Who takes over after Brady?

I hate to break it to you Patriots fans, but Tom Brady can’t play forever. The legendary New England quarterback is in his 16th year in the league, and while he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down, at age 39, you have to think he will be looking to hang up those cleats in the next 2-3 years.

Tom_Brady
Brady surpassed Peyton Manning’s record of 200 career wins this season. (Wikimedia Commons)

With Brady being the undisputed (or as close as you can ever get to undisputed in sports) best quarterback in the league, his eventual retirement will open the door for someone else to take that crown.

Brady represents the end of a very dominant era, where he and Peyton Manning rewrote the record books practically every year. They squared off in some of the most memorable games of the last decade and consistently drew in viewers whenever the two matched up. Manning is already gone and with Brady set to follow in the near future, who exactly will step up to fill the void.

It is kind of hard to say. The iconic 2004 draft class of quarterbacks featuring Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers likely still have a few more years in them. However, Rivers turned 35 today, Roethlisberger will be 35 in March and Eli Manning turns 36 in January. That group likely won’t be around for a whole lot longer to constitute an era or start an awe-inspiring rivalry. Most of their time in the league will be remembered as part of the legendary Brady-Peyton era.

Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers has an MVP award and a Super Bowl ring to his name since taking over for Brett Favre in Green Bay. (Wikimedia Commons)

You next look to Aaron Rodgers, who joined the league in 2005. Rodgers just turned 33 last week, so he might be able to hang around a little longer than the three I just mentioned. However, he might have already started showing signs of slowing down with his rocky start to 2016. I could see Rodgers having a three-year run as the unquestioned top signal-caller. He might be the best-suited to succeed Brady in the short term. Keep in mind that even though this is his 12th NFL season, Rodgers did not start his first three years in the league, so he might have a bit more left in the tank than we think.

After Rodgers, well I’m kind of stuck. Drew Brees is a Hall of Famer, but approaching 38, I’m not expecting him to take over. Carson Palmer is on his way out as well. As will Alex Smith.

There is an interesting crop of three quarterbacks that offer some intrigue. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton all bring a lot to the table. All three of them are 28 years old or younger, all three are rather mobile and all three have the ability to take over a football game.

The major knocks against Newton are his ball security and his completion percentage. For his career, Newton sits at around 59 percent through almost 6 seasons. While he may be a huge asset with his legs, he is prone to fumbling and trying to do too much with the ball, often leading to mistakes. Another big red flag is that despite tossing 35 touchdowns in 2015, it is the only season he has thrown more than 25 scores. This year, he has just 14 through 12 games. Those numbers don’t exactly scream elite.

Luck was named the heir apparent to the NFL quarterback throne around his junior year of college. He started with two solid campaigns, followed by an outstanding 2014, only to fall into a weird funk for the last year and a half. 2015 was a lost season for Luck as he only played 7 games and likely played all of them hurt. The big knock against him has to be his lackluster completion percentage, which is only fractionally better than Newton’s. He also has a tendency for interceptions, with 63 picks in 66 career games. Part of that is due to the amount of pressure he faces. Luck is the most sacked quarterback in the league despite missing a game already this year. Luck is actually trending up after the last few weeks we’ve seen him play. Even though he has a poor supporting cast, Luck has failed to live up to Manning-sized expectations laid on him back in 2012.

Russell_Wilson_with_Lombardi_Trophy
Wilson has already played in two Super Bowls, winning one. (Wikimedia Commons)

Then there is Wilson. He already has a Super Bowl ring. Point all you want to a great run game and defense, but that’s a good chunk of why Brady got his first three rings. Of these three, he seems the most poised to take the throne. Wilson has only 39 interceptions in 72 career games. He is closing in on his second consecutive 4,000-yard season and his career completion percentage is around 65 percent. However, when Wilson is off, he is really off. In Seattle’s three losses this year, he has thrown zero touchdowns, three picks and has a yards per attempt average under 6.5. If I had to pick someone long term when it comes to taking up the quarterback mantel, it would be Wilson. He already has that championship background and I could see him getting more.

And he might just have a West Coast rival to deal with as well. There are a number of intriguing young quaterbacks in the league right now in Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott. Long term, we might see a really fun rivalry between Prescott and Wentz, both being in the NFC East. However, there is one young quarterback that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Derek Carr
Carr was the fourth quarterback in the 2014 draft, but looks to be the best one selected that year. (Wikimedia Commons)

Derek Carr is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season. At only 25 years old, Carr has been lighting up NFL defenses all year long. He launched 32 touchdown passes a year ago, in just his second NFL season and threw for just shy of 4,000 yards. This year though, Carr is set to break that 4,000-yard mark and throw for close to 32 touchdowns again. What is more impressive though is the increased completion percentage and absence of turnovers. The young Raiders quarterback has only thrown five interceptions this year and raised his completion percentage four plus points to a healthy 65.5 percent. This is just one year for Carr, but based on the jump he has made in each of his first two seasons, I am beginning to think that this kid is for real.

