The quarterback position is always the most-discussed and -scrutinized in football. Often times it’s hard for casual fans to decipher how good these players actually are and opinions are based on raw numbers and team success, rather than evaluating the QB’s play specifically. Now eight weeks into the season, I decided to rank the starters for all 32 teams and create tiers within the list, to signify how I look at them at this moment.
While statistics will play a large role in making the points for some of these guys, I tried to base my opinions on what the tape says first and foremost. For this exercise, I had to consider surrounding pieces (skill-position players and offensive line), advantages delivered by play-calling and what these quarterbacks are asked to execute. This isn’t supposed to be a ranking of how good these signal-callers are for their teams specifically, but rather I tried to extrapolate the individual players and go from number one to 32.
Here’s my list:
In their own stratosphere:
There are two guys in the NFL right now that stand above the rest. They can pick defenses apart from within the structure of their offense and methodically work their way down the field, but also create huge plays individually. They have the ability to take games over at any given moment.
1. Josh Allen
You could really go 1A and 1B here, since either one of these names is the best guy on the field whenever they’re on it. So the one time we’ve seen them go blow for blow against one another three weeks ago, Allen winning that battle and Mahomes ending the day with a pick, kind of was the deciding factor. If I had to make a case for the Bills QB otherwise, I’d say how efficient he’s become at playing “on time”, along with the dimension he presents as a runner, being able to beat angles to the sideline, run through a linebacker or hurdle guys on the back-end, makes him a slightly different beast than his biggest AFC rival. He obviously has the firepower to blow out opposing teams, but has also delivered in got-to-have-it moments and has brought his team back to wins in close contests. Allen is top three across the board for positional statistics, most importantly leading the league with 21 total touchdowns responsible for. We saw him toss a couple of bad picks in the second half versus the Packers on Sunday Night, but there have barely been any moments like that this season and they’ve been far outweighed by those impossible plays he’s created.
2. Patrick Mahomes
With that being said, Mahomes is still right there with him at the mountain top. Even with those two picks he threw against Buffalo, there were so many big throws in that matchup, as well as all season long. He has now put 40-burgers on the Cardinals, Bucs and 49ers – the latter two being top-three in defensive DVOA before entering those matchups. Mahomes is the most creative player at the quarterback position we’ve maybe ever seen. Kansas City runs so many concepts that are designed for him to have secondary throwing windows and the ability to allow routes to convert as he’s buying extra time. He’s now become hyper-efficient at working those underneath areas with Kelce and Juju, if teams sit back in two-high shells, but if defenses try to cheat or don’t respect the vertical stretch elements of their patterns, he will punish them in a major way. Right now, he’s barely number two in EPA (expected points added) per play, to only Tua Tagovailoa (+0.366), while leading the league with a TD percentage of 7.6% (20 total). And the craziest stat for him – Mahomes has converted 60.9% of his pass attempts on third-and-eight plus – the next-closest guy is at 41.7%.
I think outside of those two superhumans in that top tier, there’s three other names capable of ascending to that level and win an MVP award. One of them has actually taken home the honors once before and is at least very close to that form, another dragged his team to the Super Bowl among a crowded AFC last season, while being on a heater yet again, and finally there’s one guy who has the talent to keep climbing. Any three of these guys can truly carry his team to victories.
3. Lamar Jackson
In a world, where quarterbacks wouln’t allowed to run, Lamar would still easily be top-ten, because of how much more proficient he has become at making pre-snap reads, to attack voids in zone coverage, as well as pick apart blitzes. He’s fourth in the league with 15 passing touchdowns and his offense is currently number two in DVOA, despite not nearly having run the ball as effectively as they’ve done in the past. Their combination of four/five backs has combined for just 710 yards on 150 attempts. Lamar has 553 himself – only five yards away from the top-ten among all NFL players, and he’s number one overall with 7.4 yards per attempt. 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman has really only played four full games and the only wide receivers with over 150 yards right now is Devin Duvernay. You can argue Jackson is the most crucial piece on any offense in the league. The only concern here has been the Ravens’ inability to maintain second-half leads – having been up by double-digits in all three of their losses – but the defense has been the larger issue in that regard.
