Jaws’ QB Countdown is a 32-part ESPN series where NFL analyst Ron Jaworski evaluates the probable starting quarterbacks for each franchise and ranks them from No. 32 to No. 1. The three-minute segments aired daily on editions of SportsCenter and NFL Live.
For transcribed comments from Jaworski, click on the links below:
Jaworski ranks Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn at No. 32. Transcribed analysis:
“Matt Flynn has started two games in his five-year NFL career. To his credit, he played well in both, including a record-setting performance at the end of the 2011 season. But after playing 38 snaps last season in Seattle, Flynn is nothing more than a projection as the Raiders starting quarterback. That’s why he’s No. 32 in my quarterback rankings.
“I broke down both of Flynn’s starts: New England in 2010 and Detroit in 2011. What I saw was a timing- and rhythm-passer who’s decisive with his reads and his throws. He was consistently accurate in the short to intermediate areas. He displayed a nice feel in the pocket with some subtle movements like this slight shoulder roll to manipulate coverage.
“Flynn also showed the ability to get out of the pocket and throw on the run. But the more throws I watched, the more his arm-strength limitations were evident. The fade, as you see here, is not an arm strength throw, it’s more of a touch throw. In fact, I was concerned that his few deep balls lost energy at the back end. They had a tendency to die. This touchdown came off play-action, and Flynn needs that to have any chance to be successful. I would expect to see it in Oakland.
“But what have we always known about play-action? You do not have to be a strong running team to execute it effectively. The Packers were not in 2011. And look at the safety react to the stretch run action; that left Jordy Nelson one-on-one with the corner, with no safety help in the deep middle. It was a shot play, a specific call and a specific situation designed to produce a big play.
“When I think of Flynn, I’m reminded of Bill Walsh and his strong belief that a good coach manipulates the play of his quarterback with his pass concepts and his play calling. That will have to be the case with Flynn in Oakland.”
Jaworski ranks Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker at No. 31. Transcribed analysis:
“Number 31 on my quarterback countdown is Jake Locker. 2013 will be Locker’s third season with the Titans. Up to this point, he has not shown enough to warrant his selection as the eighth overall pick in the 2011 Draft. The question is: what can Locker become at his very best?
“His skillset is that of a dual-threat quarterback, with a strong arm and excellent athletic ability to make plays with his legs. Right now, Locker is a movement player. While there’s no question that has its merits, the reality in the NFL remains the same as it always has been: no one is a top-level quarterback because of the way they move or run.
“While Locker has often been talked about as throwing well on the run, a careful look at all his throws reveals that he’s erratic with both his clarity and his accuracy. What really stood out evaluating Locker was the number of sacks he took. That resulted from pressure outside the box, especially from the slot.
“It was this week four sack against Houston that cost Locker five starts. This was a tough one to read, very well disguised. The key was safety Danieal Manning. Is Manning maintaining his two deep integrity, or do you see him stacked over the inside slot, playing man-to-man versus Jared Cook? If you read him as a slot defender, then Glover Quin is blitzing. When the other safety rotated to the middle of the snap that was a clear indicator it was single-high blitz with Manning man-to-man on Cook. Pre-snap, Locker’s awareness should have been heightened. Post-snap, the blitz was confirmed.
“This is part of playing quarterback effectively from the pocket. We know Locker has the necessary arm strength and he can move; that’s not enough. It’s the subtle nuances of the position, the disciplines of the craft that Locker must work on. He’s not there yet. In fact, I believe he has a long way to go. One final point: if he does not throw with more consistent accuracy, he will always struggle to become a quality NFL starter.”
Jaworski ranks Buffalo Bills quarterback Kevin Kolb at No. 30. Transcribed analysis:
“The 30th-rated quarterback in my countdown is Kevin Kolb. It seems like Kevin has been around for a long time, yet he has only started 21 games in his six-year NFL career. And we know Kolb is a caretaker, playing only until EJ Manuel is ready.
“Kolb only started five games in 2012. You may recall he was not named the opening day starter, losing out in a heated competition with John Skelton. Kolb replaced an injured Skelton week one in the fourth quarter against Seattle and led the Cardinals on a game-winning drive. Kolb has always shown flashes that he’s capable of being an efficient starter. The situation in Arizona, unfortunately, highlighted his limitations. He played behind the worst offensive line in the NFL.
“One thing that has always prevented Kolb from developing into a consistent quarterback has been his inability to operate in a muddied pocket, with bodies flying around him. You have to be able to do that. Kolb is a functional space passer who needs a comfortable cradle to deliver the football.
“Look at the safety attack the run action in the backfield. That set everything up for Kolb. It forced the other safety to jump the deep cross. That left Larry Fitzgerald one-on-one on the outside. A clean pocket, a defined read, that’s what Kolb needs to be effective.
“Kolb only has a limited time as the Bills starter in 2013. He has reached the journeyman stage in his career, playing for his third team in his seven seasons. That’s why he’s No. 30 on my quarterback big board.”
Jaworski ranks Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne at No. 29. Transcribed analysis:
“My 29th-rated quarterback is Chad Henne. Henne started the final six games of the 2012 season in place of the injured Blaine Gabbert. He’s the best quarterback on the Jaguars roster and should be the opening day starter in 2013.
“Henne has always had a good arm with the ability to make all the necessary throws. There have been times in Henne’s five-year career – which spans 37 starts – where it appeared he could be a consistent, quality starter. He has always thrown the ball well between the numbers, skinny post, seams and slants, that’s his strength. It was not a coincidence that Justin Blackmon’s targets and receptions increased dramatically once Henne became the starter.
