The Class of 2004’s Best Quarterbacks Continue To Make Their Mark: A Steelers Fan’s Take

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Growing up in the 1990’s, I constantly heard every draft season about how “wonderful” and “talented” the 1983 QB Class was.  In almost all circles, the group of QB’s selected in 1983 remains the “Gold Standard” when it comes to QB Draft Classes.

Don’t get me wrong, 1983’s QB’s will always be remembered due to the amount of talent each player possessed and sheer number of them taken in the first Round: John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason, Jim Kelly, Ken O’Brien, and Dan Marino.  Furthermore, the proverbial “cream of the crop” of those players (Elway, Kelly, Marino), rank as some of the N.F.L.’s all-time greats.  Nevertheless, I believe that there is a QB class in the N.F.L. right now whose players are already building careers that could one day rival the likes of Elway, Kelly, and Marino

With Eli Manning winning his second Super Bowl, Ben Roethlisberger winning 2 of 3 in his first eight seasons, Philip Rivers running an Offense that puts up video game statistics, and Matt Schaub turning the corner with the high-octane Texans, I think that the four best QB’s from 2004 Draft Class could very well be on their way to stealing the title of the “Best Overall QB Class” by the time that their careers are over.  To illustrate my point that 2004 was a remarkable QB Draft Class, I thought it would be a great idea to discuss and analyze the accomplishments and successes of the “’04 Four” up to this point in their respective careers.

Eli Manning: 1st Round (1st Overall Pick)

(San Diego Chargers: Drafted)

(New York Giants: 2004-Present)

Eli Manning, what more can you say about they guy?  Quiet, efficient, no public off-field distractions, and a winner.  All qualities which teams covet out of the QB position when they plan to select one #1 overall.

Eli has not missed a game since he replaced an ineffective Kurt Warner at mid-season in 2004, and New York has not looked back in terms of their success at the QB position.  In his first four full seasons as a starter (2005-2008), Manning led the Giants to postseason play each of those years.  While 2005, 2006, and 2008 ended in Playoff heartbreak and saw New York drop their opening games, 2007 is considered to be the season where the Eli Manning legacy began.

As a #5 seed, Eli helped to lead the Giants on a remarkable run through the Playoffs.  New York  won three games on the road to secure the N.F.C. Title, and then beat the then-18-0 Patriots 17-14 in one of the most memorable Super Bowls (XLII) ever played.  While the Giants Defensive Line should have been the MVP’s that night in Phoenix, there is no denying the greatness that Manning displayed under fire.  Down 14-10, Eli led the Giants on an 83 yard drive with just over 2 minutes remaining and threw the game winning TD pass to Plaxico Burress!

Ruining the Patriots bid for immortality aside, the crown jewel of Manning’s career achievements however happened this past season.  Amid controversy regarding his statement that he was indeed an “Elite QB” before the season started, Manning quietly had his best season ever and put to rest all doubts about his abilities as a QB.  After setting career highs in completions, attempts, yards, 4th Quarter Comebacks, and breaking the record for most 4th Quarter TD passes in a season, Manning led the Giants to their 5th postseason berth with him at the helm.  And much like 2007, the Wild Card Giants responded to the playoff stakes, and Manning performed even better than he had that very year.

Manning led the Giants to three straight postseason wins before taking on the hated Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.  Just like he had done four years prior, Manning helped keep the game close with smart decision making, and finally broke through when the game was on the line by driving the Giants 88 yards for the winning score!  With a 21-17 victory in hand, Manning was eventually named Super Bowl MVP for a second time.  Only Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana (3x), and Tom Brady have been named Super Bowl MVP twice.

Lauding aside, Manning has not been without some growing pains along the way.  Eli’s Interception numbers have made many a Giants fan nervous and frustrated throughout his career, and he has twice led the League in that category (2007, 2010).  Nevertheless, I think the most remarkable thing about Manning is the fact that he has illustrated steady improvement basically each and every season he has been in the League.  This type of steady incline essentially means that the best is yet to come for Eli barring an injury.  Let’s take a look at Manning’s development shall we:

In terms of accuracy, Manning’s completion percentage has climbed from the low 50%’s in his first four seasons, to the low 60%’s in his last four.  With regards to scoring, Eli has thrown for 108 TD’s in his last four seasons as opposed to throwing for 77 TD’s in his first four.  If you are discussing big plays down the field, Manning’s Y.P.A. has climbed from being in the high 6.0’s early in his career into the threshold of the low to mid 8.0’s in recent seasons.  And in terms of raw and gaudy passing stats, over the last three seasons Manning has broken the 4,000 yard Passing Yards barrier each time (including a career high 4,933 in 2011).

