Unproven... It's a word some could apply to every NFC West quarterback in 2013. Even the Arizona Cardinal's veteran Carson Palmer has things to prove since his short term retirement (Jan. to Oct., 2011) after his time in Cincinnati. He failed to make Oakland Raiders fans feel good about the boatload of high draft picks - then head coach Hue Jackson - traded for the former USC star and 2003 first overall pick in the NFL Draft.
The senior statesman among the NFC West's quarterbacks (age 33), Palmer landed in Arizona for a 2013 6th round pick, and a conditional choice in 2014. He's topped 4000 yards passing three times in his 10 year career - once with Oakland, and twice with Cincinnati. His numbers for Oakland in 2012:
Palmer's move to the Cardinals came on the heels of one of the worst quarterback messes in their franchise's history. In 2012, they were throwing new QBs into their line up faster than the Russian's threw replacements in the front lines at Stalingrad. Kevin Kolb is now in Buffalo, so he may not be done fleeing for his life. New head coach Bruce Arians has a thing for pocket passing quarterbacks, and Palmer is his guy for 2013. Mobility isn't a strong point on the aging quarterback's resume.
He's walking into a buzz-saw in the NFC West, whose teams boast four of the Top 10 defenses in the NFL. I have little doubt the Arizona offensive line will be improved over their 2012 version, but will it be enough to keep Palmer on his feet? For his sake, I hope so. He has the best receiver of his career to throw to in Larry Fitzgerald, IF he has the time. He won't. Arizona faces some tough defenses in the NFC South too, and the secondaries in the West are going to make Palmer's interception numbers edge up.
Seattle has an amazing second year quarterback coming into 2013, with extremely high expectations by Seahawks fans. Russell Wilson had a stellar rookie campaign. He needed to, after head coach Pete Carroll moved the 2012 3rd round draft pick ahead of big buck free agent Matt Flynn in the preseason. Gutsy call Pete, but it worked out great. Wilson showed tremendous poise in his first year, after a rough few games at the start of the season. He came into his own during the controversial Green Bay game, and he never looked back.
The 24 year old quarterback has some history to fight if he's going to meet or exceed his 2012 statistics. Call it the sophomore jinx, or whatever else you want, but it's the rule, and not the exception, that second year quarterbacks generally struggle. This would be a hard blow to the Seahawks, given the high hope they and every in sports media have for them this year.
Yet, when I look at his 2012 numbers, I don't see anything that tells me Wilson was the one who lead the team into the playoffs last season. This is a complete team, with a good offensive line and a stellar defense. Marshawn Lynch was a workhorse at running back, and took pressure off of Wilson. Where Wilson will have problems will be found in game film by opposing defensive coordinators. What they'll find, I really don't know. But I think the picks made by the Rams and 49ers this past April could give us a glimpse. Alec Ogletree can easily be scene as a potential adjustment to a run/option quarterback like Wilson. The 49ers picked up two defensive ends, so a shift to a modified 4-3 to counter or seal the edge option could be in their plans. Arizona is thinking of shifting to the 4-3 by the way.
So the question is whether or not the four linemen and three linebacker defense is a move to counter the run option? The bottom line here is Wilson will have some very smart defensive coaches planning his demise. The thing Wilson has going for him - to me - is an intangible I can't really put my finger on. He reminds me a bit of Joe Montana - not the strongest arm, but he finds a way to win.
Sam Bradford has the most potential of any quarterback in the NFC West. For those fans of the other teams in the division who are reading this, if you deny his size, arm, and screwed up first few years in the NFL which weren't his fault, you're being dishonest with yourselves. I read how many Seattle, San Francisco, and Arizona fans say Bradford is overrated. Big, big mistake. He's under performed? True, but which of your teams were as thin at wide receiver as his? He's had two season's under Steve Spagnuolo, who thought an offensive line was just five big guys, who if told to block they would. Those two years were flat out lost development time, not evidence of missing talent.
Bradford started to come out of his QB sack inspired PTSD last season. He now has as talent laden wide receiver corp, as the franchise has had in the last 8 years. Tack on the free agent acquisition of an all-pro left tackle to go with an all-pro center... As much as coaching and offensive philosophy have hampered Bradford, the lack of an offensive line killed his game. That's all changed. But Bradford does have flaws, and NFL defensive coordinators know it. Current head coach Jeff Fisher has infused this young quarterback with a confidence other teams need to be wary of, or he's going to beat them as he opens his field of vision to the weapons he now has. The biggest ding on Bradford is his progression reads, and a slight tendency hold onto the ball. He forces throws at times too, but nothing he does in this regard shocks me. To me, he's a second year quarterback for the third time, and his sophomore jinx is a thing of the past..
