Russell Wilson ranks as the 53rd greatest quarterback of all time, according to my exclusive All-Time Quarterback Ranking System.
The system is laser precise and completely inarguable, though all of the criteria are secret. Wilson ranks just above Neil Lomax and below Tommy Thompson of the 1948-49 Eagles. If he throws for 3,300 yards, leads the Seahawks to the playoffs and wins a playoff game this year, he will move past Billy Kilmer, Mark Brunell and Frank Ryan, into a three-way tie with Jeff Garcia and Charlie Conerly.
Does that ranking of Wilson infuriate you? Is it too high, too low or simply too ridiculous? Don't worry: I made it up. Wilson is a great young quarterback who is still on the rise; his place in history can wait. But assigning a ranking to a quarterback is the best way to get attention in this line of work, especially a young guy who has just landed in the eye of the mass-media hurricane.
Reader Daniel Robinson pointed out to me via Twitter that when NFL Network ranked Russell Wilson as the 20th best player of 2014 in its countdown, 56,000 voters declared him "underrated" and another 56,000 or so considered him "overrated." Those numbers essentially cancel out, so perhaps the ranking was perfect. By contrast, 19th ranked Robert Mathis received 800 or so overrated votes and 1,400 underrated votes. Joe Thomas, ranked 18th, received a total of just over 1000 votes, two orders of magnitude lower than the Seahawks quarterback. Other quarterbacks could not even touch Wilson. Colin Kaepernick, about as polarizing a young quarterback that there is for some reason, came in with a roughly even 21K-21K split -- less than half of Wilson's raw voting tabulation.
It does not really matter that Wilson was ranked 20th, as opposed to 10th or 80th. He was still destined to produce high overrated and underrated totals, simply because of the way we perceive quarterbacks -- somewhere between folk heroes and crown prices of ancient empires who must be ceremonially sacrificed to the angry sun god each year to guarantee the harvest. Kaepernick's 81st-place finish seems like the kind of thing that would produce a hue and cry of "underrated" -- he is down among T.J. Ward and Pierre Garcon-types -- yet he gets a rough 50-50 split. Nearly 2,500 people considered Peyton Manning underrated, even though he ranked first. There is a kneejerk element to our reaction to quarterback rankings, and it often comes from the huge barrels of preconceived notions we bring to our thoughts about the men who play the position (leader, choke artist, athlete playing quarterback, finds a way, too short, too old, product of the system, product of hype, arrogant, part of a "new generation of mobile quarterbacks" that has been around for 40 years, and so on) than to what these quarterbacks actually do on the field.
It does not help that the Living Legend Trio of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees has created a set of unrealistic definitions and expectations for what makes an "elite" quarterback. None of the three has started to decline the way 35-plus-year-old athletes are supposed to, and knocking any of them out of the top five is fightin' words for a generation of fans. Wilson 2012-13 cannot stand up next to Peyton 1998-2013 or Brady 2001-13, but there are only a half dozen humans in history who can. Even for someone who analyzes quarterbacks 12 months per year from a variety of angles, pushing through the Living Legend Trio force field to take the temperatures of the mortals within is tricky. Ranking the legends toe-to-toe with a new generation trying to kick down the doors is a recipe for 100,000 disagreements.
Wilson is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. He gets the intro because he won the Super Bowl and attracted so much NFL Network attention. He is a lot like Brady circa 2001-02: up-by-his-bootstraps personality, unimposing college record and physique, great supporting cast, smart "game management" chops (in the best sense of the word) that keep him in the lineup and the playoffs while other talents emerge. I don't know if Wilson will have a Brady career, or if he is the 10th, 20th, or 80th best player in the NFL. I do know that there are several players I would rather have as my starting quarterback for 2014, due to their tools, track record or some combination of both.
The criteria for this final edition of Rankings File: We are selecting the best quarterback depth charts, backups included, for the 2014 season. Imagine that we are ripping these players from their current rosters and sticking them on an average team with .500-caliber blockers, backs, receivers and coaches. Every quarterback attribute is on the table: arm strength, accuracy, decision-making, mobility and even stuff analytic types turn their noses up at like "leadership" reputation. You get guys at their current ages with their current injuries and hang-ups.
Who do you want? A living legend? A next big thing? My underrated players may be your overrated ones, but I want the best of both worlds from my quarterback: the skills of a young quarterback, combined with the bonafides of an older one.
