John Clayton's annual NFL quarterback rankings are out, based on a simple criteria.
"To be elite," Clayton writes, "a quarterback must have 4,000-yard potential, complete 60 percent of his passes and score more than 20 points a game."
Enforcing that criteria strictly, NFC West quarterbacks have produced four qualifying seasons since 2000: Jeff Garcia with the San Francisco 49ers in 2000, Kurt Warner with the St. Louis Rams (2000) and Arizona Cardinals (2008), and Marc Bulger with the Rams (2006).
Matt Hasselbeck, the most consistent quarterback in the division for several years, never posted such a season. He fell just short in yardage for the 2004 and 2007 seasons, but likely would have been "elite" in those years given Clayton's call for 4,000-yard potential, not just 4,000-yard production.
"Although I am criticized for putting a Matt Schaub or a Joe Flacco in the same category as a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning, I do it for a reason," Clayton explains. "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. The league has 12 playoff spots, and usually 10 or 11 of the elite quarterbacks fill those positions."
Clayton ranked the Rams' Sam Bradford 14th overall and just outside the elite group, with a good chance of getting there in the not-too-distant future. He ranked the Cardinals' Kevin Kolb 18th and has him ascending also. The 49ers' Alex Smith (28th) and the Seattle Seahawks' Tarvaris Jackson (30th) stand ahead of just three ranked quarterbacks on Clayton's list.
Not that fans in San Francisco or Seattle needed any reminders. Perhaps Smith or Jackson will exceed expectations. One of them is likely to open the season 1-0. Their teams face one another in the opener.