Depth: Scott Tolzien, Brett Hundley, Matt Blanchard
Simply put, Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL. His 112.2 rating was second in the conference, his 8.4 yards per attempt is second-best and his 4,381 yards were third. But it goes beyond stats with Rodgers. He has an excellent feel for the game after learning from the successes and mistakes of Brett Favre. It’s not always about yards or touchdowns (his 38 led the conference), but being smart with the ball according to game situations. Impressively, he threw only five interceptions in 520 passes. The Packers also have a good mix of an experienced starter and one to develop behind Rodgers now that they found good value in drafting Hundley in 2015.
Depth: Luke McCown, Garrett Grayson, Ryan Griffin
Brees has consistently been one of the most productive quarterbacks of the last decade and almost always doing it with an average or worse running game. Nobody seems to understand the importance of getting rid of the ball on time better, as witnessed by his 29 sacks despite throwing an incredible 659 passes last year. His had 4,952 yards, 35 touchdowns and 17 interceptions for a 97.0 pass rating. Last year, he didn’t have a 1,000-yard running back or receiver, but he had three receivers with 880 yards or more. What makes the Saints position on this list so desirable is they have the Pro Bowl quarterback as a starter, the veteran backup and the highly-acclaimed rookie (Garrett Grayson) to develop.
Depth: Brandon Weeden, Dustin Vaughan, Jameiell Showers
The Cowboys would rank higher here if based solely on the starter. Tony Romo takes plenty of heat, but he had the top rating in the NFC last year at 113.2, the best yards-per-completion at 8.5 and a solid 34-to-9 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio. The real test for Romo this year will be how he performs without the league’s top rusher last year, DeMarco Murray. Still, a very good offensive line and receiving weapons will help. But having Brandon Weeden as his top backup and a sketchy duo of undrafted QBs battling for No. 3 leaves a scary future without Romo, through no fault of Romo.
Depth: B.J. Daniels, R.J. Archer
Yes, Russell Wilson has done much in his four short seasons in the league, winning a Super Bowl and coming within a last-minute interception this year, but depth is a major concern here, especially given Wilson’s propensity to scramble. So far, he has stayed away from major trouble, which is further praise for his intelligence in balancing risk and reward, yet he still took 42 sacks. His 95.0 rating is very respectable, but not elite, and that’s the same with many of his stats – a 20-to-7 TDs-to-INTs ratio and 3,475 yards passing last year. The Seahawks are winning with Wilson but not necessarily because of him. He is smart enough not to force the issue with a great running game and defense, but lacks great receiving weapons. Jimmy Graham could tilt the needle in that regard, however.
Depth: Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, Tim Tebow, G.J. Kinne
It was simply time for the St. Louis Rams to move on from Sam Bradford as the ultimate tease among quarterbacks, and he didn’t throw a pass last year because of injury. However, he did have a 90.9 rating in 2013 with only a 1.5 percent interception rate in another injury-shortened season. But what makes the Eagles’ situation pretty solid is their depth. Mark Sanchez – yes, Sanchez! – had an 88.4 rating in Chip Kelly’s offense. Whether it’s Matt Barkley or Tim Tebow in the No. 3 slot, there is still some experience there, and it is Kelly’s offense that should help the quarterbacks, too.
Depth: Shaun Hill, Mike Kafka, Taylor Heinicke
Bridgewater wasn’t among the most accomplished quarterbacks in 2014, but given his strong season for a rookie, the additions of Adrian Peterson and Mike Wallace and improved health, he could be a top-five quarterback in the NFC this year. His 85.2 rating last year puts him in good company and they have a veteran presence in Shaun Hill to further assist him. Still, the Vikings would do well to keep Bridgewater upright with Hill and Kafka behind him, but despite taking 39 sacks last year Bridgewater was fairly durable.
Depth: Ryan Nassib, Ricky Stanzi
With an emergence in the receiving corps in New York, Manning put up some big numbers last year – 4,410 yards, 30 touchdowns against 14 interceptions and a 92.1 rating. Ultimately, Nassib, a 2013 fourth-round draft pick, is still an unknown, but he completed 4 of 5 passes last year and the young, exciting receiving corps of Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle gets Victor Cruz back into the mix. If Nassib can get a taste of more experience, it would be a nice combination of experience and developmental quarterback.
Depth: T.J. Yates, Sean Renfree
Whether it was Matt Ryan’s doing or having such a strong receiving corps is a chicken-and-egg debate, but Ryan certainly took advantage of his desirable situation. The Falcons finished with the fifth-ranked pass offense and Ryan had 4,694 yards, 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for a 93.9 rating. But what’s left behind him if he is injured? Certainly the receivers are top-notch with four of them at 500 yards or better and two – Julio Jones (1,593 yards) and Roddy White (921) – at 900 or better.
Depth: Drew Stanton, Logan Thomas, Chandler Harnish, Phillip Sims
Palmer had one of the best ratings in the NFC last year, but he showed once again how precarious health can be for him. It was the third time in the last seven years that he missed six or more games, which is why their quarterback situation isn’t ranked higher here. Palmer missed 10 games, but ended up with 11 touchdowns and only three interceptions in the six games he played for a 95.6 rating. Stanton was so-so in relief, throwing seven touchdowns and five interceptions. But it helps their standing to have a strong-armed quarterback like Thomas, a fourth-round pick last year, in waiting.
Depth: Derek Anderson, Joe Webb
Newton’s strongest season was 2013, when he threw 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He fell back a little bit in 2014 (18 TDs, 12 INTs) in his first season without Steve Smith, but the increased use of TE Greg Olsen helped, along with the quick emergence of Kelvin Benjamin. Derek Anderson proved a very solid backup with five touchdowns and no interceptions in the two games Newton didn’t play. The key will still be which Newton shows up from game to game.
Why the others didn’t make itChicago Bears: Who trusts Jay Cutler to act like a pro and a team leader? And Jimmy Clausen is the backup.
Detroit Lions: With Matthew Stafford alone, they were close to making the cut, but I don’t trust Kellen Moore further than he can be thrown, which is still only about 5 yards, despite his slender frame.
St. Louis Rams: Color me curious to see how Nick Foles performs in his first season with the Rams, but if they are winning it’s more likely to be because Foles is managing the game rather than winning it.
San Francisco 49ers: Like the Lions, the 49ers were close, but Colin Kaepernick was average last year and lost too many parts around him, including Frank Gore and his head coach, and that’s too much unrest for comfort.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Can anybody say with certainty that Jameis Winston can have a great rookie season? The skills aren’t in question, but the decision-making is.
Washington Redskins: Having two quarterbacks you can’t trust – Robert Griffin and Colt McCoy – is reminiscent of the old saying that two starters means you have no starter.