Top 20 Quarterbacks: #5 Andrew Luck

What do you get when you add Peyton Manning’s coverage-reading skills to Tom Brady’s ability to hang in the pocket? What if you included Aaron Rodgers’ arm strength and escapability, as well as Drew Brees’ penchant for moving defenders? If you mixed in Cam Newton’s size and athleticism as well as Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to throw with defenders hanging off of him, what would you get? The answer is Andrew Luck.

Physically, Andrew Luck is a stud. He’s 6’4”, 240 pounds. He had a comparable 40-yd dash time to Cam Newton at the Combine. He can throw the ball out of the stadium. The scariest part for NFL defenses is that he is as cerebral as any quarterback in the league, and his overall game is already very mature.

Aside from being able to physically make every single type of throw, Andrew Luck’s anticipation is great. He holds and moves defenders like a 10-year veteran. He plays the position the way it’s meant to be played. He can scramble and make plays late in the down with his legs, but he does this as a last resort, when the protection has completely broken down or when the coverage has taken the design of the play away.

The most impressive aspect of Luck’s game is his ability to maintain his downfield focus at all times. Whether he’s moving within the pocket or escaping and buying time, Luck looks to throw the ball first. This is the most dangerous type of athletic quarterback because it makes teams have to defend his running ability in space as well as receivers moving to get open downfield. When quarterbacks move and their first instinct is to run, defenses can win more easily, attacking the quarterback with less fear of what’s going on behind them. As soon as they see the quarterback go, they play him like a running back. With Andrew Luck, that isn’t the case, and it creates lots of big plays for the Colts.

Don’t misunderstand us, Luck still has his flaws. For instance, in his rookie season, Luck would sometimes lose his throwing base when he moved – his feet would get too close together. This led to a lot of inaccurate throws. Yet that footwork improved in 2013, and it should figure to be even better this season.

Luck still does make the occasional unexplainable mistake. He sometimes misses really easy throws that you never see a top quarterback miss. Sometimes he’ll trust his arm too much and make an ill-advised pass. However, none of these are symptoms of huge flaws in his game. The flaws he does have are very fixable, and it’s amazing how much he’s grown as a passer in his first 2 seasons. Do not be surprised if a year from now he is number 1 on this QB ranking list.

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Top 20 Quarterbacks: #6 Ben Roethlisberger

With the Steelers missing the playoffs the last 2 seasons and spending less time in the national spotlight, something has been developing under the radar with their quarterback. He is becoming more efficient.

Early in his career, Ben Roethlisberger was inconsistent. He’d make a highlight-reel play and then come right back and make a silly mistake. He ran around a lot, throwing his body at defenders and making plays with his legs. This made him dangerous as a quarterback, but also kept him from being reliable. He often didn’t stick with the design of the play, but would instead make it up as he went along. At times, if Roethlisberger had just planted his foot and delivered the ball, it would have been an easy 20-25 yard gain. Instead he would run around, make a few defenders miss, and scramble 11 yards for a first down, landing him on all the highlight shows.

All of his play-making ability has masked the fact that Roethlisberger is a very accurate passer. When he plants his foot and steps into his throws, he looks like a professional and seasoned quarterback. When he gets rid of the ball on time, he is very effective, and the offense is more consistent. This is something that’s been happening more and more in recent years.

Something else has happened over the last few years. Roethlisberger has stopped holding onto the ball as long as he used to, and as a result he’s taken less of a beating. From 2004-2010, when the Steelers won 2 Super Bowls and made it to a third, Roethlisberger was sacked 8.9% of the time. Last year Roethlisberger was sacked 42 times on 626 dropbacks, a rate of 6.7%. What was the reason for the improvement? Was the offensive line just that much better? Anyone who watched the film of the Steelers offense in 2013 would tell you “heck no.” At least we would. To us, the lower sack rate supports the notion that Big Ben was more diligent about getting the ball out of his hands on time. And this just goes to show that pass protection is a 2-way street between a quarterback and his line.

Roethlisberger still does have his issues. He can be fooled with disguised coverages more so than some of the other upper-echelon quarterbacks. But he still does have the ability to make plays when things break down. In his older age, he’s learning to do this as a contingency instead of relying on it. Roethlisberger continues to progress as a passer instead of as a playmaker, and this will only help him be more consistent as he gets older.

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Top 20 Quarterbacks: #7 Philip Rivers

He is hands down the ugliest thrower in the league. Normally that’s a sign of bad mechanics. But Philip Rivers some how manages to get the ball to his receivers accurately. He’s been in the NFL for 10 years and his weird shot-put throwing style hasn’t stopped him yet.

When you watch Philip Rivers, you’re not doing so to appreciate the beauties of playing the quarterback position. In can be downright ugly at times, and that helps mask the fact that Rivers has mastered the intricacies of playing quarterback better than most.

Rivers knows where to go with the ball, first and foremost. He understands coverages and protections and throws with anticipation. He’s a cerebral quarterback who makes the right throws to beat the coverage. He can make the touch passes, the stick throws, the back shoulders etc…

Rivers stands out the most in his ability to throw with bodies around him. This is the one constant that runs through each of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, and there’s a reason for this. The pocket isn’t always pretty. Quarterbacks don’t always get to step into their throws or follow through. The best ones can operate in these conditions. Rivers’ unorthodox style actually helps him make throws from many different positions in the face of pressure.

Rivers’ understanding of coverage and blitzes allows him to anticipate and get the ball where it needs to go on time. Because he can’t run around and make plays with his legs, he relies on this aspect of his game. If a blitz is coming he recognizes it, stands in the pocket willing to take a hit, and delivers the ball. Flashing pass rushers don’t phase him. If there is a play to be made downfield, he’ll throw it and take the beating. As a result, Rivers doesn’t leave many plays out on the field.

