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A quarterback can make or break an NFL franchise. While a top-level signal-caller doesn’t ensure a playoff spot, it’s a good start to a bright future.
When front-office executives miss on quarterbacks, their teams often fall into perpetual mediocrity. After Peyton Manning helped lead the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 victory, president of football operations John Elway repeatedly whiffed on potential successors. As a result, the Broncos have gone 20-28 since then.
Conversely, the Seattle Seahawks went through a four-year stretch from 2008-11 with sub-.500 records each season. But ever since general manager John Schneider selected Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 draft, the team hasn’t finished with a losing record.
The importance of the quarterback position doesn’t begin and end with the starter. Coaching staffs must have a serviceable backup in case of an injury, too.
Here, we’ll take a look at all 32 rosters and rank each quarterback group. This isn’t based solely on starters, but the No. 1 passer on the depth chart matters most.
To streamline comparisons, we’ll focus on QBR since it adds context to basic figures like touchdowns, interceptions and yards. For example, a signal-caller throwing for a score in a tie game boosts a QBR more than a late fourth-quarter trip to the end zone in a 28-point blowout.
Between equal talents, playoff production vs. regular-season performances will also become a recurring factor. Awards and accolades may separate signal-callers who have similar career numbers. Recent accomplishments hold more weight. And rookies are viewed as unknowns with varying levels of upside based on their collegiate careers.
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Starter: Kyler Murray
Backups: Brett Hundley, Chad Kanoff, Drew Anderson
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t outright call Murray the starter on the Jim Rome Show, but general manager Steve Keim expects the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft to open the season under center. He gave an affirmative “yes” during a recent appearance on the Rich Eisen Show.
Murray had a stellar junior campaign at Oklahoma, throwing for 4,361 yards, 42 touchdowns and seven interceptions en route to the 2018 Heisman Trophy. He can also use his legs to evade pocket pressure and pick up yards. The former Sooner scrambled for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns in his standout season.
At 5’10” and 207 pounds, Murray’s size will continue to drive the conversation about his transition to the pros. The 21-year-old possesses the arm talent to make plays in the NFL, but successful passers under 6’0″ aren’t the norm. At 5’11” and 215 pounds, Wilson is the gold standard in today’s league.
Murray will have to defy the odds in terms of his stature, but he possesses the arm talent and athleticism to follow in Wilson’s footsteps. But for now, he’s unproven. His backup, Hundley, struggled to put together scoring drives with the Green Bay Packers in 2017.
As a result, the Cardinals take the bottom spot in these rankings.
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Starter: Josh Allen
Backups: Matt Barkley, Tyree Jackson
The Buffalo Bills would assuredly like to see Allen’s ball placement improve in 2019. He threw 10 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions while completing only 52.8 percent of his attempts as a rookie last season.
Although it’s common for rookies to struggle in certain areas, Allen came into the league with questions about his accuracy. During his three years at Wyoming, he connected on 56.2 percent of his attempts. The 6’5″, 237-pound passer must work on fitting the ball through tight windows this upcoming season.
On the bright side, Allen can stretch the field with his powerful arm. This offseason, the Bills added wideout John Brown, who averaged 17 yards per catch last year with the Baltimore Ravens, to enhance their vertical passing attack.
Allen earns credit for using his legs and leading the Bills in rushing yards (631) and touchdowns (eight) in 2018. However, Barkley won’t be able to replicate that style of play if Allen goes down. Jackson ran for 757 yards and 16 touchdowns in college, but as an undrafted rookie, he isn’t a lock to make the 53-man roster.
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Starter: Lamar Jackson
Backups: Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley, Jalan McClendon
Similar to Allen, Jackson forces defenses to account for him on the ground. He racked up 695 rushing yards as a rookie, second only to running back Gus Edwards among all Ravens players.
However, Jackson didn’t show enough in terms of throwing the ball down the field. He completed 58.2 percent of his throws but logged only 170 passing attempts.
The Baltimore Ravens went 6-1 with Jackson under center during the regular season, but the athletic signal-caller threw only six touchdown passes and three interceptions in that span. The coaching staff didn’t seem trust his arm last season, which will have to change in 2019.
The Ravens have Griffin, who can mentor Jackson in a backup role. During his heyday, the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year also used his legs to move the chains, but he’s thrown only six regular-season passes over the past two seasons.
Perhaps Jackson can push his completion rate closer to 60 percent with more volume, but Baltimore’s coaches have to take the training wheels off of him.