The Five Best Quarterback Situations
1. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers has the best combination of age, ability and accomplishments of any quarterback in the NFL. There are younger quarterbacks with more upside and raw talent, but none of them has Rodgers' track record. The Living Legend Trio certainly accomplished more than Rodgers has, but they are much older, and Rodgers can now routinely make throws none of them can consistently make, including just about every throw that occurs outside the pocket.
Rodgers missed much of last season with injuries. I think of Rodgers' 2013 season as a rough equivalent to Tom Brady in 2008, or perhaps Joe Montana in 1986. All three of these injury-marred seasons occurred when the quarterbacks were around 30 and already had championships and league-leading seasons behind them. All three seasons could have been interpreted as the beginning of an end to durability and Pro Bowl-level productivity when they happened. Instead, Brady and Montana just shifted gears slightly, both coming back even more efficient than they had been before getting hurt. (You could stick Peyton Manning's 2012 season in the same category, though he was much older.) Lots of other quarterbacks got hurt around age 30 and began slowly deteriorating, but the evidence suggests that Rodgers is a quarterback in the Montana/Brady class.
As a bonus, the Packers provide Matt Flynn as packing peanuts. The Living Legend Trio have lingering prospect backups who have never taken real snaps, or in Drew Breees' case, the runner-up in the McCown genetic sweepstakes. Ryan Mallet and Brock Osweiler are better athletes than Matt Flynn, but we all know what Flynn can do in relief of Aaron Rodgers, and only in relief of Aaron Rodgers, if called upon for a game or two.
2. Denver Broncos
We all saw the Super Bowl. We all know that fissures are opening up in Peyton's game. We know he can be vulnerable if you make him slide away from his preferred pocket launch point. We have all known about that weakness since before he left the Colts. If it were easy to make Peyton move, we wouldn't have waited until the Super Bowl to see him move.
Peyton's average production over the last two seasons works out to 317 yards and 2.875 touchdowns per game. That's sustained performance, accomplished with a supporting cast no one thought much of when he arrived. If age rips 20 percent from Peyton's two-year averages, he will still throw for 4,054 yards (253 per game) and 34 touchdowns (2.1 per game). That's the quarterback you get if you take Peyton's established performance level (which shaves some of the enthusiasm from his gonzo 2013 numbers) and lop off roughly three games' worth of excellence to account for decline. That's a quarterback I want more than just about any other quarterback.
Of course, you also want Peyton's ability to come in and transform your offense into a Peyton Manning offense, with all of the no-huddle tactics, audibles and fidgety silliness at the line. You may not want that if the offense you currently use is more successful. No offense in NFL history has consistently been more successful.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
The first few years of Roethlisberger's career line up roughly with the first few years of Colin Kaepernick's career. Like Kaep, the early Big Ben was a big dude with a great arm who could extend plays, but second reads were still a little like Medieval French for him. Luckily, the franchise he played for was amazing, so he could turn bombs, screens and some Houdini stuff into 15-1 seasons and Super Bowl victories.
Roethlisberger grew into a more complete quarterback starting in 2007, but he was never as consistent as the Living Legend Trio, leading the Steelers to the Super Bowl one year but coping with nagging injuries or character issues the next. As Roethlisberger matured as a quarterback and person, the Steelers organization slowly receded, with the offensive line as the first thing to go. Roethlisberger became a better quarterback, but his stats stayed roughly the same, and his win-loss records declined.
Roethlisberger was simply tremendous last season. He played for a team with a dysfunctional running game and patchwork offensive line most of the year. Antonio Brown was his only dangerous downfield weapon. The Steelers defense was largely nostalgia. Roethlisberger threw for 4,261 yards, 28 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions, nearly leading the Steelers to the playoffs under insanely difficult circumstances. A lesser quarterback would have gotten sacked 55 times (Roethlisberger was dumped 42 times), or gotten injured during the 0-4 start, or thrown over 20 interceptions from the pressure and shell shock. If the Steelers surrounded Roethlisberger with teams like the ones they fielded six or seven years ago, the Steelers would have gone 13-3 and challenged for the Super Bowl.
Roethlisberger is only 32, still has some rushing ability, and is a better pure passer than any member of the Living Legend Trio at this point in his career. If I have an average supporting cast to surround my quarterback, I still prefer Rodgers or Peyton. But if I have a below-average offensive supporting cast, and I need my quarterback to absorb hits, extend plays and fire off some deep passes to give the defense a chance, I would take Big Ben over just about everyone.
