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I recently published an article which ranked all 32 NFL teams according to their starting quarterbacks.

The job was tedious, but it entertained me, so I decided to give it a try for running backs as well.

In this list, I am ranking teams according to the overall talent of the running backs who will receive the majority of carries in the 2009 season.

Teams on which one runner receives the bulk of the carries (e.g. Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings) will be ranked according to that player.

Teams which split carries (e.g. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart of the Carolina Panthers) will have any significant back listed and taken into account.

Please remember that a list of this nature is quite subjective. There are teams that could easily be moved higher or lower, depending on how that team’s talent is evaluated by the author.

Because of this I look forward to the comments suggesting which teams should be moved around.

Here are the team-by-team rankings of NFL Running Backs.

32. Cincinnati Bengals – Cedric Benson / Kenny Watson
The Cincinnati Bengals finished 29th in the NFL in rushing yards in 2008. No significant additions were made, and the starting job seems to remain in former Chicago Bears bust Cedric Benson’s hands. In 2008, Benson played 12 games, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry and finding the endzone just twice. Don’t expect greater dividends in 2009, as the only thing that may return to prominence is Carson Palmer and the Bengals passing game.

31. Cleveland Browns – Jamal Lewis
Jamal Lewis is a rarity in the modern NFL. He is a goal line back built for red zone carries that somehow landed a first-string gig. Led by the fleet-footed Lewis, the Browns rushing attack averaged only 3.9 yards per carry in 2008. Lewis topped 1,000 yards for the seventh time in his career, but did so running for just 3.6 yards per attempt. Unless backup RB Jerome Harrison is given more touches, the Browns running game won’t be any more productive than 2008.

30. Seattle Seahawks – Julius Jones / T.J. Duckett
Part of me dies inside every time I write about the Seattle Seahawks running game. Despite being a Seahawks fan, I can still admit that the ‘Hawks seriously lack rushing talent. Julius Jones was the team’s leading rusher in 2008, with a paltry 698 yards. The highlight of the Seahawks running game is when T.J. Duckett comes in to fall over the goal line from two yards out. If the Seahawks plan to win in 2009, it will have to come via the air attack.

29. Detroit Lions – Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith grew into a serviceable back throughout his rookie year, finishing with 238 rushes for 976 yards. Anyone would consider being benched for Rudi Johnson a career low, and after recovering the starting gig Smith averaged 97 rushing yards and one touchdown per game over his last three starts. Despite some promise, Smith still plays for the Lions. Detroit has no talent on the offensive line, and will most likely face uncertainty from the quarterback position. Smith will probably rush for 1,000 yards, but it won’t be pretty and will often be in a losing effort.

28. Arizona Cardinals – Tim Hightower / Chris Wells
The Arizona Cardinals’ 2008 rushing campaign was notably unnecessary. Arizona finished dead last in rush attempts and total rushing yards, while finishing as one of only seven teams to average less than 4.0 yards per carry. Don’t expect much more in 2009. Despite the addition of rookie Beanie Wells, the Cardinals will probably air it out just as much as 2008.

27. New England Patriots – Laurence Maroney / Fred Taylor
With the return of Jesus, the New England Patriots will probably not resemble their 2008 team which finished 6th in the league in rushing. Laurence Maroney returns in 2009, after missing most of the 2008 season for a plethora of reasons. His talent, combined with the veteran presence of Fred Taylor, will give the Patriots a consistent rushing attack. Fortunately for the Patriots, they won’t need it to very much, as Tom Brady will be throwing the ball early and often.

26. Denver Broncos – Knowshon Moreno / Correll Buckhalter
With two new running backs in town, history says that the Denver Broncos will do what they always do: produce 1,000 yard rushers. The question is whether or not the 1,000 yard rushers will come from the opening day roster and if their productivity will help the team win. Moreno is a future star and Buckhalter was excellent when called upon as a backup in Philadelphia. These two should fight through the growing pains as each is adjusting to a new role in Denver, but with Mike Shanahan out of the picture in Denver don’t expect their annual rushing parade to march again in 2009.