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Starter: Case Keenum
Backups: Dwayne Haskins, Colt McCoy, Josh Woodrum, Alex Smith
The Washington Redskins should rank higher here, but they don’t expect Smith to play in 2019 as he continues to recover from compound and spiral leg fractures, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Meanwhile, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, McCoy’s “recovery from his fractured fibula is going well.” He’s expected to fully participate in training camp, but he’s started only six games since 2012.
As a result of notable injuries, Washington will likely start Keenum or Haskins, their rookie first-rounder, who’s turned heads early in the offseason program.
That buzz is a good sign of Haskins’ potential, but it’s still early in the position battle. Keenum gives Washington a bridge quarterback until Haskins is ready to go. As a starter, he’s mediocre, which is likely why the Broncos cut ties with him after one year.
In 2017, Keenum threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions with a career-high 74.3 QBR. Even though he logged more passing yards (3,890) last season, the seven-year veteran couldn’t move the needle and came up short on crucial plays late in games, which explains his 47.9 QBR.
Haskins had a standout showing at Ohio State last season, throwing for 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions, but tighter windows in the pros will make it difficult for him to post gaudy numbers. He’s untested at this level, but the Redskins have a steady game-manager in Keenum until Haskins takes over.
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Starter: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Backups: Josh Rosen, Jake Rudock
According to ESPN.com’s Cameron Wolfe, new Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores will give Rosen an opportunity to win the starting job over Fitzpatrick.
“When Josh gets here, he’s got to compete for any type of role that he has here. That’s the case for everyone in the building,” Flores said. “The guys who produce on the practice field and do all the things that help this team win—those are the guys who will play.”
The Dolphins signed Fitzpatrick during free agency and acquired Rosen via a draft-day trade with the Cardinals. The former has helped teams in stretches, but he’s been unable to sustain his production or hold on to a starting job over the last few years. The latter went through a rough rookie campaign in Arizona, throwing 11 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions while completing 55.2 percent of his attempts.
In 2018, Fitzpatrick led the league with 14.4 yards per completion, which gives the Dolphins a decent placeholder until Rosen gets up to speed.
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Starter: Eli Manning
Backups: Daniel Jones, Kyle Lauletta, Alex Tanney, Eric Dungey
Manning earned a Pro Bowl invite in 2015, but his production dropped significantly in the two following seasons.
The 38-year-old’s QBR trended back up to 51.2 last year, but former New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. questioned Manning’s ability in an interview with ESPN’s Josina Anderson in October.
“But is it a matter of time issue? Can he still throw it, yeah, but it’s been pretty safe and it’s been, you know … cool catching shallow (routes) and trying to take it to the house,” Beckham said. “But I’m, you know, I want to go over the top of somebody.”
Manning’s play improved through the second half of the year—his two three-touchdown performances came after Week 8. Nonetheless, the Giants selected Jones with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft for a reason.
When a team takes a quarterback that high in the draft, the young signal-caller will have an opportunity to replace the incumbent starter sooner than later. Manning has thrown fewer than 22 touchdown passes each of the past three seasons, and he’s going into his age-38 campaign. He isn’t guaranteed to finish the 2019 season under center.
Jones has more starting collegiate experience than Murray and Haskins, but he didn’t put together a standout year like his two peers. The Duke product finished his collegiate career with 52 touchdown passes and 29 interceptions, averaging an unimpressive 6.4 yards per pass attempt across three seasons.
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Starter: Sam Darnold
Backups: Trevor Siemian, Davis Webb, Luke Falk
On the surface, Darnold’s 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions frame his uneven rookie season. When you watch him on film, it’s clear he has the arm talent to make throws all over the field. He’s going to toss some head-scratchers, but it’s because of his competitive nature. You can see a young signal-caller trying to make a play in crucial moments.
New York Jets head coach and interim general manager Adam Gase has something to build upon. Unlike Manning with Big Blue, Gang Green’s signal-caller has room to grow.
Darnold doesn’t rely on mobility to accumulate yards, but he’s able to extend plays because of his elusiveness in the pocket. Although the USC product showed flaws in his decision-making, the coaching staff can work on his thought process in critical situations. Because of his flashes, there’s reason to believe he’ll improve in 2019.
This offseason, the Jets signed Siemian, who threw 30 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions across 24 starts with the Broncos in the 2016 and 2017 campaigns. He’s a mid-tier backup.
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Starter: Jimmy Garoppolo
Backups: Nick Mullen, C.J. Beathard, Wilton Speight
The San Francisco 49ers take the 25th spot mostly because of Jimmy Garoppolo’s small sample size. For perspective, he’s thrown fewer NFL passes than three of the five 2018 first-round signal-callers (Mayfield, Darnold and Rosen).
