Quarterback is the most important position in all of sports. No other player can change the fate of a franchise as much as a quarterback. It’s why they are such valuable commodities. Often, teams use high draft picks to pick a quarterback, who is not nearly as talented as his draft stock suggests. But teams are willing to take that risk, because they understand that this is a position that you simply cannot afford to be weak.
Having a great quarterback can often mask a lot of deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. If a team has a bad defense and falls behind in games, an elite quarterback can lead them back into the game with infuriating determination. If you have a poor offensive line, a good quarterback can manage the game properly, calling plays for quick routes and getting the ball out quickly. No running game? No problem. Just put the ball in the quarterback’s hands and let him work his magic.
These guys are more than just players. They are leaders. They are captains of physical giants. And their teams’ success rest on their shoulders more often than not. A team with a top quarterback always has a chance. Every single year.
Conversely, a team can have the most talented team in the entire league. But if they don’t have a great quarterback, they are facing an uphill battle. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Sports Retriever ranking of every starting NFL quarterback, from worst to best.
If you want to look at his potential, perhaps Mahomes should be listed higher on this list. But with only one game under his belt from his rookie season, it’s very difficult to simply give him a pass for such an unproven quarterback. It does speak volumes that the Chiefs were willing to let Alex Smith go in order to clear a path for Mahomes to take over the reigns for the team. Hopefully he is able to prove them right.
McCarron edges out Mahomes only due to his slightly greater NFL experience. He has been around the league enough to understand the speed of the game, and he also has some reps under his belt. As it currently stands, McCarron is the front runner for the starting job in Buffalo, with recent first round pick Josh Allen taking third-team reps in the offseason. Whether the current depth chart lasts will likely depend more on McCarron’s ability to perform than anything else. It won’t be easy with a weak offensive line, and almost no offensive weapons to speak of, but there is still a chance he surprises people and plays at a high level.
The Bears’ young quarterback showed flashes toward the end of the 2017 season. But he also struggled along the way. With a full offseason under his belt to work with the coaching staff, trainers, and, most importantly, his teammates, the hope is that he will be able to take a big step forward in his sophomore campaign. The Bears did make a strong effort to improve his supporting cast in free agency. They signed both Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, and added promising tight end Trey Burton as well.
McCown is probably better suited as a solid veteran backup rather than a top level starter. He can make a lot of different throws, and can also get on a hot stretch where he strings together several solid games in a row. With the Jets drafting Sam Darnold, there is also no telling how many games (if any) McCown will actually start. Yes, he is currently ahead of Darnold (and Teddy Bridgewater) on the team’s depth chart, but all of that can change in a flash as the season approaches.
Bradford’s current situation is very unfortunate. After receiving a chance to resurrect his career in Minnesota, he played well to start the year. In Week 1, he threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns, showing his potential that once made him the number one overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, that would be the only game he would appear in all season, as a result of another major injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year. Now projected to begin the 2018 season as the starter for the Arizona Cardinals, this could be Bradford’s last chance at a long-term starting gig in the NFL.
Coming off a lost season due to injury, Tannehill is likely staring at his last shot with the Dolphins. There is only so long a team can wait to achieve success from a quarterback. Obviously, the team believes he can get back to his normal self. In 2015, Tanny tossed 24 touchdown passes, along with over 4,200 yards on the year. That type of production is not so easy to find, in the event they decide to move on from him following the 2018 season.
Flacco probably gets more leeway than he should. Yes, he won a Super Bowl for the team a few years back, but a lot of that had to do with Ray Lewis and the defense. Meanwhile, Flacco’s performance has diminished in a big way in recent years. In 2017, his touchdown to interception ratio was a putrid 18-13. Those are numbers more suited for a rookie than a Super Bowl champion who has been around the block. To make matters worse, the Ravens just drafted their potential new franchise quarterback in Lamar Jackson.
Bortles finally looked the part of a starting NFL quarterback last year. Of course, it surely helps to have one of the best combinations of a suffocating defense and an explosive rushing attack. Those things often help to mask some of Bortles’s deficiencies as a passer. But as the pressure was taken off his back, he seemed to welcome more of it voluntarily. Behind smart play from Bortles, who improved in completion percentage and reduced his interceptions, the Jags were able to reach the AFC Championship game, where they couldn’t take down the defending champion Patriots to reach the Super Bowl.
Dalton’s leash should be tightened drastically. Not only did he have a poor statistical season in 2017, with just 3,320 yards, but he consistently blew chances when his team needed him most. Sure, his touchdown total remained respectable at 25, but he could do a lot better considering he has all-pro AJ Green to throw to. The thing that is most worrisome about Dalton is the fact that even in his best seasons, he still was unable to secure a playoff victory for his team. What makes you think this year will be any different? Especially considering teams appear to have improved in many ways both in the Bengals division and across the AFC.
