Commentary

NFL starting QB rankings, 21-32

Which signal-callers are capable of greatness? Which ones are going nowhere?

Originally Published: August 29, 2013
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Brandon WeedenDoug Kapustin/MCT via Getty ImagesBrandon Weeden has plenty of room to improve but appears to be heading in the right direction.

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. 11 to No. 20

SportsNation: Rank 'em -- Starting QBs


CHAD PENNINGTON DIVISION


21. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

Analysis: It's decision time for the Bears. Marc Trestman was hired from the CFL to get the most out of Cutler, who is one of the biggest enigmas in the NFL. Under Mike Shanahan, Cutler was elite, throwing for 4,526 yards in 2008. He hasn't come close to those numbers in Chicago, and now he's entering a contract year. A big season could result in an $18 million-plus-a-year contract.

Arrow is pointing: flat



22. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings

Analysis: The Vikings made the playoffs with Ponder behind center, but so much of the success stemmed from the running of Adrian Peterson and a decent defense. Ponder can manage the game, but he needs to get the ball downfield better. His yards-per-attempt dropped from 6.4 to 6.1 last year, despite winning 10 games. Peterson averaged 6 yards per carry with his feet.

Arrow is pointing: flat



23. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Analysis: Like Cutler, Freeman is in a contract year, but you get the feeling he has less of a chance of staying in Tampa Bay than Cutler has of staying in Chicago. The coaching staff wants him to be more of a vocal leader. He's good enough to throw for 27 touchdowns, but his completion percentage dropped to 54.8 last year. That's baffling. He's too talented to be regressing at this stage of his career.

Arrow is pointing: down



24. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals

Analysis: The trade from Oakland to Arizona could revive Palmer's career. Bruce Arians is the perfect coach for Palmer. Arians loves tall quarterbacks who can throw the ball deep. As long as Palmer stays healthy, he should throw for 4,000 yards and the Cardinals should make a big jump in the NFC West.

Arrow is pointing: up



25. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles

Analysis: In a fast-paced offense designed to have 80 plays a game, Vick could put up some crazy numbers. Even though he's 33, Vick still has the running and throwing skills to make Chip Kelly's offense work. His only downsides are turnovers and injuries. If he's healthy, this offense should easily post 400-yard games each week.

Arrow is pointing: up



26. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

Analysis: The additions of Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson should improve his numbers on third down, and Tannehill should be better getting the ball downfield. Losing Dustin Keller at tight end, though, will hurt. Teams need a 50-catch tight end to make the playoffs. His season-ending knee injury creates a void.

Arrow is pointing: up



HIT-OR-MISS DIVISION


27. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns

Analysis: His best gift this offseason was getting Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator. Weeden is an accurate pocket passer with a good arm. Last year, he worked three-step drops that caused his passes to be deflected at the line of scrimmage. Turner will work Weeden in more five- and seven-step drops that will improve his play.

Arrow is pointing: up



28. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans

Analysis: Mike Munchak improved the offensive line and plans to go to more of a running offense. That fits Locker's ability, but it's debatable how efficient he can be running an offense. He completed 56.4 percent of his passes last year. Some look at him as a Mark Sanchez type who can win if the talent around him is good and the defense is equally good. The pressure is on him to show improvement this year.

Arrow is pointing: flat



29. Matt Flynn, Oakland Raiders

Analysis: The trade to the Raiders finally gives him the chance to start. The bad news is that he is playing behind one of the worst offensive lines seen in years. Things got so bad last week he may have played himself out of a starting job. He opened the door for Terrelle Pryor to start because of Pryor's mobility.

Arrow is pointing: down



30. Kevin Kolb, Buffalo Bills

Analysis: Things have gone so poorly for Kolb that he was sacked by a rubber mat and lost eight days of work with a knee injury. Now, his career is uncertain because of a concussion. What gives the Bills hope is EJ Manuel looks like a potential star because of mobility and a big arm. All Manuel has to do is recover from a knee procedure and be ready for the opener.

Arrow is pointing: down



31. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets

Analysis: It's been quite a painful ride for Sanchez. He went to two conference championship games in his first two years in the league. A $8.25 million guaranteed salary is the main reason he's still with the Jets. It's only a matter of time before Geno Smith wrestles the starting job away from him, and next year Sanchez won't be a Jet. A shoulder injury suffered in the preseason game against the Giants adds to Sanchez's misery.

Arrow is pointing: down



32. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars

Analysis: Maybe there is hope for Gabbert. After two years of poor play, Gabbert showed a better ability to move the ball in his first two preseason games. That allowed him to legitimately beat out Chad Henne for the starting job. He got rid of the ball quicker and was more efficient throwing downfield.

Arrow is pointing: up



Click here to see No. 1 to No. 10  |  Click here to see No. 11 to No. 20

SportsNation: Rank 'em -- Starting QBs


John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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