In many ways, Rivers is in that class of quarterbacks with Tony Romo and Matt Ryan. He’s a player who hasn’t had the type of success that the media deems as quarterback defining. If Rivers was the GM or head coach, criticizing him for his team’s shortcoming would be valid. He isn’t though. So when judging him for what he does on the field, the only conclusion can be that he’s one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

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Top 20 Quarterbacks: #8 Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan delivers the ball in the face of pressure as if it isn't even there - Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Matt Ryan delivers the ball in the face of pressure as if it isn’t even there – Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

You wouldn’t say Matt Ryan has the best arm in the league. He isn’t the most accurate passer. He doesn’t throw with the best anticipation, or read coverage better than every other quarterback. Because he isn’t the absolute best at any one thing, Ryan is often interpreted to be just another quarterback. Nothing special. However, he is one of the few quarterbacks in the league who does possess all of the skills mentioned above, and that, in of itself, does make him somewhat special.

If Peyton Manning wasn’t in the NFL, Matt Ryan might be known for his skills at the line of scrimmage. He might be known for the command he has of his offense. Unfortunately for Ryan, he isn’t really known for these things. This is a real shame for a quarterback who can be counted on to do the right thing with the ball most of the time.

2013 was somewhat of an aberration for Ryan. Running back Steven Jackson and wide receiver Roddy White missed a combined 7 games and fought through injuries all season. Julio Jones missed 11 games with a foot injury. That’ll throw a wrench into any quarterback’s season. Additionally, the offensive line was overpowered often, and the pocket collapsed around Ryan regularly.

Luckily for the Falcons, throwing with bodies around him is another one of Matt Ryan’s various passing skills. He’s come a long way in this department, and it’s extremely impressive to watch on film. He does not need a lot of functional space to get rid of the ball on time and accurately. He often gets rid of the ball in the face of pressure as if no one is even around him, and this is a vital skill for a quarterback to possess. Most quarterbacks, especially young ones, tend to break down if they sense a little pressure or see a defender closing in on them. It is not a skill that is easily taught, but instead, is a reflection of toughness and poise in the pocket, two things for which Ryan is seldom given enough credit.

The Falcons struggled mightily as a team in 2013, but you’re mistaken if you think that Matt Ryan was the reason why. If his team can stay healthy around him, he should have a bounce-back year in 2014. Maybe by the end of the season, Ryan will finally get some of the credit he deserves.

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Top 20 Quarterbacks: #9 Russell Wilson

He’s a Super Bowl winning quarterback, and that is something that will never be taken away from him. But how good of a quarterback is he really? Opinions throughout the football world are varied. Some say he’s only an above-average quarterback. Others say his Super Bowl win catapults him into the elite realm. If you follow this website, you know where we fall on the matter. We watch the film to form our opinions, and we’re not so sure that owning a giant ring makes a quarterback more able to read coverage and throw a far-hash-deep-comeback route.

This isn’t to say that we don’t value playoff success. It is definitely part of the equation. But how many quarterbacks would have been able to win a Super Bowl with that Seahawks defense and running game? And Wilson did throw the least amount of passes of any quarterback who started 16 games last season. So it isn’t wrong to ask again, just how good is Russell Wilson?

Don’t misunderstand us. Russell Wilson is good. He’s very good, Super Bowl ring or not. He may be short, but he has a big arm. He’s very accurate on the run. This is so important for Wilson because he does scramble often. However, his scrambling is the type that defenses hate most. He doesn’t scramble just to run. He moves and still maintains his downfield vision. He buys time with his legs, and this is so dangerous because if forces defenders to have to cover for longer periods of time, increasing the chances of a receiver breaking open. This creates big plays downfield in the passing game. When Wilson doesn’t throw the ball, he also has the ability to run for big chunks of yards. More importantly, he doesn’t take as many big hits as some of the other running quarterbacks. He’s smart and controlled with his scrambles.

Still, Wilson has his issues. Remember a few moments ago when we said he scrambles a lot? Well that’s one of the issues. Wilson has a tendency to break down early in the pocket. Instead of sticking with the design of the pass play, he’ll pull the ball down and start to run around. Again, he makes plays when he scrambles, but it’s hard to maintain a consistent offense around random great plays. If you remember, the Seahawks went through many ups and downs on offense in 2013. Inconsistency in the passing game was one reason why.

Now Wilson doesn’t break down in the pocket as often as some of the other young and athletic quarterbacks. He does generally have decent pocket presence. Again, for the most part, he maintains his downfield vision when he moves. In the end, his legs are an asset that he can and should use. He doesn’t need to be like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady to be successful.

Still, Wilson’s game and the Seahawks offense can improve vastly if he can play more consistently from the pocket. For instance, he could use some significant improvement against blitz pressure. Generally, the best answer for a blitz is for the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly and take advantage of the one-on-one coverage. It’s the QB’s job to read the blitz, stay in the pocket, plant his back foot and deliver the ball in the face of oncoming pressure. Russell Wilson hasn’t been bad in these situations, necessarily. But his first instinct has been to escape and make a play. Sometimes there are no escape lanes, though. Because Wilson has not been great at planting quickly and throwing against the blitz, defenses have been able to have success against him when they bring pressure and are able to keep him in the pocket.

Russell Wilson has a bright future, make no mistake. He’s already had tons of success in his first two seasons, and success can lead to more confidence, which can lead to even more success. He’s in a great situation in Seattle. He can continue to develop while not bearing the weight of having to carry the team week in and week out. The physical and mental tools are there. For Wilson, it’s now about mastering the intricacies of the position.

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