With Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees all out of the playoffs, Aaron Rodgers' recent video-game-like performances have many questioning if he’s now the best quarterback in the league. While that may be a bit premature, there is no question that Rodgers, whose signature touchdown celebration consists of him snapping on an imaginary belt, is challenging for the QB title.
With that in mind, I will use Madden 11’s ratings to assist me in analyzing the top young quarterbacks in the league.
Using a criterion of 25 years old or younger, the players we will be taking a look at are former first-round picks Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford and Joe Flacco -- he just turned 26 a couple days ago, so I suppose he's the exception).
Oh, and Tim Tebow. What? It’s Tebow, of course I put him on the list. I also opted to leave out Matthew Stafford because of his reoccurring shoulder injuries.
The new QB champion? Who's got next?
Every quarterback is paid to break down the defense, and deliver the ball on target and on time. According to Madden 11, here is how our gunslingers stack up in this category.
Matt Ryan - 89 Throw Power, 90 Short Accuracy, 89 Mid Accuracy, 85 Deep Accuracy
Sam Bradford – 89 THP, 92 SAC, 86 MAC, 82 DAC
Joe Flacco - 96 THP, 88 SAC, 86 MAC, 78 DAC
Josh Freeman - 97 THP, 85 SAC, 82 MAC, 78 DAC
Mark Sanchez - 88 THP, 84 SAC, 81 MAC, 74 DAC
Tim Tebow - 88 THP, 78 SAC, 73 MAC, 76 DAC
Based on these numbers, Matt Ryan is the best overall passer of the bunch, and Sam Bradford and Joe Flacco are just behind him. Josh Freeman also progressed immensely in this area, but Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow still have ways to go before they can be counted on as reliable throwers.
Matt Ryan's ability as a pocket passer keeps improving.
Whether it’s throwing on the run or scrambling for a first down on a third-and-8 play, being able to evade the rush or keep the play alive with your feet is a nice skill set to have for any QB in the NFL. Here is Madden’s take on the mobility of our next generation of quarterbacks.
Josh Freeman – 74 Speed, 80 Acceleration, 91 Throw on the Run
Tim Tebow – 80 SPD, 90 ACC, 81 RUN
Sam Bradford – 73 SPD, 74 ACC, 82 RUN
Joe Flacco – 73 SPD, 71 ACC, 76 RUN
Mark Sanchez – 69 SPD, 73 ACC, 74 RUN
Matt Ryan – 65 SPD, 62 ACC, 67 RUN
For a quarterback in the NFL, top speed is not all you need to be effective while on the move. With his 91 throw on the run rating, Josh Freeman beats out Tim Tebow in the mobility category because he's just as dangerous a downfield passer when he’s outside the pocket. The Madden ratings also show that Sam Bradford did a fairly decent job being effective while running for his life during his rookie campaign behind that Rams offensive line.
This is an aspect of the game Peyton Manning has perfected over the years. Being able to see the play before it happens can be the difference between a big 30-yard gain or a loss of 8 yards on a weak-side blitz. How well do these young quarterbacks read the defense and maybe even deceive them? Let’s ask Madden.
Matt Ryan – 87 Awareness, 88 Play Action
Joe Flacco – 83 AWR, 71 PAC
Josh Freeman – 76 AWR, 66 PAC
Mark Sanchez – 71 AWR, 77 PAC
Sam Bradford – 69 AWR, 78 PAC
Tim Tebow – 69 AWR, 58 PAC
Just like with the passing category, Matt Ryan leads the group when it comes to quarterback smarts. Ryan’s 87 awareness and 88 play action ratings are actually higher than Aaron Rodgers in both categories. Of course, if you watched the Packers versus Falcons last weekend, you are probably like "yeah, right." As expected, Tim Tebow is dead last in this category; however, I will not laugh at the ex-Gator just yet. Tebow scored a 40-yard rushing touchdown on the wrong play call this season, so he still gives you hope even though he might have no idea what the next play is coming out of the huddle.
Bradford lacks experience but not talent.
I know this is a bit difficult to evaluate with Madden ratings, and yes it is, but let's give it a shot. It's my belief that a great quarterback should not just lead scoring drives, a true quarterback must be a leader of men. He has to command a certain presence in the huddle and have that "it" factor. In other words, a great quarterback should have a certain level of "swagger" on the field. To validate my point, Tom Brady, the prototypical All-American NFL quarterback, has a swagger rating of 96 while his former understudy Matt Cassel is a 65. Let’s see the intangibles our young quarterbacks bring to the table.
Mark Sanchez – 85 Swagger
Matt Ryan – 80 SWG
Tim Tebow - 75 SWG
Sam Bradford – 75 SWG
Josh Freeman – 72 SWG
Joe Flacco – 65 SWG
USC alum Mark Sanchez has quite the reputation for being an alpha male, and Madden tends to agree. He does get a bit sulky when things are going bad, but when the Jets are winning games, you can see the cameras and lights all flashing on Mark Sanchez. Matt Ryan is the clear face of the Falcons franchise despite being there for only three years now. On the other hand, I'm honestly surprised by how low Tebow’s rating is; he is as fiery as they come on a football field, and I’m sure he will be get more respect the more reps he gets. As you would expect, Joe Flacco is at the bottom of the list, but with players like Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, the Ravens have all the intangibles, leadership and swagger they need.
Despite his clunker in the divisional playoffs, Matty Ice seems to be the most likely to break into the elite group of quarterbacks next, with Sam Bradford being a close second. Josh Freeman is also a name to keep an eye on -- his progress in just his second year in the league was phenomenal. Tim Tebow has loads of potential and a work ethic to go with it, but he is still so unorthodox at this point that he is more likely to create a new way of playing the position than break into the elite group of prototypical quarterbacks. While Mark Sanchez might be the pretty boy, face of the franchise sort of player, he might never become accurate enough to lead a great passing attack. Lastly, Joe Flacco is as physically gifted as any quarterback on this list, but his lack of a strong presence might always hold him back from being one of the greats.
I could easily lay out the overall rating for each QB, but rather than ask Madden, I'm asking you which young quarterback do you think has what it takes to be the next elite QB?
TD is an Operation Sports basketball and soccer writer. Atlanta-born and Nigerian-raised, TD has been with Operation Sports since September of 2008 and is also a digital media producer and video editor for NFL.com's digital media. You can follow him on twitter @mrsimcity.[/quote]