As bubble wrap, you get Bruce Gradkowski, a consummate professional of a backup who will do anything to win: scramble, rant and rave to rally the troops, take a roughing-the-passer penalty for the team, anything.
4. New England Patriots
Most of the points about Roethlisberger's 2013 season also apply to Brady last year. Brady had a much better offensive line and running game than Big Ben, plus an easier division, all of which helped the Patriots make the playoffs while the Steelers got stuck in that .500 tar pit. Brady's receivers were far weaker, however, so his numbers were a bit off by the nutty standards he has set. Brady 2013 was a better quarterback than Brady 2001, and he was similar in many ways to Brady 2003 and Brady 2004. The stat lines for Brady's second and third Super Bowl years are dead ringers for last year's numbers:
The raw totals are misleading, of course, because passing rates and efficiency have soared in the last decade. A completion percentage in the 60-61 range was slightly above league average in 2003 but is slightly below league average now. But the numbers illustrate that Brady's stats take on a certain shape with no Randy Moss, Wes Welker or Rob Gronkowski to throw to. That shape does not light up the league leaderboards, but it consistently results in deep playoff runs. The "Brady is no longer 'elite'" storyline makes good offseason copy, and heaven knows I can conjure stats to rank him sixth or eighth, but understanding stats starts with understanding their limitations.
We get both Ryan Mallet and Jimmy Garoppolo bundled with Brady. Neither is proven, but it is always handy to have a big kid who absorbed three years of great coaching and a buzzy prospect hanging around the bench.
5. Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck threw for 326 yards and four touchdown passes while rushing for 32 yards in a 42-28 loss to the Bengals in mid-December. His skill position cast for that game was:
T.Y. Hilton, fighting a shoulder injury: two catches for seven yards.
Da'Rick Rogers, an undrafted rookie: 6-107-2.
LaVon Brazil, second-year fourth or fifth receiver with personal issues: 3-53-2.
Trent Richardson, island unto himself: 5-68 receiving on screens and dump-offs, 6-20 rushing.
Coby Fleener, second-year tight end: 5-31.
Donald Brown, veteran change-up back: 4-18 receiving, 4-11 rushing.
Darius Heyward-Bey, former Raiders caricature: 2-23-0.
Weslye Saunders, 270-pound blocking tight end: 1-11.
Jack Doyle, undrafted rookie tight end: 1-8-0.
Now, answer honestly: How many points would you expect Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Nick Foles or any other young quarterback to score with that combination of backs and receivers, as well as a negative contribution from the defense? Kaepernick coped with some thin receiving corps last year, but he always had a running game and great field position. Wilson and Foles had Beast Mode and Shady, plus pretty good receivers and lots of creativity. Once Reggie Wayne got hurt, Andrew Luck looked like he was alone.
From a "tools" standpoint, Luck is in the same category as the best of the young quarterbacks. From a defense-reading standpoint, he's ahead of everyone, even Wilson. We know that the 49ers are capable of reaching NFC title games without Kaepernick, because Alex Smith led them to one. The Seahawks are a 13-3 Super Bowl winner with Wilson and probably an 11-5 playoff participant without him. The Colts went 11-5 twice with Luck and would have been under .500 the last two years with your typical young quarterback.
Luck's fate may be to become Peyton Manning to Wilson's Brady. There are worse fates.
Top 10: New Orleans Saints. Suggesting that one of the Living Legend Trio has dropped to sixth is a little like suggesting that another nation might be slightly better than America at something more important than soccer. Drew Brees remains excellent, and since he is younger than Peyton and Brady, there is some logic to assuming that he will remain effective longer than the other two.
There is also reason to believe that he will fade at about the same time as the others, if not a little faster. Brees has interception slumps that last about two weeks nowadays. The slumps arrive late in the season and (as is often noted) correspond with road trips. Just as there is something to Peyton Manning's cold weather reputation, there's something to Brees' road game reputation. The difference is that no matter how the schedule shakes out, everyone plays eight road games per year.
Brees is an obvious Hall of Famer. His Saints have finished in the top five several times during the Ranking Files, and he should lead a deep playoff run this year. There is nothing wrong with ranking sixth, especially when the same two guys who are always ahead of you are again ahead of you. But sometime between now and 2016, a football deity will snap his fingers, and the Living Legend Trio will begin their trek across the Rainbow Bridge. Brees appears to need optimal conditions (home crowd, dome, supporting cast) more than the other two right now, so he may be the one who leads the great mead hall.
