NFC West Position-by-Position: Quarterbacks

We're starting a new series with our fellow NFC West blogs in which we'll breakdown each and every position on our respective teams and rank them against the other teams in the division. In order to get a quick start, we'll begin with one of the most important positions on any NFL team.

The NFC West is a very unique division in regards to quarterbacks for a single reason: no projected starting QB has been drafted before the sixth round. The division's projected starting QB's consist of two undrafted quarterbacks, Kurt Warner and Shaun Hill, and two sixth rounders, Mark Bulger and Matt Hasselbeck, although both the Cardinals and Niners have early first round picks currently keeping a seat warm on the bench.  As a whole, this group of starting quarterbacks have combined to appear in nine Pro Bowls, nine trips to the post season, three Super Bowl appearances as well as one Super Bowl victory during their respective careers. Overall not a bad resume for four guys who weren't given much of a shot on draft day, but which team has the best set of signals in the NFC West?

Here is each head blogger's take on their respective group and we wrap it up with a 'consensus ranking' of the quarterbacks in the division (and we'll start with what we sent in to the group):

Arizona Cardinals:

The Cardinals boasted one of the most prolific passing attacks in 2008 thanks to two great receivers and a QB who stayed in the MVP-talk for part of the season. Kurt Warner returns another year older and he'll attempt to do something that he's never done before, stay healthy for two consecutive seasons. If he can stay relatively healthy, the Cardinals offense will remain among the league's best. His arm still has plenty of zip and his accuracy has few rivals, but if he were to go down for any extended period of time, plenty of questions would be raised.

Matt Leinart has the tools to be a quality starting QB and by all accounts he's matured a great deal over the past season, but he's got to prove it on the field for anyone outside the organization to believe. Still though as backup quarterbacks go, he's got to be considered above average and Brian St. Pierre (3rd QB) is at least a guy who know's Ken Whisenhunt's system very, very well. Grade: A

San Francisco 49ers - Niners Nation:

This is one of the toughest positions to grade for the 49ers. Most non-49ers fans would give it a D at best, and even some current 49ers would prefer anything but the current situation. I, on the other hand, am a bit more optimistic. The stable of 49ers QBs includes Shaun Hill, Alex Smith, Nate Davis and Damon Huard. Huard is likely training camp fodder so we'll ignore him for this piece. Smith was anointed the golden boy back in 2005 and has had an up and down career so far. He looked ready to break out under Norv Turner in 2006, but since then has seen his career practically destroyed by numerous injuries. He re-worked his deal so he could stick around and compete with Shaun Hill for the starting job.

Hill is the proverbial people's champ at QB. He lacks what you would call "sound mechanics" and he is a notorious bad practice player. However, when game time arrives, he is out there making plays. He is 7-3 as the 49ers starter and the players seem to rally around him. The 49ers are on their fifth offensive coordinator in as many years, only this one seems more content with a ball control offense that doesn't require a lot of big plays from the QB. This could be right in Shaun Hill's wheelhouse. The 49ers have been at their best and most efficient with him running the show and yet he still has to win the job in training camp.

Nate Davis was drafted as a low risk, high reward QB of the future. The 49ers have time to develop him and so barring calamitous injuries, Davis will do no more than hold a clipboard in 2009. His draft stock has jumped up and down the last couple years so it's hard to assess what he could bring long term. For this year though, he will have no impact.

Consider this grade one for just this year and not considering the future. I am convinced that Shaun Hill can be the short-term answer at QB for the 49ers. He's not the most talented QB in the league by a long stretch, but he just continues to make plays. If he can do enough in training camp to hold down the job, I don't see him losing it this year barring injury. Grade: B

St. Louis Rams - Turf Show Times:

After a career year in 2006 and a big new contract in the months after, Marc Bulger quickly became a focal point for criticism as the Rams struggled through the last two seasons. Fourth quarter collapses, untimely interceptions, throwing off his toes...Bulger has really struggled and now finds himself in a make or break situation with the Rams new coaching staff/front office. The biggest problem for Bulger has been the players in front of him. Prior to last season, Orlando Pace played in no more than 8 games since the 2005 season. His decline coincided with general neglect for the offensive line, making Bulger the most sacked QB in the league over the last three years. His stats make it look like he's finished, but with an upgraded offensive line he can hopefully regain his confidence and spend a lot less time on his back. It's worked for other QBs: see Warner, Kurt. I'm one of those who thinks that Bulger can rebound, but you can't grade on potential, especially in May.

