Sure, the tier meme format has come and gone, but do you know what never goes away? Debates about quarterbacks. Is this guy a franchise quarterback? Which quarterbacks are elite and which ones aren’t? And my personal favorite, who is or isn’t a system quarterback? Today, I list the five different tiers of quarterbacks and place all 32 starters where I think they belong.
My Quarterback Tier List
Too Soon To Tell
These are the young guns that I just don’t feel comfortable judging yet. They haven’t played badly, but they also haven’t proven to be anything really special just yet, in my eyes at least.
It’s weird to say that Jimmy Garoppolo, who is 27 years old, has two Super Bowl rings, and was drafted in 2014 hasn’t shown us enough yet, but that’s the truth. Because he spent the majority of his young career either injured or backing up Tom Brady. Ultimately, he’s only started in ten games, and while he won eight of them, that’s just not enough to know if he’s really a franchise quarterback yet. Unfortunately for the San Francisco 49ers, the quarterback market didn’t give them a chance to find out before making him one of the highest paid players in NFL history.
Sam Darnold’s rookie season went about as well as you can expect rookie seasons to go. He didn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, and his stats leave a lot to be desired, but he put some really good film on the field. He had a couple of performances the Jets would like to forget, namely a four interception game against the Miami Dolphins , but he also made some really impressive reads and throws that should have the Jets feeling optimistic.
Mitch Trubisky is entering his big “prove-it” year here in 2019. Trubisky is a very divisive figure in the world of quarterback speculation, with some saying he’s just a system quarterback in Matt Nagy’s scheme that lacks production while others say he’s just making up for a lack of experience in college with growing pains. He does have a six-touchdown game under his belt, and he was able to help lead the Bears on a decent run to the post-season. But when you compare his success to the success of his draftmates, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, he leaves a lot to be desired.
Almost exactly a year after the Arizona Cardinals used a first round pick to select Josh Rosen, he was traded to the Miami Dolphins, and if he thought he had a lot to prove before, he really does now. Sure, the Arizona Cardinals were devoid of playmakers on offense and Rosen sat behind an offensive line made of second and third stringers, but that doesn’t completely excuse some really bad play. He had twice as many games with multiple turnovers (six) as he did with games where he had over 200 passing yards (three). Hopefully a change of scenery helps rejuvenate a young career before it’s too late.
The Rookie Quarterbacks
Obviously I can’t speak on the likes of Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, or Drew Lock yet, as they haven’t even suited up for a preseason football game yet. I have ideas as to where I think they’ll end up next year, but it’s far, far too soon to tell.
These are the guys that you’re hoping aren’t starting all sixteen games for you, or at least that require a very specific scheme to thrive. The difference between a gimmick quarterback and a system quarterback is that a gimmick quarterback is completely one-dimensional, or at least thrives specifically at one thing (like running) instead of fitting the conventional quarterback mold.
Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson
I know it’s not fair to give Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold passes for growing pains but to condemn another pair of rookie quarterbacks, but I just don’t see it for them. Neither guy broke 60% for their completion percentage, and combined for 15 interceptions and 20 fumbles to only 29 touchdowns. The benefit of a running quarterback is that they don’t turn the ball over because they can take off and run on dead passing plays, but these two didn’t get the memo. I hope I’m wrong and both guys turn into prolific passers, but I’ve seen enough players like Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, Vince Young, Tyrod Taylor, Kordell Stewart, and Terrelle Pryor to be optimistic.
I feel bad for Marcus Mariota, because he just hasn’t had the right coaching to succeed in the NFL. Sure, his Titans teams are never terrible, coming off their third consecutive 9-7 season, but they’re never really good either. And that applies to Mariota as well.
Injuries have been a problem, but he’s never broken 3,500 yards passing, and he hasn’t throw more than 20 touchdowns in three of his four seasons. Over the last two seasons, he’s nearly thrown as many interceptions (23) as touchdowns (24). It would be one thing if he was rushing for 600 yards ever year a la Michael Vick, but he hasn’t even rushed for 400 yards in a season yet.
I have this gut feeling that Ryan Tannehill ends up starting at quarterback for the Titans at some point this season .
These are the guys that could reasonably start for most teams on any given Sunday, but could fall victim to an exceptional quarterback class. If Tom Brady became a free agent tomorrow, these are some of the guys that would be sweating through the spring.
I want to like Jameis Winston, I really do. Coming out of college, he reminded me a lot of Ben Roethlisberger on the field. He’s a big, strong quarterback that can sling the ball downfield. Unfortunately, his comparisons to Roethlisberger don’t stop at the sideline, and his decision making off the field makes Winston hard to root for.
After a really, really promising start to his career, Winston has fallen off a little bit. He started his career with back-to-back 4,000 yard, 20+ touchdown seasons, but hasn’t done so since. You might be wondering why he’s a starter in my eyes, and not a back-up/gimmick guy.
Because the devil is in the details, are there are reasons to be optimistic that, especially under Bruce Arians, Winston can be a passable quarterback. Each year of his career, his completion percentage has gone up, including 64.6% rate in 2018, and his yards per attempt is still a very impressive 7.9 over that span.
He didn’t break 4,000 yards or 20 touchdowns over the last two seasons, but he also missed a combined nine starts with various injuries and suspensions. I bet if you averaged together the numbers from his starts, he’d put together a decent season. I don’t know, he’s still the worst quarterback in his division, but I don’t think he’s nearly as bad as people think he is.
The second coming of Jim Plunkett has had a wild career. He took over for Michael Vick after the Madden legend went down with an injury in 2012, but he failed to make a real splash, going 1-5 in his first six starts. The next season, he and Vick competed for the starting job, but ultimately lost out in training camp. However, the injury bug struck Vick again, giving Foles plenty of opportunities to start, where he played extremely well, eventually leading them to the playoffs.
However, the year after, he just didn’t play as well, though a lot of that might have been due in part to Chip Kelly’s nonsense and losing his number one target, DeSean Jackson. The following off-season, he was traded to the St. Louis Rams, where he played miserably.
After spending a year as Alex Smith’s back-up in Kansas City, Foles returned to Philadelphia, where he eventually took over for an injured Carson Wentz and led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl Championship. The following season, he took over for Wentz, and after taking the team on a 4-1 run, led them back to the playoffs again. This off-season, he was allowed to test free agency and signed a big deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
So what do you make of this guy? He’s never started all 16 games, and every time he’s been the starter when the season started, he played horribly. But on three different occasions, he’s taken over for an injured Eagles quarterback and led them to the post-season, winning a Super Bowl. What kind of quarterback are the Jaguars getting? Only one way to find out.
Dak Prescott has had the easiest start to a career that I’ve ever seen, and he hasn’t done a whole lot with it. How many young quarterbacks come into the NFL and get paired with arguably the league’s best tailback and offensive line? Then the team builds arguably the NFL’s best defense? And then the team trades for a “number one” receiver in Amari Cooper?
Now, in all fairness, Dak is 32-16 as a starter, and he has more playoff wins than Derek Carr, Matt Stafford, Andy Dalton, Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, and Mitch Trubisky combined. He’s been very, very consistent, and some would argue that’s all you need your starting quarterback to do.
But he’s also been wildly unimpressive statistically. In an era where just about anybody can break 4,000 yards, Prescott hasn’t passed 3,900, and his career high in touchdown passes is 23. That wouldn’t be a problem, but he’s expecting to get paid like a franchise guy when frankly, he isn’t one, at least not yet anyway.
It might be a little jarring to see the reigning NFC Champion so low on this list, especially after a fantastic 2018 season, but frankly, it’s the reasons he’s only the reigning NFC Champion, and not a reigning Super Bowl champion that holds him back. He was absolutely putrid against the New England Patriots in the biggest game of the season, looking completely lost and inept for all four quarters. His defense held Tom Brady to 13 points and he failed to lead them to a single touchdown.
I like Goff, but I can’t help but wonder if he isn’t just a part of Sean McVay’s system. Could the quarterback genius get similar production out of another quarterback? It’s tough, because in reality, all quarterbacks are system quarterbacks, but when the light shone the brightest, Goff wilted instead of blooming.
I asked all of my friends who came to mind when I said the words “average quarterback” and almost all of them said Andy Dalton. It’s true, when you google “average quarterback” in images, Andy Dalton is the first quarterback that comes up. His stats are rarely spectacular, but they’re not terrible either. The Bengals are never the worst team in football, but they’re not making deep playoff runs either. Andy Dalton isn’t good enough to carry your team to victory but not bad enough that you necessarily need to replace him. Maybe the coaching change in Cincinnati will show us who Andy Dalton really is.
