5 Quarterbacks Better Than Ben?

The NFL Top 100 Players of 2016: a newer, annual tradition from NFL Network, claims to list the best players of the upcoming season, as voted on by the players.

The validity of the list is questioned by NFL players themselves, many claiming they never voted for anyone. Further, some of the choices are borderline bonkers, with consistent performers often leapfrogged by one-year wonders.

This year’s edition of the Top 100 is no different than those of past years, in that several Steelers are dismissed in favor of the this season’s shiny new toy. None could be more true than the ranking of Ben Roethlisberger at number 21: up 5 spots from his 26th rating in 2015, yet, not respected as a top 10 player, nor a top 5 quarterback.

Yes. There were five quarterbacks in the NFL, “as voted on by the players,” who outpaced Big Ben with a ranking on the controversial list at number 20 or higher.

Let’s take a look at those five, and compare whether Roethlisberger truly deserves being acknowledged as only the sixth-best QB in the league; or as Steelers fans are accustomed to, Ben’s ranking is further disrespect for a player with 2 Super Bowl championships.

Cam Newton

With a nickname like Superman, how could you not have Cam in your top 10?

Newton lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl despite having similar numbers to Rodgers, all while being a much less consistent player over the years in terms of his passing production. Newton had a lower completion percentage, more picks, and only 16 more yards than the Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers (who had one of his “worst” seasons to date.)

Yet, Newton threw for more touchdowns than Rodgers, with 35 scores to Rodgers 31. Newton’s 35 was 1 less than Tom Brady‘s league leading 36, a multi-way tie with Carson Palmer (12th on the Top 100) Eli Manning (47th on the Top 100) and Blake Bortles (56th on the Top 100.)

The benchmark for Cam last season was running the football, something he did exceptionally well, even when comparing his numbers against running backs. Newton had 636 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns during the regular season, adding another 95 yards and 2 scores on the ground during the playoffs.

As a dual-threat player, Newton certainly ranks high among a Top 100 players list. Top 10 as a player overall? I’ll buy that; but due to his career 59.5% completion rating, I find it hard to stake a claim at him being a better quarterback than others on this list, including Roethlisberger. In fact, Steelers backups Michael Vick and Landry Jones were both in the same ballpark as Newton with 60.6% and 58.2% completion percentages. If the list is based on last year’s stats, I can sypmathize, but the overall picture shows Ben Roethlisberger completed 68% of his passes in 2015, with Ben’s worst season of his career, matching Newton’s 59.7% mark last season.

Ben’s TD-to-INT ratio in 2015, also down from previous years, nearly matched Cam’s rookie season numbers, but with 4 less games and 48 less attempts.

In other words, Ben has consistently been a better passer over his career than Cam; and comparisons of Cam to Michael Vick are all but valid thus far in “superman’s” career. (Even the players agree, with Cam jumping to first overall from 73rd in last year’s poll!)

Tom Brady

How a player, who isn’t supposed to play 16 games this season, can be ranked in the top ten is beyond me. Deflategate looms over Brady, as the four game suspension he was supposed to serve in 2015 has been reinstated for 2016.

Regardless, Brady came in at number 2 overall, behind Cam Newton. There’s a theory out there that Big Ben traditionally ranks lower than players such as Brady or Newton, because the Steelers are less popular than other teams and players. If that statement had merit, I can’t see hundreds of players flocking to list Brady ahead of others. Regardless of his accomplishments, several controversies should place Brady further down the popularity list.

Instead, Brady is ranked as one of the ten best in the NFL, and a top five quarterback. Truthfully, the suspension is my main gripe with his ranking, as Brady lead the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns, while being a statistical leader in multiple other passing categories in 2015. I’m quite surprised he wasn’t named the top overall QB on the list.

The only knock on this future Hall of Famer is his completion percentage, which drops to 12th best among passers with 200 or more attempts last season. However, no one can argue his consistency over the years, and his ability to win (12 games in ’15.)

When we reflect on this ranking next January, the interesting thing to see is if Brady, who turns 39 in August, continues playing at an elite level… or levels off.

Aaron Rodgers

While Steelers fans dislike the Patriots and Tom Brady, Brady earned his position on the Top 100: Aaron Rodgers is without a doubt the legacy pick, landing at number six overall, despite one of his worst seasons on paper.

Rodgers completion percentage fell off a cliff in 2015, dipping to 60.6, his lowest since his first starts in 2005 (yet, not the lowest in the Top 100, nor the lowest of the passers ranked ahead of Ben.)

