Going through quarterbacks can be a painstaking task. In the last few weeks, this space has discussed rookies, veterans, busts, and also-rans. This time, we hit some of the fun and games. After all, there is no impact quarterback quite like an elite quarterback. Say what you will about waiting until other skill positions are settled, but there is something about the peace of mind that comes with knowing you can rely on your quarterback for 275 yards to go along with at least two touchdowns. Add to that, these three will do it with minimal interceptions.
There are largely only three names to discuss that fit this bill. Whether you draft Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or Tom Brady the numbers will certainly give you the warm and fuzzy feeling each and every week out. Things have changed for two of them in a significant way this off season. For another it becomes about getting back on top.
Hard to believe that a guy putting up these type of numbers is going third off the board amongst quarterbacks, but he is. Brady has gone as high as three (thanks to Ryan Matthews getting hurt this weekend) and as low as 23. His 20-pick range is actually second at the position behind only Brees. Certainly there could be concerns with his age since he will be 35 this year, but try to find some slippage in skill level. It just has not happened yet.
By the numbers, Brady had as good a 2011 season as you can have. He had just three games where he threw for less than 275 yards and only two games where he threw for less than two touchdowns. His 39 touchdowns do not necessarily resonate as much because it has become the norm in New England. The 5,235 yards certainly offset any “downside” to the total touchdowns. I bet those touchdown numbers get better while the yardage may come down.
Why is that? While Josh McDaniels will undoubtedly continue the focus on the passing game, he has also shown a propensity to put in some true I-formation and running packages. This is something that we have not seen as much from the Patriots in the last several years. His presence should help develop the young trio of running backs New England currently uses. Beyond this though will be what both Brady and McDaniels will provide the people that catch passes in Foxboro.
The addition of Brandon Lloyd gives New England a strong outside threat they have not had in the last several years. Lloyd’s best years have been with McDaniels and with a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback, you can bet he should see a major jump in his numbers. Add in the familiarity Brady has with Wes Welker and the return of Donte Stallworth and the wide receivers are deeper than they have been at any other time for the Patriots. All this before we even discuss two of the best receiving tight ends in all of football. Think Brady makes a major impact to your team? You can count on it. Anything less than 45 touchdowns may actually be a disappointment.
As you could expect, there is a fair amount of calamity surrounding the New Orleans offense. Yes, Brees threw for nearly 5,500 yards to go with 46 touchdowns last season and it was arguably the greatest passing season a quarterback has ever had. Only three times did he throw for fewer than two touchdowns or have less than 275 yards passing. Nine times Brees had three or more touchdown passes. His performance was as ridiculous as you can get.
Then this off-season happened. Brees will enter the year without his head coach. If that were not bad enough he also lost one of his chief targets in Robert Meachem. While we know that Marques Colston and Devery Henderson are still there, Henderson disappears for long stretches while Colston has only played all 16 games once in the last four years. Lance Moore is still a strong option in the slot and is one of Brees’ favorite targets inside the 20. Then it gets dicey. The team is still looking at multiple options to fill their fourth receiver including rookie Nick Toon. The overall situation seems far more unstable than it has the last few years. Brees certainly has the ability to offset this, but it could also haunt him.
The work of Jimmy Graham will help immensely. Graham is the only tight end that can rival Rob Gronkowski in New England and is easily one of the most challenging players to cover in football. Another year of maturity makes him far more dangerous. The running back committee could be another thorn in the side. Health has been an issue for nearly every single player that will step in the backfield. The team will need Pierre Thomas to stay as a primary back to allow for pass-catching specialist Darren Sproles to work and be productive.
I like Brees, but if you were asking me to take a quarterback and expect peak performance, give me Brady over Brees.
Rodgers has some odd early draft numbers. He has gone as high as number one overall but as low as number 37. Outside of Matthews, no player inside the top-15 has a wider span of high and low. It seems to show that people are still unsure as to what to do with Rodgers. It has been pointed out that he had the second-fewest pass attempts of his career last season. Add in the fact that he has missed time in each of the last two years and you have somewhat of an enigma. For a guy going number one overall in some drafts, there have to be at least a few questions coming to mind.
The injuries are concerning, but they are also manageable. He is due for a strong year health-wise and these are not issues that have destroyed a season. A game or two like he has missed is more “bad luck.” I would even be hard-pressed to be concerned about the pass attempts; have you SEEN the running backs going through Green Bay right now? This is a team that is going to have to throw the football to win. With the stable of wide receivers, they should have no issue with that. The emergence of Jordy Nelson along with the play of Randall Cobb and James Jones alongside of Greg Jennings creates a core of players that should have no problem helping Rodgers keep his numbers at an elite level.
Rodgers had just three games with less than 275 yards passing, similar to his other top-three cohorts. The difference he brings? In only one game did he throw for less than two touchdowns and he had just six total interceptions. His accuracy and efficiency in that regard makes him a major impact scorer especially in leagues where interceptions count against an owner. While going number one overall may be pushing it, it is far easier to understand his competing with Brady for the top overall quarterback than it would be Brees.