By Jaboner Jackson 8 am | The success of all teams in the NFL is highly dependent on quarterback play. We reviewed all 32 NFL starting quarterbacks last month, breaking down quarterbacks into three tiers. First Tier quarterbacks can dominate a team and therefore make their teams legitimate Superbowl contenders year in and year out. Second Tier quarterbacks consistently perform at a high level and with the right help around them, can make a Superbowl run but these quarterbacks are mostly aiming for the playoffs. Third Tier quarterbacks rarely win Superbowls. Since I’d rather read the Wall Street Journal and Stack Rank anything and everything than watch preseason football, I have consulted with our AFC West Research Assistant, Jessica C. to offer up our AFC West Quarterback Preview.
San Diego Chargers
Starter | The Chargers clearly have the best quarterback in the division with Philip Rivers (Second Tier, Ranked 2 of out 32 NFL quarterbacks) leading the charge. In fact, the Chargers have one of the elite quarterbacks in the game. Rivers has become frighteningly efficient in Norv Turner’s offense. Last year, he passed a league best 4710 yards while throwing only 13 interceptions. He put up 30 touchdowns despite having a hodgepodge of receivers for most of the year.
In the 2011 preseason, he has continued to dissect defenses with surgical skill. He has Vincent Jackson for the full season and will form one of the most explosive quarterback-receiver tandems in the league. The one area where Rivers regressed in 2010 was in the sack department. As his team played from behind for large stretches of the season, Rivers exhibited a tendency to hold onto the ball for too long. Rivers has never been a mobile quarterback and it showed in the sacks department, where Rivers was sacked 38 times. By comparison, Peyton Manning, who is the absolute best in getting rid of the ball quickly, was sacked only 16 times despite having a decidedly inferior offensive line.
Rivers’ propensity to hold onto the ball to make a play was a key factor in the Chargers’ loss to Oakland during Week 5 of the 2010 season when Raiders safety Michael Huff was forced a fumble on a safety blitz, thereby eradicating a Philips-led drive that could have put the Chargers on top of the Raiders.
Backups | The Chargers will lean on veteran journeyman quarterback Billy Volek to spell relief for Rivers. Thankfully for the Chargers, Rivers has been remarkably durable for the all the sacks he has taken. Rivers has not missed a game since being thrust into the starting lineup in 2006. Volek has the advantage of having been Rivers’s backup since 2006 and having been in place for all of Norv Turner’s regime. He is a capable backup who knows the offensive system. The Chargers will not carry a third quarterback.
Kansas City Chiefs
Starter | Matt Cassell (Second Tier, Ranked 20 out of 32 NFL quarterbacks) made strides at quarterback towards the second half of the 2010 season. Last year’s offensive coordinator, Charlie Weiss, said his main goal in 2010 was improve the quarterback play and he succeeded in this goal. Weiss is long gone but new offensive coordinator Bill Muir will continue to implement Todd Haley’s offensive scheme. Cassell had a statistically good but not great year in 2010, passing for 27 touchdowns on only 7 interceptions. But he completed only 58% of his passes despite having a ferocious checkdown option in Jamaal Charles. Cassell suffered from not having a trusted receiver in the slot who could catch balls over the middle.
The Chiefs hope they have remedied this situation by bringing in Steve Breaston and presumably they have. Cassell needs help to excel and he has plenty of it on offense. Cassell will undoubtedly improve on his numbers from last year but whether he begins to read defenses more quickly remains to be seen.
Backups | The Chiefs are going with youth at their backup positions with first year quarterbacks Tyler Palko and Ricky Stanzi. Palko has jumped round the NFL for the past couple of years, playing on practice squads but never making a team’s roster. Stanzi is a pure rookie who has good size and excelled at Iowa. Neither Palko or Stanzi are legitimate NFL quarterbacks at this point in their careers but Stanzi does have the potential into developing into a legitimate backup.
The Chiefs are dedicated to Cassell at the starting spot. The only way Palko or Stanzi will see playing time is because of injury.
