NFL Nation: Clayton QB Rankings 2011

NFC West prospects for 'elite' QB play

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
5:33
PM ET
John Clayton's annual NFL quarterback rankings are out, based on a simple criteria.

"To be elite," Clayton writes, "a quarterback must have 4,000-yard potential, complete 60 percent of his passes and score more than 20 points a game."

Enforcing that criteria strictly, NFC West quarterbacks have produced four qualifying seasons since 2000: Jeff Garcia with the San Francisco 49ers in 2000, Kurt Warner with the St. Louis Rams (2000) and Arizona Cardinals (2008), and Marc Bulger with the Rams (2006).

Matt Hasselbeck, the most consistent quarterback in the division for several years, never posted such a season. He fell just short in yardage for the 2004 and 2007 seasons, but likely would have been "elite" in those years given Clayton's call for 4,000-yard potential, not just 4,000-yard production.

"Although I am criticized for putting a Matt Schaub or a Joe Flacco in the same category as a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning, I do it for a reason," Clayton explains. "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. The league has 12 playoff spots, and usually 10 or 11 of the elite quarterbacks fill those positions."

Clayton ranked the Rams' Sam Bradford 14th overall and just outside the elite group, with a good chance of getting there in the not-too-distant future. He ranked the Cardinals' Kevin Kolb 18th and has him ascending also. The 49ers' Alex Smith (28th) and the Seattle Seahawks' Tarvaris Jackson (30th) stand ahead of just three ranked quarterbacks on Clayton's list.

Not that fans in San Francisco or Seattle needed any reminders. Perhaps Smith or Jackson will exceed expectations. One of them is likely to open the season 1-0. Their teams face one another in the opener.

On Clayton's QB rankings

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
4:42
PM ET
John Clayton’s annual preseason quarterback rankings always stir up good debate.

He puts both Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub among his elite 13. He spells out what's elite in his eyes and it is sensible.

I think that’s an awfully big group, however. Tier two is called the “Chad Pennington Division.” There is a lot of room between elite and Chad Pennington at his best. So I wish these guys were divided into four categories instead of just three.

Here are Clayton's thoughts on the quarterbacks of the AFC South who could play on opening day, with comment from me too.

THE ELITE

3. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts

Clayton: The signing of Kerry Collins with the Colts is a little unnerving because it means Manning might miss regular-season time after 208 consecutive starts while waiting for nerves in his neck to heal from offseason surgery. The Colts gave him a five-year, $90 million contract -- they know Manning will play. They just don't know when.

Arrow is pointing: flat

Kuharsky: Way too many people writing him off. Even if he missed a bunch of games, once he’s back why would we presume he won’t be great again.

12. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans

Clayton: I don't know if Schaub can do more. He's thrown for 9,140 yards and 53 touchdowns the past two seasons, but that hasn't been good enough to get the Texans to the playoffs. In fact, they ended up 6-10 last season. He needs some help from his defensive friends.

Arrow is pointing: flat

Kuharsky: Agree with that assessment. He could stand a bit taller at crucial moments. Last season he had some lousy luck, but also some lousy clutch play.

CHAD PENNINGTON DIVISION

22. David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars

Clayton: Garrard never has really received credit for how well he has played at times in Jacksonville. He has a respectable 57.3 QBR, but after this season, he's DFA, designated for assignment. Blaine Gabbert will either get a chance to start this year or will be the starting quarterback next year.

Arrow is pointing: down

Kuharsky: If Garrard starts slowly, he will accelerate his ending in Jacksonville. The pressure is big and I am not certain it will bring out his best.

24. Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee Titans

Clayton: Despite last year's playoff victory over the Saints, the Seahawks decided to cut ties with Hasselbeck and let him move on to Tennessee, where he's the bridge to Jake Locker. Hasselbeck's been banged up in recent years in Seattle, but he goes to a team with a good offensive line and a nice running game.

