When you hear people talk about NFL quarterbacks, whether they are currently playing, retired, in the NFL or CFL, the bottom line is performance and the impact they have had on the game.

Names like Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Fran Tarkenton, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Johnny Unitas, Sammy Baugh are household names. Should I go on? OK, John Elway, Dan Fouts, Joe Namath, Roger Staubach, Ben Roethlisberger, Warren Moon, Joe Montana and I can’t forget Tom Brady, just to name a few.

Today’s young elite quarterbacks making a name for themselves include Matt Ryan (Atlanta), Joe Flacco (Baltimore), Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay) and Sam Bradford of the Rams. I took a look back at my notes from the combine interviews (head coach, general manager, vice president player personnel, college director, coordinator, position coach and the prospect) where players are put on the white board. During the interview they are to teach us several offensive plays, positional responsibility for all 11 positions and the ability to regurgitate play-calling, formations and protections instantly.

During my 11 years as a front-office executive in the league, there were four names that impressed the hell out of me in these meetings: Ryan, Freeman, Bradford and Tim Tebow. With the quarterback position, the first key attribute is intelligence, the ability to read and comprehend the playbook and on-field processing of data. The second one is sustaining a standard of excellence. Third, skill set attributes (athletic ability, accuracy, toughness, intangibles, and mental toughness to handle pressure and criticism and leadership).

While Warren Moon is a good friend, I played college ball against Marino (Pittsburgh vs. Washington ’79), enjoyed watching Tarkenton scramble, Elway’s comebacks, Staubach’s Super Bowls with coach Tom Landry marching up and down the sidelines and Brady beating me when I was the college scouting director with the Carolina Panthers and took my ring away from me with a last-second Super Bowl loss.

In Bradford’s case, I graded him as the second-highest quarterback second only to Peyton Manning during my tenure.

Samuel Jacob Bradford, 6-4, 236 pounds and 24 years old, is primed to make a huge impact on the NFC West and the NFL in 2011. The NFL lockout is the only thing delaying the progress of this young quarterback who will have a new offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels.

When I looked back at the 2010 Rams season, Bradford set the stage for the immediate future and sent a message to all the NFL that the young gun from St. Louis is for real and won’t take any prisoners along the way. It’s about winning the division, the NFC and eventually lifting the Lombardi Trophy.

His rookie season was exceptional, earning him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He developed into a leader and the face of the franchise down the stretch in 2010. His stats were good and he helped set the bar for those to come.

These are the numbers from the 2010 season:

Games played: 16

Games started: 16

Record: 7-9

Completions: 354

Attempts: 590

Completion percentage: 60.0

Yards: 3,512

Touchdowns: 18

Interceptions: 15

Long: 49

Yards gained per pass completion: 9.9

Yards gained per game: 219.5

Passer rating: 76.5

Times sacked: 34

Yards lost due to sacks: 244

Net yards gained per pass attempt: 5.2

His rushing attempts showed his athletic ability outside the pocket with 27 attempts, 63 yards, a long of 17 and one touchdown. The Big Easy (his nickname) has the heart of a champion and is a fierce competitor. Don’t get it twisted; he will rip your heart out. I look forward to watching this young gun in 2011 once the NFL lockout is over.