More troubling than his 6th overall ranking is Rodger’s regression in 2015: the QB’s production dipped across the board, with less touchdowns, less yards, and more interceptions than previous seasons.

The smart money would be on Rodgers having a bounce back season, but that’s not the purpose of ranking the best players of 2016: with nearly 5 more games worth of field time in 2015, Rodgers failed to throw for more yards than Roethlisberger, was less accurate, but somehow didn’t turn the ball over as many times. He had 10 more touchdowns, though, that number could’ve easily been equaled by a healthy Ben.

I’m of the opinion that Rodgers does not deserve this ranking, and if 2015 isn’t an anomaly (where Rodgers was missing his primary target Jordy Nelson for the entire season) Aaron could fail to live up to the billing of being a top 10 player, and top 5 QB.

Russell Wilson

Finishing a spot beneath Newton in passing touchdowns with 34, Wilson, another dual-threat player, finds himself ranked ahead of Big Ben at number 17.

Wilson finished 2015 with career highs in completions, yards, touchdowns and a career low in interceptions.

As a player who has lead his franchise to two Super Bowls in his four years in the NFL, it’s hard to discredit Wilson’s accomplishments, nor his ranking in the Top 100. Wilson appeared to mold himself more into a passer, yet attempted the 2nd most runs in his career, keeping pace with his yards-per-rush average, though falling to a single rushing TD in 2015.

A more accurate thrower than Newton, the part which doesn’t settle well when comparing the dual-threat style QBs is the number of passes they attempt when compared to others on this list: Newton and Wilson attempted the 16th and 17th most passes respectively, of those QBs with 200 or more attempts. I would expect a passer who throws less to be more successful in terms of completions with a lower turnover ratio.

Those quarterbacks will be placed ahead of those taking more risks, such as Ben, who attempted 27/14 less passes in 12 games than Newton/Wilson who each played the full season. Yet, it’s hard to argue Wilson’s place on the list, other than the risk/reward of being a running quarterback got Wilson sacked 45 times in 2015: tied for 3rd behind Bortles (51) and Rodgers (46.)

Basically, Wilson belongs in the discussion until his play determines otherwise.

Carson Palmer

The final name listed ahead of Roethlisberger is a nemesis Steelers fans are all too familiar with.

A former Cincinnati Bengal and Oakland Raider, Carson Palmer’s career has been resurrected by another familiar name in Arizona: former Steeler offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

The pairing launched Palmer to a number 12 overall ranking in the Top 100, perhaps the most egregious rating of the players positioned in front of Ben.

Even with a stellar 2015 in his rearview, Pittsburgh faithful are justified in scoffing at those giving Palmer high praise. While fourth in passing yards, tied for second to Brady in touchdowns and limiting his interceptions to 11, Palmer is one of those players it’s difficult to get behind believing they’ll repeat their success, given a track record of spotty seasons, including his turnover-plagued debut in the desert.

In 2013, the first season Palmer and Arians were paired together, the QB heaved passes everywhere, committing 22 picks, getting sacked 41 times, and fumbling the ball away another 6, on his way to passing for over 4,000 yards. It was the third time Palmer had thrown 20 or more interceptions in a season.

In 2014, Carson appeared to be off to his best start ever, with 11 touchdowns and 3 picks in 6 games, before being placed on the IR for the remainder of the season.

Many felt Palmer could comeback strong in ’15, and he did, with a strong regular season showing. However, Palmer’s old tricks returned in the playoffs, where the QB completed 59.3% of his passes to the tune of 584 yards and 4 touchdowns, but gave the ball away 6 times. The Cardinals appeared all but poised for a championship, eeking out an OT win in their Wildcard game against the Packers, and ending up on the wrong end of a 49-10 blowout loss to the eventual NFC Champion Carolina Panthers.

With the stain of his playoff performance fresh, I would’ve liked to have seen Ben Roethlisberger ranked ahead of Palmer, even if it meant flipping positions on the Top 100.

Ben Roethlisberger

So how does Ben compare with the above names?

For starters, a healthy Roethlisberger should play more games than Tom Brady. Should is the keyword, as health was an issue for the Steelers signal caller last season, and Brady could still have his suspension lifted.

If Brady doesn’t play 16 games, he doesn’t put up the numbers he did in 2015. Period.

Wilson and Newton are both dynamic playmakers who belong in a Top 100 discussion, but if the list were geared toward only quarterbacks, traditionalist might sour on the thought of ranking them ahead of pure passers.