“Here’s a great example of Henne’s ability to work the seams. That’s Blackmon just inside the numbers. This was a skinny post, a route that’s most effective against single-high safety coverage. The skinny features five-step drop timing. The ball comes out at about 2.1 seconds. Look at the anticipation. Henne delivered before Blackmon made his inside break.
“I have seen these snapshots of excellent quarterbacking from Henne over the years, but there has been too much inconsistency in too many areas. Henne has a troubling tendency to hold onto the football too long, which leads to sacks that he absolutely should not take. He struggles at times to read coverage, throwing balls when he has no definition and no clarity.
“Henne is what is best described as a system quarterback. He needs a good offensive line, foundation running game and a strong receiving corps to have any chance to be successful. Those are all questions in Jacksonville. It’s why Henne is my 29th-rated quarterback.”
Jaworski ranks New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez at No. 28. Transcribed analysis:
“I was very disappointed in the overall play of my 28th-rated quarterback in 2012. I believed Mark Sanchez entering his fourth season would improve. Instead, he regressed; his limitations further exposed. There’s only one way Sanchez can be successful as an NFL starter. That’s as a complementary piece in an offense whose foundation is a consistent running game. What does that mean? It means Sanchez’s ceiling is that of a mid-level starter, nothing more. He can only function as a system quarterback, in which his passing limitations can be minimized.
“Sanchez must be outstanding off play-action. Last season he was not. Nine of his 18 interceptions came off play fakes. This interception against Tennessee was representative of Sanchez’s problems. The design was Jeff Cumberland down the seam, off play-action to that side. The objective was to impact this linebacker. The play-action did not have the desired effect. The linebacker dropped. When Sanchez hit his back foot, ready to throw, he had no definition; he waited and then delivered late to a well-covered Cumberland. A bad decision compounded by an inaccurate throw.
“To continue as a starter, Sanchez must also be very good in the red zone. In 2012, he had the NFL’s worst red zone quarterback rating.
“The bottom line is Sanchez continues to make too many throws that a quarterback with his experience level should not make. Sanchez is clearly trending downward in my evaluations. He has started 68 games in his NFL career, including the playoffs. The question now is whether he has what it takes to be a quality NFL starter. He has much to prove and a lot of work to do.”
Jaworski ranks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder at No. 27. Transcribed analysis:
“My 27th-ranked quarterback entering the 2013 season is Christian Ponder. Ponder had an uneven 2012 season, but overall I saw gradual and steady improvement. The arrow is pointing upward as Ponder begins his third season as the Vikings starter.
“Ponder fits the profile so many are now talking about: the athletic movement quarterback who can beat you with his legs. Ponder is an opportunity runner, and he’s shown the ability to burn some of the best defenses in the league.
“Ponder needs to make significant improvements as a pocket passer. Surprisingly, with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, he was not efficient off play-action. Ponder also had a tendency to be a beat late with his throws. At this point, he doesn’t see the whole field with clarity and that led to too many throws into the teeth of the coverage.
“And he must execute versus the blitz much better than he did in 2012. You know what statistic really bothered me? Ponder had only 28 completions of 20 yards or more – by far the fewest of any 16-game starter. I saw one in week 17 that I really liked. It was a shot play, first-and-10 play-action out of base personnel.
“Overall, I like Ponder’s skillset. He has plus arm strength with the ability to make every single throw. The Vikings have now provided Ponder with more weapons on the outside. 2013 is an important season for the third-year quarterback. It’s time to play more consistently from the pocket. If Ponder does that, he could well be in my top 20 next year.”
Jaworski ranks Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden at No. 26. Transcribed analysis:
“Brandon Weeden is my 26th-rated quarterback. I evaluated all of Weeden’s throws in his rookie season, and I came away impressed. There’s a lot to like and a lot to work with for a new coaching staff. It might sound crazy, but the first thing you notice with Weeden is he can really spin it.
“I am always amazed in my discussions of NFL quarterbacks how rarely throwing ability comes up. You have to start with it. And a significant part of that is arm strength. It matters! You’re kidding yourself if you believe otherwise.
“For a rookie, Weeden showed uncommon poise and calm in the pocket. His mechanics were consistently solid. He showed the necessary ability to sit on his back foot and drive the ball with velocity. Did he struggle at times with clarity, seeing the field? Absolutely. Did he make some poor reads and bad throws in critical red zone situations? No doubt. But that’s what you expect from a rookie quarterback.
“I believe Weeden to be a rock-solid NFL starter in Norv Turner’s offense. It will feature a heavy emphasis on play-action and intermediate and downfield throws – that’s Weeden’s strength.
“It was play-action out of the straight eye. The safety dropped down leaving Josh Gordon one-on-one with the corner on the outside. What I loved about this throw was the precise ball location, to the sideline away from the defender.
“Overall, I was impressed with Weeden’s rookie season. He will be the Browns starting quarterback in 2013. There’s no question in my mind that his throwing skillset and Turner’s quarterback-friendly system will mesh effectively.”
Jaworski ranks Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick at No. 25. Transcribed analysis:
“Michael Vick checks in at No. 25 in my quarterback rankings. Vick is coming off of a disappointing 2012 season, but all will be different in Philadelphia with a new head coach in Chip Kelly. And I’m certain of one thing – Vick is the most talented quarterback on the Eagles roster.
“Vick remains a dynamic player with top-level arm strength and unmatched movement ability to extend plays with his legs. Few can spin it as well as number 7, especially on the run. Kelly will look at Vick and see a multidimensional quarterback that can pressure a defense in a variety of ways.
“Vick can get to the edge and outflank the defense, he can beat you from the pocket with an explosive vertical arm that can lift the top off the coverage, and he presents multiple options in the red zone with his movement. The concern of course, is turnovers. Vick had far too many in 2012. Fifteen of them in 10 games; four of those 15 came in the red zone.
