Carson Palmer is PFF’s No. 1-graded QB through Week 5

Sam Monson explains why no NFL QB has earned a higher grade this season than Arizona's Carson Palmer.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Carson Palmer is PFF’s No. 1-graded QB through Week 5

PFF’s top-graded quarterback after five games is … Carson Palmer.

Raise your hand if you predicted that before the season started. Palmer now leads the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and the surprising Andy Dalton in the grades thanks to some inspired play that sees the Arizona Cardinals 4-1 and atop the NFC West.

Palmer’s raw statistics look nice enough. He has completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 1,316 yards and 13 touchdowns. The latter figure is the joint best mark in the NFL and puts him on pace for more than 40 touchdowns by the end of the year.

What makes all of this pretty special, however, is because Palmer plays in an offense that does things a little differently than most of the NFL. The Cardinals still attack deep down the field like few others. I don’t mean just the occasional deep shot, but rather regular deeper attempts than most of the league.

Among full-time starters, Palmer has the highest average depth of target in the NFL at 11.1. Only Houston’s Brian Hoyer, in and out of the lineup, has a higher figure. To put that figure into context, it’s almost double Tony Romo’s average depth of target of 6.0. Aaron Rodgers is at 7.0, Tom Brady is at 7.3, and even Teddy Bridgewater, within a Norv Turner offense, is at 8.2.

Palmer is attempting deeper passes more often than almost all of the NFL, and that’s why his completion percentage isn’t ever likely to be pushing 70 percent or higher, but why 64.9 percent within that offense is exceptional.

Palmer has yet to grade negatively over a game this season and has been virtually unstoppable when kept clean in the pocket. His passer rating on the 102 dropbacks that he has not been pressured this season is 127.6, and he has a 10-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on those plays. He has completed 70.3 percent of those passes and gained 923 yards on 71 completions.

The Cardinals offense is almost like a throwback in a league that is heading ever more spread-based in its passing attack. The Cardinals like to run the ball, use play-action and strike deep down the field, and Palmer is the perfect quarterback to make that happen. When the Cardinals use play-action this season, Palmer’s completion percentage jumps up 11.8 percent and his yards per attempt increases by 4.4 yards.

The Cardinals have faced a slate of questionable competition so far this season, so it remains to be seen if Palmer can play this well against some of the best teams, but right now he is the best-graded quarterback in the league, and soaring high in his performances.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Bill Doerr

