In My Opinion | Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers are among NFL’s QB elite

In this Sept. 5, 2013, file photo, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) calls a play at the line of scrimmage during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Denver.
In this Sept. 5, 2013, file photo, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) calls a play at the line of scrimmage during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Denver.
Ed Andrieski / AP

There should by now be no doubt about who occupies the throne in King Sport, but if there were, it was obliterated in Week1. (The answer, of course, more than ever, is the quarterback.)

Peyton Manning launched the 2013 season with a perfectly symbolic seven touchdown passes, and by the time Kickoff Weekend was a wrap, there had been more passing yards (8,143) and touchdown throws (63) than in any single week in NFL history, covering 94 years.

No wonder Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace was upset by catching one pass last week.

He looks around, says, “Gimme some o’ that!” And no wonder the pressure is on Ryan Tannehill; he must be great just to keep pace in his own draft class.

At this rate, the air-raid trend in the NFL will find the poor, cobwebbed running back soon encased in glass in a museum, a curiosity from a different time, pushed from relevant to relic alongside the manual typewriter.

This Sunday, brothers Peyton and Eli Manning go head to head, and all they did was combine for 912 yards last week.

So there is no better time than now for our annual ranking of the 32 starting quarterbacks.

By the way, a record nine African-American passers started in Week 1, but I’m sort of glad that is becoming a non-story.

Racial progress may be measured in part by our thinking less and less in terms of race.

We rank the starting QBs in order, by category:

•  Elite: Peyton Manning, DEN; Aaron Rodgers, GB; Tom Brady, NE; and Drew Brees, NO. Comment: Keeping it select with the Elites, and, after last season and last week, Peyton deserves to reign. Wasn’t it only one year ago we were still wringing hands about him and counting his neck surgeries? A comeback for the ages.

•  Next tier: Matt Ryan, ATL; Eli Manning, NYG; Tony Romo, DAL; Ben Roethlisberger, PIT; Matt Schaub, HOU; Joe Flacco, BAL; and Philip Rivers, SD. Comment: Ryan, Romo, Schaub and Rivers always seem to be one huge win shy of moving up. Roethlisberger could be in an early fade pattern. Flacco isn’t as good as his new contract.

•  Rising: Colin Kaepernick, SF; Andrew Luck, IND; Robert Griffin III, WAS; Russell Wilson, SEA; Matthew Stafford, DET; Cam Newton, CAR; Sam Bradford, STL; and Ryan Tannehill, MIA. Comment: Stafford and Bradford might have leveled off a bit, but the other six all are ascending and have a chance to be shades between superstars to very good. These are Tannehill’s peers. Even Dan Marino in ’83 didn’t have this depth of competition at his position.

•  Mid-pack: Andy Dalton, CIN; Jay Cutler, CHI; Carson Palmer, ARI; Michael Vick, PHI; and Alex Smith, KC. Comment: Inconsistency … turnovers … it’s always something.

•  Bottom feeders: Christian Ponder, MIN; Josh Freeman, TB; Jake Locker, TEN; Brandon Weeden, CLE; and Blaine Gabbert, JAC. Comment: Most here are too young to write off, but they have shown more flaws and less potential than the guys their age ranked higher.

•  Jury out: Geno Smith, NYJ; EJ Manuel, BUF; and Terrelle Pryor, OAK. Comment: Smith and Manuel are rookies, Pryor is a second-year guy. They are starting because of injuries or dismal competition. They’ll succeed or prove unworthy. Just give them time.

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