Taylor’s last season in a Bills uniform was underwhelming to say the least. It led to him being cast off by the team, and he will look to reclaim his mojo as a member of the Cleveland Browns. While that sounds like a daunting task in itself, the Browns actually have a lot of young playmakers on their roster. After signing Jarvis Landry in free agency, and bringing back Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman, there is suddenly a lot to like here for Taylor to work with. Moreover, their running game should be improved as well, which will help Taylor’s passing and rushing aspirations. The Browns signed Carlos Hyde and then drafted Nick Chubb.
After two strong seasons to launch his career, the expectations were high from Mariota heading into his third year. Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned, and he ended up having the worst season of his young NFL career. But now he will look to rebound from the disappointments of 2017, as he gets a new coach with a new offensive scheme that should better fit his skillset. On top of that, let’s not forget what this young man was able to achieve even in a down year last season. The Titans headed to Arrowhead Stadium to take on a loaded Chiefs team in the Wild Card game. Despite trailing by 18 points at halftime, Mariota engineered a brilliant comeback to defeat Kansas City 22-21 and give the Titans their first playoff victory since 2003.
Keenum is severely underrated, following his highly impressive 2017 campaign. Despite holding the ship steady in the wake of an early season injury to Sam Bradford, people just don’t give this guy enough credit. Due to his fine play, the Vikings were just one win away from the Super Bowl last season. And in the Divisional playoffs, he shocked everyone when he heaved a last second pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs to win the game as time expired. Those types of plays don’t come around too often, particularly with a trip to the Conference Championship on the line. He should be a major upgrade for the Broncos, who are loaded with pass catchers after a busy offseason.
Carr had a down year in 2017, but not all hope is gone for the soon to be fifth year pro. Of course, it would help if disappointing Amari Cooper starts catching the ball. Despite losing Michael Crabtree to free agency, the team worked hard to put together a strong receiving corps that can bring success to Carr. Jordy Nelson should still have some gas left in his tank, and Martavis Bryant will help to stretch the defense. Carr is expected to rebound this season, and he could do so in a big way. We have already seen what he is capable of doing when he is on his game. Jon Gruden should be a huge benefactor for Carr and the entire Raiders franchise.
Winston is another guy who took a big step back last season. But he has that special leadership quality that is hard to find in a signal caller. And he has already shown us what he can do when everything clicks for his offense. But facts are facts, and we simply can’t ignore the obvious decline he saw in 2017. For the first time in his career, he failed to reach the 4,000 passing yards plateau, and he also tossed just 19 touchdowns passes compared to his 28 from the preceding campaign. His current off-field issues aside, Winston has all the tools to be a dominant quarterback in his career.
Eli has all the pieces around him to have a resurgent campaign in 2018. He has one of the best receivers in the entire league in Odell Beckham Jr., as well as Sterling Shepard on the other side. Meanwhile, tight end Evan Engram showed he can be a force over the middle of the field. And now, with the team drafting Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick in the draft, the sky is truly the limit for Manning and the Giants offense. Manning should find his receivers roaming more open than before, and he still has enough in the tank to deliver a strong and accurate ball pretty much anywhere on the field.
In just five starts last year, Jimmy G was able to transform the entire culture of the 49ers team. San Francisco was a putrid 1-10 prior to Garoppolo’s takeover at the position, and he was able to win all five of his starts to close the season. His advocates continue to claim that he is technically undefeated, but the sample size remains small. Still, these wins were no fluke. They were a direct result of his passing ability, combined with his leadership skills. And he has infused hope and a positive attitude into the entire Bay Area with his on-field play.
The young Goff has reignited the Rams, a team that hasn’t been successful since the days of Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show on Turf.” Goff gives this team more than just hope. He passed for 3,804 and 28 touchdowns last season, also showing his ability to take care of the football, by only throwing seven total picks on the year. Prior to his arrival, the Rams were experiencing a great deal of turnover at the position, unable to find their true franchise quarterback that will provide the stability the team needed. That is now all behind them, as they hope to see another strong leap from Goff in 2018.
If not for a terrible knee injury that occurred last year in a mid-week practice, Watson would be placed much higher on this list. He shocked the world with his ability to throw a great deep ball, combined with incredible rushing ability that catapulted his team to success. In just seven healthy games last season, Watson threw 19 touchdown passes and added two more scores on the ground. If he is able to get back to his pre-injury form, he could shatter our perception of what a quarterback can achieve.
Finally breaking out of his shell last year, Smith showed us all what he is really capable of. For years he carried the reputation of a gun-shy passer, who didn’t like to throw the ball down the field. But with Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings, he likely realized it was time for him to let loose, as he was essentially auditioning for other teams. The result was a 4,042 yard passing season with 26 touchdowns. Smith has now replaced Kirk Cousins in Washington, and will look to build off of his strong 2017.
There were many factors working against Dak last year. The six-game suspension for star running back Ezekiel Elliott limited the entire offensive output, while Dez Bryant struggled to find his dominant form. Consequently, Dak saw a drop off in passing yards and touchdowns. He also didn’t do nearly as good of a job protecting the football, as his interceptions climbed from four to 13 in just a one year time frame. But with Zeke back in the mix, and Dez out of town, Dak and the Cowboys get a fresh start to try and establish themselves as a force once again.
