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Quarterback rankings: Eli Manning tops list heading into 2012

It's like every offseason someone has to proclaim how good a quarterback he is.

We had Top-Five Eli last spring, and now Joe Flacco says he thinks he's the best QB in the NFL.

First of all, I don't think Joe Flacco really believes he's the best. I know there's that professional pride, and that's why things like "Who's the best QB?" aren't decided by the quarterbacks themselves. I think Flacco was giving the answer he thinks he's supposed to give -- and one his teammates want to see him give, as well. It wasn't a knee-jerk response to the query, rather a well-thought out "When I'm asked this question, this is what I'm going to say."

So now that we've figured that out, just where does Joe Flacco rank in current quarterback hierarchy? Let's go 1-32 and see where everyone sits. The criteria for the rankings don't factor in age. This is not "Who do you start a team with?" It's simply a measurement of where each QB stands right now, entering the 2012 season. And brace yourself for a shocker right off the bat ...

The top 10

1) Eli Manning, New York Giants: A 30-touchdown/4,000-yard passer with two Super Bowls in the past five years. Both won with last-minute drives -- and both over Tom Brady. Give me a better recent résumé. You can't.

2) Tom Brady, New England Patriots: Even though he hasn't won the Super Bowl in seven years, he's now been to five. And would be 5-for-5 if Wes Welker had stickier hands and David Tyree did not.

3) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: I'm still taking him over the next two guys because I believe he'll win a playoff game in minus-45 degree weather before the other two will. And he's got two rings.

4) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: If fantasy were reality, Brees would sit atop this list. But it isn't, so he doesn't. Like Brady, too many things outside of his control have kept him from winning more. (Like playing those pesky road playoff games.)

5) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: The first three things that come to mind when I think of Rodgers: 1) He's a machine; 2) Discount Double Check; and 3) That stinker at home against the G-Men. That holds him back from No. 2 overall.

6) Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: Stop thinking that Peyton's going to be playing with a neck brace and a cane. He'll still be Peyton, and we'll forget about his injury by the first preseason game.

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7) Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: It's a small sample size, but I also knew I liked Ben & Jerry's "Phish Food" from my first tasting spoon. Some things you just know.

8) Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: No matter who he has to throw to, he wins. He was better in 2010 without Vincent Jackson than with him. He elevates his receivers and could be a Hall of Famer by the end of his career like Dan Fouts. He could also wind up never getting to a Super Bowl like Fouts, too.

9) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: His spot in the top 10 is tenuous. He needs a big performance in a playoff game to avoid being labeled the next Barry Bonds. (I mean before the whole steroid thing, back when he was great in the regular season and then would hit .149 October.)

10) Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles: It's a make-or-break season health-wise for Vick as far as his status as an elite QB goes. If he could have stayed upright this past season, he'd be in the top five. But he didn't, so he's not. (I just found out I really like ending sentences that way. I'm thankful to have stolen it from Colin Farrell in "In Bruges.")

The next five

11) Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: The anti-Michael Vick. After not being healthy his entire career, he was injury-free all last season. He'll be knocking on the door of the top five if he duplicates his last season's performance in 2012.

12) Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens: Ah, here's our guy! Disappearing for three weeks at a time continues to kill him. Just when everyone thinks he's turned the corner, he vanishes faster than a Mega Millions winner.

13) Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys: He's better than anyone gives him credit for. The Cowboys' inability to win bigger isn't 100 percent Romo's fault. It's only 100 percent in the final two minutes of a game.

14) Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears: The Bears would've been in the Super Bowl last season if he stayed healthy. If he gets the Bears to one this season, he cracks the top seven. Yeah, he's really that good, whether you like him or not.

15) Matt Schaub, Houston Texans: He's always been a big numbers guy, but the past couple years he's played smarter and the Texans have won more. Like Cutler's Bears, if Schaub didn't get hurt, the Texans would've made the trip to Indy in February.