“Here’s the positive as the Eagles transition to Kelly’s shotgun, spread attack. Vick was outstanding in the two-minute offense last season with a quarterback rating of 98.
“I am going to be fascinated to see Michael Vick in Chip Kelly’s up-tempo-speed offense. My initial sense is it will fit Vick very well, less volume offensively, but also defensively. I would not be surprised if Vick ends the season better than my 25th-rated quarterback.”
Jaworski ranks Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill at No. 24. Transcribed analysis:
“My 24th-rated quarterback is the second rookie to appear in my countdown – Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill showed a lot of positive traits despite having very few weapons at his disposal. I expect to see significant improvement with a better supporting cast in 2013.
“When I evaluate quarterbacks, I look for attributes that result in high-level play in the NFL. One is the ability to subtly move within the pocket to avoid pressure. At times the moving seems imperceptible, but it’s critical to consistent success. Look at that – that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Tannehill felt the pressure and adjusted without losing his downfield focus. You see it again on this long touchdown to Brian Hartline: front-side pressure on a deep drop shot play. Look how comfortably Tannehill avoids and steps up.
“For a rookie, Tannehill was very good throwing with bodies around him, in what I call a muddied pocket. You really saw it against a tough Seahawks defense, a late November game the Dolphins won. I want to show you this play from the coaching tape. Tannehill wanted to get the ball to Hartline on the curl route at the top of the screen. What happened was his back, Daniel Thomas, drifted into him, squeezing his functional space. You see that clearly from the end zone angle. Tannehill was forced to move, which broke down the designed timing of the throw. But look at how calmly Tannehill worked the pocket, stepping up into a quieter area, ready to throw. There’s a lot of people around him. That’s advanced NFL quarterbacking.
“The area in which Tannehill and the entire Dolphins offense must improve is third down. Tannehill had the worst rating of all starting quarterbacks, including seven of his 13 interceptions. Some resulted from pressure, others from poor reads and ill-advised throws. This one against Tennessee was classic defensive deception. Here’s the linebacker Zach Brown in the backside A gap. Tannehill looked to Jabar Gaffney on the short in-breaker on the opposite side. He did not account for Brown dropping out, underneath the throw. A rookie quarterback – not validating post-snap what he saw pre-snap.
“Overall, Tannehill showed many positive traits. As he begins his second season as the Dolphins starter, the arrow is definitely trending upward. With more experience – and better weapons – I would expect Tannehill to have a big year and move substantially up my big board.”
Jaworski ranks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer at No. 23. Transcribed analysis:
“The 23rd quarterback on my big board is Carson Palmer. I thought the Cardinals’ trade for Palmer was an excellent move. He will stabilize the Arizona offense and work effectively with new head coach Bruce Arians.
“There’s a disconnect between perception and reality with Palmer. Many think he throws too many interceptions. He only threw 14 last season in 591 drop-backs. A few are dramatic and memorable; those stick out in people’s minds, shaping an image that’s hard to get rid of.
“And how about this number: 73 percent of Palmer’s throws came when the Raiders were losing, and 70 percent of those throws occurred with Oakland trailing by more than a touchdown. Those were far and away the highest percentages in the NFL. It’s tough to play quarterback that way.
“Palmer still has very good arm strength. He has the mentality of a strong-armed passer, willing and confident in pushing the ball down the field. This throw to Darrius Heyward-Bey is a great example. Arm strength is not throwing it 50 yards in the air; it’s driving those deeper intermediate throws between the defenders.
“Here’s Heyward-Bey, and here’s Ed Reed. Reed did an excellent job reading both Heyward-Bey’s route and Palmer. He started to move before Palmer pulled the trigger. I guarantee Reed thought he had a pick. He didn’t get there in time. That’s arm strength. Palmer can still make those kinds of throws. That ability will fit well in Arians’ aggressive, downfield passing game.
“Palmer will allow the Cardinals’ offense to attack the entire field. He gives Arizona a multidimensional passing game. He reads coverage well. He can beat the blitz. He’s efficient in the red zone. He can execute a high volume of offense.
“I have always liked Palmer. The major concern in Arizona is the offensive line. Palmer is a pocket passer with excellent arm talent, but he needs time and functional space. That’s the unknown as we head into the 2013 season.”
Jaworski ranks St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford at No. 22. Transcribed analysis:
“The 22nd quarterback in my rankings this summer is Sam Bradford. Bradford has always been a talented thrower. In 2012, he took some sure and steady steps forward as he rebounded from a poor 2011 season.
“That was almost 60 yards in the air with very little effort. There’s never been a question about Bradford’s arm talent. He has a strong arm with the ability to make every single throw. He can drive the ball down the field and when he’s comfortable and confident in the pocket, he throws with consistent accuracy.
“Bradford has underrated movement. He can get out of the pocket and use his legs to find room to throw. And he’s always been effective off boot action. The bottom line is that Bradford has the throwing skillset to be a top 10 passer in this league.
“What are the concerns when I study Bradford? A lack of efficiency in the red zone. Too many interceptions. And it’s a red zone game. You can’t be a high level quarterback if you can’t execute there. Bradford at times still struggles with basic blitz concepts that a player with his experience level should understand. This interception against the Vikings was a great example.
“Bradford must eliminate the mistakes that diminish the impact of his ability. This season I would expect a little bit different Rams’ offense. With the talent they now have at the skill positions, don’t be surprised to see more spread with Bradford in the shotgun, a faster tempo, just like Bradford’s days at Oklahoma.”
Jaworski ranks Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman at No. 21. Transcribed analysis:
“Josh Freeman is my 21st-ranked quarterback entering the 2013 season. That’s down four spots from a year ago. Freeman is a frustrating player to evaluate. He’s a big physical athlete with a strong arm and excellent movement, but he still struggles to play with consistency on a week-to-week basis.
