Ranking all 32 NFL starting QBs
Steve Palazzolo puts every NFL starting quarterback in order, ahead of the 2015 season.
Ranking all 32 NFL starting QBs
The most important position in sports is getting its own weekly space here at PFF, starting with a ranking of the top 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. You’ll see our new PFF rating listed next to each quarterback, a number that reflects the last two seasons of action, though I’ve added a little more context with regard to schemes, trends, and slightly more weighting to the 2014 season to come up with my own tiered power ranking as we head into 2015.
- Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (92.8)
Rodgers can do it all, from making good decisions to throwing accurately to making plays with his legs. Throw in his pre-snap command at the line of scrimmage and you have the perfect combination of physical gifts and mental acumen. Rodgers is the class of the league.
- Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (89.5)
Reports of Brees’ decline have been exaggerated, as he was still one of the top QBs in the league last season, though he did make a few uncharacteristic bad decisions, and they all seemed to come at the worst time. He still had plenty of well-placed deep passes, and his short and intermediate accuracy remained at an elite level. Brees is still a top echelon quarterback.
- Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (87.3)
Previously more of a Tier-2 type of quarterback, Roethlisberger took his game to a new level in 2014. His game against the Colts in Week 8 was one of the best we’ve ever seen (+10.7), and he posted only three negative games all season. With Antonio Brown establishing himself as one of the league’s best receivers and Le’Veon Bell doing the same at running back, Roethlisberger is poised to improve even more as he heads into his 12th season.
- Tom Brady, New England Patriots (83.9)
Brady bounced back from a subpar 2013 and rough start to 2014 to regain his spot as one of the league’s top quarterbacks, ranking second among all QBs with a +27.8 grade over the last 12 weeks of the season. He capped it with a game-winning beauty of a touchdown to Brandon LaFell against the Ravens in the Divisional Round and one of the most impressive fourth quarters in Super Bowl history to add a fourth ring to his resume.
- Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos (85.3)
One of the league’s all-time best took a step back last season and it started well before the stats turned ugly late in the year. We had Manning’s struggles starting in Week 9, as he started to get away with a number of risky passes thrown into coverage. Still, a new run-heavy system may be just what he needs to mitigate the decline as he heads into his 18th year in the league.
- Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers (85.6)
Rivers bounced back nice from a subpar 2012 season to re-establish himself as one of the league’s best in 2013. He continued that roll early in 2014 before grading at -3.3 over his last eight games of the year, but his body of work keeps him solidly in Tier 2. Overall, he’s one of the league’s best when throwing to the intermediate level, and he handles pressure better than most.
- Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys (83.3)
While the stats showed a career year for Romo last season (league-leading 113.2 passer rating), we saw very much the same QB that we’ve seen in recent years — and that’s a very good player who slots into Tier 2 among his piers. That’s certainly no knock on Romo, as much of the negative backlash he’s gotten over the years has been unfounded. He’s more than capable of leading a Super Bowl run in any given season.
- Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (82.9)
Ryan has been consistently good since entering the league in 2008, and 2014 was no exception, despite the Falcons’ struggles. He has great chemistry with star WR Julio Jones, and Ryan’s ability to anticipate throws in the middle of the field is as good as any QB in the league. He will struggle at times, as he did in the season finale last year with a playoff spot on the line, but he’s done enough to keep him firmly in Tier 2.
- Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (78.9)
While many consider Luck a top-5 quarterback at this stage in his career, he’s just not there yet. He makes as many big-time throws as any QB in the league, but he complements them with a handful of poor decisions every game. Once he cuts back on the poor decisions, particularly trying to throw (and fumbling) while in the grasp of defenders, he should make the move up to the top tier.
- Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (82.5)
While many saw Wilson coming into his own in his third season, we saw a quarterback who took a step back from the impressive standard he set in his first two years. He wasn’t as good as his stats showed for much of the season, and that caught up to him by the end, but he’s still the league’s most dangerous quarterback outside the pocket and he does more damage from inside the pocket than often given credit for.
- Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins (80.7)
We’re higher on Tannehill than most, perhaps because he’s more consistent than flashy. He’s graded well in all three years of his career, and when his stats look better this season, it won’t necessarily be because he made a major jump as a player, but it will be because he’s getting better play from his teammates. That transition already started in the second half last season, as Tannehill’s play changed little, but the stats started to catch up and reflect his solid play.
- Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (75.5)
Newton is similar to Tannehill in that he has always been a consistently good quarterback, though the numbers don’t always reflect his play. He got as little help from his playmakers as any quarterback in the league last year, as his PFF pass rating ranked 13th while his passer rating was only 33rd. He does bring a special dimension with his ability in the run game that helps his rank here.
- Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens (76.2)
Similar to Eli Manning in that he’s often defined by postseason success and regular-season inconsistency, Flacco turned things around last year after a disastrous 2013. The Ravens’ new scheme opened up big opportunities at the intermediate level, and Flacco did a nice job of taking advantage and throwing in rhythm on those plays.
- Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings (79.3)
Despite reports to the contrary, Bridgewater was head and shoulders above the rest of the rookie class last season, and he looked even more comfortable this preseason. Early on, he profiled as similar to Alex Smith, which is actually quite impressive to avoid turnover-worthy plays at the rate in which he did as a rookie. The second half of last season saw him open things up, add some big-time throws to the arsenal, and if that trend continues, Bridgewater may be looking at Tier 2 a year from now.
- Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs (79.8)
Perhaps too conservative when placed on the big-time to turnover-worthy throw spectrum (40th in big-time throw percentage, lowest percentage of turnover-worthy throws), there’s something to taking care of the football and keeping the team in games. That’s what Smith is at this point, though he’s flashed the ability to make big plays throughout his career. His next step is making those plays more often and not merely relying on short passes and yards after the catch.
- Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals (74.9)
There was a time when Palmer looked like a Tier-2 quarterback with top-tier potential, but those days are long behind him as he heads into his 13th season in the league. He played well at times last season, making a number of big-time throws before going down to injury. Palmer is still capable of leading a playoff team, as he appeared on his way to doing last season.
- Eli Manning, New York Giants (69.9)
One of the more interesting careers of any QB in recent time, Manning wasn’t as bad as the stats showed in 2013 (69.5 passer rating), but he also wasn’t as good as they showed last season (92.1 passer rating). He did take to new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s scheme that saw him get the ball out of his hands quicker and make better decisions, so Year 2 in the system, combined with WR Odell Beckham establishing himself as one of the league’s best, could prove to be a good one.
- Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (74.3)
Stafford is one of the few quarterbacks in recent years to overcome early-career struggles, though there is still a final step that appears to be missing. 2013 looked like he turned a corner for the better, and his first game of 2014 was one of the best we saw from any QB all season, but following it up with negatives in eight of the next nine games was concerning. Stafford is headed down a path very similar to Cutler, where we may be left wondering if and when the light will go from flickering to full power to see just what his potential may bring.
- Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles (70.6)
Two years of Chip Kelly’s offense has shown that average to subpar quarterback play can still put up pretty stats, and that’s what Bradford is primed for this season. He looks more capable than either Nick Foles or Mark Sanchez of hitting the open throws provided by the offensive system, so expect a rejuvenation as Bradford heads to Philadelphia.
- Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (72.3)
Kaepernick has failed to improve upon his dynamic 2012 debut that saw him lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl. His best plays are as good as any in the league, but he hasn’t developed the necessary parts of his game to take it to the next level, whether that be throwing with touch on underneath throws or showing patience in the pocket to make plays against zone coverage. The tools are impressive, but if he doesn’t take a step forward, he’ll remain a middle-of-the-pack quarterback.
- Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears (70.8)
The yearly narrative around Cutler usually involves his big arm, upside, and a new offensive system that will rejuvenate his career. Enter new offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, who is the latest charged with the task of maximizing Cutler’s skill set. The reality is that Cutler is what he is at this point, and that’s a quarterback capable of looking like top-10 quarterback every few seasons, but one that usually settles in at that 15-20 mark. He had a rough 2014 that saw him grade 34th as a passer despite a passer rating of 87.8.