25. Baltimore Ravens – Willis McGahee / Le’Ron McClain / Ray Rice
The Baltimore Ravens team rushing statistics last season are deceptive. Baltimore finished fourth in the NFL in rushing, but did so while averaging only 4.0 yards per carry on a staggering 37 rushing attempts per game. Total rushing yards: Good. Rushing efficiency: Not So Good. Willis McGahee is falling apart, Le’Ron McClain is more of a fullback than anything else, and Ray Rice is still developing. With all three facing difficulties, the Ravens rushing in 2009 won’t be anything of note.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Derrick Ward / Earnest Graham
The wild card here will be former Tampa Bay star Cadillac Williams. If the Caddy is ready to ride he could steal carries from Derrick Ward, which could inhibit either back from finding a groove throughout the season. Earnest Graham’s won’t compete for the job, as he is too valuable as a fullback to ever start at running back, but this efficiency won’t stop him from thieving goal line touches.

23. New Orleans Saints – Reggie Bush / Pierre Thomas
Unfortunately for Reggie Bush, godliness in video games does not equate to real life success. Unlike the 98-speed Reggie Bush who dominates video games, Reggie Bush is often tackled for a loss against real life opponents. Pierre Thomas ran well last year when called upon to start, tallying six rushing touchdowns (and three receiving) in six starts to close out the season. While this rushing attack won’t blow anyone away, it should be enough to let the Drew Brees show pick apart opposing secondaries.

22. Kansas City Chiefs – Larry Johnson / Jamaal Charles / Kolby Smith
In an ideal world, Larry Johnson would receive the vast majority of carries in 2009 and the rest of the Chiefs running backs wouldn’t need to be listed here. In reality, however, L.J. might throw a temper tantrum and get traded, leaving Charles and Smith to divvy up what’s left of the Chiefs rushing attack. If this was L.J. circa 2005 the Chiefs would be top five on this list. As is, the world will be surprised if they can piece together a top twenty attack.

21. Green Bay Packers – Ryan Grant
Ryan Grant was a statistical anomaly in 2008, rushing over 300 times for 1,200 yards but finding pay dirt only four times. He cemented his place as the Packers starting running back with a stellar 2007 postseason, and remains at the top of the depth chart entering 2009. He is a good-but-not-great runner, who can complement Aaron Rodgers and provide a solid Packers rushing attack.

20. Oakland Raiders – Justin Fargas / Darren McFadden
The Oakland Raiders have the most potential of any backfield combination in first round draft picks RB Darren McFadden and QB JaMarcus Russell. Unfortunately, neither of these players can consistently find playing time. RB Justin Fargas, who was a 1,000 yard rusher the year before Darren McFadden was drafted, joins McFadden at running back to provide stability in the ground game. If it weren’t for the Oakland Raiders offensive line, this duo could rush for more, but as it stands the 2009 Raiders rushing attack will be in the middle of the pack.

19. New York Jets – Thomas Jones / Leon Washington
Thomas Jones had an outstanding 2008 campaign, finishing with 290 rush attempts for over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. Jones has put together four straight 1,000 yard seasons, but he is aging in running back years, as he will be 31 at the start of the 2009 season. Backup RB Leon Washington is an X-Factor in any game, as he returns kicks and punts as well as contributing rushing and receiving yards. The 2009 Jets rushing attack will be productive, but don’t expect a repeat of last year’s production from an aging Thomas Jones and a maturing Leon Washington.

18. Indianapolis Colts – Joseph Addai / Donald Brown
It is unclear how much Donald Brown will factor into the Indianapolis Colts playbook this year, but Joseph Addai has regularly split carries throughout his career and still been productive. Peyton Manning fuels the Colts offense, and because of this their offensive line is geared towards pass blocking. One of the greatest downfalls for the 2008 Colts was the inability to run the ball. Indianapolis finished dead last in the NFL in yards per carry, averaging only 3.4 per touch. If Donald Brown plays effectively in 2009, the Colts rushing attack could improve greatly. Even with improvement, the ceiling for Indianapolis’ rushing game seems to be the middle of the pack.

17. Buffalo Bills – Marshawn Lynch / Fred Jackson
This platoon favors the starter the more than most on this list. Marshawn Lynch receives the clear majority of carries, but Fred Jackson’s contributions are significant, especially in the passing game. Lynch has two straight 1,000 yard seasons to start his career, and if Terrell Owens can provide a spark to the Buffalo Bills passing game then he will have more room to run in 2009. In the AFC East there isn’t any margin for error, so if Lynch improves the Bills could still falter.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers – Willie Parker / Rashard Mendenhall
It’s difficult to place a team who focuses on smashmouth running this low on the list, but health problems have factored heavily into both Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall’s recent seasons. A healthy attack could finish top ten, but if injuries arise, look for the Steelers ground game to finish in the middle of the pack. This won’t bother the Steelers, however, as they have a knack for old school football and low scoring games.

