Four NFL quarterbacks set to take a step back in 2015

Even if Drew Brees has an off year, odds are good he'll nevertheless put up good enough numbers to be considered a top-10 quarterback.
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We checked in on the five quarterbacks set to have breakout campaigns in a piece earlier this month. The focus there was to give readers an understanding of the players who might currently be in the best situations to succeed in 2015.

Taking into account previous performance, team moves and natural regression from year to year, we’ll check in on those quarterbacks set to have down years in 2015. You will find a combination of Hall of Fame-caliber players and unproven youngsters. You will also find that some of these quarterbacks set the bar so incredibly high for themselves in previous years that it’s hard to imagine they will duplicate that success.

Here are four NFL quarterbacks set to take a step back in 2015.

1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Usually when a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback reaches the back end of his career, his team does everything possible to put the best talent around him. In a shocking turn, the Saints went completely away from that philosophy by trading All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham back in March. As Brees’ favorite target, this was a major blow for the veteran quarterback.

Over the course of the past three years, 19 percent of Brees’ completions have gone to Graham. During that same span, Graham was targeted 21 percent of the time and caught 30 percent of the quarterback’s touchdowns.

More than that, Brees has seen all of his major statistical numbers decrease in the past three years. In 2014, the veteran threw for his fewest amount of yards (4,952, still tied for NFL high) and tallied his lowest touchdown total (33) since 2010. He also put up the third-most interceptions of his career. Now 36 years old and with 14 years of experience under his belt, Brees may be hitting that inevitable point in his career where he’s just not the same quarterback as he was five years ago. And in reality, the loss of Graham will only magnify this.

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2. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

Most will look at the six-year, $96 million extension that Dalton signed with Cincinnati last August as a sign that he should feel secure with keeping the starting job. But as is the case with all modern contracts around the NFL, we need to look further into the details. Dalton received a $12 million signing bonus with just $17 million guaranteed. This means that the Bengals can get out from under his deal following the 2015 season with a mere $7 million dead-cap hit.

From a pure monetary standpoint, 2015 could be a make-or-break campaign for Dalton. His cap hit increases to over $13 million in 2016 before hitting $15-plus million for each of the next four years. Needless to say, the time is now for Dalton to start living up to his contract.

This past season saw the former second-round pick put up career lows in passing yards, touchdowns and interception rate. He threw for 19 touchdowns and 17 interceptions compared to a 33-to-17 split the previous season. More than this, Dalton “led” the Bengals to a 15th-ranked scoring offense. That was down from a No. 6 ranking in 2013. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Dalton finished as the 21st-best quarterback in the NFL last year.

All of these numbers need to improve if Dalton is going to prove he’s the Bengals’ quarterback of the future. Unfortunately, recent indicators suggest that’s not going to happen.

3. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

Even if Manning regresses in 2015, he’s still going to be one of the top-10 quarterbacks in the NFL. The issue here is that Manning has set the bar so incredibly high that one minor slip will be magnified more than if he hadn’t already had such a stellar career. Realistically, that slip started toward the latter half of the 2014 campaign. Over the course of his final nine starts, Manning threw 17 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions. In his nine starts prior to that, Manning tallied 30 touchdowns compared to three interceptions. It’s possible that a previously unreported quad injury could have played a role here, but it’s also possible that the 39-year-old quarterback is just slowing down.

Moving forward, there are issues outside of Manning’s control that could come up big in 2015. Denver lost starting guard Orlando Franklin to the San Diego Chargers in free agency. It’s also going to be without Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady after he suffered a torn ACL in practice this week. Those are two major losses for Manning, especially considering he’s not the most mobile quarterback in the NFL. Couple that with the loss of Julius Thomas at tight end, and there has to be some worry in Denver.

4. Nick Foles, St. Louis Rams

Foles may have regressed prior to suffering a season-ending injury last year, but it’s hard to knock a guy who has put up the numbers he has thus far in his career. Blessed with a 15-9 career record as a starter and a 46-to-17 touchdown/interception ratio, Foles is what we’d consider a successful young quarterback, at least from a statistical standpoint.

Delving further into it, there are markers here that indicate Foles’ success will not be long term. Looking back to last season for a second, Foles regressed a great deal from a mechanical standpoint. He failed to consistently read defenses, didn’t step into passes, dropped his shoulder more often than not and just wasn’t as accurate as we have seen in the past. Those are some major flaws for a quarterback entering his fourth year.

Now take into account a change of scenery that has Foles going from Chip Kelly’s quarterback-friendly scheme to a Rams offense that simply doesn’t have the same talent Foles had in Philadelphia. Add the fact that he’s now tasked with going up against NFC West defenses six times, and the writing has to be on the wall here.

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