The narrative around the NFL continues to evolve, but one constant holds true as the league heads into a new season: quarterback is the most important position on the field.
This year, the gap between the old and new guard of signal callers will grow narrower than ever.
For the past decade-plus, football has spun on the axes of two legendary, sure-fire future Hall of Famers in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
They’ve not only been the best quarterbacks in the league, but both have a case as the greatest quarterback of all-time.
After years of dominance, however, the pair are in the process of being overtaken by the young guns, namely Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson.
It’s not so much that Brady and Manning are in the twilight of their careers.
After all, Brady is coming off a Super Bowl victory in which he dissected a phenomenal Seattle Seahawks defence in a fourth-quarter comeback and Manning is only a season removed from having the best statistical season a quarterback has ever had.
Rather, Luck and Wilson are on the cusp of surpassing the old guard because they’re improving each season as they become more and more comfortable playing the position.
Wilson was literally a play away from leading the Seahawks to two Super Bowl wins in only his third year and becoming the first quarterback to win back-to-back titles since Brady accomplished the feat in 2003 and 2004.
The third-round draft pick isn’t always given the credit he deserves because his team fields one of the strongest defences of this era, but it’s no coincidence Seattle have reached the heights they have after Wilson took over as quarterback in 2012.
Luck, meanwhile, has had far less talent to work with, but basically been a one-man show in carrying the Indianapolis Colts to three straight playoff appearances and 11-win seasons since the team’s 2-14 mark earned them the first overall draft pick to select the Stanford product.
For Luck, this is the year he’s expected to take the next step.
— NFL (@NFL) September 9, 2015
He topped out in the Wild Card round in his rookie year, the Divisional round in his sophomore campaign and the AFC Championship this past season, while his natural progression suggests a Super Bowl appearance is on the way this February.
Fittingly, to get there he’ll have to go through Brady and the New England Patriots.
As talented as he is and as stunning as his stats are, Luck won’t cement his place ahead of Brady on the totem pole until he finally overcomes his Patriots demon in the playoffs.
The game is never quarterback versus quarterback but, rightly or wrongly, you can’t be the best until you beat the best.
Luck already defeated Manning in the Divisional round, but he’s currently stuck at the penultimate level like a gamer struggling over and over to get past a video game boss.
To be clear, Luck and Wilson are chasing Brady and Manning as they continue their rise, but every quarterback still trails the game’s best: Aaron Rodgers.
The leader of the Green Bay Packers isn’t in the old guard with Brady and Manning, nor is he part of the young quarterback revolution.
Rodgers’ rise to the pinnacle came in the middle of two generations and he’s had a firm grasp on the ‘best quarterback belt’ for five or so years now.
Rodgers has a title under that belt from 2011 and has been on the doorstep of another Super Bowl appearance on several occasions.
Measuring individual success in championships is the wrong way to evaluate players – Eli Manning’s two Super Bowl wins trump brother Peyton and Rodgers – but it’s almost impossible to be considered the best player at the game’s most pivotal position without at least one ring on your finger.
The value of having an elite quarterback is the highest it has ever been.
It’s becoming harder and harder to win a title without having either one of the game’s best or one who plays up to the top level in today’s passing-heavy style of play.
One day, sooner than later, we’ll no longer have Tom Brady or Peyton Manning’s greatness to take for granted.
But with Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, we’ll still be in good hands.
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