It’s hard to predict who will be successful and who will not when talking about the NFL draft. Or rather, to be more accurate, it’s hard to accurately predict. Every team who drafts a quarterback early in the first round expects them to have success, but there are more than enough examples to prove that that is far from a sure thing.
That is what makes the 2004 class such a special group, consisting of Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger, the latter two of which will be squaring off on Sunday night as their teams attempt to battle for seeding in the AFC playoff picture.
Of course the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback is asked about his history with the class whenever he plays either Manning or Rivers, and this year was no different. “It’s pretty cool. Especially when we get kind of compared to the guys” from the 1983 class, he said, referring to Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, and John Elway.
“It’s pretty neat, all three of us still playing. They’ve had a lot of success, so it’s cool to be a part of”, he went on. Referring to Rivers this year especially, he said of the Chargers quarterback, “he’s an MVP-caliber player and he’s playing at an MVP level right now. What he did last week is pretty spectacular, 25 in a row. It’s hard to follow all the games because he’s on the west so much, but it’s easy because he’s a quarterback to kind of keep track of how he’s doing”.
What was really driven home to him, however, was the reality of where they all are in their careers, with Manning soon to turn 38, Rivers nearing 37, and Roethlisberger himself already 36. None of them feel particularly old or, from a talent perspective, near the end of the line.
“40’s the new 30”, he said. “It’s fun to watch a guy like that play. You sit there and say 37, but then you look at guys that are still older than him, [Tom Brady, Drew Brees], that are still playing at a high level too, so it just tells you that if you take care of yourself, you can still be successful later in your career”.
The biggest reason that these quarterbacks have been able to extend their careers is because their teams have invested in protecting them. Roethlisberger, Brees, and Brady all rank in the top five in terms of being pressured the least frequently in the league. But it’s also about mental growth.
“The game does slow down a little bit” as you age, he said. “You understand your offense. You understand defenses. You’ve been in different situations and go through wins and losses and highs and lows, so I think all those things kind of factor into it”.
It wasn’t so long ago that Roethlisberger was seemingly contemplating retirement. He hasn’t been mentioning it lately, and is now talking about age 40, which would come in 2022. A lot can happen between now and then, but would anybody be surprised if he’s still playing? At this point, I wouldn’t. Especially if he wants to get ahead, and stay ahead, of his class rivals in the all-time passing lists.