Cam Newton tops list of best five quarterbacks of 2015

Analyst Matt Claassen breaks down the play of the five best quarterbacks in the 2015 NFL season (playoffs included).

| 5 months ago
(Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

(Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

Cam Newton tops list of best five quarterbacks of 2015

With our Top 101 players of 2015 list fully revealed, we now take a closer look at the best quarterbacks of last season, including how the postseason altered our final rankings.

1. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (No. 8 in Top 101)

While Cam Newton finished as runner-up to Carson Palmer in PFF’s regular-season MVP award, the Panther’s performance in the playoffs, along with unusually poor displays from both Palmer and Tom Brady, helped him move into the No. 1 spot for the year.

Despite coming out on the losing end of Super Bowl 50, Newton recorded three solid outings in the postseason, with positive grades in each game, and a +5.5 overall grade in the NFC Championship game (remember that 0.0 is considered average), which ended up being the highest-single-graded game for a quarterback in the 2015 season playoffs. Newton’s added ability as a dual-threat quarterback is something few can match in the NFL, as his +18.5 cumulative run grade was easily the best at the position. Not only can he extend passing plays with scrambles, but he can perform designed quarterback runs that effectively give the offense an additional blocker.

2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots (No. 14 in Top 101)

Brady put forth his best season in recent years, despite missing Julian Edelman for a good portion of the season and playing behind a porous offensive line that featured below-average pass-blocking grades from all 11 offensive lineman with at least double-digit snaps. In the regular season, he made turnover-worthy throws on just 1.11 percent of his attempts (league-best) and threw more touchdowns under pressure than any other quarterback in the past nine seasons (14).

However, his performance against Denver in the AFC Championship game was not only sub-par, it was one of the worst performances we’ve seen from Brady in the PFF era (since 2007). His passing grade ranked as his second-worst single-game grade over that span, and edged out two other games for his worst playoff performance since 2007.

3. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals (No. 15 in Top 101)

Palmer won our regular season MVP award and was our highest-graded quarterback heading into the playoffs. He had the highest percentage of positively-graded throws in the league, and graded positively in all 16 regular season games. Unfortunately for Arizona, Palmer performed like a completely different player in the postseason. He followed up a below-average game against Green Bay with the lowest single-game overall grade for a quarterback in the playoffs over the past nine years, and the third-worst game overall during that span. So while he had one of the better regular-season quarterback performances in recent years, his abysmal play when it mattered most was enough to drop him below Newton and Brady in our Top 101.

4. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 24 in Top 101)

If Roethlisberger had been healthy for the entire season, he very well may have been higher on the list, but missing one-quarter of the regular season ultimately prevented him from having a greater impact. When healthy, though, Roethlisberger had some of the highest single-game grades among quarterbacks last season, and was every bit as good as Palmer on downfield throws, even if he wasn’t quite as consistent week-to-week.

5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (No. 32 in Top 101)

Wilson started the season slow, but was still easily above-average in 2015. He excelled over the latter half of the year, and finished the season with just one below-average game. His ability to extend plays and scramble was a huge asset, considering he was pressured on 42.4 of dropbacks, second-most in the league. Wilson was also one of the best at taking care of the ball, yet still took chances, as evidenced by his league-leading 15 touchdowns on deep passes.

| Analyst

Matt has been an analyst for PFF since 2013. He is also a contributor to 120 Sports and a former NCAA Division-III football player.

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  • JudoPrince

    Worthy top 5 but hard to believe Wilson is below Big Ben. I mean first you have to consider the injury factor here: Russell Wilson played the entire season while Ben missed a quarter of it. And the then the TD to INT ratio? Big Ben had 21 TDs against 16 INT. He was a turnover machine in several games last year. Russell Wilson’s ratio was 34/8. That’s an insane difference.

    The cherry on the top of course would be the fact that Big Ben had one of the best receiving cores in the league, with Antonio Brown heading the pack. A 21/16 TD/Int ratio when you have AB getting WIDE open all over the field should not inspire higher game to game grading over Wilson.

    • LostAlone

      Can’t agree on that. Wilson is a great QB but even playing a full season he was only a hundred yards ahead of Ben’s 12 games. The Hawks and Steelers averaged the same points per game even though the Steelers had 4 games of Vick and Landry. Add to that the Hawks having more rushing yards but less total offense and that points to Wilson simply doing less on the field than Ben.

      That doesn’t make Wilson bad. Wilson is superb. But he didn’t have to do as much to make his team successful. That’s not a knock on him. Good QBs don’t take unnecessary risks. Ben had to do more to make the Steelers successful and he lived up to that. That’s why he’s a spot higher.

      • JudoPrince

        A hundred yards ahead of big Ben? Did u factor in Wilson’s rush total?

        • LostAlone

          That doesn’t include his rushing yards, but even if it did 4500 in 16 games vs 3900 in 12 games (281 ypg vs 325) there’s still a pretty substantial gap there. With good outings against middling SD and BAL defenses Ben would have been on pace to break the all time passing record, something that Wilson couldn’t come close to even including 100 carries on the ground. Just keeping that 325 ypg pace would have had him at 5200 yards for the season.

          Again, not down playing just how amazing Wilson is. That’s not at all what I’m saying. He’s got a superb skill set and he absolutely deserves to be held in the same esteem as someone like Ben or Brady. He’s already almost guaranteed his Hall Of Fame inclusion. But based on 2015 alone he just didn’t show us quite so much as Ben did. He showed a lot. He did a lot. But he didn’t drive the Seattle offense to the same kind of heights that Ben and Palmer and Brady drove theirs.

          • JudoPrince

            328 yards per game is nice but building your argument around yard totals is flawed. For starters, look at Big Ben’s receiving core. Of his 328 pass yards per game, 133 of those yards went to Antonio Brown. That means over 40% of his yardage is directly attributed to whom PFF considers the absolute best receiver in the league and a top 3 overall player. I pointed out Wilson’s rush total as an example of how much he does by himself without perennial receiving threats.

            I get it. Big Ben is a really good QB, always has been, but the yards factor just isn’t convincing enough when compared to Wilson. 34/8 TD/Int ratio for Wilson compared to 21/16. 68% complete rate compared to 64%. This is more efficiency by Russ without the best receiver in football. Also throw in 550 rush yards per game vs 29 per game. Wilson was better in just about every metric other than pass yards.

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          • Austin

            Ben isn’t better then Russell Wilson.If they had two challenges throwing and accuracy

  • Jason

    Eli Manning will be better than all of these guys in 2016.

    • crosseyedlemon

      I have a feeling a lot of people will be asking you to join their fantasy league.

      • Wally Shoot

        awesome response crosseyedlemon :)

    • matt

      If that O-Line doesn’t get him killed he has a chance. A very, very low chance.

  • Austin

    I think Teddy Brigewater should be #3