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NFC West's Best: Quarterback
By Nic St. Marie
Special to gzl-football.com

In this series, the team's will be broken down position by position to understand just how good a division with two 13-3 teams and two 7-9 teams really is. Starting with the centerpiece of any team, the Quarterback.

Now that I am out of hiding, I am starting to try and settle into my old habits. We move into a house on Monday, and I may or may not have internet hooked up then but in general I have most of my freedoms back.

So what better time than now to start researching my competition in the NFC west and pretending it's for an article?

The NFC (Best) West went 28-12 outside the division, with a 9-3 record against the AFC East and a 19-9 record against the rest of the NFC. Every West team had a winning record outside of the division, with records that look like this.

Seahawks 8-2
Cardinals 8-2
Rams 6-4
49ers 6-4

The Seahawks and Cardinals did post a 5-1 record in the division each, with the Rams and 49ers going 1-5 respectively. So there were two distinct tiers in the division but as this series goes on you'll see that there is not a lot of separation between these teams, especially during inter-divisional games. Without further hullabaloo, we start at the position of QB where this division has a signal caller (or two) from the top 10 in the first round on every team and none over the age of 29.

Geno Smith - 6'3" 224 lbs, 65 SPD, 69 STR, 87 AWR, 63 AGI, 66 ACC, 75 CAR, 96 THP, 89 THA, 93 INJ
Geno was drafted 1.1, and after two years is barely behind this group of elite QBs. He came out with not a lot to work on, like Andrew Luck, Blaine Gabbert, Matt Barkley, and Kendall Irving.

Once in a generation QB might just be name of a pre-combine workout facility, but it no longer has meaning in the GZL. So while I want to say Smith is special, he is not. What he is, is a borderline elite QB going into his third season. He didn't have a lot to work on, and at this point has the nearly talentless 49er offense hanging in games every week, to the tune of 7-9 this past season in the toughest division in the league.

Smith has had a franchise HB to lean on. The 49ers didn't institute a run-first offense with Richardson as they should have, instead airing it out to...well you'll see when we get to that positional grouping. Ultimately, the GM finished the talent purge and went young, but seems to be testing his fans patience at the pace the 49ers are building. At the QB position, Smith the guy, as he has no warts on him at all.

Cameron Newton - 6'6" 254 lbs, 88 SPD, 88 STR, 94 AWR, 88 AGI, 90 ACC, 88 CAR, 96 THP, 93 THA, 95 INJ
A surprising 3rd overall pick, Newton has been busy trying to break stereotypes, and fix his own poor habits. He came out with decent decision-making ability when throwing, but poor accuracy. Plus he wanted to run far too much and risked injury every game. His growth seems to have been almost orchestrated, as he was limited in his starting the first two years, both by injury and by coaching decision. Even during his third year, Newton was in a run-first, play-action system that didn't ask too much of him.

It wasn't until 2015 that Newton started running a balanced offense and he appears to be ready to showcase what an elite running QB is. Completing 57% of his passes, a 7.81 YPA, and posing 28 TDs to 10 INTs, Newton flourished and rode that success all the way to the SB. Of course, he was throwing to Demaryius Thomas for the first time, and still was in a balanced offense that featured LaGarrette Blount.

The question is, will this be sustainable? Is elite passer and 6 YPC on the ground a good indication of what Newton can consistantly do, or was it one year on a stacked team? Would he do better or worse than Christian Ponder on the Cardinals?

Christian Ponder - 6'3" 228 lbs, 58 SPD, 52 STR, 93 AWR, 66 AGI, 66 ACC, 68 CAR, 91 THP, 99 THA, 92 INJ
Ponder started his GZL career in a fantastic spot. He came out of college as a surprise 10th overall pick, because of concerns about his arm strength. But with a great understanding of the game and near elite accuracy already, Ponder worked on his arm strength and it started to reach starting-level standards.

With a franchise back, Larry Fitzgerald and Julio Jones, Ponder's second season was a smashing success. And his personal numbers have been in the top 10 pretty much every season since. While not quite the QB that St. Louis has, Ponder has been successful every season due to the weapons he throws to and the balance that the Cardinals have. He doesn't have much more to learn to reach the top of his game, but at 28 years old Ponder already appears to be there and with Jones to throw to, has a good chance to end up in the GZL hall of fame.

Sam Bradford - 6'4" 236 lbs, 66 SPD, 51 STR, 99 AWR, 63 AGI, 65 ACC, 60 CAR, 94 THP, 99 THA, 93 INJ
Bradford was on the Rams when the GZL started, giving them the head start in building around a franchise QB, but also the negative aspect of an earlier expiration date...somewhat. Sammy came out of college with injury issues, but otherwise possessed everything you want in a pocket passer. And Bradford has improved on that. He got hurt his first year, and the second year had a pretty poor performance. Since then he has been an elite QB on a non-elite team.

When you have a league full of elite or close to elite passers, the separation becomes how you use them and who they are surrounded with. Bradford hasn't been the league record-setter in attempts or anything close, but the Rams have relied on him to throw the ball to sustain the offense nearly his entire career. Bradford has delivered, despite sometimes lacking a good possession WR to go alongside Donnie Avery. The Rams appeared to be building greatness around HB Payne, but moved on from him and since then have lacked the balance or deep threats that a truly great offense needs.

Bradford is only 29 years old and is at the top of his game. The Rams have been developing Stephen Hill to be the focal point of the passing offense, a good move. We'll learn more when we get to the weapons, but the Rams might finally have the stability at GM to finish building their offense around one of the best QB's in the entire league.
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