4. Joe Burrow
Full transparency – I flipped numbers three and four, following the Bengals disappointing 32-13 loss to the Browns on Monday Night. Burrow was arguably as hot as any other quarterback in the league coming into that matchup, having combined for nearly 800 yards, along with three touchdowns and no picks in each of the previous two games. All of a sudden, he had multiple turnovers for the first time since the season-opener, when he threw four picks against the Steelers. And it’s certainly not all on him, considering he didn’t have Ja’Marr Chase and the O-line has continued to put their QB under fire. Only Justin Fields has been sacked more than Burrow’s 29 times so far this season – which is highly frustrating, considering the Bengals were dead-worst in that statistic already last season (51) and thought they had fixed that unit during the offseason. Previously, I had been very encouraged by the way Cincy had allowed Burrow to see the entire field, going almost exclusively to shotgun and spread formations, where his ability to quickly work through progressions and take those perimeter shots when opportunities were presented, right as that back-foot drops, made him look an MVP candidate.
5. Justin Herbert
Considering this is my number two tier, it kind of sucks, having to continue more of a negative theme here, because I truly believe Herbert could be right up with Allen and Mahomes. Yet, he is currently tied for 31st, throwing the ball exactly two yards short of the sticks on average, and 32nd in overall intended air yards per attempt at 6.3. I talked about this in more depth on my most recent video, how offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is confining such a talent, with the structure of his passing offense, as if he was a 40-year old Drew Brees almost. When that mid-game script is thrown out of the window, we’ve seen him make some bat-shit throws, as his team needed it most, at times with his ribcage feeling like it may burst any second. However, playing in an offense that has only rushed for 82+ yards once this season and with how compressed things feel every time he drops back, Herbert has started to regress in terms of field vision to some degree as well. With the things I’ve seen him be capable of – especially when his team needs him to deliver most – I can’t put him any lower, even though the numbers may tell a little bit of a different story.
There’s certainly a separation from the top-five to this tier. They’re all clearly plus-starters and, in the right situation, they can put up the numbers to receive some attention from Associated Press voters. However, there are limiting factors for each of them, whether that’s based on physical ability, mentality capacity to process the game at a highly advanced level or a combination of the two. All but one of them is leading a team that has won at least five games. So they have been able to covert individual into team success.
6. Jalen Hurts
Some people, who simply look at the numbers and see the Eagles being 7-0, may call me a hater for saying Hurts is labelled as having “some limitations”. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe he’s playing high-level football for his squad right now and deserves his credit, but rather me trying to extrapolate him as an individual player. His ability to run to this RPO-heavy Philly offense effectively, the deep balls he has delivered to keep defenses from playing one-on-one on the perimeter, and his physicality as a runner – whether it’s being automatic on QB sneaks or killing defenses on third-down scrambles – are a big factor as to why this group is still undefeated. With that being said, we have to be honest with how much of his production comes off quasi lay-ups – hitting glance routes with a linebacker having to step up against the run look or somebody wide open in the flats as he pulls the ball – and that he’s not being asked to execute a whole lot of multi-faceted reads. Hurts is top-five in yards per attempt (8.5), passer rating (105.1) and total touchdowns responsible for (16). He’s a tremendous fit for this team – the success may not quite be the same in a different location however.
7. Dak Prescott
I didn’t make a whole lot of Dak in his return versus the Lions, when the offense heavily relied on the (then-)two-headed backfield and his lone touchdown came with two minutes left in meaningless fashion. However, he looked great this past Sunday versus Chicago, ripping isolation throws off pre-snap reads, working through progressions and having a couple of nice designed runs. That is an element I want to see more of in the future, along with just the general game-plans we’ve seen. Over the last two weeks, Dak has been under center and used play-action (48.2% percent of dropbacks) at the second-highest rate in the league respectively. You really like what he provides attacking down the field after turning his back to the defense, as well as his ability to throw on the run off bootlegs. Yet, when they do spread things out, he’s also excellent at finding solutions against the blitz and attacking leverage against zone-defenders. The sample size is much smaller than anybody else’s outside of a few names at the very bottom, but if Dak can play at this level, along with what the Cowboys D has done, this can once again be a scary team to face.
8. Tua Tagovailoa
Similar to the Jalen Hurts conversation, I’m sure there are some people out there, who will call me a hater and I don’t want TuAnon to come after me here. So let me explain. The Dolphins are a much better team with Tua on the field. His energy coming back for the Sunday Night game versus the Steelers was palpable, and he’s done a very good job running Mike McDaniel’s system. He’s currently number one in the NFL in passer rating (112.7), QBR (78.7) and EPA per play (+0.371). How quickly he can get the ball out to where his receivers can create yards after the catch, his anticipatory skills, how elusive he is inside the pocket and his toughness are all top-tier. However, his arm strength does limit the areas of the field the Dolphins can consistently threaten and he’s not a special athlete or “play-creator”. I showed this in my video on the seven sins of week seven, where Steelers defenders dropped five(!) interceptions of his. Down the field, he hasn’t allowed those speedster receivers to maximize plays all the time and Tyreek Hill in particular has bailed him out on several occasions.
9. Kyler Murray
There’s been a lot of crap being said about Kyler, after the weird contract clause and how inconsistent this offense has been on the season, but this is another guy, who I believe doesn’t receive a ton of help schematically. Kliff Kingsbury has finally shown some adaptability since the return of DeAndre Hopkins, being willing to move him around, and that guy has been the most productive receiver in football over the past two weeks (22 catches for 262 yards and a touchdown). Other than that, it’s been a whole lot of basic Air Raid concepts, where Kyler ends up having to run around and make something happen, because the defense is all over those. You give him a reliable number one receiver to work the basic route tree and some opportunities to make great isolation throws down the field, and he can really make things happen, along with what he provides extending and creating secondary plays. Murray is currently 20th in EPA per play (+0.023), but that’s in part due to having the 30th-ranked intended air yards per pass attempt (6.6), and he still leads Arizona in rushing yards (299 on 5.9 yards per attempt).
10. Geno Smith
The guy nobody expected to be in the top-ten is Geno Smith. He was in a quarterback competition with freaking Drew Lock this summer and now he’s playing at a higher level than a bunch of guys typically associated with the pinnacle of the position. At this moment, Geno is ranked number seven in EPA per play (+0.159) and easily leads the league in completion percentage (72.7%), despite being tied for tenth among starters with 8.1 intended air yards per pass attempt. So he delivers big plays through the air, while only having turned the ball over four total times. Whether it’s taking deep shots off play-action from heavy sets or working some quick game elements when they do spread the field – he’s kind of done it all for a Seahawks team, that decided they were ready to trade away Russell Wilson – who we still won’t see show up for a while. And let’s not overlook what Geno has done when he’s needed to take off as a runner. He currently leads the league with 9.9 yards per scramble, among quarterbacks with at least three of those attempts.
11. Kirk Cousins
The final name of this group is one of those who consistently puts up good numbers, but seemingly nobody wants to talk about. And I somewhat understand that, because Cousins isn’t doing a whole lot of special stuff. Right now, he’s dead-smack average with the 16th-best EPA per play (+0.053) and the Vikings are just outside the top-ten in DVOA offensively (5.9%), despite all the talent around the quarterback. He doesn’t really give you anything out of structure and he seems to crumble at times under pressure. With that being said, if Kirk is protected and has a clear picture in front of him, he can read the field and deliver the ball accurately better than most guys around the league. He’s number one in on-target percentage of throws (81.8%), according to pro-football-reference.com, and if you take away a really bad showing in week two at Philly, he’s been responsible for 12 touchdowns compared to only three turnovers, for what has to be one of the quietest 6-1 teams in recent memory.
Showing their age:
This is a bit of a sad tier, because as of the end of this past season, all three of these men (notice, I said men rather than guys) were universally accepted as tier one or two names – and inside my top-50 overall players coming into 2022. However, there’s a major flaw with each of them right now, that deservedly drops them down here – for one of them, it’s based on the lack of urgency to put defenses on their heels with attacking down the field, for another it’s the sudden inability to consistently drive his offense down the field and for the final one, turnovers remain a huge issue, but in a more hurtful fashion than last year, due to big plays not outweighing those.
12. Aaron Rodgers
First and foremost, I don’t believe there’s a major decline physically here with Rodgers, that pushes him all the way down here, after winning back-to-back MVP awards. His movement to avoid pressure isn’t quite the same anymore, but we just saw him uncork a laser to Samori Toure at the end of the Sunday Night game at Buffalo, that went 50 yards through the air, without any wobble to it. However, the fact that he has to rely on this seventh-round pick to ad-lib for a secondary route is indicative of the trust issues he’s had with the rest of this young receiving corp, while the veterans aren’t very dynamic. Plus, they’ve had had some issues in protection. Still, Rodgers himself has shown an unwillingness to read out the field and deliver to his targets, bound to break open. It’s all quick game and RPOs, along with a couple of pre-determined vertical shots one-on-one. He’s currently 23rd among starters and on pace for finishing with a negative mark in EPA per play for the first time in his career (-0.011). Two bright spots, if he does learn to trust his receivers and starts pushing further down the field: Rodgers is behind only Kirk Cousins – who I just mentioned – in on-target percentage of throws (81.1%), and he has the best passer rating in the red-zone among NFL quarterbacks (127.1).
