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Thursday, August 29, 2013
NFL starting QB rankings, 11-20

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck is on the verge of elite quarterback status.

The quarterback class of 2012 and other young quarterbacks have changed things in the NFL.

Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III shocked the NFL by putting together playoff seasons and immediately putting their names among the better quarterbacks in football. Then Colin Kaepernick came off the bench and helped carry the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl.

These young guns might cause future adjustment in how I handle my annual look at the elite quarterbacks. Luck, Wilson, RG III, Kaepernick and Cam Newton are the new wave of quarterbacks who have elite abilities. They can run. They can make every throw. Each has the ability to carry his offense and get his team into playoff contention.

Some might call them elite now. I'm holding off for a year, but next year, I might not be able to keep them out of elite classification. If that's the case, I would have more than half of the league listed as elite quarterbacks, which might force me to consider altering the categories.

That might not be a bad idea. Change is in the air. To me, an elite quarterback is one who has the ability to complete at least 60 percent of his passes, post more than 20 points a game, potentially have 4,000-yard seasons and make fourth-quarter comebacks.

Even those numbers are changing, and some might change significantly this season. Now, quarterbacks can throw for 5,000 yards. Last season, 11 threw for more than 4,000. Eighteen quarterbacks who started at least six games last season completed better than 60 percent of their passes. Twenty threw at least 20 touchdown passes. Fourth-quarter comebacks were regular.

I went with a dozen elite quarterbacks this year. Last year, I almost dropped Joe Flacco, but I'm glad I didn't. He collected a Super Bowl ring and a $20.1 million a year contract. I considered dropping Philip Rivers this season, but I'll keep him on.

Michael Vick was the only elite quarterback I dropped. Though it seems severe to take him down to No. 24, look at the young quarterbacks who jumped ahead of him. Chip Kelly's offense could allow him to rise again.

Click here to see No. 1 to No. 10  |  Click here to see No. 21 to No. 32

SportsNation: Rank 'em -- Starting QBs


THE ELITE


11. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

Analysis: Whether it's Rivers or the roster around him, the Chargers' offense seems to going down the wrong river. Last year his yards-per-completion average dropped from 7.9 to 6.8. His 66 percent completion-rate days are diminishing. He has thrown 53 touchdown passes over the past two years. But his offensive line has gotten worse, and we really don't know if he has enough good pass-catchers. Mike McCoy was hired to allow Rivers the chance to throw shorter, quicker passes.

Arrow is pointing: down



12. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Analysis: His numbers are incredible. Over the past two years, he has thrown for more than 10,000 yards. But this year will determine whether he can stay elite. He went 0-4 in games against .500 teams or better on the road. To stay elite, Stafford needs some road wins against winning teams. Despite a 4,967-yard season last year, the Lions went from 10-6 to 4-12. He earned a $17.75 million-a-year contract extension, but he'll need to win more to stay in this category.

Arrow is pointing: flat



CHAD PENNINGTON DIVISION


13. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Analysis: The Chad Pennington Division is for the quarterbacks good enough to get their teams into the playoffs but dependent on the talent around them to win playoff games. It's probably unfair to put the next four or five quarterbacks in this category because they have elite potential. Luck heads the list of elite quarterbacks on the horizon. Watch for his completion percentage jump into the 60 percent range now that new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is calling for shorter, safer completions. Luck can do it all, living up to the billing that he's the best quarterback to enter the NFL in decades.

Arrow is pointing: up



14. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

Analysis: It's not the size of the quarterback; it's the quality. Wilson overcame being 5-foot-10 5/8 to become an instant star. He has the hands of a 6-7 athlete and the mind of a 10-year veteran. His arrival has put the Seahawks on the Super Bowl map. Because he works and studies so hard, he should avoid any sophomore slump.

Arrow is pointing: up



15. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

Analysis: After 10 games, including three in the playoffs, Kaepernick is getting reviews nationally that haven't been heard in San Francisco since the days of Joe Montana and Steve Young. It's a little surprising that Jim Harbaugh has limited Kaepernick's playing time in the preseason because he is inexperienced compared to the other top quarterbacks. What could hold him back is an unsettled receiving corps. Still, he has big-time talent and should be elite next year.

Arrow is pointing: up



16. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

Analysis: Will he be a different quarterback coming off knee reconstruction, at least temporarily? RG III's game is beating opponents with his arm and his feet. Wisely, the Redskins aren't using him in the preseason, but he will enter the regular season without having had any live action on the field. Carson Palmer, Tom Brady and others have proved they can come back from knee reconstructions, but it might be a little tougher for a running quarterback.

Arrow is pointing: flat



17. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Analysis: Newton never got credit for playing better in the second half of last season when the offense started to click. In fact, Newton doesn't get the credit he deserves for his first two years. Throwing for close to 8,000 yards in two years can't be taken lightly. And his running scares defenses. If he can provide a little more leadership, Newton can take this franchise closer to the playoffs.

Arrow is pointing: up



18. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

Analysis: Smith has done his best when he's had proper coaching. Norv Turner gave him respectable play calling for one year when Turner was an offensive coordinator in San Francisco. Smith flourished under Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman. Linking up with Andy Reid and the West Coast offense could produce a potential wild-card season for the Chiefs. Reid will exploit Smith's quick passing ability out of three- and five-step drops.

Arrow is pointing: up



19. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

Analysis: Dalton is much like Pennington, the former Jets quarterback who made trips to the playoffs when the talent around him was good. The Bengals are loaded at wide receiver and tight end. They have made two trips to the playoffs with Dalton behind center. His next mission is to win a playoff game or two. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is working to improve Dalton's deep accuracy.

Arrow is pointing: up



20. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

Analysis: Since coming into the NFL, Bradford has been starved for receiving talent. Not anymore. Chris Givens is developing into a playmaker. Jared Cook will add a big-play threat at tight end. Tavon Austin will be Bradford's Percy Harvin. Bradford has elite ability and could make a big jump this year.

Arrow is pointing: up




Click here to see No. 1 to No. 10  |  Click here to see No. 21 to No. 32

SportsNation: Rank 'em -- Starting QBs