Why Carson Palmer is NFL’s No. 1 QB right now

Carson Palmer proved with his play against Seattle why he is the top quarterback in the NFL right now.

| 11 months ago
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Why Carson Palmer is NFL’s No. 1 QB right now

When PFF put Carson Palmer in our mid-season All-Pro team it was met with plenty of pushback from Tom Brady supporters who believed Brady to be the only correct name for that spot. Heading into this week Brady and Palmer were actually even with a 96.8 grade in our system, tied for best in the league, so we were literally splitting two players with nothing between them.

Our analysts eventually decided that what Palmer was doing within the Arizona Cardinals’ offense was marginally more impressive than what Brady was doing within the Patriots’, and so he earned the spot.

This week saw some evidence to back that up. Palmer made some of the most spectacular throws of the week despite heavy and sustained pressure by the Seahawks, and cemented his place as the best quarterback in the NFL this season by leading Arizona to a critical division road victory.

Brady was far from poor this week, and did mount a game-winning drive to topple the Giants, but did so only after gift-wrapping the game to them by airmailing a horrendous pass straight to Giants rookie safety Landon Collins, who dropped it.

This isn’t to knock Brady, but merely to illustrate that he too has poor passes that people were using to slight Palmer, it’s just that so far this season his have yet to cost the team through the ineptitude of opposition players. If Collins hangs on to that ball, the Patriots lose the game because of a Brady mistake — much like happened to Palmer against the Steelers earlier in the year.

But let’s focus on Palmer and the job he is doing within one of the league’s most demanding offenses. Arizona head coach Bruce Arians likes to attack deep down the field, which makes his system a rare throwback in a league that is becoming ever more horizontal when it comes to stretching a defense. Brady averages 7.7 yards down the field with every pass attempt. The league average depth of target is 8.7. Palmer’s average depth of target is a league-leading 11.5 yards.

He is attacking the intermediate and deep levels of the defense with an unheard-of efficiency, despite an offensive line that sees him pressured on 42.2 percent of his dropbacks – the third-most in the NFL.

On passes that travel 10-plus yards from the line of scrimmage, Palmer is completing 61.8 percent of his passes for a passer rating of 120.6 on the season. Against Seattle, he was 14 of 18 on those plays. These are the throws with the tightest windows and are the most difficult to hit regularly.

Palmer was our third-highest-graded quarterback of the week, and the only thing holding him back from another excellent grade was two fumbles, both of which were recovered by Seattle and showed poor ball security by Palmer. With turnovers so important in determining the victor of any game, PFF’s system is hard on players that put the ball on the ground, and those plays often get forgotten when evaluating quarterback performance.

Part of being a great quarterback is understanding when a play is dead and going into damage limitation mode. Being sacked is bad, but coughing the ball up in that sack and handing it to the opposition in the shadow of your goal line is so much worse.

Palmer’s ball security hurt his team, but both fumbles came after catastrophic breakdowns in the Cardinals’ protection, something he has been dealing with all season.

What makes both Brady’s and Carson Palmer’s MVP credentials so strong are the holes they are papering over around them. Both players are masking deficiencies on their offensive lines via different methods, and while Brady’s role might be producing more gaudy statistics for him personally, Palmer’s role is arguably a tougher one to execute with such incredible efficiency.

Right now, Palmer is the best quarterback in the NFL.

| Senior Analyst

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

  • Michael Keane

    is carson down 4 tackles,and 2 of his top 3 receivers and his best running back/

    • JT

      Blount is a starting RB caliber anyway and Gronk alone is better than a team’s worth of WRs….and Edelman was playing all season outside of the Giants which Brady struggled in and was lucky the punt pass wasn’t easily picked off.

      • Scott West

        Pressure got to him before he could complete his throw on that one. He’s been incredibly accurate downfield all season, including the Giants game, hitting bombs to LaFell and Gronk, and one Chandler dropped.

  • Bum Rush

    I dont understand how people keep pushing PFF. This “analysis’ if it can be called that is the epitome of garbage

    • Kyle

      Lol someone’s a salty pats fan. Read the article, it clearly lists why he’s been the best. Cry harder.

