As the league continues to evolve, passing offenses are becoming more and more efficient. And believe it or not, we are witnessing a great era for the toughest job in sports: NFL Quarterback. Headed into the 2020 NFL season, every team has either a project or a decent starter at the position.
Quarterback rankings are controversial because after all, quarterback evaluation is difficult. Since I know it's impossible to put up a ranking everyone will agree with, here are a few initial notes to let you know what my process was when stacking the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
- Analytics metrics like EPA, DVOA, CPOE, among others played a huge factor in putting this together. CPOE was retrieved from Next Gen Stats, DVOA from Football Outsiders, and EPA/play from Ben Baldwin.
- Rookie quarterbacks are always promising, but you'll find they didn't rank high in this article. That's because overall, rookies are more unpredictable than veteran quarterbacks.
- Some teams will deal with a quarterback controversy. For the Chicago Bears and the New England Patriots, I used the betting favorites to start at QB on week 1: Nick Foles and Cam Newton. On the other hand, for the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers, I used their first-round picks: Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert.
- The rankings are for the 2020 season. I made a conscious effort to avoid any biases to big-name quarterbacks. For example, even though I believe Tom Brady is the greatest of all time, you won't see him ranked in the Top 10 because that's not where he's at in 2020.
Last but not least, an important note about the tiers:
Throughout the rankings, you'll find I used seven tiers. This was obviously meant to divide the quarterbacks into groups of similar quality, and I should note that within each tier, I believe you could switch the rankings up and it'd be fair. The league is so stacked at quarterback, that I don't believe there's a lot of difference between the 7th best quarterback and the 12th best. That's why I added tiers.
So, sit back and enjoy as we rank the quarterbacks of the NFL from #1 to #32. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL and let's talk football.
1. Patrick Mahomes, KC Chiefs
Mahomes became the highest-paid athlete in sports history for good reason. Not only is he the proud owner of a 50-touchdown season, an MVP award, a Super Bowl ring, and Super Bowl MVP award, but the stats back it up. He's a beast throwing the ball down the field, he can extend plays to make some jaw-dropping throws, and he can do just about anything else.
While many thought he “slowed down” in 2019, he really didn't. Sure, he missed a couple of games injured, but he remained the NFL's top quarterback as he led his team to come back from 10+ points deficits in the postseason, including an unbelievable fourth quarter in the Super Bowl.
2. Russell Wilson, SEA Seahawks
Despite Pete Carroll refusing to put his offense in the hands of his quarterback and instead choosing to be a run-first team, Russell Wilson's talent leaves him as one of the few elite quarterbacks in the league.
Wilson was PFF's highest-graded quarterback in 2019 as he ranked 4th in Next Gen Stats' CPOE (Completion percentage over expectations). Wilson has shined despite a lack of talent around him, but most importantly, despite bad play-calling.
3. Drew Brees, NO Saints
Brees is already 41-years-old, which has earned him plenty of detractors before the 2020 season. However, in 2019, he continued playing elite football. He ranked 1st in Football Outsiders' DVOA (which measures efficiency compared to a league-average), 3rd in QBR and PFF grade, and 2nd in CPOE.
Brees is still outperforming almost every quarterback in the NFL and did so in 2019 despite a thumb injury that caused him to miss five games. I understand the fans' questions about his age, but so far, his play doesn't back up the detractors' arguments.
4. Dak Prescott, DAL Cowboys
Prescott's first year without Scott Linehan as his offensive coordinator came with a lot of improvement. Dak broke out as one of the most efficient downfield passers in the league as he ranked sixth in CPOE and led the league in 40+ yard pass completions with 16 and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt. Prescott can do damage under pressure and has shown strong leadership as the Cowboys' starting quarterback since taking over as a rookie in 2016.
Over his first three years in the league, one of Prescott's biggest weaknesses was his sack rate. That drastically improved with Kellen Moore as his offensive coordinator and the heavier use of play-action. His sack rates in each year were in chronological order: 5.2%, 6.1%, 9.6% before dropping to 3.7% in 2019.
5. Lamar Jackson, BAL Ravens
Jackson is arguably the most entertaining player to watch in the NFL. His ability to run the ball successfully at this level is special, rushing for 1,206 yards by averaging 6.9 yards per attempt. His speed and elusiveness are truly remarkable.
There's one caveat to his running game, though: it leads to fans underrating his passing skills. In 2019, Lamar averaged 7.8 yards per attempt up from 7.1 in 2018. Jackson can do what no other quarterback is able to in the NFL and his uniqueness makes him a top 5 QB in the league.
6. Deshaun Watson, HOU Texans
After three seasons, Watson has been sacked in 9.4% of his dropbacks. Although many have pinned a poor offensive line as the reason, he's part of the problem as well. Per ESPN's pass block win rate, the Texans OL was a top 10 unit last season. By now, you've probably heard or read about QBs being the main responsible players for sacks allowed, and the Texans QB is no exception.
But that's for good reason, Watson is a great quarterback when he gets the chance to extend the play. His arm is special and his playmaking skills make him one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He can hurt you with his arm and with his legs, and he's a natural leader.
