We’re big on recognizing players at all positions here at Pro Football Focus, but it remains clear that the most important position on the field is quarterback.
Which is why our 10 voters collectively put four quarterbacks at the top of this week’s MVP list (note: a certain three-time Super Bowl winner is not among them). It’s a golden age for QBs — even with defensive lines taking a clear edge over offensive lines here in 2010, seventeen QBs have NFL passer ratings above 90.0. Consider that in 1978, when the league went to a 16-game schedule and changed the rules to favor passing games, that Roger Staubach led the league at 84.9.
Our four QBs atop the list have at least one thing in common — all were picked in the top four overall in their respective drafts. Which top gun is No. 1? For now, it’s the “Decatur Dandy,” but this race is going to come down to the wire.
1. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego (94 points, 7 No. 1 votes). It’s not a big surprise when you look at Antonio Gates’ numbers (or Chargers highlights in general), but Rivers is an absolute master at throwing down the middle. This year, he’s 131 of 170 for 1,759 yards, 12 TDs and four INTs inside the hashmarks — a rating of 123.1.
2. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis (80 points, 1 No. 1 vote). Manning had a stranglehold on this list before back-to-back weeks of struggle. He’s now had three clunkers in five weeks, which is something you see approximately never. With Rivers clearly the better choice and the two men behind him playing with a full deck around them, Manning’s chances for a fifth MVP aren’t looking so hot at this point.
3. Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia (59 points, 1 No. 1 vote). One of our voters left Vick off the ballot, wanting to see more games played. The rest of us have seen enough — this guy is playing out of his mind. He got a +8.6 for his play vs. Washington, the second +8.6 of the season for him. Those don’t grow on trees around here. What separates him from everyone else (maybe ever) is his ability to deal with pressure. Most top QBs find their passer ratings in the 60s or 70s under pressure — Vick is at 110.3.
4. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta (44 points, 1 No. 1 vote). Ryan actually sits atop our passer grades for the season, and he is coming off the best four-game stretch of his career by a fair margin. Ryan has been good-not-great throughout his Atlanta career, and he was mediocre at best over the final 12 games of 2009 even before suffering a toe injury. His emergence this year isn’t a shock considering his solid play, but he’ll need to string together more top games to officially enter the elite range.
5. Trent Cole, DE, Philadelphia (30 points). Cole is every bit the defensive version of Vick right now. He’s not making any mistakes and is just coming out with impact play after impact play. If he’s able to keep this pace up the rest of the way, he’ll be the best graded defensive player we’ve had in any of our three full seasons, and it won’t even be close.
6. (tie). Tamba Hali, OLB, Kansas City (27 points). The days of three Chiefs in the top 10 here are gone, along with their AFC West lead. But it’ll take more than a 49-point effort against the Chiefs’ defense to put a tarnish on what this guy has done in the pass rush this year. In the six games from Week 3 to Week 9, he had eight sacks, eight hits, and 38 pressures. Those are very comparable to Pro Bowler Robert Mathis’ numbers in 2009 … for the whole season (10-11-37).
6 (tie). Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay (27 points). He hasn’t been the same since getting hurt sometime in September, but he’s still managed five sacks in his last four games for the league’s No. 1 scoring defense.
8 (tie). Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay (19 points). Speaking of those Packers, our fifth QB in the top 10 had a week to savor his +11.6 grade vs. Dallas in Week 9 before the Packers’ bye. To move up this list, he’s going to have to get back to 2009 form under pressure. In 2009, he had a rating of 101.2 when pressured; it’s an ugly 48.1 this year.
8 (tie). Peyton Hillis, RB, Cleveland (18 points). He’s just been good as a runner this year, but how far has his blocking and work in the passing game (ranked in the top five in both as of last week) gone in helping the Browns’ various quarterbacks? If the Browns were in the NFC West and sitting on six or seven wins, Hillis might even be higher.
10. Brandon Lloyd, WR, Denver (17 points). Yes, he’s the third member of our top 10 playing for a losing team. But he’s really having a year for the ages. Not only is he making huge plays and averaging more than 20 yards a catch, but Kyle Orton has only thrown one INT in 84 throws his way.
Also receiving votes: Kyle Williams (17), Jake Long (16), Bart Scott (15), Brandon Flowers (14), Tom Brady (14), Adrian Peterson (12), Jamaal Charles (7), Roddy White (7), Ray Lewis (6), Jason Jones (4) D’Brickashaw Ferguson (4), Arian Foster (2), Darren McFadden (2), Carl Nicks (2), Justin Smith (2), Cameron Wake (1), Julius Peppers (1), Sam Bradford (1), Ahmad Bradshaw (1).