Intermission: There is not just a big drop from No. 15 to 16 and below, it's one of those Wile E. Coyote-chasing-The-Road-Runner-over-the-edge-of-a-cliff-and-holding-up-a-sign-that-says-"Yipe!"-before-falling-down-a-thousand-feet-into-a-dirt-cloud drop. End intermission. No food and drinks allowed inside for the rest of this list.

The ones who could someday crack the top 15

16) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts: Yes, I'm projecting his selection by the Colts at No. 1. (Pretty bold!) He's not this highly rated for no reason, guys. And you'd take him and his potential for the 2012 season over anyone else between here and 32.

17) Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: He showed me a lot winning nine games as a rookie last year, but the praise he got overshadowed his actual production. Show me you can win games as a sophomore and you'll be higher next year.

18) Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams: I can't wait to see how well he does now that he has actual receivers to throw the football to. He could make the biggest jump on this list between now and the end of 2012. Possible breakout.

19) Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: As we saw last season, he wasn't quite ready to have the Bucs' fortunes completely rest on his shoulders. This is a HUGE year for him to show he can do it. He has all the tools -- now he needs to become a leader.

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20) Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders: His best days are behind him (bad). But now he has a whole offseason with the team's playbook (good). But he's still throwing to DHB and a bunch of no-names he can't make better (bad).

21) Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins: Projecting his selection at No. 2 by Washington. You can't just say he's the next Cam Newton, but you can't say he isn't either. If I thought he would throw for a high completion percentage right off the bat, I'd have him just behind Luck.

22) Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans: Projecting he'll beat out Matt Hasselbeck. He really surprised me in 2011 with the way he was able to ignite Tennessee without a running game. Right now he's still all potential, but more accurate than I thought.

The ones who make the top two-thirds of this list possible

23) Mark Sanchez, New York Jets: Projecting he'll beat out Tim Tebow, at least for a week. Think about this: He's this low, despite playing lights-out in two playoff runs when he was the Jets' best player. That tells you how inconsistent his regular seasons have been. And yes, I'd have him this low even if Tebow wasn't on the team.

24) Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills: Look at his stats and you see a late-career bloomer. Look at his stats after his first 16 NFL games and you see why he's rounding out the bottom third. Defensive coordinators know how to slow him down. But he did go to Harvard, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt as he attempts to make his own adjustments this offseason. Here's my first tip: Don't grow the beard.

25) Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers: Again, like Dalton, the accolades weren't proportional to his accomplishments. He still only threw 17 touchdown passes in 16 regular-season games. This is Smith's ceiling, or the 49ers wouldn't have gone in as far as they did for Peyton Manning.

26) Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs: The good news is he has all his weapons back and a couple more to hand off to (a healthy Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis). But I'm so skeptical. I think he just got hot for a few games in 2010.

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27) Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings: He makes plays with his feet, but had trouble re-adjusting to the league once teams had a couple games of tape on him. He could be in store for a Blaine Gabbert-type season in Minnesota.

28) John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals: Projecting he'll beat out Kevin Kolb. Skelton enjoyed the success that has eluded Kolb with one simple strategy: Throw the football to Larry Fitzgerald! But in any event, Arizona will be on the lookout for an upgrade next offseason.

29) Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks: He could be higher on this list, but how am I seriously supposed to gauge a guy with two NFL starts in a four-year career?

30) Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns: He's the top dog in Cleveland, until the Browns draft Ryan Tannehill (or not). I've seen glimpses of how good he can be. But just glimpses. Eventually you have to put it together no matter who's blocking for you.

31) Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins: Projecting he'll beat out David Garrard. Moore has some nice games, but too many pedestrian ones to be a real difference maker over the long haul.

32) Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars: Projecting he'll beat out Gabbert. By and large Henne is the same QB now he was when he was a freshman at Michigan. Big arm, but erratic and prone to bad turnovers. And still, he could keep Gabbert on the bench.

Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith for daily. Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks that you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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