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There's a stupid debate raging among football fans about just who is the NFL's best quarterback. It's a ridiculous argument. You don't need a bunch of statistics to figure out that New England's Tom Brady stands helmet and shoulder pads above his competitors.
It isn't even close. There's Brady, and then there's the race for second place. Brady is so dominant right now that many of the other top quarterbacks are flat out overrated. You follow?
Take Brett Favre. Many football experts still consider Favre one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the game. He isn't. He's completely overrated. So is Peyton Manning, an excellent player who doesn't belong in the debate for No. 1.
These guys get overrated because most QB evaluators rely too heavily on statistics. I hate stats. What you see on the scoreboard and what you see on the field is the only way to evaluate a quarterback. We know Brady dominates on the scoreboard -- the Patriots haven't lost in a year. What you might not realize is how impressive Brady is on the field, and that's because the NFL hasn't developed a way to track the one defining stat for a quarterback:
Y.A.C., which stands for (passing) yards after contact.
Football is a contact sport, and no quarterback in the league handles contact as smoothly and courageously as Brady does. That's what separates Brady from Manning and everyone else playing the position.
Brady is the exact same quarterback after he absorbs a sack or hit as he is before the contact. You can't say that about Manning or many other QBs. Why do you think Brady has led two game-winning drives in the Super Bowl? Because getting dinged doesn't bother him. He never gets happy feet. It's difficult to force him into a hurried read.
The book on defending Manning is to hit him in the mouth early in the game and then watch him melt. Manning isn't a wimp; he just doesn't shake off contact as effectively as Brady. Manning, like most quarterbacks, hears footsteps. Brady, in this context, is deaf.
His willingness to stand in the pocket and absorb a hit is why New England's adequate receiving corps and (until this year) mediocre running game have produced enough points to win two Super Bowls and 20 straight games. If Brady had Indianapolis' personnel, he'd go stat for stat with Manning, and there would be no debate.
As a favor to you, I've taken the time to rank the NFL quarterbacks from one to 15. Stats don't count. Brady, of course, is No. 1. Feel free to print out this list, take it to work and shut up your co-workers.
2. Donovan McNabb: He's everything the Atlanta Falcons pray that Michael Vick becomes one day. I really can't compare McNabb to anyone else. He has a much different running style than Randall Cunningham did. As a runner, McNabb reminds me of Steve Young, but Young was a superior passer. Who knows? Maybe McNabb will continue to develop as a passer. The addition of Terrell Owens has certainly given McNabb a Jerry Rice-like target.
3. Peyton Manning: It probably sounds like I have a problem with Peyton. I don't. He's a terrific quarterback. Plus, when I was inducted into my high school's hall of fame, Peyton was the keynote speaker. My problem with Peyton is that I'm just not a stats guy. Right now, without a Super Bowl appearance or ring, Peyton is the Dominique Wilkins of the NFL. Peyton is the Human Highlight Machine. I never liked Dominique. He never won an important NBA or college game. Heck, there are rumors that Dominique never won an important AAU game. So what Manning did to the defenseless Kansas City defense in last season's playoffs is offset by what he didn't do against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.
4. Steve McNair: You have to love his toughness. But oftentimes, I wonder if the TV crews who constantly put together packages heaping praise on McNair for playing hurt realize that almost every great quarterback plays hurt. You think Dan Marino didn't play hurt after missing a week of practices? Man, I saw Joe Montana at the end of his career play with some of the nastiest, ugliest bruises across his midsection that I've ever seen. So spare me the John Wayne stuff when it comes to Air McNair. Let's just stick with the facts: McNair is the modern-day John Elway, the greatest player ever to play the game. You can't put McNair on Elway's level, but he's close. McNair is the same kind of big, strong athlete that Elway was. Elway had slightly better feet and was a bit more accurate. McNair has better touch.
5. Chad Pennington: The closest thing we've actually seen to Montana since Montana. Pennington compensates for a lack of arm strength with accuracy, precision, touch and unmatched timing. No QB in the league hits his receivers coming out of a break as consistently as Bad Chad. Pennington is near robotic when reading a defense and going through his progression. Throws the most catchable ball in the NFL. It's never too hot; and because of his footwork and timing, the receiver rarely has to wait on it. Pennington is a receiver's best friend. 6. Daunte Culpepper: I'm not a huge Culpepper fan. He plays alongside the football version of Shaquille O'Neal -- Randy Moss. It's impossible to exaggerate Moss' impact on a football game. Moss makes everyone on his offense -- and defense -- better. Whenever Culpepper is in a tough spot, he has the option of alley-ooping a pass to Moss. The opposition is so concerned about Moss that the Vikings' other receivers have free run of the field. There are a limited number of coverage schemes a defense can run when it's trying to contend with Moss. There's a reason every quarterback who plays with Moss puts up Pro Bowl numbers.
7. Brett Favre: He has all the pieces and should be leading an offense as explosive as the Indianapolis Colts. The Packers have one of the league's best offensive lines, a game-breaker at running back, a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end and a trio of high-quality, athletic receivers. So why are the Packers 2-4 and unable to get their offense on track? It ain't Ahman Green's fumbles. No one wants to talk about it -- especially the big-time TV broadcasters who stand in line to kiss Brett's pinkie ring -- but Favre is erratic and wild, and makes too many unsound reads.
8. Trent Green: My Kansas City homie is a poor man's Tom Brady. He's another yards-after-contact quarterback. He's been getting it done for four seasons in Kansas City without the benefit of a true No. 1 receiver. Heck, I'm not sure Johnnie Morton and Eddie Kennison qualify even as true No. 2 receivers. This year, teams have doubled tight end Tony Gonzalez and taken away the screens and flat passes to running back Priest Holmes. It's a great strategy, and Kansas City's offense has been slowed. But don't blame Green.
9. Marc Bulger: Does playing for pass-happy Mike Martz help or hurt Bulger? It might do more harm than good. Bulger would be more effective if he were allowed to hand the ball to Marshall Faulk a little more often. As evidenced by their rally against the Seahawks, the Rams' offense can still be highly explosive. Bulger is the guy pulling the strings and winging the ball to Holt and Bruce.
10. Kurt Warner: Don't call it a comeback. Tiki Barber has been in New York for years. My point? Warner cracks my top 10, but let's put an asterisk by his ranking. Tiki's remarkable start may have more to do with Warner's success than Warner's play. Having said that, Warner deserves credit for the Giants' surprising start. He's flashed the accuracy and touch that made him a league MVP a few years ago. Warner still throws an awesome deep ball.
11. Matt Hasselbeck: Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has done a marvelous job of surrounding Hasselbeck with the proper supporting cast -- an excellent running back and top receivers.
12. Joey Harrington: I've always liked Joey, even when he was getting his brains beaten in and didn't have Roy Williams to bail him out. Harrington has mucho athleticism. He can fling it deep on the move. Roy's addition has helped him blossom. What I question about Harrington is his toughness. Before Roy came along, Harrington was prone to leaving the pocket before his protection truly broke down and before his receivers finished their routes.
13. Byron Leftwich: He's a throwback quarterback. A big, sturdy pocket passer. Could be a combination of Phil Simms and Doug Williams, two of the toughest guys to ever stand in the pocket.
14. Michael Vick: I have to see it before I believe it. Option quarterbacks don't win Super Bowls. Never have. Never will. Until Vick proves to me he's more than a new-millennium J.C. Watts, he remains the most watchable overhyped quarterback in the history of the NFL. Vick might re-define the EA Sports Madden curse. The video game is more responsible for making Vick an international superstar than anything he's done on the field.
15. Drew Brees: I'm one of the few guys on the planet who absolutely loved Pat Haden as an NFL quarterback. Brees reminds me of Haden, an intelligent and precise passer. It's too bad he has the misfortune of working with renowned "quarterback killer" Marty Schottenheimer. Marty -- the man who picked Elvis Grbac over Rich Gannon -- has never met a QB he can't screw up.
Notables left off of my top 15:
Drew Bledsoe: He's so washed up that he should be the spokesman for Tide.
David Carr: Decision-making is suspect at best. No command of the game.
Kerry Collins: I've always called him Clipboard Kerry Collins because he looks best Kerry-ing a Klipboard.
Jake Plummer: While standing in his own end zone this season, he threw a left-handed interception.
Ben Roethlisberger: Too young.
Jason Whitlock is a columnist for the Kansas City Star and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of "The Sports Reporters." He also hosts an afternoon radio show, "The Doghouse," on Kansas City's 61 Sports KCSP. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.