“He had a six-game stretch last season that began against the Chiefs in which he played very well: 16 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Freeman was a confident and aggressive downfield thrower, effectively utilizing Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, the biggest pair of starting wideouts in the NFL.
“The Bucs won five of those six games. Freeman played with a swagger. He was always willing to pull the trigger, attacking all levels of the defense. That six-game run ended with a dramatic Freeman comeback. What I really loved was the anticipation. Right here was when Freeman made the decision to deliver the football.
“Following that game, Freeman regressed. He was erratic with his accuracy. He had many communication issues with his receivers. He struggled against the blitz. Only Mark Sanchez had a lower quarterback rating versus pressure. And Freeman was unpredictable reading coverage and with his decision making.
“This James Laurinaitis interception makes the point. When you go play-action, you still have to locate the underneath defenders. You can’t assume they will not be a factor in coverage. Freeman clearly did not account for Laurinaitis. He threw this ball as if the linebacker wasn’t even there.
“Freeman is an enigma. He has a lot of talent, but he should be a better quarterback after 56 NFL starts. He has a lot of snaps under his belt. This is a crossroads season for him. The Bucs drafted Mike Glennon. Freeman is on the clock.”
Jaworski ranks Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith at No. 20. Transcribed analysis:
“Now it gets interesting. My top 20. My 20th-ranked quarterback is Alex Smith. A year ago, Smith was coming off his best season in the NFL, having led the 49ers to the NFC Championship. This year, he’s the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a great move by Andy Reid to acquire Smith.
“The defining element of Smith’s play is efficiency. He executes the offense the way it’s designed, and he makes very few mistakes. Last season – for the second year in a row – he was exceptional on first down. In 2012 he led the NFL in first-down passing, with a quarterback rating of 119. Much of it came off play-action, or in the case of the 49ers, hard run-action out of base personnel. There was no better play-action quarterback last season than Smith. He had a quarterback rating of over 132.
“Smith has been outstanding out of multiple tight end personnel over the last couple of seasons. No quarterback has thrown the ball more with three tight ends on the field. You don’t see that very often in today’s NFL.
“This play was beautifully designed with all three tight ends to the same side. First, look at the impact of the run-action on the two linebackers and the safety. This was hard run-action. Then you see that Delanie Walker’s vertical route occupied the corner. That left Vernon Davis matched on a safety, a safety that initially reacted to run. He had no chance on Davis’ wheel route.
“One area Smith improved in 2012 was in the pre-snap phase of the game. He was much better at the line of scrimmage checking and audibling.
“It will be interesting to see what Andy Reid does in Kansas City. Don’t be surprised if he turns Smith loose a little bit and features an up-tempo offense with an emphasis on quick throws. Remember, Alex Smith played for Urban Meyer at Utah.”
Jaworski ranks Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton at No. 19. Transcribed analysis:
“For the second year in a row, Andy Dalton is the 19th-rated quarterback on my big board. I truly believed he would make a significant jump, but despite solid numbers in many categories, he played too tentative at times and left far too many plays on the field.
“Now this one really bothered me. First of all, it’s in the red zone. And I’m a big believer that the NFL is now a red zone game. You see Dalton talking to Andrew Hawkins. Let me show you what happened. This was on Dalton. It’s tight bunch right. Hawkins was the inside receiver. The route combination gave the Bengals exactly what they wanted. Hawkins widened, creating leverage on the defender, then had the middle wide open. It was an easy throw for Andy Dalton. He didn’t let it go.
“Here’s where statistics can be misleading at times. Dalton’s red zone numbers in his two seasons as the Bengals starter are phenomenal: 30 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Yet overall, I felt there was a hesitancy to his play in the last half of the 2012 season. There were too many times he didn’t pull the trigger and too many poor reads for a quarterback whose arm strength limitations demand precise execution.
“This will be a critical year for Dalton. He’s a rock-solid NFL starting quarterback, but there’s too much inconsistency in his overall play. Both he and the Bengals’ offense must improve on third down. Those are the tougher situations when the defense more often than not has the tactical advantage.
“I see a lot to like about Andy Dalton. At his best, he throws with great anticipation and accuracy. But I always have the concern about his arm strength. It’s not where you’d like it to be to be a top 10 quarterback.
“This season I would expect to see a good percentage of two tight end personnel sets with the drafting of Tyler Eifert. That will help Dalton. Is he at a bit of a crossroads? It might be too early to say that, but I need to see improvement and better consistency.”
Jaworski ranks Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton at No. 18. Transcribed analysis:
“There’s no question Cam Newton is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL. Yet, I cannot put him higher than 18 in my quarterback rankings. Why? He must become more consistently accurate as a passer.
“In 2012, the Panthers committed to the read option as a foundation of their offense. Newton was the Panthers’ leading rusher. That’s nice for SportsCenter, but he’ll never become an elite quarterback because of the way he runs the option – or for that matter – the way he runs at all.
“What prevented Newton from moving up in my rankings from 15 a year ago was his passing. Not only did he struggle to read coverage, but he was far too erratic with his accuracy, too scattershot. In fact, the better term for accuracy is ball location.
“Newton must become more precise. He must better control his throws. But he’s a big-time arm talent, and he improved as the season progressed. How about the ball location on that throw, away from the defender? What I really liked about Newton and the Panthers’ offense was their explosive element on first down. Newton had 30 completions of 20-plus yards on first down, and there’s no doubt the read option element played into that.
“I would expect the Panthers to utilize many similar principles with Mike Shula as their new offensive coordinator. Shula had been Newton’s quarterbacks coach the past two seasons.
