The NFL is a passing league and a quarterbacks game. Look no further than 2011 when two passers Drew Brees and Tom Brady threw for more than 5,000 yards, breaking Dan Marinos 27-year-old league record, and seven other quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards. Thats why several teams rolled the dice in the offseason, either through free agency, trades or the draft, to find quarterbacks who can lift their franchises to a Super Bowl.
The biggest blockbuster was Denver signing four-time league MVP Peyton Manning, who missed all of 2011 because of neck surgeries.
Manning, 36, led the Colts to nine straight playoff appearances, three AFC championship games and two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XLI.
As Manning moved into the Mile High City, Tim Tebow, who miraculously led the Broncos to an AFC West title and first-round playoff win, was shipped for fourth- and sixthround draft picks to the New York Jets, although they appeared to be set at the position with Mark Sanchez.
The bottom feeders in the league found their quarterbacks of the future in the draft.
Indianapolis, with the first overall pick, seamlessly replaced Manning with Andrew Luck of Stanford, perhaps the most NFL-ready quarterback since Manning in 1998. Washington made the most daring move by giving St. Louis three firstround draft choices and a second-rounder for the right to select Baylors Robert Griffin III with the second pick and immediately declared him the starter.
Miami and Cleveland took big gambles with QBs in the first round of the draft. The Dolphins selected Texas A&Ms Ryan Tannehill even though he was a starter less than two years for the Aggies. And the Browns went the unconventional route when they selected 28-year-old Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State, who spent five years playing minor league baseball before embarking on his college football career.
Its no coincidence the top six NFL jerseys sold from April 1 to June 30 on NFLShop.com belong to quarterbacks, starting with Peyton Manning, followed by Griffin, Tebow, Luck, Eli Manning of the Super Bowl champion Giants and 2011 league MVP Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay.
THREE QUARTERBACKS TO WATCH
PEYTON MANNING Denver Broncos
It still looks a little strange seeing Manning in the orange and blue of the Broncos after his stellar career with the Indianapolis Colts. Manning, who ranks third all-time in career completions (4,682), yards (54,828) and TDs (399) and is fourth in wins (141), will have to guide the Broncos through a minefield of an early schedule, including games against Pittsburgh, Houston, Oakland, New Orleans, at Atlanta, at New England, at Cincinnati and home and home with San Diego.
ROBERT GRIFFIN III Washington Redskins
Griffin represents coach Mike Shanahans last shot at proving he can win something without John Elway. Shanahan went 1-4 in the postseason at Denver after Elways retirement following the 1998 season, and hes just 11-21 in two seasons at Washington. Griffin, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, is the toast of Washington right now, but Shanahan covered his bases in the event Griffins scrambling results in an injury and selected Kirk Cousins in the fourth round.
TIM TEBOW New York Jets
The biggest question surrounding Tebow is how the Jets will use him as the complement to fouryear starter Mark Sanchez. Will it be in goal-line and short-yardage situations? Will it be in the Wildcat formation that new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano introduced to the NFL a few years ago at Miami? How about two-point conversions? Tebows limitations as a passer are well-documented, so when he does enter games, the Jets will be woefully predictable.
FIVE MVP CANDIDATES
TOM BRADY New England Patriots
Bradys a two-time MVP, and a case could have been made for his third last season, when he directed the Patriots to the Super Bowl after leading the AFC in completion percentage (65.6), yards ( 5,235), TDs (39) and passer rating (105.6).
DREW BREES New Orleans Saints
It wont be enough that Brees, who threw for an NFL-record 5,476 yards and league-leading 46 TDs, replicates his performance of last year. Hell earn his new five-year, $100 million contract as a coach on the field while Sean Payton serves his one-year suspension for the Saints bounty scandal.
AARON RODGERS Green Bay Packers
Rodgers may be the best player in the game today. He set an NFL record with a 122.5 passer rating last season, with 45 TDs and just six interceptions, and most importantly, led the Packers to a 15-1 record. It doesnt get much better than that.
MICHAEL VICK Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles missed the playoffs for the first time in four years. This season, its going to be up to Vick, who signed a five-year, $80 million contract in 2011, to revive the franchise. As always with Vick, the critical issue is staying healthy. He missed four starts in 2010 and three last year.
ELI MANNING New York Giants
Has any two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Super Bowl MVP been more overshadowed by others than Manning? Older brother Peyton dominated the headlines in his move from Indianapolis to Denver. The daily chaos with the Jets and Tebowmania fill the back pages of the New York tabloids. All Eli does is win.
