Ranking the quarterbacks

We are going to start our yearly series of the position-by-position rankings. It is going to be a little different this season because we’re starting it before free agency starts and the rosters set. We will adjust accordingly as we go along.

Let’s start with the quarterbacks:

1, Philip Rivers, San Diego: Rivers keeps improving. He is an elite-level quarterback, who was spectacular in 2010. He is the best player in the AFC West. It’s that simple.

2, Matt Cassel, Kansas City: Cassel came on strong in 2010, earning a Pro Bowl berth. He flourished under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. But Cassel did flounder in the two games after it was announced Weis was leaving. The Chiefs must ensure Cassel continues to make positive strides. At his best, Cassel can be a winning quarterback and a difference maker. At his worst, Cassel can be ineffective and mistake-prone. Cassel needs to be more consistent.

3. Jason Campbell, Oakland: Campbell had an up-and-down 2010, his first season with the Raiders. He was replaced three times, but he settled down late in the season and he made some big plays for Oakland. The Raiders believe in him and they think he will make strides in 2011. Like Cassel, he must show better consistency. If Campbell has a big 2011 season, I could see him being No. 2 on this list next year. If not, I could see Oakland looking for another starting quarterback in 2012.

4. Tim Tebow, Denver: The Broncos haven’t decided who will be the starter in Week 1. The general thought is Denver will move forward with Tebow at some point in 2011 ahead of veteran Kyle Orton. Tebow has potential. But there’s no way he could start anywhere but last in this division group. The big question is where Tebow will be in terms of next year’s list? Will he show enough in 2011 for the Broncos to name him the long-term starter or will Denver try to find another quarterback?