NFC South: quarterback rankings
John Clayton has his annual rankings of the NFL’s starting quarterbacks. These usually make for great debates and this year is no exception.
In fact, I’ll at least throw out some (respectfully) dissenting thoughts on where Clayton has each of the four NFC South quarterbacks ranked.
He has New Orleans’ Drew Brees at No. 3. That’s a very lofty ranking, but I think you could at least make the argument that Brees could be No. 1 or No. 2. Clayton has Aaron Rodgers at No. 1 and Tom Brady at No. 2. They’re both great quarterbacks, but are either one of them clearly better than Brees? I’m not so sure.
Clayton has Atlanta’s Matt Ryan at No. 10. I totally agree that Ryan is a top 10 quarterback. In fact, I think you could make the case he could be a spot or two higher. Tony Romo is No. 8 on Clayton’s list and Michael Vick is No. 9. We’re all entitled to our opinions, but I easily would take Ryan over Romo or Vick as my quarterback.
For that matter, I’d also take Carolina’s Cam Newton over Romo and Vick. I’d even rank him (very slightly) ahead of Ryan, which is exactly what I did earlier this summer when I listed my NFC South top 25 players. But Clayton has Newton at No. 15 and that’s my biggest dispute with his ranking of any of the NFC South quarterbacks. I know Newton only has played one season and I’m projecting what he’ll do in 2012, but he’s a top 10 quarterback in my book.
That brings us to the final NFC South quarterback, Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman. Clayton has him at No. 16. I think Freeman’s going to bounce back from last year’s disaster, but I don’t know that you put him right next to Newton at this point. Clayton also seems to be counting on Freeman getting back on track because he’s got him ranked one spot ahead of San Francisco’s Alex Smith, who took his team deep into the playoffs last season.
I’m sure you have your opinions as well. Fire away in the comments section below.
In this year’s version, Clayton lists includes 13 “elite’’ quarterbacks. What exactly is an “elite’’ quarterback? Well, I think you could debate that for weeks on end. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s go with Clayton’s definition. That’s only fair because I talk to Clayton on a daily basis and know he puts an enormous amount of time and thought into this.
“Elite quarterbacks are the ones who usually make the playoffs, so I categorize the elites as the ones who give their franchises the best chance,’’ Clayton wrote. “The league has 12 playoff spots, and usually 10 or 11 of the elite quarterbacks fill those positions. To be elite, a quarterback must have 4,000-yard potential, complete 60 percent of his passes and score more than 20 points a game.’’
The good news for the NFC South is that it has three quarterbacks in the elite category. Clayton also gives the same honor to the NFC East, but I think you could make the argument the NFC South has the strongest overall quarterback group based on where he has the guys from each division ranked.
New Orleans’ Drew Brees is No. 4 and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is No. 7. They both come before the NFC East run of Michael Vick, Eli Manning and Tony Romo at Nos. 8 through 10.
Clayton also has Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman at No. 13. Although that’s one spot beyond the number of playoff teams, Tampa Bay fans shouldn’t feel too badly about this one. Clayton has the arrow pointing up on Freeman, who has had only one full season as a starter. I know Clayton is very high on Freeman and believes he could move into the top 10 before long.
After the big three, there’s a huge drop to Carolina’s Cam Newton. Clayton has him at No. 32, but the good news here is that Newton’s not last on the list. Clayton ranked 33 quarterbacks and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton is at the bottom of the list.
I don’t think I’m giving away too much when I admit my rankings of the four NFC South quarterbacks will be in the same order Clayton has them. I don’t really see how it could be any other way.
Clayton has Drew Brees and Matt Ryan both listed as elite quarterbacks. He has Brees at No. 3, behind Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Clayton also admits he came close to putting Brees ahead of Brady, but stayed with the New England quarterback because of his multiple Super Bowl rings.
Ryan is No. 13, almost at the bottom of Clayton’s elite level. Clayton said Ryan’s on the rise and I agree. I think he’ll be a top-10 quarterback this season.
After Brees and Ryan, there is a big drop-off in the rankings, which is no surprise. Although Clayton ranks Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman No. 29, he praises the young quarterback. I really believe that Freeman’s going to be a good quarterback. Not sure he’ll get there right away, but I think the Bucs are going to be a lot more interesting than they were a year ago.
Clayton has Carolina’s Matt Moore at No. 32. That’s precisely one spot ahead of Jake Delhomme, the guy Moore is replacing. Can’t really argue that Moore deserves to be much higher after what we’ve seen from him in the preseason.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
How do the NFC South quarterbacks rank? Well, you've got a chance to help sort it out.
ESPN is taking ballots where you get to rank the top 33 quarterbacks. Tampa Bay fans, Luke McCown isn't on the ballot, but Jeff Garcia is. By the way, so is Jay Cutler.