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Cattles: The Elite Quarterbacks In The NFL

A Sports Blog by 98.5 The Sports Hub's Nick Cattles
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) – So, Eli Manning was on a New York radio station this week and said he believes he’s in Tom Brady’s “class.”

Hmmmm…interesting. Or, downright ludicrous!

Not to say that Eli Manning isn’t an effective NFL Quarterback, because he is. He’s been a Pro Bowler. And, who could forget his Super Bowl win around these parts. He’s had his “moments” in the NFL and deserves credit for that.

But, the fact of the matter is, there’s a difference between good (or even very good) and “elite.”

Manning’s comments produced a lot of talk about who the great quarterbacks in the league are and why they’re considered great? Is it rings? Is it statistics? Is it Pro Bowls or MVP awards?

Gresh & Zo: Eli Manning Says He’s At Brady’s Level? Really?

Well, the answer doesn’t come down to one solitary factor.

There are elite quarterbacks throughout the history of the NFL that haven’t won a ring (ahem, Marino anyone?). There are mediocre quarterbacks who have a ring (paging Mr. Dilfer). So, it doesn’t come down to just rings. If it was that easy, Doug Williams would be considered elite. Yeah, not so much.

How about merely winning the majority of their games played? This helps, but we’ve seen plenty of teams that win despite their quarterback. We’ve also seen good quarterbacks suffer through tough years, because the rest of the team doesn’t quite match his level.

An incredible statistical season, or even two, also doesn’t get a QB to that level. Matt Hasselbeck threw for 28 and 12 in 2007? Is he elite? For that year, he was. Beyond that, absolutely not. It goes without typing, therefore, that a Pro Bowl or two also shouldn’t equal the cream of the crop.

Want a factor that does equate to greatness or elite? Dominance. Does that quarterback strike fear into the opposition? Is he the overriding factor in winning? Does he put his team on his shoulders during the toughest times? Is he truly “special?” We can call it the eye test.

Read: Pats-Bucs Expectations: Starters Get Their Turn

Maybe the most important characteristic that an elite QB should have is consistency.  Greatness is all about being consistent. There have been tons of professional athletes who have achieved a singular great feat or season. But there have been few who achieve those levels year in and year out.

Those players, who not only go to Pro Bowls, win their share of games, big games and at times a Super Bowl, but mostly dominate weekly over a significant period of time. It’s certainly a tough criterion, but one that should be adhered to, and one that leaves some very good quarterbacks off the list.

The Damn Good, but not elite list:

Michael Vick’s been a successful quarterback with a season or two of elite play. While creating highlights and winning his fair share of games, he has not posted consistently elite numbers at the position. If he has another two years like 2010 and wins some big games, then we’re talking.

Philip Rivers has had three damn good seasons. He’s made it to the playoffs and has the Pro Bowls. But, there is one thing that just can’t be overlooked… Rivers has yet to win a big game, even if his Chargers have been favored. Even worse, he seems like he can be rattled at times in big spots. Until he puts his team on his shoulders and wins a big game, inside or outside San Diego, he’s not on the list.

Maybe, the toughest guy to leave off the elite list is Ben Roethlisberger. There’s no doubt he’s a winner with two Super Bowl Championships. But, Big Ben lacks in two categories. He has not put up the elite statistical production that aligns him with the best.  He’s mostly relied on that awesome defense and great running game to “lead” the Steelers. Another measure that doesn’t fit is dominance. Let me ask you a question; when opposing teams play the Steelers, do they fear that smash mouth defense and running game or Roethlisberger? You answer that question; you understand why he’s off the list.

Aaron Rodgers is one winning year away of being put on the next list. He’s had three consecutive seasons of high level production. He’s the engine to the Green Bay vehicle, surviving a playoff run without a running game and winning a Super Bowl. One more dominant season, he’s in.

Finally, because he’s the one that started it all, Eli Manning… even though he’s won a Super Bowl and has made it to the playoffs four times, he’s not there on a statistical level.  He doesn’t dominate the competition like an elite level athlete should. In two of his last four seasons, he’s thrown 20 or more picks. He’s good, but he’s not at the top of the food chain.

The truth is, there are currently two quarterbacks in Tom Brady’s class. (I should say right now… A player like Donovan McNabb might have been considered five years ago).

The elite list:

Peyton Manning. He’s consistently won in the regular season, while winning his fair share of big games as well (’06 AFC Championship & Super Bowl XLI). He’s the main reason that the Indianapolis Colts have been a successful franchise for the past nine seasons. It doesn’t matter who lines up with him, he puts up MVP numbers. Peyton’s a no-brainer.

Drew Brees has had five straight dominant seasons, including three straight 30-plus touchdown years. He’s turned the Saints franchise from punch-line to Super Bowl Champion. There’s no doubt teams fear him. He’s won, although New Orleans has had a spotty defense and 1,000 running backs. He’s a force and he’s in.

See Eli, you shouldn’t feel so bad about not being in Brady’s class. The truth is, that list only goes three deep. In the end, you should feel good that a Manning did make it, even if it’s your brother and not you.

- You can follow Nick Cattles on Twitter: @NickCattles

Your turn to chime in: Who are the “elite” quarterbacks in the NFL and how do you determine who makes the list, and who doesn’t?

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