15. San Francisco 49ers – Frank Gore
Despite the San Francisco 49ers unsuccessful search for a new franchise quarterback, Frank Gore has been consistently productive in the Niners’ backfield. Gore is an all-purpose back whose impact cannot be measured by rushing alone, but that does not mean his rushing numbers should be discounted. Shaun Hill and Alex Smith are unlikely to relieve any pressure from Gore in 2009, but he will get his statistics regardless.

14. St. Louis Rams – Steven Jackson
Similar to Frank Gore, Steven Jackson is a young, talented running back who is constantly hampered by inconsistency at the quarterback position. S-Jax, otherwise known as the only guy in St. Louis who plays football, is a beacon of light on a dark Rams depth chart. It is yet to be seen if Jackson can hearken back to his 350 carry, 1,500 yard season in 2006, but the potential is there.

13. Houston Texans – Steve Slaton
Slaton sits immediately ahead of a number of talented backs on this list who he should outproduce in 2009. He had a phenomenal rookie campaign, making Houston fans completely forget the team’s 2006 snub of projected-star-but-now-not-a-star RB Reggie Bush. If he continues to progress, he could easily lead the Texans rushing attack to new heights in 2009.

12. Jacksonville Jaguars – Maurice Jones-Drew
Fantasy managers worldwide celebrated the departure of RB Fred Taylor, making Maurice Jones-Drew the full-time back in Jacksonville. In three seasons in the NFL, MJD has never topped 200 carries, but has produced excellent yards per carry while functioning as a touchdown machine (34TD in three seasons). If his full-time work is half as good as his previous years, he will be a force in 2009.

11. Washington Redskins – Clinton Portis
Clinton Portis is a rarity in the NFL. He is a hard-nosed runner who averaged 4.3 yards per carry in 2008 and seemed to get just that every time he touched the ball. He isn’t flashy, and he might not be a home run threat, but it’s not unusual for him to top 100 yards without a single rush longer than 15. Despite a lack of highlight reel rushes, Portis is a workhorse year in and year out. Newly acquired G Derrick Dockery will bolster the Redskins offensive line, and with an improved Redskins defense Portis could be given more carries to grind the clock with a lead.

10. Chicago Bears – Matt Forte
The surprise team in this top ten is Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears. Forte had an outstanding rookie season, rushing for over 1,200 yards and 8 touchdowns. The arrival of Jay Cutler will raise the Bears offense to unprecedented heights, as he is the first star-caliber quarterback to suit up in Chicago in years. If Cutler expands the passing game, Forte will have more lanes to run through, which could lead to a rushing explosion in Chicago.

9. Dallas Cowboys – Marion Barber / Felix Jones
Tashard Choice played well when called upon in 2008, but with Felix Jones healthy Choice won’t factor into the 2009 playbook. Marion Barber and Felix Jones are the ideal combination of power and speed, respectively, and have the combined talent to lead a fierce Cowboys rushing attack. Regardless of eventual success, these two combine for more talent than most teams dream of having.

8. Miami Dolphins – Ronnie Brown / Ricky Williams / Pat White
Yes, I’m guilty of jumping the gun on this, but if/when Miami puts Pat White in the Wildcat formation it is going to be a giant boom or a massive bust. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams were dangerous as a running tandem in 2008, especially out of the Wildcat. However, defenses soon figured out how to play the Wildcat: stick all eleven defenders on the line of scrimmage with single coverage on any route-runners. If White can execute the Wildcat it will force the defense into more than single coverage deep, which will open up the line of scrimmage, which will do God knows what to the Miami Dolphins rushing attack. The Dolphins have rushing talent even without Pat White, but if he contributes this attack could be lethal.

7. New York Giants – Brandon Jacobs / Ahmad Bradshaw
Earth, Wind, and Eli? It doesn’t have the same ring to it, but with Derrick “Fire” Ward gone to Tampa Bay it will have to do in 2009. Even with Ward gone, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw are a legitimate rushing threat. Brandon Jacobs is a MAN (ask LaRon Landry), and Ahmad Bradshaw has shown moments of brilliance during his tenure in New York.

