QBs: best to worst


Defense ruled in 2000, when the Ravens' Purple Reign took the NFL by storm. But the pendulum could swing back to offense and big-play quarterbacks this easson.

Three years after John Elway last played, two years after Dan Marino's last season, there is a new hierarchy of quarterback in the league. The new order is represented by young guns like Peyton Manning, 25, and Daunte Culpepper and Donovan McNabb, both 24.

He is a rating, one through 31, of the NFL's starters going into the 2001 season.

First class

1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts: Already the league's most dangerous passer, Manning has thrown for 59 touchdowns and more than 8,500 yards the past two years. He shows his pedigree as Archie Manning's son. He is a very accurate passer and makes up for lack of foot speed with preparation and knowledge of the system.

2. Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers: His numbers are down from the Super Bowl seasons - he threw for just 20 touchdowns last year - but he's still one of the league's most feared quarterbacks. Favre is exceptionally tough and hasn't missed a game in nine years. He's also one of the league's best leaders.

3. Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams: One year after he was the surprise story of the 1999 season, Warner struggled in 2000. His touchdown passes dropped from 41 to 21 and his interceptions rose from 13 to 18. But in this offense, with those receivers, he's still a major force.

4. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles: Without legitimate deep-threat receivers, McNabb still threw for 21 touchdowns last year and ran for six more. His leadership and legs helped expedite his evolution into a franchise quarterback in his third season.

5. Mark Brunell, Jacksonville Jaguars: No longer as mobile as he once was, Brunell has become a better pocket passer. He tied a career high with 20 touchdown passes last year, despite getting sacked 54 times. With support crumbling around him, he may be in for a tough season.

6. Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota Vikings: One of the biggest success stories last year with 33 touchdown passes, Culpepper exceeded all expectations. A big man with a strong arm and accurate touch, he has complemented a receiving corps that includes Randy Moss and Cris Carter.

No apologies necessary

7. Brian Griese, Denver Broncos: He led the league in passer efficiency last year, but for the second straight season had to miss time with a shoulder injury. His skills are not outstanding, but he's better than the sum of his parts.

8. Rich Gannon, Oakland Raiders: A gritty veteran working with his fourth team, Gannon has thrown 52 touchdowns against 25 interceptions the past two seasons. He makes the most of his talent and arm strength in the Raiders' West Coast system.

9. Drew Bledsoe, New England Patriots: After eight years and three coaching transitions, Bledsoe finds himself with a young offensive line and a limited receiving corps. He's been sacked 100 times the past two years, and he'll need more protection if he is to re-establish himself as one of the league's elite.

10. Elvis Grbac, Ravens: According to coach Brian Billick, Grbac is ready to ascend to the upper echelon. He's got the arm and the intelligence to elevate his game. And even though he won't have Jamal Lewis, this is a good place for him at this point in his career.

11. Steve McNair, Tennessee Titans: He won't move into the next category of passer until he can deliver the ball downfield better, but he's a great leader and finds a way to get the job done. His off-season shoulder problems bear watching.

12. Aaron Brooks, New Orleans Saints: After only five NFL starts, Brooks has supplanted a former Pro Bowl player in Jeff Blake. Brooks showed the Saints he wasn't intimidated by the playoffs, either, producing the franchise's first postseason win.

13. Jeff Garcia, San Francisco 49ers: He's a refugee from the Canadian Football League who made good on his chance. He's working in the right system to put up big numbers and has a big-time receiver in Terrell Owens.

Grizzled veterans

14. Brad Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He could have come to the Ravens, but chose the Bucs instead. Questions about his arm strength arose in Washington, and he's never been durable. But when he's healthy, he's a very solid pro.

15. Vinny Testaverde, New York Jets: Prone to the big mistake, Testaverde came back from an Achilles' tendon injury to throw 25 interceptions last year. He played his best under Bill Parcells, and is nearing the end. Chad Pennington is on deck.

16. Doug Flutie, San Diego Chargers: The Chargers wanted time to groom a young quarterback, and a little Flutie magic could go a long way. He doesn't fit offensive coordinator Norv Turner's system, but he does make a lot of plays.

17. Chris Chandler, Atlanta Falcons: The often-injured Chandler is buying time for a young hotshot (Michael Vick), a circumstance he's very familiar with in his career. He is still the leader of the Falcons, though.

Something to prove

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