Top 10: Atlanta Falcons. Who would you rather have at quarterback for the 2014 season: Philip Rivers, Nick Foles, Colin Kaepernick, Eli Manning or Matt Ryan?
It's a tricky question with no one right answer. Eli Manning has led his team to two Super Bowls. Rivers has thrown for over 32,000 yards and is coming off a great season. Kaepernick has the best raw tools of any young quarterback and has led his team to a Super Bowl and a championship game. Foles is a hot hand coming off a marvelous season in a dynamic new system.
And Ryan? He is coming off a "bad" year in which he threw for 4,515 yards and 26 touchdowns. He led his team past the Seahawks and threw a scare into the 49ers 18 months ago. He just turned 29 and has not missed a start in four years. If won-loss records are your bag, he is 60-34 in the regular season, even after the Falcons went 4-12 in 2013. If fourth-quarter comebacks are something you really focus on, he led the league with five in 2010 and 2012. If you break down mechanics and pass inventory, Ryan can do everything but run.
Ryan threw a career-high 17 interceptions last year. Seven of them came in two games against the Cardinals and Panthers when both Roddy White and Julio Jones were hurt. Ryan's receivers against two excellent defenses were Tony Gonzalez, Harry Douglas, Drew Davis, Darius Johnson, fullback Patrick DiMarco, backup tight end Levine Toilolo and the running backs. The Falcons were also juggling left tackles, and their defense was terrible, leaving the offense with no margin for error. Four of the picks came late in games with the Falcons far behind. Those were terrible games for Ryan, but he was playing in nearly impossible circumstances. A Hall of Fame quarterback might not have thrown seven picks in those two games, but he may have thrown five.
Ryan falls in the Aaron Rodgers category of age-ability-accomplishments, but at a lower tier. But Ryan is not a "storyline" guy and is coming off a bad year, so he is not really in the great quarterback discussion right now. That's as much a blessing as a curse. If 2013 was Ryan's bad year, then it was better than Eli in 2010 or 2013 and Rivers in 2011 and the first half of 2012. It's better than the slumps and roadblocks Foles might encounter and represents far more raw production than Kaep has ever generated. If that's the off year, I'm taking it.
On the Rise: Washington Redskins. There is no secret knowledge into the inner workings of Robert Griffin's psyche here. If you strip away all of the theatrics of last season, you have the story of a second-year quarterback who rushed back into the lineup just nine months after a major injury with zero preseason work. His team had the worst special teams in the league and a defense that got caught with its pants down by several early season opponents. His team lost a game in which they led 27-14 midway through the third quarter after he threw three touchdown passes, and it sparked a losing streak. Bad habits festered during the slump, and the young quarterback was ultimately benched, because head coaches cannot bench themselves, half the defense, or the entire special teams. Team management then fired the coaching staff, a 100 percent logical thing to do when a team suffers multiple 45-10 and 38-20 losses involving punt returners running wild and insane two-point conversion attempts.
Under most circumstances, you would expect the young quarterback to bounce back, right? New coaches, better defense and special teams, a full offseason of work that involves live action, not pool running -- those factors all point to a return to form. Now, overlap all of the Shanny-versus-Griffin stuff and ask which is more likely: a dictatorial coach gone overboard or an incorrigible brat of a prospect who rapidly outgrew his britches? Yeah, it takes two to tango, but be honest about whom you think was leading.
Kirk Cousins has proven to be a capable spot starter under reasonable conditions and a bit of a mess under unreasonable ones, like late in playoff games against great defenses or at the end of Mutiny on the Bounty seasons. That's pretty much what backup quarterbacks do.
Hard to Classify: Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs quarterbacks get a long segment in Monday's edition of OTAs!
Five Worst Quarterback Situations
28. Houston Texans
Several teams at the bottom of this list faced the same dilemma as they searched for a quarterback this offseason. The Texans, like many teams below them, saw:
a) A rookie class filled with big-armed prospects who were clearly not ready to play in 2014, and …
b) A free agent class short on "designated mentor" types of quarterbacks.
The Texans faced a third dilemma: They held the No. 1 pick, but there was no clear No. 1 quarterback, just several guys with "boom or bust" stamped on their forehead. And while Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles can both be developed quickly using the preferred 2010s method -- relying heavily on an option package while they learn other skills -- second-tier prospects like Tom Savage, Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, AJ McCarron and even Teddy Bridgewater do not run well enough to justify a steady diet of keepers. All need a veteran to guide them through at least the first few games of their careers.