6. San Diego Chargers – LaDainian Tomlinson / Darren Sproles
Remember the days when LaDainian Tomlinson ruled the world? Me neither… Entering 2009, Tomlinson is loaded with question marks, but scat-back Darren Sproles seems primed for a breakout year. These two combined could lead a dangerous rushing attack in 2009. Philip Rivers has evolved into a top-tier quarterback, which should take significant pressure off of the San Diego running game in 2009. Even if the statistics don’t play in San Diego’s favor, the Chargers undoubtedly have one of the most talented backfields in the NFL.

5. Philadelphia Eagles – Brian Westbrook / LeSean McCoy
I debated leaving LeSean McCoy out of the title, but given the health of Brian Westbrook it seems that McCoy could have an impact in his rookie year. Health issues aside, Westbrook might be most dangerous all-around running back in the NFL. It is important to note that he affects more than the Eagles’ rushing attack. If this were a list of leaders in yards from scrimmage he would be on top. As is, he makes the Eagles a top-tier rushing threat in 2009.

4. Atlanta Falcons – Michael Turner
The most important part of the Atlanta Falcons success last season was the production of RB Michael Turner. Matt Ryan was excellent under center, but Turner regularly strapped the team on his back and carried them. How much? He led the NFL in rushing attempts, with a staggering 376 carries, while finishing second behind Adrian Peterson in rushing yards. As Ryan matures in 2009, Turner could be even more productive.

3. Tennessee Titans – Chris Johnson / LenDale White
If it weren’t for LenDale White’s portly nature, it could be said that Tennessee features the best one-two punch in the NFL (see below for which team actually does). Chris Johnson is Al Davis’ wet dream; a slashing runner with 4.3 (or better) speed. LenDale White loves all-you-can-eat-buffets as much as he loves the endzone, and few runners are equally efficient in the red zone. As a tandem, this duo is difficult to beat.

2. Carolina Panthers – DeAngelo Williams / Jonathan Stewart
The Carolina Panthers easily have the most rushing talent of any team in the NFL. DeAngelo Williams’ league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns were a surprise in 2008, a year when most experts predicted he would lose his job to newcomer Jonathan Stewart. Williams and Stewart complemented each other perfectly last season, rushing for over 2,300 yards on 357 carries to lead the Panthers to an NFL-best 30 rushing touchdowns. Look for repeat success in 2009.

1. Minnesota Vikings – Adrian Peterson
The top of this list belongs to, in my opinion, the most talented running back in the NFL. Peterson was a workhorse in 2008, leading the NFL with 1760 rushing yards on 363 rushes. The Vikings quarterback situation is still in turmoil, which isn’t good news for Peterson, who is getting used to seeing eleven defenders in the box. Regardless of how many defenders meet him at the line of scrimmage, Peterson will contend for the rushing title again in 2009.

That does it for my team-by-team running back rankings.

Please comment below with what you think I got right, what you think I got wrong, and what you would write if given this task.

sk.

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While a number of talented quarterbacks are present in the NFL, it is important to focus on which quarterbacks are actually going to see the field in order to rank each team’s strength at that position.

This article takes each NFL team’s current quarterback situation and ranks it depending on which quarterbacks from that team are most likely to see playing time in 2009.

If a team has a clear-cut starter (e.g. Peyton Manning from the Colts) then they are ranked according to him alone.

On the contrary, if a team is mired in a quarterback controversy (e.g. Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson from the Browns) then both quarterbacks are taken into account when ranking their team.

Please read and react with what you think I got right and wrong.

With no further ado, here are the rankings!

32. Oakland Raiders – JaMarcus Russell
I’m not sure if this is commentary on the Oakland Raiders organization, JaMarcus Russell’s development as an NFL quarterback, or a depressing combination of both. Russell has been a disappointment so far in the NFL, mostly because the Raiders coaching staff is yet to let him open up the playbook (partially because, in all honesty, he isn’t quite capable of opening up the playbook). No worries though, because Al Davis drafted another 4.30 speed receiver for Russell to throw to… Yeah, that will help. Russell finished in the lower tier in nearly every passing statistic in 2008, and a repeat performance isn’t too far out of question.

31. Detroit Lions – Daunte Culpepper / Matthew Stafford

Daunte Culpepper is currently listed as the starter for the Detroit Lions. He has had some great seasons in the NFL, and is capable of winning, but his most important role now is teaching Matthew Stafford, or as the Lions’ front office calls Culpepper’s job, “making sure we don’t have another Joey Harrington fiasco.” Like they say, when you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback, and this will be the case in a number of cities in 2009, including Detroit.