7. Kirk Cousins, MIN Vikings
Not a popular choice, but Cousins has been one of the best passers in the NFL for a while now. He ranked 3rd in CPOE and is consistently in advanced metrics' top 10s. The Vikings need to throw the ball more after being the 31st team in pass attempts last season.
8. Matthew Stafford, DET Lions
Stafford was killing it last season before suffering a back injury in week 9. He was becoming one of the best in the league under a new offensive coordinator, ranking as the 4th best QB in DVOA. Per Sharp Football Analysis, he passed for an 8.3 average completed air yards (1st) while the league average was at 5.9.
9. Aaron Rodgers, GB Packers
Rodgers might not be elite anymore (he hasn't ranked top 10 in EPA/play since 2015) but he's still a top 10 QB for me. Rodgers had a few bad games last season, but his talent is still on display every week with eye-catching plays and big throws in big games.
10. Matt Ryan, ATL Falcons
Ryan is a tough quarterback to rank. He's regressed over the last few seasons, but he's still a Top 10 QB in the NFL, especially when throwing from a clean pocket.
11. Carson Wentz, PHI Eagles
Wentz's situation hasn't been favorable. Before, it was his injuries, but in 2019 it was his receivers. The stats don't tell the whole truth for a passer who's been forced to have two tight ends and a running back as his top receiving weapons.
12. Jimmy Garoppolo, SF 49ers
It's time to bury the Super Bowl narrative. Garoppolo can throw the ball (and he can do it downfield, too). It's funny how we forget how dominant he was on the first three-quarters of the Super Bowl, but recency bias is a real thing.
13. Tom Brady, TB Buccaneers
Brady might not be a downfield passer anymore, but he thrives in short passes and smart decisions. 2020 is interesting not only because he's on a different team, but because he hadn't played like he did last season in a while. Can he bounce back from injury? How much can he do with one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL?
14. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT Steelers
Perhaps the biggest question mark of the season. Does Big Ben still have it? 2018 was a huge year for Ben as he led the league in pass attempts, passing yards, and first downs.
15. Cam Newton, NE Patriots
We haven't seen him in a while, but Newton will still force defenses to account for his running game. Prior to injury in 2018, Newton was having his best year since his 2015 MVP season.
16. Jared Goff, L.A. Rams
How much is Goff, how much is Sean McVay? That seems to be the question after witnessing two completely different versions of Jared Goff in the last couple of years. Goff had a negative CPOE of -3.6%. Immediately trailing him were Josh Allen, Jacoby Brissett, and Dwayne Haskins, to give you an idea.
17. Ryan Tannehill, TEN Titans
The king of efficiency, Tannehill led the league in CPOE while also being one of the leaders in EPA/play. It might've been an outlier season, but he deserves credit for having a pretty good year.
18. Phillip Rivers, IND Colts
Rivers might not be the same as before, but he can still be efficient in the NFL. His receivers will not be better in Indianapolis, but his OL will.
19. Baker Mayfield, CLE Browns
How much was Mayfield affected by a terrible OL and a terrible head coach and how much can he bounce back?
20. Derek Carr, LV Raiders
Carr's days in Las Vegas seem to be numbered. In 2019, he ranked #30 in average depth of target, per Sharp Football Analysis.
21. Kyler Murray, ARI Cardinals
Murray was flashy as a rookie, but it's still too early to know how good he really is. His stats don't back up his performance as much as the tape does.
22. Joe Burrow, CIN Bengals
Most promising rookie in a while, the Bengals sure got an accurate passer.
23. Drew Lock, DEN Broncos
Lock didn't play as much, but he showed promising signs for Broncos fans.
24. Nick Foles, CHI Bears
Foles is not the QB you remember from Super Bowl LII, but he's likely to beat out Trubisky thanks to experience.
25. Sam Darnold, NY Jets
Darnold can pull off a few flashy plays here and there, but he hasn't been consistent at all.
26. Josh Allen, BUF Bills
Although the Bills played in the playoffs, Allen hasn't been an accurate passer. While he's got the arm strength, he doesn't have the accuracy.
27. Tua Tagovailoa, MIA Dolphins
If he's healthy, Tagovailoa should earn the starting gig pretty quickly.
28. Teddy Bridgewater, CAR Panthers
Bridgewater did a decent job in Brees' absence last season and he finally gets a chance to have his own team.
29. Daniel Jones, NY Giants
Jones got off to a hot start, but his turnovers are concerning.
30. Gardner Minshew, JAX Jaguars
Minshew Mania was fun, but the real Gardner Minshew stood up as he became the second-worst QB listed in Next Gen Stats' CPOE rankings.
31. Dwayne Haskins, WAS Football Team
Will Haskins bounce back from a terrible situation? There seems to be hope, as he improved after a Week 10 bye.
32. Justin Herbert, L.A. Chargers
Herbert's intangibles were a legitimate concern for many in the NFL Draft process. But he's got the size to thrive in the league.