Six weeks into the NFL season it is time to look at the quarterback landscape and rank all 32 starters. To do I see, I created different categories that tell should you where they belong right now. Of course you have to consider injuries or players adapting to different schemes, but in large part this list is about where all these signal-callers stack up against each other as of this very moment. With that being said, here’s the list:
1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Tom Brady
3. Drew Brees
We saw it again Monday night. When Rodgers is in striking distance and you give him the ball back, he will produce magic. You can tell he isn’t quite right with that banged up knee, because he is not as mobile as we’re used to seeing him. Yet, he can still manipulate defenses with his eyes, buy enough time to let things develop downfield and simply has the talent to deliver strikes from any arm angle.
Similar to what Rodgers showed on Monday, Brady proved on Sunday night that you can’t hand him the ball back with any time left on the clock. The pure talent as a thrower and athlete of some of those other high-flight guys has never been there, but he’s in as good a shape as he’s ever been physically and he has mastered the mental aspect of the game. That’s why he always seems to be so calm in those big spots.
Brees just became the NFL’s all-time leading passer on a magical night at the dome versus the Redskins. Washington didn’t seem to show up in the Big Easy and just let the Saints’ legend have his moment, but Brees has been delivering all year long. Right now he is on pace for career-highs in completion percentage (77.9) and yards per attempt (8.7) while putting up another 5000-yard season.
The next generation:
4. Patrick Mahomes
5. Carson Wentz
6. Jared Goff
I did an in-depth analysis on Patrick Mahomes and how he is taking over the league about a month ago, because I was so impressed by what he had shown after I was so doubtful based on his college tape. I thought he was a reckless gunslinger with a huge arm, who would have a lot of trouble translating his talents into a pro-style offense. Andy Reid has done a phenomenal job keeping defenses off balance and Mahomes has the pre- and post-snap understanding to spread the ball around between his electric targets.
Last season Wentz was the league MVP to me through 13 weeks until he tore his ACL and I was on this train from the very start. What he did in terms of keeping drives alive by converting crucial third downs time and time again was just remarkable. He missed the first two games of the 2018 season and started a little slow, but he is starting to look like the guy I expected to move into the elite category, having completing 68.4 percent of his passes on eight TDs compared to just one pick.
Goff is a lot different to those other two guys I just mentioned. Mahomes and Wentz are these big quarterbacks with strong arms, who people like to compare to Brett Favre. The Rams QB is more like a Joe Montana – purely based on style of play. He has a genius play-caller in Sean McVay, who knows how to move around pieces and run a multitude of plays out of similar looks. Goff might not quite work the progressions like Montana, but he has the same type of feathery touch to make the attack border-line indefensible.
The great veterans:
7. Philip Rivers
8. Matt Ryan
9. Russell Wilson
10. Andrew Luck
For some reason there’s not a ton of people talking about what a season Rivers is having, but at this moment he quietly is an MVP candidate. The offense is loaded with pass-catchers and an outstanding running back duo, but it’s their 15-year veteran signal-caller that is running the show. Rivers is second only to Drew Brees in quarterback rating on 15 touchdowns compared to three INTs. Also, his team’s only two losses came against the Chiefs and Rams.
The Falcons have suffered a boatload of injuries and their defense is allowing 32 points a game, but they have one guy who is definitely doing his job – their quarterback. Matty Ice has been lights-out outside of the Pittsburgh game once he found his groove in the season-opener. He has made big throws down the field constantly and has to light up the scoreboard to keep his team in games. Versus the Saints and Bengals they put up 36 and 37 points respectively, but still lost both times.
Russell Wilson is known for his escapability and how he can make something out of nothing, but for the first two weeks of the season not only did his offensive line get beat by stunts as well as individual efforts, Russ also missed some opportunities in the passing game and held on to the ball for too long. Since then Seattle has rushed for 157 yards a game and taken some of the load off their signal-caller, who has completed 67.7 percent of his passes for eight TDs and just one turnover in those four weeks.
I am so happy to see Andrew Luck back out there slinging the ball around. Before his career seemed to derail with injuries and he ultimately didn’t throw a ball in almost two years, I thought he had a great chance of being the guy right behind Rodgers for the next decade. Early on it looked he didn’t quite have his arm strength back, but these last few weeks he has been dealing all over the field. However, his pass-catchers have let him down several times and he needs to be a little more careful with the ball.
