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

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Ben Roethlisberger: 1st Round (11th Overall Pick)

(Pittsburgh Steelers: 2004-Present)

I don’t think that I need to explain to you readers what kind of a player Big Ben Roethlisberger is.  Furthermore, I don’t believe that I need to go into how important he is to the team and the franchise as a whole.  The fact that Big Ben slipped to #11 in the 1st Round still baffles me to this day, and every April I thank whatever football deities made it possible for him to come to Pittsburgh for the good fortune.

Ben established himself as a “franchise QB” and ultimate winner when he replaced an injured Tommy Maddox in Week 2 of Roethlisberger’s Rookie campaign.  All Ben did was win his first 13 regular season starts and his fist postseason one as well.  Even though the Steelers lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, you knew that Pittsburgh had found their first “franchise QB” since Terry Bradshaw.

Ben didn’t suffer the “Sophomore Slump,” and guided the Steelers to their “One For The Thumb” by helping the team win Super Bowl XL.  After a down 2006 season where the motorcycle injury he suffered months prior obviously hampered him, Ben made his first Pro Bowl in 2007 by setting career highs in TD’s.  I guess Ben’s quest for success failed to be satisfied, because in 2008 he led the Steelers to another ring with his incredible “cool-under pressure play.”

His 78 (88 if you count the Kemo holding penalty) yard TD drive against the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII was nothing short of spectacular, and the TD throw to San-smokio Holmes to go ahead 27-23 was remarkable in and of itself.  If you were pressed to pick one play that perfectly represents the awesomeness of Big Ben, I would choose that one.  He scrambled after not seeing his first reads open, set his feet after buying adequate time, and then fired a bullet to the game’s eventual MVP for the title!

Even in the afterglow of the two Super Bowl wins, last three seasons have seen Ben develop more as a passer.  Moreover, I personally believe that we are only seeing the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of Roethlisberger’s passing game prowess.  In 2009, Ben set career highs in Passing Yards (4,328 Yards) and Completion Percentage (66.6%), and even went over 500 yards passing in a game against the Packers (509 Yards).  In 2010, Ben threw for 3,200 Yards in 12 starts (suspended due to offseason “sexcapades”), and took the Steelers all the way to an A.F.C. Crown.  And 2011 saw Roethlisberger again crack the 4,000 Yard barrier (4,077 Yards), and lead the Steelers to the postseason once again.

In the event that Big Ben and new Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley end up getting along and seeing “eye to eye,” Pittsburgh’s Offense has the ability to be downright lethal for years to come.  If Roethlisberger continues to succeed and can continue to keep his nose clean in the process, the Steelers’ QB will inevitably find himself in the Hall of Fame after his career done.

Ben Roethlisberger’s Career Highlights

2x Super Bowl Champion (XL, XLIII)

3x AFC Champion

2x Pro Bowler (2007, 2011)

4x AFC North Champion

6 Postseason Appearances

AP Offensive Rookie of the Year (2004)

Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Year (2004)

Matt Schaub: 3rd Round (90th Overall Pick)

(Atlanta Falcons: 2004-2006)

(Houston Texans: 2007-Present)

For those that are unaware or simply don’t remember, there was one other stellar QB selected in the 2004 NFL Draft, and no, I am not referring to the illustrious J.P. Losman.  In the 3rd Round, the Atlanta Falcons sought to find some depth behind their Pro Bowl QB Michael Vick, who had missed most of the 2003 season with a leg injury.  So with the 90th overall pick, Atlanta selected Matt Schaub.

Schaub however played sparingly in Atlanta behind Vick, but in his spot starts and mop-up duty became a hot commodity in the trade market.  In fact, just before Vick became involved in his legal hot water surrounding the dog fighting, Atlanta shipped Schaub to the Texans for 2nd Round picks in 2007 and 2008 and flip flopped their 1st Round selections in 2007.

Since emerging out of Michael Vick’s shadow in Atlanta, Schaub has steadily improved each and every year as a starter for the Texans.  After injuries cost Schaub 10 starts in 2007 and 2008, Schaub came into his own in 2009, 2010, 2011 and has really established himself as one of the League’s most underrated QB’s.

In 2009 Schaub set career highs in (and subsequently led the League in these categories) Completions, Attempts, Passing Yards, and Passing Yards per game.  In addition, Schaub threw 29 TD’s, led Houston to its first winning record in Franchise history (9-7), and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.  Although the Texans plummeted back to Earth in 2010, it was more in part due to their Defense’s penchant for blowing leads and not Schaub’s overall play (4,370 Yards and 24 TD’s).  In 2011 however, Schaub had the Texans storming out of the gate to a 7-3 record and was playing at a Pro Bowl level even without stud WR Andre Johnson: (2,479 Yards, 15 TD’s, and 8.6 YPA).  With a revamped Defense courtesy of D.C. Wade Phillips, the Texans looked to make some noise in January and eventually clinched their first ever postseason berth.  Schaub however was unable to participate in the playoffs due to a Lisfranc injury he sustained in Week 11.

I know that I should avoid playing the “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” Game, but had Schaub been healthy going into the Divisional Round at Baltimore, I believe that Houston would have smoked the Ravens Defense.  Furthermore, I think that the Texans would have given Brady and Co. all they could handle the following week.  Post-script prognostications aside, there is one thing which is abundantly clear, Houston has finally found their “franchise QB” with Matt Schaub.

The most difficult thing standing in Schaub’s way at this point in his career however are his injuries.  Three out of Schaub’s five years in Houston have been marred by injuries, including last year after he went down with a Lisfranc (foot) injury when the team was 7-3.  With the Texans’ Defense finally improving, and the Offense firing on all cylinders, Schaub’s health will determine how far this franchise can go, and how much success they can ultimately attain.

While Schaub may not be as accomplished as the other 3 QB’s in terms of postseason appearances, postseason success, or even in some statistical categories at the 8 year mark of their stellar careers, the future is just as wide open for him.  The Texans are considered an A.F.C. favorite entering 2012, Schaub plays for a terrific Head Coach in Gary Kubiak (Drafted in Round 8 of ’83 actually), and the Texans are still in the process building an outstanding roster.  Health permitting, I think that Matt Schaub has the chance to continue to build his resume and produce results that are on par with or can possibly eclipse some of his ’04 classmates throughout the rest of his career.

Matt Schaub’s Career Highlights

1x Pro Bowler (2009)

NFL Leader in Passing Yards, Completions, Attempts, and YPG (2009)

Led Texans to 1st Winning Season (2009)

Led Texans to 1st Playoff Appearance (2011, 7-3 as Starter)

Conclusion/Final Thoughts

What strikes me as remarkable about these four guys is the amount of success each has attained in such a short period of time.  In fact, only Roethlisberger and Manning have started significant amounts of games in every season since 2004.  Rivers has only been the Chargers’ starter since 2006, and Schaub has only been the Texans’ starter since 2007.

What is also astounding about this group of QB’s is the fact that all of these guys are leading postseason caliber teams.  Just like during the 80’s and throughout the 90’s when we saw Elway, Kelly, and Marino taking their teams to the Playoffs, we could begin to see more matchups between Roethlisberger, Rivers, and Schaub in the A.F.C..  Maybe one of those three will eventually duke it out with Eli in a Super Bowl one day.

As of right now, these QB’s might not have the resumes on par with Elway, Marino, and Kelly.  But you know what?  They are well on their way to building them now.  Each of these players’ best football is likely in front of them, and there are eons of time for them to achieve even more greatness and build upon the collective accomplishments of the Draft Class.

Who knows?  Maybe in another eight years 2004 will be the gold standard.

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