Never is football more boring than the time between OTA’s and training camp.
So to keep football in our minds and hearts during this time, let’s start a new (and useless) Offseason Power Rankings series (that may or may not continue past this article), beginning with the most important position on the field - quarterback.
The reason Power Rankings are inherently useless is twofold. First, they have no impact whatsoever on what happens on the field. They are simply opinions in list form. So (secondly), this opinionated approach can leave much to be desired in the way of informed reporting.
That said, Power Rankings can be a fun way to stir up discussion when there’s little else to discuss.
A couple of notes before we really dive in…
- This list is not derived from basic statistics. No stat is more simultaneously misleading and irrelevant than a quarterback’s total passing yards. Those numbers, as well as total touchdowns, are often a product of the team’s offensive scheme and personnel. Context must be applied to all stats, and the best way to do that is to simply watch the players play.
- So rather than basic passing stats, these rankings will reflect my own observations of these quarterbacks. I’m a big fan of the metrics from Football Outsiders, so these ranks consider advanced metrics such as ANY/A, DVOA, DYAR, as well as what I’ve seen and read from various trusted sources (including but not limited to Jonathan Kinsley [@BrickWallBlitz] and Cian Fahey [@Cianaf], who do some of the finest quarterback analysis available on the web).
- I’m ranking these quarterbacks as I see them heading into 2017 for one season, as if we were building a new team to win a Super Bowl this year. It’s not a future or past career ranking, though there is some projection involved.
- With the younger quarterbacks, I took into account upside for this season based on what they’ve done so far in their short careers.
Anyway, without further ado, let’s rank these quarterbacks, including tiers, from the bottom up!
This tier of players represents those who have not cemented themselves as franchise quarterbacks. They will simply continue to be “starters” (in name only, not ability) until their respective teams can acquire someone better, or turn to a younger player with more upside.
32. Whomever Starts for the New York Jets
Will it be 38-year-old journeyman Josh McCown, third-year player Bryce Petty (3 TDs, 7 INTs in 4 starts), or second-year project Christian Hackenberg (0 career snaps)? Regardless of who wins the job, they will be the worst starter in the NFL.
31. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Blake Bortles is not totally a lost cause… but he’s pretty close. With a negative DVOA and a 49.0 Total QBR in 2016, only four quarterbacks (of 34 qualifiers) rated worse last season, and of the four, only one is a projected starter heading into 2017 (R. Fitzpatrick, C. Keenum, M. Barkley, J. Goff). Bortles leads the NFL in turnovers over the last three seasons with 63.
This is the most hilarious interception I've ever seen. pic.twitter.com/mKM5JWxDYl— Jonathan Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) July 16, 2017
The only glimmer of hope for Bortles is the brief display of positive play he exhibited late in 2016, after Doug Marrone took over as head coach.
That tweet above is a part of this highly-entertaining Twitter GIF thread featuring Bortles.
30. Tom Savage, Houston Texans
Tom Savage might not finish the year as the Texans’ starting quarterback, but all signs point to him at least opening the year as the starter. In his three years since being drafted, Savage has been passed over for the top gig by such wondrous talents as Brock Osweiler, the below-mentioned Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallet, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Case Keenum.
When it finally seemed like the Texans might give Savage his shot, they traded up from pick no. 25 in the first round all the way to no. 12 to take a quarterback. That should tell you everything you need to know about Tom Savage.
29. Brian Hoyer, San Francisco 49ers
Bryan Hoyer is kind of like what Blake Bortles might one day become if he hits his ceiling. Entering his 9th season, Hoyer will be playing for his 7th team, and 7th of the last 7 years.
28. Cody Kessler, Cleveland Browns
Will Cody Kessler be the starter? Maybe. His rookie season showed some promise, but it also showed an incredible lack of pocket awareness. The Browns were a bad team last year, and it would’ve been hard for anyone to win in that situation, but it was especially hard for Kessler. There’s a reason the Browns drafted DeShone Kizer in the 2nd round, who could end up as the starter by the end of preseason (Russell Wilson-style).
27. Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears
After signing a lucrative contract with Chicago, Mike Glennon watched his new team give up a lot of picks to trade up one spot to draft his replacement. It’s only a matter of time before Trubisky takes over in Chicago, making Glennon the definition of a “placeholder” at quarterback.
2016 FIRST-ROUND QUARTERBACKS
It wasn’t my intention when I set out to make these rankings to group the 2016 first-round picks together, but here we are. All three of these players have some level of untapped potential that their respective teams hope they can reach in 2017.
26. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
You may be asking yourself, “How did Jared Goff end up ranked so high?” A lot of NFL QB Power Rankings out there have Goff as the number 32-ranked signal-caller. I’m not saying he’s going to be a good player, but he’s better than the hopeless guys listed above, none of whom are expected to still be starters by Week 17 (except for maybe Bortles, because who else do they have in Jacksonville?). Goff will now get coached by a brilliant offensive mind who helped design an extremely QB-friendly offense in Washington.
25. Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos
Should I be writing about Trevor Siemian instead? For most 7th-round picks, it’s a challenge just to make the roster. For the Broncos’ Siemian, the challenge is holding off former first-round pick Paxton Lynch in a competition for the starting job. This might be the most intriguing quarterback competition in the league, and latest reports seem to lean Lynch. He’ll have to show much improvement from his 2016 QBR of 28.6, which, had he thrown the minimum 200 pass attempts required to “qualify,” would’ve been better than only Jared Goff (22.2).
24. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Few players have had as poor a season as Carson Wentz and gone on to receive the type of media praise that’s been bestowed upon him. According to Cian Fahey’s Quarterback Catalogue (a great resource for anyone interested in performing their own NFL quarterback analysis), Wentz threw 52.5% of his passes within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, and 70.7% within 10 yards. Whether that’s a function of the offense or simply an Alex Smith-like tendency to make the safe throw, Wentz will have to take more chances down the field in 2017.
This play largely captures what I saw most often from Wentz in 2016. Feet plant in ground, stares down receiver, wild overthrow. pic.twitter.com/Skt6DFZrmA— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) January 18, 2017
And here’s an entire GIF thread dedicated to throws like the above.
These guys are average-level starting NFL quarterbacks. They’ll run your offense well enough and, on the right teams, they can even make the playoffs. However, rather than elevate the performance of the guys around them, the signal-callers in this tier need to be surrounded playmakers to be truly effective.
23. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton may be one of the most underachieving quarterbacks of the past six years. The “Red Rifle” took his Bengals to the playoffs five times in a row and came away winless all five times. Dalton doesn’t often make plays himself, but his supporting cast is outstanding (A.J. Green is criminally underrated by the average fan), and the Bengals’ plan of attack has been to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers and let them get the yards and touchdowns.
22. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Is Joe Flacco elite??
No. He isn’t. It’s actually not a difficult question. Flacco did put together an elite playoff run in his Super Bowl-winning season; he played outstanding for that stretch of games with the help of one of the NFL’s best defenses. But overall, he’s much too inconsistent. His footwork is sloppy and he relies on receivers to make plays for him when his ball placement is, shall we say, less-than-ideal.
21. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
The most “game manager” game manager of them all, Alex Smith’s style of play wouldn’t work for everyone - it certainly didn’t for Jim Harbaugh. But for Andy Reid’s West Coast spread attack, Smith’s tendency to get rid of the ball quickly (on short passes to fast and elusive players like Jamaal Charles and Tyreek Hill) coupled with his ball security has helped the Chiefs become what they are (a team that wins the turnover battle and grinds it out with tough running and a good defense). On a team that actually needs plays from their quarterback, though, Smith would be a disaster...
20. Kirk Cousins, Washington Professional Football Team
One of the more overrated quarterbacks in the NFL, Kirk Cousins has been the benefactor of playing in a very QB-friendly offense designed by Jay Gruden and Sean McVay. Cousins stats are impressive, but he also left a lot of plays on the field. As I’ve mentioned, stats, especially total passing yards, can be extremely misleading.
Conversely, the receiving trio of Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, and Jamison Crowder has been very much underrated, at times helping to make Kirk Cousins look much better than he actually is. With Crowder the only of those three returning, I’m interested to see if Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor can provide the same type of help this season for Washington.
Washington has yet to commit to a long-term deal with Cousins, in a league where it’s both extremely difficult and extremely important to find a quarterback (just ask Bill O’Brien). The fact that Washington is so reluctant to offer Cousins a big-money contract is rather telling.
Watch the top right of the screen. Kirk Cousins has an open touchdown, so what does he do? Check it down short of the sticks, of course! pic.twitter.com/yS02xvdwBS— Jonathan Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) June 2, 2017
Game Manager, folks (if you actually click on that tweet, you get a full GIF thread devoted to Cousins). Cousins accuracy is inconsistent, his field vision is awful, but he’s been able to make plays when needed at times in his career, leading to the 2015 playoff berth.
Some of you may be thinking, “You’d rather have Sam Bradford and Tyrod Taylor than Kirk Cousins??”
Yup. I certainly would.
I initially named this tier “QUALITY STARTERS.” Then I wrote a paragraph summing up each guy and noticed a common theme... all of these guys are incredibly underrated.
This tier of players represents guys you can win with, given the right situation. Better quarterbacks make better plays, but these guys are pretty darn good in their own right and deserve more recognition for their abilities.
19. Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings
Sam Bradford had a tough start to his NFL career. He’s shown steady improvement despite constant injuries getting in the way of his development. Playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in football last year, he was constantly forced to get rid of the ball almost immediately, earning him a reputation as a check-down machine. This is a misconception. Bradford is a very accurate passer, has great mechanics, and knows how to handle a pocket, clean or not. Bradford is going to make it difficult for the Vikings to choose their QB of the future beyond 2017.
The hopeful improvements to the Vikings’ offensive line, as well as the addition of Dalvin Cook, could allow Bradford to change people’s minds this season. But people are very stubborn, so that probably won’t happen.
18. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
I struggle to believe that the Bills were ever not going to re-sign Tyrod Taylor. Good negotiating on their part, though. Taylor often extended plays when there was nothing to extend, escaping pressure and making accurate throws, but he was consistently let down by his wide receivers.
Taylor's yards per attempt jumped 0.74 when adjusted for WR mistakes/created plays, third highest in league https://t.co/axpACswJKN— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) June 5, 2017
In just the first half against the Patriots at home, Tyrod Taylor lost 133 yards and two TDs to receiver error.— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) January 10, 2017
17. Eli Manning, New York Giants
How did Eli Manning end up all the way at no. 17? Well, this listed was tweaked and finalized by me starting at no. 32 and asking myself, “Would I rather have Blake Bortles or the unknown starter for the Jets?” Then, “Would I rather have Tom Savage or Blake Bortles?” And so on and so on, until I ended up deciding between Tyrod Taylor and 2-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, one of the most underrated playoff quarterbacks of the century.
16. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Ask the average fan, and they’ll tell you last season, Carson Palmer majorly regressed into a washed up, too-old, should-retire-already quarterback. That’s why you can’t trust the average fan.
Palmer may be getting up there in years, but he can still spin it. I wouldn’t take him over some of the younger guys I’ve ranked ahead of him, but I’d still take him over half of the “starting” quarterbacks in this league. He was another player victimized by teammates letting him down.
Carson Palmer is about as washed up as Aaron Rodgers was. pic.twitter.com/9mvkuFXVWX— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) December 20, 2016
15. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
We wrap up the underrated section with perhaps the NFL’s most underrated quarterback (besides our darling Marcus), Ryan Tannehill. While the advanced metrics aren’t so kind to the former Aggie wide receiver-turned-quarterback (25th in DVOA, 24th in QBR), the context is, as always, extremely important.
For example, Tannehill threw the highest percentage of screen passes last season - a function of his offensive scheme - yet had the lowest average yards per screen - a function of the players around him, according to the Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue. He also was the most accurate passer in the NFL in the 16-20 yard range at 78.26%.
Ryan Tannehill's passer rating when kept clean ranked 4th in the NFL in 2016. pic.twitter.com/PJYLJgX5uR— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 27, 2017
Tannehill struggles under pressure, which is the number one thing he needs to improve upon if he wants to place higher in my next power rankings list (because obviously that is his number one concern as a player).
Ryan Tannehill had the league's biggest gap between DVOA with and without pressure in 2016, and it's a career trend. https://t.co/ZToEi5NPgk— Football Outsiders (@fboutsiders) June 20, 2017
ON THE CUSP
This next tier of quarterbacks represents those who are “the next step” away from being considered among the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Some will take that step, some won’t. Even if they don’t, I believe any of these guys could win you a Super Bowl.
14. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott exploded onto the scene when Tony Romo and Kellen Moore went down in the 2016 preseason. Prescott was surrounded by one of the best supporting casts in football, with the NFL’s top offensive line and leading rusher, but those players didn’t prevent opposing defenses from intercepting Prescott more than 4 times. The second-year quarterback has a lot to prove this season - mainly that 2016’s 23:4 TD:INT ratio wasn’t a fluke - but count me among the Prescott believers. He showed the accuracy, awareness, and pocket presence in his rookie year that should allow him to continue to develop into one of the NFL’s best passers.
13. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
It’s been a little while since Philip Rivers played alongside LaDainian Tomlinson as part of a perennial AFC powerhouse team, but Rivers is still capable of leading a team deep into the playoffs. His ability to diagnose a defense combined with his accuracy passing the ball are near tops in the NFL.
The problems for Rivers recently have been 1) his entire team seems to get injured every season, and 2) he can’t stop throwing game-ending interceptions. But always remember that context is important...
Two of Rivers' three interceptions weren't his fault. One off WR's hands, one a miscommunication with WR.— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) October 31, 2016
12. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford had his best year last season, the first of his career without future hall-of-famer Calvin Johnson. Stafford has one of the strongest arms in the NFL and is a master of pocket movement with underrated mobility (he even trucked Perrish Cox last season, though it was Cox who had the last laugh with his game-clenching interception). Stafford continues to get better despite his status as a seasoned veteran, now entering his 9th season. If he can improve his decision-making, he might actually live up to the MVP hype he generated in 2016.
11. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The number one overall pick in 2015, Famous Jameis Winston recently became the first quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 4,000 passing yards in each of his first two seasons. That statistic is rather irrelevant, but regardless of it’s usefulness to our discussion, Winston is part of the next generation of great quarterbacks that includes Prescott, Derek Carr, and Marcus Mariota.
Peak Jameis Winston is amazing. pic.twitter.com/Gr9Ob6m1TS— Jonathan Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) July 10, 2017
Winston’s subtle pocket movement and ability to extend plays are his best traits. His accuracy and decision making needs to improve in order for him to take that “next step” I talked about. The accuracy is largely a mechanical issue, but many quarterbacks have entered the NFL with accuracy issues and few have ever improved, so it will be interesting to see how Winston progresses.
10. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Derek Carr, as I mentioned, is another young star on the rise. Just cracking my top ten, Carr is probably the most high profile of the “young quarterbacks,” being the most experienced. Entering year four, Carr will need to continue to improve his play under pressure. Carr’s biggest flaw coming out of Fresno State was his panicky nature when faced with pressure, and he still has a tendency to fire the ball away too quickly rather than work to extend plays. This flaw is largely minimized in Oakland’s offense because Carr has one of the best offensive lines in football and two outstanding wide receivers.
Carr’s confidence in his teammates and playmaking ability, both when passing downfield, showcase him at his strongest. His “next step” will be taken as he continues to improve his play under pressure. Given his progress since entering the NFL, there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to ascend.
9. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Even with an objective unbiased viewpoint, Marcus Mariota is simply the best of the “young quarterback” group that includes Carr, Prescott, and Winston. Mariota, despite his young age, is already one of the most efficient passers in the NFL according to advanced metrics, and his ability to manipulate defenders with his eyes is truly remarkable, not to mention his otherworldly abilities in the red zone.
But don’t just take it from me - among those that actually watch every snap from every quarterback (and I don’t mean the talking heads on NFL Network and ESPN), the consensus top choice is Mariota.
With his new cast of receivers, Mariota should continue to improve statistically, and his “next step” should come as he continues to work on his deep passing, which already saw tremendous improvement from his rookie campaign. If Mariota can stay healthy, the sky is the limit.
From 2015 to 2016, no quarterback made more progress on their deep ball than Marcus Mariota. pic.twitter.com/ivkz09X6eU— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 10, 2017
I ended up with more quarterbacks in my “THE ELITE” category than I would’ve anticipated. It was hard to draw the line. Do I bump down 2015’s MVP? What about 2016’s? So I generously gave all 8 of these guys the coveted “elite” status.
8. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton might be the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the NFL. His size as a runner makes him incredibly difficult to bring down, allowing the Panthers many options near the goal line. Newton’s cannon firing downfield throws is much remarked upon, as is his desire to utilize that cannon with many downfield throws.
As I mentioned in my opening, I am justifiably influenced by what I’ve seen and read from various trusted sources. This article explains (much better than I can in a few short paragraphs) why Cam Newton deserves to be ranked among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.
7. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan turned in an MVP season in 2016, the first of his career, so having him at “only” 7th in my rankings might seem a little low. It’s not an indictment of Ryan’s play as much as an endorsement for the quarterbacks above him.
Former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, designed an offense perfectly tailored to Ryan’s strengths with short passes to receivers with wide open space in front of them, mixing in deep shots that Ryan is able to “drop in the bucket.” Ryan’s ability to run this offense with absolute precision took the Falcons to the Super Bowl and allowed Ryan to put up the gaudy numbers that led to his MVP award.
