If you frequent the NFL.com homepage, you have probably already come across the “Around the League” series listing the Top 10 quarterbacks under 25 years of age. Naturally, there will be some subjectivity in the rankings, especially since “under 25″ will likely include a handful of rookies. However, Gregg Rosenthal is only halfway through the list and the rankings already appear to be a bit off…
It appears, at least to me, that instead of ranking these players based on their skill and production in the NFL, they have been ranked in pseudo-ascending order, from the oldest players at the bottom to the youngest players at the top. As of right now, the rankings are as follows: 10) Josh Freeman, 9) Andy Dalton, 8) Sam Bradford, 7) Ryan Tannehill, 6) Matthew Stafford, and 5) Russell Wilson.
There are some obvious problems already with this listing, so we can just knock them out in the order in which they appear.
When Andy Dalton took over the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011, the team had just finished a not-so-stellar 4-12 season, where both Carson Palmer and Marvin Lewis were on the hot seat. Palmer got shipped to Oakland, Lewis stayed. They would go on to draft A.J. Green and Dalton in the same class, and the rest was history. Despite a lockout-shortened season, Dalton led the Bengals to 5th place in an extremely weak AFC, slotting them into the playoffs. He threw 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions that season, and finished the year in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl, where he was joined by his two favorite targets, Jermaine Gresham and A.J. Green.
Last season, Dalton led the Bengals to a 10-6 record, edging the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the playoffs in a “regular season-playoff game” in Week 16, and finished the year with a win over the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens. Dalton improved in nearly every aspect of the game, including his total touchdowns and completion percentage.
Dalton has taken an unstable franchise and led them to consistency, making the playoffs twice in his two seasons in the NFL. Matt Ryan is considered “franchise gold” by the same site doing these “under-25 ranking,” namely for his ability to consistently get his team into the playoffs… Dalton has done the same, all while putting up incomparably better numbers in his first two years in the league.
Next up, Ryan Tannehill.
In 2012, Tannehill ranked 20th in passing yards, 27th in passing touchdowns, 26th in completion percentage, and, to top it all off, finished the season with more interceptions than touchdowns. He took a 6-10 Miami Dolphins team from 2011 to 7-9 in 2012, still outside of the playoffs, despite playing in an abysmal AFC conference. Of his 12 touchdowns, 75% came against teams with sub-.500 records. In fact, Tannehill failed to throw a touchdown pass in seven games last year, and never threw for more than two touchdowns in a single game. However, he had no problem with interceptions, with multiple three-interception games; one against Houston in the season opener, and one against Tennessee.
To be fair, Tannehill was limited in terms of weaponry, including a handful of injuries to key positions in the offense; namely Jake Long and Reggie Bush. However, Brian Hartline, Devone Bess, and Anthony Fasano are much more talented than some groups in the NFL, and quarterbacks have found a way to get the job done… Sam Bradford is the first person that comes to mind.
Tannehill was the definition of “raw” coming into the league, and will be given a handful of new weapons and an offensive coordinator and head coach that will hopefully better utilize the players within the offense. However, there is absolutely nothing that would move him ahead of ANY player currently on this list, let alone second- or third-year players that have pulled their teams out of mediocrity and improved individually with each season.
Russell Wilson was phenomenal within Seattle’s offense last season, and is understandably high on this current list. Matthew Stafford has also played well, albeit with the greatest wide receiver in the NFL. No real quarrels there.
However, the names that are absent from the list are the one that are the most surprising. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Colin Kaepernick will all likely ranked somewhere in the Top 5 quarterback under the age of 25, despite putting up “average, at best” numbers in their rookie campaigns (we are counting Kaep as a rookie last season, even though he was technically in his second year).
Kaepernick was handed the keys to a 6-2 record team, with the best roster in the NFL, who were a single play away from being in the Super Bowl the year before. He has started only seven games in his career, and yet, will be ranked among the top young signal callers in the league. Enough said…
In Washington, during the 2011 season, the Redskins went 5-11. As a result, they made a blockbuster deal with the St. Louis Rams to move up and take the star Baylor quarterback. However, the also signed Pierre Garcon, considered by most as one of the top free agent receivers, and drafted Alfred Morris, who would end the season as arguably, a Top 3 running back in the NFL. Led by Griffin, the Redskins did improve to 10-6, including a spot in the playoffs.
However, Griffin himself ranked 22nd in passing yards and 19th in passing touchdowns; both key to the quarterback position. And, while he was efficient with the ball passing, with a 65.6% completion percentage and only 5 interceptions, he was much less efficient when he chose to use his legs instead of his arm. Griffin led the NFL in fumbles, with nine by the end of the season, trailed closely by Colin Kaepernick and Michael Vick. Worse, he was injured twice during the season; once earlier in the year, and then again in the playoffs. The second of those led to a double-ligament tear in his knee, which required complete reconstructive surgery to repair; his second on that same leg.
Most believe Griffin will be back in 2013 at full strength. However, most also believe that he will be refined to a much more “convention” quarterback role. Last season, he chose to rush the ball on 9.44% of designed passing plays, and carried the ball on 120 overall attempts throughout the season. Without that additional running element to his game, it is hard to determine whether or not he will be able to repeat success at the position. If that running element remains in the offense, it will be equally hard to predict whether or not he will be able to stay healthy throughout the entirety of the season.
Andrew Luck might be the best suited of the “entering sophomores” to maintain a spot in the Top 5 young quarterbacks, with Russell Wilson following close behind. However, even he had average numbers when compared to the rest of the league. While 23 touchdowns and 4,374 yards is impressive for a rookie, throwing 18 interceptions and completing only 54.1% of passes is not “superior” by any stretch of the imagination. Luck did take a abysmal 2-14 Indianapolis Colts team from 2011 and slot them into the playoffs, but was helped by having a potential future Hall-of-Fame player at wide receiver, Reggie Wayne. Luck was not the only rookie that displayed the ability to compete in the NFL; plenty did, including Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill. However, he was the only one that displayed the ability to sustain that level of production into the foreseeable future, with no obvious question marks heading into next season.
Bottom line, the list shows too much infatuation with unproven rookies, and not enough love for the players that were slung into horrendous situations and have slowly brought their teams back to life. As for the players currently listed, Andy Dalton and Sam Bradford should be higher, Ryan Tannehill and Matt Stafford should be lower. And, while the remainder of the list has yet to be released, there will inevitably be a handful of other names ranked way above where they should be on the list… looking at you Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick.
No one will truly know the answer until the 2013 season has begun to play out. However, I have a feeling that Rosenthal will want to “take a mulligan” on his list by this point next season.