The NFC West is kind of a weird division as far as the quarterback position goes. It's a division that is mostly dominant on the backs of strong defenses, defensive-minded coaches and offenses that typically get by on sheer force of will. Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch drove NFC West offenses in recent years, and guys like Todd Gurley and Carlos Hyde will do so going forward.
In other words, the NFC West can survive without top tier quarterbacks. That doesn't mean there isn't room for those guys, or that there aren't already guys of that caliber or who can be of that caliber in the NFC West. One could argue there's three up-and-comers at the position within the division, and two of which who have already found some success at the highest level of the game.
But I've been ranking the positions in the NFC West and this one was tough. Even the top spot isn't really a guarantee if we're going by stats alone, and even the bottom spot contains a player who really could be at the top of these rankings next year. It's an interesting one, and I'm prepared to have a lot of flack come my way, but here's my rankings of the NFC West quarterbacks.
Seattle Seahawks with Russell Wilson, Tarvaris Jackson, B.J. Daniels
Russell Wilson is a difficult quarterback to place, given the way the Seattle Seahawks run their offense. Despite the fact that he's considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league, he doesn't really throw for that much yardage and he doesn't make the prettiest throws on a snap-to-snap basis. But where I think Wilson excels is his decision-making. He's smart with the football and he knows when NOT to make a throw, something that can't be said for every quarterback on this list.
That all goes back to Wilson's instincts, which I think are unparalleled in the NFC West. We talk about Colin Kaepernick being great at running the ball and play action, but Wilson is on an entirely different level with that stuff. When Wilson needs to run the ball, he just goes. There's no pause, there's no hesitation. Kaepernick hesitates, and by that time, Wilson is already streaking down the sideline. Wilson is also as good as it gets with running outside the pocket to extend a play before firing off a pass, and his feel for how close the defenders are to him is, again, unmatched.
There are still times where I feel like Wilson can still kind of go "either way." Those are all positive examples of his play, but I wonder how he will react when the Seahawks put even more responsibility on his shoulders. He should react positively to the team bringing in Jimmy Graham, of course, but once Marshawn Lynch is gone, what's that going to look like?
Arizona Cardinals with Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Logan Thomas, Phillip Sims
I agonized over where to put Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. I've always considered him a bit underrated, and actually expected him to do well with the Oakland Raiders. That didn't happen, but he's found some success with the Cardinals and I think he's a perfect fit there.
Arizona has been solid the past two seasons despite flying completely under the radar in every metric that matters, and actually beat out the 49ers for a playoff spot. That stung a lot. If Palmer had actually been healthy all season, the Cardinals would have been even better. Seriously, Palmer is playing amazing football -- he's hitting his targets perfectly, he's avoiding pressure, his decision-making is the best its ever been.
But he's got that injury history, and I have to wonder where the window is on his opportunity. Did it close already? Did injuries the last two seasons eliminate the chances of him actually being successful, and will this coming season be a disaster? That wouldn't be shocking, but for now, his high level of play in recent seasons puts him above Kaepernick. This season could easily end with Kaepernick looking much, much better than him, but for now, that's where we're going with the rankings.
San Francisco 49ers with Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, Dylan Thompson
Colin Kaepernick is a good quarterback, and he can absolutely be a great quarterback or an elite quarterback. He's shown flashes of being an elite quarterback. He's got the arm to make any throw in the NFL, he's got the athleticism to extend plays and provide a threat on the ground and I think he's got the right head on his shoulders to put all of that together.
However, we have to talk about last year and how disastrous that was. On a fundamental level, Kaepernick made very basic, very terrible mistakes that had nothing to do with a depleted group of receivers, bad calls by the offensive coordinator or sloppy offensive line play. Those are mitigating factors at best, and anyone who uses them to try and explain away the fact that Kaepernick's decision-making was catastrophically poor for much of last season is fooling themselves.
That was an extremely negative paragraph, and it was unpleasant to write. It was unpleasant to write because I am a huge fan of Kaepernick and what he brings to the table, and I know of all the passages in this article, the readers will zero in on that and use it to tear me down. But I want to make it clear that I think Kaepernick has all the tools to be one of the dominant quarterbacks in this league and personally, I believe Kaepernick WILL put it all together and move past a bad 2014-15 season. For now though, it's something he has to prove.
Let's not talk about Blaine Gabbert.
St. Louis Rams with Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Austin Davis, Sean Mannion
At this stage, I have no idea what to expect from Nick Foles. I think anybody who thinks they "know" what he'll wind up looking like is fooling themselves. He's such a wild card, but he does have a lot of talent and that makes him interesting. The problem is we've only seen flashes.
It just so happens that those flashes occurred over a 13-game period with the Philadelphia Eagles, during which Foles completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions. That was incredible to watch, but he followed it up with a 59.8 completion percentage, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in eight games last season.
Chip Kelly isn't happy unless he's hit the big red button on everything and completely annihilated a roster, however, so he shipped of Foles to St. Louis for Sam Bradford and the Rams have to be absolutely giddy. Bradford was solid, but he's missed far more games than he's played. Foles has a lot of potential to put up big numbers, and if he can play more like 2013 than 2014, he probably won't be the worst quarterback in the division at the end of next season. But for now he's just a guy we can't really define playing for a team that's ... not great.