The quarterback position in today's NFL appears to be transforming, and we're lucky enough to witness this transition to a new chapter of history. Veteran players like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are nearing the ends of their careers, while rookies like Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are ready for their turns in the spotlight.
What I find most intriguing is the fact that the elite veterans are still just that.
The word is thrown around quite a bit in this league, by players, coaches and media alike. What does it really take to be considered in discussions of this term?
In my opinion, taking note of the top-10 active quarterbacks in the league today is a good place to start, because in 2012 we had the opportunity to witness greatness from what may be the largest range of talent we'll see for what could be a very long time.
I mean, how often does a rookie quarterback lead his team to the playoffs? Three instances in 2012 can be marked as pretty amazing.
10. Andrew Luck - Indianapolis Colts
In his rookie season, Luck had a great year in throwing for over 4,300 yards and 23 touchdowns. He may not be as athletic as his rookie counterparts (Russell Wilson and RGIII), but he showed that he knows when to secure the ball and run with it, averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 62 attempts for five additional touchdowns.
The only thing keeping Luck from being higher on this list is his accuracy, completing only 54 percent of his passes and tossing 18 interceptions this year. Well, that and the other names on this list.
9. Drew Brees - New Orleans Saints
You might be wondering why Brees isn't ranked higher than ninth after throwing 43 touchdowns and more than 5,100 yards in 2012. I'll give you two reasons.
19 interceptions and no playoffs.
Don't get me wrong, this guy is epic. But, a true team leader would have found a way to have his team playing in January with his level of talent and the weapons he had around him for most of the season.
8. Colin Kaepernick - San Francisco 49ers
By this time next year, Kaepernick might be in the top five. His performance against the Packers in the divisional round this year was ridiculous, and the guy only threw three interceptions in the regular season. It's pretty clear at this point why Jim Harbaugh made the decision to start Kaepernick.
The only reason Kaepernick isn't top five right now is because I still don't feel like we have a large enough sample size of his work. He only started half of the regular season and wasn't as effective in every game as has been in the playoffs so far.
Heck, I might be re-ranking him in a few short weeks if he keeps playing at this level, since it'd be pretty hard for any defense to keep him from winning the Super Bowl in February if he does.
7. Robert Griffin III - Washington Redskins
Like Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III could be a top-five quarterback very soon. If it hadn't been for his injury, we might be looking at a very different scenario in the NFC right now, as his Redskins still were competitive in their playoff game with Griffin at half-speed.
One question which Griffin will be a great example to answer over the next few years is, exactly how long can a running quarterback last in this league? Will Griffin, who isn't as big as guys like Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton, be able to find a way to stay healthy? It remains to be seen.
6. Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons
Ryan took some big steps forward in 2012, throwing for over 4,700 yards and 32 touchdowns. Of course, having some great weapons to throw the ball to has helped his case. You can't look past the Falcons' record given the less-than-stellar running game we saw this year.
Every time there was doubt in Ryan's ability this year, he came through and proved he has what it takes to win games. His leadership and excellent performance still has the Falcons playing as we head into Conference Championship Weekend.
5. Eli Manning - New York Giants
I'm not really sure what happened to the New York Giants this year, but we can't really blame Eli Manning. He put up the same numbers he normally would during the regular season.
Let's face it, he's "elite" in the playoffs. He's just not getting the opportunity to showcase it this year.
4. Russell Wilson - Seattle Seahawks
I know, I know. A rookie at number four?
Wilson was under the radar in comparison to Luck and Griffin during the regular season, but he quietly had a pretty unbelievable season with a 26:10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also posted 5.2 yards per carry and four touchdowns on the ground.
The difference I see between Wilson and other running quarterbacks is that Wilson is a pocket passer first. He only runs when all else fails, and when he does he is one heck of a fast runner. I can picture Russell Wilson having a much longer, and much more successful, career than other younger quarterbacks in the league today.
3. Aaron Rodgers - Green Bay Packers
After throwing for 39 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in 2012, Rodgers fell victim to an unbelievable performance by the 49ers last weekend. I'm not sure if there's a quarterback in the league who could have topped Colin Kaepernick on that day.
Rodgers still had an amazing season, and I'm sure those two will meet again quite a few times over the next few years. It should be very exciting to watch.
2. Peyton Manning - Denver Broncos
Multiple neck surgeries. Brand new playbook, offensive personnel and coaching staff. Peyton Manning still leads his team to the No. 1 seed in the AFC. This man defines leadership and will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
There is only one reason that Manning and the Broncos aren't playing for the AFC Championship this weekend. Ray Lewis is that reason, also defining leadership on the other side of the ball. With Lewis retiring this season after a remarkable career, he has his Ravens playing at a level nobody, even Peyton Manning, could have expected.
1. Tom Brady - New England Patriots
Over and over again, Tom Brady has proven that it really doesn't matter who you put out on the field with him. He will throw touchdowns, and he will win games. Brady led the league's most prolific offense in 2012 without his most dangerous weapon, Rob Gronkowski.
Even this past weekend, New England's offense was based around Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead. Both of these guys departed the game early with injuries, and Brady still led a trouncing of the Houston Texans.
Brady vs. Lewis should prove to be a very exciting game this weekend. Can Tom Brady do what Peyton Manning couldn't? Will he lead his team to yet another Super Bowl?
I most certainly can't wait to find out.
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