30. New York Jets – Kellen Clemens / Mark Sanchez
Mark Sanchez is listed as the team’s starter on the Yahoo! Sports depth chart. However, the most recent reports out of Jets mini-camp have suggested that Clemens is outperforming Sanchez. The Jets know that Sanchez is the quarterback of the future, so it will be interesting to see how they handle his playing time in 2009. The reason that New York gets the nod over Detroit here is because both teams have a quarterback of the future, but in New York that quarterback will see the field a lot faster than in Detroit.

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Byron Leftwich / Josh Freeman
This offseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seemingly purged themselves of any semblance of their 2008 late season collapse. Jeff Garcia was cut loose in the fray, leaving the Buccos with no clear option at quarterback for 2009. Veteran Byron Leftwich is listed as the team’s starter, but it’s possible that his main role will be mentoring quarterback-of-the-future Josh Freeman. Keep in mind that while Leftwich has been a journeyman, he is only 28 years old. It will be interesting to see how the Buccaneers handle their quarterback situation this season. Regardless of who starts, it’s unlikely that the Bucs bank on their quarterback for victory any time soon.

28. Minnesota Vikings – Tarvaris Jackson / Sage Rosenfels
They say that competition breeds success. This is only possible, however, when there is at least one ideal choice to settle on. In Minnesota, the coaching staff will have to choose between a mediocre Tarvaris Jackson or an unproven Sage Rosenfels to lead the 2009 team. Jackson is known as a rusher with limited passing skills, but threw the ball well towards the end of 2008. Rosenfels, on the other hand, looked strong in the pocket while starting in Matt Schaub’s place in 2008. No matter which way the coaches go with this decision, don’t look for the Vikings to get much production from under center. They should be fine, however, as long as whoever they choose can hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson.

27. San Francisco – Shaun Hill / Alex Smith

Note to whoever is taking snaps in San Francisco: look for Michael Crabtree, he’ll be open. Shaun Hill played well in 2008, throwing for 2,000 yards, 13 touchdowns, and an 87.5 Quarterback Rating in a little more than half of a season. The question in San Francisco is, do you let the less-sexy choice in Shaun Hill keep the job or allow former No.1 overall pick Alex Smith to challenge him for it? Most likely, Hill will be under center for the Niners this year. However, the 49ers organization has made it clear that they have not ruled Alex Smith out of the Niners’ future quite yet. Hill has the talent to be an NFL quarterback (think Jon Kitna), and he might get the chance to prove it for an entire season.

26. Baltimore Ravens – Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco is a guy who got a lot of credit in 2008 for a lot of things he didn’t do. Flacco is a prototypical game manager quarterback, which fits perfectly on a team like Baltimore or Pittsburgh, but doesn’t say much about his individual skill set. Flacco completed 60% of his passes in 2008, but threw for only 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, while failing to top 3,000 passing yards. His 80.3 Quarterback Rating more accurately gauges his 2008 accomplishments, placing him 22nd in the NFL in that statistic. While he will not wow people in 2009, Flacco could grow more as a quarterback and become a potential threat by the end of the year.

25. Buffalo Bills – Trent Edwards
The good news if that the Bills got a talented receiver in Terrell Owens. The bad news is that the Bills also got a complete basketcase and quarterback-destroyer in Terrell Owens. Prior to the T.O. signing, Edwards would have held this same position in the ranks. He is a game manager who is most comfortable throwing the ball around 25 times a game. If he throws it more than that, he will most likely start throwing it to the other team. Edwards now has limitless talent to throw to with WR Lee Evans and the previously mentioned Terrell Owens, but don’t expect the world from him. He will produce good stats, but not great ones.

24. Denver Broncos – Kyle Orton
The good news is that Kyle Orton isn’t terrible. The bad news is that Kyle Orton isn’t good. Orton is a serviceable quarterback who can perform a Kerry Collins-esque game manager role in Denver, but the Broncos will soon learn that he is no Jay Cutler. Fortunately for Denver, Brandon Marshall makes playing quarterback easy, and if rookie RB Knowshon Moreno can get his feet under him quickly Orton won’t have to worry about passing very much at all. Chris Simms sits behind Orton on the depth chart. Don’t be too surprised if Simms ends up taking snaps by mid-2009.