Veteran mentors just aren't what they used to be, which explains the McCown Sweepstakes, the Jaguars' hoarding of Chad Henne and the Eagles and Jets contentedly swapping sins of the past. Many of the custodian types on this year's market were, frankly, more likely to make a mess than clean one up.
Ryan Fitzpatrick may have been the best of the bunch, Josh McCown included, but that's not saying much. Yes, Fitzpatrick went to Harvard and looks like your neighborhood microbrewer with a degree in medieval studies. Yes, he runs well and makes lots of fun-to-watch plays by scrambling around and flicking the ball into tight spots like a point guard. But Fitzpatrick thinks he's a swashbuckler, even though his cannon range doesn't extend past about 20 yards. The best a team gets with him these days is last year's overtime loss by the Titans to the Cardinals, a game Fitzpatrick essentially lost, won, then lost again. For every miracle no-look-pass touchdown to Chris Johnson sneaking up the sideline, you get a pick-six, a bomb overthrown by five yards and a handful of three-yard passes on third-and-seven.
Savage, meanwhile, is a pocket passer who needs a full year in the oven for his mechanics and decision making to finish baking. Bill O'Brien might not feel immediate pressure to start him, but 16 games of Fitzpatrick can lead to madness (ask Bills fans). The third option is Case Keenum, who looked worse and worse as last season progressed. If Keenum starts cleaning up for Fitzpatrick, fans may clamor for Savage, but patience may be the best course of action.
The Texans did the best they could with a bad situation. They focused on defense and infrastructure early in the draft, plucked Savage on the third day and grabbed as viable an early-season starter as possible at an affordable price. By 2015, Fitzpatrick should be gone and Savage may be paying dividends. This year, Texans fans need to live with beard brush burns and growing pains.
29. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals have a veteran mentor quarterback who also happens to be their starter. Carson Palmer is 34 years old and coming off a 22-interception season. These are not encouraging figures.
Palmer plays in the NFL's toughest division, of course. He threw nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions in the NFC West, which is not all that bad; two fine games against the Rams and frequently playing from behind against the Niners helped. Palmer threw seven touchdowns and one interception against the weaklings of the AFC South, leading four Cardinals victories, while the two NFC South powers he faced (Saints and Panthers) picked him off five times while allowing one touchdown. Spot a trend? Palmer's veteran moxie thing works well when the opponent is weak, but he is rapidly becoming a liability against good defenses.
Knowing that Palmer was in decline, the Cardinals dipped into this year's deep pool of big, strong, unready kids and emerged with Logan Thomas, arguably the biggest, strongest, and least ready of the bunch. Bruce Arians may see a little of himself in Thomas -- Arians was a mobile Virginia Tech quarterback who struggled to complete 50 percent of his passes in the early 1970s -- but Arians is too smart to rush Thomas along. Observers raved about Thomas' talent in minicamp, which means that everything else will have to come along later. In the meantime, Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley are hanging around.
The NFC West has not gotten easier, and Palmer won't have many Jaguars or Texans to kick around this year. He may have nine lives -- no one thought we would be writing about Palmer in the present tense anymore as of September 2010 -- but the dogs are circling.
30. New York Jets
You may notice that the worst quarterback situations in the NFL are not really hopeless situations. Teams obviously invest thought and energy in solving quarterback crises. There's usually a veteran and a prospect, and if you take the best-case-scenario version of each (Carson Palmer plays like 2005, then Logan Thomas arrives in 2015 and plays like 2011!) you can see the potential for a sudden turnaround.
When picking among the bottom five, the Jaguars, Browns, Bills and Jets were all contenders. The Jaguars have the most orderly succession in place: Chad Henne has been muddling through as a starter for years, and toolsy Blake Bortles is a quick study. Much of the Browns pessimism is based on Johnny Manziel's inability to avoid a photographer, plus the fact that they are the Browns. EJ Manuel was inaccurate and injury prone last year, but he is certainly ahead of your average fourth-round pick on the developmental path, and backups Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel started games last year and now have the benefit of a full offseason.