Starter | Coach John Fox finally made the correct decision and unequivocally gave the starting nod to Kyle Orton (Second Tier, Ranked 15 out of 32 NFL quarterbacks) and his neck beard. The decision to start Orton over hunky Tim Tebow was obvious to everyone. Orton is the most underappreciated quarterback in the NFL. He was pushed out of Chicago despite success on the field and then was almost dealt to Miami this year despite clearly being the best quarterback on the Broncos roster.
Orton excelled during most of his time under Josh McDaniels despite having a less than complete complement of offensive weapons. He is a good decision maker, fast with his reads, and has enough arm strength to do well. He is a legitimate NFL starter and gives the Broncos an opportunity to compete in the AFC West. Orton will be good for 3,500 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2011, which will not be enough for the Broncos to make waves in the AFC West but will be enough to keep his detractors at bay.
Backups | Tim Tebow is perfectly slotted at this point in his career for backup duty. His accuracy is atrocious and pre-game adjustments nonexistent but he makes plays. Although Tebow seems to have slipped to #3 on the quarterback depth chart, his skill set of running the ball makes him a legitimate reliever for stretches of the game. He is still not ready to be a starting NFL quarterback and it looks more and more likely that Tebow will not be a Bronco in 2012.
Brady Quinn managed to get exactly zero pass attempts off in 2010 while playing for the Broncos, which considering his atrocious showing in Cleveland during in 2009 was apropos. But Quinn has played decently well at times during the NFL Preseason and represents the pocket passer that both John Fox and honcho John Elway prefer. Politically, it will be hard for Quinn to get playing time ahead of Tebow and ultimately Tebow does give the Broncos a better chance to win for short stretches of time than does Quinn. Interestingly, Charlie Weiss touted Quinn as the best physically gifted quarterback he had ever coached when Weiss was at Notre Dame. But it takes more than physical talent to excel.
Starter | Jason Campbell (Third Tier, Ranked 23rd out of 32 NFL quarterbacks) has looked good if not spectacular in the 2011 preseason, which is an auspicious sign for the Raiders, especially considering the Raiders themselves are not sold on Campbell. Campbell was benched by Hue Jackson last year in favor of Bruce Gradkowski and his shiny bald head but Campbell reentered the starting lineup when Gradkowski could not remain healthy. Campbell has a strong arm and good accuracy but has not played at an NFL tempo either pre-snap or or post-snap at any point in his career. Hue Jackson has stated publically he has been pleased with the progress that Campbell has made this training camp but the truth remains that Campbell is on the last year of his contract and the Raiders thought little enough of him as their future quarterback to draft Terrelle Pryor in the supplemental draft.
Campbell’s quarterback rating has consistently been in the 80s and 70s for his career, which is a reflection of poor pre-snap play. Supporters of Campbell have pointed to the fact that he has been in a new offensive system for each of his years in the NFL (and while at Auburn as well) but now Campbell finally has been in the same offensive system for consecutive years. But like Albert Einstein has said, insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Campbell will be good for 20 touchdowns in 2011 and a lot of missed opportunities down the field.
Backups | Kyle Boller will be the clear backup. He is what he is—a backup quarterback who is competent but not spectacular in every way. Boller has a good grasp of Jackson’s offense and can definitely step in and call the plays but has not demonstrated the panache or flair that last year’s backup, Bruce Gradkowski, demonstrated.
Terrelle Pryor will officially make the roster as the team’s #3 quarterback after his NFL suspension finishes, which is likely to be shortened or even eliminated upon NFLPA appeal. Pryor is intriguing but enormously raw. If Pryor does get significant playing time in 2011 because of injuries—which has been a factor for the Raiders for the past two season because of suspect offensive line play—he will have a difficult transition as he adjusts to the speed of the NFL game.
Reference: Stack Ranking All 32 NFL Quarterbacks (08/2011)
Photo of Jessica C. taken by Stanton Jack, Team Photographer