13. Tom Brady
The raw quarterback numbers would actually tell you Brady should be above Rodgers and you can probably go either way here, but if you’ve actually watched the games, I don’t think you can argue for Brady having played close to his usual standard with any conviction. Ranking dead-last in average yards per rush as a team (3.0) certainly plays a part in this, but the Bucs have averaged the eighth-fewest points per drive this season and Tom hasn’t been the killer we’ve seen for the majority of his career. So far, he’s only converted 32 percent of third down attempts as a passer and they’ve been dreadful on third-and-eight plus, going 5-of-39 through the air. Brady himself has only one interception so far, but he’s also had a couple more go off the finger-tips of defenders and he’s taken a couple of sacks on got-to-have-it downs, instead of risking throws into traffic – not saying that’s necessarily worse. Other than the Sunday Night matchup with the Chiefs, where they were down by 18 points at the two-minute warning of the first half and got much of their production in quasi garbage time, Tampa hasn’t scored more than 21 points in any other game.
14. Matt Stafford
I understand that Stafford isn’t as old as the other two guys, but his lengthy injury history is starting to show and the reigning Super Bowl champs have been tough to watch on offense for most of the season. At this moment, Stafford is 29th overall among quarterbacks in EPA per play (-0.067), with three backups in front of him. And what’s really sad, considering he finished third last season in explosive pass plays (20+ yard completions), he’s now sitting at 35th(!) with just 6.0 intended air yards per pass attempt, while Matt Ryan – who has since been benched – is the only guy with more than his eight interceptions thrown. Once again, Sean McVay and the run game have left things to be desired (ahead of only the Bucs with 3.3 yards per carry), and there’s no way we can overlook the fact that Stafford has already been sacked 24 times through seven games, when that number was at 30 for all of 2021 (in 17 contests). The entire unit has been problematic, while Matt has struggled to get off Cooper Kupp and towards his backside read a lot of times, along with trying to look off DBs and almost blindly throwing some picks, because the opponents weren’t fooled. He does have the second-highest completion percentage among starters (70.5%) and can still deliver some big-time throws however.
This is a concept the “Around The NFL” crew started using about a decade ago. Adapted from a baseball batting average, it signifies a line, below which you’re looking – or should be looking – to replace your starter, while you should stick with what you have if you’re above it. There are questions, where these guys can take you over a multitude of years, but if you put the right pieces around them, they can lead the way for a winning team. If I had to create separation within this four-name tier, I’d say the top two guys are above that line, while the latter couple of names, I probably wouldn’t invest heavily into building a team around.
15. Ryan Tannehill
Talk about a quarterback who can rely on the ground game – in the one game Tannehill wasn’t available for this past Sunday, the Titans were able to win, despite rookie backup Malik Willis only attempting – and not completing – one pass in the second half, thanks to Derrick Henry going off for over 200 rushing yards yet again versus the Texans. That doesn’t mean Tannehill hasn’t done his job pretty well. Taking out a Monday Night matchup from week two, when they ran into a buzzsaw with the Bills and Tannehill was intercepted twice, he has only thrown one pick compared to the seven touchdowns he’s accounted for, while 11.6 percent of his passes have gone for 20+ yards. That’s despite Robert Woods being only player on the team with at least 150 receiving yards and Justin Fields being the only guy pressured at a higher rate across the NFL (29.3%) than the Titans QB. And a big reason Tennessee is quietly sitting at 5-2 right now has been the fact they’ve gotten into the end-zone on 13 of 17 red-zone trips, where Ryan has the second-best passer rating in that area among NFL quarterbacks behind only Aaron Rodgers (121.9).
16. Derek Carr
It’s not easy to come away with a lot of positives for the quarterback of a team that just laid a goose-egg on Sunday (against the Saints). Carr himself has certainly regressed this season, after he had been playing like a top-ten guy at the position in each of the previous two seasons, without anything like a top-flight alpha receiver. The Raiders reunited him with former Fresno State teammate and All-Pro Davante Adams this offseason, yet he’s on pace to basically match his worst numbers across the board for his career, if you take out his rookie year, when he was playing for a 3-13 squad. Carr has gone from finishing behind only Tom Brady with 67 completions of 20+ yards, to being tied for 18th right now with just 19 of those through seven games (which puts him on pace for 46 on the year). That’s a big reason in why Las Vegas has the third-lowest difference in average yards per rush compared to net yards per pass attempt of just 0.7 yards, for a 2-5 squad. When the Raiders have faced a legit pass-rush, protection has been an issue, but considering how effective Josh Jacobs has been in the run game and how quickly Davante can beat his man left when one-on-one, this isn’t good enough right now.