Derek Carr is such a funny case because he could really end up anywhere on this list and some people wouldn’t blink. He’s had a rough time in Oakland, with 2019 being only the second time in his career where he’s had the same offensive coordinator in consistent seasons. Throw in a few injuries and a questionable supporting cast, and it’s no wonder he hasn’t been able to replicate his 2016 success. However, if he struggles in 2019 with his revamped receiving group and offensive line, the whispers about finding a new quarterback for Jon Gruden will turn into murmurs.
You might be thinking that “nobody thinks Derek Carr is an elite quarterback” and all that says is that you don’t follow any Raiders fans on twitter. Be careful what you tweet, because when they come, they come for blood.
It could be argued that Kirk Cousins should be in the next category, but he’s just missing something. His numbers were really solid last year, but nobody’s afraid of Kirk Cousins coming to town, even with arguably the best receiving group in the NFL. Maybe it’s because he took a team that was in the NFC Championship the year before, along with a massive contract, and then didn’t even make it to the post-season. His numbers are solid, but Cousins is still lacking that star-making performance that makes everyone say, “oh wow, the Vikings made the right decision” instead of everyone saying, “man, how smart are the Redskins?”
Matt Stafford is another really curious case at quarterback. He never seems to be as good or as bad as people say he is. He has the ability to put up huge numbers, as we’ve seen in the past, but that 5,000 yard season was eight years ago and he hasn’t looked anywhere near as good since. Throw in the fact that he has a losing record as a starter and hasn’t won a playoff game yet, and it’s just hard to get excited about Stafford’s future prospects.
Eli Manning is in the uncomfortable position of having lost his best weapon over the off-season while the team drafted his replacement. It seems like 2019 will likely be the last year of his career, with Daniel Jones breathing down his neck and a shaky offensive line trying to protect him while making space for Saquon Barkley. Eli’s had a solid career, and it’s not likehis numbers have been horrible lately, they just haven’t been great.
At the end of the day, we all have to be grateful that Manning played when he did, or else the Patriot Empire might have eight Super Bowls instead of only six.
Somewhere out there, a very vocal minority still believes wholeheartedly that Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback. They point to his legendary Super Bowl post-season where he put up numbers that Joe Montana and Tom Brady couldn’t scoff at, and reference the number of coaching changes, missed draft picks, and terrible receiving corps that have haunted his career.
Those are some valid excuses, but the reality is that as a player, you don’t get to control who gets hired or fired, you can only control how you play on the field. And on the field, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Flacco does have a fantastic arm, is unflappable, and has nearly 30 more wins than losses so far in his 11 year career.
But statistically, Joe Flacco has never been spectacular. He averages 3,477 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions a season. That’s just not enough to write home to Mom about, and honestly, he’ll probably lose his job to Drew Lock before the leaves fall this season.
These are the guys that are in no risk of losing their jobs, but that don’t consistently perform on an elite level. On any given season, they can fluctuate into the elite tier, but they haven’t been able to consistently deliver enough to break through the glass ceiling.
The Eagles young quarterback has looked great when he’s played, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Let’s see what happens to him now that his safety net, Nick Foles, has gone elsewhere.
In this group, Matt Ryan is definitely an outlier, but make no mistake, he belongs. 2018 was his eighth straight season with at least 4,000 passing yards, and the third time he had over 30 touchdowns. He’s a former league MVP, and when you look at how many injuries the Falcons suffered this year, it’s no wonder nobody noticed that he nearly threw for 5,000 yards with 35 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
He is partially responsible for the biggest choke job in NFL history though, I know Falcons fans have heard enough of that, but until he wins a Super Bowl, that’s always going to be a huge part of his legacy, I’m sorry.
I’m not just on the Deshaun Watson bandwagon, I’m driving it. I’ve put him in my MVP conversation, and assuming Houston’s makeshift offensive line can adequately pretend to block for 16 games, I think he’s primed for a huge year. In his 24 career starts, he only really ever had two bad games (more interceptions than touchdowns), which is impressive when you consider he has just as many games with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He threw for 4,165 yards, 26 touchdowns, and only nine interceptions this year, despite getting sacked 61 times, which is six more than the next guy.
