I wrote in my Matt Stafford piece that I think he’s now the 3rd best QB in the NFC behind Brady and Rodgers. I even put him ahead of Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott.
So that got me thinking about the QB rankings in the NFC from 1-16, and then I had to make this list. AFC will be upcoming soon.
Obviously this is before free agency and before the draft, so things could change. So these are my early 2021 QB rankings, a preliminary look.
- Aaron Rodgers: Look, I understand that he just lost to Brady in the playoffs, but let’s not forget that Aaron Rodgers just won the MVP award after throwing 48 TDs and just 5 INTs with a 70.7% completion rate. He just had one of the greatest seasons ever for a quarterback. He had a 121 passer rating and an 84 QBR, those numbers are just absurd. Even though Brady is the king of the NFC and the NFL, Rodgers gets the edge as the best quarterback in the NFC.
- Tom Brady: There’s really no other choice here. Rodgers and Brady are the clear-cut kings of the NFC quarterbacks. I think there’s a sizable gap between these two and the rest. Brady, despite being 43 and changing teams after 19 seasons in New England without an offseason, threw for 40 TDs and 12 INTs, 4633 yards, and a passer rating of 102. As much as people want to say Brady is heading for “the cliff,” he simply hasn’t regressed yet. He’s still an elite NFL QB. He can still make all the throws he could make when he was in his 20s and his 30s. I watched him carefully this year to see if he could still sling it deep because towards the end there in New England, it seemed like his arm was diminishing. But it turns out that was largely a function of the Patriots simply having no outside threats. Once Brady got to throw to guys like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, AB and Scottie Miller, we saw him start to chuck it deep again. And he can still throw a beautiful, accurate deep ball. If there’s any knock on Brady these days, it’s that he seems like he really really doesn’t want to get hit, and he’s not mobile in the pocket. But that didn’t hold the Bucs back this year at all, did it? I did see some bad INTs from Tom this season, but again, none of them were insurmountable. I chalk a lot of those up to him still not yet being fully comfortable in the new Bucs offense, and I expect him to take better care of the ball next season. Which should be a scary thought for the rest of the league. With Brady, though, it goes beyond just his talent as a passer. It’s the leadership aspect: he brings the best out of his teammates. He demands excellence at all times, and he elevates the entire franchise.
- Matthew Stafford: Stafford is one of the most talented QBs in the NFL and has been for over a decade, but he was largely overlooked because he played in Detroit, an awful franchise that could rarely put it together and make the playoffs. I wrote at length about Stafford going to LA in a prior piece, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on him here. All I will say is this: the world is about to be re-introduced to Matthew Stafford.
- Russell Wilson: I’ve always liked Russell Wilson, and before this season, I was fully on-board the Let Russ Cook hype train. I couldn’t wait to see him fully unleashed and throwing it deep to DK Metcalf. At the beginning of the year, Russ was cookin’: he had 26 TDs and 6 INTs through his first 7 games. But then he finished the season with 40 TDs and 13 INTs, which are objectively very good numbers, but somehow still disappointing given the pace he was on to start. 14 TDs and 7 INTs over his final 9 games indicates he just wasn’t playing the same expanded role he was playing in the beginning of the season. Through the first 8 games of the season, he averaged 37.1 passing attempts per game. Through the last 8 games, he averaged 32.6 passing attempts per game. I’ve heard a lot of sports talking heads speculate that Russ’s reduced numbers in the second half of the season were proof that Pete Carroll abandoned the “Let Russ Cook” strategy and went back to his traditional strategy of focusing on defense, running and having Russ be a game manager. It was this hasty abandonment of “Let Russ Cook” that is believed to be at the core of Russ’s frustrations with Pete Carroll and his system and the reason Russ wants out of Seattle. I’m not denying that Russ is a great QB, but my one major knock on him is that he often holds on to the ball way too long, and a lot of the sacks he takes (most in the league through a player’s first nine seasons) are his fault. He’s the king of getting sacked after like 5 seconds. Still, this is not to say he gets great protection. He doesn’t. It could be better. And the fact that he often holds on to the ball too long doesn’t really detract from my overall assessment of him. I think Russell Wilson is a great QB and the Seahawks would be absolutely lost without him. With Russ, the Seahawks are a 10-12 win team. Without him, I see them as a 5-7 win team.
