Welcome back, everyone. This is the first of a weekly installment that aims to rank the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Let’s lay out some ground rules.
This is not a predictive list. These 32 quarterbacks are ranked at the moment of writing, not how the author anticipates the quarterbacks will perform. Similarly, this is not a list that cares about potential. Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson could develop into top-five quarterbacks, but they are not there yet.
By the same token, some liberties will be taken when ranking rookies. They will likely be the most volatile of the quarterbacks as the rest of the NFL is proven to some degree. While only Lawrence, Wilson, and Mac Jones will be ranked here, expect to see the likes of Trey Lance and Justin Fields are some point in 2021. The rookies will be ranked to some degree on their NFL readiness. This means that Lawrence and Wilson will not join the list at Nos. 31 and 32.
With that said, let’s begin.
Tier 8: Uh-Oh
No.32: Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers
For as much blame as the Jets will shoulder concerning Sam Darnold, keep in mind that Darnold never maintained any semblance of decent quarterbacking. In 2018 and 2019, he had a handful of solid games, but there was little in the way of consistency. The talent is there, but Darnold lacks the slightest idea of what it means to be a decision-maker in the NFL. Some quarterbacks will throw more horrendous passes than Darnold, but no quarterback simultaneously puts the ball in harm’s way as often as Darnold without having a solid rate of big-time throws. Even Drew Lock, for all of his decision-making flaws, will still make multiple several tremendous throws per week. Lock is volatile. Darnold is bad. It could change, but this is not a predictive exercise.
No.31: Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos
Teddy Bridgewater‘s reputation is far from that of the 31st-best starting quarterback. He gives off an aura of being a high-floor option. Fans view him as a game manager. This would be true, but Bridgewater has been trending in the wrong direction in terms of handing the opposition wins. There is a place for high-floor, low-ceiling quarterbacks in the NFL (see: Tyrod Taylor), but at least Taylor rarely turns the ball over. Bridgewater’s average level of play is higher than that of Taylor, but the chasms of ineptitude matter here. Taylor is a limited quarterback. Bridgewater teetered on being bad in 2020.
No.30: Tyrod Taylor, Houston Texans
Speaking of Tyrod Taylor, he lands at No.30 with his official appointment to Houston’s QB1 role. While this means Davis Mills is a future All-Pro, Taylor is the starter for now. As mentioned in the Bridgewater blurb, Taylor is limited as a passer. He has some rushing ability, but he is aging, so he is closer to 2020 Cam Newton than David Culley’s quarterback in Baltimore. With that said, Taylor protects the ball at all costs. In his three seasons as a primary starter, Taylor posted interception rates of 1.6%, 1.4%, and a league-leading 1.0% in 2017. His touchdown rate went in the opposite direction (5.3%, 3.9%, 3.3%), but there is something to be said about a 51-to-16 passing touchdown to interception ratio. Taylor has been a capable NFL starter in his career. He has not been a full-time starter since 2017 for good reason, though.
Tier 7: The 2020 Eagles
No.29: Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts
Carson Wentz seemed to be stabilizing into a pretty good quarterback entering 2020. He had three straight seasons with a passer rating above 90.0 and a QBR above 62.0. Is that elite? No. However, the groundwork was set for a steady, top-10 quarterback. Wentz proceeded to light that groundwork on fire and launch a league-leading 15 interceptions. He posted a QBR under 50.0 and managed a career-worst 72.8 passer rating. Wentz was even benched for the final four games of the season after regressing in a manner that mimicked 2015 Peyton Manning. Overall, it was an ugly season. Sure, Wentz had an MVP-caliber season in 2017, but in 2020 Wentz was a degradation in every facet of the game. Wentz has lost any benefit of the doubt.
No.28: Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Jalen Hurts was far from perfect as the starting quarterback for the Eagles in 2020. He had plenty of ugly series in the finals five games, including a 25.4 rating in the season finale. However, Hurts brought something to the Eagles’ offense: consistency. Through the first 11 games of the season with Wentz as the starter, Philadelphia posted 400 yards in a game once. They had six 100-yard rushing games. In the five games that Hurts played meaningful snaps, they posted 400 yards three times and eclipsed 100 rushing yards in each game. Hurts needs to make improvements to his game as his passing out of structure would place him firmly among the backup quarterback tier. However, Hurts has an element of swagger, and he was a quick learner in college. History tells us to not close the book on Hurts quite yet.
