By SAM SPIEGELMAN
No position is more scrutinized in the NFL than that of the quarterback. Every year we try to appoint some into the "elite" category, while some have hung around in that category for the past decade.
Last month, we were ready to write off Tom Brady. We were ready to deal out praise to Brian Hoyer. And has anyone been watching Andrew Luck the past few weeks?
At the midway point in the NFL season, we have a strong idea of where each NFL starting quarterback stands. Here's a ranking of all 32 starters.
Caveat: this ranking list is for today, Oct. 22, not which quarterback we want to start a franchise around for 2015 and beyond.
1. Peyton Manning
2. Andrew Luck
3. Aaron Rodgers
4. Philip Rivers
Manning just broke Brett Favre's longstanding record for touchdown passes, and did so by embarrassing the 49ers defense. Even as he nears 40 years of age, Manning is as accurate with his throws as ever, and he has helped those receivers live up to their potential. Luck is taking that step into the "elite" category this year. After a slow start, he's playing at an absurdly high level and is among a handful of legitimate MVP candidates.
Because they're quarterbacks, Rodgers and Rivers are in that discussion, too. Rodgers has been especially careful with the football, owning an 18:1 touchdown to interception ratio while leading the Packers to four straight wins. Rivers has been helping to mask the Chargers' offensive line deficiencies and running back injuries, and has his team very much alive in the AFC West race.
5. Tom Brady
6. Tony Romo
7. Matt Ryan
8. Drew Brees
9. Jay Cutler
These are some of the quarterbacks you'd expect to be in the mix in the top 10. Brady's stellar play since the Patriots' win over Cincinnati has upgraded him back into the top five, while Romo's turnover-free play the entire season has him playing at an all-time high.
Ryan, Brees and Cutler all find themselves in a similar situation, where there are times within games they look the part of an elite NFL quarterback, and others where they're simply frustrating to watch. Ryan put up video game-like numbers earlier in the season, but the Falcons were nearly shutout by Baltimore. Brees has collapsed in late-game situations, which is very unBrees-like. And as we've mentioned in plenty of stories, there's good Jay Cutler and bad Jay Cutler, and it's becoming impossible when to predict which one will take snaps for the Bears.
10. Russell Wilson
11. Joe Flacco
12. Eli Manning
13. Carson Palmer
14. Colin Kaepernick
15. Ben Roethlisberger
16. Cam Newton
This collection of signal-callers includes some potential to ascend the rest of the year, especially with Wilson and Newton at the No. 10 and 16 spots, respectively.
Wilson was a true MVP candidate through the NFL's quarter-pole, and last week he totaled 400 yards alone. But still his numbers don't accurately represent how much of the offensive workload Wilson is shouldering to try and overcome his team's recent woes.
Flacco, Manning and Palmer are right about where you'd expect them to be, with Flacco benefiting from the presence of Steve Smith and a legitimate running game. Palmer missed time earlier this year, but when he's started he's performed extremely well.
Kaepernick continues to be a frustrating player to watch, largely because he has so much potential but seems to rarely even scratch the surface. Big Ben has played lights out, but like his team he's been wildly inconsistent. Newton may have a chance to climb in the rankings, if he could continue his level of play from that tie against the Bengals. But Newton, too, has been inconsistent week to week.
17. Ryan Tannehill
18. Matthew Stafford
19. Kyle Orton
20. Alex Smith
21. Brian Hoyer
22. Austin Davis
23. Nick Foles
24. Andy Dalton
The eye-opener here is Stafford, who in the past has had statistical numbers up there with Ryan and Brees, but that's just not the case anymore. The Lions' MVP is their defense, and Stafford is missing Calvin Johnson.
Orton has sparked the Bills, and is clearly proving Doug Marrone's choice to bench former first-rounder E.J. Manuel to be correct. A week ago, Hoyer probably would've been higher in these rankings, but a no-show against the lowly Jaguars reminded us of the reality of the situation. Johnny Manziel looms.
Davis has solidified his status as the league's top third-string quarterback, and he might be doing enough to earn a chance to compete for the starting job again in 2015. Foles has been one of the greatest disappointments in 2014. After being especially secure with the football last year, Foles now has 10 turnovers alone this year.
25. Ryan Fitzpatrick
26. Derek Carr
27. Mike Glennon
28. Geno Smith
29. Jake Locker
Ah, this brings us to the hot seat part of our list. Fitzpatrick's job is basically secure until the Texans fall out of contention. Then it's up to Ryan Mallett or the rookie Tom Savage to impress for next season.
Carr gets the top spot among rookies, as he's making the best out of a horrid situation. The past two weeks since the Raiders' bye, Carr has looked fantastic, nearly bringing his team to upset victories both occasions.
Glennon, Smith and Locker are anything but locks to retain their jobs for next season. Glennon took over for free-agent bust Josh McCown, but it wouldn't shock me to see Lovie Smith bench Glennon for the veteran sooner or later. Glennon is auditioning for his job in 2015, and must prove to the organization they don't need to draft a quarterback in the first round.
Smith had a somewhat successful outing against New England, but he'll need to show improvements now that he has Percy Harvin at his disposal. The Jets again could be in the market for a quarterback this offseason. And Locker, not surprisingly, has had to battle injuries in 2014. Too much of a concern about whether he can stay healthy will likely force the Titans to cut ties with Locker.
30. Blake Bortles
31. Teddy Bridgewater
32. Colt McCoy
And the rookies. Bortles and Bridgewater have had their understandable fair share of ups and downs, and that's what's expected in their first season. Bortles has shown a bit more promise and seems more NFL-ready, but Bridgewater played well against the Bills. He'll have to continue to take chances.
Outside looking in:
33. Robert Griffin III
34. Michael Vick
35. Johnny Manziel
36. Ryan Mallett
37. Jimmy Garoppolo
38. Tom Savage
39. Josh McCown
40. Drew Stanton
Isn't this section the best part? RGIII, Vick, Manziel and perhaps one of these Texans quarterbacks could all grab hold of a starting job by the year's end. Griffin, if the starter, would already be somewhere in the 20s because of his resume, but his rough 2013 and unimpressive season opener leaves him with a lot to prove.
Vick might take over for Smith by default, should the second-year quarterback continue to flop and the Jets fall deeper out of the playoff race. The same goes for Manziel should the Browns play like they did against Jacksonville instead of out they did against Pittsburgh.
Mallett and Savage should get a chance if the Texans slip up. Fitzpatrick has done well in spurts, but he's not a long-term solution. The younger Mallett and rookie Savage have a better chance at learning Bill O'Brien's offense and prepping for 2015.
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