Brees, Ryan and Freeman 'elite' QBs

The great John Clayton has his annual ranking of quarterbacks, which is always a topic for debate.

In this year’s version, Clayton lists includes 13 “elite’’ quarterbacks. What exactly is an “elite’’ quarterback? Well, I think you could debate that for weeks on end. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s go with Clayton’s definition. That’s only fair because I talk to Clayton on a daily basis and know he puts an enormous amount of time and thought into this.

“Elite quarterbacks are the ones who usually make the playoffs, so I categorize the elites as the ones who give their franchises the best chance,’’ Clayton wrote. “The league has 12 playoff spots, and usually 10 or 11 of the elite quarterbacks fill those positions. To be elite, a quarterback must have 4,000-yard potential, complete 60 percent of his passes and score more than 20 points a game.’’

The good news for the NFC South is that it has three quarterbacks in the elite category. Clayton also gives the same honor to the NFC East, but I think you could make the argument the NFC South has the strongest overall quarterback group based on where he has the guys from each division ranked.

New Orleans’ Drew Brees is No. 4 and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is No. 7. They both come before the NFC East run of Michael Vick, Eli Manning and Tony Romo at Nos. 8 through 10.

Clayton also has Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman at No. 13. Although that’s one spot beyond the number of playoff teams, Tampa Bay fans shouldn’t feel too badly about this one. Clayton has the arrow pointing up on Freeman, who has had only one full season as a starter. I know Clayton is very high on Freeman and believes he could move into the top 10 before long.

After the big three, there’s a huge drop to Carolina’s Cam Newton. Clayton has him at No. 32, but the good news here is that Newton’s not last on the list. Clayton ranked 33 quarterbacks and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton is at the bottom of the list.