The next group:
11. Kirk Cousins
12. Cam Newton
13. Matt Stafford
14. Deshaun Watson
15. Ben Roethlisberger
16. Alex Smith
Did you see those pump-up speeches Cousins held to his teammates? I didn’t know he had that in him. What I did know about him is that he is a really good quarterback. He might not have a ton of success to show for in those big-time matchups so far, but this season he has been outstanding and clearly an upgrade over Case Keenum. Cousins takes advantage of those weapons he has around him and the wins will pile up as the defense re-establishes itself.
I have been critical of Cam for most of his career and I still see instances where he is wildly inconsistent with his accuracy – like his final three pass attempts versus the Redskins on Sunday – but he seems to be very comfortable in this Norv Turner offense. Newton is on pace for his best number in terms of completion percentage and you can’t only evaluate him as a pure passer, because he is the most dangerous running QB in the league.
It is hard to judge Stafford based on his first couple of starts, because I thought he was still in that mode of “let’s get into the shotgun, sling it around and work my magic at the end of the game” and when Matt Patricia and his coaching staff came in, they asked him to actually play situational football and hand it off at a high rate for the first time. I think he still is one of the most talented and gritty QBs in the league and he will only get better.
The hype around Deshaun Watson this offseason was crazy and it went so far that people picked him to win MVP this year. I think we all looked at him as something special and I thought he was clearly the best quarterback when he came into the draft, but he is still learning the nuances of being an NFL quarterback. Coming off that ACL he looked down on the rush way too much in those first few games and he needs to get more consistent overall. However, he’s incredibly dynamic and poised.
Rodgers and Brady aside, is there anybody in the league who can lead his team down the field quicker than Big Ben? I mean it seems like when the Steelers have the ball at the end of the game with just some time on the clock, they get into the end-zone or into field goal range every single time. He still has those one or two games a season, where he throws multiple picks and you scratch your head, but for everyone of those he has one where he just goes off.
Unlike some of those other guys in this category, Smith doesn’t always operate in one of those explosive offenses where he just throws it all over the field. The Redskins are at their best when they run the ball down the opponent’s throat and have their quarterback going play-action. However, Smith is still excellent at what he does. He loves to work the middle of the field, extends play with his legs and takes care of the ball.
The jury is still out:
17. Andy Dalton
18. Joe Flacco
19. Dak Prescott
20. Jameis Winston
21. Marcus Mariota
22. Mitch Trubisky
23. Derek Carr
24. Ryan Tannehill
Andy Dalton has been the standard for mediocre quarterback play for the last several season. He has moments where he looks like he belongs in that group above and other times you ask yourself if he’s even among the top 20 at the position. With that being said, if you take that game at Carolina away, where two of his four interceptions were kind of fluky, he has thrown 12 TDs compared to three picks and has his team scoring more than 30 points on average.
Flacco is having a career year, averaging the most passing yards per game so far as a pro. He has had two games, where he has been mediocre at best – at Cincinnati and at Cleveland. Outside of those two matchups, he has turned the ball over just once and has an average QB rating North of 100. The Ravens have surrounded him with much better weapons and he is getting all of them involved. With that being said, the front office didn’t draft Lamar Jackson without a reason.
There was a lot of blame towards Prescott when the Cowboys couldn’t put up points and lost games in the process, but the critics got silent when they saw them whoop the Jaguars 40-7 at home last Sunday. Dak is still throwing for less than 200 yards a game and he is dependent on Zeke and the rushing attack, to be able to win off play-action, but let’s give him some credit here. The receiving core is one of the worst in the league and Prescott is punishing defenses off the zone-read and as a scrambler.
Say what you want about Winston and I thought too that it was unfair of the Bucs coaches to take out Ryan Fitzpatrick after one sub-par half in which their defense gave up 37 points, but the guy has looked better than he has ever done maybe in the preseason and on Sunday at Atlanta. While he has yet to establish himself as a franchise guy, he has some Roethlisberger in him in terms of shaking off defenders and keeping his eyes downfield. With all those weapons around him, this offense could put up some numbers.
Mariota’s stats look horrific so far this season – he is completing just 63.6 percent of his passes for less than 160 yard per game, two touchdowns through the air and four INTs. Based on those, he should be in the bottom group of guys, but let’s remember he is only now getting back feeling in some of his fingers and he still has come up big when his team really needed him. He converted crucial third downs with his legs versus Jacksonville, instigated a huge comeback versus the Eagles and you can’t blame 11 sacks versus Baltimore on him.
