Hello all and welcome to another edition of, Who Will Be the Most Memorable! In today’s edition, we will be evaluating a division filled with former #1 overall picks and MVP winners at the QB position: the NFC South. How many more MVP awards will be earned by these high-profile quarterbacks? Of the four, how many will end up in the hall of fame when their careers are all said and done? Let’s take a look!
In our 4th divisional stop, we will be completing our tour of NFC teams by taking a ride on a pirate ship in Tampa, try to keep our heads above sea level in New Orleans, march into Atlanta, and lastly prowl the lands in Charlotte. Our QBs featured? An MVP and former #1 overall pick, another MVP, a former #1 overall pick again, and a Super Bowl MVP and future first ballot hall-of-famer in my book.
In 2013, Jameis Winston was handed the keys to the Florida State offense as a true freshman. Winston immediately stepped in and led the ACC in total yards with over 4,200 yards of offense. As not only the top QB in the ACC, but all of the NCAA, Winston was already being regarded as a potential franchise quarterback for NFL teams. Winston led Florida State to a national championship victory and won the Heisman award for his impressive season. More of the same came in Winston’s second and final season at Florida State, as he was the runner-up for the Heisman award to future draft classmate Marcus Mariotta. Passing for just under 4,000 yards and lowering his touchdown marks while also increasing his INTs was not the ideal scenario for Winston but he was still touted as the most NFL ready QB in college. Even with 7 off the field issues to his name ranging from theft, profanity-laced comments, and sexual misconduct, Winston was still selected with the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As a rookie, Winston was the starting QB from the start and played himself into the pro bowl. Unfortunately for Winston, he has not returned to the pro bowl since and his play has been sporadic, to say the least. After playing the full 16 games and hitting 4,000 yards marks in each of his first 2 seasons, Winston has seen his playing time take a hit at times thanks to turnovers. Both interceptions and fumbles have plagued Winston throughout his career resulting in him being benched multiple times. Winstons second year in the league was his peak season as through for career highs in all categories… including INTs. In terms of all-time leaderboards, Winston sits at #151 all-time in passing yards and with another 4,000 yard bounce-back season, he could climb the ranks into the #120s range. The same can be said for passing touchdown total as he sits tied at #150 with 88 for his career. Winston will need to prove he can protect the football if he wants to continue as a starting QB, at least, for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team picked up his fifth-year team option, but he could be traded elsewhere with another poor season.
Back in 1997, a young freshman QB at Purdue by the name of the Drew Brees barely saw the field as he sat behind top passer in the BIG10, Billy Dicken. Dicken would go on to play a couple of seasons in the Arena Football League developmental league but ultimately found his calling as a coach. Little did we all know that waiting in the wings was the future NFL all-time passing leader. Brees stepped into the starting roll in 1998 and instantly began setting records for the BIG10. As the #1 rated QB in every single category, every single year, Brees dominated the college landscape. However, due to his height, or lack thereof, Brees was drafted #32nd overall in the 2001 NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers. Brees was the second QB selected, with only #1 overall pick Michael Vick (a record-setter in his own right) being selected before him. As a rookie, Brees only appeared in 1 game, much like his Freshman year at Purdue. But, similar to college, Brees took over the starting gig in his second season and never looked back. Sure, Brees stumbled a little as the starter initially but he was selected to the pro bowl in his 4th career season. Shocking everyone, the Chargers drafted a QB in 2004. With the #4 overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft, the Chargers selected Eli Manning… and then traded him for Phillip Rivers not even 10 minutes later. With Rivers waiting to takeover, Brees played out his final year in his contract angrily. After another strong season under his belt, Brees tore his labrum in the final game of the season. Thus, setting up Rivers as the Chargers QB for the next couple of decades and Brees as a free agent with an injury to his throwing arm. Not just any injury, Brees completely torn his shoulder and the surgery necessary almost meant his career would be over. Two teams still wanted to sign the injured QB however, Miami and New Orleans. The Saints won the bidding war and the rest is history. Brees would go on to lead the NFL in passing yards 7 times over the 13-year span, making the pro bowl 11 times in that same span, while also winning a Super Bowl and being named MVP in said Super Bowl. Brees is still trucking along as he enters his 19th career season and looks to continue to separate himself on the all-time leaderboards. With 74,437 passing yards and counting, Brees is the all-time NFL leader in passing yards with over 2,500 more yards than both Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. The next closest active players are Tom Brady (#4 overall, 70,514 yards) and Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Phillip Rivers are all currently the mid-50,000s for passing yards (ranked 6-8 respectively). Brees currently sits #2 on the all-time passing touchdowns list, jockeying the position with Tom Brady year in and year out. Brees, with 520 TDs, needs 20 more to surpass Peyton Manning for the top spot on the all-time list. He’ll need to do a lot more than that though if he wants to ward off Tom Brady (517 passing touchdowns) and maintain his spot at the top of both NFL passing leaderboards. Brees will go down as one the greatest to ever play the game.