The Jets, as you know, have Geno Smith and Michael Vick. From Oct. 27 through Dec. 1, Geno was as terrible an NFL quarterback as you will ever see, though he was promising earlier and showed some vital signs late. Vick remains talented and is long removed from his days as a crazy person, but he is fragile and streaky. Vick could give Geno his map of the minefield of personal problems a quarterback can face, guiding the youngster's maturation. Or he could get hurt in training camp, leaving Geno to fend for himself. Even a Geno Smith optimist can see that there is a long, long way for the young man to go before he becomes a good quarterback.
Tajh Boyd is the third-stringer. Boyd is a no-nonsense, firm-handshake guy: Defensive coaches and reporters love him. If Vick gets hurt and Smith endures another month of 29 completions and six interceptions, Boyd could start and win a few 16-10 games. That could lead to a terrible long-term decision, because Boyd is destined to be a career pesky backup.
The Jets have become much smarter in the last 18 months or so, but nightmare scenarios are something of a habit. This is the most combustible combination in the bottom five: the good could be great, but the bad could be epic.
31. Oakland Raiders
Remember Jake Delhomme? Of course you do. He was a very good quarterback for about six years, led his team to a Super Bowl, etc. He started to show signs of wobble in 2008, during an otherwise great 12-4 Panthers season, with three- and four-interception games scattered among better performances. He then threw five interceptions and fumbled in a playoff loss, yet the Panthers ignored the warning signs and brought him back for 2009, when he threw eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 11 games. The Browns somehow interpreted this performance as a sign that Delhomme should be Colt McCoy's mentor. Delhomme started for games for the 2010 Browns, throwing two touchdowns and seven interceptions. McCoy was rapidly rushed to the field.
Delhomme was 33 when the beginning of the end came. There is nothing unusual at all about a very good quarterback losing it suddenly around age 33. Donovan McNabb turned 33 in his last productive season with the Eagles. We think of Drew Bledsoe as having played forever, but by 33 he was in Dallas taking 49 sacks per year, throwing bunches of picks and waiting for Tony Romo to gestate. Other quarterbacks can fade slowly and slide into roles as custodial backups, but when a sudden interception rash and ugly benching are involved, it is probably a sign of skills that are deteriorating so rapidly that it is time to head for the broadcast booth.
Matt Schaub is now 33, and last year was not the beginning of the end, but the end. The Raiders may be forced to push Derek Carr into the lineup too quickly. That's a scenario Carr clearly hoped to avoid after seeing what his brother went through in Houston.
Carr's "NFL readiness" is misinterpreted and oversimplified by some observers. He has a better sense of what he is getting into than, say, Johnny Manziel; has a support network to lean on; understands the expectations; and so on. But his defense reading and pocket presence are as unrefined as any rookie, perhaps less defined than those who succeeded in bigger conferences. He needs a Chad Henne to soak up some starts. He must settle for a Jake Delhomme. Er. Matt Schaub.
32. Tennessee Titans
Ken Whisenhunt is like one of those dudes who is always dating women who are wrong for him: always pursuing the tall and buxom, when he would be happier with someone a little smarter and more mature. Whisenhunt craves Ben Roethlisberger surrogates, when he really needs Kurt Warner types: 30-somethings whose minds have caught up to or surpassed their bodies. He became head coaching material again after one year with Philip Rivers, the consummate older-and-wiser quarterback. But did Whisenhunt get the message? Nope. Off he went in search of Zach Mettenberger, who is so much like Ben Roethlisberger that their names sound alike.
Mettenberger is a pretty great size/arm prospect who would not have lasted past the second round if a knee injury had not ruined his 2013 season. Here's the thing, though: Roethlisberger was unique. Not every giant 22-year-old who can throw lasers is Roethlisberger. And Whisenhunt's system is not really friendly to Big Ben knockoffs, as John Skelton proved.
Mettenberger could use a year on the bench to get smarter and healthier, but he could start on Opening Day with only Jake Locker and loose change ahead of him. After three injury-marred seasons, Locker still looked like a toolsy rookie last year. He locked onto primary receivers, threw short passes too late, and had the ball placement of a blindfolded man trying to smell open receivers. Unlike most scrambling quarterbacks, Locker is not a good passer on the run: take him out of the pocket, and his passes look like baseball sliders. A coach looking to do a lot of read-option might have a chance to rehabilitate Locker, who runs like the wind and has a killer fastball. But Whisenhunt is not a read-option guy.
Also on the roster is poor Tyler Wilson, who cannot buy a break, and Charlie Whitehurst, who sends fake tweets about punters for some reason.