      • Bum Rush

        these are the same ‘experts’ that gave rodgers a negative rating when he played lights out. they won’t even reveal exactly how they are graded or who does the grading or what their qualifications are. it’s idiots like you that have kept this highly subjective analysis going

        • PFFSamMonson

          Qualifications always makes me laugh. Can you show me the football degree we can all go get to get qualified? Maybe a masters in NFL? A phd in Spread O?

          • Bum Rush

            exactly. from all we know it’s just a bunch of random guys watching games practically guessing…yes guessing as your founder stated: “A measure of how well they achieved what they attempted to do obviously we don’t know their assignments so this is what we use”. So laugh away but you know your bullsh*t grades have no merit whatsoever.

          • Sincerly rude Brad

            Lol you mad women from getting bum rush bitch.

  • Chris B

    Michael and Bum Rush prove exactly the point he made in the article. People just want to hear one name, in this case Brady, and everyone else is second class. Ok.

  • Lenny

    Well on the last drive last night He was down John Brown and Floyd… So yes to the receivers. (Huge plays to special teams guy Jaron Brown won that game against the best pass D in the league) He is pressured the third most in the league so the Tackle argument is void. Being down Dion sucks but it is not like Blunt is a bum. Carson also does not have a Gronk. The single best weapon in the league.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I think Larry Fitzgerald would add at least 5 points to just about any quarterbacks grade.

    • jason witten

      Same with Gronk.

    • PFFSamMonson

      Really? Fitzgerald looked totally done last year and the Cardinals basically had to turn him into a slot receiver to be viable again. If anything he’s been revived by Palmer, not the other way around

      • krebs

        Fitzgerald was moved to a slot receiver because of Arian’s scheme. Fitz has never looked totally done. He has mastered a new role and is flourishing because of it. Lucky Palmer!

      • mormonrock124

        Maybe having Ryan Lindley and Drew Staton at QB for most of the year was more of the reason than Fitz looking like he was done.

      • Upeo

        He only looked done if you weren’t paying attention, i don’t think you realize how historically bad the QB position has been for this team since Warner retired. (Other than Palmer naturally.)

  • Brian

    This is why these nerds that think football is only about analytics are completely wrong. There isn’t a person alive that isn’t biased that would take palmer over brady. Analytics are a useful tool but just a small piece of the football puzzle. And these guys can’t even accurately grade players as they don’t know what the calls and responsibilities are of each player. They might be right most of the time but even still that makes for inaccuracies. On top of that analytics cannot and do not account for the amount of injured teammates brady has to deal with. He’s missing his top 3 tackles, a starting guard, a starting guard from last season, missed 1 of his starting wrs for half the season in lafell, lost lewis & edelman who are 2 of his top 3 weapons. Add in the fact that brady makes his weapons more effective than they would be with another qb & u get the picture. Also analytics cannot measure heart or clutch ability. Brady is probably the most clutch qb ever & he’s def the most clutch postseason qb ever. Clutch ability in a qb is 1 of the most important parts of playing qb if not the most important and analytics don’t take that into account. There are stats for everything but these sites tend to place them in the context they want to make the point they want. There’s a reason these guys work for a website and not for actually football teams.

    • jason witten

      They’re partnered with several teams.

      • Brian

        Key word partnered. If they were valuable they would be working for those teams. They are partnered w those teams bc those teams have them doing their b*tchwork

        • Ben

          tell me more, all knowing god of football. share with me the knowledge you’ve accumulated from years of watching football on tv from your couch.

          • mormonrock124

            No offense by the analysts at PFF are basically watching football on their couch and writing reports. They typically do not have intimate knowledge of teams offensive game plans, blocking schemes, etc they simply watch and report.

          • Brian

            Sure then I predict you STFU before I ground you son. No more fanboy talk son. Stop talking to the “god of football” and play outside.

        • Nik Hildebrand

          By that logic, consultancy firms aren’t valuable.

