AFC South Quarterback Rankings

Former pro scout Tom Marino shares his professional insight on the four quarterbacks in the AFC South. See what he has to say about Peyton Manning, Vince Young, Byron Leftwich and newcomer Matt Schaub in this NFL feature.

He doesn't nearly have the strongest arm in his division -- let alone the conference or the league.  He is slow afoot, posing virtually no running threat and his pocket mobility is very suspect.  He shows happy feet often, mailing the football without an address off his back foot.  But New Orleans native Peyton Manning, the first selection in the 1998 player draft is and has been for the past five seasons the unquestioned top quarterback in the game.

Peyton is an accurate thrower, particularly underneath.  He anticipates well, distributes the ball effectively, is both intelligent and instinctive, handles game competition pressure extremely well and is the unquestioned leader of the Indianapolis Colts football club. With the game on the line, he has Joe Montana or John Elway type of composure, character, and poise.

I even like his seemingly endless catalog of TV commercials which appear to run about four hours a day during the football season.

Success has not changed or altered the way Peyton Manning plays -- and more importantly, respects the game of football. Quite to the contrary, he has seemingly never lost his almost childlike enthusiasm for the game of football.  And just like Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, with the game in the balance, Peyton's tremendous burning desire and will to win is a thing to behold.

In seven of his nine years as a professional at the helm of the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, Peyton has thrown for more then 4,000 yards and better then 31 touchdown passes a season! Another amazing fact is that in spite of his limited mobility, he does not take sacks.  And he has not missed a single game (144 consecutive regular season starts) over his star-studded career.

I'm going to compare Peyton today to one of my heroes from the past. No, not the great John Unitas, Otto Graham, Bart Starr, or my favorite all-time signal-caller, Joe Namath.  No, today I'm going to compare Manning to a 160-pound, slick-fielding middle infielder who passed away about the time Peyton was entering high school -- Leo Earnest Durocher.

Before you say, that I've completely lost my mind, understand that I'm more than aware that Durocher, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the Colts' future inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio share no physical attributes -- and in fact played different positions in distinctly different sports endeavors.  But the common thread that they shared and that will bond the two forever in my mind was how they prepared to do battle -- and their almost maniacal desire to win.

Let me share one quote from this legendary field general that I found quite amusing.

"If I were playing third base and my mother were rounding third with the run that was going to beat us, I'd trip her," Durocher said.  "Oh, I'd pick her up and brush her off and say, 'Sorry mom,' but nobody and I mean nobody beats me."

So let's just hope for her sake that Olivia Manning -- the matriarch of professional football's first family and one very classy lady -- can take a hit.

Vince Young
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Hey, am I missing something? Titans rookie Vince Young ranked 15th in the AFC in passing, he was a woeful 3 for 24 in TD scoring within the red zone, threw three more interceptions (15) then he did TD passes (12), and had a paltry 51.5% completion percentage in a glorified hand-off offense.  He ranked below Joey Harrington and just ahead of Andrew Walter in the league passing rankings and yet was name NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year?

Did any of the voters (I sure wasn't one of them) check out what the Bears Devin Hester, the Saints' combination of Reggie Bush and Marcus Colston or Colts running back Joseph Addai accomplished in their first season in the pay-for-play ranks?

Now don't get me wrong. I love Vince Young's size, athletic ability, run skills, and big-play potential.  And like most fans, I also watched in awe as he led the Longhorns to a come-from-behind victory over USC in the National Championship game in January of 2006.  But the pro game is as different from the college game as tennis is to racquetball.

Based on what I saw both as a college player and professional player. Vince has light years to come as a passer! I don't like his arm slot when delivering the football, throwing accuracy, footwork and overall throwing mechanics.

He was able to do some amazing things with his feet at the college level, but unlike a Michael Vick or Steve Young, Vince's running style is more like Randle Cunningham -- a strider who is built for speed rather than a quick, darting runner. And when coupled with the fact that he runs rather tall, this factor alone does not bode well for Young in terms of longevity at the professional level.

I'm far from giving up on this player, and realize as much as anyone that the nurturing process for an NFL quarterback can be quite extensive. He does have good support from one of the very best offensive minds in football, Norm Chow -- an individual who has done some incredible things with quarterbacks with a whole lot less in the way of physical tools then Vince Young. Time, as always, will tell in this case.

Byron Leftwich
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
How many football and film fans have seen the movie "As Good as it Gets," the 1997 film about an obsessive-compulsive homophobic writer played by the great Jack Nicholson? Well, let me first assure you that I see no similarities between Nicholson or quarterback Byron Leftwich, other than to say that when evaluating the athletic ability and playing potential of the current Jaguars' signal-caller, his overall playing ceiling probably is as good as it's ever going to get.

I felt Byron was a more than adequate college quarterback, probably not worthy of the seventh selection in the 2003 draft.  But he's a big man with a live arm  who put up some big numbers and who showed unusual courage and guile.

The thing that concerns me the most about Byron is his lack of mobility and rush sense.  And he has not proven to be a durable performer (injured in the past two seasons).  In spite of his rare physical stature, he has surprisingly small feet and hands, a factor that has contributed to some accuracy problems and his inability to throw effectively on the move or from awkward positions. He needs to get wide in order to throw the ball effectively. The Jaguars in 2006 also appeared to respond better with backup David Garrard at the helm.

How the Jaguars' hierarchy truly feels about their starting quarterback is not readily known by this writer and is probably anyone's guess.  But Jacksonville GM James Harris appeared to show more then just a passing interest this past spring in former Viking and Dolphin quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

In the end, Byron may well play 10 to 12 seasons in the league, but unless he can stay healthy and upright, show more playing consistency, and throwing accuracy, I think at best we are talking about a player that is best suited to perform in the role of a backup contributor.

Matt Schaub
David J. Phillip/AP
After five seasons with David Carr at the helm, the upstart Houston Texans will now hitch their wagon and football fortunes to the right arm of little-used three-year veteran Matt Schaub, obtained from the Atlanta Falcons in March of this year.

Originally drafted in the third round out of the University of Virginia (a major surprise to me), I felt he performed adequately in a backup role to Michael Vick, completing 84 of his 161 throws for 1,033 yards over a three-year period.

I really liked this players' game at the college level, and in fact rated him second behind Philip Rivers and ahead of both Eli Manning and the Bills' J.P. Losman in my overall ratings for the St. Louis Rams as a pro scout.  But two statements must be made and three questions satisfactorily answered before a proper evaluation can be given regarding this quarterback:

1.  A totally new system of play and new offensive coordinator could adversely affect his play, particularly early on, and can't be overlooked.
2.  Game competition pressure is distinctly different for starters than it is for quarterbacks performing in a back-up or mop-up role.
3)  Have the Texans surrounded Matt with enough offensive skill athletes to finally compete in the highly competitive AFC South?
4) Has an offensive front line (that has been the worst in the league over the last five years) been fortified enough to allow Matt the necessary time to function within the offense?
5) Does he have the mobility and throwing skills to compete at a championship level?

I like his chances, but as is the case with Vince Young, the answers lie somewhere in the future.

AFC South Quarterback Rankings

1.  Peyton Manning
2.  Byron Leftwich
3.  Vince Young
4.   Matt Schaub

Tom Marino has over 35 years of experience as a professional scout working for the NFL's Bears, Saints, Rams, Giants and Cowboys along with both the WFL and USFL. As's Lead NFL Analyst, he has primary responsibility for network reporting, the NFL Draft, Free Agency databases and rankings.

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