- Matt Ryan: Say what you want, but Matt Ryan has won an MVP and made a Super Bowl. He would have a ring if not for Kyle Shanahan’s questionable play-calling in the second half of the 2016 Super Bowl. People think Matty Ice is old and washed these days, but last season he had a 65% completion rate, 26 TDs vs. 11 INTs, nearly 4600 passing yards, and a respectable 93.3 passer rating. The real problem in Atlanta was the defense: it allowed the 4th-most yards per game, and was the absolute worst pass defense in the league. As a result, Matt Ryan had to throw the ball 626 times last season, most in the league. The coach got fired, plus Julio Jones missed like half the season with injuries. If there’s one theme I consistently push on this site, it’s that there’s only so much quarterbacks can do; they are ultimately products of their environment. Of course, some quarterbacks can overcome more dysfunction than others, but there’s a certain level of dysfunction that is insurmountable for even the greatest of the great. I still think Andrew Luck was arguably the best “compensator” I’ve ever seen, in that he could just win no matter how bad the talent around him was, and no matterhow incompetent the organization was. But even he couldn’t take the repeated beatings allowed by his incompetent offensive line, and was sent to an early retirement. Matt Ryan is not the type of QB who can overcome epic levels of dysfunction like the Falcons had this year. But I doubt Brady, Rodgers or Mahomes would’ve excelled in the situation he was in. I don’t think Matt Ryan gets the credit he deserves. People say the only reason he won MVP was because of Kyle Shanahan, but if that’s the case then why hasn’t Shanahan turned Jimmy G into an MVP? Matt Ryan can play, and he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. However, his contract represents 21.8% of the Falcons total salary cap, which is the highest percentage by a QB in the NFL. His contract is holding that team back.
- Dak Prescott: Dak is the most polarizing QB in the NFL. He wants Patrick Mahomes money, but very few people other than Dak Prescott himself believe he’s worth that much. It should tell you a lot that the Cowboys haven’t paid him the big bucks and have been in basically a contract stand-off with him for the past two years. Dak is now coming off a gruesome ankle injury, and while it shouldn’t be too much a problem for him throwing the ball, I’m assuming his mobility will be a bit more limited going forward. The Cowboys went 6-10 this season after losing Dak in week 5, and while at first blush you’d think that proved Dak’s value to the team, the truth is that he was just 2-3 in his 5 starts before getting hurt. And in 2019, when Dak had a career year and threw for 4900 yards, 30 TDs and 11 INTs, the Cowboys were just 8-8. Dak is a good QB, nobody denies that, but he’s not a guy who’s going to carry you to a Super Bowl. I just don’t see him as the guy who will elevate your franchise. The Cowboys made the playoffs in 2 of his 4 full seasons as starting QB, and Dak led them to a playoff win back in 2018, but they’ve never been serious Super Bowl contenders in the Dak era. The problem is that the current model in the NFL seems to be to get a good young QB on a rookie deal, spend money on the rest of the roster, and make your Super Bowl run while your roster is basically maxed out before you have to pay your QB and devote a massive chunk of your cap to the QB salary. The Cowboys seems to have already missed that boat, and it seems foolish to pay Dak big money when it’s apparent he’s not a guy who will lead you to the Super Bowl.
- Kyler Murray: I like Kyler Murray, he’s got a lot of talent and he’s an incredible runner, but I just worry about running QBs like him. He’s so little, too. But he throws a nice ball, and he’s one of the most elusive runners in the league. I expect him to get even better going into year three, and year two with DeAndre Hopkins. I really can’t get a good feel for his overall upside, though. He ran for 819 yards last season, and I think he’s clearly got a better arm than Lamar Jackson. I think Kyler is a special player because he’s an elite runner and has an above-average arm. Could he one day be as good as Russell Wilson? I honestly think he might be able to be better than Russ in the near future. He’s faster and a better runner, although it’s an open question on whether he’s got a better arm. I think right now Russ absolutely has a better arm than Kyler, but maybe in the future, if Kyler keeps improving, he can become like a faster, more elusive Russell Wilson. In other words, incredibly dangerous. I am very bullish on Kyler Murray, although I do worry about his long-term durability. The brilliance of Russell Wilson is that he’s been able to avoid injuries for a long time despite running quite a bit. That’s what makes Russ so uniquely great.
- Kirk Cousins: Believe it or not, Kirk Cousins led the NFL in on-target passes with 81.3%. He narrowly edged out Aaron Rodgers, who had a rate of 81.2%. He was tied for 4th in the league in fewest bad throws with 13.8% (tied with Aaron Rodgers). All this despite being pressured on 30.9% of his dropbacks, 3rd highest pressure rate in the league. He got hit 82 times, by far the highest in the league (second was Matt Ryan at 72). Kirk Cousins is a good quarterback, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. The reason the Vikings were bad this year is because their defense was atrocious: tied for 5th most yards per play allowed (6.1), they let up the 8th-most passing yards and the 6th-most rushing yards. The Vikings defense allowed opponents to score on 50% of their drives, which was second-worst in the league behind the Raiders’ 50.3%. To put that in perspective, the Raiders and Vikings were the only teams to allow 50% or greater opponent scoring drive percentage. The third-worst team behind them was the Lions at 47.9%. The Rams were the best in the league, allowing opponents to score on only 27.9% of drives. The Vikings defense was terrible.
- Drew Brees: Anyone think it’s weird he hasn’t retired yet? We all thought he would after he had that one last wistful look back at the Superdome as he was exiting the field following the Saints’ divisional round playoff loss to Tampa, but it has been over a month-and-a-half and Brees has still not made any announcement yet. Philip Rivers announced his retirement almost immediately after the Colts lost in the playoffs. Last year, when Eli Manning retired, he made his announcement in late January. Brees still hasn’t said anything. And then we had that video the other day of him pushing a sled in a parking lot, clearly sending the message that Drew is still training and conditioning like an NFL QB would. It’s kinda starting to feel like Drew is going to come back for one last hurrah. I don’t blame him. That playoff loss to the Bucs had to feel horrible. I can’t imagine an ultra-competitive guy like him wants to go out like that. About a month ago, Brees and the Saints agreed to restructure his contract so that he will be much less of a cap hit for the Saints (who are in salary cap hell right now) next season. Many assumed that pointed to retirement for Brees, but who knows? If Drew comes back, he’s obviously not going to be the elite quarterback he once was, but he’ll still be decent. He’s got coach-on-the-field level smarts, he’s got veteran savvy, he’s a leader, and he’s an excellent decision-maker. Those things never go away, unlike arm talent. He’s clearly lost a lot of arm strength. He’s got to rely on the dink and dunks. He’s not pushing the ball down the field and tossing it deep anymore. He has a very limited arm nowadays, and so thus his ceiling and playbook are seriously limited. But still, his QBR was in the top-10 last season. So he still finds ways to move the ball. Even at age 42, I wouldn’t underestimate Drew Brees.
- Jared Goff: I think he’s going to be worse this season away from McVay and the Rams. As I wrote in the Stafford article, Goff was a big-time system QB. The training wheels were on with him the whole time. That said, I have to give him some credit. He has value. The Rams wouldn’t have been able to trade for Stafford if Goff didn’t have some value, because other teams were in hot pursuit of Stafford but the Lions chose the Rams’ offer because it included Goff, even though the draft picks weren’t as attractive as the ones offered by teams like Carolina and New England. Goff was the #1 overall pick in 2016 and he’s been to a Super Bowl. And it’s not like the 2018 Rams were one of those teams where the defense carried them all the way there, like the 2015 Broncos or the 2006 Bears. The 2018 Rams were known for their offense, and Goff was the starting QB.
- Jameis Winston: Assuming Drew Brees is retiring, right now, Jameis Winston is the best bet to be the Saints starting QB going forward. I know they started Taysom Hill instead of Jameis this season when Brees was hurt for several games, but I think Jameis is a better long-term option. He’s got the arm talent, and I think in a system like the Saints’, which is not as deep-ball heavy as the Bucs’ system was in 2019, he can be more efficient and put up some big numbers. I actually think Jameis can be pretty good in New Orleans, assuming he’s re-signed and gets the starting role. A lot of big ifs, but his arm talent is better than most QBs, which is why I put him ahead of the guys still to come on this list. None of them have the arm talent Jameis has. He threw for 5109 yards in 2019, albeit with those infamous 30 INTs to go along with his 33 TDs, plus a sub-par 60% completion rate. But we’ve seen Jameis take better care of the football in the past: in 2016, he had 28 TDs and 18 INTs, and in 2017 he was 19 & 11. I think he can get back to that 2:1 TD/INT ratio territory if New Orleans commits to him as the starter.
- Teddy Bridgewater: Teddy Two Gloves is a serviceable QB, for sure, but he’s not your long-term solution. Yes, he went 5-0 with the Saints, but that’s the Saints. Things were much different in Carolina. I would say Teddy is about as close to an average QB as you can get in the NFL. He’s not going to carry you by any means, but if you put him in the right situation, you can win a lot of games with him. I think on a team with a really stacked roster, a great coach and scheme, Teddy Bridgewater could go 11-5 in a season. I really do believe that. I don’t think he can lead you to a Super Bowl, however.