The sky is indeed the limit for Eli, and the Giants are probably grinning from ear to ear that they were able to pull off the Draft Day trade of the decade to acquire Eli.  At least eight more years of this type of steady production, and Eli should be wearing a gold jacket with his brother Peyton one day in Canton.

Eli Manning’s Career Highlights

2x Super Bowl Champion (XLII, XLVI)

2x Super Bowl MVP (XLII, XLVI)

2x NFC Champion

2x Pro Bowler (2008, 2011)

2x NFC East Champion

5 Postseason Appearances

Philip Rivers: 1st Round (4th Overall Pick)

(New York Giants: Drafted)

(San Diego Chargers: 2004-2010)

Philip Rivers takes his fair share of abuse on this website in terms of his throwing motion and his knack for not winning “the big game.”  Granted, all of that is true up to this point in his career.  Nevertheless, Rivers has proved himself more than worthy of being a “Top 10” QB in the N.F.L., and in my opinion, is the best QB in the League which has not won a Super Bowl.

After being traded to San Diego via New York on Draft Day 2004, River had to wait behind Drew Brees (who finally decided to play Pro Bowl football after three less than inspiring seasons for the Chargers) for two years in San Diego before becoming the Chargers’ starter.  It did not take long however for Rivers to shine on the N.F.L. stage, and Philip led San Diego to an N.F.L. best 14-2 record during his Rookie season of 2006.  Unfortunately, the Chargers were upset at home in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs by the Patriots which kicked off a string of post-season meltdowns by the Chargers and Rivers alike.

The following year Rivers courageously played trough an ACL tear during the AFC Championship Game.  Unfortunately, Rivers’ injury cost San Diego in Foxborough and the Chargers were again denied a Super Bowl appearance.  In 2008, San Diego possessed the ball for only 17 seconds in the 3rd Quarter, and Rivers and the Chargers lost a Heinz Field in the Divisional Round to the Steelers.  And in 2009, Nate Kaeding’s missed Field Goals dashed the hopes of San Diego’s postseason dreams at home against the Jets.

In spite of Rivers’ and the Chargers’ postseason struggles during his career, there are few in the League that have come close to being as efficient and down-right effective as a QB in terms of stats and wins in the regular season as Rivers.

Utilizing his terrific arm and accuracy on the deep ball, San Diego has reaped the benefits of Rivers’ skill set in recent seasons.  From 2008-2011 Rivers has passed for more than 4,000 yards every year, and even led the League in 2010 with 4,710 Passing Yards and 294.4 YPG.  And in 2010, Rivers missed Vincent Jackson for most of the season and had to rely on some unheard of players to accomplish that feat.  Heck, in 2008 Rivers led the N.F.L. in TD Passes with 34, and he has failed to throw for less than 27 in a season since that time.  In terms of raw statistical production from the QB position, Rivers could very well be the best of the 2004 Draft Class.

Although many knock Rivers for his lack of postseason success (rightfully so), his career is nowhere near being done with.  In six years as a starter, Philip has won 63 games for the Chargers.  That’s over 10 games per season for those of you scoring at home.  Remember, John Elway failed to win “The Big One” until year 15 of his storied career, and suffered through some non-Playoff seasons with the Broncos as well.  As long as Rivers keeps up his level of play, San Diego will have a shot to compete.

If the Chargers can successfully rebuild their Defense and acquire some Offensive Line help in the coming years, San Diego will remain in contention due to Rivers’ play at the QB position.  If San Diego remains in contention, who knows?  Maybe the Chargers will win their first ring?

Philip Rivers’ Career Highlights

4x Pro Bowler (2006, 2009, 2010, 2011)

4x NFC West Champion as Starter

4 Postseason Appearances as Starter

50 Greatest Chargers (Anniversary Team)

Chargers Record TD Passes in Season: 34