What follows is the most ambitious attempt to evaluate the modern quarterback, a decades-in-the-waiting synthesis of technology and expert scouting to isolate the performance of the QB from that of his team.
Just kidding. This is the debut of my QB Power Rankings, a subjective but hopefully (mildly) informative ranking of the best at the position right now. The goal is not to pick a quarterback for one game or for the long run; it’s essentially who I’d want for the rest of this season.
(To be eligible, the QB must have attempted at least 20 passes in the NFL so far in 2018 and not be injured for the season. Jimmy Garoppolo would rank somewhere in the 11-15 range if healthy.)
- Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers takes home the No. 1 spot in the debut of this series, but it’s a tenuous hold. Thanks to a combination of injuries to himself, suspect talent around him, and the conservative offensive schemes and play calling of his head coach, Mike McCarthy, Rodgers hasn’t quite been in peak form in years. Of course, off peak form for Rodgers is still pretty good: this season, without full health, he’s throwing for over 300 yards per game with 10 touchdowns and one interception. No QB combines Rodgers’ athleticism, arm strength, accuracy, and decision making.
- Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Brady already has six interceptions in just six games this season; that’s just two fewer than he had all of last year. He put up 43 points last night without an INT, just narrowly outdueling Patrick Mahomes. He’s okay.
- Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Brees has all kinds of talent around him. Alvin Kamara might be the most explosive running back in the league, and Michael Thomas is quickly rising up the wide receiver ranks. With the help—and New Orleans’ fast home track—Brees is reinventing the position at 39 years of age. He’s completed 77.9 percent of his passes this season while averaging 8.7 yards per pass—and he’s yet to throw a pick.
- Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Like Brees, Goff has a smart coach, a deep receiving corps, and a talented pass-catching running back in Todd Gurley. He’s also making the most of it. Before a lackluster outing in the frigid cold in Denver on Sunday, Goff had been averaging more than 10 yards per pass. Just a couple years after looking like a potential bust, he’s quickly transformed into one of the league’s best QBs.
- Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
There have been other winning first-year quarterbacks over the years, like Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, and Dak Prescott, but those guys were protected by run-first offenses and stout defenses. Mahomes is different because he’s the guy, out there throwing it—sometimes left-handed—35 or 40 times a game. He’s now thrown for 300-plus yards in five straight games and 18 touchdowns on the season after going toe-to-toe with Brady on Sunday night. Andy Reid has just one playoff win since 2009, but Mahomes and the offensive weapons of the Chiefs might be talented enough to overcome any potential coaching deficiencies.
- Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson quietly led the league in touchdown passes a year ago and passer rating (I know, it’s flawed) a couple years before that. He throws it less often than some QBs, which limits the surface numbers. A threat to run, his lone weakness might be a tendency to take a sack and/or fumble.
- Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Too turnover prone to crack the top five, Roethlisberger’s hovered around the very good/great borderline forever. Without Le’Veon Bell in the backfield, he’s throwing for a career-best 339 yards per game this season, although most of his other numbers fall in line with career norms.
- Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Wentz led all of football in touchdown percentage in 2017 while tossing just seven picks in 13 games. He’s posted an 8-to-1 TD-to-interception ratio in four games this season and is one of the better young QBs in the league.
- Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
After lackluster seasons to close out the San Diego phase of his career, Rivers has turned it around of late, minimizing the turnovers and racking up the usual heaping of yards through the air. With just one playoff win this decade, I can’t put him above guys like Roethlisberger and Wilson.
- Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan’s having his second standout statistical season in the last three years, but he hasn’t faced a pass defense in the top half of the league so far in 2018 (by Football Outsiders), he’s played four of his games at home, and he’s got playmakers like Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley at his disposal. Plus, I just can’t get over the Super Bowl loss.
- Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Plagued by so-so accuracy in the past, Newton’s completion percentage is up to 65.3 percent this year. It’s mostly a dink-and-dunk game, though, with a lot of short passes funneled to running back Christian McCaffrey. Newton’s logged below average yards per attempt totals for four of the past five years, but his running ability puts him close to the top 10 for now.
- Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions
He’s come a long way since tossing just 20 TDs to 17 INTs in the middle of Calvin Johnson’s peak, but it’s hard to trust a QB with lots of experience but no playoff victories.
- Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Higher? Lower? Pssh, I don’t know. He’s 30 and still hasn’t won a playoff game; I’ve got to see more before vaulting him into the top 10.
- Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
Disappointing from a touchdowns and picks perspective, Watson’s now eked out wins against three beatable opponents and is averaging north of eight yards per pass. He’ll get tested in each of the next two weeks, against Jacksonville next week and the underrated Miami pass defense in week 8, although both of those units have shown cracks recently.
- Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
Mayfield had the worst game of his career against the Chargers on Sunday, and he’s yet to recapture the groove he got into during his debut against the Jets. He’s ranked here largely on the strength of his college track record. On the plus side, he doesn’t face another true shutdown defense until week 17 at Baltimore.
- Alex Smith, Washington Redskins
Criminally underrated or not good enough to take a team over the top, Smith excels at avoiding interceptions while still putting the ball into the endzone at an acceptable rate. He gives Washington a chance to stay relevant in the muddled NFL East.
- Mitch Trubisky, Chicago Bears
After being shut down in the second half of the Bears first game against the Packers and struggling to move the ball in the following two games, Trubisky has found a groove of late, throwing for 670 yards and nine touchdowns over his last two contests. He’s in line to move up this list if the Bears can take advantage of a weird scheduling oddity; they play AFC east teams three games in a row, including the Patriots at home next week.
- Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
After struggling coming into the game, Prescott put up 40 against a good Jaguars defense on Sunday, tossing two TDs and running for another. The running game could give him another dimension—he ran for a career-high 82 yards vs. Jacksonville—as he searches to find his rookie form of 2016.
- Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton just doesn’t win the big games. He had a chance against a beatable Pittsburgh defense on Sunday but averaged just 5.5 yards per pass and threw two interceptions. He’s 0-4 in the playoffs and 3-12 against the rival Steelers.
- Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Bortles has shown plenty of flashes over the past few seasons, but he’s stumbled hard in each of his last two games, throwing for four picks against a vulnerable Chiefs defense and then getting shutdown by the Cowboys, failing to even accumulate decent numbers in garbage time like he did in the previous game. Bortles has now tossed out three duds this season to go with two strong games against the Jets and Patriots. He can take the Jags to the playoffs, but can he lead them passed the Patriots or Chiefs?
- Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Dearest Andrew —
Lots of throws, little forward progress. Your offensive stagnation reminds me of General McClellan’s. Please come home.
- Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco just hasn’t got the memo. It’s supposed to be easy for QBs these days, but he’s averaged under seven yards an attempt for going on four seasons now. Baltimore’s defense might be good enough to patch over offensive deficiencies, but we’ll learn a lot about the Ravens over the next three weeks, as they face the Saints, Panthers, and Steelers.
- Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
Foles now has both a Super Bowl championship and one of the most efficient passing seasons ever (2013) to his name. His title run last season might have been a right time, right place kind of thing, but he threw for nearly 1,000 yards and six TDs in three playoff games. Plenty of teams looking for a short-term boost could do worse.
- Sam Darnold, New York Jets
A sneaky strong start, Darnold’s threw for eight or more yards per pass in four of his first six games without established weapons on his offense. The schedule gets tricky at times going forward, but the Jets could be 4-2 if not for the second half meltdown against the Browns.
- Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
He had a solid start to the season but threw for a combined 285 yards against the exploitable Patriots and Bengals defenses. In his absence, Brock Osweiler stepped in and threw for 380 yards against a Bears team that was ranked no. 1 in the league by Football Outsiders in pass defense.
- Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winston’s had almost as many turnovers (24) as touchdowns (25) since the start of 2017. Too many other QBs can move the ball well without losing possession so often.
- Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Just 7-14 since his breakout in 2016, Carr’s thrown an interception a game since then and leads the league with eight picks this season. The Raiders don’t look poised to turn it around anytime soon, although a break from the scheduling Gods could hold off an all-out collapse.
- Eli Manning, New York Giants
The numbers aren’t as bad as you’d think (his completion percentage is just shy of 70 and he’s tossed only four picks), but Manning’s failed to consistently put up points with Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley on his side. Further, he’s been mediocre for a while now.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Fitzpatrick remains the league leader in yards per pass in 2018 at 10.51. According to Football Reference’s Play Index, no QB with at least 100 passes in a season since the 1970 merger has averaged more. His track record as a subpar journeyman says his run of three consecutive 400-yard games was a flash in the pan, but I think he deserves another shot.
- Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland Browns
A step below Alex Smith, Taylor’s best at not turning it over. He led the league in interception rate in 2017 and doesn’t fumble much despite getting sacked a bunch and running frequently. He had a bad start to 2018 and is now in limbo, behind a hot rookie who’s not going to sit.
- Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Mariota’s faced some tough defenses this season, but patience must be wearing thin. He’s thrown just 15 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in his last 20 games.
- Sam Bradford, Arizona Cardinals
Could probably rank higher, but he’s old, not very good, and currently injured. I’m losing focus.
- Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals
He’s improved his yards/attempt figure in each of his first four games. If he keeps that up for his entire career, he might run out of football field.
- Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Drafted out of Wyoming, Allen was expected to be a project. He’s had one good game against Minnesota’s suddenly subpar pass defense but otherwise turned in clunker after clunker.
- Case Keenum, Denver Broncos
He’s thrown at least one pick in every game this season after a strong showing in 2017 in Minnesota. Not a starter on a good team—well, except for last year in Minnesota.
- Brock Osweiler, Miami Dolphins
Sorting out the Osweilers and the Keenums is a task meant for a more astute football mind than my own. I’m only continuing now to get to Nathan Peterman.
- C.J. Beathard, San Francisco 49ers
He’s been okay in his first two starts but will get tested tonight in Lambeau and then against the Rams next week. If he wins either of those games, he deserves a ranking five or six spots higher.
- Blaine Gabbert, Tennessee Titans
Gabbert’s averaged just six yards a pass and an INT for every TD over his career; he’s the modern-day Mark Sanchez, only worse.
- Nathan Peterman, Buffalo Bills
I was writing an entire article about Peterman the other day, but I scrapped it because it felt too mean-spirited. For a guy who was really solid in college at Pittsburgh, his pro career has been one calamity (the five-interception half against the Chargers) after another (5-for-18 for 24 yards in his 2018 debut against the Ravens). Yesterday, he entered after rookie Josh Allen went down, threw a nice TD ball to Zay Jones to give the Bills the lead over the Texans and then responded with two INTs, including a backbreaking pick 6 to all but end the game (his second pick did seal it).
Peterman is probably not the worst quarterback ever, but he’s not far off. (Check out the stats of ‘70s QBs like Randy Hedberg, Kim McQuilken, and Wayne Clark.) Peterman is likely the worst QB to throw at least 50 passes since the turn of the century, though; none of his competition got he benefit of the current NFL’s offense-friendly rules, and Peterman’s arguably been worse without even factoring that in. The game just moves too fast for some.