Eli Manning, Tony Romo are Both Amongst 5 Best QBs in Football in 2011
Five NFL quarterbacks have risen above the rest this year to all-pro consideration.
The basis for my reasoning is simple Net Yards per passing attempt, which subtracts for sack yardage and doesn’t penalize for interceptions or reward for touchdowns.
- Aaron Rodgers
- Tom Brady
- Matt Schaub
- Eli Manning
- Tony Romo
Second Tier of NFL Quarterbacks (2011 season only)
- Drew Brees
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Cam Newton
- Philip Rivers
- Jason Campbell
- Michael Vick
- Ryan Fitzpatrick
- Matt Hasselbeck
Ed. note: Campbell and Brees are free agents after the season.
I think there are a couple of surprises on this list. At the onset of the year, I would not have expected Michael Vick to remain in the top half of NFL passers, much less the top third, but he’s right up there. And Matt Hasselbeck is a guy I was convinced he was finished. He’s regressed a bit from his insane start, but is still up there driving his team to a surprising 5-4 start. With Cam Newton, it’s not that surprising that a rookie ranks in this class, but that the rookie is Newton? That’s a surprise. Campbell and Fitzpatrick? Not really surprises. I wouldn’t give the contract the Bills gave Fitzpatrick to either of them, necessarily, because I don’t know if it’s smart to predict either will stay within the top third of passers in the league, but the fact that they are up there in their primes is not surprising at all.
There are a couple of important observations here before I get to a value discussion of Romo/Eli. The first is that their are fewer ‘elite’ quarterbacks playing right now than in either 2009 or 2010. We may not be entering a golden era for passing after all. If we are, I’m pretty sure Aaron Rodgers is driving it. Peyton Manning is hurt, but I doubt he would be performing at an “elite” level, even if healthy.
Matt Schaub is having an unbelievable year for the Texans, and is back to performing at an elite level after a down year. But with Tony Romo and Eli Manning having career years, the quarterback play in the NFC East is single-handedly keeping offensive levels in this league high. Without them, we could be looking forward to a Texans-Pats AFC Championship, and have the Packers waiting for the winner. But the Cowboys and Giants are going to make this thing interesting in the NFC, and the Saints and 49ers are both likely to win at least one playoff game. Because of the surprising quality of quarterback play in the NFC, that looks like one of the most interesting playoff fields in memory. Whether it’s needing a referendum on who the real Matt Stafford is, wondering what Alex Smith can accomplish with a seemingly infinite number of chances to get things right, Rodgers and his dominance, this field has all sorts of great storylines. The play of Tony Romo and Eli Manning will enhance that.
On a side note, I don’t mean to ignore Schaub’s play now that the Texans are winning heading into the Thanksgiving part of the NFL calendar instead of considering how to justify holding form next year, but Manning and Romo are having such great years compared to their career expectations and Schaub is really just being Matt Schaub. I can get to him at a later date. The Texans are for real, finally.
The Giants and Cowboys will fight it out in the NFC East over the final half season and it’s worth pointing out that neither has any running game to carry the load for the quarterbacks. As a passer, Romo has no weaknesses, only that he’s had issues making intelligent decisions with sizable leads this year. But it’s pretty shocking that Eli Manning has developed into a player without weaknesses. I had him as the third rated fantasy quarterback heading into the season, because in terms of Net Yards per attempt, the only player in Manning’s stratosphere in terms of consistency and dominance was Philip Rivers over the last two seasons. Manning has actually taken it up to another level while Romo’s improvement has been more marginal.
There was a time in the recent past where a Romo/Eli debate was silly because it was entirely based on Manning’s super bowl title, and nothing else that Romo had any control over. A comparison of their on-field performance would have been foolish. Romo was playing at a different level. Now, with Romo playing some of the best ball of his career, there’s a legit argument to be made that Eli is playing even better. It would seem ridiculous to leave either off of the NFC pro bowl roster, but Drew Brees lurks just beneath the level that these two are playing at and, being Drew Brees, that gives him an inside track at the pro bowl. Manning plays a tougher slate of defenses the rest of the way, so if things hold serve, Manning would remain in the discussion for All-pro consideration.
Projecting forward, I don’t know if any Tony Romo comparables are relevant anymore. Romo hasn’t just been great, he’s been remarkably consistent every season. In a “down” year in 2008, Romo had a quarterback rating of 91.4. He missed 3 games with a broken pinky. It’s clear that Romo’s decline will eventually be driven by injury: it’s the only weakness he will take into his age 32 season.
And Manning? What weaknesses does he have? That his track record of dominance isn’t as long as Romo’s or Philip Rivers, or that he’s not as good as Aaron Rodgers? Manning is just 30 years old, and he looks like the safest bet to dominate his division over the next five years. If he’s able to do that in a division with Michael Vick and Romo, Eli is going to move himself into the hall of fame discussion. That was unfathomable even at the beginning of the season. And that contract the Giants gave to Manning? It, somehow, looks like a bargain now.
Manning’s ascension only makes sense based on very recent evidence that was hidden under a mountain of interception numbers. As recently as 2008, it seemed obvious that Eli would have been out of the NFL before older brother Peyton was, and certainly before Romo. As it turns out, Eli is not quite halfway to Brett Favre’s consecutive starts record, but it’s conceivable he could get there. It’s 11 more seasons for Eli at 16 games per, or 10 more seasons at 18 games per after this one. Eli Manning, of all people, was not supposed to threaten to play 20 seasons for one team (or consecutive). Philip Rivers, sure, but Manning?
Because of the seasons that Romo and Eli Manning are enjoying, we have to re-examine our quarterback age curves and realize that the league is going to be strong at the QB position well past the time that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady hang it up.