17. Daniel Jones
Now we’re moving on to a couple of guys, whose teams didn’t prioritize locking up long-term this offseason, as the Giants declined picking up Jones’ fifth-year option. I couldn’t blame them at that point, looking at his resume at the time – a 21-to-17 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the past two seasons, a league-high 36(!) fumbles since entering the lineup, and while certainly not all his fault, a combined record of 12-and-25 as a starter. Throughout his career, he’s rarely had a full complement of healthy receivers and he’s played behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL – this season, he has now at least moved “behind” Justin Fields and Ryan Tannehill in terms of percentage of dropbacks under pressure (29.1%). Jones currently ranks 35th among quarterbacks with just nine completions of 20+ yards. A big part of that is the lack of vertical threats on this offense, but the quarterback doesn’t deliver a whole lot of explosive plays through the air. However, the coaching staff hasn’t really asked him to either, and what he has brought the table is the ability to keep drives alive, converting 12 of a league-high 35 third-and-long attempts as a passer, along with being behind only Lamar Jackson and Justin Fields with 363 rushing yards on 64 attempts. And he has two more game-winning drives to his name than any other team in the league (five).
18. Jimmy Garoppolo
There’s a big drop-off after Tua Tagovailoa, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen as far as EPA per play is concerned, but Jimmy G is next man up in that statistic (+0.218). Kyle Shanahan’s ability to create opportunity for big runs and scheme open throws over the middle – the area Garoppolo targets more frequently than any other QB in the league – is the main reason the Niners have been one of the most efficient offenses for multiple years now. The 49ers signal-caller ranks behind only the Jets’ Zach Wilson – who works under Mike LaFleur, coming from that offensive system – with 7.2 yards after the catch per completion, and he probably has the most dynamic four-man combination of pass-catchers in the league right now, without a whole lot of big-boy throws outside the numbers. So the limitations and reasons why San Francisco wanted to move on to Trey Lance still remain, but Jimmy has played his role well. He has completed exactly two thirds of his passes, he’s fifth in yards per attempt (8.1), one of seven guys with a passer rating North of 100 and outside of Patrick Mahomes – who is in completely own world – Garoppolo converts the highest rate of third-and-eights or longer (41.7%).
Would like to replace:
Now that we’re below that aforementioned line, I would be looking to replacement my starter under center in the long term. Depending on where I am within my team’s life cycle, some of them are fine for the situation they’re in right now, outside of that one name at the top of these five, considering his new squad thought they were ready to compete for a championship with a franchise QB – but he hasn’t been that guy for them. Taking him out of the equation, the four other teams connected to these names don’t want to run their offenses through the quarterback, but those guys can deliver enough to lead fairly effective offenses.
19. Russell Wilson
And this really is an indictment on what Russ has done during his short time in Denver, along with the coaching staff not having handled game-management stuff in an acceptable manner. No quarterback with a 250-million-dollar contract should ever even come close to flirting with that aforementioned Mendosa line, but right now, the Broncos QB is playing at a replacement level. His inability to see the entire field, find solutions to post-snap rotations defensively, get off the first read at times and not create any of that Russ magic we’ve seen in his career, has been the biggest reason in Denver’s offense scoring the second-fewest points per game (15.1). One of the weirded stats out you’ll find out there is that Wilson is fourth in the league, with 28 completions of 20+ yards, yet among current starters, he’s dead-last in percentage of his pass attempts resulting in first downs (30.3%). Yet, that really speaks to the fact he can deliver on those vertical shots on the outside, but not really anything between the hashes. To be fair, he has been pressured at the fifth-highest rate league-wide (27.2%) and the Broncos lost emerging star second-year back Javonte Williams four games in, but if the defense is even average, they’re probably win-less right now.
