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saintswhodi 09-15-2005 03:34 PM

Aaron AND Jake get love from Chris Mortensen

Brady, Manning among the six in elite grouping
By Chris Mortensen
ESPN Insider

One thing is never going to change about the NFL. The quarterback is usually going to be the hero or the goat. Forget that it's a team game. Forget that playing quarterback in this league is more physically, mentally and emotionally demanding than ever before. Nobody wants to use rationale in defining most of these guys.

In fact, I am always amazed by how many fans and media members want to denigrate a quarterback such as Peyton Manning, Brett Favre or Michael Vick, all in the name of Tom Brady. When you have so few elite quarterbacks, can't we just enjoy all of them?

So, as usual, I have kept a file of notes from conversations with general managers, scouts, coaches, players and former quarterbacks who have their own views of the guys under center in today's NFL.

It's all subjective and we're not going to rate them Nos. 1 through 32, but we will break them down into four medal levels -- platinum, gold, silver and bronze along with a special category -- with names listed in alphabetical order in each grouping. You might be surprised.

• Tom Brady, Patriots: What impresses most about Brady, aside from the obvious, is that he gets better physically every year. Not by mistake. The guy works at it. His legs are stronger; his arm shows it. He has tremendous moxie. And there's no question that he is driven by his doubters -- more past than present, but nevertheless they seem to haunt him as he proves them all wrong.
• Daunte Culpepper, Vikings: Don't overreact to his struggles in the opener. Physically, he has no peer and he is the undisputed leader of the Vikings. The biggest question I have about Culpepper is who will he miss most in '05: Randy Moss, center Matt Birk or offensive coordinator Scott Linehan?

• Brett Favre, Packers: A shadow of his former self? Give me a break. Favre threw for 4,088 yards and 30 TDs last year. He's thrown for 62 TDs the past two seasons. Even in defeat to the Lions, he made throws that most NFL quarterbacks can't make.

• Peyton Manning, Colts: What were the Colts before Manning? What are they now? His opener against the Ravens was a valuable look at what he's about as a quarterback. He was missing a key weapon in TE Dallas Clark (concussion) and the matchups arguably favored the Ravens, who thought they could eventually break Manning. Instead, he broke them in the second half.

• Donovan McNabb, Eagles: He didn't show it Monday night because of the early chest injury, but he's evolved into a fundamentally sound passer who can make all the throws. Very strong. All of these elite QBs are tremendous leaders; none leads better than McNabb.

• Michael Vick, Falcons: He's just a totally different guy, and Monday night's win over the Eagles was a good snapshot. Did Vick play well as a passer? Absolutely not. Could the Falcons have won the game without Vick? Absolutely not. The Falcons' running game may be the best in football and much of that credit goes to Vick, who freezes the back side of a defense, paralyzed by the thought that Vick could emerge from the backfield with the ball in his hand.

• Drew Brees, Chargers: One-year wonder? Don't think so. He's arrived as a quarterback and now that TE Antonio Gates is available, this offense will make a lot of opposing defenses uncomfortable with Brees pulling the trigger.
• Aaron Brooks, Saints: True, there's always been something about his leadership that has bothered people. And he's capable of doing some boneheaded things, but generally he takes care of the ball better than the perception. He has a whip for an arm and he is using his legs more to make plays.

• Marc Bulger, Rams: It's time to give him his due. He has plenty of tools around him but the offensive line is shaky and he'll stand in there, take the shots, and deliver the ball on time and usually on the mark. You just have to wonder whether he will last if he takes too many shots.

• Jake Delhomme, Panthers: Physically, he throws better than most people realize. He still has some athleticism. He has moxie, he's usually strong in the clutch, and his guys believe in him. Now, how much will he miss Muhsin Muhammad?

• Trent Green, Chiefs: Yes, he has the game's best tight end in Tony Gonzalez, a terrific offensive line and a dynamic running duo in Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson, but when was the last time the Chiefs had a true Pro Bowl receiver? Yet Green finds a way every year to be among the league leaders.

• Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks: If this guy was surrounded by a better cast of receivers, he could challenge for that platinum status. He's a vastly underrated thrower who understands his offense and what defenses are trying to do to him.

• Byron Leftwich, Jaguars: I'll get some raised eyebrows for this one, I guess. True, Leftwich is slow and he winds up to let it rip (John Elway and Favre were/are classic wind-up throwers), but he's got a plus arm, he's accurate, he's big, he's a worker and he's a dynamic leader.

• Steve McNair, Titans: It was very difficult not to include McNair in the platinum status. But we just need a little more evidence that the injuries and personnel losses have not taken their physical and mental toll on this warrior.

• Carson Palmer, Bengals: He has all the physical tools and he has weapons. Now we'll find out if he can handle the heat of high expectations.

