Ranking all 32 NFL quarterbacks this season
How do the NFL's starting QBs stack up this season? Senior Analyst Steve Palazzolo runs down the list.
Ranking all 32 NFL quarterbacks this season
As we near the end of the 2016 NFL season, we’ve seen a fairly solid display of quarterback performance across the board. By using a combination of historical data and each quarterback’s current status entering Week 16, I’ve come up with my list of the top 32 starting quarterbacks in the league.
This ranking does not directly reflect PFF’s current 2016 season grades, as I’m using my own context to place each quarterback (taking PFF grades and data into account, of course). In addition, we’re going with the starters who have enough of a sample size to place on this list.
With all those factors in mind, here’s a look at the top 32 quarterbacks in the NFL entering Week 16.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
2016 overall grade: 96.4
On a throw-for-throw basis this season, Brady has had no peer. He’s leading the league in percentage of big-time throws, while also owning the lowest percentage of turnover-worthy plays per dropback. Keeping that ratio in line is always a recipe for success, leading to a truly remarkable season for the 39-year-old. Two parts of Brady’s Hall-of-Fame game have improved this season: the deep ball (throws traveling 20-plus yards in the air) and his work on plays that last at least 2.6 seconds. His passer rating of 121.5 on the deep ball ranks third in the league, while he ranks second on those longer-developing dropbacks, a part of his game that used to be a weakness. Brady has managed to improve at this later stage in his career, and he’s the top quarterback in the league by a fair margin this season.
2. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
2016 overall grade: 90.8
While it’s a career-best year for Ryan statistically, his play is very much in line with other years of his career, perhaps showing just how underrated he’s been in the past. He leads the league with a passer rating of 136.9 on deep targets, as the Falcons have opened up the offense after playing a more conservative brand of football last season. Ryan didn’t play poorly in 2015, but he had some bad interception luck and didn’t get much help outside of WR Julio Jones. This season, he’s not getting picked as often on the bad throws, and the playmakers and scheme have been much better. Ryan has continued his fine work at the intermediate level of the field, but the added deep ball has helped turn the Falcons’ offense into arguably the league’s best unit.
3. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
2016 overall grade: 91.8
For years, PFF analysts stated that Luck was not playing at a level among the top-five quarterbacks in the league, as many had suggested. In 2016, though, he actually is. Coming off a disastrous 2015 that saw him rank near the bottom in every major statistical category, Luck has revamped his game from a high risk/reward passer to one much more willing to take what the defense gives. His 10 interceptions are not indicative of his new style, as we’ve charged him with only 12 turnover-worthy plays, so those bad passes are being converted into picks at a much higher ratio than most quarterbacks. Luck owns the fifth-lowest percentage of turnover-worthy throws this season after ranking in the middle of the pack or near the bottom of the league in previous years. Unfortunately for Luck, the Colts’ roster has limited them this season, and even in his best year, they may not get a chance to make a playoff run. He’s been under pressure on a league-high 43.8 percent of dropbacks, but he’s managed a passer rating of 76.3 on those plays, good for 10th in the league.
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
2016 overall grade: 89.7
It was a slow start to the season for Rodgers, but he’s far too talented to be held down for long. He was not seeing the field as clearly in the early going, and perhaps trying to make too much happen outside the flow of the offense, which often led to missed opportunities and poor decisions. However, Rodgers has been the top-graded quarterback in the NFL since Week 7, as the Packers’ offense has finally started to click. Even in the early going, he still showed the same athleticism and arm strength, but he’s making plays from the pocket at a much higher rate. After putting the ball in harm’s way quite a bit early in the season, Rodgers now has the 10th-lowest percentage of turnover-worthy plays, and he’s up to 12th in big-time throws—both numbers that usually see the Packers QB rank higher, but he’s trending upwards in recent weeks.
5. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
2016 overall grade: 87.4
Brees continues to pile up the numbers in the New Orleans’ offense, but a weak roster likely has the Saints on the outside looking in come playoff time. Brees has had his ups and downs, as he’s grading at 90.2 in home games and only 77.0 on the road, but the total body of work is still among the league’s best. He leads the league with an adjusted completion percentage of 81.3 percent, though it’s aided by an average depth target of 7.7 that is tied for the third-lowest mark in the NFL. While Brees has not had a higher-than-usual number of turnover-worthy plays—he currently has the 14th-highest percentage of such plays in the league—many of his turnovers have come in clusters or at inopportune times. Still, Brees is one of the few quarterbacks capable of carrying a team—something he’s done a number of times this season for the Saints.
6. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
2016 overall grade: 85.9
While Wilson is one of the streakier quarterbacks in the league, this season has had more roller coaster than previous seasons. He battled injury in the early going before finding his way midseason with classic dominant Wilson games. The last few weeks have seen the bad streaks as Wilson struggled against Tampa Bay and Green Bay and he now has the 17th-lowest percentage of turnover-worthy plays, on pace for his worst ranking as a pro. Like Luck, Wilson has to deal with one of the league’s worst offensive lines and he’s been pressured on 41.5 percent of his dropbacks, third-most in the league. It’s not uncharted territory for Wilson who has been under constant pressure his entire career and he’s handled it well with the fourth-best passer rating under pressure at 84.9.
7. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
2016 overall grade: 86.1
Carr has continued to make strides this season after a strong Year 2 in 2015. He’s ranked among the league’s best all season though he’s struggled the last two weeks in part due to a finger injury. Carr has shown great touch on his downfield throws, and he has an adjusted completion percentage of 53.1 percent 20-plus yard throws, good for third in the league. He’s also done a good job of protecting the ball and his big-time throw to turnover-worthy throw ratio is tied for sixth best in the league. Carr’s worst games have come against their division rivals, particularly two poor efforts against the Kansas City Chiefs and that’s something Carr will have to overcome in order to take his game, and the Raiders, to the next level.
8. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
2016 overall grade: 78.5
While the stats may not show it, it’s been a down year compared to the standards Roethlisberger has yet throughout his career, particularly the last two seasons. They’re no denying he’s still capable of top-notch play and he can carry the Steelers’ passing offense, but only three quarterbacks have thrown more than Roethlisberger’s 25 turnover-worthy passes though he only has 11 interceptions to show for it. He’s gotten away with quite a few throws but his big-time throw percentage ranks third in the league, so it’s been boom or bust for Roethlisberger this season. He takes a slight step back due to the inconsistency, and even though he’s not playing like a top-10 quarterback on a throw for throw basis this season, he’s shown through the years that he’s one of the league’s best.
9. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
2016 overall grade: 83.7
Newton has settled back into what he’s been for most of his career and that’s a top-10 quarterback. Last year he won the MVP and dabbled with the top spot among quarterbacks, so it’s fair to ask if that was a one-year wonder or if and when he’ll get back to those heights again. A big part of the regression is an increase in the number of turnover-worthy plays as only seven quarterbacks have had a higher percentage than Newton. He can make the special throws as well as any quarterback in the league, but even those have taken a slight step back from last year’s MVP-caliber season and poor decision-making has crept back in. Those are the reasons Newton ranks 10th in this year’s PFF grades rather than toiling near the top as he did last season.
10. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
2016 overall grade: 87.9
The Lions have changed Stafford from a gunslinger into a much safer quarterback and they’ve been much better off for it. He’s cut down on the turnover-worthy plays as he has the eighth-lowest percentage in the league and it’s reflective in his throwing only eight interceptions. When it comes to negatively graded throws, Stafford has improved from ranking in the middle of the pack to having the fourth-lowest percentage of negatives, aided by a 7.7 average depth of target which is tied for the third-lowest in the NFL. This season has also been about making comebacks in crunch time and Stafford has come through more often than not with the game on the line as he continues to improve in his eighth year in the league.
11. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
2016 overall grade: 79.4
Rivers might be suffering from claustrophobia the way his offensive line has collapsed in on him over the last two seasons and their poor play has had a clear negative effect on Rivers. While he normally handles pressure better than most, Rivers has faced pressure on 41.2 percent of his dropbacks, fourth-highest in the NFL, and there are games where it’s evident he’s feeling the pressure even when it’s not there (the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins comes to mind). Rivers’ NFL-high 17 interceptions are not indicative of his decision-making as he’s had 19 turnover-worthy plays, so those interception numbers have been on the unlucky side this season. Given the situation with a porous offensive line and a revolving door at the skill positions, Rivers has performed admirably this season.
12. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
2016 overall grade: 82.5
Perhaps the biggest story of the season is Prescott’s emergence from fourth-round rookie to quarterback of the 12-2 Cowboys. Yes, his offensive line has been great and he’s throwing from very clean pockets much of the time, but Prescott’s poise has been evident since his first game in the preseason. He’s been calm, comfortable and decisive all season, far exceeding any expectations for a rookie quarterback. The year hasn’t been without rookie-like games with his two worst outings coming in Sunday night division games against the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, but the ability he’s shown to bounce back from adversity is of equal importance. For the year, Prescott has the sixth-highest percentage of positively graded throws and the seventh-lowest percentage of turnover-worthy throws though he’s attempted the third-lowest percentage of deep passes at only 9.0 percent of his attempts. Prescott has managed the short and intermediate passing game well and he has the Cowboys fighting for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
13. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
2016 overall grade: 83.9
After a slow start, Cousins has found his groove once again, ranking as the No. 5 quarterback in the league since Week 5. He’s added more of a big-play element to his game, leading the league with 1,137 yards on deep passes while ranking second with 11 touchdowns. Cousins has also been among the league’s best at avoiding turnover-worthy plays, ranking ninth in that area. One of the more underrated parts of Cousins’ game is his ability to avoid sacks and he’s been taken down on only 10.6 percent of his pressured dropbacks, the lowest percentage in the league. If there’s an area to improve, it’s in the red zone where Cousins has not been efficient, but he overall he continues to show himself to be a viable NFL quarterback.
14. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
2016 overall grade: 78.4
As I said back in Week 5, 2016 has been about a regression back into Carson Palmer as his incredible 93.0 grade last season was not in line with the rest of his career. Last year was one of the most impressive seasons we’ve seen as Palmer was pinpoint at the deep and intermediate levels while making good decisions for much of the year until a late-season collapse that carried into the playoffs (a finger injury may have been a factor as well). This year, Palmer’s big-time throws are down drastically and his 27 turnover-worthy throws rank second in the league, so he’s lucky to have come out of it with only 13 interceptions. Palmer has looked much better in recent weeks, but it looks like 2016 was more of an outlier in what has been a solid career for Palmer.
15. Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings
2016 overall grade: 81.4
Bradford got off to a hot start, playing perhaps the best game of his career in Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers, but he’s tapered off in recent weeks, ranking as the No. 24 quarterback in the league since Week 7. The offensive line has done him no favors, and while his quick release has helped protect them, the inability to protect up front has hamstrung the entire Vikings passing game. Safe passing game or not, Bradford has done well to protect the football as his four interceptions properly reflect his turnover-worthy play percentage which is fourth-best in the league. He’s even thrown a high percentage of big-time throws, ranking ninth in the league, and his ratio of big-time throws to turnover-worthy throws ranks second to only Brady. The problem has been finding the more standard “move-the-chains” throws and Bradford ranking 37th out of 38 qualifiers in positively-graded throws is what ultimately hurts his ranking and shows why the Vikings have not been able to move the ball consistently.
16. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2016 overall grade: 78.7
It’s been an interesting season for Winston, who is still searching for the consistency that will take his game to the next level. He started out with a bang with an outstanding game in Week 1 against the Falcons before hitting a lull for a few weeks then bouncing back to rank as a top-10 quarterback since Week 7. His peaks are strong as Winston is capable of carrying a team, however, he still has too many turnover-worthy plays (eighth-most in the league) and his 15 interceptions on the season are close to an accurate representation of his decision-making. The place where Winston shines is in his ability to make throws that can win games, and he has the highest percentage of positively graded throws in the league among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts, making him almost the complete opposite of Bradford.
17. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
2016 overall grade: 80.9
Losing WR Marvin Jones to free agency has hurt Dalton statistically and not having TE Tyler Eifert for much of the season hasn’t done much to help either. It’s been an inconsistent season for Dalton, who has reverted back into Dalton-coaster ways that see him play well one week and poorly the next, all leading to his No. 15 overall ranking in the grading at 80.9. Last season saw a big jump in Dalton’s big-time throws, but those haven’t been as prevalent this season and his overall positively graded throws rank in the middle of the pack. From what we saw last year, Dalton needs a strong supporting cast in order to put up top-flight numbers and lacking a true No. 2 receiver and his tight end have him back in the middle of the NFL from a statistical standpoint.
18. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
2016 overall grade: 80.8
While Tannehill’s grades settled in right around his career output (he graded at 78.9 last season), the composition of the grade changed this season. He had the second-highest percentage of big-time throws before going down due to injury after ranking 17th in that department a year ago and he improved from 28th to 19th at avoiding turnover-worthy plays this season. There was a lot more boom or bust to his weekly performances as he put together top-notch efforts against the Patriots, Chargers and 49ers while struggling against the Bengals, Jets and Ravens. There were plenty of positives for Tannehill, whether it was two incredible throws in the Chargers game under pressure or his fourth-quarter comeback against the Rams, but the negatives were there as well, namely his overall work under pressure that has him leading the league with 10 interceptions and his 49.1 passer rating under pressure which ranks 29th out of 37 qualifiers. While the big plays and deep ball were a nice addition for Tannehill this season, there’s still room to improve in other areas in order to take the next step toward the top half of the league.
19. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
2016 overall grade: 74.7
It’s been an up-and-down year for Mariota who got off to a terrible start before hitting a midseason hot streak that teased his potential. He’s cooled the last couple of weeks, but the addition of the downfield passing attack has been the story for Mariota in Year 2 of his development. Since Week 5, Mariota has attempted the second-most deep passes in the league and he now ranks 10th in the league with a passer rating of 103.6 on such throws. He’s taken advantage of a strong Tennessee running game to hit a number of deep throws off play action and the deep post has become a staple to Mariota’s game. There are still concerns about taking care of the ball, particularly fumbles, as Mariota has the 14th-highest percentage of turnover-worthy plays, but many of those came early in the year and he’s been trending upward since about Week 5.
20. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
2016 overall grade: 81.5
It’s been another solid year for Taylor, who continues to take care of the football while sprinkling in some of the prettiest deep passes in the league. Percentage-wise he’s ranked low — only 30th out of 35 qualifiers in deep-ball adjusted completion percentage — but he’s always capable of dropping an #InStride bomb that can change the game in a hurry. There’s been some boom-or-bust to Taylor’s game this year, showing extremely well in some games and subpar in others. He’s attacked the middle of the field better than he did a year ago, when he attempted only 18 passes at the intermediate range in between the numbers. This year he’s hit 15-of-24 for 243 yards and a 110.2 passer rating on such throws, and it’s an area he needs to continue to develop in order to take the next step as a quarterback.
21. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
2016 overall grade: 76.8
It’s been very much the same year we’ve come to expect from Smith, even confusing our own analysts as to whether or not he’s capable of leading the Chiefs to a Super Bowl (we have some believers and some non-believers in our building). Smith’s 7.2 average depth of target is second-lowest in the NFL as the Kansas City offense works off short, safe throws, but Smith has shown flashes of strong downfield throwing, already picking up 498 yards on deep passes compared to just 450 yards last season. Perhaps most concerning for the Chiefs is Smith’s uptick in turnover-worthy plays as he ranked second-best last year and he’s fallen to 23rd out of 38 qualifiers this season. It hasn’t reflected on the stat sheet as Smith has only six interceptions, but if he continues to play with fire, it may come back to bite down the stretch.
22. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
2016 overall grade: 78.2
It was a great start to the season for Wentz, who did not look much like a rookie in the early going, but he’s regressed back to his rookie mean, often looking like he did on film at North Dakota State. He certainly hasn’t been helped by one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL, but they’re not to blame for some of the poor decisions and inaccuracy that have Wentz with the 15th-highest percentage of turnover-worthy throws in the league. He hasn’t complemented those plays with enough big-time throws, though he’s certainly flashed the big arm and potential that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. It’s been a strong first season for Wentz overall, with the next step being an improved supporting cast and tapping into his big arm to offset some of his inconsistent accuracy and inability to get through his progressions at times.
23. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
2016 overall grade: 71.3
It simply hasn’t been a great year for Flacco, who always gets lauded for his big arm yet ranks 36th out of 38 qualifiers in big-time throws and 31st in deep-ball adjusted completion percentage. At his best, Flacco can drive the ball to the intermediate level while getting the ball down the field at a league-average level, but both parts of his game have been subpar the last two years. He is working with an inconsistent group of receivers and he can use a few more big-bodied options that can win at the catch point, but Flacco’s inability to create down the field has to be concerning for the Ravens.
24. Eli Manning, New York Giants
2016 overall grade: 50.6
The Giants are winning, but Manning continues to show signs of regression. He’s coming off his best game of the season against the Lions, but it’s hard to ignore the poor decision-making and inaccuracy that have marred his season. He leads the league with 29 turnover-worth plays (luckily only 13 interceptions) and only complemented them with the 25th-highest percentage of big-time throws. When throwing from a clean pocket, Manning has a passer rating of 94.8, good for 21st in the NFL.
25. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
2016 overall grade: 51.4
It’s been a disaster of a season for Bortles, who took strides last year in his second season. He’s been off since the beginning of 2016. He’s tied for fifth with 24 turnover-worthy throws, some of which have been blatant misreads of coverage and others simply terrible accuracy. He ranks 30th out of 37 qualifiers in adjusted completion percentage at 69.2 percent, so the next head coach in Jacksonville has work to do to get back to his promising form of 2015.
26. Matt Barkley, Chicago Bears
2016 Grade: 82.6
The stats haven’t been great for Barkley, but having a league-high 10.5 percent of his passes dropped certainly hasn’t helped matters. Barkley has been extremely impressive in his four starts, as he’s continued to make big throws even when not receiving help from his teammates. In his small sample, he has the highest percentage of positively graded throws in the league, and while that number will certainly come down, Barkley has turned a lot of heads with his performance this season.
27. Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos
2016 overall grade: 50.4
Siemian is limited as a passer, often needing a clean vision of the play pre-snap in order to succeed. This leads to plenty of inconsistency, both on a week-to-week and a play-for-play basis. In the grand scheme of things, he’s performed well for a quarterback with low expectations, but he’s also a hindrance for a Denver team that still features a championship-level defense.
28. Cody Kessler, Cleveland Browns
2016 overall grade: 74.2
Kessler has been what we thought he was coming out of USC. He’s a safe passer, ranking sixth in avoiding turnover-worthy plays, but he’s also not going to make plays down the field as he has the fourth-lowest percentage of big-time throws in the league. Kessler generally does a good job of avoiding negative plays, but the question now lies in how much that is worth going forward.
29. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
2016 overall grade: 52.2
Kaepernick has performed at a slightly better level than last year, still not instilling confidence that he’s back on track to be a long-term starter in the league. He ranks 33rd in adjusted completion percentage at 68.1 percent and his 92.6 passer rating from a clean pocket ranks 29th in the league.
30. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
2016 overall grade: 44.5
It hasn’t been pretty for Goff, though some blame can certainly be placed on the offensive scheme and supporting cast. He’s been under pressure on 42.7 percent of his dropbacks, fourth-highest in the NFL, and his 42.2 passer rating on those plays ranks 32nd. Goff has looked overwhelmed at times, promising at others, and a new system and uptick in surrounding personnel will give us a much better gauge of his potential.
31. Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets
2016 overall grade: 40.6
Fitzpatrick never really played as well as his stats showed last season and this year has been a mess since the beginning. He has the sixth-highest percentage of turnover-worthy plays and he has the second-highest percentage of negatively graded throws. Fitzpatrick is better than he’s shown this season, but it may be difficult to find another starting opportunity this offseason.
32. Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans
2016 overall grade: 40.9
One of the biggest stories of the offseason was the investment the Texans made in Osweiler and it has not worked out to this point. The Texans continue to win despite Osweiler who ranks third in the league with 26 turnover-worthy throws and 29th in adjusted completion percentage at 69.7 percent. He showed better than this in Denver, so there is some hope he can turn it around, but Osweiler has looked uncomfortable and inaccurate all season.