A future NFL MVP, Matt Ryan began his college career as a backup at Boston College. Similar to Drew Brees, Ryan rarely played his freshman year before becoming the starter during his sophomore season. Ryan performed decently but truly ramped up his game during his upperclassman years at Boston College. In fact, Ryan was atop the leaderboards in a majority of the passing categories for the ACC during both his junior and senior seasons. Ryan finished college with over 9,300 passing yards and 56 touchdown passes. The clear cut most NFL ready in his draft class, Ryan was selected 3rd overall in the 2008 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons. From day 1, Ryan has been the most consistent and best Falcons player. With an impressive rookie campaign, Ryan won rookie of the year honors and has not looked back since. His 2 games missed during his second season in the league are the only games Ryan has ever missed in his long and record-breaking career. Ryan has been selected to 4 pro bowls so far in his career, including his 2016 campaign which saw Ryan win the league MVP award and be selected as a 1st team all-pro. The only thing that has plagued Ryan throughout his illustrious career is his inability to win big games in the playoffs. It is safe to say that the usual red-hot “Matty-Ice” cools off during the big moments. Most notably, the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl, the year of Ryan’s MVP season, and lost in OT 34-28. Ryan could not protect his team from giving up the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. Winning the big games aside, Ryan does put up big games… in terms of statistical totals. At his current pace (and with the assumption Brees and Brady decide to retire at some point), Ryan is the only QB that could realistically surpass the duo on the all-time passing yards list. Ryan is currently in 12th place all-time with 46,720 passing yards, and if we assume Ryan plays until he’s 40 years old (6 more years), Ryan could end up with 74,752 career passing yards (yes, I did the math). That total would give Ryan a whopping 300 more career yards than Drew Brees has prior to the start of the 2019 season. So, Ryan will probably never get the advantage on his long-time division rival. Ryan also sits 12th all-time in career passing touchdowns with 295. He should be able to jump into the top-10 but not much more than that as those ahead of Ryan have roughly 3 years worth of touchdown passes on Ryan (based on his averages per year) and 6 of which are also active players. When Ryan finally decides to call it a career, he will have some of the most impressive passing numbers in NFL history.
Another future NFL MVP, Cam Newton had an eventful college career that involved many twists and turns. Newton was recruited by and attended the University of Florida in 2007 where he rarely played behind Tim Tebow before suffering an ankle injury that ended his sophomore season. While on the mend, Newton was arrested for allegedly stealing the laptop of a fellow student and then later informed the University that intends to transfer from the school because there was speculation that Newton was caught cheating at the school. Newton, as a junior, would play his first full season in college at Blinn College where he carried the team to a NJCAA National Championship. Now eligible to return to the NCAA, Newton had multiple suitors as a 5-star QB. Once again, Newton ran into trouble off the field as it was reported that he had an agent, his father, accepting money from potential schools. Newton was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing and he would go on to win the Hesiman, orchestrate that largest comeback victory in Iron Bowl history against Alabama, dominate South Carolina in the SEC Championship, and defeat Oregon in the BCS National Championship game for Auburn. In his amazing lone-year at Auburn, Newton would pass for over 2,800 yards, 30 touchdown passes, and rush for over 1,400 yards and 20 touchdowns. Newton was regarded as not only the best QB in the nation, but the best player overall. This of course, would lead to the Carolina Panthers drafting Newton 1st overall in the 2011 draft. In his rookie season, Newton would take the NFL by storm as he would go on to win NFL Rookie of the Year as he threw for what would be his most passing yards in a season to date and also ran for additional 706 yards with 14 touchdowns on the ground. Some were saying that Newton would simply become the more powerful version of Mike Vick and as we’ll see, that is not very far away from the truth. Up until the 2015 season, Newton had made 2 Pro Bowls and was maintaining similar numbers in each season even while battling injuries. But, the 2015 season would appear to be the best version of Cam Newton we have seen since his Heisman year at Auburn years ago. Newton would lead the Panthers to a 15-1 regular season record, pass for 35 TDs and over 3,800 yards while adding 10 more TDs on the ground and over 600 yards rushing. Behind the outstanding play of Newton, the Panthers and their number 1 ranked offense would make it all the way to the Super Bowl before ultimately losing to the top ranked defense and swansong of the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning respectively. Newton was still named to the All-Pro team for the first time in his career, his 3rd Pro Bowl, and he won the league’s MVP award for the first time in his career. Since his great 2015, Newton has battled injuries but still has played in nearly all of the games for the Panthers and put up respectable numbers by his standards over his career. Prior to the 2019 NFL season, Newton sits at #57 in the all-time passing yards list with 28.469 yards and is tied for 58th place with 182 passing touchdowns. While impressive, passing is not what Newton is known for among the greats. The rushing ability of Cam Newton is what he will go down in history for being one of the best rushing QBs of all-time. Newton is 3rd all-time in career rushing yards behind only Vick and Cunningham with 4,808 yards. With a little over 100 more yards rushing, Newton will surpass Cunningham and start the long track towards catching Vick as over 1,200 yards separates them. But, if Newton’s career numbers have taught us anything, it is that with at least 2 more fully healthy seasons under his belt, Newton will become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher by a QB. Newton is already the leader for rushing TDs by a QB by a wide margin with 58. The next closest active player is 35 year-old Aaron Rodgers with 27 rushing touchdowns. Newton will only be rivaled by Mike Vick as the best rushing QB in NFL history, but will we remember Newton more so than other QBs (cough, cough, Brees, cough) in the NFC South?
Who will we remember and forget?
Those are our current NFC South QBs and their careers as we have experienced them thus far! The greatest passing QB of all-time and the greatest rushing QB of all-time headline this strong division. Not to be overshadowed is the extremely impressive career of Matt Ryan and his stance as the only likely QB to rival Brees in career stats, and the high-upside of a still young Jameis Winston. What do you think? Who will we remember when all is said and done? Let me know in the comments below.
Statistics courtesy of pro-football-reference.com and sports-reference.com