One of our favorite discussions in the sports world is the fictional scenario of building your own sports team. What quarterback would you build your team around? This was a fun debate for a little, but it’s overplayed at this point and to be honest it’s too broad.
So I came up with this: What non-Super Bowl winning QB would you take for the 2015-2016 NFL season. Don’t take into account the rest of their career (Andrew Luck becomes the overwhelming favorite), but just one season to build your team around. Here’s my top 5 choices in order.
5. Cam Newton
A more polarizing choice after a rough 2014 regular season, Cam Newton still was able to battle through multiple injuries caused by poor offensive line play and a car accident to get the Panthers into the playoffs. After being selected 1st overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, Newton has been able to lead the Panthers to the playoffs twice in his four year career.
Newton, to my knowledge, brings something to the quarterback position that the NFL has never seen. At 6’6″, 260 lbs, Newton has the size of a 4-3 defensive end (3-4 outside linebacker), and with a 4.59 40 yard dash at the NFL combine, he has the speed of the most athletic linebackers. He’s will outrun your your defensive line, then give your linebackers trouble bringing him down. You better hope he doesn’t get to your secondary. To go along with his speed and size, he has one of the strongest arms in the NFL.
Newton’s issues stem from his decision making. He’s completing just under 60% of his throws in his career and he’s good for about 12-13 INTs each year. When watching him, I notice that he struggles to find touch on throws where a bullet pass may not be the best option.
If I’m building my team around a quarterback for next season, Newton isn’t going to give me too much confidence on making a playoff run. With only three playoff games under his belt, we haven’t accumulated a sufficient sample size to judge him. What we do know at this point is that Newton struggles to step his game up in the playoffs, and even with little game film to judge him for it, we have to make due with what we have. Don’t expect anything come playoff time.
Essentially, Newton makes my list because of his raw talent. This talent, unlike what we see solely based before the NFL draft, has proven to work in the league. Unfortunately, Newton has yet to prove that he is a top-tier quarterback based on his decision making and intangibles. Even without that, his physical skills are unparalleled to any QB to ever play in the NFL, and if he can make improvements elsewhere, the sky is the limit for this young athlete.
4. Matt Ryan
After a couple of poor season by the Falcons, the Matt Ryan discussion as one of the best quarterbacks in the league quickly was forgotten. Quarterbacks receive the most credit when their team wins, and apparently become forgotten when their team loses.
The Falcons have not been able to put together a solid offensive line for Ryan for the past few seasons, and when a pocket quarterback doesn’t get a pocket, he, well, struggles. Luckily for him, Julio Jones can mask some of those deficiencies when he’s healthy. But that’s not to say Ryan’s success is dependent on his star wide receiver. Jones has battled injuries throughout his career, but Ryan has still been able to post solid numbers (28 TDs, 66.1% completion percentage). He finished as the #9 QB in DVOA (a statistic that incorporates a player’s efficiency weighted by his opponent), 9th in 2013, 8th in 2012, 7th in 2011, and 7th in 2010. He has a steady history of being an efficient quarterback throughout his career, which is comforting when picking your leader.
What hurts Ryan is related to what hurts Andrew Luck. His simple statistics (like passing yards and TDs) are inflated by a high number of pass attempts. The only difference is that he has never thrown more than 32 TDs in any season, which may be a result of play calling when his teams enter the red-zone. Over the past three seasons, Ryan has completed 67% of his passes, which is right around what Peyton Manning has done over that time. Ryan has struggled to keep his interception numbers down throughout his career as he has averaged 15 over the past three seasons.
Matt Ryan is a talented pocket quarterback who has the abilities to lead a team deep into the playoffs. His lack of mobility limits him when the pocket collapses, but we have seen him throughout his career make all of the throws and be efficient when doing so. Elite status may never be obtained in his career, but no team is complaining if they have this guy under center.
3. Andrew Luck
Before I begin, I’m guessing this is a controversial ranking to the majority of people. Because of this, my tone may come across as an Andrew Luck hater. There is no question I would take him over the long-term, but for next season I’m not as high on the Colts’ gun-slinger.
With 40 TDs and 4761 passing yards, Luck had a great season in terms of fantasy stats. He has been seen as the top QB for this new era ever since his college days at Stanford. He came into the league and impressed with his skill set which includes arm strength, accuracy, intangibles, and athleticism. He’s everything you want in terms of a young quarterback.
What concerns me for the short term is Luck’s efficiency. His basic statistics are distorted by the number of passing attempts he averages per year. He has averaged 604 attempts over his three year career, which typically will rank around the top 3 in the entire league year-to-year. He completed 58.3% of his throws last year, which was his career best, but still falls short of the other elite quarterbacks’ percentages. His DVOA ranked 12th among qualified quarterbacks in the 2014 regular season.
