The most important position is arguably the position that touches the ball every single play and can make or break an entire franchise. This, of course, is the quarterback. Throughout the years some teams have been lucky enough to transition from one great QB to another, whereas some franchises are struggling to get by like a fantasy football owner scouring the waiver wire. Is your favorite teams’ quarterback going to go down in history as one of the greats? Or are they going to be forgotten in a few years when a new, younger, shinier toy enters the organization?
I will be going division by division to evaluate how great and memorable each teams starting QB will be when all is said and done. Our first stop: The NFC North. A super bowl MVP, a young up-and-comer recently selected 2nd overall in the draft, a former #1 overall draft pick, and the 4th round pick that has surprised everyone with his talent… unless you follow the Big10.
Cousins took the NFL by storm in 2015 after replacing former rookie of the year, and draft classmate, Robert Griffin III. Leading the Washington Redskins to the playoffs with a 9-7 record, Cousins tossed 29 touchdowns and passed for 4,000 yards for the first time in his career. What came as a surprise to some, was not all that surprising for Big10 and Michigan State fans. During his senior year, Cousins was 1st in the Big10 in pass completions, pass attempts and passing yards. The talent was always there, but the big names at the top of the draft board like Andrew Luck, RGIII, Ryan Tannehill, and Brandon Weeden caused Cousins to slip into the 4th round of the draft. In fact, three more QBs were selected before Cousins: Brock Osweiler, Russell Wilson, and Nick Foles. Of those selected in front of cousins, all but Weeden and Luck are still on NFL rosters entering the 2019 NFL season. With Kirk Cousins entering his second year as the starting QB for the Minnesota Vikings. After playing on the franchise tag for Washington 2 years in a row, Cousins was shocked to learn that the Redskins have traded for Kansas City Chiefs starting QB and former #1 overall pick (we’ll get back to this when discussing another QB in this division), Alex Smith. Now free to sign wherever he wants, Cousins elected to join the Vikings prior to the 2018 season. Choosing a talented team that won the NFC North the prior year with Case Keenum at the helm instead of chasing the money being thrown at him by teams like the Jets, Broncos, and Cardinals. In his first year as the Vikings QB, Cousins threw a career-high 30 touchdowns and passed for over 4,000 yards for the 4th time in his 7-year career. Currently scheduled to become a free agent once again prior to the 2021 season, Cousins is looking to win now with Vikings in hopes of landing one more big contract when he turns 33 years old. The 1x pro-bowler currently has over 20,000 passing yards in his career, placing him at 106th overall in NFL history. If Cousins continues his streak of 4,000-yard seasons, after this season he will surpass the likes of Jim Zorn, Sammy Baugh, Michael Vick, Roger Staubach, Otto Graham, Norm Van Brocklin, draft classmate Andrew Luck, Archie Manning, Daunte Culpepper, and Bart Starr. A list that contains 5 hall-of-fame quarterbacks.
Stafford was the consensus top quarterback entering the NFL draft in 2009 after dominating the NCAA scene at Georiga. As a true freshman at Georiga, Stafford stumbled out of the gates when he threw 13 INTs and only 7 touchdowns. But things would turn around for the stud QB as his sophomore year saw him throw 19 touchdowns and only 10 INTs. Then came his junior year and the season that showed how talented the future #1 overall pick truly is. In 2008, Matthew Stafford was #1 in the SEC in pass completions (235), pass attempts (383), passing yards (3,459), and total yards per play (8). Thus proving his big-play ability and cementing the fact that he has a metaphorical cannon for an arm. Which is why the Detroit Lions drafted him #1 overall in the 2009 NFL and proceeded to give him the largest NFL rookie contract ever (until Sam Bradford surpassed it the following year). The rule change implementing a rookie contract ceiling in 2011 was put in place because of the absurd amount of money guaranteed to Stafford ($72 million) and the 2010 NFL draft pick Sam Bradford ($78 million). But this shows just how much faith the Lions had in their young QB. Stafford had yet to play a single down in the NFL and was already amongst the highest-paid players in the league. However, similar to how things were at Georgia, Stafford stumbled out of the gate for the Lions. The injury bug bit Matthew Stafford hard in his first two seasons in the NFL causing him to miss 19 out of 32 possible games to begin his career. A knee injury forced him to miss 2 games early but no one talks about his knee… they talk about his shoulders. Stafford had developed a name for himself for having “glass shoulders” that would constantly need repairing. That did not stop Stafford from earning the respect of everyone in a game against the Browns in 2009 in which he dislocated his shoulder, reset it, and then threw a game-winning touchdown pass all within the final 8 seconds of the game. There is a great NFL Films video of the event on YouTube which includes Stafford being mic’d up so we can hear what’s going through his mind during the game, I highly suggest everyone look it up. His toughness would never be questioned again as Stafford has now started all 128 for the Lions since the beginning of the 2011 season. Including playing through torn ligaments in his throwing hand and reportedly playing with broken bones in his back this past season. We sure as hell are going to appreciate Stafford for his toughness, but it is not what he is going to be remembered for. That honor, just like when he was in college, lies with his passing stats. The 1x pro bowler had one of the best seasons ever in 2011 when he passed for over 5,000 yards and threw 41 touchdowns and has been a consistent top talent in the league ever since. Stafford threw for over 4,000 yards each year since 2012 with last season being his only non-injury plagued season that saw him not reach that mark. Prior to the 2019 season, Stafford currently stands at 21st in NFL history (8th among active players) in passing yards and is likely to surpass 2 hall-of-fame QB’s this upcoming season: Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana. As for touchdowns, Stafford is currently tied with hall-of-famer Jim Kelly for 27th most on the all-time list. It is entirely realistic to see Stafford surpass more hall-of-famers in the likes of Len Dawson, Y.A. Tittle, Dan Fouts, and Sonny Jurgensen.
