Look, we can be honest with each other, dear reader. You’re here even though the mere thought of one more piece on ranking quarterbacks makes your blood boil over. Believe me, I understand that. I mean, since we’re being honest ranking quarterbacks isn’t just a walk in the park, Kazansky. You prepare something that you know going into that all 32 fan bases will likely hate, you push send, and you wait for the angry tweets to roll in. Yes, this is my day job. No, I don’t want to quit it. Yes, I wear contact lenses but my prescription is up to date. No, I haven’t thought about playing in traffic…
But I digress…
Part of the reason that quarterback rankings inspire ire and anger are that to a certain extent, there is a subjective element to them. With advanced statistics such as Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt we can apply some numerical qualifiers to the rankings, but that only tells a part of the story. For example Jared Goff led the league in ANY/A last season, but would anyone consider him to be QB1 right now? So film evaluation, context, scheme, and more factors play a role. With the introduction of the human element of evaluation, and the subjective components, we get discrepancies, and the debates begin.
But, they make for fun debates, so let’s get started. First a few words on the methodology and the goal. Consider these sort of “power rankings.” This will be revisited throughout the season, so we can track somewhat how starters around the league are playing. We’re working with the 32 Week 1 starters at the outset, we will slide other guys in or out depending on injuries, benchings, etc. As for the methodology. I’m a firm believer in tiers rather than pure rankings, so the players are grouped in five tiers, and while they are “ranked” in each tier the main focus should be on the tiers themselves, and not on where they rest in each tier. Finally, this is based on evaluating each player’s 2017 film (and in the case of Sam Darnold, his college film), what we have seen so far in 2018, as well as soem expectations for what their offenses and schemes will look like in the regular season.
You can push send on the angry tweets in a few minutes I promise.
Tier 1 - The Elite. Best of the Best
Tom Brady, New England
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Drew Brees, New Orleans
Russell Wilson, Seattle
Move aside, “Brady vs. Manning,” the big new debate is “Brady vs. Rodgers.” As I tried to convince people during earlier days, maybe it’s just better to watch and appreciate two of the best ever at their craft and not worry so much about rankings. If forced to choose, I’ll go with Brady, especially given that he is coming off an MVP season while Rodgers is returning from injury. So this could change given how they perform in 2018. But I’ll have Brady at the top to start.
As for Brees and Wilson, down in New Orleans Brees remains such a smart, accurate quarterback that is extremely difficult to defender. Wilson was Seattle’s offense last year, at one point accounting for roughly 86 percent of the Seahawks’ offensive output.
That’s not a typo.
Tier 2 - The Elite-ish
After the top four is where it gets interesting. In this group we have some players on the cusp of making the leap to Tier 1, as well as some quarterbacks who might have been in Tier 1 a few years ago, but now finds themselves in the second grouping.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta
Matthew Stafford, Detroit
Cam Newton, Carolina
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
Philip Rivers, Los Angeles
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis
After the first four, trying to pick QB5 is a difficult proposition. Earlier this summer I waded into that debate and went with Stafford, and spent the next few days on Twitter having a very polite conversation with Falcons fans about my omission of Ryan. So seeing Ryan at 5 might be a surprise. But while in the summer I was talking solely about traits, I think if you look at both teams right now and the weapons around them, I think Ryan has the upper hand going into 2018.
Newton is a polarizing QB to evaluate, and I come down on the very pro-Cam side of that debate. If you want to study the art of using torque to throw a football, watch Newton throw the deep out route. In the Panthers’ offense in years past he’s been asked to shoulder a big load, and while he is not the most accurate quarterback in terms of ball placement, he makes it work within the structure of their offense.
Wentz made quite the leap last year, playing like a true MVP before going down to injury. I’m expecting him to return to that form when he’s back on the field. Speaking of injury, I have Luck in here to start, although that is based on the healthy Andrew Luck. That might change once we see him on the field.
Perhaps most notable are the two names not in this tier. They’re up next.
Deshaun Watson, Houston
Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco
Alex Smith, Washington
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota
Jared Goff, Los Angeles
Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland
Case Keenum, Denver
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee
Dak Prescott, Dallas
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville
At the top are two names often included in that second tier by other evaluators. I more than understand bumping Garoppolo and Watson into that second group, but due to Watson returning from his second knee injury, as well as sample size concerns for both of them, I’ll slot them in Tier 3 for now. Both might be into that second tier by the season’s three-quarter pole.
The rest of this tier is a fascinating bunch. I think both Smith and Cousins are in good spots to produce this season, although Washington’s offense might have lost some potential with Derrius Guice being lost to injury. Goff certainly took a big leap forward in year two, but how much of that was him and how much was Sean McVay? Year three of the Goff era might answer that question. Baker Mayfield might be the future for the Cleveland Browns, but I’m a Taylor fan, provided he’s operating in the right system for him. Besides, Jalen Ramsey considers him elite, and I’m not gonna argue with him. Keenum is coming off a magical season, but can he duplicate that with raised expectations and in a new setting?
The rest of this tier contains four fascinating QBs to study with quarterback perhaps facing more questions than answers. Which Dak Prescott is the real deal, year one or year two? Can Matt LaFleur jump-start Marcus Mariota’s career? Could this be the end of the line for Jameis WInston in Tampa Bay? Are the Jacksonville Jaguars justified in keeping the faith with Blake Bortles? All four have some traits that could see them rise, but also have some history that could indicate a fall instead.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati
Ryan Tannehill, Miami
Derek Carr, Oakland
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City
Eli Manning, New York Giants
Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago
Based on preseason performance alone I thought about sliding Dalton into Tier 3, but I’m waiting to see that replicated in some regular season games before making the move. The Miami Dolphins face a decision soon about Tannehill, and he’ll need a strong season for the organization to continue rolling with Ryan. The influence of Jon Gruden could help Derek Carr but with all the questions swirling around the Oakland Raiders right now, it’s hard to look at that offense and the overall situation and move Carr further up the board. Mahomes certainly has potential, and flashed some in his one start last season, but there’s a sample size issue. As for Manning and Trubisky, we’ve seen some of what they have to offer, so there are concerns there. But Manning does get Odell Beckham back and has Saquon Barkley in the backfield, which could be a big boost. Trubisky squeaks into Tier 4 based on, perhaps, my inflated view of what Matt Nagy is going to do to help his second-year QB.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore
Sam Bradford, Arizona
Nathan Peterman, Buffalo
Sam Darnold, New York Jets
Joe Flacco is coming off a historically poor 2017 campaign that saw him post an ANY/A of just 4.71, besting just C.J. Beathard, Tom Savage, Trevor Siemian, Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer among qualified starters. WIth the selection of Lamar Jackson in the first round it is safe to wonder about how much longer he will be under center for the Baltimore Ravens. Sam Bradford is an interesting inclusion in this tier, as when healthy he can produce, but until he remains healthy for an extended period it is hard to move him higher up this list. Nathan Peterman and Sam Darnold close things out for us. Peterman threw five interceptions in his first start, sure, but he has been much better than that this preseason, but the Buffalo Bill do face questions at many offensive positions. As for Darnold, he has the talent to rise in these rankings, but he’s a rookie, and there will be mistakes. Plus, as a rookie you gotta start somewhere…
Okay, you can send those angry tweets...now.