You talk to coaches, especially defensive coordinators. They have to prepare for these guys. You ask a head coach a very private question: If you had to choose one guy to be your quarterback ... and sometimes you get the truth.
There are some clear-cut answers when you analyze who's best among the 31 NFL starting quarterbacks, and there are some iffy propositions. And let's face it, there are some guys not starting in the league who obviously could have made this list.
The Magnificent Seven
|Colts QB Peyton Manning is the prototypical drop-back passer.|
1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts: Maybe not the total package (mobility is
limited), but if you looked up "quarterback" in the mythical coach's dictionary, Manning would
fit the description. The best prepared QB in the game. Accurate. Quick release. Big. Highly competitive.
2. Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers: You can still hear a lot of coaches
and scouts out there make a claim for Favre as the best. He's got a gun, he is a great
competitor, he is a three-time MVP with a Super Bowl ring and physically he is still on top of
his game. The gambler in him is a great quality, but can cost him at times.
3. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles: He's magic. He's smart. He
works his tail off. He's got enough arm. He makes plays with his legs. He has charisma you
can't buy. Let's see if his receivers mature fast enough for him to become a big-time
passer in the NFL.
4. Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams: His coach, Mike Martz, believes Warner
is an all-timer. His release and accuracy trigger the Rams' fast-break offense.
Yes, the Rams are loaded with talent, but all those run-after-catch big plays are a tribute to
his precision passing. Seldom does any receiver have to break stride because the ball is on
time and on the mark.
5. Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota Vikings: One-of-a-kind when you look at
him. Size and strength are great assets. Very competitive. Highly confident, which he can
afford to be with receivers like Randy Moss and Cris Carter. Arm strength is Favre-like.
Only knock may be "small hands" that scouts believe could prove hindrance outdoors in
cold, wet weather. That's a little picky, I think.
6. Brian Griese, Denver Broncos: If he can stay healthy, he is in the
Manning-Warner class in terms of accuracy. Throws a beautiful ball. Now has an above-average
arm. He has command of Mike Shanahan's offense. Obviously smart, but he does lack the
charisma of the five guys above him at this stage.
7. Rich Gannon, Oakland Raiders: Highly competitive and a perfectionist
who demands the best from himself and those around him. A lot like his coach, Jon Gruden.
He finds a way to win, throwing and running. Yes, an average arm does give him
limitations, but you sure wouldn't want to bet against him.
On the Verge?
8. Elvis Grbac, Baltimore Ravens: Few people understand how physically
gifted Grbac is; he can make all the throws, and a 4,000-yard season in Kansas City last
year almost went unnoticed. You may not like Brian Billick, but the Ravens coach is no
dummy. He knows what he's got in Grbac.
9. Aaron Brooks, New Orleans Saints: It's scary to think that Brooks
lasted until the fourth round in the '99 draft that produced Couch, Culpepper, McNabb, McNown,
Smith, et al. Physically, Brooks is as good or better than all of them. He has a
whip for an arm and probably throws the prettiest ball. Athletically, as good as it gets. He
has height. He could use a little more muscle weight. He was not overwhelmed last year, and
is on the verge of being a star.
10. Mark Brunell, Jacksonville Jaguars: Something's gone amiss in
Jacksonville, but there are a bunch of true quarterback gurus in the NFL who hold Brunell in
high, high regard. He can flat-out throw it. He doesn't have the mobility he once had
prior to injuries, but he can move around. He has been a victim of offensive-line injuries.
Still, he needs to win to move up the ladder.
11. Steve McNair, Tennessee Titans: He's not pretty, but he is the ideal
QB for the physical Titans. He can move the chains. He is strong. He makes plays, but
Titans hope he will choose his spots better to avoid some punishment. His arm is just so-so,
and until he starts making consistent plays downfield, he'll probably be a
12. Drew Bledsoe, New England Patriots: If you put Bledsoe on most of
the teams above, he would be more of a star in this league. Big, strong and, yes, tough. He
has to be tough to play behind what have been very suspect lines the past few years. Throw in
average receivers and, well, it might get frustrating for him. One does wonder
whether he and coach Bill Belichick are meant for each other.
13. Jeff Garcia, San Francisco 49ers: The one thing coach Steve Mariucci
will tell you is that Garcia has the West Coast scheme "down pat," and that usually means
production. Is he a true Pro Bowl quarterback? Probably not. But the diminutive Garcia plays
like he always has something to prove, and usually proves it.
If Only They Stay Healthy
14. Vinny Testaverde, New York Jets: Physically, Vinny can still throw
with the best of them. He just needs to show that he can produce big-time without Bill
Parcells as his coach. Suspicion is that Jets offensive coordinator Paul Hackett will do a smart
thing and establish a strong running game to take the heat off Vinny. Results could be interesting.
15. Trent Green, Kansas City Chiefs: In relief of Kurt Warner last year,
he proved he's a pretty complete quarterback. He has shown in training camp and preseason
that even with lesser talent in Kansas City, he is top-notch. Question remains, however, about his knee.
16. Chris Chandler, Atlanta Falcons: Chandler had such a strong
offseason in the weight room that, along with a rejuvenated Jamal Anderson
and a revamped O-line, he might just survive his "Crystal Chandelier"
label. He should be a lot closer to the '98 model that led the Falcons to the
Super Bowl. Throws a great ball. Has handled the Michael Vick situation like a pro.
