Top 33 NFL Quarterbacks heading into 2012 season

By Gil Alcaraz IV

What we’ve all been eagerly awaiting has finally arrived. The 2012 NFL season is upon us.

And with that comes the speculation on every topic ranging from who will be the best quarterback to who will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at season’s end. Well, I’ve decided to tackle the former.

Here’s a list of my Top 30 quarterbacks heading into the 2012 season and why I decided to rank them in their respective spots. At the bottom is the list of my Top 3 rookie passers.

Enjoy and don’t be afraid to leave a comment if you feel that your favorite quarterback was snubbed.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Playing with a chip on his shoulder, Rodgers has helped revitalize the Packers since taking over as their starting quarterback in 2008. From a Super Bowl victory to a 15-1 regular season, it appears that Rodgers is just getting started with carving out his own niche in NFL history.

2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

I’m losing count on how many times Brady has been to the Super Bowl. Year after year, the Patriots’ field general finds ways to keep them in the win column. Brady has at least a few more outstanding years in him and isn’t done taking New England to the promised land.

3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Yes, he broke Dan Marino’s passing yards record and has helped resurrect a football team that once lived at the bottom of the NFL’s barrel. He’s a superb talent and a tenacious leader, but his “it” factor just isn’t as impressive as Rodgers’ or Brady’s are.

4. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

Prior to the 2011 season, Manning would have been a shoe-in for the No. 1 slot. And then he spent the entire 2011 campaign on the sidelines and landed with the Broncos after his release. Still, Manning is one the best pure talents in the league and could be primed for a Comeback Player of the Year Award.

5. Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions

The Lions’ success in 2012 will depend largely on the health of Stafford and his ability to put up big numbers while connecting with wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Assuming that he doesn’t fall victim to injury again, Stafford should be able to boost the Lions back into the playoffs at season’s end.

6. Eli Manning, New York Giants

The Super Bowl win will be hanging over Manning’s head this season as he prepares the Giants to defend their championship. After years of playing in his big brother’s shadow, this could be the time for Manning to emerge as one of the elite NFL quarterbacks.

7. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

Rivers is still among the NFL’s best quarterbacks, but another disappointing season from the Chargers’ signal-caller could force him to fall in the rankings. He’ll need to cut down on the costly interceptions and show that he can lead the Chargers to a deep playoff run in 2012.

8. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

Ryan continues to progress as seasons go by, and the Falcons are reaping the benefits of his development. The only problem is that he has yet to take Atlanta on a deep playoff run, something he’ll need to do before he moves any higher on this list.

9. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans

Before falling to injury 10 weeks into the season, Schaub was on his way to another impressive year with the Texans. Seeing as he appears to be back on track this offseason, expect Schaub to turn in a productive 2012 campaign with star wide receiver Andre Johnson at 100 percent.

10. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Despite turning in one of his most lackluster seasons to date, Roethlisberger is still a one of the best quarterbacks the league has to offer. The big guy just doesn’t go down and finds ways to make plays when they matter most. Not having Rashard Mendenhall will hurt him in 2012, though.

11. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

The pressure is beginning to build on Flacco as the Ravens continue to fall just short of finding their way to the Super Bowl. If he can improve on his numbers from last year while getting some help from the rest of his team, Flacco has the chance to elevate himself to the top tier of NFL quarterbacks.

12. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles

With Newton nipping at his heels as the NFL’s best scrambling quarterback, 2012 will be a big year for Vick to show that he’s still relevant. An ever-explosive Eagles offense should help Vick make the most of Philadelphia’s well-rounded attack this upcoming season.

13. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Coming off one of the most impressive seasons ever turned in by a rookie NFL quarterback, Newton faces a big challenge in his second year with the Panthers. If he can, however, avoid the sophomore slump and continue to build on his 2011 campaign, the sky is the limit for the 2011 first overall pick.

14. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

Time and time again, Romo proves that he can make the plays until the pressure kicks in. When it’s crunch time, though, expect the Cowboys starter to make a mistake. Unless he can find a way to turn that around, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Romo’s time in Dallas come to a close soon.

15. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

Before Cutler fell to injury, the Bears were headed for a legitimate playoff run. After Cutler dropped out of the lineup, the Bears sank five of their next six games to end the season. It’s become clear that Cutler is much more valuable of an NFL quarterback than originally believed.

16. Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee Titans

After arriving in Tennessee, Hasselbeck took no time proving that he still has starting-caliber skills. Although it won’t be long before a certain former first-round pick steals his spot as the Titans quarterback, at least he’s going down fighting.

17. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

Injuries have been a real burden for Bradford though the first two seasons of his NFL career. After his rookie year, Bradford has quickly closing in on a Top 10 slotting. If he can bounce back and bring the Rams some wins in 2012, he might get back on track.

18. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers

The jury is still out on Smith after all of these years. Just when we all thought that he was done with the 49ers, head coach Jim Harbaugh comes in and revives his career. The biggest lingering question is whether or not Smith can repeat his 2011 success this upcoming season.

19. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

The surprise of last year’s draft, Dalton came in and turned the Bengals into a formidable foe. Combining with wide receiver A.J. Green, Dalton helped Cincinnati evolve into one of the NFL’s most electrifying passing attacks. His presence makes the Bengals a candidate for the AFC North crown.

20. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills

Fitzpatrick is finally proving that he’s capable of being a starting NFL quarterback, but that still doesn’t mean that he’s a dominant one. The Bills starter produces too many turnovers and will need to cut down in order for Buffalo to ever get back to being playoff contenders.

21. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans

It’s more than likely that Locker will supplant Hasselbeck as the Titans’ starting quarterback by mid-season, if not earlier. The former first-rounder brings athleticism and swagger to the Tennessee backfield that they haven’t had since the Steve McNair era.

22. Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs

Cassel has done a solid job of holding onto the Chiefs starting gig for the past three seasons, but his grasp is starting to slip. Assuming that he can stay healthy, Cassel will have to have a much better year in 2012 to maintain the grip or a youngster could take his place.

23. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings need a breakout season from Ponder and they’re going to get it. After a rough rookie campaign, Ponder is ready to hurdle the sophomore slump and put up big numbers after Minnesota upgraded the wide receiver corps and offensive line this offseason. If he can stay healthy, that is.

24. Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders

Well his first season in Oakland wasn’t as spectacular as expected, but Palmer still gives the Raiders a legitimate NFL quarterback who can take advantage of their talented wide receivers. With Palmer at the helm, the playoffs are within reach.

25. Shaun Hill, Detroit Lions

Although Hill is well past his prime, the veteran gunslinger has shown that he can be effective when filling in for oft-injured starter Stafford. Hill is one of the most reliable backups in the NFL and has become an invaluable piece to the Lions’ continued rise towards relevance.

26. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Freeman broke out in 2010 with a tremendous overall output. And then he followed up that season with a disastrous showing in 2011. He fumbled nine times, threw 22 interceptions and led the Buccaneers to a 10-game losing streak to end the season. Time is running out for Freeman to find some consistency.

27. Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks signed Flynn to a big-money deal this offseason because they feel that he can be their quarterback of the future. The fact still remains, though, that he has only 132 career passes and two career starts under his belt. There’s a lot for Flynn to prove this upcoming season.

28. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets

The Jets, like many of their fans, have lost confidence in Sanchez and his ability to lead the team to victory. That’s why Tim Tebow was brought in this offseason to give Sanchez one final chance to prove he can be the starter. If he struggles early, Sanchez will be riding the pine.

29. Ricky Stanzi, Kansas City Chiefs

Cassel might be the starter for now, but Stanzi is gaining momentum as he continues to accumulate seasons. Coaches have been impressed with his offseason workouts and grasp of the playbook. If Cassel goes down or struggles early, don’t be surprised to see the reins placed in Stanzi’s hands.

30. T.J. Yates, Houston Texans

I was having trouble deciding who would take the final spot, but went with Yates because of how he handled baptism by fire last season. He’s one of the few promising young NFL quarterbacks who has seen significant playing time and played an integral role in the Texans’ first playoff appearance.

Top Three Rookies

31. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Considered by many to be the next elite NFL quarterback, Luck has a lot riding on his rookie season with the Colts. Not only will be expected to help Indianapolis bounce back from an embarrassing 2-14 effort, but he’ll also have to help Colts fans forget about the departure of long-time quarterback Manning.

32. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

Much like Luck, Griffin is facing huge expectations heading into his rookie season. The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner will be expected to come in and turn the Washington offense into something that opposing defenses don’t laugh at. There’s a lot of boom-bust potential here with Griffin.

33. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns

A lot of questions have arisen regarding whether or not Weeden will be able to outperform Colt McCoy as the Browns starting quarterback. He was immediately handed the keys to the offense, though, so it seems that Cleveland has enough confidence in his abilities as an NFL quarterback.

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