Eli Manning has found himself all over the sports pages in the past several days through no doing of his own. It's been less than a week since retired New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer made himself public enemy number one among Big Blue supporters by claiming that Tony Romo was "the best quarterback in the NFC East." Toomer's comments along with the expected reaction from Giants fans had me a bit nervous about seeing ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski's list of the top NFL quarterbacks today. Not only do I have no problem with how Jaworski rated the top QBs in the league, but I actually think that, depending on the health of a different Manning, Jaws got the top five spot on.
When I'm asked by anybody about this particular subject, I always first like to reiterate the fact that I would not, if given the task, select anybody other than Eli Manning to be the quarterback for this particular Giants team. Manning is, in my eyes, the perfect QB for the job, one with the personality, poise, "clutch gene" and talent needed to win for and sometimes in spite of this fan base. With that said, I cannot, when examining the matter with unbiased eyes, state that Manning is currently the best quarterback in pro football.
As a Giants fan who has also followed Cleveland sports since birth, I half-jokingly ask myself this question when ranking NFL QBs in 2012: Could the quarterback in question routinely win games with the current Browns? If the answer is "yes," that QB immediately shoots up the list. The first name that comes to mind is Jaworski's number one, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is quickly entering that "best I've ever seen in my lifetime" category, as he was nearly unbeatable during the 2011 regular season. A ratio of 45 touchdown passes to just six interceptions is borderline ridiculous, and his 122.5 QB rating was far and away the best in the league last year.
I sometimes find myself wondering just how good Drew Brees would be if he didn't play eight home games in New Orleans every season. Then, Brees has one of those performances, and I'm quickly reminded of his undeniable greatness. As Jaworski pointed out in his analysis, Brees, who threw for more passing yards than any other QB last season, is also the only quarterback in NFL history to have two seasons during which he completed over 70 percent of his passes. Whether indoors or outdoors, I take Brees as the unquestioned number two QB in the NFL in 2012.
Eli Manning may have gotten the better of Tom Brady in their past several meetings, but Brady still gets the nod in such lists this summer. Perhaps what's most astonishing about Brady, who finished the 2011 campaign in the top five in QB rating, touchdowns thrown and passing yards, is that I really don't think anybody would be shocked if he was again the best quarterback in the league at least one more season before he calls it a career. It's easy to forget that Brady will be 35-years old this fall, mostly because I could see him being a top tier QB for at least another three years.
Peyton Manning is the only selection made by Jaworski that I question, only because we haven't seen him play in a meaningful game in so long. Manning is the ultimate on-the-field offensive coordinator, and such knowledge and intelligence doesn't go away because of a year lost to injury. Will his body be able to again last through an entire NFL season? How will he react to that first hard hit he takes this fall? Until such questions are answered, the older Manning will remain at least a little bit of a question mark.
That leads us to Eli Manning, chosen as the fifth best QB in the NFL by Jaworski. I, like Jaws, choose Manning over both Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers for multiple reasons. Manning emerged as, in my eyes, the most clutch quarterback in the game last season, and he also showed the ability to make the "big game throws" on multiple occasions. I also believe that, unlike with both Rivers and Roethlisberger, we could see even better from Eli over the next several years. Manning has evolved into a complete QB, one capable of winning games with his arm and his mind. Since the conclusion of the 2007 NFL regular season, Manning has produced two Super Bowl winning drives, engineered over a dozen fourth quarter comebacks, and he also helped make former teammates Kevin Boss, Steve Smith and Mario Manningham some extra cash in the process.
I'm still not sure he could take the Browns to a title, though.
For more: Eli Manning now a top five QB
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