20. Marcus Mariota
The fact that Mariota hasn’t attempted 30 or more passes since the season-opener and that only this past Sunday in that overtime thriller versus Carolina, he had more than 20 attempts in one of Atlanta’s wins, kind of speaks to the way, they want to win ball games. You can question the usage of back-to-back top-ten picks in their receiving corp, but Arthur Smith and the rest of that coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for the way they’ve gotten a roster in transition ready to perform. So operating in the second-most run heavy offense certainly doesn’t put as much pressure on the quarterback to consistently move his group down the field, but when the ball is put in Mariota’s hands, he’s provided some big plays through the air. Counting only starters (since Jameis Winston would be number one with his all-or-nothing 2022 stat line), he leads the NFL with 10.0 intended air yards per pass attempt and his throws being 1.1 yards past the sticks on average. Plus, when the offense is on schedule and gets to third-and-seven or less, Mariota has gone 16-of-26 (61.5%) at converting those as a passer, along with a few more as a scrambler, as 21 of his 55 carries (38.2%) have resulted in first downs or touchdowns.
21. Jared Goff
If anybody thinks right now that putting Jared Goff in the same tier with, and just a couple of spots behind Russell Wilson, looking back at the time they spent together in the NFC West, right now they have the exact same EPA per play (+0.019). Want to here something even more shocking? He’s currently tied with Josh Allen for the second-most completions of 20+ yards (29). It’s been a really disappointing season for the 1-6 Lions, especially for people like me, who believed they could at least be in the hunt for a Wildcard berth at this point. However, Goff and the offense hasn’t been the issue. Detroit’s defense has yet to hold an opposing team below 24 points and they’ve allowed 5.8 points more per game (32.1) than any other unit in the NFL. So while you can argue Goff’s stats have benefitted from the fact that he’s needed to force the issue, constantly being in negative game-scripts in second halves of games also puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Yet, he’s on pace for his best mark in yards per attempt (7.6) and passer rating (93.2), while all but one of his six interceptions (compared to 12 TDs) came when they were trailing.
22. Jacoby Brissett
This is similar to the Marcus Mariota conversation, as the Browns have run the ball on 49.4 percent of plays, despite trailing for the majority of games, since their 2-1 start (now at 3-5). Since I just brought him up, Mariota is the only current starter, who on average throws the ball further past the sticks than Brissett (0.4 yards). You can call him a game-manager, but when his team needs him make some big plays through the air, he typically delivers. Right now, he ranks 13th in percentage of passes resulting in 20+ yards (9.02%), along with being just inside the top-ten in QBR (60.7) and EPA per play (+0.131). We’ve seen him deliver some beautiful moon-balls down the sidelines, along with shaking off rushers and avoiding catastrophic plays. Potentially the most impressive stat however – 21 of his 31 carries so far have resulted in a fresh set of downs or touchdown, with just one QB sneak that comes to mind, where he didn’t convert on third- or fourth-and-one. That’s been a cheat code for Cleveland in those situations.
23. Andy Dalton
Let’s start with this – Dalton had one truly horrific game against the Cardinals, when he tossed three interceptions, with one of those in the opposing end-zone and the other two returned for touchdowns (even though the first one of those came off a blatant drop by one of his receivers). If you take that Thursday Night matchup out of the equation (and he did throw four touchdowns that day as well), he’s tossed five touchdowns compared to only one pick – a great play by Seahawks’ phenomenal rookie corner Tariq Woolen driving on a curl route. That protection of the ball is a welcome sight to Jameis Winston throwing some games away for Saints fans. Taking everything into account, he’s still ninth in EPA per play (+0.141) and eighth in quarterback rating currently (95.1). Dalton has definitely benefited from being pressured at a league-low 11.8 percent of dropbacks, but he’s done an excellent job of quickly working through progressions within concepts, along with a couple of kill-shots, when the defense has left his backside wide receiver isolation on vertical routes.
24. Mac Jones
Unlike the other guys in this tier, not named Russell Wilson as the head-liner, Mac Jones is a name that is on the way down and could easily have been part of the “young & learning” group. However, right now it feels like he’s UN-learning some of the things that made him such a pro-ready player as a rookie. If you show this guy what you’re doing defensively before the snap, he will get the ball to the right target, and unlike popular belief, he’s actually been one of the more aggressive vertical passers in the league, with 10.9 percent of his pass attempts resulting in completions of at least 20 yards. He’s also taken advantage of defenses leaving a lane in front of him, converting 15 carries into 74 yards over his past three games. However, the lack of maturity he’s shown as a decision-maker has been the issue here, throwing some balls late and without being able to properly step into them, that have allowed defenders to make plays on those. Only the Steelers’ Kenny Pickett currently has a worse touchdown-to-interception ratio at three-to-seven, with at least one pick in every game.
