Ben Roethlisberger's numbers never told the full story. He's been a top five quarterback for most of his career, a Hall of Fame player even if you take away some of his postseason success.
Roethlisberger was always better in reality than in fantasy football because he didn't pass enough. That ended this season. The Steelers are a better offense in the box score than they are on the field. They rack up yards but make critical mental errors and mistakes, especially in the red zone. They play their worst against the worst teams. You don't know which offense is going to show up in a given quarter, much less the game.
Big Ben is coming off his ugliest game in what has been an otherwise strong season, even if his 12 touchdowns in a two-game span hide some other quiet spots. Looking at his numbers got me thinking: What other quarterbacks have been better in fantasy than reality this year?
» Russell Wilson: He's fifth in fantasy scoring, and 10th in my quarterback rankings below. The lack of development in Seattle's passing attack is too hard to ignore.
» Jay Cutler: He's on pace for 4,140 yards, 32 touchdowns, 19 picks, and his completion percentage is way over his career high. Even as the world's last Cutler apologist, this hasn't been fun to watch.
With three quarters of the season done, my full quarterback rankings are below. These rankings are on 2014 play only. For a change of pace, I included a comment on everyone not mentioned above.
1. Aaron Rodgers: "(Rodgers') scrambling ability and passing ability is almost like Luck and Manning combined, if you will." -- Bill Belichick.
That says it all. We are witnessing one of the all-time great quarterbacks have one of his best seasons. The mental side of his game matches his ridiculous throws. This last stretch of Rodgers' play has all but clinched his MVP award.
2. Tom Brady: Could anyone else drag Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell toward 1,000-yard seasons? Brady's pocket movement and awareness, which seemed to be on the wane over the last few years, has been terrific.
3. Peyton Manning: His three worst games of the season have come in the last five weeks, but he's still enjoyed an incredible year overall.
4. Andrew Luck: Luck has created separation with the rest of his generation. He's more consistent, and his incredible attributes have only grown better. There is no quarterback who can deliver difficult passes under intense pressure like Luck.
5. Philip Rivers: A rough third quarter of the season turned around with a magical performance in Baltimore. That was one of my favorite games of the season to watch all year.
6. Ben Roethlisberger
7. Matt Ryan: It has to be killing general manager Thomas Dimitroff to be wasting Ryan's prime.
8. Drew Brees: The arm strength is a tick down, and he's paid dearly for his mistakes. But let's not get too carried away; Brees is still an upper echelon starter who has done far more positive than negative this season. The Saints' defense is the far bigger problem.
10. Russell Wilson: His best plays are improvised or dump-off passes. He's cut down on mistakes lately, but his starting wide receivers have combined for 87 yards the last two weeks. Can the Seahawks win (another) Super Bowl that way?
11. Joe Flacco: He's had a few more off weeks than the guys above, but he's been remarkably good more than you think. There's a big drop after him in the rankings.
12. Ryan Tannehill: Tannehill has taken strides by looking like the same guy week after week. That guy can't throw a deep pass, but most everything else has the look of a franchise quarterback who will be around a while.
13. Eli Manning: He's not going to complete 70 percent of his passes, but Eli has upgraded back to a league average starter this year.
14. Colin Kaepernick: The Super Bowl starter doesn't rank in the top 20 in ESPN's QBR, Football Outsiders or Pro Football Focus' numbers. I can't put him much lower than this because he still makes 4-5 incredible plays each week, but the regression is hard to ignore.
16. Alex Smith: The Chiefs' offense has been a magic trick all season, but now the rest of the league knows how it works.
17. Cam Newton: It's hard to believe how bad the Panthers are, and how Newton isn't even fun to watch this season. The offensive line is dreadful. The running game was stale two years ago. Newton's accuracy is wildly unpredictable. Cam deserves better than Mike Shula at offensive coordinator, but I never thought we'd see this many poor games from Newton in a row.
18. Mark Sanchez
19. Jay Cutler
20. Andy Dalton: We just finished the most Andy Dalton month possible. He had a complete washout on national television against Cleveland, followed by a near perfect game in New Orleans and a workmanlike effort in Houston. He then threw three ugly picks in the first half in Tampa before making a few big-time throws late to win. This is why Dalton is the prime meridian of starting quarterbacks.
*That's my top 20. The remaining group could really be listed in almost any order. *
21. Teddy Bridgewater: He's the best rookie quarterback right now. It's not by much, and his ceiling could be higher than his counterparts. Bridgewater is crafty. He's the type of quarterback who analysts or teammates love to call a "gamer" or a "winner." He's going to be around a while, but possibly in the mold of guys like Alex Smith or Andy Dalton.
22. Kyle Orton: I never expected to watch so much Orton again. It hasn't been altogether unpleasant.
23. Ryan Fitzpatrick: We didn't learn anything from Ryan Mallett's two starts, especially since he played one of them with a torn pectoral muscle.
24. Colt McCoy: McCoy's lack of arm strength shows up a few times per game, but he is good at extending plays and has more flash than expected. He looks like an upgrade from the RGIII we saw this year, but don't get carried away with his numbers against Indianapolis. It was an up and down performance.
25. Brian Hoyer: I'm not sure Hoyer has truly been that much worse lately, just less lucky. All those near interceptions he threw by the boatload in September are now being caught.
27. Drew Stanton: Even during an ugly performance, he'll rip off a few nice throws that remind you why Bruce Arians likes him. But Stanton is not built to carry a team with zero running game or a defense that gave up 500 yards on the road. The rest of the Cardinals need to be much better for Stanton to have a chance.
28. Josh McCown: Why did they bench Mike Glennon again? McCown has done virtually nothing positive the last two weeks. Glennon is a better player now, and has more room to grow. Chris Wesseling disagrees with me so vehemently on this issue that I wanted to cross-check my eyeballs and notes with the numbers: ESPN's QBR rating, Football Outsiders and PFF all rank Glennon higher this year, too.
29. Derek Carr: There are some promising traits to work with, but it's really hard to evaluate a quarterback running an offense that makes the Buccaneers look explosive.
30. Zach Mettenberger: I'm intrigued. I'm confused. I want to see more. NFL Films' Greg Cosell said he wouldn't take a quarterback in the top five of the draft if he was running the Titans because of Mettenberger.
31. Blake Bortles: If nothing else, the Jaguars coaching staff is still confident in him. They had Bortles throwing out of his own end zone with 30 seconds left in the first half last week. Bortles is an explosive athlete who knows how to run a two minute drill. This rookie season has largely been a mess, but he's still very entertaining to watch each week. A huge second-year leap is easy to imagine.
32. Geno Smith/Michael Vick: The Jets endured two of the most embarrassing quarterback performances of the year in back to back games, by different starters.
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