Colin Kaepernick has one of the strongest arms in the NFL. It's both a blessing and curse for the former Nevada star quarterback. His throws look like a center fielder in baseball trying to throw the runner out at home plate. Yet it's hard not to think this may be the most talented quarterback in the NFC West. While Sam Bradford has the better passing arm with regard to touch, and Russell Wilson may edge him out in pure football savvy, the levels Kaepernick has of each asset have built a great quarterback. He makes good decisions when he runs the ball too. He knows how to avoid contact of the kind that most R/O quarterbacks take with reckless abandon.
He was blessed by being on a team who could afford to develop him, instead of throwing him on the field his rookie year. Don't sell this aspect of Kaepernick's development short either. He needed every minute he had backing up Alex Smith. Where he has a problem is when he throws in the 20-30 yard range. His passes are thrown so hard they lack arc. He has the arm strength to thread the needle between defensive backs, but just beyond the safety area he has trouble dropping the ball in. His long passes are as good as you'll find though. It's the median area where teams will start to hunt him. Kaepernick is a fiery competitor, and as long as he stays healthy he's going to be a solid quarterback for the 49ers.
My Quarterback Rankings for the NFC West. I used the possibility of 4000+- passing yards as the mean to judge these players.
Rational: Let's start off with why I didn't put Kaepernick or Wilson at #1 so visiting Seattle and San Francisco fans can start boiling over in the comment threads. First, Kaepernick just isn't going to pass for 4000 yards - ever. He's going to pass and run for a combined 4000, but that's where he loses points with me. The old rule - that the more parts, the easier it is to break - holds true. Rushing quarterbacks are great, and fun to watch, but when 25%+ of their stats come from running, and that part is taken away, you get a partial QB. Kaepernicks arm is strong, but it will never be compared with Peyton Manning's for accuracy and touch. So what we have is a quarterback who is a dynamic weapon, but is incomplete in the refined scope.
Russell Wilson has all the tools to be the best all round quarterback in the NFC West. I have little doubt he can easily pass for 4000 yards this season, and maybe more. But to do that he'll have to stay in the pocket, and there's where the trouble could be for him. At 5'11", he needs to be able to move. His arm strength is medium to good, but when he breaks out of the pocket, he doesn't do well throwing back across the field. If I were Seattle, I'd have Wilson studying film of Joe Montana every day. His field vision is excellent, so the key to his success will be being able to scramble while keeping as many receivers as possible in his passing zone.
Carson Palmer is a shadow of who he was only a few years ago. Can he pass? Yes. Can he move around? No, not even a little bit. He's going to be smashed in 33 year old pieces if his offensive line isn't at least 100% better than they were last season. He'll be handing the ball off quite a bit this season, so he may not hit 4000 yards this year, which is fine. The more Arizona runs the ball, the better chance Palmer has to survive the season. The sad thing here is Palmer arrived so late to pass to Larry Fitzgerald. If - and I stress IF - the Arizona offensive line and running game get going, I think Palmer could have a career year.
It's a Rams site, so the writer votes for a Rams quarterback, right? Well if you ask the guys around this site, you'll find they won't say so - not by a long shot. I'm painfully objective, and while that doesn't guarantee my thoughts are accurate, it does say I write what I believe to be true. For instance, I was the first staff writer here to call for coaching and front office changes in 2011. That said, I contend Sam Bradford is the #1 quarterback in the NFC West. Here's why:
Bradford has every tool a NFL quarterback needs - Size, arm strength, accuracy, side to side mobility, and intellect. Has he underachieved? Hell yes, but that's not what this article is about. It's about who's the #1 quarterback THIS year based on all the possible facets I could gather. He lacks the mobility of both Kaepernick and Wilson, but he more than offsets this with a more accurate arm than the other two. If you tell me you'd rather have Kaepernick or Wilson standing in the pocket throwing the entire route tree, you're not being honest. Bradford can't ever be a run/option quarterback, and I'm fine with that aspect. A younger Palmer would be the #1 quarterback by the way. The reason is the risk to value of an R/O quarterback I applied to my analysis. The odds of an R/O QB getting injured are high. Ask yourself what will happen to your team's overall performance if your franchise quarterback goes down?
Bradford will hit the 4000 passing yard barrier this season, and he'll run for a touchdown or two. He'll throw for more touchdowns than any of the other three quarterbacks mentioned, and he'll do so in an offense tailored to his talents and new receiving assets. He has a vastly improve offensive line, improved special team to provide better field position, and a defense on par with the best in the NFL. So there it is... What do you think?