• Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow lead the way: The AFC superstars pace the rest of the NFL, with Justin Herbert not far behind.
• Justin Fields moving up: Considered a clear bottom-tier quarterback not long ago, Fields is up to No. 18 in these quarterback rankings.
• Rookies with plenty to prove: Bryce Young comes in at No. 25, C.J. Stroud places 30th and Anthony Richardson rounds out the group.
Estimated Reading Time: 15 mins
Quarterback is the most important position in football, so there’s no better position to focus on when it comes to offseason rankings.
With NFL free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft already in the rearview mirror, each team’s quarterback situation is just about resolved at this point. Rookies and injuries leave a few situations up in the air, but these rankings will focus on ranking the player who figures to start the most games for each team, even if they aren’t necessarily the Day 1 starter.
Consequently, three rookies feature in the list, and Colt McCoy is the Cardinals' starter with Kyler Murray likely to miss more of the season than he plays after suffering a torn ACL late in the 2022 season.
Mahomes is the standard by which all NFL quarterbacks are now measured. With Manning and Brady now names of the past, Mahomes is the new benchmark pushing the boundaries of what we have seen previously. Since coming into the league, he has 191 big-time throws including the postseason, the most in the NFL. He has also passed for 8.1 yards per attempt, a figure only quarterbacks playing for Kyle Shanahan have surpassed over the same span.
If Mahomes is the obvious starting point, the next two spots are a toss-up between Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow. Each player is capable of elite play and outstanding levels, but the tiebreaker is Allen's rushing ability. It may not be a deal-breaker in every game, but there will be gotta-have-it situations where Allen is virtually unstoppable because of how many different ways he can beat a defense. Burrow can’t bring that to the table.
Burrow has led the league in PFF passing grade (by fractions) in each of the past two regular seasons. He has shown that, while everybody might be chasing special athletes at the position, just putting the ball in the right place at the right time is still capable of transformative play at the position. He has a career 77.1% adjusted completion rate, and his turnover-worthy play rate has gone down in each of his NFL seasons.
This is a big year for Herbert to justify the hype that has surrounded him since his phenomenal rookie season. We have seen glimpses of what he is capable of, but he passed for just 6.8 yards per attempt last season and finished eighth in PFF passing grade. Kellen Moore's arrival as the Chargers' offensive coordinator could be the key that fully unlocks Herbert, and if he is, this is where Herbert belongs.
We are only a year removed from Rodgers coming off back-to-back MVP seasons, but at 39 years old any downturn in performance inevitably raises questions about whether this is the beginning of the end. The New York Jets should have a better supporting cast than Rodgers had last year in Green Bay, and he will know the offense, so I expect it to be a bounce-back season for the veteran.
Jackson is a former league MVP. He’s also coming off consecutive injury-marred seasons and is changing offensive systems for the first time in his NFL career. Greg Roman built a bespoke offense around Jackson, but now Jackson has to adapt his game to a more conventional offense under Todd Monken. How Jackson fares this season will go a long way toward cementing his position in rankings like these, one way or another.
Hurts was phenomenal in 2022, but the hardest part of that kind of play in the NFL is sustaining it. Lamar Jackson one spot above him is a great example of that. Hurts has taken big steps forward every season of his career, and if he has another one in the tank, then he is ranked too low at No. 7. Hurts averaged 8.0 yards per attempt last season and added almost 800 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.
Lawrence arrived last season. It took him half the year to get the Urban Meyer residue off, but from Week 9 onward, only Burrow and Mahomes earned a higher PFF grade. Billed as a truly generational talent when he was drafted, Lawrence showed that ability in 2022, and the Jaguars have continued to surround him with talent this offseason.
Cousins is probably at the top of the second tier of quarterbacks — those who you can win with but are unlikely to transform a team into a contender simply by their presence. Cousins has earned a PFF passing grade of at least 77.7 every season in Minnesota. He is an exceptionally accurate passer with plenty of big plays in his arsenal who maybe lacks that transcendent, intangible talent that every team chases at the position.
Prescott has shown himself to be one of the most sensitive quarterbacks in the league to changes in his supporting cast. His overall PFF grade has ranged from 71.8 to 85.2 over his career, and those changes tend to go hand in hand with the level of receiving help and blocking in front of him. Prescott’s turnover-worthy play rate has been above 3.0% in each of the past four seasons, but when at his best he can lead one of the top offenses in the game.