    Writers & trolls online questioning the teams AZ has beaten is getting really old. Everyone who knows anything about the NFL knows that the difference between a 11-5 team n a 5-11 team is miniscule. Teams are very evenly matched in the NFL , 99.9% of the time only a handful plays is what determines who wins and who loses the game-!!!! Their is no “EASY” game in the NFL. Other teams that are Loaded with very, very stromg rosters who have played teams ARIZONA has played & destroyed beat the teams NOWHERE NEAR AS BADLY OR AS EASILY AS ARZ DID when ARZ played & dismantled the exact same teams. Take the Lions for eexample who have an impressive playoff caliber roster, they opened their year against 4 playoff caliber teams before facing AZ
    and DET was in everyone of those games w/ the biggest loss being to Peytons Broncos
    by 12!!! The week before AZ destroyed DET n DETs own Stadium , the Lions went and played SEA , in SEA and the Lions not only ALMOST BEAT SEA BUT SHOULD OF BEAT SEA If the right call had been made. The Seahawks could only put 13 points up on DET n SEA.. The Bears who AZ hung 50 points on just beat KC yesterday n beat a promising /surging Raiders team last SUN. almost beat GB in week 1 n lost by just 1 TD. The 49ers AZ put up 47 Points beat a good Vikings team, the 49ers almost beat the NYGs losing 30-27, the GB Packers could only put up 17 points on the same defense ARZ Put up 47 on. GB Packers own Aaron Rodgers who hadnt thrown an INT since 2012 was harrased by STL throwing for 18/31 for 240YDs, 2TDs, 2INTs, 80QB PSR Rating RB E. Lacy had just 27YDs on 13 ATTs, sacked 3 times. Foles CMP 8/30 passes 1TD/4INT 20 passer rating, if Foles had shownup STL could of won. Palmer did better against STL than what Rodgers did w/ Palmer going 30 of 46 completing 64% of his passes for 7.9 YD/AVG for 355 passing yards with 1TD 1INT with a 87.2 passer rating. THING IS PALMER Actually THREW 3TD Passes TE J. Gresham dropped 1 n so did rookie RB D. Johnson. Palmer moved the ball at will and was under a lot more pressure that Rodgers was. AZ beat themselves in that game, they had 100 oppurtunitys to win it n 9 ti,es of 10 they do win games like that. The refs also just FLATOUT BLEW BACK TO BACK FUMBLES, BOTH WERE CLEAR RECOVERYS ARZ, Even VP of officiating Dean Blandino got on TV on the NFL Network n said with the 2nd fumble it was clear as crystal forward progmess was not stopped when he fumbled it, it was a clear fumble AZ should of recovered on their own 2. AZ Gets that ball they win 30-24.
    Arizona hasnt just been beating teams, the Cardinals have been outright DEMOLISHING these team’s!!!! Arizona has scored a HISTORICAL 190 POINTS thru the 1st Five games while only surrendering only 90pts. In 5 games AZ has scored 32, 48, 47, 22 and 42 points!!!!!! Arizona’s offense is AVG 40 Points Per Game while Arizonas STOUT Defense with an ELITE secondary on the backend ( AZs secondary is one of if not the best secondary in the NFL!! AZ’s secondary has 14INTs w/4 defensive TDs which is the best in the Entire NFL, more than n e other secondary. SEAs Legion of Lame has ZERO!!!!!!!) is on AVG only giving up 18PPG!!!! Arizona has one of the highest scoring offense in football right now, they can play with anybody. Arizonas offense is firing on all cylinders right now & their defense is just as good, with AZ sporting both a top 5 defense and a top 5 offense. Palmer is PFFs #1 ranked. QB with the most TDs of n e QB in the with one of the lowest INT totals throwing for 13TDs to 3INTs on pace . With all the speed & talent at WR & RB along with two excellent blocking/receiving TEs along with an ELITE MASSIVE TOP 5 O-LINE starting w/ 6″8 325PD Elite top 5 LT n Jared Veldheer. AZ prize offseason signing is 1st Team All Pro/3X Time Pro Bowler in 6″5 1/2
    inch tall 330 Pound LG Mike Iupati who is the best run blocking OG n one of the top 3 overall best. At Center AZ has the 9th ranked C via PFF in his 8th year Lyle Sendlein who is a very solid above AVG. Sendlein fans shuould enjoy this year though, I think we are going to draft a Center early n RD 2-3. At RG 2013 7TH O/A 1st rd pick Johnathan Cooper is playing extremely well save for 1 inexcusable sack he gave up out of 5 games. Still Cooper has All Pro potential and has shown a ton to be excited about, this is his rookie year basically, Cooper is going to be a beast. Finally at RT Arizona has a excellent RT n Bobby Massie who ranks 22nd overall but only 7 RTs rank ahead of Massie which means Massie is the 8th highest ranked RT n the NFL . AZ having an elitehasnt only helped the passing game but run game as well. Arizona ismost definitely making the playoffs this year, as either the 1 or 2 seed. In my opinion AZ isthe NFCs best team, the best offense in the

    • Joe

      Can you post a shorter reply? I gave up about a quarter in, too long

      • Earl Earltson


    • Jon

      The difference between a 5-11 team and a 11-5 team is INSANELY BIG. Hell the difference between 5 wins and 8 wins is huge. Almost wins and almost losses are just that. Good teams tend to win close games. Any given sunday is all fine a good, up to a point. Some teams match up bettter against certain teams, so you have teams like the rams eeking out wins against the seahawks and cardinals every year, but getting blown out by other teams because they just arent an overall good team. There is a damn good reason that teams like the raiders can stay competitive in games but still always lose. You are right that there are no easy games, but you are dead wrong when you are saying that teams are evenly matched. Good teams get win almost every time against bad teams, the difference is what they do when matched up against other good teams. The good team will tend to lose while the great team has the edge. Thats why you see the pats, broncos, seahawks, etc post 12+ wins 3 consecutive years and teams like the lions go to the playoffs one year and go 0-5 to start the next.

    • Bo1563

      Whoah, slow your roll there, chief. In the NFL, only wins matter. Last I looked, there are three NFC teams that currently have better records than the Cards and there is a lot of football left to go. Let’s see what happens in weeks 6-17 before proclaiming who the best team in the conference is.

  • pd

    Anybody paying attention knows this is true..the problem..people don’t pay attention

  • Alex Gary

    Palmer has been underrated for years. He played on Bengals team with little defense and then produced fairly well for a horrible Raiders team. Finally, he has a complete team around him.

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  • Andrew Maples

    AZ has a +100 point differntial. Since 1964, only 5 teams have accomplished that through 5 weeks of a season… 4 went on to win the Super Bowl.