Tier 6: Painfully Average
No.27: Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Daniel Jones is one of the strangest quarterbacks in the NFL. On one hand, he has led the NFL in fumbles in both of his seasons. He has a notoriously poor pocket presence. He is also generally poor short of 20 yards. However, he is one of the NFL’s best deep passers. In 2020, his statistical profile beyond 20 yards was closer to the top-three quarterbacks in this list than where Jones is at No.27. Moving into Year 3, Jones needs to iron out the turnovers. His interceptions are manageable, but he has lost 17 fumbles in two seasons. 22 interceptions across 907 NFL attempts is just slightly below the average. However, his 39 total turnovers are why Jones ranks here.
No.26: Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
Jared Goff is not a bad quarterback. He is just limited. His two Pro Bowl seasons were bolstered by a bevy of talented offensive players around him. Goff himself has rarely been a bonafide star. He has his moments, and he has under-appreciated arm talent. Despite some of the positive traits, Goff is seemingly unable to think on his own. When the play breaks down, there is no quarterback in the NFL worse than Goff. Every quarterback has some sort of counter punch. They have elite athleticism, a good pocket presence, or a sixth sense of finding open men. Goff is a poor athlete with poor sense in the pocket. Watching Goff is like playing a video game with lag. Sometimes, it does not matter. Goff will make the throw. You will shoot the bad guy. Other times, it ends in disaster. Goff has been trending closer to the disaster side of the equation in recent seasons.
No.25: Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
Initials are not the only thing that Jimmy Garoppolo shares with Jared Goff. The quarterbacks are as similar as any two in this list are. Goff has a slightly better arm. Garoppolo is slightly less of a statue. Both quarterbacks tend to miss the same reads (namely throwing to linebackers that they never see). Both have been carried to Super Bowl appearances by exceptional supporting casts and a genius offensive mind at head coach. Either way, Garoppolo is a limited passer who is keeping Trey Lance’s seat warm in Santa Clara.
No.24: Andy Dalton, Chicago Bears
Andy Dalton has resumed his role as the most average quarterback imaginable. Since being a real MVP candidate in 2015, Dalton has an 86.5 rating. He is far from the NFL’s worst quarterback, and he has been in poor situations over the last few seasons. Dalton has nine years of NFL starting experience for good reason, but his role as the NFL’s most average quarterback is a line that has been sliding closer to No.32. There is some value in being an average NFL quarterback, but Dalton is simply keeping the seat warm for Justin Fields. Godspeed, Mr. Fields.
No.23: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Through nine games, it had appeared that Ben Roethlisberger had turned back the clock to 2014 or 2017 Roethlisberger. However, the facade quickly unraveled. After a 103.0 overall rating and just one game below 95.0, Roethlisberger slumped to five consecutive games with a passer rating below 90.0. There were a variety of factors at play, but the eye test matched the poor numbers. Roethlisberger had a bounce-back half against the Colts to close out his regular season (he rested Week 17), but he lofted a quartet of interceptions to the Cleveland defense in a playoff loss. With a rookie running back by his side and an inexperienced offensive line, Roethlisberger’s 2021 will be fascinating to watch.
Tier 5: Enigmas
No.22: Mac Jones, New England Patriots
The first of the three rookies, Jones beat out Cam Newton to win the starting job in New England. Jones looked poised through preseason, and he projects as a high-floor Day 1 starter. He does not have the upside that the next two rookies have, but Jones will not have low-floor games that Wilson and Lawrence may have. In general, Wilson and Lawrence should be the better quarterbacks from Week 1, but they will have more hiccups than Jones.
No.21: Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Speaking of … Wilson comes in at No.21, ironically where his predecessor began the 2020 season. Wilson showed good command of the offense during the preseason, including a strong connection with Corey Davis. From Day 1, Wilson should be able to move the football when provided with good protection. When the play breaks down, Wilson has a solid pocket sense and is adept at off-platform throws. This, of course, is based on his performance at BYU rather than anything he has done in the NFL. As a prospect, however, he slots just ahead of Jones and just behind another AFC East quarterback.
No.20: Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
While Tua Tagovailoa did hit the self-destruct button during his Week 17 meltdown, the rest of his season was solid enough. Considering a hip injury in college, Tagovailoa showed good movement within the pocket, and he tallied 13 touchdowns to three turnovers entering Week 17. Tagovailoa completed three passes to the Bills during Week 17, resulting in his lowest passer rating of the season. He should be better entering Year 2 with a full and healthy offseason, but there is still room to grow.
No.19: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington Football Team
Ryan Fitzpatrick lands one spot ahead of Tagovailoa as he replaced the rookie in several games in 2020. Fitting. Fitzpatrick has been playing some of his most efficient ball in recent years. His interception rate is too high, but it tends to be a necessary risk when Fitzpatrick is pushing the ball down the field as much as he is. In 2018, Fitzpatrick led the NFL with 9.6 yards per attempt. While he has not done that in 2019 or 2020, he did have the third and fourth-highest marks of his career. Fitzpatrick, for better or for worse, is a gunslinger.