17. Rob Johnson, Buffalo Bills: Ah, now we're getting into more
controversy. Obviously, he has to stay healthy and take fewer sacks. In terms of pure physical
ability, Johnson has it all -- size, arm strength, accuracy, athleticism. Now, he must show up for
16 games and show what he's got.
True Pros with Limitations
18. Doug Flutie, San Diego Chargers: Yes, he wins, although sometimes he
gets a little too much credit for the victories. He does defy logic, though, and he will
make plays for new Chargers offensive coordinator Norv Turner. What scouts and defensive
coordinators have noticed is that Flutie does wear down as the season goes on. We'll see.
|The mobility of Doug Flutie (7) is clear, but his durability is a question mark to some.|
19. Brad Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The best thing that can be said
about Johnson is that he's a pro's pro. He has tremendous work ethic and he understands
the game. He does build confidence in his teammates. Good size but average arm.
Obviously, must stay healthy. Still, the Bucs are the Bucs. They will always be somewhat
conservative, and Johnson will execute as well as anyone what Tony Dungy wants from his offense.
How Good Are They?
20. Kerry Collins, New York Giants: He has come a long way, thanks to
coach Jim Fassel and offensive coordinator Sean Payton. His mechanics are improved, but he still
has a tendency to throw without setting his feet. The talent around him is good,
not great. He's big but still must display that toughness week-to-week. If he wins another
division title, move him way up.
21. Jay Fiedler, Miami Dolphins: He may be the ideal No. 2 quarterback
who happens to be a starter. But that still means he's a solid starter, maybe even
underrated. He did deliver a division title, despite injuries. Now he has more weapons, and offensive
coordinator Chan Gailey is pretty good at maximizing his arsenal. Fiedler still will
throw an inopportune interception, but don't dismiss him.
22. Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks: We only have preseason to measure
him by, but he has really stepped up since Mike Holmgren got his attention by bringing in
Trent Dilfer. He throws a very nice ball, he has accuracy, he seems to grasp the offense and he has underrated mobility. While his receivers are inexperienced, he does have a pretty terrific offensive line in front of him, a veteran RB in Ricky Watters and excellent offensive coaches.
23. Jeff George, Washington Redskins: Yes, he has the arm (as long as he's
healthy). He can make a lot of throws most QBs can't, although please don't say he has a
stronger arm than Favre, Culpepper and Brooks. His mechanics still basically stink, which
is indicative of his work ethic. He does not inspire his teammates, but he also is not a
total loser. He has led the Falcons to the playoffs and he had a winning record as a starter in
24. Kordell Stewart, Pittsburgh Steelers: He certainly showed signs down
the stretch last year that he's got promise as an NFL starter. But it's time for Stewart to
have a no-excuses attitude and just perform. Relationship with coach Bill Cowher is not built
on trust, but Cowher did smart thing by hiring QB coach (Tom Clements) and promoting Mike
Mularkey as offensive coordinator. Just play the game, Kordell.
25. Tim Couch, Cleveland Browns: He is probably the toughest guy to rate
because of the expansion status and injuries. He looks like he will adapt well to new
offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' scheme. Arm is slightly above average. He is tough.
He does have mobility. The talent around him is below average at the skill level.
Give him more time.
26. Jake Plummer, Arizona Cardinals: This is a year in which Plummer
should establish one way or another whether he is a bona fide NFL starter. Cardinals coach
Dave McGinnis will take the heat off Plummer by focusing on a tough running game behind a huge
offensive line. If it works, Plummer should be more efficient and throw fewer
interceptions. Has a lot to prove.
Really Nice Guys, But...
27. Charlie Batch, Detroit Lions: Really good guy. Just may not be a
really good quarterback. In fact, suspicion around league is that he's destined for
backup status at some point. He has a decent arm, but that's all. He doesn't have great
athleticism, and has taken some tough hits. Plus, the injuries. Still, you do root for the guy, if
it's worth anything.
28. Shane Matthews, Chicago Bears: Admirable guy. Everyone has tried to
bounce him from league, and he has proven he can run a team. Obviously, he's a No. 2
playing the No. 1 spot, but he will not embarrass himself (I don't think, anyway).
29. Jon Kitna, Cincinnati Bengals: Got the job almost by default. He
does love to compete and will work his tail off. But he has average abilities and does not
have a good history of taking care of the ball (fumbles, interceptions). As a leader,
terrific. Great locker-room guy. If it clicks for him, Bengals could surprise because there is
talent around him and a pretty fair offensive line.
After All, Just Rookies
30. Chris Weinke, Carolina Panthers: At 29, he's not a true rookie. He
does have a maturity about him and he is accustomed to big-game pressure. His arm is good
enough, and he has surprised in the preseason with his mobility, but he has yet to
face the real NFL heat.
31. Quincy Carter, Dallas Cowboys: Hey, he's a starter on America's
Team. He obviously has some very good attributes with his athleticism. The option has
some promise, but will he physically last? He throws OK, and I think the Cowboys will rally
around him. It's just a very tough spot for him.