The quarterback class of 2004 seemed like just another class with a lot of potential when draft pundits tirelessly analyzed each of the three top signal callers involved. Some saw Eli Manning as the clear cut top choice, many believed Philip Rivers’ leadership would be a great asset, yet others thought that Ben Roethlisberger offered the most upside potential.
Fast forward to now, 2012, where Roethlisberger has two rings and three Super Bowl appearances, after the XLIV edition, Manning has his second ring as well, while Rivers and the Chargers are still left with very little to show for their efforts. Eight years have passed since the infamous move by Bolts General Manager A.J. Smith to select Manning with the first overall selection despite his insistence that he would never play in San Diego.
While the Chargers did fair well in the deal landing key contributors to their club over the years, it’s hard to say that they can claim a victory from the deal at this point. Clearly the reasons that the Bolts have yet to win a ring in franchise history (let alone with Rivers at the helm) are lengthy, but the fact remains that both the glory and the scrutiny fall on the shoulders of the man under center when the dust settles.
Roethlisberger fell into the perfect situation as a young quarterback with a talented team around him and very little in the way of expectations from the word “go”. His rookie growing pains were plentiful, yet success found him early as the Pittsburgh Steelers rode him to the AFC title game his rookie year and to the Lombardi Trophy in year two. Having a great surrounding cast is essential to win rings, but Roethlisberger is a one of a kind quarterback who is inarguably one of the league’s elites.
The same can be said for Eli Manning despite the animosity that still resonates with most Bolts fans when his name is uttered. Manning hasn’t been given all of the praise of his older brother, yet he now has one more ring than Peyton and is quickly gaining a reputation for a clutch gene. Although it’s hard to say that anyone has been more clutch in the league in recent years than Roethlisberger, Manning may fall behind as a close second.
As for the Bolts end of this conversation, Philip Rivers sat for two seasons behind then incumbent Drew Brees learning the ropes as an NFL quarterback. When he took over as starter in 2006, Rivers quickly became the team leader and rallied the squad around him. Four Pro Bowls and many individual accolades mean very little to Rivers and the Bolts having not gotten any closer than one conference championship game to the Super Bowl, but the talent is clearly there with Rivers and success seems like an inevitability.
Where things may have gone off the tracks for the Chargers is with the ever-increasing number of passing plays that the team has ran during Rivers’ career. After 460 attempts in both 2006 and 2007, Rivers has seen his number of throws steadily increase over the years from 478 and 486 in 2008 and 2009 respectively to 541 and 582 in 2010 and 2011. Much of this pass-happy mentality has to be attributed to Norv Turner putting his stamp on the Chargers’ offensive attack which has yielded much more prolific numbers but fewer victories as a result.
Certainly linking a quarterback’s abilities with the prowess of a head coach is no way to evaluate the success of a given passer, but Rivers has hitched his wagon to Turner in many ways. When he appeared on NBC SportsTalk last week, Rivers said: “I think ultimately this league has turned into so many knee-jerk reactions and the coaching changes every year are out of control. I think you have to look at the body of work. We’ve won 49 games in five years. There are a lot of teams that would love to trade places with us. Now that’s not necessarily where we set our goals, but that’s a lot of football games that we’ve won and I think Norv’s had a lot to do with that.”
As a football player, it certainly doesn’t do any good to not trust in your coach and be skeptical of his leadership and ability to make sound decisions in crucial moments. While his comments don’t necessarily jive with the personal opinions of the majority of fans (myself included), it’s easy to see where Rivers is coming from as a player on this topic.
While the jury is still out on which player from the 2004 class of quarterbacks will ultimately be seen as the best when their careers are through, there is no doubt that Rivers has the most work left to do. His statistics are better than the others while his win totals are very comparable, yet somehow it seems possible that it might not just be his throwing motion that is compared to Dan Marino when all is said and done.
It’s time for you to be heard. Which quarterback is the best to this point from the 2004 class of quarterbacks? Will Rivers ever be able to catch Manning or Roethlisberger in ring totals or will he become another Marino type of story? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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