After a very shaky start to the season, which was overshadowed by a dominant defense, Mitch Trubisky has been on fire over these last two games. Obviously he had that six-touchdown performances versus Tampa Bay, but even last Sunday at Miami he was dropping some dimes. His own head coach even says that he has yet to get a full grasp of the playbook, but as he continues to grow this offense will only get more diverse. Trubisky has excellent athleticism and arm talent.
The Raiders are a mess right now. Everybody talks about the defense and how Jon Gruden traded away a Defensive Player of the Year in Khalil Mack, who they desperately need right now, but it’s also the offense that has struggled mightily in most games. Carr has made some bone-headed mistakes throughout the early season and they have put up more than 20 points just once so far, highlighted by that 27-3 beatdown by the Seahawks in London.
I’m not sure what to make of the Dolphins. They won their first three games of the season and then got destroyed in New England before blowing a 17-0 lead to the Bengals. While I like a lot of their pieces on defense, their offense has been highly inconsistent and their quarterback kind of embodies that. He moves the ball in those early games before stagnating against the Patriots and then being a big part in giving away a game against Cincinnati. I mean Brock Osweiler might have looked better on Sunday.
25. Baker Mayfield
26. Sam Darnold
27. Josh Rosen
28. Josh Allen
I think at least three of these rookies are the future of their franchises. Baker Mayfield’s impact has been felt in the most profound way. The energy he has given the Browns and how much more potent he makes their offense is something you can honestly sense. Mayfield is so decisive when he walks to the line and he is not afraid to push the ball down the field. With that being said, he and his team got dominated by the Chargers on Sunday.
Not only did I have Darnold as my number one QB in the draft and say after week one that he was the savior of the New York Jets organization, I have not backed down from my belief in him when he was struggling shortly after because I believe in this kid. Darnold definitely isn’t perfect, but his understanding of defenses pre-snap as well as quick processing of what happens post-snap, combined with the “not-too-high, not-too-low” attitude is what convinces me.
How in the world did the Cardinals keep Rosen on the bench until the very end of the third game? Sam Bradford was a joke this season and I think Arizona truly has something special in their rookie. He is one of the most natural passers coming into the league in recent years and he has that innate confidence, that is often labelled as being cocky, that makes me think he will succeed in this league. With that being said, the coaches didn’t trust him early on to take over for Checkdown Sammy and took the ball out of his hands late in his first start.
Allen is the wildcard here. I wasn’t a huge fan of his coming into the draft because I thought his pocket presence was pretty bad and he was inconsistent with his accuracy. He looked much-improved in the preseason and has looked like Cam Newton at times as an open-field runner, but he has made some stupid mistakes and he is completing just 54 percent of his passes. The arm is ridiculous, I like the mobility, but he was out there until now because the second option is Nathan Peterman.
The guys holding their teams back:
29. Case Keenum
30. C.J. Beathard
31. Blake Bortles
32. Eli Manning
Case Keenum had a magical season with the Vikings last year and I always thought he deserved to be on a team, because I’ve seen him get it done filling for some guys, but the idea of him and Kirk Cousins being about on the same level was always ridiculous. Keenum can make things happen out of nowhere and he is not afraid of going out there in the biggest moments, but he is definitely limited and I would like to see Chad Kelly at some point, who looked incredible in the preseason.
I like Beathard a lot to be honest. Obviously this team has no shot of going anywhere without Jimmy G, but I think they have a more than capable back-up. Kyle Shanahan is an excellent play-caller and strategist, who will scheme receivers open, but Beathard is tough, more mobile than he looks like and has the arm strength to stretch the field. With the offensive coaching staff and this QB the offense shouldn’t be embarrassing.
While I understand that the Broncos needed to get somebody in the offseason after Cousins decided to go to Minnesota, I had to scratch my head a little about the Jaguars giving Bortles that big extension and not going after somebody like Teddy Bridgewater or Lamar Jackson in the draft. I know the Jags signal-caller lost his number one receiver before the season started and has been without Leonard Fournette for a while, but all he does is throw shallow crossers and go-routes. He has been abysmal outside of that Patriots matchup.
I know it feels a little exaggerated to put Eli Manning all the way at the bottom of this list, but right now I can’t make a case for how he is not the worst starting quarterback in the league right now. I understand the offensive line has had its fair share of struggles, but I feel like Eli is giving up on some plays and with the weapons he has around him, I can’t defend his play. There is no downfield passing game for Big Blue unless OBJ is throwing the ball and unlike Bortles the Giants QB can’t even take off running.