Over the next few weeks until the season, I’ll be ranking each position group around the NFL, beginning with quarterbacks today. Where does Bucs QB Tom Brady still rank among the league’s best signal callers? Do Dak Prescott, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson have a shot to enter the top 5 QBs in the NFL this season? What should be expected of Matt Stafford? Is Kyler Murray overrated?
No rookies were included in these rankings, leaving the Jets and Jaguars unrepresented here. It’s simply impossible to rank guys who have never played in the NFL against guys who have. The evaluation process wouldn’t be clean.
I’ve also compiled these rankings with an eye toward 2021 projections, although I tried not to do anything too outlandish. It’s important to remember that rankings like this are largely fluid year-to-year, especially when you get outside the first 5-8 QBs. But this is how I expect quarterback play to stack up in 2021.
Tier 1 – The Elite QBs
Table of Contents
1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
3. Deshaun Watson, Texans
4. Tom Brady, Bucs
5. Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Yes, Mahomes should probably be in a tier by himself. He’s been that special in his relatively short NFL career, but Rodgers, Watson, Brady and Wilson were right there with him last season. Rodgers turned in one of his best seasons yet, while Watson was the only thing that kept the Texans from going 0-16. Wilson might have topped this list, but his MVP run crashed and burned with a disappointing handful of games to end the season.
The fact that Brady cracks the top five at almost 44 years old, after performing marvelously in a brand new offense that asks for a ton of high degree of difficulty throws from their quarterback, is nothing short of special. Many doubted Brady’s fit in a vertical passing attack, so he went out and led the NFL in deep (20+ air yards) completions and yards. Enjoy every second of it, Bucs fans.
Of course, there is a good chance Watson doesn’t play at all in 2021, due to his legal situation or due to his own choice. Rodgers is also not expected to return to Green Bay, which opens up an incredible scenario where two LOCK top 5 QBs are playing somewhere else next season. And it’s already almost July. What a crazy NFL offseason.
If Prescott had stayed healthy all of last year, he likely would have cracked the top five. And he might not have been 5 either. I’m extremely high on Prescott to be an MVP candidate this year, leading a passing attack that should be among the league’s best. He has all of the tools and traits to be a top 3-5 QB for the rest of his career.
As for Allen, last season was a shocking improvement after two years of seesaw play in the AFC East. Allen has grown every season, but 2020 was a leap very few saw coming. Allen was one of the best quarterbacks in the league, improving his deep ball significantly and making much better decisions as a passer. If he can put up another year like that, he’ll be in the top five as well.
Jackson is the trickiest quarterback in the league to rank. Teams have become very aware of his weaknesses throwing outside the numbers, an issue that has plagued Jackson since college. He might never be able to win off of pure passing like Prescott or Allen, but he’s still a terrific middle-of-the-field passer, and should be able to find more splash plays with a better receiving corps. When all else fails, Jackson is the best athlete in the league with the ball in his hands. He’s carried the Ravens offense without a ton of skill position help throughout his career, and will likely do so again in 2021.
Tier 3 – Very Good Starters
9. Matt Stafford, Rams
10. Matt Ryan, Falcons
11. Ryan Tannehill, Titans
12. Baker Mayfield, Browns
13. Justin Herbert, Chargers
14. Joe Burrow, Bengals
This might be high for Stafford to some people, but I think we’re going to see peak Stafford come out in 2021. Being in a stable organization and a new offense with an elite head coach will bring out the best version of Stafford, but will it be enough to get the Rams to the promised land?
Ryan is still capable of playing at a high level, but the crumbling pieces around him should temper expectations moving forward. His lack of special tools will become more apparent as the margin for error decreases.
Tannehill and Mayfield have been in comparable situations as guys who have played well, but are rarely tasked with carrying the offense. More should be asked of both QBs this season, and consistently strong play should assure them a top ten ranking next year.
Herbert and Burrow could be top ten guys next year as well, especially if some older signal callers fall off. Right now I simply need to see both players sustain the brilliance of their rookie seasons for another year to be higher than the 10-15 range. I’m confident both will move up more than they’ll move down in the coming years. I would still bet on Burrow over Herbert, but the latter is simply in a far superior situation, which matters a lot.
Tier 4 – Good, But Limited QBs (Or Declining)
15. Derek Carr, Raiders
16. Kirk Cousins, Vikings
17. Kyler Murray, Cardinals
18. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington
19. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
These guys could all have a brilliant game one week, then completely disappoint the next. Carr played better than I expected in 2020, but I still don’t see a high ceiling for the Raiders quarterback. Cousins is who he is at this point. He can’t create outside of structure at all. Murray can create just fine, but consistency and accuracy as a passer are still sorely lacking. I still believe in what he can be, but I’m starting to question if he will get there under this regime.
Fitzpatrick is like a fine wine, getting better with age it seems. If he can play his most consistent football yet in 2020, Washington could win the division. As for Roethlisberger, it sure looked like his best days were behind him in 2020. It would be great to see him bounce back in a new offense, but I think his last hurrah season will be a disappointment for the Steelers.
Tier 5 – Who Knows, Man
20. Jared Goff, Lions
21. Carson Wentz, Colts
22. Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
23. Daniel Jones, Giants
24. Cam Newton, Patriots
25. Jameis Winston, Saints
We’ve seen brilliant quarterback play from almost everyone on this list, or at least better-than-expected in the case of Jones. But Goff and Wentz simply cannot find stability in their level of play, with Goff going up-and-down week-to-week these days, and Wentz on a sharp decline each of the past two seasons. With both quarterbacks now in new territory, it is difficult to know what will become of them. Goff might be in the worst situation amongst all QBs in the league (outside of Houston).
Garoppolo will always be limited, but he’s a starting caliber quarterback in the NFL. The Giants have put an impressive cast around Jones for the 2021 season, if his protection can hold up. Could he finally take the expected leap in his development? Newton’s best days are over, and Winston couldn’t beat out Taysom Hill last year in New Orleans. He’s expected to win the job this offseason, but that remains to be seen.
Tier 6 – So Many Questions
26. Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins
27. Sam Darnold, Panthers
28. Jalen Hurts, Eagles
29. Andy Dalton, Bears
30. Drew Lock, Broncos
It wasn’t a great rookie season for Tagovailoa, but he’s young and has time to grow. I’m not sure the same can be said for Darnold, who has been consistently bad throughout his career. Could a new environment turn things around? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Darnold’s issues go beyond the poor coaching he received in New York.
Hurts flashed a little bit early on, but decision-making and accuracy became big concerns the more he played. Dalton shouldn’t last long as the Bears starter, but we’re not ranking rookies, so he makes this list.
The amazing thing about Lock ranking dead last on this list? The Broncos could still trade for Watson or Rodgers, vaulting their QB situation from worst in the NFL to top three. You hardly ever see a team capable of swinging their fortunes like that as we near the month of July. The Broncos are in unprecedented territory, as a non-factor with Lock or QB Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, but a Super Bowl contender with Watson or Rodgers this season.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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