With the offseason in full swing, the sports media outlets are coming out with their player rankings. The general consensus among the rankings is that Carson Palmer is a bottom tier quarterback. I have yet to see a single list that has him cracking the top 20. This seems a bit low for a two time Pro Bowler and franchise quarterback so I thought I would poke around and see why that might be.
Not all of these lists have the same quarterbacks ahead or behind Palmer on their rankings. And yet they all have him hovering around the 20-25 range. Is the man who was part of what Hue Jackson called "the greatest trade in football" really deserving of such little respect and low expectations?
Let's break this down...
The top few quarterbacks are simple. They are made up of some obvious top tier quarterbacks who have won one or more Super Bowls. However you choose to order them, they are as follows
1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Eli Manning
3. Tom Brady
4. Peyton Manning
5. Drew Brees
6. Ben Roethlisberger
This is where the "everyone else" part of the list begins. And it is also where it is far less certain as to who deserves to be considered a upper tier quarterback.
The lists across the board seem to blur the line between those ranked based upon past achievements or potential. The next group of quarterbacks who fall in this mid-range category go something like this:
7. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
8. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
9. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
10. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
11. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
12. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
13. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
14. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
15. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
Whatever order this group is listed, they are all here in this range-- and Carson Palmer is never among them or immediately following.
I saw lists where Palmer was ranked below Andrew Luck, who is a rookie on a rebuilding Colts team. Even Peyton Manning was a disaster in that situation in Indy when he was a rookie. I have seen lists in which Palmer is below the likes of Alex Smith, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, and Ryan Fitzpatrick-- all of whom have career quarterback ratings in the 70's (Palmer's career QB rating is 86.3).
Typically, he lands as low as possible among those who are actually considered sure starters next season. He barely tops guys like Matt Flynn, Robert Griffin III, and Jake Locker-- none of whom have proven anything on the NFL level and may not even start this season.
I would be the first to tell you that rankings don't mean anything and are nothing to get worked up about. Stats are also not the be all end all. Even wins and losses are not always a good judge of a quarterback's greatness.
There are many situations in which a team is built to win through its defense. The Ravens and 49ers were two such teams last season. Although I do give Joe Flacco and Alex Smith a lot of credit for not making any big mistakes, playing within the system, and allowing their defense to do their job. But playing not to lose does not a great quarterback make.
I won't say Flacco and Smith don't deserve to be among the top 15 quarterbacks in the NFL because they were able to execute their respective offenses to conference championships and nearly going to the Super Bowl. They deserve to be recognized for that. Although, not near as much as the defense.
Defense and the wins that come with it have never been a luxury of which Palmer was afforded. His career record is 50-56, due in large part to the fact that during his eight seasons in the NFL, his team only once had a defense ranked among the top 16 (2009, went 10-6). Outside of that one season, his team has had an average defensive rank of 23, which has led to many uphill battles and a lot of desperation moments for Palmer over the years. Interceptions are a byproduct of that desperation.
Just so you know, all the lists also have Palmer's replacement in Cincinnati, Andy Dalton, ranked ahead of him. Dalton enjoyed a resurgent Bengals defense last season which ranked ninth in the league. Dalton led them to a 9-7 record with a not-so-great QB rating of 80.4.
To best judge Palmer based upon statistics, you must stick to the five seasons in which he played in all 16 games. He has been in the NFL for eight seasons but three of them were partial seasons-- one was his rookie season and another was last season.
In those five seasons he averaged 3813 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. He also had a completion percentage of 63 and an 89.5 quarterback rating. His win/loss record improves here too to an even 40-40 record over that time.
Those numbers are pretty impressive. The 89.5 quarterback rating and 63% passing puts him squarely among the 10-15 ranking range. His 27 passing touchdown average is a number that Jay Cutler, Michael Vick, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Freeman have never surpassed. And of this group, only Jay Cutler has surpassed Palmer's 3813 average-- once.
So, yeah, the analysts as a whole may just be underestimating the level of quarterback Carson Palmer is and will be. At this point, he should be considered a second tier, above average quarterback, but instead he is currently rated just slightly above terrible.
I don't think there is any way Palmer plays down to the level of those who would judge him from an outsider's perspective. He has a renewed passion for football in an offense that will not be relying heavily on this arm as well as an improved defense.
With the new offense, his passing numbers won't be as gaudy because the team will focus on the run. This will have his interceptions down and his completion percentage go up.
An improved defense, solid run game, and more efficient quarterback play is what generates wins. So while rankings in June are just about meaningless, the ones in January will mean a lot more. That is where I expect to see Palmer right around the 10-15 range.