Can Tua back up what we saw in 2022, or was his play beginning to be found out anyway when concussions became the overriding factor in his season? That’s the big question for him and Miami heading into 2023. Tua led the league with a massive 8.9 yards per attempt last season and also had one of the highest average depths of target, having been in the middle of the pack before that. He has elite potential within Mike McDaniel’s offense but now needs to repeat it.
Is Stafford physically able to be the player he once was? Last season was a nightmare for the Rams from start to finish, and Stafford wasn’t far different on an individual level. He went from throwing 50 touchdowns including the playoffs the season before to just 10 across nine games before being shut down for the year. The Rams and Stafford are likely on the far side of their Super Bowl window, but how much he has left in the tank is a big unknown.
Maybe the hardest player to rank on the list, Watson has one of the widest ranges of outcomes in the NFL. He finished 2022 with just a 55.3 overall PFF grade after returning from suspension and didn’t noticeably improve as one does if they are just shaking off the rust. In his last full season with Houston (2020), he earned a 92.5 PFF grade and was one of the best quarterbacks in the game. I have no earthly idea how good Watson will be in 2023, and neither does anybody else.
Last year’s 66.6 PFF grade was the lowest of Carr’s career outside of his rookie season. In what was supposed to be a solid season, Carr’s big plays declined and he was notably less accurate overall. His adjusted completion rate dropped by more than 6 percentage points from the year before to his lowest level since he was a rookie. That likely represents the floor for Carr’s play, and he has typically been a borderline top-10 player over his career.
Another difficult quarterback to rank, Smith improbably ranked as a top-five quarterback for much of last season before the wheels fell off a little late in the year. Was that the inevitable regression back to the mean, or was it a product of his pass protection suffering a similar late-season collapse? Smith had flashed before in his NFL career, but we hadn’t seen the heights he hit last season. He earned three single-game PFF grades north of 90.0 and posted a 5.4% big-time throw rate.
16. Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
Goff is in an outstanding offense with one of the best coordinators in football running the show. Depending on the numbers you look at, his stats will make him look like one of the best passers in football, but it’s clear to anybody with a critical eye that that doesn’t quite match reality. Goff ranked 19th last season in PFF passing grade and 30th in big-time throw rate. He is a solid quarterback for the offense he’s in but is not as good as some of the results would suggest.
In his first year with Brian Daboll as his coach, Jones saw an uptick in results, but his performance didn’t necessarily match that improvement, albeit with very little help around him in terms of a supporting cast. Jones has now posted a big-time throw rate under 2.0% for two consecutive seasons, the lowest mark in the league. His rushing threat, however, is a huge boost to that offense, and he should have more success in 2023 with better players to target.
Fields won himself a starting job last season with almost no help around him. New general manager Ryan Poles stripped the roster of talent around him, and Fields was still able to emerge as one of the most dynamic players in the league. His passing is still very much a work in progress, but last season his primary targets were tight end Cole Kmet and speedster Darnell Mooney. This is a huge year for Fields to show what he can do with more help.
Tannehill is very much in the decline of his career at this point, but he is being made to look worse by the collapse of talent around him in Tennessee. The Titans ended last season with the league’s worst offensive line, and they may be entering this one with the league’s worst receiving corps. Tannehill has little chance to prove he is still capable of his best play and is coming off a 75.9% adjusted completion rate and a 2.5% turnover-worthy play rate in 2022.
Wilson ranked 26th in PFF passing grade last season and 29th in overall grade. It’s difficult to overstate how bad his first year in Denver was and how much uncertainty that paints his future in. Sean Payton has been brought in to make the best of a disastrous situation, but exactly where Wilson can land on the spectrum between last season and his best play in Seattle is pure guesswork. Given his visible decline in athleticism, it seems likely that his baseline is closer to last year than his peak, but he is a player with a wide range of outcomes.
Bringing in real coaching on offense has the potential to be huge for Jones. As underwhelming as last season was, it’s important to remember that Jones earned an 80.0 overall PFF grade as a rookie, finishing just outside the top 10 of eligible quarterbacks that year. He doesn’t have the dynamic athleticism of Justin Fields or the arm of Trevor Lawrence, but he has already shown he can be a very high-level distributor of the football and a better player than many give him credit for.