          • mormonrock124

            PFF is valuable and allows teams to see value in areas they otherwise would be missing, but their stats aren’t 100% and teams use their stats to go along with their personnel department to get a clearer picture on performance etc. They are using PFF for their information and getting from it an independent view to go against their internal process.

    • krebs

      Then let’s get simple. Did you see Palmer against Seattle last night? How about using the visual test.

    • mormonrock124

      This isn’t so much analytics over the eye test argument though. Palmer is playing great this year as is Brady, but the biggest difference between the two of them is how they are moving their respective offenses. PFF values deep targets and deep throws. It doesn’t matter to the analysts that offensive schemes play a role in decision making for a QB or games plans etc. Palmer throws it deep more accurately than any QB in the NFL therefore he gets the highest grade on this site because that trait is valued more here than other metrics.

      Bottom line he’s been very good this year as has Brady and it would be fair to say these two have been the best QB’s in the NFL which most of the analytics and measurements conclude as well.

      • Brian

        I don’t disagree with anything u said. And like I said I agree palmer is the best deep passer in the game this season, the numbers show that. And I see where they get that palmer is the leagues best qb. What I don’t like is the context in which they put it. They like to say palmer is the best qb in the league. When in reality the truth is more like this: when using certain metrics palmer is the best qb in the league. By the words and context they choose, which is done purposely by these sites, they try to sway us that their metrics are what really matters and in a sense all that matters. When referring to the qb position specifically, there is only so much u can measure with stats, tendicies, etc. They fail to admit that there are aspects to the position and football in general that can’t be measured. And that’s what bothers me. I don’t have a problem with any type of stat or advanced metrics but what I have a problem with is the notion that these measurements and statistics are all that matter.

        • Nik Hildebrand

          “They fail to admit that there are aspects to the position and football in general that can’t be measured.”

          I’ve seen them admit this many times. It’s not the banner headline on every article, though. Maybe it should be.

    • Upeo

      It’s one thing to be a fan of a team, it’s yet another to be completely irrational about it and throw a baby tantrum basically everytime someone dares to say your team isn’t the best at everything ever.

      The fact that you personally think Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are better players than Palmer due to their intangibles and what they’ve done in the past is about as utterly and completely irrelevant to this discussion as talking about how good of a basketball player Michael Jordan was. The MVP is for this season and this season alone, regardless of what has happened in previous ones. Nobody is arguing that Andy Dalton and Cam Newton are better players than Aaron Rodgers, but i hope no one would put Rodgers ahead of them in any MVP voting if it was done right now.

      The fact of the matter is that both are playing brilliantly but Palmer’s brilliance is just a tad harder to execute, and you don’t need advanced statistics to tell you that, just a pair of eye balls and some common sense, something your affiliation with the Pats stops you from having.

    • ELi owns Pats franchise

      Nice fan-girl rant. Your right Brady is a god at cheating and bitching to refs.

  • Aaron22

    The article doesn’t say Brady is playing bad, or that he’s not one of the greatest currently playing or that has ever played. Just that Palmer is playing the best right now. And since you’re spouting your mouth off about the Pat’s lack of starters, try looking at the Cardinals season too. Nearly half the season has been without the starting left guard and starting right tackle. The RB who was the starter week 1 missed several games. The #2 WR who scored on Seattle twice last night missed several games. They’ve put 8 players on IR this year. Yes, Brady is playing lights out and has for years, Rodgers is freakishly accurate with the brain and legs to match, but for 9 games this year neither have been as important or valuable as Palmer – who by the way is the QB for the #1 ranked offense right now. Maybe it’ll be a different story after 7 more games, but that’s what the truth is right now.

  • Scott West

    Palmer’s career has been derailed by injuries so many times, and he’s fought his way back every time. Great to see him playing at a high level on a complete team with good coaching, and getting recognition. I’d love to see the ‘Hawks make a playoff push, then lose to the Cards, and then a Cards/Pats Superbowl with greatest coach/qb duo in history scoring a fifth ring for a poetic cap to SB L.

  • Sam Schell-Olsen

    Brady is playing better then Palmer honestly…but hey its just my opinion