This idea wasn't mine but I thought it was a good one. Thanks to zuul2 from Arrowhead Pride for creating his version and McGeorge for suggesting we do one of our own.
The tides of the AFC West are changing. Once the stepchild of the AFC, the introduction of one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time has created a ripple effect throughout our division and throughout the league.
After spending the past few years struggling to run away with their division, sometimes struggling to compete in their division, the Broncos are looking to change their fortunes. They've begun by adding the necessary pieces to make their strongest run at a division win and a bye week since John Elway. A quick glance up and down our roster shows a different team that will walk out of that tunnel this fall.
Over the next few weeks I am going to be writing a multiple part series breaking down the Broncos and the AFC West and ranking them by position. Obviously, we are still pre-draft, pre-training camp and pre-any team activities so the names I'm breaking down will undoubtedly change a bit. However, the idea will remain the same. The Broncos are attempting to become the best at each position on the football field within their division.
The first step for the Broncos to getting back to the big dance is getting back to dominating the teams we like least. That return to domination begins with the Quarterback.
I remember what I felt watching Peyton Manning's press conference. While Manning was saying goodbye and Jim Irsay was struggling to come up with sad stories to help himself cry, I was getting nervous and playing a game of "this is what I know." This game is played when you need to reason an answer to a question to which you have no solution. If this sounds like every college exam you ever took, I'm right there with you. You simply list out what you know and then you make an educated guess. Then you go party.
When Peyton Manning walked off that stage and into his first run at Free Agency alarm bells were ringing everywhere. All the facts pointed at Manning joining the AFC West. You didn't want Manning in the AFC West if he wasn't on your team. Thus started one of the greatest mad grabs of a player in history and by the time it was over... Manning was a Bronco.
The AFC West had just dramatically changed.
The Quarterbacks of the AFC West
If last year taught us anything it was that having a decent backup at the QB position can as easily make or break your team as having a decent starting QB in the first place. Considering that 18 out of 32 teams were forced to start backups during critical games, this position is a strangely important one. Maybe we should be giving more press conferences to our backups.
In light of how many teams were ultimately undone by their backups (or in some cases made by their backups) the Plan-B position needs at least a little consideration.
The Starters by Rank
The starting QB's of the other AFC West teams need little introduction. We are forced to suffer the camera on their faces at least twice a year (does that sound a bit homer?) and if things get really bad listen to Ron Jaworski as he convinces us his love for one Philip Rivers is just professional respect. However, the introduction of Peyton Manning into the mix has upset the status quo of the past couple of years.
*Sidenote on Peyton's health:
Without question the biggest concern for Manning is exactly how healthy he is. Reports from around the country say he's fine to he's losing velocity. To me, this had to be the very first thing the Broncos felt comfortable with when they signed Manning. They have to be sold on his health. For the purposes of this study I'm assuming that when Manning takes the field in game one he won't be 75 passes away from breaking down.
1. Peyton Manning is a game changer. The way Manning plays the position is as unique as it is devastating. His ability to keep defenses on the field for sustained drives in the thin Mile High air while creating and changing plays at the line make his pre-snap play as dangerous as his post snap play. His vision of the field, decision making, and accuracy are all part of his post-snap package. A healthy Manning walks into the AFC West as the new king of the hill.
2. Philip Rivers is coming off one of his toughest seasons since he took over the starting job in 2006. Logging an 88.7 passer rating he was still tops the division last year, yet he suffered from some egregious turnovers that ultimately led the Chargers to an 8-8 finish and a missed playoff berth for the second year in a row. As much as it pains me to say it, Rivers has been the best QB in this division since 2006. If Rivers can get over his new found affinity for the interception I see no reason Rivers can't be hell once again for our Denver defense.
3. The Carson Palmer trade will forever be one of the most baffling moves of the short lived Hue Jackson era. After spending the most valuable picks in their draft on quarterbacks and then firing their head coach and front office, the Oakland Raiders are in complete rebuild mode. Palmer, who was obtained from the Bengals mid-season last year, has done his best to hit the ground running. His WR corps is young and fast and his is a veteran presence this team has needed. While overshadowed by the two big dogs in the house, Palmer is no joke behind center and with a complete offseason with his new team is yet another star at a position the AFC West has been bereft of for the past five years.
4. Matt Cassel has got to be looking around him and wondering what just happened to his standing in the AFC West. Once a prize coveted by two head coaches in this division, Cassel find himself the seven year veteran youngster in a group of quarterbacks with 17 Pro-Bowls amongst them. Talk about falling from grace. However, with Orton going to the house that Jerry built Cassel is the main man in KC. He may also be the only QB in our division to ever tuck and run.
The Backups (i.e. Plan B)
This is quite the who's who of the locker room chess club captains. The drop-off from starter to backup is so dramatic in the AFC West it helps put into context exactly how important it is for these team's starters to remain healthy. Many of these backups have played so little or none, as is the case with Brady Quinn and Terrelle Pryor, that it is difficult to project how well they will do if their number is called. Others, like Hanie and Whitehurst, have played for some significant time but extremely poorly.
1. Brady Quinn hasn't seen a gameday snap in over two years. His final season start came on December 20th, 2009 against the Chiefs in a 41-34 win where Joshua Cribbs took two kickoffs back for touchdowns. His team scored 41 points and Quinn finished the game with a 27.7 passer rating. That year, five out of the ten games he started the Browns scored 7 points or less (6,3,6,0 and 7). His best individual performance came against a Lions team in 2009 that actually beat him to win one of their two games that year.
Brady Quinn is the #1 backup in the AFC West. After showing some flashes in the pre-season last year I would still feel more comfortable handing the ball over to Quinn and asking him to keep a team afloat for a few weeks over the rest of the names on this list.
2. Charlie Whitehurst is a 6-year veteran that began his career in San Diego where he attempted two passes for no stats. He moved to Seattle where he played in 9 games, mostly as a fill in for the injured Tarvaris Jackson. His greatest single performance was an 11/19, 1 TD, 100.5 rating second half against the New York Giants. The next two games were all downhill from there.
3. I do my best to remember the Caleb Hanie that took over for Jay Cutler during that infamous playoff game versus Green Bay. After being the spark that nearly brought the Bears back there was a significant buzz around the league that perhaps the Bears have a hidden talent waiting on the bench behind sad face Jay. Caleb Hanie's next season proved that that was not the case. The Broncos obviously see something in this young 4th year QB that I don't as they are bringing him in as Manning's backup.
Another interesting thing to note about the Broncos bringing in Hanie is that he is slated to make 1.25 million, roughly the same number Tim Tebow was up for this year. That makes the Hanie pill a little tougher to swallow.
4. Finally we come to Terrelle Pryor, the 3rd round supplemental draft pick the old Oakland Raiders took a chance on. While quite the athlete in college, Pryor is completely untested at the NFL level and considering the changes to that organization there's no telling where he ends up on the depth chart at the start of the 2012 season. Just know, for the price the Raiders have paid for Palmer, if Pryor sees significant time in 2012 the Raiders are in big trouble.
Ranking the QB Squad
If Peyton Manning can remain healthy I love our chances to finally take back the division and outright win it. I'm not too confident in our ability to recover from something as serious as our starter going down. As such, I have to give final nod to the Chargers as best all around QB squad in the division. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
One of my favorite moments of the Peyton Manning introductory presser was when John Elway was asked if Manning didn't pan out, what was their plan B? His answer: We have no plan B.
Perhaps the Broncos Plan B is waiting for his name to be called in the draft.