Four quarterbacks were selected in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft. A decade later, there are four Super Bowl rings split between Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, and we can only assume J.P. Losman is surfing somewhere.
But Philip Rivers—the other guy who’s still very much in the league—may have now developed into the best quarterback of the group.
Though Roethlisberger and Manning have the shiny championship jewelry, Rivers is outplaying the top of his draft class. Maybe it was Mike McCoy’s golden quarterback touch, or Rivers realizing that repeatedly jamming balls into tight windows isn’t a great idea. But the transformation we’ve watched from him since the start of 2013 and early this season is stunning.
It’s been tight recently in a quarterback battle royale between Rivers and Roethlisberger from that draft class. Roethlisberger struggled initially in 2012 when Todd Haley first came aboard as the new offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. Then the two fixed their disconnect and Roethlisberger threw 28 touchdown passes last year, the second highest single-season total of his career.
Back in 2004 Roethlisberger waited longer for his name to be called, missing the top 10 and sliding to the 11th overall slot. He’s provided great value from that spot, but he’s done it while supported by a fierce defense for much of his career. The Steelers have had a top five defense (by total yards allowed per game) during eight of Roethlisberger’s 10 seasons.
Rivers hasn’t had nearly the same luxury and the field position it provides (only one top-five Chargers defense during his career). Yet the Bolts have still advanced to the playoffs six times with Rivers chucking, and often needing to win games with his arm.
Whether or not you’re able to give Rivers a toenail or two in his draft class showdown with Roethlisberger mostly depends on where you currently reside, and if it’s Pittsburgh. This isn’t debatable though: he’s far, far ahead of Manning.
Championships are wonderful, because they’re the reason why anyone plays football (or sports in general… they’re why people do sports things). But while Manning has two of those because of two incredible throws, please recall those plays also required two equally incredible and highly improbable catches. I’ll take that further with David Tyree’s moment of ball-glued-to-head glory: it was a miracle from the powers above, and after 100 attempts he couldn’t repeat that again.
Also recall that throughout the 2007 season Manning threw 20 interceptions while averaging only 6.3 yards per attempt. Over the past four seasons he’s thrown at least 25 interceptions twice, including a league leading 27 in 2013 (a Giants franchise record). His completion percentage also fell to 57.5 last year.
Little brother Eli is now advancing toward the age of 34 as he’s settling into a new offense. Though a win this past Sunday over Houston provided (false) hope, Ben McAdoo’s scheme is still sputtering, along with his quarterback. Manning has thrown four interceptions, and had a YPA of 4.9 in Week 1. Meanwhile, Rivers has thrown six touchdowns through three games this year, and only one interception.
Without a swift turnaround the Giants will face a difficult decision a year from now, or even this offseason. Manning’s current contract is set to expire when he’ll be 35 years old, and during the final year in 2015 he’s due $17 million. Rivers is in a similar situation with $15.75 million due his way in 2015, also the final year of his current contract.
Any hesitation at all with an extension for either quarterback tells us more than enough about the current state of their respective careers after they entered the league together in 2004. There won’t be any with Rivers, but plenty of uncertainty will surround Manning’s future.