Arrow is pointing: up

Kuharsky: A significant upgrade. That may say more about who he’s replacing, but the leadership, reliability and accountability are major ingredients for a team that lacked both with Vince Young.

HIT OR MISS DIVISION

29. Kerry Collins, Indianapolis Colts

Clayton: Am I missing something? Wasn't Collins offered the chance to be the Titans' quarterback and take the Matt Hasselbeck job of grooming Jake Locker? Now, he's in Indianapolis filling in for Peyton Manning. All of the sudden the AFC South has become the care-takers division for quarterbacks.

Arrow is pointing: flat

Kuharsky: No, Collins retired during the lockout and the Titans always preferred Hasselbeck. Collins is an upgrade backing up Manning, but the offensive line and running game better produce for him if and when he plays, or there will be problems.

Rank them all yourself, here.
Miss your afternoon caffeine jolt? ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton has offered you some late-afternoon adrenaline.

With 2011 being the Year of the Quarterback and all, Clayton produced a comprehensive ranking of 33 potential starting quarterbacks. He slotted one NFC North quarterback in the "elite" category and the rest in the dubiously titled "Chad Pennington Division."

Clayton's rankings, along with a comment or two from me, are below. First, the usual caveat: Rankings are for entertainment purposes only.

2. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)
Seifert comment:
No argument from me. That's where I had Rodgers during our much-discussed offseason positional power rankings.

16. Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears)
Comment:
It's a bit sobering to be ranked below the likes of Sam Bradford and Matt Cassel. But Cutler's national reputation has been impacted by 26 interceptions in 2009 and 52 sacks in 2010.

19. Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions)
Seifert comment:
Unless our eyes have deceived us this summer, this is one of the few times Stafford will be mentioned in the same breath as Pennington.

22. Donovan McNabb (Minnesota Vikings)
Comment:
No one has high expectations for the six-time Pro Bowler. It took only a sixth-round draft pick to acquire him and a $5.05 million contract to sign him.
The great John Clayton has his annual ranking of quarterbacks, which is always a topic for debate.

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.
ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton completed his popular NFL quarterback rankings on Wednesday.

Here is a breakdown of where AFC North quarterbacks rank:

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Clayton's ranking: No. 5

Analysis: Roethlisberger has always been hot and cold when it comes to rankings. Some analysts see his unconventional, backyard style and overlook Roethlisberger. But I agree with Clayton that Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback deserving of a top-five ranking. Roethlisberger is a great passer and a winner. Those are the two biggest ingredients I look for in the position.

Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

Flacco
Flacco
Clayton's ranking: No. 11

Analysis: There are 13 elite quarterbacks listed this season and Flacco is in that group, according to Clayton. I disagree. Flacco is a good quarterback who is growing, but I do not consider him elite. The same goes for other quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Matt Ryan and Eli Manning, who also are in the "elite" category. I would probably cut the elite group by more than half and stop after the top five.

Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns

McCoy
McCoy
Clayton's ranking: No. 25

Analysis: McCoy is in Clayton's hit-or-miss group. I agree with this assessment. McCoy looks solid in the preseason but still has plenty to prove. His size and arm strength are not ideal, and he played poorly in bad weather last season. We will find out what McCoy is made of in 2011.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

Clayton's ranking: No. 33

Analysis: Dalton was rated the worst starting quarterback in the NFL by Clayton. He was No. 33 because Indianapolis Colts backup Kerry Collins (No. 29) might start in Week 1 in place of injured quarterback Peyton Manning (No. 3). There's nowhere to go but up for Dalton. He's been inconsistent this preseason and needs to grow with the young weapons around him.
ESPN’s John Clayton ranked the NFL’s quarterbacks and he doesn’t think too much the guys under center in the AFC West -- with one notable exception. Let’s take a look at how Clayton ranks the AFC West’s signal callers:

6. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

Analysis: Rivers is a riverboat gambler. Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson may be double-covered, but Rivers will still get them the ball. Last year, he had Gates-Jackson-Malcom Floyd on the field for only about a quarter together. Watch for Rivers to have his best season.

