Enough with the constant search for NFL talent. Gil Brandt is going to try something different: building the perfect player at five key positions, blending the best traits of some of the best players in the game today. We kick things off with the perfect quarterback, updating the model he came up with last summer.
The perfect NFL quarterback would have ...
... the accuracy and touch of Drew Brees.
When I last did this exercise, I went with the accuracy of Aaron Rodgers, but a bit of a down year in 2015 dropped the Packers' quarterback -- who is still very good, of course -- below Brees in this capacity. The Saints' quarterback completed more than 70 percent of his passes in six different games last season, and he's hit the 80 percent mark 19 times in his career, including a personal best 88.6 percent completion rate in a 62-7 win over the Colts in 2011. His lifetime completion rate of 66.4 percent is the best all time. Accuracy is really paramount to good quarterback play -- it's as essential as knowing how to spell when you sit down to write a dictionary.
I think a lot of Brees' accuracy comes down to his incredible touch. It's amazing the way he can feather the ball when he needs to or zip it in there with mustard, as Hank Stram used to say.
Classic examples: Troy Aikman and Joe Montana.
... the toughness and big-play ability of Ben Roethlisberger.
He's a big, big man who will find a way, regardless of how many defenders might be hanging off of him, to make a play. That kind of toughness is extremely valuable to a team. It does a lot for a squad's collective confidence when players see that their quarterback will hang in there until the last second against the blitz, as Roethlisberger does.
As for Big Ben's big-play ability, consider this mind-boggling stat: 38.7 percent of his career throws have gone for first downs, the highest percentage among active quarterbacks. Guys like that know how to produce when it matters, whether the offense needs 6 yards or 60. They just know how to step up, avoid the rush and give targets enough time to do what they need to do.
Classic example: Roger Staubach.
... the mental alertness of Tom Brady.
This attribute is so important to dominant quarterback play. Think of how Peyton Manning used to run the show, checking into the optimal play and ensuring he'd get the most out of his offensive opportunity. Brady's mental quickness is off the charts and shows up in the way he maximizes New England's offensive possessions and elevates the cast around him. You don't have a ton of time to solve problems and make the right decisions as an NFL signal caller, and mental acuity is crucial.
Classic examples: Steve Young and Peyton Manning.
... the leadership ability of Philip Rivers.
Rivers is a quiet leader off the field, but he's very vocal on it. The Chargers' quarterback simply puts it all on the line. He is not timid. Even when he gets knocked down, he comes up fighting, so to speak, ready to challenge guys on the other team. I think that kind of spark elevates the play of his teammates.
Classic example: Lynn Dickey.
... the athleticism of Cam Newton.
Newton was already the standard bearer of this trait last year -- and he took a gigantic step forward in 2015, putting up 17 more touchdown passes and five more rushing touchdowns than he did in 2014, despite playing without injured receiver Kelvin Benjamin. There are a lot of athletic quarterbacks in the NFL, but they pale in comparison to Newton. When a guy with his size (6-6, 260) has that kind of ability, it can be a lot for opposing defenses to handle.
Classic example: Brett Favre.
... the arm of Matthew Stafford.
We've always known Stafford has had a cannon attached to his right shoulder -- he can hit the end zone on his knees from the 50-yard line -- but the Lions' quarterback showed something in 2015 that suggests a breakout could be coming this season. After Jim Bob Cooter was promoted to offensive coordinator going into Week 8, Stafford really came on; under Cooter's direction over the last eight games, he put up a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 19:2 and posted a passer rating over 100 five times. I think Cooter showed Stafford how to take something off his throws when necessary, which I think will allow him to fully harness the power of his arm. Even with Calvin Johnson having retired, I see big things in Stafford's immediate future.
Classic example: John Elway.
... the running ability of Russell Wilson.
Wilson ran less frequently in 2015 than he did in 2014, but he still put up the second-highest rushing total of his career, finishing with 553 yards. Plenty of quarterbacks can run, but Wilson is an exceptional athlete who moves like a halfback and can make people miss. This ability can mean so much to an offense. Where a rock-footed signal caller will suffer a momentum-killing sack, a fleet-footed guy like Wilson will take off and pick up a crucial first down (and then some). There's no better example than this 14-yard scramble that kept a Seattle drive alive and led to the second touchdown in the Seahawks' second-half comeback attempt in last season's playoff loss to the Panthers.
Classic example: Fran Tarkenton.
... the competitiveness of Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers' supporting cast was limited in Green Bay last season, between Jordy Nelson's season-long absence with a torn ACL and Eddie Lacy's inconsistency. So Rodgers recorded a sub-100 passer rating for the first time since 2008. But he still found a way to keep the Packers competitive in the NFC North until Week 17 and got within a close loss of the NFC title game. The bottom line is, as long as Rodgers is under center, you can never count Green Bay out -- as we saw with not one but two jaw-dropping Hail Mary touchdowns last season (against the Lionsin Week 13and the Cardinals in that playoff defeat).
Classic example: Dan Fouts.