No.18: Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
Fitzpatrick’s former teammate, Jameis Winston officially won the job in New Orleans. Winston has perhaps an even stronger adherence to the ways of the gunslinger than Fitzpatrick does as he is the most recent player to toss 30 interceptions in a season. Despite the slew of interceptions, Winston managed to throw for 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns in his last year as a starter in 2019. The turnovers are worrisome, but Winston flashes top-10 talent as often as any quarterback outside of the top echelon. It is a mixed bag, but it should be trending in the right direction with the Saints this season.
No.17: Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
The generational prospect lands as the highest-ranked rookie on the list. While Lawrence was not as spectacular as his draftmates were in the preseason, there is little reason to believe that Lawrence will fail early. Lawrence has a solid cast of weapons, and he has every trait imaginable. He won’t be a star immediately, but he should be a good quarterback very quickly.
Tier 4: Elite, but Limited, Processors
No.16: Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
In many ways, Joe Burrow is an inverted Daniel Jones. While Jones was one of the most efficient quarterbacks down the field, Burrow struggled mightily beyond 20 yards. On the other hand, Burrow was among the NFL’s best within 20 yards while Jones struggled. Burrow has a sixth sense within the pocket, and aside from a rookie mistake against both the Chargers and the Ravens, he played as if he was a 10-year veteran. Without an effective deep ball, Burrow has a limited ceiling, but he will continue to grow. Expect him to pop in 2022 as he uses 2021 to get his legs underneath him once again.
No.15: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan does not have quite the same zip he had earlier in his career. To compensate, Ryan has followed the Drew Brees method of having exquisite pre-snap and post-snap recognition. Outside of a certain seven-time Super Bowl champion, Ryan processes the game as quickly as anyone. While this does result in a reduced margin of error, Ryan still has enough zip to keep from being late-career Peyton Manning or 2020 Brees.
Tier 3: Top 10 Any Given Week
No.14: Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
As a talent, Kyler Murray is among the most talented quarterbacks to ever play. However, he fails to string together meaningful games with realized talent. His flashes are as bright as any player in the league, but they are often momentary. If Murray can find consistency, he will be a shoo-in top-10 quarterback for a long time. Until then, he sits just outside the top 10. He has weeks that he will be a top 10, or even higher, quarterback. However, he also has weeks that he looks lost.
No.13: Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Chargers
After 12 seasons with the Lions, Matthew Stafford is Sean McVay’s shiny (not-so) new sports car. With Stafford, talent has never been an issue. He has been one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL since he was drafted in 2009. Over the last six seasons, Stafford has been a reliable field general. He has broken the 65.0 QBR mark in four of the seasons, including a 71.3 mark in 2019. His 2019 was excellent, but he took a half step back in 2020. With new weapons and McVay as his coach, expect Stafford to do big things in 2021.
No.12: Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Kirk Cousins had an under-appreciated statistical season in 2020. In 16 starts, Cousins had 15 games with at least a 90 passer rating, tied for the most in a season in NFL history. Passer rating can be flawed at times, but Cousins produced regardless of circumstance. Cousins guided an offense that ranked 11th scoring and fourth in yardage. However, the usually strong defense fell apart, and the Vikings failed to make the playoffs. Cousins led Minnesota to 26 or more points in a losing effort six times.
No.11: Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
While Derek Carr received MVP consideration earlier in his career, his 2020 season was the best of his career. Carr rallied to a 101.4 rating and 71.0 QBR, both beating personal bests he set in 2019. Carr tossed multiple touchdowns in 10 different games, and he had eight games with a 100 passer rating. He was one of the NFL’s most efficient deep ball throwers, finishing in the top five in deep passing PFF grade. Carr has his fair share of critics, but he is routinely among the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
No.10: Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
After not being slated to start the season, Justin Herbert rattled off an incredible rookie campaign. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year off the heels of 4,336 yards and 31 passing touchdowns. He had a strong 98.3 rating and 69.5 QBR. In 2020, he was particularly dominant when under pressure, so while there could be some regression to the mean to his under-pressure stats, his clean pocket stats should improve. Los Angeles added three offensive linemen to an otherwise abysmal group. Herbert should be amply protected and toss 30 touchdowns once again.