Arrow is pointing: up

My thoughts: Regular readers of this blog know I think Rivers is one of the very best players in the NFL. So, no arguments here.

15. Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs

Analysis: Cassel is almost like (Chad) Pennington, a quarterback who took four teams to the playoffs for the Jets and Dolphins. He manages the game well enough to win and get a team into the playoffs. What holds him back is the lack of a big arm and his struggles in games against elite quarterbacks.

Arrow is pointing: flat

My thoughts: I think Cassel is ranked in the right range. I think he does have a chance to improve, especially since he has so many offensive weapons around him.

20. Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos

Analysis: He outlasted Rex Grossman in Chicago. He survived a Tim Tebow challenge. Even though he might not be the people's choice in Denver, he's a good quarterback who was on pace for a 5,000-yard throwing season early last year.

Arrow is pointing: flat

My thoughts: Like Cassel, I think Orton may be ranked a tad low. He is a solid player, but I don’t know if he is the long-term answer in Denver.

23. Jason Campbell, Oakland Raiders

Analysis: Campbell has a coach who believes in him in Hue Jackson. Too bad he doesn't have an offensive line that can block for him.

Arrow is pointing: down

My thoughts: I think Campbell has a chance to be much better than his ranking. He looked improved this summer and he has good coaching. He could jump up eight spots or so, in my opinion.

What are your thoughts on Clayton’s ranking? Express your thoughts in the comment section below. Here’s an opportunity to rank the NFL quarterbacks yourself.

Clayton's QB Ranks: Vick, Eli, Romo

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
2:51
PM ET
Oh yeah, 1,500 comments here we come ...

Hey, everybody! John Clayton's got his annual quarterback rankings out Wednesday. Thought you might enjoy seeing them.

At the top, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning ... about what you'd expect. But those guys aren't the reason you're coming to the NFC East blog. You want to know how the NFC East quarterbacks rank in the mind of the esteemed Mr. Clayton, so here it is:

8. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles

9. Eli Manning, New York Giants

10. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

31. John Beck-Rex Grossman, Washington Redskins

So there you have it. Regular readers of this blog already know that I have Romo ahead of Manning in what I consider to be an extremely close race. And frankly, I'd probably jump Vick up to No. 7 ahead of Matt Ryan. But that's splitting hairs.

John paired up the Redskins guys for a reason, and it's to be found in his explanation of their ranking:
In a quarterback-driven league, Mike Shanahan and his son, Kyle, believe scheme and coaching are everything. If this daily double gets the Redskins to the playoffs, Shanahan will be coach of the year. If not, the Redskins could be looking at Andrew Luck.

Yes, I agree that if the Redskins make the playoffs Shanahan will be Coach of the Year, because that award always goes to the coach of the team that was much, much better than everyone thought it would be before the season. But as regular readers of mine also know, I don't think the Redskins are going to be a top-draft-pick-level mess this year. Their schedule and improved defense will keep them above the dregs of the league, and I do not think they will be in a position to take Luck with the No. 1 overall pick next April.

I do agree that Beck or Grossman (whichever it is, though I think it's been Beck all along) deserves to be ranked this low on this list until we see proof that he shouldn't. Sure, you can quibble and say you'd put the Redskins starter ahead of Tarvaris Jackson (30), Kerry Collins (29), Alex Smith (28) or Chad Henne (26), but he's in that bottom group until he shows otherwise.

On the other three NFC East quarterbacks, John has the "arrow" pointing up on Vick and Romo and down on Manning, as he's clearly disturbed by those pesky 25 interceptions Manning threw in 2010. Again, very close here, but I'd put Vick ahead of both Romo and Manning because he can do things they can't. And I think Romo's got a better overall skill set and supporting cast than Manning does.

So (grimacing as he asks, fearing what's to come), what do you guys think?

SPONSORED HEADLINES