Garoppolo has more NFL experience than most quarterbacks going into their sophomore years, but he’s yet to play through a complete season. The 27-year-old logged five touchdowns and three interceptions before he tore his ACL in Week 3 last year.
In a five-game stretch during the 2017 campaign, Garoppolo logged an 80.7 QBR. That rating fell to 26.9 through three appearances in 2018. Perhaps we need to temper expectations on him until he adds more games to his NFL resume.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan used Beathard and Mullens in Garoppolo’s absence, and San Francisco finished 15th in passing yards.
Mullens had a decent showing in his debut year, recording 2,277 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. If San Francisco loses Garoppolo to another injury, the backups are equipped to put together solid outings as fill-in starters.
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Starter: Joe Flacco
Backups: Drew Lock, Kevin Hogan, Brett Rypien
Flacco suffered a hip injury last season, which opened the door for Jackson to start in Baltimore, but the 34-year-old can still push the ball downfield.
With a revamped pass-catching group featuring wideouts Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead in addition to rookie tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, Flacco was on pace to eclipse 4,000 passing yards. He started nine games and finished with a 58.7 QBR.
In Denver, Flacco will have two-time Pro Bowl wideout Emmanuel Sanders (who’s still recovering from an Achilles injury), a big target in Courtland Sutton (6’3″, 218 lbs) on the perimeter and a pass-catching rookie tight end in Noah Fant, who finished with 1,083 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns at Iowa. If the 11-year veteran stays upright, he should have a decent season with those playmakers around him.
Elway added a pair of rookie quarterbacks: Lock in the second round, and Rypien, who went undrafted.
Flacco can produce right away, but Lock offers some long-term upside. The Missouri product threw for 3,964 yards, 44 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in an impressive junior season in 2017. The coaching staff acclimated him to a pro-style offense with more complex reads last year, per The MMQB’s Kalyn Kahler.
“…In Dooley’s blend of a pro-style scheme with elements of the spread, Lock is being asked to go through more progressions, and execute plays that are a little more complex, like ones with combo routes,” she wrote.
If Flacco falters, Lock could become a solid starter.
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Starter: Marcus Mariota
Backups: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
Through Mariota’s four years in Tennessee, the team has had intermittent success on the ground. He hasn’t played in a pass-heavy offense, which factors into his average-to-subpar numbers. The Oregon product has recorded fewer than 20 touchdown passes in three of his four seasons.
Mariota isn’t completely absolved from a few lackluster campaigns, though. The 25-year-old has missed eight career games because of injury but often plays hurt. It’s difficult to rely on a quarterback who’s constantly banged up, especially if he uses his legs to make plays. The four-year veteran has 218 career rushing attempts for 1,270 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The front office made a shrewd decision this offseason to acquire Tannehill, who started 88 games for the Dolphins. If Mariota goes down, the 30-year-old can step into a prominent role and command the huddle. He’s also a mobile quarterback who can move the pocket on bootlegs and pick up yards on busted plays.
Mariota can complete difficult throws and reach the first-down marker on the run in critical situations, but his low volume of pass attempts suggests the team must field an effective ground attack to complement him.
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Starter: Andy Dalton
Backups: Jeff Driskel, Ryan Finley, Jacob Dolegala
Dalton has Pro Bowl accolades that push him above Mariota and Tannehill in Tennessee.
His 2018 campaign came to an end because he tore ligaments in his thumb. But before he landed on injured reserve, he looked solid in the pocket, logging 2,566 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with a 64.6 QBR over 11 games.
For the most part, the Cincinnati Bengals have a reliable quarterback at the helm. Dalton isn’t a constant concern on the injury report. The eight-year veteran isn’t flashy with constant big-time throws, but he won’t hurt his team with many poor decisions (until the postseason, anyway).
In four playoff contests, Dalton has one touchdown pass and six interceptions with a 55.7 percent completion rate. Unfortunately for the Bengals, he doesn’t elevate his play under the brightest lights.
Cincinnati doesn’t have a quarterback controversy on the horizon, but Dalton has to pick up where he left off last year. If not, the team may look for an offensive spark and insert rookie fourth-rounder Ryan Finley into the lineup. After leaving Boise State via transfer, he threw for 10,501 yards, 60 touchdowns and 25 interceptions over three years at North Carolina State.
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Starter: Jameis Winston
Backups: Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffn, Nick Fitzgerald
Winston’s career got off to a solid start. He was a Pro Bowler as a rookie and followed up with 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in the 2016 campaign.
