A few elite men

On February 7, 2013


All this talk about "elite" quarterbacks made me grab a dictionary.

I typed "elite" into dictionary.com and found: the choice or best of anything considered collectivity, as a group or class of persons. Another definition: persons of the highest class.

How many can truly be considered part of the "highest class" of NFL quarterbacks? Starting QBs in the league make up a small fraternity to begin with; there are only 32 openings.

How many are elite? The answer right now is just four: Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

Anyone trying to debate this number, stop. Hate Brady and his Justin Bieber-esque haircut all you want. I sure do, but he's elite. He's had five consecutive seasons (not including 2008, when he went down week one and missed the entire season) with at least 28 touchdowns, while throwing single-digit interceptions in three of those five seasons. Not to mention his three Super Bowl rings.

Peyton Manning has just capped off one of his best seasons, following four neck surgeries. Short of deer antler spray showing up in his blood, he's a medical miracle.

Brees has led the "Big Easy" to the postseason four of his seven seasons, with a run game and defense consistently close to the bottom of the league.

And Rodgers has made Packers fans forget they used to have an extraordinary Wrangler-wearing, sexting, gun-slinging diva at the position.

These four quarterbacks have combined to average 4,553.95 yards and 35.4 touchdowns while throwing only 12.15 interceptions over their past five healthy seasons. The newest statistic that has taken over the NFL is QBR (Quarterback Rating). The four have put up an average of 74.08 out of a possible 100. (Brady and Manning have only four of their seasons counted, as the statistic was not around in 2007).

Five of the past six seasons, one of these men has taken home the hardware for NFL MVP.

Three other men under center are knocking on the doorstep and provide interesting cases as to why they should be considered elite: Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco.

All three have enjoyed their share of success, including five combined Super Bowls. All three have Super Bowl rings, with Manning and Flacco winning Super Bowl MVPs. But is this all that's needed to be elite? A four-week stretch?

I would like to see consistent play to join the class of the NFL's finest. I want a quarterback who can win the game on his own week in and week out, year in and year out.

Roethlisberger capitalized on his opportunities early in his career. His two championships came while playing alongside the best and fourth-best defenses in all of football in their respective years. He was rarely called upon to make the big play, except for the final possession of Super Bowl XLIII, which was only necessary because the Steelers' offense couldn't move the ball with a 13-point lead. Over his past five seasons, he has averaged 3,634.2 yards a season with 21.4 touchdowns and 10.8 interceptions. Decent stats, yes, but elite?

Can't spell elite without 'Eli,' right? That's not what the stats prove. His average of 4,038.4 yards and 26.8 touchdowns with a 65.02 QBR makes it clear he is close but not quite there yet. He lacks consistency throughout a 16-game season. Eli has 12 games with at least three interceptions in eight and a half seasons. The most alarming part of this statistic is that seven have come over the past three seasons.

Eli Manning is a winner. There is no arguing that. Eli has only lost one game after Wild Card weekend in his career en route to two Super Bowl MVPs. But there is a difference between a "winner" and "elite."

There is one quarterback in football who has the two of 10 ten worst single-game QBR performances and, shockingly, his last name is not Sanchez. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco takes this one. Both performances occurred this season, as well.

 I know what you are going to say: Flacco has the most road postseason victories of all-time. Can't debate that; it's a fact.

Entering this postseason, Flacco had a 5-4 career postseason record while playing eight of nine on the road. This stat is very impressive at first glance. But let's take a closer look at his victories.

His five playoff victories came against teams quarterbacked by Chad Pennington, Kerry, Collins, Matt Cassel, Tom Brady and T.J. Yates. Not an impressive list, but one name jumps out; Flacco and his Ravens embarrassed Brady in New England. The Ravens scored three touchdowns in the first quarter via turnovers forced by the defense. They amassed 125 yards on these three drives, including an 83-yard run from Ray Rice. Their 33-14 blowout of the Patriots included this stat line for Flacco: 4 for 10, 34 yards and one interception. And yes, that was over all four quarters.

His four loses: Peyton Manning, Brady and Roethlisberger (twice).

Before this season, Flacco won playoff games in which he was clearly the better quarterback or the defense completely took over. In two of his four road victories, Baltimore was the favorite in the point spread.

Flacco's erratic play was the reason the Ravens were constantly on the road. His averages over five seasons: 3,542 passing yards with 20.4 touchdowns and an average QBR of 53.02. These numbers fall far short of the four elite.

Until this season, Flacco had done nothing to be considered an elite quarterback. He had been a game manager. Until he emerges as the consistent playmaker, he is just another effective quarterback.

Four games don't make anybody elite.

What we are looking at is the potential future of the NFL - not the elite, quite yet.


Email: owenobri@buffalo.edu

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