Young, with growing pains:
You can argue all but two of these next five names deserve to be within that bottom tier, but I still see things that make me believe they can be more than that in the NFL, as they continue to adjust to the pro game. This includes one rookie, that has shown some signs in an offense that doesn’t provide much help with the run game or from a play-calling perspective. The other four guys are second-year players, who have shown flashes, but also a lack of maturity as decision-makers, inconsistent field vision and/or ball-placement.
25. Justin Fields
We’ve finally gotten to the quarterback or rather team that throws the ball on the lowest percentage of snaps, as the Bears currently are at 60-to-40 in terms of percentage of run plays. For some perspective – exactly half the league throws the ball on at least 60 percent of snaps. However, other than Lamar Jackson, Fields is the most integral component to his team’s rushing success right now. Through eight weeks, he’s already surpassed his rushing total from a year ago (424 yards). Over the last couple of contests, Chicago’s coaching staff has really started to use him in the designed run game, which combined with some of the crazy scrambles to convert on third-and-long, has him converting 43.4%(!) of his carries into first downs or touchdowns. He still has a long way to go as a passer, in terms of eye-discipline, reading the full field and overall accuracy, as he’s currently dead-last among starting quarterbacks, with an on-target percentage of throws at 67.1%. However, he’s also been pressured at the highest rate in the entire league (31.7%) and has arguably the weakest group of receivers overall at his disposal, while 11.95% of his pass attempts having resulted in 20+ yard gains.
26. Trevor Lawrence
This feels really low, considering what kind of high hopes Lawrence gave us early in the season, but he simply hasn’t looked the same since week four. From that point on, he’s thrown four touchdowns compared to five interceptions, with just one game in which he completed at least 60 percent of his passes, while the Jags have gone 0-and-5 over that stretch. T-Law can consistently rip those difficult intermediate level throws and has been one of the most effective scramblers in the NFL at a limited sample, averaging 7.9 yards on eight attempts. Yet, he’s painfully conservative at times, when it comes to opportunities to attack vertically, which is indicated by ranking dead-last in the Next Gen Stats metric labelled “aggressiveness” (a correlation of yards per attempt dependent on down and distance), along with a couple of really untimely interceptions. We just saw it this past Sunday morning (in London), when Jacksonville was gifted first-and-goal from the one-yard line following a penalty and Lawrence tossed an interception to Justin Simmons, trying to get the ball to one of his receivers working across the field with him, as he was rolling to the right – and that’s after getting picked off by Texans rookie corner Derek Stingley Jr. in almost the exact same fashion three weeks earlier. This is a talented Jags team, which wouldn’t even need their QB to play like a former number one overall pick to win.
27. Zach Wilson
Man, this is so frustrating. Since we just talked about 2021 first overall pick Trevor Lawrence, I think it’s only appropriate to follow up with the guy who the Jets selected right after. Wilson was one of my breakout candidates for 2022, looking at some of the positives he had already shown, in terms of having solutions against more static zone coverages and some of the play-creation stuff, combined with the added receiving talent, which he could rely upon to defeat man-coverage. Unfortunately, I feel like he’s routinely become a tick late even when it feels like he knows where he wants to go, his pocket presence is horrific right now and he can’t help himself but try to force throws late, when he should just live another down, rather than actively hurt his team – which is ready to win now. Zach is currently tied with Baker Mayfield – who has been in his own rotten world statistically – for the lowest completion percentage league-wide at 54.9%, and he’s 30th for the position in EPA per play (-0.076). Seeing how upset he is about himself, when he makes some of those bone-headed decision, I do still have some hope that he can turn things around, and he clearly is a gamer, indicated by the second-best passer rating in the fourth quarter among quarterbacks (108.8).
28. Davis Mills
You can probably make a case for Mills to rank anywhere from 28th to 32nd. Baker Mayfield saves face for Houston’s 2021 third-round pick here a little bit, but not counting the currently injured Panthers quarterback, Mills is dead-last in EPA per play (-0.148) and QBR (31.6). The reason I don’t have him even further down is the fact that he has less pieces around him offensively and he hasn’t had that one catastrophic performance yet, like some other names below him. This team was projected to “earn” one of the top two picks in next year’s draft and they are currently number 32 in total DVOA. There are certain limitations from an arm-talent perspective, but his ability to deliver the ball accurately versus off-coverage, get the pass off right at the top of his drop on timing-based patterns and the toughness to hang in there and deliver, with a rusher right in his face, makes him a formidable pocket passer. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really provide anything outside of that, and he’s not been good on third downs, going 20-of-68 so far as a passer on the year (29.4%).