If it wasn’t for a serious shoulder injury, Luck could easily be among the top guys on this list. When healthy, there aren’t too many quarterbacks that are more dangerous than him. Of course stepping into Peyton Manning’s shoes is a tough task for anyone, and Luck has actually been masterful with that challenge. Colts fans are hopeful that Luck’s health improves back to his pre-injury form. He is their only chance of getting back to their championship ways.
Cousins was at the center of everyone’s news feeds when free agency began earlier this offseason. He was the hot commodity that quarterback starved teams were all after. And you can’t really blame them. While he hasn’t had any postseason success to this point in his young career, Cousins has shown the ability and willingness to throw the ball down the field. His best season so far was in 2016, when he threw for just under 5,000 yards on the year (4,917 to be exact).
Ryan had a down year by his standards in 2017. His numbers were down across the board. After passing for just under 5,000 yards, to go with 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in 2016, he regressed to throw for 4,095 yards, and a lackluster 20 touchdowns and 12 picks. Perhaps what hindered the Ryan’s performance was the switch of offensive coordinators from Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian. With another full offseason to get acclimated to the new system, Ryan could see a dramatic improvement in 2018.
Cam is one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the entire league. He has become a much better pocket passer since entering the league. And despite losing to a ferocious Broncos defense in Super Bowl 50, let’s respect the fact that he even got his team there at such a young age. He is a winner, and I’m betting he gets back to the big game at some point in his career. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget about how much pressure Newton puts on opposing defenses via his legs. His patented goal line runs are nearly impossible to stop. Last season, he rushed for the most yards so far in his career, with 754 yards on the ground.
What more can be said about Rivers? This guy just comes out every season to pass for 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns. His team hasn’t always cooperated with his level of play, and injuries have often come in bunches for the Chargers. But this could be the year that Rivers finally makes some noise in the playoffs. His team is very loaded on both sides of the ball. He has all the weapons he could ask for on the offensive side of the ball, and the defense has become one of the most vaunted units in the entire league. Hopefully we can see Rivers get the recognition he deserves.
Stafford continues to show that he belongs among the best QBs in the NFL. Despite having a relatively thin receiving corps in recent years (since the retirement of Calvin Johnson), Stafford still has put up very solid stats. Last season, he threw for 4,446 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also helped Marvin Jones put up his first 1,000 yard season (1,101 yards and nine touchdowns). Stafford still has not had the postseason success that some of his peers have already achieved, and entering his age-30 season, there is more pressure on him than ever to do just that.
Wentz took the league by storm last season, quickly climbing the quarterback tiers due to his strong performance on the field. He led the Eagles to an 11-2 record, including a nine-game winning streak. He threw a touchdown pass in every single game, and had multiple touchdown passes in ten out of his 13 games played. The young and fearless Wentz has instilled a winning attitude to the City of Brotherly Love, which translated into the team’s first ever Super Bowl title last year (despite Wentz being absent due to injury).
Big Ben is a pure winner. This guy knows what it takes to win the big games. He has played in two Super Bowls in his career, winning them both. But it’s leadership and tenacity that gets his team riled up. The guy is a load to bring down. So many times defenders have thought they had him all wrapped up, only to see him somehow shed the would be tackler and make a jaw-dropping play down the field. He has that X-factor that other quarterbacks can only dream of. Thanks to a truly prolific supporting cast, Big Ben has a good chance of getting a third shot at a title in the 2018 season.
Without Russell Wilson, the Seahawks would likely be rebuilding mode right now. But when you have a player of Wilson’s caliber, you always have a chance to turn things around. The fact that Seattle’s defense has deteriorated has actually helped Russ pad his own stats, as the team has leaned on him to pull them out of big holes far too often. In 2017, he threw 34 touchdown passes for the second time in his career, adding another 586 rushing yards and three more scores on the ground.
Brees continues to prove his critics wrong. There are those who have said that he is done. That he no longer has the arm strength he used to have in his younger days. But Brees just ignores the negativity and continues to pile on the stats in illogical fashion. With another year under his belt with his new assortment of offensive weapons, Brees will look to rebound from a relatively slow season by his standards in 2017 (he still threw for 4,334 yards), and to reach the 5,000 passing yard mark once again in 2018.
Rodgers is as lethal as they come. His ability to spread the ball around and get the most out of his teammates is truly epic. Rodgers still only has one Super Bowl to his name. A number he surely would like to add to before he hangs up the cleats. Despite various injuries that have hindered him in recent years, Rodgers remains one of the most lethal quarterbacks in the game. As long as he is healthy, the Packers will continue to be annual contenders to win the Super Bowl.
The greatest quarterback of all time, easily lands atop this list. In his most recent game (Super Bowl LII), he passed for 505 yards and three touchdowns, which somehow were not enough to get the victory. Brady seems to have a rare ability to defy father time. He will turn 41 ahead of the 2018 season, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. His winning ways should continue for as long as he remains in uniform.