In 2017, Winston had his worst statistical season with a 54.0 QBR. He opened last year serving a three-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy because of an alleged groping incident with a woman who was driving an Uber in 2016.
The Buccaneers vacillated between Fitzpatrick and Winston upon the latter’s return, which kept Winston on the sideline for two additional games. Once he took the field, the four-year veteran had productive stretches and finished with a 71.8 QBR.
Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians recently told ESPN’s Trey Wingo (h/t Matt Matera of Pewter Report) that he wants to see more even play from Winston this season.
“Just more consistency, regardless of the other team, make better decisions,” he said. “The athletic ability is there, the arm is there, and hopefully with the defensive picks we won’t be playing from 20 behind all the time.”
Tampa Bay must determine whether Winston deserves a new deal in a contract year, so Gabbert isn’t likely to see much action unless the offense struggles to move the ball in Arians’ aggressive attack.
Winston has shown a tendency to take chances with the football, which fits into Arians’ offense and separates him from Dalton. It’s better to have a quarterback who dares to make a tough play than a signal-caller taking the safe route to avoid mistakes. More times than not, the former will help teams win games in the playoffs.
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Starter: Baker Mayfield
Backups: Drew Stanton, Garrett Gilbert, David Blough
As the No. 1 overall pick from last year’s draft, Mayfield didn’t disappoint. He threw for 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while completing 63.8 percent of his passes. His passing yardage and touchdowns were by far the highest marks among first-round signal-callers in the 2018 class.
For the first time in years, the Cleveland Browns played meaningful games with playoff implications late in the season. They fell short of a postseason berth, but the organization found its franchise signal-caller. Mayfield, who served in a backup role for the first three games, finished 11th in touchdown passes.
Mayfield couldn’t top Giants running back Saquon Barkley for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but his production shows he’s ready to lead a downtrodden franchise out of the AFC North basement. The Oklahoma product will need more success to move further up the ranks, though.
The Browns have a well-traveled reserve in Stanton, who’s on his fourth team and has completed 52.4 percent of his pass attempts with 20 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. At 35 years old, the veteran is a low-tier backup, which puts the Browns in trouble if Mayfield goes down with an injury.
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Starter: Mitchell Trubisky
Backups: Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray
In 2018, the Chicago Bears turned the offense over to head coach Matt Nagy, and the front office acquired wideouts Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller along with tight end Trey Burton to push Trubisky’s development into high gear.
Trubisky took a big leap in his sophomore campaign and added a Pro Bowl to his developing resume. He finished with the fourth-highest QBR (72.8) among qualified quarterbacks.
The North Carolina product connected on 66.6 percent of his pass attempts and ran the ball effectively, amassing 421 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Trubisky suffered a shoulder injury, which cost him two games, but Daniel logged solid fill-in starts, throwing for 515 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions with a 69.7 completion rate.
In a new system with more talent, Trubisky’s significant jump between years one and two suggest the organization made the right decision to trade up and take him second overall in the 2017 draft.
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Starter: Nick Foles
Backups: Tanner Lee, Gardner Minshew, Alex McGough
The Jacksonville Jaguars have a unique quarterback situation.
For starters, Foles has never played a full 16-game season. Despite a Pro Bowl year in 2013, Foles’ regular-season resume suggests he’s a backup-level quarterback with a few bright spots along his journeyman career. However, the 30-year-old does have a Super Bowl victory with a Super Bowl MVP.
At the highest level of competition, Foles hits an extra gear. He’s thrown for 1,633 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions with a 68.1 percent completion rate in six postseason games.
It’s difficult to predict what Foles can do through a full year with teams game-planning for him week to week, but he deserves a push up the rankings for his recent playoff production.
Among the backups, Minshew stands out. In Washington State’s pass-heavy offense, the rookie sixth-rounder racked up 4,779 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and only nine interceptions while completing 70.7 percent of his attempts this past season.
When comparing Foles to Mayfield or Trubisky, the younger signal-callers’ short resumes work against them. The Super Bowl-winning quarterback gets the nod over two passers with one productive season.
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Starter: Derek Carr
Backups: Landry Jones, Mike Glennon, Nathan Peterman
Carr ranks slightly above Foles because of his accolades combined with consistency through the regular season. The Oakland Raiders signal-caller went to three consecutive Pro Bowls in 2015, 2016 and 2017. He’s also third in game-winning drives (16) since he entered the league in 2014.
Carr garners criticism for his shaky pocket presence, as he often dumps the ball off too quickly, but he’s showed the ability to stretch the field with solid talent around him. In 2016, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper each eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in Oakland.