- Nick Foles, St. Louis Rams (76.5)
The gaudy stats that Foles put up in 2013 were something of a mirage (27 TD, 2 INT, league-leading passer rating of 119.2), as he only graded at 14th as a passer for PFF, showing that the stats were inflated by the work of teammates and some interception luck (also the aforementioned Chip Kelly system). Last year was a step back to normalcy for Foles and likely more of an indication of who he really is (22nd-highest PFF grade), and the Rams should expect more of the same.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets (79.3)
Fitzpatrick is probably better than most will give him credit for, though once too much credit is thrown his way, he’ll come back to bite you. Last season he played well for the Houston Texans, as he graded 14th overall, but much like Dalton, he makes too many head-scratching decisions to gain the long-term trust of an organization. However, career stopgap is a step above career clipboard wielder, and that’s where Fitzpatrick slots in.
- Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Rookie)
Last season’s Jameis Winston did not look like a first-round pick, but 2013 Winston was outstanding as he put together one of the greatest freshman seasons in college football history. His initial campaign was littered with big-time throws, while last season was a sea of poor decisions and forced throws into coverage. So which Winston will the Bucs get? Perhaps a bit of both, as he has some nice playmakers to throw to in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, but there’s sure to be some rookie growing pains, especially behind a questionable offensive line.
- Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans (Rookie)
Mariota’s transition from Oregon’s offense will be one of the biggest stories of the season, and early returns looked pretty good for the Titans. He’s had about one major mistake per game, whether a bad interception or one that should have been, but for the most part, Mariota has looked comfortable in the offense and shown the same penchant for finding the open man as he did at Oregon. However, the real test will be the regular season.
- Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals (74.3)
The Dalton Coaster (TM) is the one attraction Bengals fans wish they were too tall to ride, as Dalton’s week-to-week inconsistency can be maddening for fans and disastrous for coaches. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson did a nice job of mitigating the ups and downs early last season, but Dalton reverted back to form with a -7.7 dud followed by a +6.8 impressive showing in weeks 10 and 11. Right now, there are too many of the duds, especially when they continue to coincide with early-round playoff exits.
- Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins (52.8)
Consistency, or lack thereof, is the prevailing theme in this tier, and Cousins fits the bill. He was impressive in his first two games last season, particularly a +5.0 effort against the Eagles in Week 3, but he followed it up with a -6.4 effort the next week against the Giants and a -6.5 mark against the Cardinals in Week 6. He’ll alternate between “wow” throws and head-scratching decisions, and that makes him difficult to get behind as a long-term solution at this point in his career.
- Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders (51.6)
There were enough good games to give hope to the Raiders that Carr is their guy, but his rookie season was still marred with inconsistency. He struggled against pressure and against the blitz, two areas where he needs to make major improvements if he’s going to be the franchise guy in Oakland.
- Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars (41.6)
It was a rough rookie season for Bortles, who managed only two positively graded games among his 14 outings. He has once again shown promise this preseason in the Jaguars’ new offense, and that should bring optimism in Jacksonville and a couple big steps in the right direction are what they should be hoping for in 2015.
- Josh McCown, Cleveland Browns (62.2)
McCown had an apparent career rejuvenation in 2013, as he played well in an eight-game stint while also receiving a lot of help from his supporting cast to post a passer rating of 109.0. He came back down to reality last season with the Bucs as he ranked 34th overall by PFF standards. It’s all about how he handles pressure, to which he’s often oblivious, for better or for worse.
- Brian Hoyer, Houston Texans (53.2)
A mediocre season went off the rails in Week 11 for Hoyer, as he went from a league-average quarterback to below-average in a hurry, grading at -21.4 over his last five games. Perhaps leading the charge for a familiar face in Bill O’Brien will help his cause, but he’ll have to shore up the poor decision-making that marred his late-season swoon.
- Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills (59.6)
With just 128 snaps of regular-season action since entering the league in 2011, we don’t really know what to expect from Taylor in his first season as starter. He showed well in preseason, sitting in the pocket to move the chains and effectively picking his spots to use his athleticism as a runner. He’s a wild card on this list, though if the Bills defense is as good as we think it is, caretaker of the football will be Taylor’s most important job this season.