23. Tennessee Titans – Kerry Collins / Vince Young
I know, listing Vince Young here might be folly. Most likely, Collins will start nearly every game of the 2009 season and Young will continue going on midnight strolls to alarm family and friends. I listed him here, however, because it’s not often that a team spends a top five pick on a quarterback and abandons him this quickly. If Young does not get at least one start this year, I will be genuinely surprised. Collins is a reliable starter with excellent fundamentals and an outstanding game manager mentality. Unfortunately, his game does not expand much beyond this due to Tennessee’s talented defense and running game. He remains, however, a better option at quarterback than a number of other starters, and definitely a safer choice than Vince Young.

22. Cleveland Browns – Brady Quinn / Derek Anderson
Brady Quinn is currently listed as the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback. It doesn’t help that new head coach Eric Mangini has publicly expressed his dislike for Quinn, or that Quinn fell face first when given the reins in 2008. Current back-up Derek Anderson also struggled in 2008, but he remains the only quarterback on the roster who has a productive season under his belt, throwing for over 3,700 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2007. Quinn will most likely start and endure the growing pains of being an NFL quarterback, but as a tandem the Cleveland Browns have an awful lot of talent/potential on the roster at quarterback.

21. St. Louis Rams – Marc Bulger
Yeah, this guy has made the Pro Bowl before. Twice. Bulger was stellar from 2004-06, but his last two seasons have taken a turn for the worse. In 2007 and 2008, Bulger combined for 22 touchdowns and an astonishing 28 interceptions. Hard to swallow from a quarterback coming off of three straight seasons with a 90+ Quarterback Rating. In 2009, Marc Bulger’s success will hinge on the success of first round draft pick OT Jason Smith and the health of marquee RB Steven Jackson. If Smith produces, Jackson can run. If Jackson can run, defenses will be forced to respect the run and open up some passing lanes for Bulger. Will this happen? Probably not, but God, Bulger hopes so.


20. Jacksonville Jaguars – David Garrard
What happened to David Garrard? Jacksonville bought into David Garrard when they sent former starting quarterback (and younger) Byron Leftwich out the door in 2006. Garrard did not disappoint in 2007, producing a triple digit Quarterback Rating (102.2) while throwing for 18 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. 2008 was a different story, however, as Garrard was bitten by the turnover bug (13 interceptions, 3 fumbles lost) and saw his QB Rating drop over 20 points. 2009 is a wild card year for Garrard, as his 2007 or 2008 version could show up to play any given weekend.

19. Carolina Panthers – Jake Delhomme
For how painfully Jake Delhomme’s 2008 season ended, his regular season numbers weren’t that bad. Given, the numbers aren’t sending Delhomme to Hawaii any time soon, but an 84.7 Quarterback Rating, 3,288 Passing Yards, and 15 Passing Touchdowns are serviceable contributions. Consider that Delhomme’s career passer rating is 85.1, and that even in his most productive years (2003-05) he averaged around 3,500 passing yards with a QB Rating in the mid-80s, and you get a good gauge of what to expect in 2009. Delhomme was never built to impress, but he can provide serviceable production and strong leadership.

18. Houston Texans – Matt Schaub
When Texans fans weren’t enjoying the Sage Rosenfels high-flying show against the Colts, they were entertained by emerging quarterback Matt Schaub. Schaub’s numbers in 2008 didn’t blow anyone away, but that’s because he only played in 11 games. If Schaub’s numbers were projected for 16 games, he would have finished with just over 4,400 yards and 22 touchdowns. Instead, he played in only 11 games and still cleared 3,000 yards through the air. Don’t forget that Schaub finished with a 92.7 Quarterback Rating in 2008, good for seventh best in the NFL and better than Romo, Cassel, McNabb, and more. Sure, I could throw a touchdown to Andre Johnson (just lob it up there), but in 2009 Schaub could throw a lot of them.

17. Washington Redskins – Jason Campbell
The Washington Native Americans (see, I’m not racist) are in a precarious situation. They have a highly efficient former first round draft pick who boasts a career Quarterback Rating better than Eli Manning starting at quarterback… And Daniel Snyder isn’t satisfied. Jason Campbell has plenty of room to improve as a quarterback, but he seems to have settled into a game manager role with the Redskins. In time, he could develop into a star quarterback, but as it stands he seems content with minimal passing attempts and a high level of efficiency.

16. Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan had a dream season in 2008, leading a Falcons team who was destined to finish last into the playoffs in his rookie year. Despite this success, Ryan’s statistical output was nothing spectacular. En route to becoming America’s Sweetheart, Ryan failed to land in the top ten in Quarterback Rating, Passing Yards, or Passing Touchdowns. Obviously his rookie season was productive, but Ryan still has much more room to grow as a quarterback before being considered one of the league’s best.

15. Miami Dolphins – Chad Pennington
Chad Pennington had an outstanding 2008 season, leading a once left for dead Dolphins team to the NFL Playoffs. Pennington finished first in the league in pass completion percentage (67.4%), and more importantly he rarely turned the ball over. Pennington was one of three quarterbacks in 2008 to play all 16 games and finish with a single digit interception total, throwing only 7 all season. Pennington is never going to blow the opposing team away, but he is efficient and consistent, which is enough to lead the Dolphins to victory.

14. Kansas City Chiefs – Matt Cassel
 Matt Cassel was certainly the surprise story of the 2008 regular season. His emergence as an impact quarterback in New England led to a high-profile acquisition by the Kansas City Chiefs. While Cassel was never projected as an NFL starter, his 2008 season was productive to say the least. Most impressive was Cassel’s final five games of the year, in which he threw 14 touchdowns, only 4 interceptions, while registering a triple-digit Quarterback Rating four times. It is yet to be seen if Cassel can produce outside of the New England Patriots system. Since the 2009 season will show whether he can thrive in another system, a productive year could shoot him significantly up the quarterback ranks, while a disappointing year could drop him just as much.

13. New York Giants – Eli Manning
Many fans who think of Eli Manning as a top-tier NFL quarterback get lost in Eli Manning lore rather than Eli Manning statistics. While his playoff performance against the undefeated Patriots was heroic, his career performance has been barely over par. Consider this: Manning has never broken 4,000 yards, never thrown for more than 24 touchdowns, and never had a single-season Quarterback Rating above 90. In fact, before last season, Manning had never had a single-season Quarterback Rating above 80! His career QB Rating of 76.1 is more of an indicator of his skill set. While he may throw for a decent number of touchdowns (23 TD/yr over last four seasons) he will also throw a lot of interceptions (16.25 INT/yr over last four seasons).

12. Seattle Seahawks – Matt Hasselbeck
Hailing from the far-away Pacific Northwest, many experts have been quick to write off Hasselbeck after an injury-plagued 2008 season. Those same experts forget that in his last two full seasons Hasselbeck earned a Quarterback Rating over 90 while averaging over 3,700 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, and only 10.5 interceptions. At only 33 years of age (critics will have you believing that he is 40), Hasselbeck is reportedly healthy and joined in 2009 by emerging TE John Carlson and newly acquired WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh. A return to Pro Bowl form is not as far fetched as most would believe.

11. Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers
No, he doesn’t wear No.4, but Aaron Rodgers quietly enjoyed a stellar 2008 season. While most Green Bay fans criticized Rodgers for the Packers’ 6-10 record, many overlook Rodgers’ significant statistical production. Rodgers passed for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns, good for fourth best in the NFL. Even if Packers fans were upset about Rodgers first season, they should remember this much: Rodgers finished ranked better than Brett Favre in Quarterback Rating, Passing Yards, Passing Touchdowns, and Interceptions Thrown. Rodgers has all the tools to be a top-five quarterback in the future.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger
I’m probably going to get barbecued for putting Big Ben this low, but consider that this isn’t a list of “best game managers.” Roethlisberger throws a fantastic short ball, and is excellent at eluding pressure in the pocket. However, in terms of passing efficiency, many quarterbacks have produced better numbers in recent years. Had it not been for a memorable postseason, Big Ben’s 2008 season was forgettable. He threw for just over 200 yards per game, with only 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Most forgettable, however, was his 80.1 Quarterback Rating, which was good for 24th in the NFL.  Roethlisberger has the physical tools to succeed, but with Pittsburgh’s run-first mentality and his inexperience at taking over football games, it’s difficult to place him higher on this list. He is the best game manager in the NFL, but he is a game manager first and a quarterback second.

9. Cincinnati Bengals – Carson Palmer
Prior to an injury-plagued 2008 season, Carson Palmer was one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the NFL. From 2005-07, Palmer played in all 48 games, producing no less than 3,816 yards and no less than 26 passing touchdowns in that three year stretch. As Palmer returns from injury in 2009, it is fair to assume that he can return to form.

