It's no surprise that Green Bay Packers superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers is rated as the best quarterback in the NFL by ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski -- after all, the season Rodgers had in 2011 was one of the best in NFL history. What makes Jaws' opinion a little more substantial than those found in your standard vote is the fact that he's watching game tape all the time in his role as an advanced football geek -- quite often in conjunction with our buddy Greg Cosell, who produced all of the segments ESPN recently ran in "Jaws' QB Countdown."
Jaworski will give his reasoning for Rodgers as the NFL's best signal-caller on Tuesday, but since so much of the analysis has the Cosell stamp on it, we thought it would be interesting to give you a glimpse of the film-based takes on Jaworski's 2-7 quarterbacks.
No. 2: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: "Brees is the only quarterback in NFL history with two seasons in which he completed more than 70 percent of his passes. Most people use the word 'accuracy.' With Brees, it's really all about ball location.
"No quarterback is as consistently precise with his throws as Brees. Throughout his Saints career, Brees has thrown the seam routes as well as any quarterback in the NFL. In fact, those vertical seams have been a foundation of the Saints' passing game, especially effective in scoring territory. There's 'sluggo' -- slant-and-go at the top of the screen with Marques Colston running the seam from the slot. It's a staple Saints route combination. And Brees is a master at his precise timing.
"Brees is not a power thrower. He does not have top-level arm strength, although his arm is better than many think. But his touch and his accuracy, especially on deep throws, is outstanding. Brees sets the ball right on the receiver's hands. He does not just throw to his receiver; he hits a smaller, more defined point. It's simple math. The margin of error decreases the smaller the target at which you aim. Brees controls his throws better than any quarterback in the NFL.
No. 3: Tom Brady, New England Patriots: "Brady is outstanding in so many areas, but what really stands out is his total command in the pocket. Few quarterbacks in NFL history move within the pocket better than Tom Brady. Pocket movement is an essential attribute to play NFL quarterback at a consistently high level. Think of it this way: the ability to move within an area no larger than the approximate size of a boxing ring. Sometimes it's a strain, just a step here or a step there. Other times, it's more pronounced. The corollary, and it's equally as important, you must maintain your downfield focus while you're moving. You cannot look at the rush. It's a far more important trait than running out of the pocket.
"I don't think I've ever seen a more comfortable pocket quarterback than Brady. There have been times over the years he's literally been a statue in the pocket — static, stationary, motionless. I can tell you from experience that's a rare trait. Everything is happening very fast. The ability to slow down your body like that, that's remarkable.
"Another attribute that Brady has mastered is controlling the game at the line of scrimmage. Brady is outstanding at the subtle nuances of quarterback play. It's a highly disciplined craft, and Brady has expertly refined the small details. His ability to immediately locate mismatches in man coverage, like Wes Welker on a linebacker, and to move defenders in zone coverage is as good as it gets. Manipulating and controlling the defense is advanced quarterbacking.
"I'm not necessarily a big stat guy, but how about this? In Brady's last four full seasons — now remember, he missed the 2008 season with an injury — he has thrown 153 touchdown passes and only 37 interceptions. Brady is No. 3 on my big board right now, but he could easily move up to number one."
No. 4: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: "I know he missed an entire season, but I am confident he will return at an elite level. I have never seen a quarterback defeat the defense before the ball is snapped better than Peyton Manning. No quarterback controls the game at the line of scrimmage as well as Manning. Instant recall and application from the classroom to the field, that's Manning's game. The Colts rarely shifted or motioned. Manning wanted the defense set, static. He trusted he could beat them mentally before the snap and physically after the snap. It will be the same in Denver. This offseason, the focus has been the Broncos' coaches learning Manning's playbook.
"In his last two seasons with the Colts, 2009 and 2010, Manning dropped back more than any quarterback in the NFL, and he was sacked the fewest times. The result: both his pre-snap brilliance and the most finely calibrated internal clock I have ever seen. One element of Manning's play that is rarely talked about is his ability to avoid pressure, most often with subtle movements.
"Often overlooked is Manning's ability to break down a defense calling a running play. We know he recognizes fronts, coverage, and he understands when a run call is the correct call. Here was the pre-snap look for Manning: two deep safeties, six defenders in the box. There was no box defender outside the tight end. The corner and the safety were not primary run-support players. They were too deep. Manning recognized the front and the coverage perfectly. The running call beat the scheme of the defense.
"I'll be looking closely at two factors with Manning: can he still make those outside throws, those deep comeback throws that he was so good at, and can he drive the ball at the intermediate and deeper levels. Now I believe he will. I expect him to have an outstanding season with the Broncos."
No. 5: Eli Manning, New York Giants: "You know where I saw significant improvement in Manning last season? Progression-reading. Was there any better example than the biggest play in Super Bowl XLVI?
"You will not see a better throw in a critical situation. So much went into that game-changing fourth-quarter completion [to Mario Manningham]. It began before the snap. Manning read the 'Cover-2' defense. The initial reading progression was to the right, the two wide receiver side. You can see when Manning took the snap he immediately looked that way. When he hit his plant foot, the routes were not defined. There was no throw. The backside route was Manningham on the fade. It was the safety, not the corner, Eli had to beat to make that throw. He processed all this instantaneously, and without any hesitation turned it loose. Pre-snap recognition. Progression reading. Subtle pocket movement. Willingness to pull the trigger. Precise ball location. You saw many of the attributes demanded to play at an elite level.
"When you watch every play, you really get a good feel for a player. Manning is one of the smartest, most aware quarterbacks in the NFL. His development over the last three or four years has been steady and consistent. He is now one of the top-five quarterbacks in the NFL."
No. 6: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: "Roethlisberger is the strongest quarterback in the NFL. He not only extends plays with movement out of the pocket, but also with his natural strength IN the pocket. He's 'barn strong.' At times, there's a 'make it up as you go' style to Roethlisberger's game.
"Here's what Roethlisberger does not get enough credit for: his ability to make throws consistently from the pocket. I charted all 60 of his 20-plus-yard completions in 2011. Only five came outside the pocket. In fact, time and time again he showed one of the most central attributes necessary to play at a high level in the NFL: the willingness to look down the gun barrel and deliver the football. This throw against the Bengals was a great example. There was a free rusher from Ben's front side. He saw him. He drove a tight throw into a small window.
"In 2011, Roethlisberger was most effective out of multiple tight end personnel. He completed almost 73 percent with nine of his 21 touchdowns. His quarterback rating was 125. That was the shot-play personnel package.
"I have seen a lot of growth from Roethlisberger in recent seasons. Once undisciplined and inconsistent in the pocket, he is now much improved. At No. 6 on my Big Board, Roethlisberger's on the cusp of becoming elite."
No. 7: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: "You spend five minutes with Rivers and you know he's a football junkie. His preparation and his understanding of both offense and opposing defenses is second to none. I have studied Rivers very closely in his six years as the Chargers starter. I've reached this conclusion: He is the toughest pocket quarterback in the NFL. He will stand firm in the face of pressure and deliver the football. He has remarkable downfield focus in the eye of the storm.
"Two other elements of Rivers' game always stand out on film: He throws the deep ball as well as any quarterback in the league; he is also an outstanding progression reader. There's no question Rivers threw too many interceptions last season. I believe that was the exception. It won't happen again in 2012. Rivers has played at an elite level before, and I fully expect he will this season. That's why he's No. 7 on my Big Board."
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