There has been quite a lot of talk in the media and within the NFL fan base about who is going to step up as the next elite quarterback this season. There is a definitive tier of four elite quarterbacks which every other NFL quarterback would like to emulate. They produce astonishing numbers every season and they ensure that their teams are perennial playoff contenders. Every one of them has at least one Superbowl ring and those four are Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning. Then there is a unique pair of quarterbacks who have helped their team to win two Superbowls each: Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. They are two very skilled quarterbacks who, in my opinion, aren’t quite what I would consider the cream of the crop and I don’t think that they will ever get there because, even though they have won the big one, they lack the numbers of the others and they also have strong defenses and a little luck to back them up. Don’t get me wrong they are amazing quarterbacks, but they don’t quite make it into elite status and they don’t fall in with any of the other quarterbacks either.
Set aside these six quarterbacks and we are left with 26 other quarterbacks who bust their butts day in and day out to achieve elite status. I have found four quarterbacks who are frustratingly good enough to get there. I use the word frustrating because they have the skills and they put up numbers that show you a glimpse of their greatness, but there is something indefinable that holds them back every season. It’s certainly mental. That much is certain. I am talking about Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco. I can imagine that the fans of these quarterbacks’ teams are just screaming for these guys to piss or get off the pot.
Tony Romo has perhaps been the biggest stand out of these four. He seems to be the proverbial whipping boy of Dallas every year. This will probably be his last season with the Cowboys if he doesn’t at least take them to the playoffs, if not deep into the playoffs. Besides his rookie season and the 2010 season when he was out after six games, he has produced numbers that should put him in the upper echelon of the NFL. As far as career passer ratings go for active players, he is second only to Aaron Rodgers. He also has over 20,000 career passing yards. The problem is that in his eighth year, the Cowboys have been to the playoffs three times and have made it past the first round once. Of course, this is not acceptable for “America’s team” and would indicate that Romo tends to do well during the regular season and choke when the games begin to get important. After Wednesday’s outing against the Giants, it looks like he is ready for a superb season, but only time will tell.
Jay Cutler is another example of a fantastic quarterback that falls short when the going gets tough. He has got one of the strongest arms in the NFL and despite having many interceptions he consistently keeps a 60% completion rating, but let’s not forget the 2010 NFC championship game against the Packers when he left the game in the third quarter after an apparent knee injury. He was seen on the sideline with the usual smirk on his face and fans did not believe that he appeared to be all that injured. Like most fans, I believe that a truly elite quarterback would have toughed it out and got back in the game. It’s a shame to see a quarterback with his arm walk out of a game as important as that one was. My guess is that his ego was not okay with losing the NFC championship game without him producing at least one touchdown for his team so he quit.
Matt Ryan is another quarterback that has the talent and in his fifth season with the Falcons, he has got to produce this year. Once again, we have the leader of a team that does very well in the regular season and seems to stifle in the playoffs. However, there are two things that Matt Ryan has that these other guys don’t have; Julio Jones and Roddy White. They are definitely two of the best receivers in the game today and should be able to make Matt Ryan look good. The Falcons looked strong in 2010 going 13-3 in the regular season and having the best record in the NFC, but went down in the first game against the eventual Superbowl champs, the Green Bay Packers. Last year, Matt Ryan threw for almost 4,200 yards, but the Falcons went 10-6 and lost the wild card game to the Giants by scoring a whopping two points. So it’s tough to tell what we will get this year with Matt Ryan and the Falcons, but with those two receivers I expect the most out of him. If they don’t go deep into the playoffs this year, I will be very disappointed.
Last, we have Joe Flacco. Flacco had a few bursts of greatness last year. This is probably the only reason he made this list. Believe it or not, he surpassed 300 yards passing four times last season, and one of those games was against the Pittsburgh defense. Flacco has set a precedent as being the only quarterback in league history to start and win a playoff game in his first four seasons. Not only do I think highly of him, but Joe Flacco thinks highly of Joe Flacco. He was quoted during the offseason as being the best quarterback in the NFL. I know that may sound laughable, but if the Ravens coaching staff lets him loose to do what he wants to do he might just prove to be one of the best.
So who will be the next elite quarterback out of these four guys? I can tell you that we probably won’t know until playoff time because these guys tend to have tremendous regular season games, but plummet down to not-so-elite status once the playoffs hit. If you ask this writer, I think it will be Matt Ryan. He has the weapons; his team is in the weakest division of all these teams, and he seems to have a better head on his shoulders than the other three guys. I can’t wait to see someone step it up and give those elite quarterbacks a run for their money because it is time for a changing of the guard. Come on Tom Brady enough already! Give someone else a chance!