Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger share the fact that each knows what is is like to win Super Bowls. - Rob Carr
The 2004 quarterback draft class may not currently be considered the best ever, but the play of Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger thus far in their careers is putting the group in the discussion.
Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger? Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning? Which quarterback is better? That debate has been out there since the two were drafted in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft, when the Giants basically bypassed Big Ben and chose Eli.
It isn't going away anytime soon, either. The view from here, though is that it really a pointless argument. Both are great players. Both have two Super Bowl rings. Both are probably going to end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Things have worked out just fine for both the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers since that 2004 draft.
Former NFL general manager Bill Polian summed up the two quarterbacks this way:
"By any measure, in terms of how you would grade them -- wins, production, leading your team from behind, frightening the other team, forcing the other team to adjust to what they do -- they're virtually identical."
Steelers' coach Mike Tomlin said simply that both quarterbacks are "winners":
"I think it's a fair assessment to call both of them winners. Both guys have been to the big dance and delivered. That's what this profession is about. That's what that position, particularly, is about. That's how they've managed. I think both guys have a keen understanding of that and are motivated by that."
The conversation this week has gone in another direction, fueled in part by comments made by Roethlisberger. Could the 2004 quarterback class -- Manning, Roethlisberger, Phillip Rivers, Matt Schaub, J.P. Losman -- go down as the the best class of quarterbacks ever drafted?
Roethlisberger admitted that he thinks less now, in his ninth season in the league, about competing with Manning and more about the legacy of the 2004 group of quarterbacks.
"I think early on for me, it was more wanting to do better than him and I don't want to say animosity, but he was the number one pick and I think as a guy that's not picked number one or anytime someone is picked ahead of you, you want to beat that guy out," Roethlisberger said. "But as I've gotten older, it's more neat to see his success, to see him getting two Super Bowls because I think it just adds to the legacy of our draft class and all four quarterbacks, Matt Schaub, Philip, myself and Eli that were drafted there. I hope that we can play well enough that one day they talk about us as maybe the best quarterback draft class of all-time."
That distinction commonly goes to the 1983 draft class, which featured Dan Marino, John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason and Ken O'Brien. In that group there are three Hall of Famers, two Super Bowl titles (won by Elway), 11 Super Bowl appearances and Marino's status -- still -- as the most prolific passer in league history.
The Manning-Roethlisberger class isn't there yet -- and it's going to take some contributions from Rivers and Schaub to get them there -- but these two are doing their parts to put the group in the conversation.
"I think you always kind of take pride in your draft class and guys who have done well, so you look at Ben and see two championships, played in three Super Bowls, been to some Pro Bowls," Manning said. "So I think you're proud when your other guys in your draft have done well and had success."
Thing is, both of these guys have a lot of football left. This story is not anywhere close to a conclusion.