THREE COACHING GAMBLES
GREG SCHIANO, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
College coaches dont have a good track record of success in the NFL, but the Buccaneers brought in Schiano to clean up the mess left by Raheem Morris. Schiano spent the last 12 years as head coach at Rutgers, and if anyone could turn around that program, he showed that he could. Rutgers had been to one bowl game in the previous 135 years before Schiano took over, and he led it to six bowls from 2005 to 2011, going 56-33 during that stretch, including 5-1 in those bowls.
CHUCK PAGANO, Indianapolis Colts
Pagano, in his first season as Baltimores defensive coordinator, was still reeling from the Ravens loss in the AFC Championship Game when he got the call to interview for the Colts job. Pagano, who had been an NFL assistant for 10 years, including four with the Ravens, has never been a head coach at any level, and hell be working with a new general manager in Ryan Grigson and a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck.
DENNIS ALLEN, Raiders
Dennis who? That was a typical reaction when Allen was hired by the Raiders new management team as the youngest head coach in the league. Allen, who turns 40 on Sept. 22, served as Denvers defensive coordinator in 2011.
THREE SURE THINGS
ANDREW LUCK, Indianapolis Colts
Luck was the most clear-cut, no doubt-about-it first overall pick since John Elway in 1983 (also by the Colts, but thats another story). So far in the preseason, hes done little to question Indianapolis decision to let go of Peyton Manning and put the future in Lucks hands. Hes got great knowledge about the offense, coach Chuck Pagano said. He digests a ton, has great command of the huddle, knows what to do with the football. The guy is just way ahead of the curve right now for a rookie quarterback.
CAM NEWTON, Carolina Panthers
There were plenty of questions about whether Newton was worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 or if he was a product of the system at Auburn. Wonder no longer: Newton threw for 4,051 yards and ran for 706 (with 14 TDs) and lifted the Panthers from a two-win team to a 6-10 team in his first season. If he cuts down on the interceptions, Carolina could be a factor in the NFC South.
Its only a matter of time before Dallas owner Jerry Jones will be fielding questions about the status of coach Jason Garrett. The Cowboys begin with two games on the road, including an almost unwinnable game when they visit the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the annual prime-time opener Wednesday.
THREE LONG SHOTS
ALEX SMITH 49ers
What are the odds that Smith can duplicate the career numbers 3,144 yards, 61.3 percent, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions that he put up last season for the surprising 49ers? Even the 49ers didnt believe it and pursued Peyton Manning before Manning picked Denver and Smith signed a six-year, $49 million deal.
NORV TURNER San Diego Chargers
Its baffling how the Chargers keep bringing Turner back as coach even though the team continues to regress and has missed the playoffs the last two years while playing in a winnable division. The Chargers, who suffered through a hideous six-game losing streak last season, have been hit hard by injuries in preseason, and if they get off to another one of their slow starts, Turner has little chance of getting through this season.
LEAVE YOU IN ST. LOUIS
The chances are pretty remote that the folks in St. Louis can turn the landlocked and austere Edward Jones Dome into a top-tier facility that ranks among the top eight stadiums by 2015, as stipulated by the lease. So expect the Rams to return to Los Angeles, where a new stadium will await.
FIVE ROOKIES TO WATCH
JUSTIN BLACKMON Jacksonville Jaguars
The wide receiver just cant stay out of trouble off the field, much like his former Oklahoma State teammate Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys. Blackmon, the fifth pick in the draft, has a ton of talent, but he was arrested on an aggravated DUI charge in mid-June, his second DUI charge since October 2010.
DONTARI POE Kansas City Chiefs
Theres not much question the nose tackle has the measurables to play in the NFL, but the 11th overall pick in the draft did not dominate in college at Memphis, a non-BCS school, and he appears destined to spend his rookie season playing on passing downs and backing up unheralded Anthony Toribio in the base defense.
JANORIS JENKINS St. Louis Rams
St. Louis appeared to be taking a chance when it selected the cornerback with a secondround pick obtained in the Robert Griffin III trade. Jenkins had a history of arrests while at Florida before finishing his college career at North Alabama. But hes won a starting job and was active in the preseason game against the Chiefs with five tackles and a forced fumble.
BRUCE IRVIN Seattle Seahawks
Eyebrows were raised when Seattle reached for the defensive end, an undersized pass rusher with character issues, in the first round. Irvin did not make an impact in the first two preseason games, often getting smothered by much bigger offensive tackles. Hell play on passing downs for the Seahawks, who ranked 22nd in the league with 33 sacks last year.
MICHAEL EGNEW Miami Dolphins
Did you see offensive coordinator Mike Sherman chew out the tight end on Hard Knocks for not knowing the offense? He was ready to cut him after the first preseason game. Will Egnew follow in the footsteps of failed Missouri tight ends Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker? Or those of Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow?