Ranking the NFL’s top 10 QBs entering Week 4

Steve Palazzolo updates the top 10 QB rankings, diving into some of the most compelling performances.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Ranking the NFL’s top 10 QBs entering Week 4

Unfortunately, many of the NFL’s top quarterbacks have been sidelined with injuries already in this young season. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was added to that list on Sunday (luckily, he suffered a severe sprain rather than a season-ending tear). He joins Drew Brees and Tony Romo as some of the league’s top names that are banged up and missing time.

As for those who logged full games on Sunday, Carson Palmer is playing his best football in years, and the Cardinals look like legitimate Super Bowl contenders because of it.

Here’s a look at the updated top 10 quarterbacks by PFF rating. It’s important to keep in mind that these ratings factor in a player’s past 32 games, with recent games weighted more heavily.

1. Aaron Rodgers, GB, 94.4

Is anyone even talking about Aaron Rodgers? His Monday night game lit up the stat sheet, but he also had his first two turnover-worthy plays with a bad misread of coverage and a fumble that got bailed out due to a late penalty. He’s still the best quarterback in the league, though.

2. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT, 89.4

It’s unfortunate to see Roethlisberger miss time, as he’s been at the top of his game and is only one week removed from moving up to No. 2 on this list. He had been throwing the deep pass as well as any quarterback in the league, while peppering the ball around the field with pinpoint accuracy. He’ll be missed.

3. Tom Brady, NE, 87.4

Brady and the Patriots head into their bye week on a high note, as the passing game sparked a 51-17 defeat of the Jaguars. Brady continues to see the field and distribute the ball at a high level, and on passes thrown in the 1-10 yard range, he’s now 61-for-78 (78.0 percent) for 546 yards, eight touchdowns, and no interceptions.

4. Drew Brees, NO, 87.3

After sitting out last week due to a shoulder injury, Brees is hoping to return this week. His shoulder was an obvious issue in his game two weeks ago against the Buccaneers, and it was a big reason for his -5.5 grade in that game.

5. Carson Palmer, ARI, 83.5

The newest member of the top 10, Palmer is off to a great start this season, grading among the likes of Rodgers, Roethlisberger, and Brady through three games. More on his start below.

6. Matt Ryan, ATL, 83.3

Ryan’s connection with Julio Jones continues to give defenses fits, as they went 12-for-18 for 164 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. Ryan showed great accuracy at the intermediate level, and finished the game six-for-eight with 132 yards and a touchdown on passes thrown at least 10 yards down the field.

7. Philip Rivers, SD, 82.4

Sunday provided another rough outing for Rivers, who continues his slide down the list. Even dating back to the second half of 2014, Rivers hasn’t been the same player that was knocking on the door of elite status in 2013 and early 2014. Aside from one beautiful deep strike to WR Malcom Floyd, Rivers struggled on passes thrown beyond 10 yards on Sunday, finishing three-for-nine for 88 yards.

8. Tony Romo, DAL, 82.1

Romo’s broken clavicle will keep him out for an extended period of time. He was replaced by Brandon Weeden last weekend.

9. Peyton Manning, DEN, 81.5

Manning slowed his fall with a strong bounce-back effort against the Lions. He stuck to the short stuff on his way to completing 31-of-42 for 336 yards and two touchdowns, while his late-game touchdown to Owen Daniels was a thing of beauty. More on him below.

10. Russell Wilson, SEA, 81.4

After an outstanding start to his career, Wilson hasn’t had the same week-to-week consistency as a passer the last couple years, but he’s still one of the league’s best run threats, and he’s coming off his best passing game of the season at +2.6. His strong effort, combined with poor games from others, have vaulted him back into the top 10.


What the stats missed

Each week we’ll dive into some of the plays that shaped the statistical landscape around the league. Remember, the NFL’s version of passer rating is a great way to define a passing offense (quarterback plus receivers, pass protection, quality of opposing pass defense, etc.), but it often lacks context when assigning the number to a quarterback’s performance.

Jameis Winston got little help

The stats weren’t kind to Buccaneers rookie QB Jameis Winston, but he played better than the box score will show. He came out firing with some beautiful touch throws: first a deep crosser, then a well-placed go route that was negated by penalty and won’t show up in the stats. He then threw a couple of the well-placed anticipation throws we saw out of him in college, putting the ball on the money on two dig (deep in) routes.

It’s a unique breakdown for Winston, who had five big-time throws (BTTs), but also forced one really bad throw for an interception, while missing on a number of easier throws. A game with five big-time throws to only one turnover-worthy throw should yield better results, but those misses proved costly.

When you add it up, there were a number of big plays that Tampa Bay receivers left on the table, as we credited them with five drops, plus a number of other passes that hit their hands but were defensed. A few more plays, and Winston’s final stat line of 17-for-36 for 261 yards (69.3 passer rating) looks much better.

Peyton bounces back

We saw a much better performance from Peyton Manning, who started to adjust his game in Week 3. After missing on a number of deep passing shots in the first two weeks, Manning stuck with the short and intermediate game to move the chains, relying heavily on his field awareness. The big improvement for Manning was against the blitz, where he was the worst quarterback in the league through two weeks, grading at -6.5 while going 15-of-36 for 112 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. He completely turned it around Sunday night, going 14-for-21 for 181 yards and two touchdowns, good for a +1.2 grade.

As for the deep ball, Manning finally completed his first two of the season, hitting on both attempts for 79 yards and a touchdown. The caveat on both passes: wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both made spectacular catches on under-thrown passes that were open over the top, so while the stats and results looked great, it was by no means a reflection of old Peyton regaining his pinpoint deep ball accuracy.

Manning’s in-season adjustments will be a fascinating to watch, because no quarterback in the history of the NFL is better equipped to make those changes on the fly like Peyton.

Palmer makes his move

Many around the league wrote Palmer off after his two-year stint in Oakland, and an uneven and injury-laden stay in Arizona. But he’s back to playing at a high level, and currently ranks third in our season rankings at +12.9. He’s been dominant at the intermediate (11-20 yards) level, completing 22-of-28 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns.

Palmer’s connection with WR Larry Fitzgerald has yielded a league-high passer rating of 155.8 (23-of-28 for 33 yards, five touchdowns) as both players looked rejuvenated and ready to lead a playoff push in Arizona. Palmer’s consistency will be something to watch, as he’s now put together three straight positive grades for the first time since Weeks 9 through 11 in 2011.

Here’s a look at that Palmer to Fitzgerald connection:

Palmer to Fitz

Sam Monson explored the Palmer-Fitzgerald connection in depth earlier this week.


Stats of the week

– After averaging 2.54 seconds in the pocket through the first two weeks, Ryan Mallett and the Houston Texans took to the quick passing game and averaged only 2.14 seconds on Sunday. A league-high 82.5 percent of his dropbacks lasted less than 2.5 seconds, and he posted his best grade of the season at +1.6.

– Rams QB Nick Foles has had a league-high 11.5 percent of his passes dropped.

– When using play action, Carson Palmer and the Cardinals have a passer rating of 153.3, best in the league.

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • PackMan27

    Aaron Rodgers is the best in the league, AND the best last week. And I don’t care about what coulda-shoulda-woulda happened on the “turnover worthy” plays.

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      don’t get fooled by stat lines, randall cobb was great, rodgers was avg. last week. but of course he’s the best in the league

      • jjthetraveler

        Average?? 5 TDs and you call that average. That tells me you don’t have a clue. A 133+ rating, highest ijn the league. Highest lifetime passer rating, ya right, average.

        • crashby89

          He was good but it is also fair to say that at least 2 of those were on Cobb not Rodgers. He was hit before the endzone twice and still scored.

          • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi


          • Sven

            Re read the grading system, and rematches the game play by play. The PFF grade for Rodgers is ridiculous. It doesn’t fit. Today that it does really shows that you’ve had too much of the PFF cool aid. If you think PFF is right rematch the game.

          • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

            i’ll be sure to rematches the game play by play, whatever that means…

          • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

            i’ll be sure to rematches the game play by play, whatever that means…

        • crashby89

          He was good but it is also fair to say that at least 2 of those were on Cobb not Rodgers. He was hit before the endzone twice and still scored.

        • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

          again, don’t get fooled by the stats… jeez. -0.8 grade last week for a reason. i said “avg last week” and “best in the league” … jesus christ, go watch sportscenter and eat cheese like u normally do and leave the PFF to educated people please

          • PaulyG4

            LOL – what a fucking great response.

      • jjthetraveler

        Average?? 5 TDs and you call that average. That tells me you don’t have a clue. A 133+ rating, highest ijn the league. Highest lifetime passer rating, ya right, average.

  • crashby89

    Agree that watching Peyton will be fascinating. Everyone, including Manning himself knows he has limits now but he can still pull off plays like the beautiful TD pass to Daniels. That play alone shows why he is still dangerous. I really hope they can pull it together and send Manning off into the sunset with another ring.

    • crosseyedlemon

      If they can’t provide Peyton with another ring they should at least see to it that he has an unlimited supply of Ensure and BenGay when he checks into the sunshine home.

  • DanielV77

    Matty Ice!!! Finally getting the respect and props hes deserved since his 1st pro pass (which was a TD by the way)

  • DanielV77

    Matty Ice!!! Finally getting the respect and props hes deserved since his 1st pro pass (which was a TD by the way)

    • Dominick

      i’m a lions fan. i know…

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  • Zach Grace

    The throw Rodgers made to the Chiefs linebacker clearly wasn’t a good decision but it’s not like he hit him in the chest. Pff acts like it was a gimme pick 6 while in reality it would have been a fantastic play for the lb to have held on

    • crashby89

      It was the first throw I have seen in a long time from Rodgers where I was shocked at just how bad of a throw it was. I would say more often than not that is a pick. Even Rodgers knew it frome his reaction.

    • Richard

      I agree with you, it was a 1 handed attempt that would rarely, if ever be caught by a linebacker. While grading the game myself, I did not charge Rodgers with a pick 6 interception. I did charge him with an interception and he was at fault for the drive failure because he could have pump faked it and the same receiver would have been wide open a second later. Rodgers came out looking better in my grading system than this one, earning a GOOD level grade for the game rather than an average grade. I will try to get a write-up of it done sometime tonight.


  • JR

    Unfortunately for Carson, he’s had a cakewalk schedule so far. Interested to see how he ranks when he plays tougher defenses.

    • Bill Doerr

      Cakewalk?? None thought the Bears were push overs when they almost beat GB in week 1 or that SF was when they started out 1-1 !! AZ just destroyed every team they have played , its not like they are barely beating these teams. They have scored the 3rd most points n NFL History thru 3 games scoring 126 , allowing only 49 with an insane +77 Point differential.
      SEA just played those same Bears and had a lot of trouble putting them away in SEAs own stadium for 3 quarters. It was 6 to 0 at halftime .

      • enai D

        Lol wut? Everyone knew the Bears were going to be terribad this year. Same with SF. The Cardinals have been lights out- albeit against the worst competition the NFL has to offer. Granted, they can only play the opponent they have each week- but still let’s tap the brakes a little here on crowning the Cardinals the next SB champs.

      • JR

        The Bears had Cutler when they “almost beat” the Packers, as you say. “Almost” only counts in horseshoe and hand grenades. When they routed the 49ers, Kaep threw 4 picks, two of went for touchdowns in the 1st half. Palmer is getting a lot of help from his defense, I’m generally interested in seeing how he plays against tougher defenses/better teams.

      • David Stinnett

        Depends how you look at it. AZ allowed 23 points more than SEA and beat them by 1 less point. Seattle has always done most their offense in the 2nd half anyway. It’s worked so far- nothing new. Are you new?

    • Darnell

      That’s why grand projections and predictions about teams this early is always so silly. Right now, the 3-0 teams that actually “feel” 3-0 are the Packers and Patriots.

      A lot of teams would be 3-0 if they had drawn the Cardinals first 3 opponents. Those are three of the very worst teams in the league. A team with Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and Chris Johnson better be good early, because those old dudes will be running on empty in a couple months.

  • crosseyedlemon

    It’s scary to think what Larry Fitzgerald could do if he had Brady or Rodgers passing to him.

  • burjur

    People are obviously thrown off by Rodgers grade which does not take into account pre snap reads and drawing offside penalties. The problem is that people view these grades as empirical data that is the end all be all. Every stat and metric used to examine performances has limitations. I thought Rodgers was fantastic because of the mental side of his game. His physical performance was fine (by my view) and he certainly didn’t make the amazing death-defying throws we often see him make. I enjoy pff for this reason and I’m sure they will acknowledge as such.

  • DesertRover

    Rivers is second in completion % and 3rd in yards per attempt while his o-line crumbles before him. It’s not Rivers who is fading but the front line.
    Dallas knew what it was doing when it focused on getting great players for the o-line, with new found success for Romo and a great year by Murray. How is Murray doing now with Philly?

  • crosseyedlemon

    Negative grade for the graph which makes no sense. Probably would have been a better idea to show a graph of QB efficiency relative to the time spent by QB in the pocket.

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