tom jones' two cents
Last week Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson said teammate Josh Freeman is a top-five NFL quarterback. So I decided to rank each team's starting quarterback from 1 to 32 based on our criteria for a top quarterback. (Hint: Freeman isn't in the top five.)
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
You can break down all the numbers you want and compare the stats of this guy and that guy, but this is a flat-out "feel'' thing. If I had a game I absolutely had to win, I'd take Rodgers. He's in his prime and is coming off a 45-TD, 4,600-yard passing season.
2. Drew Brees, Saints
In his past 47 regular-season starts, Brees has gone 37-10, and he might have more than one Super Bowl ring if he played on a team that had a better postseason defense. Brees might be more valuable to his team than any other player in football.
3. Eli Manning, Giants
He has won two Super Bowls on last-minute drives. He threw 30 touchdown passes last season and passed for more than 4,000 yards. I have no good explanation for why he isn't first on the list.
4. Tom Brady, Patriots
He has come this close to winning five Super Bowls. You could make a case he is the greatest quarterback ever. His game has lost a smidgen, but it would not be shocking if he won another passing title, MVP award and Super Bowl this season.
5. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
He's the toughest QB in football. He takes hit after hit, limps around on sprains and breaks, and is still better than anyone in lousy weather. Three Super Bowl appearances and two wins, and he just turned 30.
6. Peyton Manning, Broncos
He's 36 and hasn't played a real game since Jan. 8, 2011, because of neck surgeries. Does he have anything left? Will he be too rusty? Is he healthy? Plenty of questions surround him. But ask yourself this: Are you betting against him? Me neither.
7. Philip Rivers, Chargers
Everyone who knows anything about playing QB says this guy oozes talent. He also puts up numbers, including four consecutive 4,000-yard seasons. But he is 17-15 as a starter over the past two seasons and was picked off an alarming 20 times last season.
8. Matt Stafford, Lions
If Stafford can stay healthy, he is a future Brees or Manning. He still throws a few too many picks, averaging one a game last season. But he tossed 41 touchdown passes in 2011 and threw for more than 5,000 yards. Only Brees and Brady threw for more.
9. Tony Romo, Cowboys
If an NFL game was three quarters, Romo would be a top-five quarterback. He's way better than you realize. He was fourth in QB rating behind Rodgers, Brees and Brady last year. So what's his problem? He shrinks in big moments.
10. Matt Schaub, Texans
He threw for more yards than anyone in 2009 and last year was on his way to a third consecutive 4,000-yard season when he was injured. The only knock on him is his interceptions, 33 in the past 42 starts. He needs to do something in the postseason. He's older than you think: 31.
11. Michael Vick, Eagles
You would feel better about Vick if he wasn't hurt so much. Since joining the Eagles in 2009, he has missed 11 games, including three last season. And though his skills seem as sharp as the pre-prison Vick's, he is a pedestrian 15-9 as a starter in Philadelphia, including 7-6 last season.
12. Matt Ryan, Falcons
Here's what bugs me about Ryan: his nickname. If you're going to be called "Matty Ice,'' doesn't that mean you have to be cool in big games? Ryan is 43-19 in the regular season. In the postseason he is 0-3 with three touchdown passes and four interceptions. Not exactly "ice man" stuff, eh?
13. Joe Flacco, Ravens
He's not as good as Ravens fans think, but he's not as bad as his detractors say. He's somewhere in the middle. Flacco is a caretaker, not a game-changer.
14 Josh Freeman, Bucs
Who is the real Josh Freeman, the 2010 one who won 10 games and threw 25 TD passes and only six picks, or the 2011 version who had 16 TD passes and 22 picks? I'm guessing he's in the middle, with a lean toward the 2010 edition. Now that he has talent around him, he will prove that.
15. Jay Cutler, Bears
He was having a great 2011 until he got hurt, but I'm still not sold. He makes dumb decisions, his leadership skills are questionable, and he gets hurt a lot. Maybe he will finally live up to his potential this year, but I don't get why so many people think so highly of Cutler. What has he ever done?
16. Sam Bradford, Rams
If you rely on numbers, you don't think much of Bradford. But he is heavy on talent. It's too bad he has never had much around him. Prediction: One day he will be a top-five quarterback.
17. Cam Newton, Panthers
I'm not as bullish on Newton as many are. He had a hand in 35 touchdowns (21 passing and 14 rushing) last year. But 17 interceptions showed he still had plenty of work to do. Don't be surprised to see a sophomore slump this season.
And the rest:
18. Mark Sanchez, Jets: He's not flashy, but he takes more grief than he deserves. He took the Jets to two conference title games in his first three years. He's only 25. Give him more time.
19. Andy Dalton, Bengals: Winning nine games as a rookie was impressive, but then again, did the Bengals beat any good teams in 2011? He completed less than 60 percent of his passes and had only 20 TDs. He is good and getting better.
20. Alex Smith, 49ers: Everyone is jumping on the Smith bandwagon after he led the 49ers to the playoffs last year. But it was the defense that led San Francisco's charge. Smith was ordinary: 17 TD passes.
21. Matt Cassel, Chiefs: He has gone from a young hotshot full of potential to a so-so 30-year-old QB. He isn't horrible, but he's nothing special, either.
22. Andrew Luck, Colts: The No. 1 overall draft pick this year will be a star, but let's hold the applause for a couple of seasons. The first year or two will be bumpy.
23. Carson Palmer, Raiders: Seven years ago, this guy seemed like he was on his way to being a superstar. These days, he's merely serviceable.
24. Matt Flynn, Seahawks: Flynn had one huge game with the Packers, and that earned him a nice deal with the Seahawks. One game is hardly enough to base a career prediction on. The jury remains out.
25. Robert Griffin III, Redskins: This year's No. 2 overall draft pick is being compared to Cam Newton. I'm not convinced he is that good. Then again, I didn't think Newton was going to be as good as he turned out to be.
26. Jake Locker, Titans: He could end up being Matt Hasselbeck's backup for now. Eventually he will start and be a solid QB.
27. Matt Moore/David Garrard/Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins: Someday Tannehill will be a star. Until then, the Dolphins still dream of the old days and Dan Marino.
28. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills: He has nothing around him. Still, no QB threw more interceptions last year than his 23.
29. Christian Ponder, Vikings: The former FSU star is still learning, but the early returns haven't been that great. He looks a bit lost out there.
30. Kevin Kolb/John Skelton, Cardinals: Is it too late to talk Kurt Warner out of retirement? Heck, the Cards might take Jim Hart at this point.
31. Brandon Weeden/Colt McCoy, Browns: Weeden is a 28-year-old rookie. When he's your best option, you might have some issues.
32. Chad Henne/Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars: Uh, not good.