Baltimore's Bert Jones is the best quarterback in the NFL. He does more while working with less than Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw and Houston's Ken Stabler have at their command. San Diego's Dan Fouts is not far behind the top three.
The evaluation of the quarterback is increasingly important in handicapping pro games. The position always has been the single most significant -- second only, in this column's analysis of factors, to the interaction of offensive and defensive lines -- but now it is more dominant than ever, what with 300-yard passing efforts becoming rather routine.
The performance of every professional quarterback improved immediately when the rules were changed in 1978 to (1) help offensive linemen hold off the pass rush and (2) give receivers more time to complete their routes.
A quarterback's ability to stand up under severe pressure, and to absorb punishment, once were primary considerations in projecting his probable effectiveness. Nowadays the NFL passers might as well wear skirts, as Pittsburgh linebacker Jack Lambert suggests.The officials' quick whistles assures the quarterbacks they will not be hit so savagely or so often. Accordingly, from a bypasser's perspective, the game is gravitating to more touch than tackle.
Bradshaw, Stabler, Fouts and Jones attract much of the publicity. But they are not that much better than Buffalo's Joe Ferguson, Seattle's Jim Zorn, Cleveland's Brian Sipe or Washington's Joe Theismann. Detroit's Gary Danielson, Minnesota's Tommy Kramer and Atlanta's Steve Bartkowski also are underrated.
I still don't know what to make of New England's Steve Grogan. Certainly he's never dull. Philadelphia's Ron Jaworski is a good mechanic who has yet to rise to special occasions.
The young passers with the greatest potential are Los Angeles' Vince Ferragamo, Dallas' Danny White and the New York Giants' Phil Simms. San Francisco has two interesting candidates in Steve DeBerg and Joe Montana. I doubt that Jack Thompson, Cincinnati's "Throwin' Samoan," ever will lead the Bengals out of their jungle. Miami's Don Strock and Denver's Matt Robinson also have been disappointing.
Four quarterbacks always have been overrated: New Orleans' Archie Manning, St. Louis' Jim Hart, Los Angeles' Pat Haden and the New York Jets' Richard Todd.
Miami's Bob Griese is too old. Cincinnati's Ken Anderson is too banged up. Kansas City's Steve Fuller is too limited.Tampa Bay's Doug Williams is too tentative. Lynn Dickey is too unlucky -- to have landed in Green Bay. Then there is the Chicago triumvirate of Mike Phipps, Vince Evans and Bob Avellini, passing proof that three arms are more awkward than one.
Which brings me to the quarterbacks a man can bet against with considerable confidence. There may never be another Craig Morton who, unfortunately, is now the backup to Robinson in Denver. Morton often was money in the bank, if you were betting the other team.
So what's left? Well, there's still Oakland's Dan Pastorini. How anyone with so much natural talent can play so horribly so often is something only Bum Phillips knows, and Al Davis soon will discover.
Roger Staubach, one of the great ones, no longer is guiding the Cowboys. White appears to be up to the task, however, and Tom Landry once again is displaying his coaching brilliance with what is less-than-brilliant personnel at several key positions. I'll take White (Dallas) for a mythical $250 Sunday (giving 13 at home to Simms (N.Y. Giants), and I'll take Stabler (Houston) over Zorn (Seattle) for $250 giving 7 1/2 in Oilerville, then sit down to study the passing parade.
In other games, Las Vegas lists Baltimore at Miami even, San Diego seven over Buffalo, Cincinnati seven at Green Bay, Denver at Cleveland even, Detroit 2 1/2 at Atlanta, Oakland seven over Kansas City, New England three at New York Jets, Pittsburgh 7 1/2 at Minnesota, St. Louis one at New Orleans, Los Angeles 9 1/2 over San Francisco, Philadelphia 7 1/2 over Washington and (Monday night) Tampa Bay at Chicago even.