“Few quarterbacks are as talented as Newton. He’s a dual-threat quarterback with the ability to beat you with his arms and his legs. As he enters his third season as the Panthers’ starter, he must continue to be more consistent as a passer.”
Jaworski ranks San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers at No. 17. Transcribed analysis:
“When you get to know Philip Rivers, you learn what a very special person and player he is. But when I evaluated him off the film last season, I couldn’t help but drop him to No. 17 on my big board.
“Yet few quarterbacks command their offense the way Rivers does. Listen to a Rivers wire and you know immediately he understands everything that’s happening on both sides of the football.
“In 2012, Rivers could not overcome the glaring deficiencies of the Chargers’ offense. As good as Rivers has been in his career, he’s a pocket quarterback. He needs to be protected. The offensive line – especially the left tackle position – was not up to NFL standards. In fact, there were times it was downright embarrassing.
“Last season Rivers was sacked 49 times, significantly more than any other season in his seven years as the Chargers’ starter. His competitive nature pushed him to compensate, to try to make plays he was not capable of making. As a result, Rivers led the NFL with eight third-down interceptions.
“Rivers is an orchestrator, not an improviser or a playmaker. There’s a new coaching staff in San Diego, but the offensive line remains at best a work in progress. Rivers must play with more discipline. He must let the offense work or not work. He can’t force it. I would expect a better, more consistent Rivers in 2013.”
Jaworski ranks Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford at No. 16. Transcribed analysis:
“Last year I took much criticism for ranking Matthew Stafford 14th on my big board. Well, after a very uneven 2012 season, Stafford has dropped this year. He comes in at No. 16. A supremely-talented thrower still searching for the consistency needed to become elite.
“No quarterback has thrown more passes the last two seasons than Stafford. He’s a shotgun passer. Eighty-three percent of his throws in 2011 and 2012 have come out of the shotgun. That’s the largest percentage by a wide margin. I’ve always loved Stafford’s willingness to pull the trigger. He’s aggressive, with an attacking mentality.
“It reminds me of when I played with Dan Marino. Marino said if you see the back of a defender’s jersey, you turn it loose. Stafford has that mindset. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you’re throwing to Calvin Johnson; a lot of trust there, a lot of confidence that he will make contested catches. I felt the same way when I threw to six-foot-eight-inch Harold Carmichael.
“What stood out studying Stafford was he was not as efficient under center as he was in the shotgun. He seemed to struggle to read coverage as effectively. Too many forced throws. Overall, he just threw too many passes with poor balance and bad footwork, with a tendency to fall away from the throws.
“There is absolutely no question that Stafford is a very special arm talent. There are not many that throw it like he does. He has a chance to be a top 10 quarterback. The Lions may disagree, but he needs more consistent mechanics to play at a higher level week in and week out.”
Jaworski ranks Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo at No. 15. Transcribed analysis:
“My 15th-rated quarterback is Tony Romo. I have always liked Romo, but his play in the final regular season game of the 2012 season with the NFC East title on the line still bothers me. You just can’t make mistakes, regardless of whose fault it is.
“It was the fourth quarter interception with three-and-one-half minutes remaining and the Cowboys trailing by three. That I just can’t forget. You can’t make a throw with no definition in that particular situation, regardless of the pressure.
“Then I look at Romo one week earlier. Two big-time drives in the final five minutes against the Saints, tying the game with 21 seconds remaining.
“Back-to-back weeks, two different Romos. Those kinds of peaks and valleys is why Romo is No. 15 on my board. I love his talent, and there’s no doubt perception has overtaken reality in the negative world view of Romo, but I would like to see more overall consistency in his play. He’s capable of it.”
Jaworski ranks Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler at No. 14. Transcribed analysis:
“Every year I struggle with Jay Cutler. I had him in my top 10 last season. But this year I dropped him to No. 14. His talent – and it’s impressive – does not always match his production. Cutler always leaves me wanting more. But when you put some of his throws together, few in the NFL can match his arm talent.
“This touchdown to Alshon Jeffery showed Cutler’s awareness of the subtleties of the position. Jay read the single-high coverage before the snap. He knew he had Jeffery running the deep post, so he had to control and manipulate that deep safety. It was play-action. So Cutler turned his back to the defense – you see that clearly from the end zone camera.
“Watch what he did when he snapped his head around. Cutler immediately looked to his left. Why? To influence the safety, force him to cheat away from Jeffery. It was beautiful. Cutler moved the safety, Jeffery beat the corner. That’s just the way you draw it up. By the way, that was a pretty good throw. That’s wide open by NFL standards.
“Cutler has always been willing to pull the trigger, especially against man-to-man coverage. He has an aggressive mindset, dating back to his days at Vanderbilt. At times that mentality produced reckless, undisciplined play, bad decisions, scattershot throws.
“The result was Cutler rarely played with the kind of discipline that leads to week-to-week consistency. That will be put to the test under new head coach Marc Trestman. Trestman preaches timing and precision, repetition and strict execution. It will be fascinating to watch Cutler in training camp.
“He’s now played seven years in the NFL. The talent is unmistakable. The lack of consistency is agonizing. Cutler should be a top 10 quarterback every season. This might be the year.”
Jaworski ranks Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III at No. 13. Transcribed analysis:
“It’s rare when I evaluate rookies so highly. I believe in performance over time. But in the case of Robert Griffin III, his individual play and his overall impact was so extraordinary, that he comes in at No. 13 on my quarterback big board.
“It began the opening game of the season against the Saints. You know what I loved about this play? RG III’s total awareness of what happened. Listen to him on the sideline.
