Pat Yasinskas' QB Watch

At the beginning of the season, Philip Rivers, Sam Bradford and Josh Freeman were among the quarterbacks expected to join the elites in the league. US Presswire

This was supposed to be the year Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers got company.

Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford or Josh Freeman -- or any combination of those four -- was supposed to join the club of truly great quarterbacks. Instead, that club has become even more exclusive.

With Manning out with a neck injury, Brees and Rodgers have been playing better than ever and Brady has been Brady. The gap between those three and the rest of the league has widened.

Sure, there’s still the upper-middle class of Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, guys who can take a very good team to the Super Bowl without being asked to do everything on their own. But what happened to the nouveau riche?

The guys who were supposed to jump right over Roethlisberger and Eli Manning suddenly have had their pockets emptied.

In Bradford’s case, the pocket has simply collapsed. The St. Louis offensive line has allowed so much pressure that Bradford has looked like a rookie in his second season -- something he never did in his first. Bradford’s been hit so much, he couldn’t even play Sunday, and the Rams are winless.

Rivers, the one guy who already seemed to have a foot in the door to the clubhouse of great quarterbacks by throwing for at least 4,000 yards each of the past three seasons, seems to have stepped back.

Rivers had been the guy who could put up huge stats, but just needed to show he could win big before earning full initiation. But Rivers isn’t even putting up the stats this year. Through six games, he’s thrown seven touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he had one of the most anemic games of his career in Sunday’s loss to the Jets.

Freeman, who looked so poised last year in his first full season as a starter, has turned into an interception machine. He threw four Sunday against the Bears in London and has 10 interceptions for the season, after being picked off only six times last year.

Ryan supposedly got the missing link when the Falcons traded up to draft Julio Jones. But, much like Bradford, Ryan’s offensive line has exposed him to a huge amount of hits. At times, Ryan has appeared more flustered than at any point in his first three seasons.

Can Bradford, Ryan, Freeman and Rivers bounce back? Sure. In each case the talent is there. Any of them can get back to ascending to greatness if some problems can be fixed. Maybe that comes in the second half of this season, maybe next year or maybe it never happens.

If it doesn’t, who’s the next great quarterback?

Detroit’s Matthew Stafford is starting to run into injury problems again and there’s not much beyond him. Brees, Rodgers and Brady might get company when Peyton Manning returns.

If not, they might have to wait for Carolina rookie Cam Newton or Andrew Luck, who is still in college.