There’s been a ton of speculation, and perhaps fairly so, about what kind of teammate Ben Roethlisberger is this off-season, but that doesn’t change the fact that year in and year out, he’s consistently one of the better quarterbacks in football. Over the last seven years or so, Roethlisberger has consistently thrown for something in the neighborhood of 4,000 yards, 27 touchdowns, and a winning season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. A two-time Super Bowl Champion and easily Pittsburgh’s all-time leading passer, Big Ben belongs near the top of any quarterback ranking. He’s getting up there in years, but he’s coming off a year where he led the NFL in passing yards.
Some people might say it’s way too early to put Baker Mayfield up here, especially when his classmates are considered “too soon to tell” or a gimmick player, but I disagree. Baker Mayfield took a team with a 1-31 record over the previous two seasons, and did just about everything he could to lead them to the post-season. He broke the rookie touchdown record that Peyton Manning set and Russell Wilson tied with 16 full starts in 13 and a half games.
From the first time he stepped on a NFL field, he looked like a seasoned veteran. He absolutely shredded the Raiders in his first start, albeit in a loss, and played with such confidence that it was impossible to not root for him. I have my concerns about Freddie Kitchens and Odell Beckham Jr. moving forward, but there’s zero doubt in my mind that Baker Mayfield is a baller.
Philip Rivers is borderline elite. If he could just get over the hump and play more consistently or at the very least, win a game that mattered, he’d be launched into the stratosphere. His draftmates, Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, have multiple championships, and Rivers hasn’t been able to win anything but a few games against the Raiders. In ten of his last 11 seasons, Rivers has broken 4,000 yards passing, boasting at least 30 touchdowns in more than half of them. At some point though, those big numbers have to translate into meaningful wins, and he needs to cut down on those turnovers.
Here they are, the best of the best, the elite quarterbacks. These are the $30,000,000 men. When a team spends a first round pick on a quarterback, or gives out a 100 million dollar contract, these are the guys they’re hoping to get in return.
Starting off with a controversial pick, Andrew Luck absolutely belongs in the elite conversation. He’s missed a lot of time with injuries, but when he’s been healthy, he’s been a machine for the Indianapolis Colts. In seasons where he’s actually healthy, he averages 4,358 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions a season, dragging the Colts to the post-season nearly every time. The best quarterback prospect of all time finally has a team around him, and I think the Colts won’t need a lucky horseshoe to make a deep run this year.
Patrick Mahomes is the Baker Mayfield of the elite quarterbacks. He’s been a starting quarterback for one year, how can I possibly call him elite? Because that kind of production doesn’t happen by accident. Sure, he could be a product of a scheme with perfect personnel, but the guy threw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in his first year as a starting quarterback. And if overtime rules were fair, there’s a good chance he would’ve taken his Kansas City Chiefs and their historically bad defense to the Super Bowl.
Throw in the general swagger of throwing no-look bombs on the run with his other hand, and it’s hard to dispute his brilliance. However, as a Raiders fan, I hope Mr. I Put Ketchup on Everything was the flukiest fluke of all time and throws 50 interceptions this year.
People will fight me about Wilson’s placement in this category, but the reality is the guy belongs. Stats? Back to back seasons with at least 34 touchdowns. Team success? 75-36-1 record as a starter. And sure, it was easy to dismiss all that when he had Marshawn Lynch or the Legion of Boom, but Mr. Wilson is one of the few last remaining holdovers from the Super Bowl team, and he keeps producing, regardless of what his offensive line or receiving corps looks like.
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Mr. Rodgers or his neighborhood, but you can’t argue with results. Even as the Green Bay Packers struggled, number 12 put up great numbers, eclipsing 4,400 yards and 25 touchdowns while inexplicably only throwing two interceptions on 597 attempts. It’ll be interesting to see how he gels with his new coach.
The NFL’s All-Time leader in passing yards didn’t break 4,000 for the first time since joining the New Orleans Saints, but he still threw up 32 touchdowns with only five interceptions as he led the black and gold to the post-season yet again in 2018. He was one really bad call away from a Super Bowl appearance, so I guess he can stay in elite company.
I don’t think this one really needs to be explained. Since the year 2000, Tom Brady has started in 13 of the 19 AFC Championship games played, winning nine of them. He’ll likely pass Peyton Manning in both passing touchdowns and yards this season as he races against Drew Brees for the all-time records. He’s not getting younger, but he’s coming off a 4,300 yard, 29 touchdown season, so if he’s slowing down, he’s got me fooled.