“Let’s break the play down and explain what RG III was talking about. Here’s the play fake, and here’s the blitzing safety. There’s Niles Paul, the hot receiver. And there’s the linebacker RG III was talking about covering Paul. At that point, the defense won. That’s a remarkable reaction for a quarterback on his twelfth play.
“RG III and the Redskins played offense differently than we had seen in the NFL. Their foundation was the option. RG III led all quarterbacks in rushing with over 800 yards. Often, it was the option. Other times, it was just pure speed. The key of course was the effectiveness of the passing game off the option. Look at the impact of the read option on the safety. His eyes are focused in the backfield, with no awareness of Aldrick Robinson on the deep post right in front of him.
“As spectacular as RG III can be with his legs, it’s his passing ability that gives him a chance to be a very special player. That’s why I have him ranked 13th after just one season.
“The question is how will the Redskins handle RG III after his major knee injury? Will we see as much read option? Or will Mike and Kyle Shanahan incorporate more NFL drop-back passing concepts? It will be a delicate balancing act, and I’m very intrigued to see it.”
Jaworski ranks Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson at No. 12. Transcribed analysis:
“The second-highest rookie on my quarterback big board comes in at No. 12 – Russell Wilson. I thought the Seahawks brought him along beautifully. They gave him more volume as the season progressed. And when the playoffs came, Wilson was ready for the challenge.
“Through the 16-game regular season schedule, Wilson threw the fewest passes of any NFL starter. What showed up quickly was how well he threw the deep ball. The winning touchdown against the Patriots was a big-time throw.
“One attribute that separates Wilson from many other quarterbacks is his light, quick, athletic feet. Believe me, that’s a hard throw. The defense tactically won on this play. It was a triple A gap blitz. That third blitzer, the safety, cannot be accounted for. Wilson has to move to have any chance. That’s as impressive as it gets. And how about the accuracy, running to his left. There’s a reason for that: proper mechanics. Look how Wilson squared his shoulders to deliver the football. Even though he was moving, he didn’t fall away from the throw.
“The ability to avoid pressure, maintain his downfield focus and throw the ball accurately was a constant throughout his rookie season. There were times he ran, and that caused problems for the defense. But he was not a runner. Most importantly, he got down, preventing the kind of hits that negatively impact long-term availability.
“The game that showed me Wilson can be a top 10 quarterback was the NFC divisional playoff game against Atlanta. The Seahawks trailed 20-0 at the half. All he did was lead four second-half touchdown drives in which he was 14 of 16 for 241 yards.
“That says it all right there. It’s why throwing from the pocket remains the No. 1 trait for high-level quarterback play, regardless of the player’s athleticism and mobility. It’s the reason Wilson has a chance to be a very good quarterback over a long period of time. He throws it very well from the cradle. The more I studied him, the more I liked his future.”
Jaworski ranks San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at No. 11. Transcribed analysis:
“The 11th quarterback in my rankings is Colin Kaepernick. Normally 10 NFL starts is not enough for me to evaluate a player so highly, but this kid has special talent, is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback with a power arm and outstanding athleticism.
“Remember this? It was a signature play of the 2012 season. It was Kaepernick’s first touchdown run against Green Bay that really caught my attention. You see the press man coverage with two deep safeties. It turned out the Packers doubled Michael Crabtree. But the point is the same. This is what mobile, athletic quarterbacks can do versus man-to-man coverage, especially on third down. It forces defenses to rethink their concepts, it limits their tactical options.
“I remember Kaepernick’s first start against the Bears. It was immediately evident that he gave the 49ers every dimension in the passing game. And I love the way Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman set up Kaepernick with defined reads through the use of shifts and formations.
“Watch what happened here from the coaching tape. All that pre-snap movement was designed to get Vernon Davis matched on linebacker Lance Briggs. As favorable as the matchup was, that was still not an easy throw.
“That’s why Kaepernick has a chance to be very special. He has a complete throwing skillset with a powerful arm that I absolutely put at gun level. His ball comes out with a lot of energy and velocity. And Kaepernick can drive the ball down the field, on the move, with accuracy.
“Kaepernick dispelled that belief in his 10 games in 2012. That’s why he’s No. 11 in my quarterback rankings. Kaepernick is one of the four or five most physically talented quarterbacks in the entire NFL. It will be fascinating to see how he adjusts to the loss of Michael Crabtree, but the elite skillset is still there.”
Jaworski ranks Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck at No. 10. Transcribed analysis:
“It’s time to get the party started. My top 10. No. 10 in my quarterback big board is Andrew Luck. Luck was easily the most NFL ready of the rookie quarterbacks in 2012. And it showed up early in the season.
“How about week two against the Vikings? This touchdown to Reggie Wayne was absolutely special for so many reasons. Let me take you through the play from Luck’s perspective. There was a lot to process.
“Start with the safeties. The pre-snap movement ended with a single-high look. I guarantee you that’s what Luck read. Watch what happened at the snap of the ball: it went from single-high to Cover 2. Luck had to recognize that and mentally adjust. Wayne’s inside seam – dead against single-high – is an excellent route against two-deep coverage. Great read. Great throw.
“There’s more. From the end zone, you see the quick pressure in Luck’s face. He had to move, and he’s still set. Sticking those cleats in the ground and driving the football. That is big-time quarterbacking.
“Luck has all the attributes I look for. Start with arm strength. He’s an easy downfield thrower. I love his pocket movement – at times so smooth you forget he’s six-foot-four and 235 pounds. Luck is as tough as any quarterback in the NFL. His strength is remarkable. His ability to shed defenders, keep plays alive and deliver the football is extraordinary. You have to be able to throw with bodies around you – out of a muddied pocket – from different platforms and arm angles. Luck is outstanding at it. Along with that, he has great vision. He sees the field with clarity.