No.9: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
Outside of the 2020 MVP, no quarterback played the last month of the season like Baker Mayfield. He was the second-graded PFF quarterback, and he had 11 passing touchdowns to one interception in the last six games. When he had a functioning wide receiver room, Mayfield was untouchable. He continued his torrid pace into the playoffs as he sliced the Steelers up for a trio of touchdowns and a 115.2 rating. His final playoff game was dragged down by an interception, but otherwise, Mayfield was incredible. He proved himself when the city of Cleveland needed him the most.
No.8: Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott was having another solid season at the helm for the Cowboys until Week 5 injury ended his season. Yes, he was on pace to obliterate the passing yards record, but the eye test is even more stark. While the rest of the Cowboys spiraled out of control around him, Prescott guided Dallas to a trio of 30-point games when healthy. In those three games, Prescott combined for 11 total touchdowns, including three against the Falcons in Week 2. Now back to full health, expect Prescott to have another run-of-the-mill season with the Cowboys.
No.7: Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
After nearly breaking the passer rating record in 2019, Ryan Tannehill laid siege to the QBR record in 2020. He fell short, but his 78.3 ranked 21st all-time. In total, Tannehill racked up 40 touchdowns while only throwing seven interceptions. With Tennessee, Tannehill has an exceptional 110.6 passer rating and 11 rushing touchdowns. 2021 is a new test as he will be under a new offensive coordinator, but Tannehill has one of the NFL’s most talented offenses around him.
Tier 2: Volatile Superstars
No.6: Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady continues to defy his age. Now 44, only one quarterback (Steve DeBerg) has started a game while older than Brady. The records are impressive, but Brady is still among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. In the Tampa Bay offense, Brady is asked to throw as deep as he has ever had, and it has come with spotty accuracy for the most part. When Brady is in a groove, few are better, but he does have some weird moments throughout the course of a game. He will continue to push the ball down the field, for better or for worse, and lead one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL.
No.5: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson is the most difficult quarterback to place on this list. One has to judge how much of Jackson’s rushing ability carries over into his role as a quarterback. For the quarterback power rankings, all of Jackson’s work on the ground (whether scrambling or designed runs) will count. Jackson is one of the NFL’s most electrifying athletes. He has a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and he might be a shoo-in for a third in 2021. As a passer, Jackson has his inconsistencies, but he is excellent in the red zone and on third down. The passing yard totals may never be there, but Jackson is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league.
No.4: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen made a ridiculous leap from 2019 to 2020. In fact, the leap was so dramatic that fans are trying to pretend that his 2019 was actually a good season. It wasn’t.
2020, on the other hand, was incredible. Allen was among the best quarterbacks in the conference for the entire season, and he likely would have won MVP if not for a certain No.12 in Green Bay. After spending two seasons under 50.0 in QBR, Allen jumped to 81.7, the ninth-best season in NFL history. In 2021, he should flirt with 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns en route to another Pro Bowl. He should also improve upon his four MVP votes.
No.3: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Through eight games, Russell Wilson was on a record pace. He had 2,541 yards and 28 touchdowns, good for a 5,082-yard and 56-touchdown pace. He had a 117.1 rating that would be among the best in NFL history. The wheels fell off with a zero-touchdown, two-pick game against the Rams. After the Rams game, he finished with 12 touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 97.0 rating. All told, Wilson did get to 40 touchdowns, but he had lost any momentum he had accumulated in the first half. With Shane Waldron overseeing the offense now, expect Wilson to play closer to the first-half version than the second-half version.
Tier 1: 1A/1B
No.2: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
In three seasons as a starter, Patrick Mahomes is 38-8, and he has three of the top 23 seasons ever by QBR. His 2020 season was magnificent as he fired 38 touchdowns to just six interceptions. He continued to push the ball down the field (8.1 YPA), and he ended with a 108.2 rating and career-high 82.9 QBR. He was excellent in his first two playoff games, and his performance against the Bills in the conference championship was one of the scariest sights imaginable. While he did get the benefit of a bevy of dropped interceptions throughout the season, it should not distract from another magical season. He came up short in the Super Bowl in large part due to a shaky offensive line performance, but Mahomes is ready for another trip to the Super Bowl.
No.1: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
While the race for AFC’s best quarterback was tight for much of the season, Aaron Rodgers ran away with the NFC’s title. He joined 2020 Cousins, 2004 Peyton Manning, and 2013 Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks with 15 games with a 90.0 passer rating. Rodgers did, however, set the record with 14 games with a 100.0 rating. He had the fifth-most touchdowns in a season, second-best passer rating, and sixth-best completion percentage. He had his fourth season with an interception percentage at 1.0% or better, accounting for 20% of such seasons. Rodgers had perhaps the greatest season by a quarterback in NFL history, and it seems fitting that his 2011 season is the stiffest competition.
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