Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Top 50 NFL Quarterbacks: #23 - Warren Moon

Warren Moon

Warren Moon is quite possibly the one quarterback on this list who overcame the most on his way to greatness. He was not recruited by any major college to play quarterback, so he went the junior college route, where he impressed enough to get an offer from Washington. Despite a strong senior year, he went undrafted in 1978, so he ended up going to play in the CFL.

During his first 5 seasons in Canada, Moon and the Edmonton Eskimos won 5 consecutive championships, a feat that is still unmatched, and he set league records in passing yardage in both 1982 and 1983. After setting numerous records in Canada, he finally received a lot of interest from the NFL, and he finally signed on with the Houston Oilers.

His first 3 years in the NFL did not go quite as planned. He was starting every game for Houston, but he threw more picks than touchdowns in each of those seasons. He finally pulled it together in 1987, when he led Houston to their first playoff berth since 1980 and even won a playoff game, something he did not do much over the rest of his career.

He continued to improve steadily over the next few years, peaking in 1990, when he led the league with 4689 yards and 33 touchdowns, while throwing only 13 interceptions. He wasn't able to win in the playoffs, but he came back strong again in 1991, again topping the league in passing yards. That season he won a playoff game for the third and last time in his career, meaning that he never even saw a conference championship game.

He remained a starter in the league for another 7 years, but could never translate the regular season success to the playoffs. He had an incredibly long career, playing 17 seasons in the NFL after 6 seasons in Canada, and he started the majority of his team's games in each of his first 15 seasons. When he retired, he was in the top 5 all-time in completions, attempts, yardage, and touchdowns. He was also the first black quarterback elected to the Hall of Fame, and at the same time became the first undrafted quarterback to be enshrined. He may not have the playoff success of many of the QB's on this list, but very few can match the sheer volume he put up over the course of his career, which is why he is in this spot.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Top 50 NFL Quarterbacks: # 24 - Sammy Baugh

Sammy Baugh

Sammy Baugh is by far the oldest quarterback to make it into this countdown, and while his statistics don't look eye-popping by today's standards, he was easily the top QB of his era, and is often credited as the person who first popularized the forward pass as a standard football play.

Baugh was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the first round in 1937, at a time when quarterback wasn't even considered a position. He started out as a tailback, but back then the ball was snapped to anyone in the backfield, and as a rookie he set a league record for completions in a season, with 81, and led the league with 1127 yards, 300 yards more than his nearest competition.

Not only did he introduce the league to true passing that year, he also led the Redskins to the Eastern Division title, which earned them a berth in the championship game. They played that game against the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field, and Baugh threw for 335 yards and 3 touchdowns to lead Washington to an upset victory, 28-21. His 335 yards remained the playoff rookie record until 2012, when Russell Wilson broke it, a run of 75 years.

The Redskins finished in second place the next two years, which kept them out of the title game, but they made it back in 1940, as Baugh led the league again with 1367 yards and 12 touchdowns, getting them into the title game against Chicago again. It didn't go as well as it had before, with the Bears scoring the biggest win in league history, 73-0. Washington threw 8 interceptions altogether in that game, 2 coming from Baugh.

They again met the Bears in the 1942 and 1943 title games, winning the first and losing the second, giving him 2 titles in 4 tries during his first 7 seasons. Then in 1945, he set a new league record for completion percentage, at 70.3%, which would remain the record for 37 years, and is still the fourth-highest in league history. They lost to the Cleveland Browns 15-14 in that season's title game, his fifth appearance in the big game.

By the time he retired in 1952, he had led the league in passing yards 4 times, touchdowns twice, and completion percentage 9 times. He threw for nearly 3000 yards in 1947, went to 5 title games, and won two championships. He was also one of the original 17 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His numbers don't look incredible compared to some of today's QB's, but he was a winner, an innovator, and far ahead of his time.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Top 50 NFL Quarterbacks: #25 - Randall Cunningham

Randall Cunningham

Randall Cunningham had a 16-year NFL career, but an assortment of injuries derailed his career, and he only ended up spending 7 seasons as a full-time starter. He started out as a 2nd-round pick in 1985, and spent his first two seasons backing up Ron Jaworski.

In just his second season as a starting QB, he made history as the first black quarterback ever to be named a starting quarterback in the Pro Bowl. That season he threw for 3808 yards, his career high, and also tossed 24 touchdowns while running for another 6. The Eagles made the playoffs that season, but would fail to win a playoff game, which was a pattern throughout his career.

He was just as stellar over the next two seasons, making two more Pro Bowls while keeping up the same level of production, reaching 30 touchdown passes for the first time in 1990. That year he also ran for 942 yards, but lost in his first playoff game for the third straight year as well.

