which is immense, or his tremendous football intelligence and instincts. It's because Bradford managed to make all of his assets work to his and the Rams' advantage as a rookie.
Believe it or not, I'd take Sam Bradford. Yes, even over Ryan. While the latter gets so much credit, the fact is the Falcons haven't won anything with him yet. But unlike say, Tony Romo, Ryan doesn't get criticized at all for the lack of playoff success. That said, I think Ryan is the best player of the group now, but Bradford has the potential to be the very best down the road. What he was able to accomplish with a bunch of wide receivers most fans had never heard of and tight ends whose names you can't spell or pronounce was phenomenal. Steven Jackson's back is hardly ever healthy, either. Basically, Bradford did a lot by himself, and didn't whine. There's no one that covers the league that isn't impressed with the guy, and for good reason. Arm strength, maturity, leadership ... he has the right amounts of all of it.
If you asked me to pick a quarterback based on his first year of play in the NFL, it would have been Sam Bradford. The Rams felt so comfortable with him that they let him throw the ball 590 times. Compare that to Ben Roethlisberger's rookie season of 295 throws, Mark Sanchez's 364 attempts or Matt Ryan's 434 passes. But for a QB with three years of experience or fewer, I will take Ryan. Ryan has increased his touchdown passes in each of his three seasons, already has thrown for 10,061 yards, averaged 22 TD passes a season and is a fantastic leader. Josh Freeman is another guy to keep an eye on this upcoming season.
With all due respect to the young arms (and heads) that have playoff notches on their belts and plenty of talent (Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez and Matt Ryan), I'm picking Josh Freeman. I got to see him up close last year, and he has it all ... mind, body, arm, mobility, toughness, leadership and poise. All he's lacking is a trip to the playoffs, and that could come in 2011.
Matt Ryan and Mark Sanchez have been to the playoffs and Josh Freeman is definitely a rising star, but it's hard not to look at Sam Bradford. What Bradford did last season in St. Louis, with so few weapons, it's easy to think this guy is going to be great for a long time. Even so, I'd still have to go with Ryan. Ok, he hasn't won a playoff game. However, he's won games with clutch drives and big plays to get his team to the playoffs. More than his ability and poise, what sets him apart is how his teammates follow him. They play hard for him at all times and respect how he leads. While Bradford has the same type of impact, Ryan just seems to have more of the intangibles that will work over a sustained period.