“That touchdown to LaVon Brazill was all about vision. Luck wanted Wayne on the corner route from the inside. As Luck was moving away from the front-side pressure, he saw both the safety and the corner react to Wayne. That opened up Brazill for the deep ball. Oh by the way, that was about 50 yards in the air with pinpoint accuracy.
“I would not be surprised if Luck moved further up my big board after his second season. He possesses all the traits necessary to be a very special NFL quarterback.”
Jaworski ranks Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub at No. 9. Transcribed analysis:
“The ninth quarterback in my rankings is Matt Schaub. Some may disagree, but as I’ve said before, my normal inclination is to look at a large body of work over a long period of time. And it’s difficult to argue with Schaub’s success in Houston.
“The combination of Schaub and head coach Gary Kubiak has always been a strong one. Kubiak believes in the running game as the offensive foundation, with the passing game most effective off play-action. Schaub is at his best with that approach — always has been — and has produced consistent success over a long period of time.
“It was again the case in 2012. Schaub’s 110 quarterback rating off play-action was among the league’s best. There may be no better play-action team in the NFL than the Texans. This touchdown against Denver was a great example. Look at this defensive end. The Texans felt so strongly about their zone run-action, they did not even block him. They believed the offensive line’s movement and the backfield action would take care of him. You don’t see that very often in the NFL.
“I like Schaub, maybe more than others. Did he struggle at times down the stretch? He did. But overall, he’s a very solid quarterback who’s shown the consistent ability to execute a well-structured and efficient offense. That puts him in my top 10.”
Jaworski ranks New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning at No. 8. Transcribed analysis:
“A year ago coming off a Super Bowl victory, Eli Manning was my fifth-rated quarterback. After a 2012 season in which he was not quite as consistent in some areas and other quarterbacks improved, I have dropped Manning to No. 8. But there’s no question he remains one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, capable of big-time throws in critical situations.
“While Manning is not No. 1 on my board, there’s no question as he enters his 10th NFL season, he’s a high-level quarterback with all the skills I look for. Manning plays the position the way it needs to be played to be successful. It starts from the pocket. I talked last year about Manning’s improvement in progression reading. One area he doesn’t get enough credit is the pre-snap phase of the game.
“Few are better at processing, isolating and throwing to the right receiver. Manning has a great feel for recognizing pressure, setting the pass protection and finding the single coverage. That’s just what he did on this touchdown.
“He read Ronde Barber’s blitz and the single-high safety coverage. That left Hakeem Nicks with one-on-one on the outside. Eli knew that, even before the ball was snapped. He manipulated the deep safety with a calm helmet, looking right down the middle of the field. He trusted Nicks would win on the outside. It seems simple, but that’s a veteran quarterback at the top of his game.
“In this era of defensive innovation and evolving and challenging schemes, the ability to control the game at the line of scrimmage is a critical attribute. Manning is outstanding at that.
“Manning has reached the point in his career where we no longer need to discuss his play on an annual basis. He’s a steady, consistent, top-level NFL quarterback. He’s smart, he’s aware, and he can handle a high volume of offense. There are not many better quarterbacks than Eli Manning.”
Jaworski ranks Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at No. 7. Transcribed analysis:
“I have always placed a premium on winning in my evaluation of quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger has won 69 percent of his NFL starts, including the playoffs. Few would argue that he was not the decisive player in a large majority of those wins. Roethlisberger comes in at No. 7 in my quarterback rankings.
“Roethlisberger is the most unconventional quarterback in the league. His ability to play outside of structure – with what always seems like a random and arbitrary feel – continually amazes me.
“What makes Roethlisberger so special is his ability to beat the defense even when the defense tactically wins. This completion to Jerricho Cotchery on third down was designed as a flat pass to back Jonathan Dwyer. But the defensive end took it away. That was the first win for the defense. The second came from the inside. Tackle Geno Atkins blew by the offensive guard and was immediately in Roethlisberger’s face.
“I love that about Roethlisberger, but I still believe he’s an elite quarterback because he’s equally capable of beating you from the pocket. Improvisation – without pocket efficiency – does not produce consistency in the NFL. That’s just the way it is.
“I would best describe Roethlisberger as more of a finesse passer who can drive the ball when it’s absolutely necessary as opposed to having a gun. But make no mistake; Roethlisberger can make every single throw.
“It’s hard to believe Roethlisberger is entering his 10th year in the NFL. Few possess his combination of physical attributes. It’s why he’s No. 7 on my quarterback big board.”
Jaworski ranks New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees at No. 6. Transcribed analysis:
“No. 6 in my quarterback rankings is Drew Brees. Brees has now played seven years in New Orleans. He’s the only quarterback in NFL history with three 5,000-yard passing seasons. And we know Brees broke Johnny Unitas’ record for most consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass. It happened in New Orleans early in 2012.
“The record-breaking touchdown reflected so many of the attributes that make Brees a very special quarterback. It began before the snap of the ball with his ability to recognize pressure. Mike 5-6. Brees was identifying the linebacker – No. 56 – as the fifth potential rusher his offensive line would be responsible for. Why the change from 56 to 26? Watch what happened.
“The safety dropped down into the box as a potential blitzer. The protection now had to account for him. Brees recognized that. He slid the protection to that side. All this before the ball was even snapped. Now the pressure came from the outside.
“Here is another Brees attribute – pocket mobility. He has explosive lower body movement to avoid and reset within the pocket while maintaining his downfield focus. There’s no one better.
“How much have you heard me talk about the NFL being a red zone game? Since 2007, no quarterback in the NFL has thrown more red zone touchdown passes than Drew Brees. Last season he threw 31 touchdowns without an interception.