8. Chicago Bears – Jay Cutler
Josh McDaniels’ nemesis turned into one of the few 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterbacks to ever land on the trading block. The Chicago Bears won the Jay Cutler Sweepstakes, and became the instant favorite in an ever-so-mediocre NFC North. Cutler had a phenomenal 2008 campaign, finishing with over 4,500 passing yards and 25 touchdowns. Cutler did experience some problems, however, throwing for a near league-high 18 interceptions while missing the postseason due to one of the most notable late-season collapses in recent memory. With the Chicago Bears defense in tow, Cutler could have a very successful 2009 season.

7. Dallas Cowboys – Tony Romo
If the NFL regular season ended in November, Tony Romo would be a god. As it stands, he is forced to annually punt, pass, and kick the Dallas Cowboys offense into the ground to close out the season. Despite a growing reputation as a choke artist, no one can dismiss Romo’s regular season success. Statistically, Romo is one of the most productive NFL quarterbacks in recent years, but his inability to perform in big games has dropped him a few pegs on this list. Unfortunately for Romo, Jessica Simpson’s hotness could not factor into this equation either…

6. Philadelphia Eagles – Donovan McNabb
Despite Philadelphia Eagles fans’ complete dissatisfaction with the status quo, Donovan McNabb remains one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL. After the Kevin-Kolb-might-be-good-but-wow-he-blew-in-the-one-game-he-played debacle, McNabb put together a string of five stellar performances. In the final five games of 2008, McNabb led the Eagles to a 4-1 record, throwing for nine touchdowns, one interception, and a 98.7 Quarterback Rating, culminating a 44-6 romp over the Dallas Cowboys in a win-or-go-home season finale. McNabb is one of the most efficient and accurate passers in NFL history, and clearly ranks in the upper tier of NFL quarterbacks.

5. San Diego Chargers – Philip Rivers
If personal bias had anything to do with this list, Philip Rivers would be dead last. As much as I hate his personality, he seems to get better every year. While he was initially fostered by all-world back LaDainian Tomlinson, Rivers was forced to produce his own offense in 2008, a task which he executed quite efficiently. In 2008, threw for over 4,000 yards while leading the NFL in Quarterback Rating (105.5) and touchdowns (34). Rivers had led the Chargers to three consecutive postseasons and may not have reached his full potential yet.

4. Arizona Cardinals – Kurt Warner
In 2008, the ageless wonder had an outstanding season. He finished top three in Passing Attempts (2nd), Passing Completions (3rd), Completion Percentage (2nd), Passing Yards (2nd), Passing Touchdowns (3rd), and Quarterback Rating (3rd). Warner has a roller-coaster resume, featuring time spent as a grocery clerk, Arena League all-star, Super Bowl Champion, one-touch fumble machine, Eli Manning Backup, and now resides as an Arizona Icon. He is the essence of a pure passer, and seems to thrive in only one kind of offense: the kind that says “We’re throwing! Try and stop us!”

3. New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees
Drew Brees flirted with history in 2008, falling just short of Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a single season. His season numbers were phenomenal nonetheless, as he threw for over 5,000 yards and a league-leading 34 touchdowns. Brees’ career numbers are just as impressive. He sports a 63.9 career completion percentage and 1.69:1 career touchdown to interception ratio.

2. New England Patriots – Tom Brady
If I were ranking quarterbacks based solely on prior accomplishments, Brady would occupy the top spot on the list. If I were ranking quarterbacks based solely on what I expect from them in the 2009 season, Brady would be somewhere in the middle of the pack (ask Daunte Culpepper and Donovan McNabb how their first season back from the same injury went). This list, however, is gauging the overall best quarterbacks in the NFL right now. Tom Brady is a proven winner who throws the most accurate short ball in the entire NFL. His skill set, coupled with his mastery of the New England playbook, easily makes him one of the top two quarterbacks in the NFL.

1. Indianapolis Colts – Peyton Manning
The top spot on this list came down to the upper echelon of current NFL quarterbacks; Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. While Brady’s accomplishments cannot be understated, Peyton Manning has done more-with-less than any quarterback in recent history (for an excellent summary see this article).

That’s it! I hope you enjoyed the read.

Please comment on this article as you see fit!

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