I would be remiss not to mention Matt Ryan in this conversation. Ryan is in the midst of a career year at age 31. He is on pace to set career highs in completion percentage, passing touchdowns and yards per attempt as well as set a personal best for fewest interceptions thrown. If Carr is considered an MVP candidate, Ryan certainly has to be in the mix. He currently sits second in passing yards and passer rating, third in touchdowns, fourth in completion percentage and leads the league in yards per attempt. Given that he has a host of offensive weapons and a young offensive line, Ryan is set to play at a high level for the next several years. The tough thing is figuring out if 2016 is an anomaly based on his normal level of play or a sign of things to come. Also, if Brady hangs on for three more years, Ryan will already be 34 himself and running out of time to capture the league’s attention.

The world without Brady is kind of hazy and there is no telling if we will ever see the type of rivalry we saw between he and Manning. The league seems to be running out of elite quarterbacks, but we will have to wait and see who steps up to the plate in the next few years.

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Determining the NFL MVP

Week 17 concludes the NFL season tomorrow and usually by this point, we all have a good sense of who the league MVP will be. For example, last year it was obvious that Peyton Manning would be named the most valuable player following his record-breaking performance where he topped the single season passing yards and passing touchdown records. Manning is still in the mix this year but it definitely not as clear-cut. I figured it would be fun to have a breakdown of some of the candidates for this year’s award.

We will stick with the reigning MVP from a year ago and start with Manning. The Broncos quarterback began the season right where he left off in the previous one (well minus the Super Bowl) and looked like he was on his way to his sixth MVP award. He averaged 305 yards and 3 touchdowns per game over the first seven he played. Then the Broncos visited New England and Peyton had his worst performance of the season at that time. In the seven games since the trip to Foxboro, Peyton has averaged only 269 yards and 2 touchdowns per game. Those are still good numbers, but they do not scream MVP either. Not to mention after throwing only three interceptions in the first seven games, he has thrown 12 in his last eight appearances. Sure Manning is still in the conversation but I do not think he is a legitimate contender this season. He does have a game against Oakland tomorrow, which he beat up to the tune of 340 yards and 5 touchdowns, but I do not think he will repeat the performance.

To another former league MVP, Aaron Rodgers might have the best chance to win this year’s trophy. He has been nothing but efficient so far this year, save two games in New Orleans and Buffalo. Rodgers got off to a “rocky start” or about as rocky as it ever gets for the Packers’ quarterback. Rodgers only has two games this year where he has thrown two interceptions. He has never thrown more than that all year and only has five in total on the season. Rodgers has also been the focal point of an offense that averages the second most points per game behind only the Patriots. The Packers’ game against Detroit tomorrow could be crucial to his MVP chances. He struggled the first time he played the Lions throwing for only 162 yards and 1 touchdown in a loss. Putting up a good performance against one of the best defenses in the league could cement Rodgers as the front-runner for the award.

It is time to look at the surprise of this year’s MVP race, Tony Romo. If I had told you this time last year that Romo would be a top candidate for this year’s award, you would have laughed at me. Romo has had a very good campaign though and has lead what many felt was a talent deprived Dallas Cowboys team to an 11-4 record so far this year. The things that stand out for Romo are his league leading completion percentage (70.3) his league leading yards per attempt (8.49) and his league leading quarterback rating (114.1). The things that hold Tony back are his yards per game average of 243, which ranks 18th in the league and the existence of Demarco Murray. Murray has rushed for the most yards in the league by over 400, which puts a bit of a damper on Romo’s campaign for most valuable player with teammate who has stolen a lot of the spotlight and offensive production. Still, Romo has a great touchdown to interception ratio (4:1) and has been stellar in the month of December. I think heading into the final week of the season, Romo is Rodgers’ greatest competition for the award.

We have a defensive player on this list as well. J.J Watt is having a season to remember, mainly due to the highlight reel has put on which includes two defensive scores and three offensive touchdown catches. Watt has been great though on the defensive side of the ball. He has recorded the most tackles by a defensive lineman this year, tied with Jason Pierre-Paul at 72. The Texans’ superstar also ranks second in sacks, just a half sack behind the league leader with 17.5 on the year. Watt also has the most pass deflections by a defensive lineman with ten. He has additionally racked up three forced fumbles and a league-high five fumble recoveries. The issue is that Watt has not done enough to even guarantee that his team will be in the playoffs. It is hard as a defensive player to make such a huge impact that you can carry your team. Watt definitely has my vote for defensive player of the year but I do not think he will be the league MVP.

I am including one darkhorse candidate as well who has not really garnered much media attention as an MVP option but I think he deserves to be in the conversation. LeVeon Bell has been the most complete back in the NFL this season. He rushed for over 1300 yards, caught 77 passes for 774 yards and scored 11 total touchdowns. His 1341 rushing yards rank second only behind Demarco Murray. His 77 receptions are tied for 21st among all players, not just running backs, and are the most by any back. His 774 receiving yards also rank second only behind Matt Forte among running backs. His 4.8 yards per carry land him third among players with more than 200 attempts. Bell also has not fumbled the ball this season. So, the guy never turns the ball over and he has generated more yards from scrimmage than any other player except Murray, by only 35 yards mind you. Bell racked up over 225 yards of offense and accounted for 3 total touchdowns the last time he met the Bengals. If he can even come close to reciprocating those numbers, he has a chance at being in the conversation for MVP.

There are other players you can make cases for in the MVP race, (most notably Tom Brady or Murray) but these are the ones I think have the best chance to win it. It will be interesting to see how Week 17 affects this tight race. I am curious to know who you think should be the MVP. Feel free to comment and tell me why. Enjoy watching on Sunday.