29. Kenny Pickett
I feel like people who have watched Pickett play this season act like he’s playing better than he actually is, simply because we haven’t really seen another rookie QB play for extended stretches. There have certainly been bright-spots, looking at some of the well-placed shots down the sideline, the willingness to stand in the face of pressure (which was a major issue at Pitt) and how he can pick up 8-10 yards with his legs when needed. Still, right now the only current starting quarterback with a worse EPA per play (-0.108) than Pickett is the aforementioned Davis Mills, and as a pure passer, his rating is right at the bottom for all guys (66.8). Now, I will say that two-versus-eight touchdown-to-interception ratio for the Steelers rookie is a bit deceiving, considering two of those came in his first game action, when he was inserted about mid-way through week four against the Jets, in Hail Mary situations, along with two more a couple of weeks ago on Sunday night against the Dolphins, when he kind of had to force the issue on third-and-long twice, down by six points late. After realizing OC Matt Canada being fired was just a rumor, I do feel bad for Pickett having to overcome some really questionable play-calling, but with the skill-position talent around him, he needs to do more.
And finally, this last tier consists of three guys, who to me clearly are starters based on the team they’re on, rather than franchises making the conscious decision to hand them the reigns. They are literally pushed into action by injury, along with their teams partially deciding to see what they have in them, and their biggest interest maybe not being winning as many games as possible. I’d be very surprised if any of these guys are back under center week one of 2023.
30. Taylor Heinicke
And to be fair here, you can argue Heinicke has played better than Carson Wentz so far in limited action – who hasn’t been dreadful other than in his rematch with the Eagles, when he was under pressure all day long. Heinicke has won his two starts this year and delivered some big plays in both of them, with a couple of touchdowns responsible for each, along with a pick respectively. He’s really fun to watch, with how slippery he is at navigating the pocket, the conviction he shows driving the ball and the toughness he plays with – which his teammates have pointed out about him, being ready to do anything necessary to help his squad win. Terry McLaurin making former All-Pro corners look like regulars these last couple of weeks certain helps, but when he’s in there, the coaching staff has certainly trusted Heinicke, even letting him throw to run down the clock versus Aaron Rodgers and then putting together that game-winning drive at Indy just now. So if I just evaluated his play this season, he’d probably be higher than 30, but let’s not forget the organization – which hasn’t had anything close to a franchise QB since Robert Griffin III – had a chance to make him “the guy”, but brought in other veterans each of the last two years.
31. P.J. Walker
Another guy, who probably deserves to be bumped up for what he’s shown over the last couple of weeks is this former XFL star. Walker has now gone a combined 35-of-58 for 494 yards and three touchdowns versus one interception against their division-rival Bucs and Falcons. And if D.J. Moore doesn’t foolishly pull his helmet off at the back-end of the absolute rocket his quarterback delivered to him, which travelled 67.6 yards through the air – a new record-long in the Next Gen Stats era – the kicker just makes the longer PAT or then delivers from 33 yards away in overtime anyway, Walker is 2-1 as a starter. That looks a lot different, than when he finished with -1 intended air yards when first pushed into action three weeks ago against the Rams. He’s clearly been better at delivering big plays than Baker Mayfield, while Carolina’s rushing attack has really taken off since he’s entered the lineup. I’m not saying this is the long-term solution, also considering what he looked like last season, but I think he’s at least done enough to start the rest of the year and be brought back as a backup, to whoever the Panthers probably draft in the top-five next April.
32. Sam Ehlinger
We finish with the guy, who has the smallest sample size to show for himself. It was a shocker to learn last week that Frank Reich announced Ehlinger would be the starter going forward, even when Matt Ryan was healthy again. The Colts have been in quarterback hell ever since the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck and how this thing has panned out, believing you were plugging a former MVP into a win-now roster, is hard to believe. Matty Ice had not been playing well on a consistent basis and this very much feels like an ownership decision, but Indy’s O-line and run game have been sub-par for any quarterback to step into. Now, as far as Ehlinger’s first career start goes, it’s not easy to evaluate. The Commanders only blitzed on five of his 28 dropbacks, yet he was pressured on exactly a quarter of those and as the game progressed, the quarterback’s eyes started looking down on the rush quicker and quicker. His stat line ultimately didn’t look bad and if not for Terry McLaurin moss-ing Stephon Gilmore late, the Colts probably win at home, but their lone touchdown was set up by a Shaq Leonard interception and outside of their three field goal drives, the only other time Indy ran more than four plays, Ehlinger had a bad strip-sack.