When you’re trying to build a competitive team that can rival for a spot in the playoffs the big question is always the same: do you have that franchise quarterback? While there’s 11 players on both sides of the ball, and 21 other players on the field on any given play, the quarterback always gets the most publicity. Marquee wins always get attributed to the main passer, right or wrong, and crushing defeats always get blamed on them, fairly or unfairly. Here’s our ranking of each starting quarterback in the league. With the depth charts that are still undecided, consideration for the quality of both quarterbacks was made.
1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: After last season he’s clearly re-asserted himself as the league’s best. Despite being 38 years old he’s coming off what was the best season of his Hall of Fame worthy decorated career. He can still make all the throws and his ability to read defenses and confuse them remains in a class of its own. The only thing that’s missing from him being firmly labelled as the greatest of all time with no discussion necessary is more Super Bowl titles.
2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: This might surprise some people having Brees this high but he’s still very much in the prime of his career. Last year the Saints’ offensive line was by far the worst it has been since 2006 when Brees joined the team. Brees was sacked 37 times last season, the highest of his career for one season. The previous high was just 26, and since he’s joined the Saints the season average per season is ~20 times. Despite this Brees threw for the 4th highest rating efficiency of his career (104.7) and threw for over 5,000 for an NFL record 4th time. No other quarterback in NFL history has done that twice. Unbelievably impressive that he’s still able to maintain his efficiency despite getting hit almost double the amount of times of any previous season.
3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: He arguably belongs at the top of this list when he’s on top of his game and healthy. Durability issues crept in last season as he missed time and that’s the principle reason he’s #3 at the moment. By season’s end he could easily be back at the top, though. There’s very little margin that separates all these guys.
4. Tom Brady, New England Patriots: It seems odd putting Brady this low but this ranking is based on who is the best right now, not factoring in past accolades. While last year was still a productive season for Brady, it wasn’t one of his strongest statistically. Clearly the loss of primary targets (Hernandez, Gronkowski, Welker) took its toll on the New England passing game. A healthy Gronkowski makes a huge difference, though, and if he’s able to get back to the player he was Brady could be due for a big season.
5. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: This may feel a little high for him but he’s probably coming off his best season as a pro. He’s started 16 games for 8 straight seasons, so he’s durable and extremely productive. Like him or not, Rivers deserves his due as a fantastic quarterback.
6. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts: Already clearly showing that he’ll be the next great quarterback. It’s scary to see how much he’s improved from his rookie season to year 2 and he’s only going to get better.
7. Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions: The Lions added Eric Ebron and Golden Tate to an already explosive passing attack giving Stafford even more weapons to throw to. Stafford has yet to duplicate his dominant 2011 season, though, so he’s got to prove with the increased talent around him that he can get back there. There’s no question he is as good as it gets when he’s on, but he’s not as mentally tough of a competitor as the guys listed above.
8. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: Played on a really poor team last season and doesn’t benefit from an elite defense anymore. Still firmly in the top 10, though.
9. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: He’s the perfect quarterback for that team as he takes care of the football and can make plays with his legs. A lot of quarterbacks could win with that defense, though, and if you put Wilson on the Raiders or Browns its not obvious we’d ever be talking about him. The situation he’s in has allowed him to develop into a leader and a winner, though, and almost always that’s more critical to the development of a player’s career than raw talent.
10. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles: Before spraying too much anointing water on Foles let’s see what he can do in year two. There’s no question he mastered the Chip Kelly offense and executed it to perfection, though. Teams will make adjustments to him (remember Josh Freeman having a huge year before imploding) so it remains to be seen if he can play like this consistently. Still, his play last season was historically good.
11. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers: Like Wilson he benefits from having a rock solid team with almost no flaws up and down the roster around him. But he’s a playmaker that can hurt teams in many different ways.
12. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Having Julio Jones back will help immensely, but losing his security blanket in Tony Gonzalez is an even bigger blow. Ryan isn’t the reason for Atlanta’s miserable season as they were riddled with holes defensively and on the offensive line (in addition to injuries). A busy offseason will attempt to rectify that.
13. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: The Panthers were red hot thanks to an incredible defensive effort and timely late game heroics by Newton. His play in the 2 minute offense was stellar, but he has to improve in quarters 1 through 3 if he wants to be considered top 10. With a brand new set of undeveloped receivers this season he could be due for a drop off in productions.
14. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs: The guy manages the game well and wins games. He may not be the most explosive or exciting player but he gets the job done.
15. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys: As always he’s a big enigma being so statistically strong but lacking in confidence in the clutch. Health is now a big question mark, too.
16. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears: He’s much closer to the Tony Romo category than most Bears fans would like to admit.
17. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: This is a big season for Dalton. After a very promising start to his career he’s starting to plateau a bit and needs to reach that next level of consistency soon.
18. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens: He makes much more than he’s worth. With all the veterans lost after the Super Bowl run, a drop off was expected.
19. Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This may be too high. He’ll be in a new offense with new players around him and as bad as the Bucs were offensively last year the big question is whether he can come close to tapping into the magic of last season. Many people are curious about McCown as last year’s incredible performance came out of nowhere.
20. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins: He’s not the same player if he can’t run. Hopefully his knee will be in a much better position this season but you have to wonder if he was a one hit wonder. We’ve seen his potential and he’s clearly demonstrated he can be a top 10 quality player when he’s 100%, but will he ever be 100% again, and can he continue the style of play that made him so successful and stay on the field?
21. Eli Manning, New York Giants: Until he plays better he will remain this low. Last season’s performance was so bad that his starting job could be in jeopardy if he keeps it up. Yes much can be blamed on the players around him, too, but the bottom line is Eli runs way too hot and cold. And right now he’s freezing.
22. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals: A really nice bounce back season for Palmer who was pretty much dead to rights before re-inventing himself in Arizona. He’s not getting any younger, though, and you wonder how many hits he can take. It may be difficult for him to string good seasons together at this point.
23. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams: We’ll never know how good he is because he’s always injured. This is his last chance to stay healthy or he’ll be a backup for his next job.
24. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins: Improved in year two but still has a ways to go. Really faded down the stretch.
25. Matt Schaub, Oakland Raiders: After a horrific season that saw him benched, Oakland is the last place you want to go to tap back into the magic. Don’t completely rule out a resurgence because he’s a vet that’s been successful, but the environment is a problem. Matt McGloin and Derek Carr will both be vying for his job.
26. Chad Henne/Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars: Bortles could come in and make some plays in year one but Henne is passable as a veteran that can bide him some time to learn.
27. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Houston Texans: He’s penciled in as the starter for now but he’ll have to play well because there’s a number of guys of comparable ability behind him in Case Keenum, T. J. Yates and rookie Tom Savage.
28. Michael Vick/Geno Smith, New York Jets: Amazing that Vick is still getting an opportunity to start given his recent play. The guy just doesn’t have it anymore. That said, I’m not sure Geno ever will.
29. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans: Can’t stay healthy and has been spotty when able to play.
30. E. J. Manuel, Buffalo Bills: Couldn’t stay healthy in year one at all, but if he can Sammy Watkins will be a nice new companion.
31. Brian Hoyer/John Manziel, Cleveland Browns: Let’s face it, Manziel will be quarterbacking this team. If Hoyer beats him out that’s a serious concern. We’ll see how things play out but with the receivers dropping like flies there won’t be much talent for him to work with.
32. Matt Cassel/Christian Ponder/Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings: There is no telling who will start. Regardless of who does, though, it probably won’t be pretty.