The 28-year-old hasn’t been able to replicate that season, but continuity in head coach Jon Gruden’s offense should help his sagging QBR, which dropped over the last two years.
Carr has an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio (122-54), although he must regain some comfort in taking chances with the football to put his team over the top. But since we aren’t skipping straight to the postseason, he’s easier to trust than Foles across a full 16-game slate.
The Raiders signed Jones, who served as a backup to Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. Through six years, the 30-year-old has led the huddle in spot duty, but he isn’t quite a reliable No. 2 on the depth chart with only five career starts.
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Starter: Kirk Cousins
Backups: Kyle Sloter, Sean Mannion, Jake Browning
Similar to Carr, Cousins has an above-average touchdown-to-interception ratio (129 to 65) that indicates he won’t put his team in precarious situations. He ranks one spot above the Raiders signal-caller because of better QBR figures in each of the last four seasons as a starter.
Cousins has earned his fair share of criticism for coming up short in big games, but he logged career highs in completion percentage (70.1) and touchdown passes (30) during his first year with the Minnesota Vikings.
The 30-year-old will start the season with new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, but the on-field personnel should help him trend up in another season. Wideouts Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards and logged nine touchdowns apiece in 2018.
The Vikings’ quarterback situation ranks in the middle of the pack because of Cousins’ limited playoff production. His backups also have rarely been under center during the regular season. Among the reserves, Mannion has played the most with 53 pass attempts.
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Starter: Dak Prescott
Backups: Cooper Rush, Mike White
Prescott has tasted postseason success and elevated his play against stronger competition. He’s recorded 794 passing yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions with a 64.1 percent completion rate in three January games, which propels him above Cousins.
The two-time Pro Bowler’s regular-season numbers don’t stand out, but he’s consistent. Prescott has completed at least 67 percent of his passes twice and threw either 22 or 23 scores in each of his three NFL seasons.
Despite a steadily dropping QBR, Prescott has engineered nine game-winning drives over the last two seasons, too.
The Dallas Cowboys needs running back Ezekiel Elliott to run the ball effectively to jump-start the offense, but Prescott’s skill set as a ball-carrier adds to the ground attack. He leads all quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns (18) since 2016.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Prescott is a durable signal-caller. White and Rush have thrown a combined three regular-season passes in their respective careers.
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Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backups: Tom Savage, Connor Cook
Prescott has an All-Pro ball-carrier behind him to help put together scoring drives in the clutch, but Stafford hasn’t played with a comparable talent in the Lions backfield. Detroit’s ground attack has ranked 17th or worse every season since he entered the league as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft.
Stafford doesn’t have high-level playoff production, but it’s hard to count the Lions out of a game when he’s at the helm. The 31-year-old leads the league in game-winning drives (21) since 2014.
The Pro Bowl passer carries the majority of the load on offense, and he’s produced some gems over the years. In 2011, he recorded 5,038 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions with a 63.5 percent completion rate. The 10-year veteran earned his first Pro Bowl invite for a solid 2014 campaign in which he completed 60.3 percent of his attempts for 4,257 yards, 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Over the last three seasons, he’s cut down on picks, throwing 11 or fewer each year.
Savage and Cook struggled with their previous teams—the Houston Texans and Raiders, respectively—but both have starting experience. They’re capable of running an offense for a few games if necessary.
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Starter: Deshaun Watson
Backups: AJ McCarron, Joe Webb
In Week 2 of the 2017 season, Watson took over the starting job and went on an incredible run for a rookie signal-caller. He threw for 1,699 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions with a 61.8 percent completion rate before tearing his ACL.
Behind a subpar offensive line, Watson continued to make strides last season. Despite taking 62 sacks, he tossed 26 touchdown passes and racked up 4,165 yards through the air.
Watson’s ability to tuck the ball and run compensates for holes on the front line, which increases his overall value. The 23-year-old also showed toughness playing through chest and shoulder injuries in 2018.
Watson sputtered during the playoffs against the Indianapolis Colts in January, which caps his ranking here, but he possesses the tools to rebound in future postseason scenarios.
In 2015, McCarron had a decent showing with the Bengals as a fill-in starter. Since then, he’s attempted just 17 passes during the regular season. He had a chance to win the starting job in Buffalo last year but lost the competition to Nathan Peterman.
The Texans have an emerging starting quarterback with a mid-tier primary backup.
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Starter: Carson Wentz
Backups: Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson, Cody Kessler
While Nick Foles made the most of his playing opportunities over the last two years, Wentz watched late-season action from the sidelines. The North Dakota State product possesses all the qualities of a franchise quarterback, but injuries have cost him two playoff runs.
