The perpetual yearly question which I answer once some of the NFL media puts out their “top lists” is one we all know in Pittsburgh: is Ben Roethlisberger still a top ten quarterback in the NFL?
Some of you may be asking, “Why not top five?” Well, that’s a tougher sell and one I can actually be sensible about if Big Ben is left out of the very top echelon of pro grade passers. The way I approach justifying a top five or top ten listing is more or less statistics combined with the ol’ “eyeball test”.
Where exactly should Ben rank among today’s quarterbacks? And where would I put him?
Let’s start by looking at all 32 potential starters for the 2019 season and working backwards.
2019 NFL Starting Quarterbacks
|Arizona Cardinals||Kyler Murray|
|Atlanta Falcons||Matt Ryan|
|Baltimore Ravens||Lamar Jackson|
|Buffalo Bills||Josh Allen|
|Carolina Panthers||Cam Newton|
|Chicago Bears||Mitch Trubisky|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Andy Dalton|
|Cleveland Browns||Baker Mayfield|
|Dallas Cowboys||Dak Prescott|
|Denver Broncos||Joe Flacco|
|Detroit Lions||Matt Stafford|
|Green Bay Packers||Aaron Rodgers|
|Houston Texans||Deshaun Watson|
|Indianapolis Colts||Andrew Luck|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Nick Foles|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Patrick Mahomes|
|Los Angeles Chargers||Philip Rivers|
|Los Angeles Rams||Jared Goff|
|Miami Dolphins||Josh Rosen|
|Minnesota Vikings||Kirk Cousins|
|New England Patriots||Tom Brady|
|New Orleans Saints||Drew Brees|
|New York Giants||Eli Manning|
|New York Jets||Sam Darnold|
|Oakland Raiders||Derek Carr|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Carson Wentz|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Ben Roethlisberger|
|San Francisco 49ers||Jimmy Garoppolo|
|Seattle Seahawks||Russell Wilson|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Jameis Winston|
|Tennessee Titans||Marcus Mariota|
|Washington Redskins||Dwayne Haskins|
The Top Tier
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers
Try as I might, there’s a few quarterbacks that are always in the upper echelons: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and for some odd reason, Aaron Rodgers.
Now, Rodgers has been saddled with poor talent and injuries for a few seasons, so for me, this really is his make-or-break year in terms of being included anywhere near the top ten. I know that could be considered a hot take, and it doesn’t mean he isn’t an NFL starter and/or franchise quarterback, but in the Not For Long league, it’s “What have you done for me lately?”
And Rodgers hasn’t done much of anything.
After seeing what Patrick Mahomes did in 2018 and how explosive his offense is, I’m not sure you can remove him from the upper tier either. That’s going to contradict some things I say about first or second-year starters elsewhere, and it’s likely that with a Tyreek Hill suspension looming he could regress into a sophomore slump. For all intents and purposes his consistency and ability to make plays showed me a lot and I’ll leave him in the conversation.
Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers
Now the problem is, who do you have left to put in the top five? The knock on Ben is throwing 16 interceptions last season, but Andrew Luck threw 15 too, so how does that make him any better? Sure he tossed five more touchdowns but he also had 536 less yards passing than Big Ben too on only 36 fewer attempts.
I’m not overly excited to place any of these passers ahead of Roethlisberger. In terms of winning, Wilson is closest, followed by Luck. Rivers and Ryan have had inconsistent spells throughout their careers. They’re all good quarterbacks who should be considered in the top ten of any list, but with Big Ben never having a losing season and also sporting two Super Bowl rings, he has to be top ten…
Now an argument could be made that he’s not top five, over any of these names or some others that will be mentioned. I can sympathize with that, but for my money, when the game’s on the line I want Roethlisberger as my QB.
That X factor nudges him above this group and in with the top tier.
Outside Looking In
Jimmy Garoppolo, Jared Goff, Cam Newton, Matt Stafford, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz
I'm listing these in no particular order for now. This group is where the hot takes start coming and where Roethlisberger has no business being placed at or lower in any list.
Jimmy G has that aura of being “the man” in San Fran, but he has to show me something. Outside of a handful of games he’s been injured. That doesn’t help me go on anything but potential and he could be potentially good or bad.