1991 was the first time that a major injury would hit Cunningham, when he tore his ACL while being tackled in the first game of the season. Without him, the Eagles missed the playoffs, but he would return healthy the next year. Although he wasn't able to match his previous production in his first year back, he did get Philly back to the playoffs, where they won a game for the first time in 12 years.

He spent much of the following season sitting out due to injury, with the Eagles going 4-0 when he played and 4-8 when he didn't. The next season he played through a series of minor injuries, and it was the first time in years that the Eagles missed the playoffs with Cunningham at the helm. That failure led to his benching in 1995, and he decided to retire at the end of the season, feeling unappreciated.

After one season away from the game, the Minnesota Vikings talked him out of retirement, and he spent most of 1997 as a backup, but took over as the starter late in the season and took them to an upset of the Giants in the wild card round. The next season he was named the full-time starter for Minnesota, and it led to the best season of his career.

That season he threw for 3704 yards, just short of a career high, and 34 touchdowns, the best he had ever done. Even more importantly, he led Minnesota to a 15-1 overall record, and the team scored what was then a record 556 points during the regular season. They won their first playoff game, but were upset by Atlanta in the NFC title game when the Falcons scored a touchdown late in regulation, then hit a field goal in overtime to finish them off.

He was unable to repeat the performance the following season, getting benched after throwing 9 picks in the first 6 games, and he would spend the final 3 seasons of his career as a backup. Like Rivers before him, he only made one trip to the conference title game, but he was a consistent Pro Bowler, one of the best running quarterbacks of his era, and locked up this spot in the rankings after his amazing comeback with the Vikings.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Top 50 NFL Quarterbacks: #26 - Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers is the next quarterback in my countdown, and his placement here is pretty interesting, because the man ranked two spots below him, Eli Manning, was traded for him on draft day in 2004. Even though Manning has had more postseason success, Rivers has been far superior in regular season success.

Rivers did not start a game in his first two seasons with San Diego, throwing a total of 30 passes while backing up Drew Brees. When Brees left as a free agent in 2006, Rivers was promoted and immediately became a strong player, leading the Chargers to a 14-2 record in his first season at the helm. They lost to New England in their first playoff game, however, wasting their best chance at a title.

He was pretty solid again the next season, leading the Chargers to another division title, and this time they won a couple playoff games, ultimately falling to the Patriots once again in the AFC title game, coming up just a game short of making the Super Bowl.

The following season was his best as a pro, as he threw for a league-leading 34 touchdowns and led the Chargers to their third straight division title, as well as an upset of Peyton Manning and the Colts in the wild card game. It was also the first time he eclipsed 4000 yards, something he has done 5 more times since.

He has also led the league in passing yards once, with 4710 in 2010, and completion percentage, at 69.5% in 2013. He has reached 4000 yards 6 times, and 30 touchdowns 4 times, while winning 4 division titles and starting every game for 9 straight seasons, which is good for the 4th-longest streak of all time, behind Favre and the Manning brothers. While he has only made it to the conference title game once in his career, he has still been so good for so long that he has earned the right to sit ahead of the man he was traded for, at least for now.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Top 50 NFL Quarterbacks: #27 - Ken Anderson

Ken Anderson

Ken Anderson is one of the best quarterbacks in history that has yet to be elected to the Hall of Fame, but his long career as one of the top quarterbacks in the league should be enough for him to be a member.

Anderson was a 3rd round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1971, and by the end of his rookie year he had taken over as the starting quarterback for Cincy. He improved steadily for his first 5 seasons, hitting his first peak in 1975, when 3000 yards and 20 touchdowns for the first time in his career and led the Bengals to an 11-3 record, the best record they achieved during Anderson's career. They earned the wild card that season, but could not beat the Raiders, even with Anderson's 201 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Things went downhill from there for the rest of the decade, with Anderson throwing more interceptions that touchdowns and missing the playoffs for 5 straight seasons. It appeared that his run as Cincinnati's starter was drawing to a close, especially after he was benched at halftime of the opening game in 1981. Coach Forrest Gregg decided to give him one more chance, starting him in week 2, and it turned out to be the jump start he needed to have the best season of his career.

By the end of the season, he had thrown for 3754 yards, eclipsing his previous career high by nearly 600 yards, and 29 touchdowns, 8 higher than his old record. He was named the league MVP and Comeback Player of the Year for his performance. The Bengals finished at 12-4, the top record in the AFC, and defeated Buffalo and San Diego on their way to the Super Bowl. It was the first time the franchise had even won a playoff game. Anderson was very good in the Super Bowl, throwing for 300 yards and 2 touchdowns while running for another, but Joe Montana and San Francisco beat them 26-21.

