With the NFL season now underway, my mind drifts to football.
ESPN had a feature last week about a bumper crop of good college quarterbacks coming up. That begs the question of what is the best QB class of all time. I’ll save my choice for last, but here are some runnerup groups.
Class of 2012
The Class of 2012 got off to a fast start. Led by Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson — not to mention Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiller, Brandon Weeden and Nick Foles, this group looked like it could challenge for a place on the Mount Rushmore of QB classes. Now it’s starting to look like Kirk Cousins, the eighth QB taken that year, might just have the best long-term projection.
It’s hard to know where this class will finish, but Cousins has a career quarterback rating of 93.1. The past two seasons he’s posted 54 TDs and 23 INTs with a completion percentage of better than 68 percent.
Russell Wilson has the highest QB rating of the group at 99.2 with 127 TDs to just 45 INTs. He’s passed for 18,000 yards already and scrambled for another 2,700 with 13 TDs.
Andrew Luck also has been to the Pro Bowl three times and has 132 TDs to 68 INTs so far in his career. In just four and a half seasons he posted 19,000 passing yards.
Class of 1949
This group predates the Super Bowl, but features three Hall of Famers in George Blanda, drafted by the Bears; Norm Van Brocklin, the Rams; and Jim Finks, the Steelers.
The class also included Frank Tripucka, Bobby Thomason, John Rauch and Stan Heath.
George Blanda became the oldest player in NFL history (48), Norm Van Brocklin still holds the single-game record for passing yards and, after his playing days ended, Jim Finks was the architect of the four-time Super Bowl runner-up Minnesota Vikings.
Class of 1971
The group featured some big names, but also a sense that there could have been more.
Heisman winner Jim Plunkett failed with two teams before winning two Super Bowls with the Raiders. Archie Manning was a good QB on a terrible Saints team.
Joe Theismann never played a down for the Dolphins, going to the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts before leading the Washington Redskins to a pair of Super Bowl trips and one win. The Bengals’ Ken Anderson remains one of the underrated passers of his generation.
Others that year were Lynn Dickey and Dan Pastorini.
Key Stats: three Super Bowl wins, five Super Bowl trips, two NFL MVP awards, 160,089 passing yards, 946 passing TDs, 102 rushing TDs.
Class of 1984
Steve Young took a long time to become a top passer, but went on to be the league’s top-rated passer year after year. Boomer Esiason and Jeff Hostetler met in the Super Bowl, with Hostetler winning it all for Bill Parcells’ Giants after taking over for an injured Phil Simms.
Jay Schroeder and Randy Wright rounded out the group.
Key Stats: one Hall of Famer, two Super Bowl wins, three Super Bowl trips, two NFL MVP awards.
Class of 2005
Notables: Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Cassel, Jason Campbell, Kyle Orton, Derek Anderson.
While Rodgers is the only star of the group, all of these have started at least a full season.
Smith has become a consistent starter, Fitzpatrick had a good year in 2015, and Anderson made the Pro Bowl one year with Cleveland, the only Brown QB since Bernie Kosar in 1987 to do so.
Class of 1957
Notables: Len Dawson, Sonny Jurgensen, Jack Kemp, John Brodie.
Dawson found success in the AFL with the Texans/Chiefs. The Texans won the AFL title in 1962, and the Chiefs went to two Super Bowls under his command, winning one. Jurgensen led the NFL in attempts, completions and yards three times between 1966 and 1969.
Kemp led the Bills to four AFL title games, winning two. Brodie was one of the best passers in the NFL, leading the league in passing yards three times from 1965-1970.
Class of 2004
My first runnerup award goes to this group, many of whom are still playing 13 years later.
Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger were all taken in the first 11 picks. Then Matt Schaub came in the third round. Other names include Luke McCown, J.P. Losman and Jim Sorgi.
Roethlisberger got off to the fastest start, going 13–0 as a rookie with six game-winning drives. Eli and Big Ben have combined to play in five Super Bowls in a span of seven years, winning four.
Schaub went from Michael Vick’s backup in Atlanta to the perennial starter for the Houston Texans.
Key Stats for just the top four: four Super Bowl wins, five Super Bowl trips, 21–11 playoff record, 376 regular-season wins, 166,211 yards passing, 1,070 TDs passing.
Class of 1983
It’s hard to top this class with three Hall of Famers and two regular starters who racked up a whopping 499 regular-season wins.
Of the 16 signal-callers selected – including six in the first round – 12 started in the NFL and four led their teams to 11 total trips to the Super Bowl.
The Hall members are John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. The others were Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien, Todd Blackledge and Gary Kubiak.
Key Stats: Two NFL MVP awards, two Super Bowl wins, 196,787 passing yards, 1,212 passing TDs.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.