In 2017, Wentz’s 77.2 QBR led the league, but he suffered a torn ACL in Week 14, which landed him on injured reserve. Last year, the Eagles struggled to win games with him back under center, but the 6’5″, 237-pound signal-caller moved the ball through the air with consistency. He fractured a vertebra and didn’t suit up again after Week 14.
Wentz is a top-10 quarterback, but it’s hard to ignore significant knee and back injuries. The Eagles exercised his fifth-year option and allowed Foles to hit the free-agent market, which shows confidence that their starter will bounce back from his latest ailment.
General manager Howie Roseman selected Thorson in the fifth round of this year’s draft and added a capable veteran backup in Kessler.
Wentz and Watson are comparable talents in the early stages of their careers, but the Eagles have a better primary backup with Kessler. In three years, he’s totaled 2,215 passing yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions with a 64.2 completion rate.
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Starter: Cam Newton
Backups: Taylor Heinicke, Will Grier, Kyle Allen
Newton has undergone two shoulder surgeries since 2017, but he’s only missed five games in eight seasons. As a ball-carrier, the 6’5″, 245-pounder takes extra hits, but the Carolina Panthers can depend on him to suit up.
Typically, we talk about running backs and tight ends who present matchup nightmares for opposing defenses, but Newton deserves this label as a quarterback. Although he has a career 59.7 percent completion rate, defenders must respect his strong arm.
On the ground, the All-Pro signal-caller becomes a physical ball-carrier capable of breaking through arm tackles to convert first downs. Newton has 4,808 rushing yards and 58 touchdowns in eight regular-season campaigns, leading quarterbacks in both categories since he entered the league in 2011.
The Panthers selected Grier in the third round of this year’s draft. There’s no quarterback controversy in Carolina, but the rookie signal-caller has the potential to become a high-end backup or an eventual starter.
Grier posted big numbers in two years at West Virginia, throwing for 7,354 yards, 71 touchdowns and 20 interceptions with a 65.7 completion percentage. The former Mountaineer displayed strong command of the huddle and knows how to adjust velocity on his passes to hit every area of the field.
Newton has a league MVP on his resume, and he’s more durable than Wentz, which gives the Panthers quarterback situation a bump over the Eagles.
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Starter: Jared Goff
Backups: Blake Bortles, Brandon Allen, John Wolford
In his third season, Goff continued to show improvement under head coach Sean McVay, logging career highs in passing yards (4,688) and touchdowns (32). He isn’t as athletic as Cam Newton, but the two-time Pro Bowler has flashed a more accurate arm early in his career with a 62.1 percent completion rate.
Even though running back Todd Gurley has been a focal point in the Rams offense, Goff doesn’t play a passive role in this unit. He finished 10th in QBR (65.4), fourth in passing yards and tied for sixth in touchdown passes last year.
Under McVay, Goff should continue to see growth with a stacked wide receiver unit featuring Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
Back in March, the Rams signed Bortles, who’s one of the better backups in the league. He’s just two years removed from an AFC Championship Game appearance. The sixth-year signal-caller also provides an extra layer to the ground attack. Since being drafted in 2014, Bortles ranks third in rushing among quarterbacks with 1,775 yards.
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Starter: Patrick Mahomes
Backups: Chad Henne, Chase Litton, Kyle Shurmur, John Lovett, T.J. Linta
The Kansas City Chiefs rank ninth because of Mahomes’ lights-out 2018 season. In comparison to more established starters higher in the rankings, it’s a small sample size, but the second-year quarterback takes this spot because of his career trajectory.
At 23 years old, Mahomes can say he’s accomplished something that separates him from any other active quarterback: The reigning league MVP became the second signal-caller in NFL history to throw 50 touchdown passes and more than 5,000 yards in a single season.
As a rookie, Mahomes started just one game, but his sophomore campaign was a huge leap into stardom. He has a big arm, throws with accuracy (66.0 percent), moves well in the pocket and completes passes off balance. The young signal-caller had a decent playoff run, logging 573 passing yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Texas Tech product is clearly ready for the big stage.
Aside from Henne, who’s recorded five pass attempts over the last four years, the Chiefs backups have not seen the field during the regular season. That’s not an ideal situation for the reserves.
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Starter: Andrew Luck
Backups: Jacoby Brissett, Phillip Walker
Luck has a track record that garners more trust in his play than Mahomes, who put together one standout season.
However, at one point, Luck didn’t know if he’d ever play football again. He missed the entire 2017 campaign with a shoulder injury that took longer to heal than expected, but the 29-year-old bounced back to become the 2018 Comeback Player of the Year.