He was even better the next season, which was shortened to 9 games by a strike, throwing for 2495 yards and an NFL record 70.6% completion percentage, topped off by a 7-2 record and a return trip to the playoffs, but they were blown out in their first playoff game. He remained the starter for a couple more years, but was always hurt or ineffective, and was replaced by Boomer Esiason as the starter. He remained on as his backup for two seasons before retiring.

Other than the Super Bowl season, he did not have any playoff success at all, but he was one of the top quarterbacks in the league for 4 seasons, and was a solid player for several more. He won the MVP in 1981 and should have won it in 1975, all while leading a franchise that had always been a laughing stock to the brink of a championship. All of that is why he is one of the all-time greats.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Top 50 NFL Quarterbacks: #28 - Eli Manning

Eli Manning

Eli Manning was also the #1 overall pick in the draft, picked in 2004 by San Diego and immediately traded to the Giants. He became the starter midway through his rookie season, and has started every game since. He is the active leader in consecutive starts, with 167, which is #3 all-time, behind only Brett Favre and his brother Peyton.

The biggest reason Eli is this high on the all-time list is that he is a 2-time Super Bowl Champion. The first came in 2008, when they faced the undefeated New England Patriots, the only team to finish 16-0 in a regular season, and he outplayed Tom Brady, leading the Giants on the championship-winning drive over the last two minutes to earn his first Super Bowl MVP trophy.

His second Super win came 4 years later, when the Giants eked into the playoffs with a 9-7 record, but Manning went on a tear in the playoffs, throwing for 923 yards, 8 touchdowns, and only 1 pick in the first three playoff games, two of which came on the road. They again faced New England in the Super Bowl, and though he only threw one touchdown, it was enough to pull off another upset and take home another Super Bowl MVP trophy.

That season Manning also became the only player in history to throw for over 4900 yards in a season and win the Super Bowl, a pretty impressive accomplishment. Other than that year, he has never been a great regular season quarterback, but he has rarely been bad. He has struggled in the playoffs aside from those two great seasons, losing all 3 other games he has played in.

Although he has always lived in the shadow of his older brother, Eli has carved out his own place in history. He is a 2-time champion, 2-time Super Bowl MVP, a long-term iron man, and has put up some big numbers. And while he has won one fewer Super Bowl than Troy Aikman, who sits behind him on this list, Manning was much better in the playoffs than Aikman, and put up much better regular season numbers than the Cowboy, eclipsing 20 TD's 9 times to Aikman's one.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Top 50 NFL Quarterbacks: #29 - Troy Aikman

Troy Aikman

Troy Aikman is the first quarterback to appear on this list who won at least 3 Super Bowls, so it seems a little strange to see him ranked this low. The truth is, apart from those 3 championship seasons, he didn't do that much, and he had a rather short career, so he doesn't even get the benefit of longevity.

Aikman was the #1 overall pick in the 1989 draft, but his rookie season was a disaster. His record as a starter was 0-11, and he threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. In all, over his first three years, he threw for 31 touchdowns and 46 interceptions, and the Cowboys were 14-24 when he started.

Everything turned around very quickly. Aikman was finally fully healthy in 1992, and Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith had blossomed into star players. That year, Dallas finished with a 13-3 record and upset MVP Steve Young and the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game to get to the Super Bowl. He was even named the MVP of the Super Bowl after throwing 273 yards and 4 touchdowns without an interception in the 52-17 blowout.

The next season he led the league with a 69.1% completion percentage, but he threw only 15 touchdowns over a full season. Dallas did earn the best record in the league at 12-4, but it was Emmitt Smith who was named the league MVP. They returned to the Super Bowl by running through San Francisco again, then beat Buffalo again in the Super Bowl, but this time Aikman did not throw a touchdown pass, as Emmitt Smith ran the Bills into the ground en route to his first Super Bowl MVP.

He was even less effective the next season, throwing only 13 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, and he was unable to get past San Francisco in the NFC Championship, so they failed to three-peat. In 1995 he managed to get his interceptions back down, and the Cowboys returned to the Super Bowl, where they beat the Steelers, though Aikman only threw 1 TD.

He played 5 more seasons, but was not too effective, winning only one more playoff game for the remainder of his career. In all, he only reached 20 touchdowns once in his career and never reached 3500 yards in a season. He was only a top quarterback for 4 seasons, and though he won three titles during that span, he did nothing else of note in his entire career, and wasn't even that great when they won the final 2 titles. #29 is right where he belongs.