Wednesday, June 11, 2008

NFC North Preview: Quarterbacks

Alright, so since it's kind of slow right now in the football world, I figured I would do what everyone, including myself, loves to read about: Previews. We all love reading previews of the upcoming season including positional rankings, playoff predictions, sleeper teams, etc, etc. It's worth noting though that at the end of the year, you will most likely look back on most of the "experts" previews and predictions, or even your own if you make them, and only have one word to say: Wow. Yes, things like these are basically useless. No one knows exactly what will happen over the course of the season, what teams and players will come out of nowhere to outplay their expectations or those that will totally fall off the face of the planet. Just look back at last year for example. The experts and most Packer fans, even the most diehard of homers, realistically didn't see us getting anywhere past 9 wins. Chicago was the favorite to win the division and did anyone see the year that Brett Favre had coming? Not many of us. What I'm trying to say is that in the next couple of days while I do an NFC North Preview, ranking positions and giving my predictions, is that they are essentially worthless. But I have fun doing them anyhow. Alot of people write them. Alot of people will read them. It happens every year. So here is part one of my NFC North Preview: Ranking the Quarterbacks.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

No, this is not because I am a diehard Packers fan, posting on a Packers blog. It's because Rodgers is simply going to end up being, by a good margin I believe, the best quarterback in the NFC North, albeit, that really isn't saying too much. I'm aware that we really only have one regular season game to base our prediction of Rodger's success off of. I'm aware that this will be his first year as a starter on a professional football team. I'm aware that he is "following a legend" (Seriously, is anyone else sick and tired of hearing that exact phrase in every interview Rodgers goes through?). But I firmly believe Rodgers is in a much different situation than the typical first year starter. Number one, this is 4th NFL season. He's had three years to learn Mike McCarthy's version of the West Coast Offense, the third in which a lot of different things finally started to "click" in his mind. He's been backed 100% by both his head coach and general manager and knows that he's now "the guy". It's not like Rodgers is going to step into the huddle on opening night against Minnesota and say "Ummm....der??". He's had three years to prepare himself for this moment. He's also had plenty of time working with the first team offense in the past years, when Favre wasn't there. Yes, it was only practice, but it's still valuable time. The big thing I like about the situation he steps into are his wide receivers. Looking back at last year, do you realize how many of Favre's yards were from his WRs YAC? I don't know the exact percentage, but I know it was the highest in the league. That's not taking anything away from what Brett did last year, it just goes to show you how much a group of talented WRs with a knack of getting the ball downfield after a reception, can help your offense. Rodgers just has to do his things, get the ball in the hands of his WRs, and they will take it from there. He supposedly has a pretty good deep ball as well, which certainly won't hurt. He is more agile than Favre was and his mobility may give McCarthy some more options in his playcalling, but it will still be hard to replace Favre's uncanny ability to avoid being sacked, no matter how ugly it may have looked. I really envision Rodgers being a patient, under control, and accurate quarterback leading this offense. He won't have to carry the offense half of the year, much like Favre did in 2007, since it appears we should have a top 10 rushing offense this year, but that doesn't mean that he's going to sit back there and hand the ball off every snap. He will still make his fair share of plays and I firmly believe his three years of hard work and preparation in learning the offense and readying himself for this moment, entrenches Rodgers as being the top QB in the division, despite only a handful of career passing attempts.

2. Jon Kitna, Detroit Lions

Mr. Jon "Ten Win" Kitna enters his third season behind center for the Detroit Lions. It may be hard to believe that in his two years as the Lions starting quarterback, he has started all 32 games, passed for 4,000 yards in each year, and completed over 62% of his passes. I guess that's not too hard to believe, considering he's on a Lions teams that is used to playing from behind. By the way, did you know that the Lions have a whopping total of 26 wins over the last FIVE years. The Packers had more than half of that in 2007. The problem with Kitna is his turnovers. He's thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in both 2006 (21 TDs, 22 INTs) and 2007 (18 TDs and 20 INTs). I can't forget to mention the 9 fumbles lost in 2006 and 6 lost in 2007. Maybe his infamous "10 wins" prediction should be changed to "10 turnovers" as in the amount he plans to have through the first 6 games of the season. With Mike Martz out of the picture and Jim Colletto in, I wouldn't be surprised to see Kitna's numbers dip a bit this year. Colletto plans on relying on his running game a bit more, to which many of us reply "WHAT running game?". (Quick, name the Lions projected starting running back.) Anyhow. What Kitna does have going for him are a couple of nice WRs. Roy Williams is his go-to guy and Calvin Johnson is only expected to get better. Even with Colletto's slight change in the offensive game plan, the ball will still be in Kitna's hands quite often, just maybe a bit less than last year. You can rely on him to quietly put up some numbers throughout the year, but he's not a quarterback I would want on a team looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. I still think the Lions need to turn to one of their young guns, either Stanton or Orlovsky and atleast see what they may have to offer.

3. Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota Vikings

Tarvaris Jackson is a young Donovan McNabb. He's poised to breakout in this third year in Minnesota and lead the Vikings to the promised land......

I had to get your attention somehow, didn't I? No, this is definitely not what I think of Jackson. Although from Jared Allen's visions of a Super Bowl and Ray Edwards predictions of a sack record, I wouldn't be surprised if many people of Minnesota actually believe what I just typed as a joke, to be not far from the truth. Supposedly, this is the year that Jackson becomes a reliable NFL quarterback. From what I read, he has more confidence and is more than ready to prove his doubters wrong. He has supposedly made strides during the off-season as well. Props to him. I like a player who works hard and has confidence. But I just won't believe Jackson is anything more than a below average quarterback who can lead an offense in this league. The good news for him is that the Vikings don't really need to rely on him as they have a first year wonder in running back Adrian Peterson. There's no doubt that Peterson is the focal point of this offense and that will take pressure off of Jackson, of course. And hey, atleast they signed somebody for him to throw the ball to, in Bernard Berrian. (I must say, I found it funny when I read over at packergeeks that they thought Berrian is really just one of those kids at recess who says "I'll go deep" every play.) I just really can't see how Jackson is going to turn into anything other than a so-so quarterback. You can have the best running back in the world on your team, but a reliable QB who knows how to win games is what a good team needs the most, in my eyes.

4. Rex Grossman/Kyle Orton/Oscar the Grouch, Chicago Bears

Whoever the quarterback of the Bears ends up being, even if it is a Sesame Street character, is going to be the worst QB in the division. If I could, I would rank the Bears QBs 32nd in the NFC North, but unfortunately, we only have 4 teams. Seriously, who are they going to throw to? Marty Booker? Wasn't he washed up in his FIRST stint with da Bears? Brandon Lloyd? Oh, he's not a 49er anymore? Mark Bradley? He's only good in the preseason (I think he led the league in receiving yards last pre-season). Earl Bennett? This isn't the SEC anymore. Devin Hester? What an explosive special teamer, the best I've ever seen (eh, maybe Desmond Howard is ahead of him) but did you know they are actually seriously contemplating using him as one of their top WRs? Okay, he's fast, but this isn't Madden 09. I don't see that working out too well. Yeah, I just don't find it worth my time typing much more about their QBs. I think their entire offense is going to be atrocious, quarterback being no exception.

And that's that. There you have it, my QB rankings for the NFC North. Can't wait till I look back at these in March of 2009 and say, "Wow, I can't believe Tarvaris Jackson was league MVP AND Super Bowl winner.".....Just kidding.

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