Luck has put together three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons and led the league with 40 touchdown passes in 2014 before injuries sidelined him. It’s fair to think he can continue to perform at a high level with good health.
Filling in for Luck in 2017, Jacoby Brissett moved the ball with his arm and legs. He logged 260 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in addition to 3,098 yards and 13 scores through the air in 16 games.
Luck’s underwhelming postseason performances cause some concern. In eight games, he’s completed 56.4 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, which lowers his ceiling until further notice.
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Starter: Philip Rivers
Backups: Tyrod Taylor, Cardale Jones, Easton Stick
Rivers takes an edge over Luck because of his extensive resume and durability. He hasn’t missed a start since opening the 2006 campaign under center for the then-San Diego Chargers.
Eight Pro Bowl seasons later, the 37-year-old keeps the offense moving with an accurate arm and pinpoint placement on tight-window throws. Rivers’ QBR also has improved in each of the last four seasons, and he finished seventh in 2018.
Even with a decade of high performance during the regular season, Rivers hasn’t shown his best during the playoffs, logging 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a 59.4 percent completion percentage in 11 contests.
The Chargers have a solid mix of backups. Taylor helped lead the Bills to the postseason in 2017. At 26 years old, Jones has room to grow. And rookie fifth-rounder Easton Stick joins the group after a productive three-year run as the starting QB at North Dakota State, which included two FCS title victories.
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Starter: Ben Roethlisberger
Backups: Joshua Dobbs, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges
Rivers and Roethlisberger came into the league together as the Nos. 4 and 11 picks, respectively, in the 2004 draft. Both have been put together strong careers, but playoff production separates the two signal-callers. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback has a better completion percentage (62.4 to 59.4) and averages more yards per postseason contest (250.3 to 241.5).
Secondly, Rivers’ workload—in terms of pass attempts—has been dropping since 2016. In 2018, without running back Le’Veon Bell in the backfield, Roethlisberger shouldered the load on offense. He led the league in pass attempts (675), completions (452), yards (5,129) and interceptions (16). He also threw a career-high 34 touchdown passes.
Roethlisberger isn’t a major threat to run the ball for big gains, but at 6’5″, 240 pounds, he’s difficult to bring down in the pocket. At times, the extra hits wear on his body; the 16th-year veteran has missed seven games over the last four seasons. Yet, the Steelers can count on him to play well through nagging injuries. Since 2013, his QBR hasn’t dropped below 61.8.
The Steelers don’t have a seasoned veteran backup in the No. 2 spot. Joshua Dobbs has logged 12 pass attempts, one of which was an interception, and Mason Rudolph didn’t take any regular-season snaps during his rookie year.
Rudolph possesses some upside, throwing for 13,618 yards, 92 touchdowns and 26 interceptions in college. He’s also familiar with wideout James Washington, who was his lead receiver for three consecutive years at Oklahoma State.
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Starter: Matt Ryan
Backups: Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert
The Atlanta Falcons endured a tough loss in Super Bowl 51, blowing a 28-3 third-quarter lead to the New England Patriots, but wins and losses aren’t a quarterback statistic in a team sport. When you focus on Ryan’s production, he’s been remarkably consistent in matching or even exceeding his regular-season production in the playoffs.
In 10 postseason outings, Ryan has completed 67.5 percent of his pass attempts and averaged 267.2 yards per contest, compared to 65.3 percent and 268.5 yards in the regular season. More impressively, the four-time Pro Bowler has never finished with a QBR lower than 64.9 and has missed just two games since entering the league in 2008.
Unlike Rivers or Roethlisberger, Ryan has an All-Pro campaign and league MVP on his resume. In 11 seasons, he’s displayed consistency with high accuracy and a low interception rate, and at 33 years old, he still has productive years ahead of him.
Schaub has thrown just 10 regular-season passes over the last three years, but he’s a seasoned veteran with starting experience. If necessary, the 37-year-old should be able to command the huddle in spot duty.
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Starter: Aaron Rodgers
Backups: DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle, Manny Wilkins
Rodgers has a phenomenal track record in the postseason with 36 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions and a 63.5 percent completion rate. He also earned Super Bowl MVP honors in 2010, which propels his resume over Ryan’s.
The 35-year-old isn’t talked about as a dual-threat quarterback, but he’s equipped to move the pocket or take open yards on the ground. Throughout his career, he’s totaled 3,213 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground. Oftentimes, the signal-caller’s best throws are on the move—when he chooses to hit a pass-catcher on a broken play.