• Drew Bledsoe, Cowboys: I'm going to be a little kinder to Bledsoe than most cynics. He's grown into a big-time leader. There's never been any secret about the key to his success -- protect him and he can be lethal. Nobody understands this better than Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. That combination makes Bledsoe a threat.
• David Carr, Texans: Without question, this guy is toughest to figure. He has physical skills to be a gold/platinum quarterback. He was the first pick of the draft three years ago. He should be ready to shine, but the decline we saw at the end of last season has manifested itself early this season. True, the Bills' defense that beat him Sunday can make anyone look weak, but it still leaves some questions about Carr: Is it the offense? Did he get hit too much early in his career? Is it too early to panic?

• Kerry Collins, Raiders: Does he have a great arm? Yes. Will his stats look good at the end of the year? Most likely. It's just the way he plays the game (still too many careless turnovers for a vet) and his body language hardly breeds confidence.

• Brian Griese, Bucs: He throws a nice ball and physically he looks a little better, but I'm a little tired of hearing that he was a "70-percent passer" in '04, especially in an offense that almost makes you an automatic 65 percenter. For a guy with as much time in the NFL as he now has, Griese still is prone to bonehead plays. He has a chance to move up the list, but we'll wait first.

• J.P. Losman, Bills: He hasn't done a whole lot to even generate a silver rating, but it's hard to deny his physical tools (arm and legs). He's a workaholic, too. If he can make it through the next five games as well as he did in Week 1, then he's a potential ace. Biggest worry, for a guy who isn't afraid to run around, may be health.

• Eli Manning, Giants: He looked rusty in the team's opener, which is why the elbow injury in preseason was noteworthy. He's still young, he still needs the reps, but there's no reason to believe he won't get better as time rolls on. What we saw in last year's Week 15 performance against the Steelers in a near upset is what we ultimately expect.

• Chad Pennington, Jets: It's really difficult to evaluate Pennington, especially coming off major shoulder surgery and a dreadful opener in Kansas City. You wonder about his arm and his confidence. But he deserves the benefit of the doubt based on prior history. He is savvy, he can lead and something good is bound to happen soon.

• Jake Plummer, Broncos: This may or may not be the most misleading ranking of all. The opening loss to the Dolphins was a setback. Plummer should be a gold quarterback with his physical skills and the benefit of running an offense cleverly designed and called by Mike Shanahan. Like Griese, an ex-Bronco, it just seems something is missing.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Big Ben, Losman and Eli Manning probably belong in a separate category -- young quarterbacks with a world of potential. And when you consider that Roethlisberger has suffered just one loss in the regular season as a starter, he certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt. I just want to see what happens if the Steelers' running game ever stalls.

Kurt Warner, Cardinals:If Arizona ever settles its offensive line, we may be able to see if Warner has a couple of big years left. There is more than ample receiving talent to measure Warner if he is protected.

• Mark Brunell, Redskins: Really, it's just the quarterback situation in Washington that drops Brunell so low. He looked pretty sharp in preseason, like a younger Brunell who was a Pro Bowl QB in Jacksonville. He just has to prove Joe Gibbs is right after the sudden demotion of Patrick Ramsey.
• Trent Dilfer, Browns: He still has a strong arm and he knows the game. He also knows the Browns are simply looking for his leadership in a time of transition before the torch is passed to rookie Charlie Frye.

• Gus Frerotte, Dolphins: He looked shaky in the preseason and even after a nice opening win over the Broncos, chances are he'll have his shaky moments the rest of the season. But he's a solid veteran, he knows the system and he's capable of throwing some good balls.

• Joey Harrington, Lions: He's definitely making progress and he has good, young skill players around him, but the offensive line could be exposed -- this week's game against the Bears should give us a real picture. Harrington will catch heat if it's not pretty and he may not be the guy to blame.

• Tim Rattay, 49ers: Many of you will laugh at the fact that Rattay is given the same status as others in this category. I just wonder how many of the quarterbacks on this entire list would have fared in San Francisco the past two years. He's not bad. Honest.

• Kyle Boller, Ravens: It was difficult to evaluate Boller last season when so many of his weapons were out of order. He's just never looked comfortable. Then again, has a Ravens QB ever looked comfortable? Now Boller has a turf toe injury and coach Brian Billick has sent a pretty clear signal that Anthony Wright has a chance to win the job with this new opportunity.
• Kyle Orton, Bears: No rookie is going to look overly impressive in his first game against the Redskins' defense. Orton has shown some promising traits -- he's got good size, a plus arm, he seems to grasp the NFL game … but, he's still a fourth-round rookie until he proves otherwise.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen is a regular contributor to Insider. He chats every Wednesday in The Show.

TallySaint 09-15-2005 04:13 PM


Aaron Brooks, Saints: True, there's always been something about his leadership that has bothered people. And he's capable of doing some boneheaded things, but generally he takes care of the ball better than the perception. He has a whip for an arm and he is using his legs more to make plays.

Thanks for the Gold nod, Mort. Without Katrina, Brooks might have been teetering on Silver. But that's ok, bud. We'll take the love. Mort calls it like it is. Good guy.


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