“In 2012, there were times Brees tried to compensate for the Saints’ historically bad defense; more downfield throws, a lower completion percentage. That does not diminish Brees’ standing as one of the elite players at the game’s toughest position.”
Jaworski ranks Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan at No. 5. Transcribed analysis:
“Here we go – the top five. Coming in at No. 5 is Matt Ryan. Ryan has gotten better in each of his five seasons in the NFL. He has won 72 percent of his regular-season starts, and in 2012, he won his first playoff game in spectacular fashion.
“Ryan has been terrific in pressure situations throughout his five-year career. Twenty-three game-winning drives, 16 fourth quarter comebacks. The difference in 2012? Under first-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the offense was restructured to feature Matt Ryan.
“Ryan threw the ball far more on first down than he had in any previous season. In fact, only two quarterbacks threw for more first down yardage than Ryan. Despite a running game than ranked 29th in the league, Ryan was outstanding off play-action with a quarterback rating of 118. Twenty-two of Ryan’s 46 completions of 20 yards or more came off play-action.
“The final point about Ryan: there are few better anticipation throwers. This completion was a great example. You see from the coaching tape when Ryan made the decision to pull the trigger. Right here, look at Julio Jones; he had not even begun to make his inside break.
“Ryan had his best season in 2012. He’s now a veteran quarterback at the top of his game. Can he move up from No. 5? If he can take the Falcons a step further in the playoffs, I wouldn’t rule it out.”
Jaworski ranks Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco at No. 4. Transcribed analysis:
“Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco is the fourth-rated quarterback on my big board. A year ago, I had Flacco at No. 9. Many disagreed. All I heard last summer was that Flacco needed to take the next step.
“I guess those people forgot about this throw in the AFC championship game. It was as good a throw as you could make in a high-pressure situation. It would have been the game winner. Lee Evans’ drop did not change what Flacco did. What it changed was the perception of it.
“So what did Flacco do in 2012? He won four consecutive playoff games, throwing 11 touchdown passes without an interception.
“Following the Miracle of Mile High, Flacco – for the second consecutive season – outplayed Tom Brady in the AFC championship game in Foxborough.
“Flacco was outstanding in the Super Bowl. His ability to make downfield throws off movement was a deciding factor in the game. Few think of Flacco as a mobile quarterback, but his functional mobility created explosive, game-changing plays.
“Joe Flacco is now a Super Bowl champion. That counts an awful lot in my evaluation of quarterbacks. That is why he jumped from No. 9 to No. 4 in my quarterback rankings.”
Jaworski ranks New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady at No. 3. Transcribed analysis:
“Here we go. We start the top three on my big board. This is where the distinctions between quarterbacks become so small. No. 3 in my rankings is Tom Brady. Brady is one of the best ever, and he had another outstanding season in 2012.
“In the NFL of 2013, quarterbacks must be able to control the game at the line of scrimmage. With the increased sophistication of fronts and coverages, it’s imperative that quarterbacks both recognize and manipulate defenses before the snap of the ball. There are few better than Tom Brady.
“Brady and the Patriots dictated favorable matchups as well as any team in the NFL. They were effective out of multiple tight end sets, at times utilizing three tight ends. This was great design on this first down shot play, with two distinct elements that defined the touchdown.
“It featured three tight ends and stretch run-action. Look at the offensive line. The footwork for each lineman was exactly the same, and it’s in perfect sync. It was designed to impact the safeties, not the linebackers.
“The Patriots utilized more first down run-action out of base personnel in 2012. The result? Brady threw for more yards on first down than any quarterback in the league. In addition, Brady had the highest third down quarterback rating. He threw an NFL best 13 touchdowns on third down.
“How about these numbers over the last three seasons: 109 touchdown passes and only 24 interceptions. Brady is a top three quarterback every single year. He can be one, two or three in my rankings. This year I put him at No. 3. I know people are going to get all fired up, but there are two other quarterbacks I feel deserve a higher ranking in 2013.”
Jaworski ranks Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning at No. 2. Transcribed analysis:
“Now we are down to the final two quarterbacks on my big board: Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. No. 2 is Manning. Manning had an outstanding season in 2012, truly remarkable given that he missed the entire 2011 season with a serious neck injury. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quarterback more aware and in total command than No. 18.
“Manning’s most extraordinary attribute: total recall and application. You know what really stood out watching all of Manning’s throws this season? His ball location. He read the one-on-one coverage as he always does and made throws that were so precise. That’s accuracy in the NFL.
“That eight-yard touchdown was one of the best throws of the 2012 season. Look when Manning made the decision to pull the trigger. That’s remarkable anticipation. I’ve seen Manning work on that exact throw countless times in practice. Repetition and application.”
Jaworski ranks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at No. 1. Transcribed analysis:
“Now it’s time for No. 1: Aaron Rodgers, the most physically-gifted quarterback in the NFL. Arm strength, release, accuracy, movement, toughness – the total package. No quarterback is better avoiding, escaping, moving, then delivering the football with velocity and accuracy.
“Rodgers’ ability to throw from different arm angles and platforms is unmatched. It was demanded more than ever in 2012 behind a struggling offensive line. While Rodgers is not a runner, he always poses a dangerous threat when running opportunities present themselves. When you evaluate all the attributes and traits that comprise high-level quarterback play in the NFL, Rodgers is at the top of the list.
“You know how I feel about arm strength. Rodgers has a gun with a quick, compact release. This touchdown to Jordy Nelson was a great example. Rodgers is throwing off the movement of this safety. As soon as he sees the safety jump inside, Rodgers drives the ball to Nelson. That’s a strong-arm throw.
“For the second year in a row, Aaron Rodgers is my No. 1 quarterback. That wraps up my quarterback countdown for the summer of 2013. A lot can change over the course of the 2013 season.”