My main issue with Rodgers and Palmer being ranked ahead of Ben, is their consistency. Both are mirror images of one another, where Rodgers had a down season, and Palmer had an up season. The more difficult decision is whether Ben’s season was an outlier due to injury. He put up gobs of yards, but like Rodgers, threw the second-most interceptions since early in his career.

Ben’s touchdown production was cut short, also a byproduct of not being on the field.

If you were to base the list off of 2015 numbers exclusively, I would take no issue in placing all but Rodgers ahead of Ben. If you are looking at the bigger picture, Palmer because the weakest link.

Then there’s the number 21 overall placement which suffers the same criticism:

1 Cam Newton QB Panthers 73
2 Tom Brady QB Patriots 3
3 JJ Watt DE Texans 1
4 Antonio Brown WR Steelers 8
5 Adrian Peterson RB Vikings 62
6 Aaron Rodgers QB Packers 2
7 Luke Kuechly LB Panthers 14
8 Julio Jones WR Falcons 13
9 Rob Gronkowski TE Patriots 10
10 Odell Beckham Jr. WR Giants 32
11 Josh Norman CB Redskins
12 Carson Palmer QB Cardinals
13 Khalil Mack DE Raiders 49
14 Aaron Donald DT Rams 92
15 Von Miller LB Broncos 33
16 A.J. Green WR Bengals 37
17 Russell Wilson QB Seahawks 22
18 Patrick Peterson CB Cardinals 19
19 DeAndre Hopkins WR Texans
20 Richard Sherman CB Seahawks 11
21 Ben Roethlisberger QB Steelers 26

I could justify some skill position players as possibly ranking higher, despite being one-year wonders. DeAndre Hopkins is one name I feel comfortable with being a top flight talent; he put up outstanding numbers with 4 different quarterbacks throwing him passes last season.

Von Miller, JJ Watt, and Luke Kuechly are studs at their positions (though I feel Miller was slighted at 15 overall, considering he was the Super Bowl MVP.)

Rob Gronkowski is another dominant player at his position, as are Adrian Peterson, Julio Jones, and Ben’s teammate Antonio Brown. You will find no arguments from me there.

In that way, most of the list falls as one might expect, with a few exceptions: Josh Norman (previously unranked) had one solid season, where he now moves from a good Panthers defense, to a suspect Redskins squad. Perhaps “ditto” for Aaron Donald, and Khalil Mack, standouts for otherwise poor teams.

I’m also not sure I would’ve ranked A.J. Green one spot behind Miller, and ahead of the likes of Russell Wilson, Patrick Peterson, DeAndre Hopkins, Richard Sherman, and of course, Ben Roethlisberger.

Dare I say, for what it’s worth, Ben’s ranking may be too high. His numbers didn’t meet those such as Eli Manning (4436 yards, 35 TDs) or Drew Brees (4870 yards, 32 TDs) yet he was ranked higher than both.

In fact, the trio of Roethlisberger, the younger Manning, and Brees, all suffer from the same lack of recognition. All three players are Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who are always in discussion of “top” lists, but all ranked lower than seemingly deserved. Brees was the next QB listed behind Ben at #30, while Manning fell even further down the list behind the likes of Andy Dalton (35) and one behind Philip Rivers (46) at number 47.

The remaining QBs whom made the Top 100 include Blake Bortles (56), Alex Smith (81) , Kirk Cousins (85), Andrew Luck (92) and Derek Carr (100.) Luck’s number is the most surprising, and the best illustration of subjective lists/voting, considering the Colt was previously listed as the 7th best overall player in the 2015 iteration.

Nonetheless, even Luck’s 2015 number is a distinction never placed upon Ben, but such is the dilemma of ranking players ahead of their achievements instead of for them.

Steelers fans would like for Roethlisberger to be acknowledged, but ultimately know they have the best signal caller in the game today; one who could bring them a much bigger prize at the end of the 2016 season.

The Vince Lombardi Trophy.

One response to “5 Quarterbacks Better Than Ben?”

  1. Jamie Barnhart says:

    I give no credit to the NFL Network list. I think it’s pure publicity.
    On one hand, Ben’s career numbers do rank him sixth among his contemporaries, behind Rodgers, Peyton, Shady Brady, Brees and barely Rivers. But due to advancing ages, Ben could be better than most of those guys this season. Haley has Ben playing more wisely as of the last couple years. Ben ranked second only to Palmer in Total QBR last year, and PFF graded Ben #1 on the season. I can see the added value Wilson and Newton bring with their running, too. Ben’s TD and INT numbers are usually weak when compared to his yardage totals and yards per attempt. If he can improve on those numbers with help from some tall pass catchers, he could have a big season!

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