Cutler ranks No. 21 in Clayton's rankings

CHICAGO -- ESPN's John Clayton released his quarterback rankings on Thursday, and Chicago’s Jay Cutler checked in at No. 21.

The ratings reflect the importance of the quarterback’s body of work, and in Cutler’s case, he ranks in the bottom tier at his position below Kansas City’s Alex Smith, who is No. 18, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton (No. 19) and Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams (No. 20).

Here’s Clayton’s analysis of Cutler: “It’s decision time for the Bears. Marc Trestman was hired from the CFL to get the most out of Cutler, who is one of the biggest enigmas in the NFL. Under Mike Shanahan, Cutler was elite, throwing for 4,526 yards in 2008. He hasn’t come close to those numbers in Chicago, and now he’s entering a contract year. A big season could result in an $18-million-plus-a-year contract.”

I agree with Clayton that Cutler, indeed, ranks as one of the league’s biggest enigmas. But I’m not sure I’d put him in the same class of quarterbacks as Christian Ponder (No. 22) and Josh Freeman (No. 23). He’s better than that, and probably a better signal caller than Bradford, at this point in his career, Dalton, Smith, and maybe even Carolina’s Cam Newton (No. 17).

Cutler fits somewhere in that 17-to-19 range. Newton possesses that dual-threat ability, which probably plays into him being ranked ahead of Cutler. Another thing dropping Cutler is the emergence of so many gifted young signal callers such as Andrew Luck (No. 13), Russell Wilson (No. 14), Colin Kaepernick (No. 15), and Robert Griffin III (No. 16). In Clayton’s rankings, Tony Romo and Matt Schaub occupy spots in the top 10 at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively.

As critical as I’ve been of Cutler in recent years, I could make a strong argument that he’s probably in the same class as Romo and Schaub. While statistically Romo and Schaub edge out Cutler somewhat, neither has taken their teams to a conference championship game. Cutler has.

Ultimately, though, Cutler has the perfect opportunity in 2013 to actually prove he should be considered among the game’s best. At this point in his career, Cutler is probably a middle-of-the-pack quarterback who might be able to inch a little closer to the front if he takes in the tutelage of Trestman.