    The only one that didnt… 2007 Patriots (+117), whom as we know went into the game undefeated (18-0)

    That 2007 NE team had a weakness, Pass Protection, and their opponent, NYG, had the tools necessary to exploit that weakness. This year’s AZ team, doesn’t have a weakness, and if they do, I’d like for anyone to point it out to me.

    • Austin Moore

      I’m a Cards fan too, but we definitely have weaknesses. While we have a top 5 run game and pass game, and a solid run defense and possibly the best secondary… We still have a below average pass rush and our line, while strong in the run, is inconsistent in pass protection.

    • Nick Ptak

      I’m a die hard Cardinals fan and our weakness is definitely our lack of a pass rush and I’d say overall our front 7. Calais Campbell is excellent, but outside of him Okafor and Minter are just average (minter and okafor have upside). Cards need to get another pass rusher or two to be truly dominant. But we’re looking really good because our O line has improved, our run game has improved, our tight ends have improved, and Palmer is playing amazing.

      • DanTrademark

        And on cue, the Cards just signed Dwight Freeney.

    • Evan DiPan

      Are you really comparing this years Cardinals team to the 07 Pats?


      • Richard

        Settle down Dip. Just comparing relevant facts.

        • Evan DiPan

          They lost to the RAMS


    • Marcelo Foppa

      Comparing teams from about 10 years apart is not fair, the opponents were different too. and well, as the world could see, there’s no reason finishing a season 18-0 and losing the Superbowl.

      We have a weakness as other folks have pointed out, but come one, one downside against a bunch of upsides? Arizona is rocking this year, yet I still want to see the red birs facing another high power defense as St Louis (although by the playing game, Cards should have won that game).

      Cards still have something to prove, and only against a solid defense. May it be Steelers?

      Let’s go for it.
      A bright 6-1 before the bye is so real!

  • Riffle,Rod&Fly

    What is Andy Dalton’s aDOT?

  • Brandon

    Correct me if im wrong, but doesnt he spend an awful lot of time holding the ball while the play develops? Cuz he did that last year and he ended up getting injured, i cant imagine that being a year older coming off an injury will help him if he is doing all the same things he did last year.

    • Marcelo Foppa

      Of course he did, that’s exactly what you need to execute deep shots safely.
      Bruce Arians spread his players downfield in such a way one of them will get open, everytime one will, you can be sure of it, Palmer just needs to have time enough to locate this one – if it is not his first target – and set up yards. Sometimes it paybacks you in a negative way. Being gutsy is dareful.

    • DanTrademark

      He’s got a much better O-line this year, and they’re giving him time. If you read the stats in the article, he’s getting a lot clean pocket reps. Also, he got injured on a play where there was almost zero contact. Just planted his foot and twisted his knee to pop the tendons.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Without Larry Fitzgerald I think Palmer would be hard pressed to crack the top five list.

    • Shravaka

      Love Larry! But there are other receivers (i.e. smoke & RB’s) who could easily fill the void… Carson is the real deal…!!! Just sit back and watch him validate this point throughout the year.

  • pascalp

    Congratulations to Carson Palmer for having been the best QB in the NFL so far but let’s not get over excited. They have a relatively easy first part of the schedule and what will determine if they can position themselves as a potential Superbowl contender is how they do after the break. Winning in Seattle, against the Bengals, Packers or Vikings in winter would position themselves as clear outsiders for Superbowl 50 if not favourites. They’re just not there yet. The games that really matters have still to be played.

  • Riffle,Rod&Fly

    It is really easy to have a high completion percentage when you throw the ball less than 20 times in a game. Your QB ranking reads more like “We can’t have Dalton at #1 because he’s Andy Dalton”. Not that I think he deserves that spot either.

    If you watch the way the ball leaves the arm, the footwork and how the player brings up those around him. Nobody touches Rodgers. I mean, do you guys even look at a QB’s feet during a game?

    Brady’s control of the offense and the Pats’ sheer offensive dominance are enough for #2.

    Palmer is one dimensional and he is doing a good job of filling that one dimension in a multifaceted offense with a tremendous defense. His job is a lot easier than most. If his pocket starts collapsing, they can’t run the ball and the defense is flat, the Cards will turn into the raiders.

    I like PFF but your QB grading is suspect.

  • gairman

    I bet admitting that Palmer has been very good for the past 2 seasons is like eating dirt for some folks cause he’s been bashed his whole career. We can know see that with the right players, system & coaching he has finally reached his potential. Better late than never.

  • Riffle,Rod&Fly

    The Cardinals are playing outstanding. I know what Palmer looks like when he isn’t on an outstanding team.