Carson Wentz is in the same territory but with a little more film to show for. Goff took his team to the promised land last season and that has to count for something.
Matt Stafford is an enigma. He can win. He can throw. And his teams aren’t usually in postseason conversations. (It begins and ends with the quarterback, sorry not sorry.)
Deshaun Watson is one to keep an eye on. He was explosive as a rookie until he got injured. He made few mistakes last season and got named to the Pro Bowl.
Where does that leave Superman Cam Newton? I guess I’d have to give him the same benefit of the doubt as Aaron Rodgers for having been the be-all, end-all for his team in the past. Let’s see if he rebounds.
Regardless, these are your names that you’re looking for one of them to land in the top ten. The rest round out the top fifteen.
Where do you put them?
Eli Manning, Joe Flacco
Both Super Bowl winning quarterbacks are hot and cold. Flacco is with a new team, and Manning is with a "new" team almost every year now, with his impending demise the talk of the New York market almost weekly over the last few seasons.
I have to say they fall somewhere between 15-20, right?
Mitch Trubisky, Baker Mayfield
This will also catch me a lot of heat with certain fan bases, but I have to see more. Much more.
Do each of these quarterbacks currently make their teams better? Yes. No doubt.
But Trubisky had a better winning record than Mayfield as a starter. Yes, I realize Mayfield turned a lowly Browns team around but I also feel like there are other factors too. I get that he set a rookie touchdown record, but he also threw 14 interception in as many games.
Roethlisberger, the reason for this article, threw 16 in 16 games too. They’re both 1:1.
Mayfield has only played 14 games in his entire career. I cannot justify putting him above anyone already named other than maybe Manning and Flacco, who have also proven to be winners with long careers thus far.
Potential might get them above my next names.
Real Deal or...?
Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, Dak Prescott
Carr and Cousins have rich contracts but haven’t really justified them in my opinion. I don’t know what you do with Foles, who has already been a starter turned Cinderella story: will he turn back into a pumpkin in Jacksonville?
Then there’s Andy Dalton, who could also be on borrowed time in Cincinnati. Dak Prescott falls all the way down here despite lighting scoreboards back up with Amari Cooper. Cooper looked like a bust at times in Oakland, so there’s a lot of unknowns with Prescott too. If Cooper continues on his warpath, Prescott benefits.
Let’s just say I don’t see Prescott making his receivers around him better in the same vein as Big Ben, Brady, Brees, etc.
These players round out the top 25. Then it gets murky from here.
Time's running out
Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston
The top two picks of the 2015 NFL Draft haven’t proven much yet. The clock is ticking as to whether they will.
Could you honestly rank either of them higher at this point based on history or potential? I can’t.
Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen
All entering their second season, I haven’t seen enough to think Allen (with a new team), Darnold (with a lot of weapons), Jackson (lacking weapons), or Rosen (ditto) are in the top 25.
Of them, Darnold may have the most stable situation and the best talent surrounding him to creep up in the rankings. The others are to be determined.
Leave them out of this
Dwayne Haskins, Kyler Murray
Yeah, I'm not ranking them at all. They're rookies. We have no idea what they'll do, so my list ends with a top 30, as shown below.
I know some of these won't sit well with fans, but I cannot in my right conscious place Luck, Rivers or Ryan above Ben.
Wilson has a shot but is in a run-first offense: no knock on him, he's a winner and my choice to supplant Ben (or even Rodgers/Mahomes) in the top five. Watson is creeping up behind the old guard as well.
I'll catch some heat for where I put Mayfield, but let's see if his interception mark is high or low, and what teams do with his film this year. He can't run forever: and any list putting him above Big Ben is ridiculous. Yeah, he has Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Eli Manning had Beckham, and Bengals backup QB Jeff Driskel contributed to WR Tyler Boyd having a better (shortened) season than Landry in 2018.
You can see where potential factors in versus legacy too. Potentially Wentz and Garoppolo should have better seasons, but the middle of this pack is really hard to judge. Overall, the main focus was on Ben Roethlisberger and as you can see, he truly belongs somewhere between positions 5-7 on any list in my opinion. Saying otherwise is being disingenuous.