The youngest and freshest of the NFC North starting quarterbacks is current Chicago Bears phenom Mitchell “Mitch” Trubisky. With only 1 year as a full-time starter in college, Trubisky was the surprise of the NFL draft in 2017. In his final year at North Carolina, Trubisky was top-5 in the ACC in all passing stats including his 30 passing touchdowns and over 3,700 passing yards. He also showed the ability to rush the ball at an effective rate in college. In his final season, he had 5 rushing touchdowns and over 300 yards rushing. Trubisky’s final year at UNC was enough for the Bears to decide to draft Trubisky 2nd overall in 2017, over notable draft classmates Patrick Mahomes (10th overall) and Deshaun Watson (12th overall). In his rookie year, it was expected that Trubisky sits and studies behind the high-contract free agent Mike Glennon. But, due to the Bears going 1-4 with Glennon running the offense, Trubisky was handed the keys to the offense and he has not looked back since. In his 12 games as a starter during his rookie season, Trubisky threw for over 2,000 yards, rushed for over 200, and had 9 total touchdowns with 7 interceptions. Not an outstanding start for the young QB, but the 2018 season saw Trubisky lead his team to the NFL North title before losing his only playoff game to date. Some may say that the Bears rode their defense to the playoffs but Trubisky earned pro-bowl honors this past season with his stellar play. With 27 total touchdowns, over 3,600 total yards and limiting his INTs to 12 in the 2018 season, Trubisky is on track to be a difference-maker in the NFL for many years to come.
The only quarterback in the NFC North with a super bowl ring, super bowl MVP, and multiple regular-season MVP awards, Aaron Rodgers is often referred to as one of the greatest to ever play the game. But Rodgers was not thrust into the spotlight immediately like his division rivals, not even in while he was in college. Aaron Rodgers went unrecruited out of high school, as crazy as that sounds, and nearly decided to quit football to attend law school. Instead, Rodgers attended Butte Community College and lead them to a community college championship. Surprisingly enough, his stellar performance at Butte led to the University of California coach Jeff Tedford offering him a chance to transfer to Cal and start at QB for the Golden Bears. Interesting tidbit, Tedford didn’t watch Butte games to recruit Rodgers, Cal was interested in Rodgers playmaker and tight end: Garrett Cross. So once again, Aaron Rodgers was being overlooked by colleges; only this time, he got his offer to play division-1 football. Rodgers played 2 years for Cal before declaring for the NFL draft in 2005. While at Cal, Rodgers threw for over 5,400 yards, tossed 43 touchdowns, added 8 more on the ground, rushed for over 300 yards, and limited his INTs to a measly 13 total. Rodgers declared early with the expectation that his home state San Francisco 49ers would select with the #1 overall pick in the 2005 draft. Instead, the 49ers elected to go Utah quarterback Alex Smith (told you Smith had a lot to do with this division), which caused Rodgers to fall all the way to 24th overall into the hands of the Green Bay Packers. But the Packers had a future hall-of-fame QB already starting for them, some guy named Brett Favre. You might have heard of him. With Favre at the helm, Rodgers sparingly played during his first three years in the NFL. Then, once Favre finally decided to retire… and then unretire, and then get traded to the Jets… it was finally Aaron Rodgers time! In his first year as the starting QB for the Packers in 2008 Rodgers put up great stats but the team only went 6-10. But from then on out, Rodgers led the Packers to the playoffs 8 times in the next 10 seasons. During which he tallied, 7 pro bowl selections, 2 MVP awards, a super bowl MVP award, and a super bowl ring. Rodgers has seen the injury bug bite him quite often, but just like his predecessor Favre, he always seems to gut it out on the field. This passion and desire for the game have led to Rodgers orchestrating some of the most astonishing moments in NFL history. With 14 comebacks and 20 game-winning drives to his name, Aaron Rodgers has generated enough highlight plays to make us want to watch YouTube clips for countless hours. Prior to the 2019 season, Rodgers is currently 17th all-time in passing yards with 42,944 and realistically can surpass hall-of-famer Dan Fouts, Drew Bledsoe, Vinny Testaverde, and Carson Palmer to continue his climb up the leaderboards. As for touchdowns, Rodgers currently sits at 10th overall with 338. He will look to overtake hall-of-famer Fran Tarkenton (342) this season and potentially fellow active QBs Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Phillip Rivers.
Who will we remember and forget?
There it is! This is what we know about the current NFC North quarterbacks as they stand today. Who will go down in history as one of the greats? Who will we forget about in 20 years? Also, how will the rest of these QBs careers turn out? Let me know in the comments and look out for my write-ups on the other NFL divisions.
Statistics courtesy of pro-football-reference.com and sports-reference.com