- Jimmy Garoppolo: I am not a Jimmy G believer. However, I will give him credit where it’s due: the guy is 24-8 as a starter in the NFL. He started a Super Bowl and had a 20-10 lead in the 4th quarter. So you can win a Super Bowl with Jimmy G–so long as you have a great defense, a great running game, a great coach, and all the stars align. And that’s the key: Jimmy G is not the type of QB that is going to carry the team to victory. He’s not going to sling it 58 times for 450 yards and win a shootout. This is the guy who threw the ball 8 times in the NFC Championship game two seasons ago. The ceiling isn’t very high with him as far as arm talent goes, so don’t ask him to do too much, but he’s generally not going to be the reason you lose. He takes care of the ball and makes throws when he needs to. If he’s your QB, you have to know what he’s capable of and what he’s not capable of. If you’re relying on him to be the difference-maker, you’re in trouble. But if you’re relying on him to be the “game manager” on a team with a great running game and a great defense, you can totally win a Super Bowl.
- Mitch Trubisky: First things first: Mitch is 25-13 as a starter since Matt Nagy was hired as the Bears’ head coach. But they declined to pick up his option on his contract, and it seems like the Bears are doing everything they can to land a new QB for next season. They clearly have no confidence in Trubisky, and I don’t think Matt Nagy has ever fully bought in to him as a QB–remember, Nagy was hired a year after the Trubisky pick. Unfortunately for Trubisky he was drafted not only in the same year as Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson, but he was drafted ahead of both. So he will forever be compared to those two. It’s a pretty bad situation to be in if you’re Mitch Trubisky, but that’s how sports is. When I watch him play, I just don’t see a guy who can play QB at a high level in the NFL. He doesn’t progress through his reads consistently, and I think he’s often too eager to tuck the ball and run. He’s a decent runner, but he’s not going to win games with is legs. You cannot win a Super Bowl with Trubisky as your QB, and as such I think his time in Chicago is pretty much played-out. Once the coaching staff and front office conclude they can’t win a Super Bowl with a QB, it’s really just wasting everybody’s time to keep him around. Let him move on, see if some other team can turn him into a winning QB. Because clearly it has been a failure in Chicago.
- Jalen Hurts: Now that Wentz has been traded, it appears Jalen Hurts is locked in as the Eagles’ starter. But really, who knows? They could draft a QB at the #6 spot in the draft, and I think they probably will if Justin Fields drops down to them at that spot. But there’s no guarantee of that happening, so I am going to assume the Eagles will give Hurts a chance next season. Jalen Hurts was impressive last year in the 4 games he played. He’s always been a playmaker ever since his college days at Alabama and then Oklahoma. But he only managed a 52% completion rate last season, along with 6 TDs and 4 INTs. He did run for 354 yards and 3 TDs in those four games, so he’s got a lot of running upside. 354 rushing yards in 4 games comes out to 88.5 rushing yards per game, and if he maintained that pace over a whole 16 game season it would be 1,416 yards, which is way better than even Lamar Jackson’s record for QB rushing yards in a season (1,206) . I doubt Hurts would be able to sustain such an incredible pace over the course of a whole season, but it does illustrate what a special talent he is as a runner. He definitely needs to improve his throwing, but I think Jalen Hurts has the potential to make a splash in the NFL next season. He’s only played 4 games as a starter so I can’t justify putting him any higher than this, though.
- Daniel Jones: I just don’t see it with Daniel Jones. In his two seasons, he’s averaged just 221 passing yards per game, 35 total passing TDs vs. 22 INTs, just 6.6 YPA, and a 62.2% completion rate. His career passer rating is 84.1, and he has a career ANY/A of just 5.15. Now, he is underrated as a runner, with 110 career runs and 702 total yards in his career. But I don’t think he’s good enough as a runner to offset his mediocre passing numbers. He’s 8-18 as a starter in his career. Last year Daniel Jones had 11 passing TDs and 10 INTs. He played 14 games! What exactly was he doing out there? I don’t get how a guy could just barely show up on the stat sheet despite playing in 14 games. Now he’s not exactly in the best situation with the NY Giants, plus he was missing Saquon Barkley last season. It could’ve been a sophomore slump for Jones because he was definitely better as a rookie. But I just have never been sold on this guy. I never understood why the Giants drafted him at #6 overall, and two years into his career it seems pretty clear he was significantly over-drafted.