The reason for Matt Ryan's success is he's been able to execute Kyle Shanahan's offense at a higher level than 2015. pic.twitter.com/vnNPLsjb5P— Jonathan Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) January 22, 2017
Ryan sometimes exhibits issues with his arm strength, but he more than makes up for it with great anticipation and a cerebral ability to diagnose coverages quickly. The Falcons receiving threats are not what they were early on in Ryan’s career, despite Julio Jones’ status as arguably the top receiver in football, but Ryan brings out the best, making former cast-offs like Taylor Gabriel into fantasy football sensations. The ability to elevate those around him cement Ryan’s status as an elite passer in this league.
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
A younger Drew Brees might place higher on this list, but entering 2017, his just barely misses my top 5. Still one of the game’s premier deep passers, Drew Brees has been the victim of playing for terrible teams in the past few seasons. If not for playing alongside some of the NFL’s worst defenses, Brees would be a perennial MVP candidate, but his age is starting to catch up with him, as his arm hasn’t made it quite to Week 17 at full strength the past couple years.
5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson is a quarterback that truly makes the players around him better. His ability in the pocket to find protection behind a ridiculously terrible offensive line was the only reason for Seattle’s offensive success post-Marshawn Lynch. He can throw on the run with the best of them and is as accurate a downfield passer as they come. Playing behind an awful offensive line sometimes causes him to roll out of clean pockets, but that is also because he has excellent mobility and knows how to create plays outside the pocket. Some of the best improvisations come from Russell Wilson finding his receivers on broken plays, and he can be extremely fun to watch.
4. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger may only have one or two years left, but he is still playing at an incredibly high level. While injuries can sometimes diminish Roethlisberger’s abilities, rarely have we seen a quarterback so difficult to bring down in the pocket, so adept at extending plays and so precise when launching perfect downfield throws. Even at 35 years of age, it’s hard to find a flaw in Big Ben’s game outside of his tendency to miss a handful of games per season; in his 13 year-career, Roethlisberger has started 16 games just 3 times.
3. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck has spent the majority of his career overrated, but I think the pendulum has actually swung the other way to the point where Luck is now, if not underrated, at least under-appreciated. Few quarterbacks have done more with less to work with than Andrew Luck, who has been continuously asked to carry awful teams. Early in his career, he managed the playoffs, and even an AFC Championship game. More recently, it’s been a struggle for Luck just to get his teams to 8-8.
Luck exhibits exceptional pocket movement and awareness, as well as patience for routes to develop, often taking bone-crushing hits while delivering perfect passes downfield.
The Colts were about to blow an 18-point lead until Andrew Luck did an Andrew Luck thing. pic.twitter.com/th5TCwqPDL— Jonathan Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) November 7, 2016
There’s a reason the Colts were a 2-14 team before Luck arrived. The problem is, the team hasn’t improved very much outside of Luck himself.
While he can be inconsistent at times, occasionally forcing passes where the ball can’t quite fit, the biggest problem for Luck thus far has been injuries. Taking those big hits has taken it’s toll on Luck’s body, and he is currently recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. But if he’s healthy when the start of 2017 rolls around, he’s surely one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Tom Brady might be the GOAT, but there is one quarterback I’d take ahead of him for 2017, purely based on age. Don’t get me wrong - Brady’s still “got it” (hence why he’s still no. 2 on my list), but the arm strength and downfield passing ain’t quite what it used to be. Brady is able to compete at a high level despite his declining arm talent because he is a master at manipulating defenses and finding match-up advantages. He gets rid of the ball quickly and accurately, putting his receiving in position with his ball placement to make plays after the catch. Who knows how much longer he can keep it up, now entering his age-40 season, but if he plays like he did in 2016, Super Bowl #6 might be in the cards with the addition of Brandin Cooks on the outside.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
There may be some blowback for not having Tom Brady as the number one quarterback in the league, and if this was a career rankings, he would be at the top. But there has never been a quarterback, to my mind, with the physical talents of Aaron Rodgers. Rather than write a bunch of boring words to defend his ranking at the top of this list, I’ll just leave you with some GIFs...
There is an entire thread of these, if unbelievable throws are something that interest you...
THERE YOU HAVE IT
Those are the 2017 Offseason Quarterback Power Rankings.
Any disputes? I’m sure there are many... Let me hear it in the comments.