The backup QB situation has improved for the Rams. Bringing in Kyle Boller to replace Trent Green should help keep the offense moving along should Bulger go down without too much of a hiccup, certainly less so than the oft-concussed Trent Green. Boller's skill set is well-suited to the Rams run-centric offense.

Battling it out for the third QB spot is long-time third QB Brock Berlin and sixth round pick Keith Null, the West Texas A&M passer that surprised more than a few with his selection in the draft. Null looks to be a good fit for the West Coast offense, and the coaches have liked what they've seen from him thus far. The odds are certainly on Null to claim the third spot, but his future probably peaks as a backup.

I'd like to give the Rams QBs an incomplete, but I won't. Grade: C

Seattle Seahawks - Field Gulls:

The high-range for Seattle is high B, with Matt Hasselbeck regaining his 2007 form and Seneca Wallace retaining some of his 2008 gains. Hasselbeck would again keep drives alive with a quick and decisive read, chew yardage with short passes and put himself at the edge of elite with one of the five best mid-range passes in the NFL. He would sync with possession receiver with benefits TJ Houshmandzadeh, exchanging long protein strands across markers and around befuddled corner backs, and build long drives from short completions. Deion Branch would take Beck's mistakes to the bank and those mistakes would be bankable mistakes, not WWTBAWGS mistakes. Hasselbeck would find a late-career balance between quixotic roll outs ending in game changing interceptions and terrified fetal collapses at the hint of pressure. Maybe most importantly in light of last season and him being 34, Hasselbeck would have the gun. He might not make all the throws but he'd make the throws he needed and not be betrayed by poor zip masquerading as poor decision making. And it would be good. And Matt Hasselbeck would not just be a championship caliber quarterback, but an asset to a championship caliber team.

The low end range for Seattle is D. Below average creeping towards failure. Given Hasselbeck's age, three year averages and surrounding talent, this is an equal if not more likely possibility. If he wasn't pimping myoplex or hadn't been to the Super Bowl, it might be easier to see Hasselbeck closer to what he is: A once very good quarterback that's probably more Mark Brunell than John Elway. I'm willing to swallow his back is alright for now, but Seattle lacks the line to ensure that, and if his back kicks up again, he might not start, and it might be best for Seattle he doesn't. Injured Hasselbeck is beyond ineffective, he's damaging. Hasselbeck never had the best short pass and robbed of his mid-range zip, he becomes a game manager quarterback. He becomes a game manager quarterback in denial. He throws game ending interceptions like he did in weeks 11 and 12.

Seneca Wallace is close to a constant. He's a helluva backup. His wheels are over-glossed, but his arm is underrated. He has zip, zip on the move and an honest-to-goodness deep pass. He's not great and more precisely, he's not a starter. He's a poor decision maker and can't shake the habit of staring down receivers. It leads to what looks like drops, but are in fact late passes punished. Mike Holmgren ran a nerfed offense for Wallace, but in it's protected confines, he looked for maybe the first time like an NFL caliber quarterback. An unsustainably low interception rate and receiver run after the catch inflate his numbers, but even still he had a helluva nice season for a backup.

So top ten potential and a sucky, contention-crippling floor, that's Seattle's quarterback situation in a nutshell.

Of course no divisional breakdown would be complete without some kind consensus ranking and here's what we came up with:

  1. Arizona Cardinals
  2. Seattle Seahawks
  3. St. Louis Rams
  4. San Francisco 49ers

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So there you have it. There weren't too many surprises with this position although the Niners are obviously pretty optomistic. I'd say that if their quarterback play does end up being a B this year, they might as well be the favorite in the West. Overall it's an interesting group with two guys coming off injury riddled or highly unproductive seasons and another two guys hoping to hold of their once highly touted backups. If each the four quarterbacks is able to stay healthy, which is a pretty big 'if,' it should be quite an exciting race in the West. What do you guys think of each quarterback sitation? Would you trade Leinart for any other backup QB in the West?

You can also check out each team's blog to see what their head blogger had to say as well as other comments.

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