By Steve Silverman
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Contrary to popular opinion, preseason games are very important in the NFL – at least to the players at the bottom of the roster. These players are hoping to win a spot or at least gain a position on the practice squad, where they are being seen by coaches and could be promoted at any time.
The elite quarterbacks in the NFL don’t look at preseason as anything more than a chance to sharpen their skills, work on their timing with their receivers and get back into the rhythm of another season.
In this piece, I will look at the top 10 quarterbacks in the league. My ratings criteria include 2016 performance level, talent, importance to the team and historical performance.
1. Tom Brady, New England
Not much doubt about this position, as Brady has led his team to five Super Bowl championships and seven overall appearances in that game. While Brady is 40, he is coming off the most spectacular performance of his career, as he threw for 466 yards and drove the Patriots to a Super Bowl victory over the Falcons despite trailing 28-3. Brady’s ability to dissect the defense and call the proper play is what separates him from the pack. He has fine arm strength and superb accuracy and still knows how to get away from the pass rush despite a lack of foot speed.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Rodgers could regain the top spot from Brady if he gets some help from the defense and running game, and he doesn’t have to do it all himself on a weekly basis. Rodgers is the most talented quarterback in the league when it comes to arm strength and accuracy. He also has quickness and instincts and moves well enough to make key plays with his feet. However, Rodgers is often under pressure because the Packers struggle on defense, and Rodgers must light up the scoreboard to win. As a result, he will likely hit a wall in the postseason and the Packers will fall short of their Super Bowl goal.
3. Matt Ryan, Atlanta
Ryan is coming off a brilliant, MVP season in which he had a phenomenal 117.1 passer rating while throwing 38 TD passes and seven interceptions. He was the triggerman behind the most explosive offense in the NFL, and there’s no reason the Falcons can’t play to a similar level in 2017. The Super Bowl hangover could impact the team in a few games, but Ryan is throwing to a top tier of receivers led by Julio Jones, and running back Devonta Freeman should give them another excellent year. Ryan’s productivity should once again reach the heights.
4. Drew Brees, New Orleans
This is a riskier pick than putting Brady at No. 1 because Brees is getting older and he may not have the supporting cast to help him out on a regular basis. There is no doubting Brees’ talent level, as he completed 70 percent of his passes last year while throwing for 5,208 yards. He turns the ball over a bit too much – 15 interceptions last season – but when Brees has momentum, he is almost impossible to stop.
5. Cam Newton, Carolina
After capturing MVP honors in 2015 and leading his team to the Super Bowl, Newton had a difficult year in 2016, as he completed 52.9 percent of his passes while throwing just 19 TD passes and suffering through 14 interceptions. Newton and the Panthers were quite disappointing last year, but look for a major turnaround in 2017.
6. Derek Carr, Oakland
Carr was having a brilliant season before suffering a broken leg last year, and it clearly cost the Raiders. While they made the playoffs for the first time since 2002, their offense lost its dynamic quality without Carr. The quarterback had a 28-to-6 TD-to-interception ratio before his injury, and the Raiders were in line to finish the season as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. While that fell apart after the injury, Carr is clearly a quarterback on the rise.
7. Russell Wilson, Seattle
While he does not have the passing skills of the top names on this list, Wilson’s determination, athleticism and skill level have helped him to become one of the biggest winners in the league. Wilson makes plays on the run better than any other quarterback in the league, and he has kept up a high level of productivity the last two years even though the Seattle offensive line has struggled.
8. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis
There was a report earlier this week that Luck would miss the first six weeks of the season because of surgery on his right shoulder in January, but Indianapolis sources have since said he will come off the PUP list prior to the first game of the season. Luck has spectacular talent when healthy, but his undoing has been his attempt to do it all for the Colts. He needs to learn to pick his spots if the Colts are going to become a more consistent football team.
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
Big Ben gave retirement serious consideration at the end of last season, and that is likely to be the case again at the end of the 2017 season. It’s hard to have complete faith in a leader who is considering walking away from the game. When Roethlisberger is healthy and motivated, he can shake off the defender, buy time for his receivers and get the ball deep downfield. His rapport with Antonio Brown, the best receiver in the game, is superb.
10. Eli Manning, N.Y. Giants
While Manning is almost always under pressure, he has shown the ability to avoid major injuries, play every week and somehow avoid taking too many sacks. He excels at diagnosing what the defense will do and calling the right play to counter that setup. Manning’s 26-to-16 TD-to-interception ratio was not impressive, and his passing numbers were down compared to 2015. Look for Manning’s numbers to return to their previous level as Odell Beckham Jr. gets back to top form and Brandon Marshall makes a serious contribution.
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