AFC North Quarterback Rankings

Lead NFL Analyst, Tom Marino, breaks down the skills and talent of the starting quarterbacks in the AFC North. Find out what he thinks of each one as they head into the 2007 season in what is shaping up to be another very competitive year for the division title.

The AFC North features a host of relatively young performers and a proven, battle-tested veteran in Steve McNair -- whose career these young upstarts only hope they can one day come close to emulating.

The 34-year old Mt. Olive, Mississippi native amazingly did not actually sign with the Ravens until the first week of May (2006), but was still able to lead this seemingly second-level squad to a remarkable 13 and 3 regular season record!

I wish football fans everywhere could have had the opportunity to watch Steve perform as a senior in 1994 at Alcorn State University. Talk about highlight reels! If he didn't beat you with his rifle-arm, he did it with feet.

At the time, I was working with the New Orleans Saints cross-checking QBs and WRs throughout the entire country and it was my responsibility to help prepare highlight tapes (30 plays) for all the top players at these respective positions. I remember watching four game tapes of McNair and telling the video department to dub the first 35 play they saw (run or pass) since in my mind, every play I viewed was a highlight…

After playing a backup role with the Houston Oilers in his first two pro seasons, McNair became the team's full-time starter in 1997 and enjoyed nine successful seasons for the Titans, culminating in his selection in 2003 as the league's co-MVP along with the division rival, Peyton Manning.

Today, his right arm is not quite what it used to be and he no longer poses a running threat.  But he still possesses many of the qualities one looks for at the quarterback position. I still like his ability to get the ball out quickly, his courage and poise under fire, throwing accuracy, the savvy which can only come from practical playing experience -- and most importantly -- the leadership skills and confidence he transfers to the people around him. I sometimes refer to it as the "El Cid factor." The latter skill is a quality which can not be readily measured in terms of numbers, or viewed on tape, but in order to win consistently at the professional level (be it in athletics, business, or world politics), someone must possess this innate quality.

While his great skills have certainly eroded due to time and injury, with the game on the line McNair is amongst just a few people competing today that I would want to lead my club on a final drive.

If he can remain healthy (and that's a very big if), look for him -- in what well might be his final playing season -- to return the Ravens to the AFC playoff picture and maybe beyond.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images
The Steelers Ben Roethlisberger enters his fourth professional season with Steelers fans hoping that 2007 will be the year that puts his promising playing career back on the fast track.

After starting 13 games as a rookie, Roethlisberger, in his second season became the youngest quarterback to start and lead his team to a Super Bowl victory. The progress he made in his first two seasons was stalled partly due to a serious motorcycle accident in June of 2006 and a subsequent emergency appendectomy which was performed less then two week prior to the start of the regular season.

I was initially surprised by the level of athletic skills this big man exhibited in my brief exposure to him while preparing for the 2004 player draft. I thought he threw exceptionally well on the move, exhibited good footwork, body balance and vision, but I've never liked his stroke nor did I think he was a particularly accurate thrower. I also didn't like the fact that in the Miami (Ohio) offensive system he made virtually all of his throws working out of the gun and that in their offense he was never called upon to read the entire field.

After three full seasons on the job, I still have those same concerns.  And in my opinion, Roethlisberger will need to make big strides in the upcoming season if he ever is to be considered among the upper echelon of professional signal-callers.

C. Graythen/Getty Images
Former 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer has virtually everything physically one looks for in a professional quarterback prospect. After serving a one-year apprenticeship behind starter Jon Kitna, he literally burst onto the scene and has quietly put together three outstanding seasons. Make no mistake about it; nobody in the game can match Carson in terms of throwing the rock. He has outstanding size (built like a tight end), can make all the necessary throws, is extremely accurate, poised and is highly competitive.

The big knock on Palmer coming out of USC had nothing to do with physical prowess or position skills. It was his apparent lack of creativity. He has always been able to execute on the field, but it is reported that he seldom if ever made sideline suggestions based on what he saw during the heat of battle. How far he has progressed in that particular area is anyone's guess, but based on the extraordinary numbers he has put up, I would have to say he has improved considerably in this critical area.

One final note regarding Palmer and the Cincinnati Bengals. During my five seasons with the Rams, I had the opportunity and honor to work with one of the best young offensive minds in the professional game today, Ken Zampese. Now, I'm not going to tell you that the son of legendary assistant Ernie Zampese is solely responsible for Palmer's success (let us never forget the "chicken salad / chicken do-do" analogy), but I would have to believe that much of Carson's progress and playing success can be directly attributed to this brilliant tactician and future NFL head coach.

Prior to the start of the Browns' first preseason game versus the Kansas City Chiefs, one of pro football's true "good guys" -- head coach Romeo Crennel -- literally flipped a coin to decide his starting quarterback. I'd have to say that after a full winter workout schedule, two minicamps, pre-training camp summer school sessions and three full weeks of training camp, one can only conclude that it's going to be a very long season for the loyal fans of the Cleveland Browns football club.

Remember my comment earlier in this series? If you have two (or in the Brown's case three) quarterbacks, you have none. At this stage, one of these quarterbacks should have certainly separated himself from the rest of the pack. But it just hasn't happened.

Charlie Frye
S. Lecka, Getty Images
In former University of Akron star Charlie Frye, the Brown's have a gutsy young player with size and athletic ability who does not appear to have the necessary playing skills to succeed at the professional level. In fairness to this young man, I would have to say that the two games I viewed in 2006 (live versus the Carolina Panthers and on TV during his home loss to the Bengals), had to be the two worst games he played during the season. Needless to say, based on this two-game exposure, I was far from impressed with his efforts.

Derek Anderson, caught my eye during his sophomore season at Oregon State, but in retrospect did little during the remainder of his collegiate career to distinguish himself. Drafted by Baltimore in the sixth round of the 2005 player draft, the 6-foot-6 Anderson was subsequently claimed on waivers by the Browns early in the 2005 season. Late in the 2006 season, Derek had his coming out party. And with the exception of the season-ending debacle versus Tampa Bay, performed adequately.

In spite of his rare size and strong throwing arm, I just don't believe his throwing accuracy, pocket presence, touch and downfield vision were up to the standard of a winning professional quarterback. The jury is still out on this player, but realistically I see him as little more than a backup guy as a professional quarterback.

The Browns received plaudits from many of the so-called draft experts when they boldly traded their second-round selection (36th pick) in the 2007 draft and their first-round pick in the 2008 draft to the Cowboys in exchange for the 22nd pick overall -- which they used to select Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. Based on the early returns, the move could prove costly to the Browns from a personnel standpoint.  And if the deal does not transfer into on-the-field victories, it will likely mark the end of the Cleveland tenure for both head coach Romeo Crennel, and GM Phil Savage.

I've seen some flashes of brilliance over the past four seasons when viewing this player, but the haunting refrain that keeps entering my mind is the fact that regardless of his numbers, he is simply not an accurate, consistent thrower on both his intermediate and deep throws.

AFC North Quarterback Rankings

1. Carson Palmer
2. Steve McNair
3. Ben Roethlisberger
4. Charlie Frye/Derek Anderson/Brady Quinn

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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