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COLUMN

It's too early to judge NFL QBs, or is it?

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For more sports commentary, follow Reggie Hayes on Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

There's always a Manning in the mix for best in the league

Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 6:19 am

It's way too early to rank the NFL quarterbacks, so I thought this would be the perfect time to do so. What? Would you rather have another column on officiating? I didn't think so.

This is a pivotal season for quarterbacks in the NFL, with the influx of rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson, the return of Peyton Manning and the coach-less wanderings of Drew Brees. The only constant in 2012 is Jay Cutler's constipated smirk.

We could just list the quarterbacks by stats, such as passer rating, in which case the Falcons' Matt Ryan is the best and the Dolphins' Tannehill the worst with a strong (weak?) push from Cutler. But that's an imperfect measurement that only Jon Gruden really understands.

We could rank by yards passing or yards per game, which puts the Giants' Eli Manning first and the Cardinals' Kevin Kolb last. But Kolb, who lost his starting job but got it back when John Skelton was injured, doesn't air it out by design.

Go by wins, however, and Kolb shoots to the top along with Ryan and the Texans' Matt Schaub – the only quarterbacks sitting 3-0 to start the season.

I'm ranking the “quarterbacks of the three-fourths of a month” solely on feel. Who are the Top 5 in temperament, leadership, attitude and confidence?

Yes, it's early, but in this year's questionably officiated NFL, it's even more imperative to have an offensive leader taking charge. Without further ado, or heavy analysis of numbers, here's my premature Top 5 QBs of 2012:

1. Eli Manning, Giants. Two Super Bowls under his belt, he entered this season as the Manning family's top quarterback, seizing the role thanks to his continued improvement and older brother Peyton's neck issues. After an opening-night loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Manning has the Giants back among the obvious elite teams in the NFL. He has a 510 yards in a single game. Plus, he can take a hit on a kneel-down play like nobody's business.

2. Matt Ryan, Falcons. What's not to like about Ryan? He has the highest passer rating, he's completing 72 percent of his passes, he has eight touchdown passes to one interception and his team is 3-0. Critics have pointed to postseason (lack of) success as his major drawback, so we'll have to wait and see how that shakes out. Right now, however, he's as elite as it gets and as sharp as anyone.

3. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers. Big Ben is flinging it (120 passes attempted in three games) and that's probably an indictment of the pedestrian state of the Pittsburgh running game. Like Ryan, he's 8-1 in TDs vs. INTs, which seems to indicate maybe he's less loose with the throws this season. He's second to Ryan in passer rating.

4. Matt Schaub, Texans. Schaub might just be leading the NFL's best team. He has Andre Johnson, one of the best receivers of the last decade. Schaub's play against the Denver Broncos – head-to-head with Peyton Manning – was hard to beat. He threw for 290 yards and four touchdowns.

5. Joe Flacco, Ravens. Flacco always seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to his perceived status among the top quarterbacks. That's not necessarily a bad thing. You need some attitude to fit in with the Ravens' vibe. He's putting up 304 yards a game with six touchdowns to two picks.

So what about the Packers' Aaron Rodgers and the Patriots' Tom Brady, perennial powerhouses? Actually, it's tough to tell how good Rodgers is this year, since he's flat on the turf half the time (16 sacks, most in the NFL). Unless the Packers find a way to fix their pass protection, this could be a long season for Rodgers. On the other hand, the fact they got ripped off on the final play of the Seahawks game could motivate all season.

There seems little doubt, given his track record, that Brady will rise to the top of the list in the coming weeks. He's unflappable. Brady's start is solid, just not spectacular.

The returns are too early to definitively assess the rookie quarterbacks. Luck and Griffin appear to be as good as expected. The only questions is if both will make it through the season, with Griffin running the option and Luck running for his life.

In the early bottom five, everyone's chasing Cutler, including his own offensive linemen and, oddly enough, a flailing Brees. Both of those guys, incidentally, will be back among the Top 10 by midseason or I'll shave my head. Yes, I'm that confident in Cutler.

As for Peyton Manning, he shows signs of his old self at times, but he's not the Peyton of 2004 or 2005. That Peyton, incidentally, would be running away with this ranking if he were here today.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com