The Packers have missed out on a playoff berth over the last two years, and Rodgers missed nine games in 2017 with a broken collarbone. His QBR and completion percentage also have dropped over the last two seasons. It’s premature to discuss a sharp decline, but it’s worth monitoring going into the upcoming term.
Through the ups and downs, Rodgers protects the football. He hasn’t thrown more than eight interceptions in a single regular season since 2010. If he can stay healthy, we could see a strong bounce-back year in 2019.
Kizer posted subpar numbers through a winless season with the Browns and led the league in interceptions (22) during the 2017 campaign. On the other hand, he took his lumps as a rookie and provides another dimension under center in a ball-carrier role. The third-year signal-caller has 458 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
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Starter: Russell Wilson
Backups: Paxton Lynch, Geno Smith
While Rodgers’ QBR has dipped significantly over the last two years, Wilson’s numbers are steadily climbing after a career-low 56.8 rating in 2016.
Wilson was drafted in 2012 and immediately helped lead the Seahawks back to the playoffs. He’s fared well in his postseason trips, logging 24 total touchdowns through the air and on the ground while completing 62.0 percent of his throws.
Critics may credit a powerful ground attack and a strong defense for his early success, but Wilson has been efficient in the pocket. In 2017, he led the league in touchdown passes (34) and put together one of his best statistical seasons last year with 35 scores through the air and only seven interceptions.
Wilson has also performed at optimal levels behind offensive lines that haven’t ranked higher than 20th in pass protection since he entered the league, per Football Outsiders. The signal-caller’s ability to run has masked blocking issues, though, and he’s recorded the second-most rushing yards (3,651) among quarterbacks since 2012.
In May, the Seahawks signed Geno Smith, who started two seasons with the Jets, but he’s had rough outings. The seventh-year veteran has thrown 29 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions while completing 57.7 percent of his attempts.
The Broncos waived Lynch, a 2016 first-rounder, two years into his rookie deal. He’s started four games, recording four touchdowns and four interceptions with a 61.7 completion percentage.
The subpar, limited production out of the reserves keeps the Seahawks out of the top two spots.
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Starter: Tom Brady
Backups: Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling, Jarrett Stidham
New England has, without a doubt, the most accomplished quarterback in the league. Brady has led the Patriots to six Super Bowl victories, earned MVP honors in four of those title games and secured league MVP three times.
Brady’s resume is unmatched, and he’s not showing signs of a significant decline going into his age-42 campaign. The three-time All-Pro is two years removed from leading the league in passing yards (4,577) and ranked ninth in QBR (68.8) last season.
There’s one minor area of concern, though. For the first time since 2013, Brady threw double-digit interceptions (11), and his QBR has taken a slight hit over the last two seasons. Nonetheless, he’s proven it’s unwise to predict a dramatic fall from the elite level we’ve come to expect from him.
During the 2017 season, the Patriots acquired Hoyer for his second stint in New England. He’s a solid backup who’s totaled 9,902 passing yards, 48 touchdowns, 30 interceptions and a 59.3 completion rate through 10 seasons.
The front office also selected Stidham in the fourth round of this year’s draft. He didn’t post eye-popping collegiate numbers (48 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in three seasons), but he displayed good ball placement and rarely looked rattled under center. The Auburn product comes into the league with an aura of composure that suggests the Patriots picked a mature prospect.
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Starter: Drew Brees
Backups: Taysom Hill, Teddy Bridgewater, J.T. Barrett
The New Orleans Saints have the best quarterback situation in the league. No, Brees isn’t more accomplished than Brady, but he is performing at a high level late in his career. The 40-year-old set records with a 72.0 and 74.4 percent completion rate in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Last season, he finished with the second-highest QBR (81.9).
Brees displays consistency in his play during the postseason, too, recording a total of 33 touchdowns to 11 interceptions while completing 66.3 percent of his passes. The 12-time Pro Bowler added a Super Bowl MVP award to his resume during the 2009 campaign.
Based on recent performances, Brady and Brees are two of the top signal-callers in the league, but the Saints have a better overall group. Bridgewater had two years of solid starting experience with the Vikings, and he earned a Pro Bowl invite in 2015. Just five years into his career, the 26-year-old still has room to develop.
The Saints are the only team with a third-string quarterback who has been contributing in a variety of ways. The coaching staff uses Hill as a ball-carrier, receiver and special teamer. During the regular season, he ran the ball 37 times for 196 yards and two scores and returned 14 kicks for 348 yards. He also caught a touchdown pass in the NFC Championship Game.
New Orleans isn’t just equipped to keep the passing offense going if Brees misses time; their No. 3 quarterback can actually affect multiple phases of the game on a weekly basis.