There is no question when you watch Luck play that he is a premier talent who will one day be one of the best quarterbacks to play in this league. The talent surrounding him is certainly lacking, so for him to even be this successful so far in his career is a feat. The issue I have when evaluating him for 2015 is his talent hasn’t matured. Everything you look at shows that he is progressing as a player, but in my eyes I want to have some proof a player is at that elite level. His talent and basic stats are there, but his efficiency is not. I need my quarterback to protect the ball and be able to be efficient in what he does. He will get there one day, maybe even next year, but if I had to choose right now, I’m going to take something I’ve seen before.
2. Philip Rivers
To me, Philip Rivers has had one of the more under-appreciated careers of any quarterback in this league. This is probably due to a two year slump he went through in the 2011 and 2012 regular seasons, where his interception rate rose and other numbers declined. He has since gotten back on track as a quarterback who can be efficient at his job and not put his team at a disadvantage.
Yes, he is underrated, but that has to be an effect from something. Rivers has never had an outstanding season statistically, eclipsing 4500 passing yards just twice and never throwing for more than 34 TDs. His interceptions year-to-year fluctuate from poor and good, but has never ranked among the best when it comes to taking care of the ball. His completion percentages are solid (64.7%) over his career, but that’s not a sexy stat to point out unless its the best in the league.
We underrate Rivers because he never put together a single season that could be argued as the best for that particular year, but he has been very good for pretty much his entire career. He’s Matt Ryan with more of a track record. These pocket quarterbacks in smaller markets can become forgotten when they aren’t challenging Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers in statistics or the playoffs, and unfortunately at the age of 33, Philip Rivers will not be at the prime of his career at any point when these future hall of famers
I put Rivers as my second choice because of the nine year track record of very good quarterback play. He doesn’t bring anything spectacular to the table in terms of skill, but his leadership and consistency has helped him overcome this and remain one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL.
1. Tony Romo
Some of you may laugh at the idea that Tony Romo is my clear choice as the quarterback I want for the 2015 season to win his first Super Bowl. Romo has received unfair criticism throughout his career. From his epic playoff blunders to his unfortunate late game interceptions, Romo has built a reputation as a choker and an un-clutch performer.
2014 was Romo’s best season of his career. Even though 3705 passing yards was one of his lower season totals of his career, 34 TDs was his second highest, and his 69.9% completion percentage was his best and finished first in the NFL in 2014. A lot of this success has to be credited to the Cowboys’ coaching staff who focused on running the ball more often. This took off the pressure for Romo to carry the offense, and allowed the play-action pass play to become deadly for Romo. Romo finished 2nd in DVOA in 2014, and the Cowboys won the NFC east. Even though Romo bowed out before the NFC conference championship once again, it by no means was a disappointing season.
Romo finished with the best yards per attempt (8.52), passer rating (113.2), and completion percentage (69.9%) in the NFL. If it weren’t for Demarco Murray’s career year, Romo would have received serious MVP consideration. I also believe that if it weren’t for Romo’s perception as a choker, he would have had a better chance regardless of Murray’s success.
Tony Romo does not have an impressive record in the playoffs. at 2-4, one might argue that he regresses in big games. This is clearly not the case, as Romo’s postseason statistics are on par with his regular season statistics, and he has only been improving throughout his postseason career.
Yes, Romo has shown to make critical errors in the most crucial times, and yes, he should not be mentioned with the names of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning. But what about with a guy like 2-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger? Romo has started in 123 regular season games compared to Roethlisberger’s 158, yet Romo has only thrown for nine less TDs than Big Ben. Of course, as you may have realized by now, I believe stats like passing TDs and passing yards can be misleading when evaluating success. This number, however, was significant enough to point out, and it also brings up my next point.
When looking at Roethlisberger’s playoff statistics, I noticed a trend similar to what Romo experienced this season. In playoff runs where the Steelers were a run oriented offense. In a postseason where Roethlisberger averaged less than 250 passing yards per game, the Steelers went 10-2 with two Super Bowls. When Roethlisberger threw for more than 250 yards per game, they are 0-3. Romo has always been in a position where he is expected to carry an offense, but very few quarterbacks have ever been able to do that in the history of the NFL. Roethlisberger will go down as one of the best to play in this era because he won two Super Bowls, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Romo is more of an afterthought if he is unable to win one.
None of the quarterbacks in this league besides Brady, Manning, Rodgers, Brees, and that one really weird year of Joe Flacco have proven they can carry an offense to a Super Bowl. The Cowboys for pretty much half of Romo’s career put him in a position to have to single handedly carry an offense. Romo is not in that class. But when you look further, the statistics show that Romo is just as good, if not better than than the other Super Bowl winning QBs. Every player is going to make mistakes in their career, and Romo’s unfortunately came at a very inopportune time. But for that to stain his reputation as one of the better quarterbacks in the league today is wrong.
Tony Romo is my top choice to build a team around next year for non-Super Bowl winning quarterbacks. Who is yours?