The best quarterback in what was deemed an awful quarterback class, Pickett performed admirably in his rookie season even though the statistics weren’t necessarily pretty. His PFF passing grade was good enough to rank 16th in the league, but he finished the season with more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (seven). Pittsburgh’s scheme was toothless and predictable in 2022, and that might be the biggest obstacle standing between Pickett and real improvement in these rankings.
Purdy passed for 8.3 yards per attempt last season in his run as the starter — more than Patrick Mahomes and every quarterback in the league other than Tua Tagovailoa — but he attempted just 233 passes in an offense we know to be a virtual cheat code for production. It would be wrong to dismiss his success altogether — he was better than players like Nick Mullens who also had success in that offense — but it would also be crazy to overreact to such a small sample size, even outside of the risk associated with the UCL surgery Purdy had on his elbow.
For his injury history alone, Garoppolo is likely capped at this kind of level in the rankings. He was outperformed by Purdy last season in the same offense and now goes to a new offensive system, albeit one he is familiar with from his stint in New England. The Raiders have a good collection of receivers to throw to, but Garoppolo has a 3.6% career turnover-worthy play rate, significantly higher than his big-time-throw rate (2.9%). Even if he stays healthy all season, he is likely a below-average starter.
Young was the best quarterback in this draft by a considerable margin, and the only thing that made the discussion close was his lack of size — something that becomes obvious any time he is captured on film with anything near him to show true scale. Young has elite accuracy, anticipation and decision-making (back-to-back seasons with a 2.0% turnover-worthy play rate), but success at his size in the modern NFL is without precedent.
Love passed for 9.3 yards per attempt last season and earned a 78.7 PFF grade. On the other hand, he attempted 21 passes and was disastrous the last time he was on the field before that. We have very little idea what Love can become, with the biggest piece of evidence being that the Packers decided it was time to move on from Aaron Rodgers and turn the keys over to his successor. Countering that was the contract they got Love to agree to, which could only have started with the assumption that they were not going to pick up his fifth-year option.
Another almost total gamble, Howell was given one game late last season to audition for the starting job and performed well in it. He completed 11 of 19 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 35 yards and another score. Howell was seen as a legitimate prospect before sliding all the way to the fifth round of the 2022 draft, but expecting anything above this would be wildly optimistic.
It’s difficult to argue that Mayfield's 2022 season was easily predictable, but it’s equally difficult to maintain any kind of lofty expectations for him going forward after witnessing it. His 50.6 PFF grade on the year was 13 grading points lower than his previous career-worst mark (which involved a torn shoulder), and it speaks volumes that the Rams were happy to let him walk after he led the team to a remarkable win just after stepping off the plane after they traded for him. Mayfield has very good play on his NFL resume, but it’s getting harder and harder to see it in the rearview mirror.
With Kyler Murray not likely to be ready until late in the season, if at all, McCoy will helm the Cardinals' offense for most of the season. It would be easy to assume that’s the worst quarterback situation in the league, but the chances are that one of the better backups in the game performs better than some of the young starters. McCoy has handled more than 100 dropbacks in each of the past two seasons, completing 71% of his passes at 6.6 yards per attempt over that time.
There were a lot of Stroud fans throughout the pre-draft process, but I was always a little lower on him than most. He has NFL stature and elite accuracy, but outside of the Georgia game in the college football playoffs, he had some real issues under pressure or after the play had broken down. His PFF grade under pressure last season placed him in the 18th percentile, and that only improves to the 34th percentile if you look at a two-year sample size.
There was little we saw from Ridder last season to suggest he will approach even average play at the position. Marcus Mariota played his way to the bench with his performances, and Ridder was simply the young quarterback in line for reps. He posted a 68.5% adjusted completion rate and had two turnover-worthy plays to three big-time throws. He also recorded just 136 dropbacks, so it would be a stretch to draw any concrete conclusions.
Richardson wasn’t even a particularly good college quarterback last season in the SEC. His overall PFF grade came in at 80.3, which ranked 38th in the nation and was being propped up by his rushing ability — something that will need to continue in the NFL. The good news for him is that he landed with a head coach who just executed this development arc with Jalen Hurts. Richardson will need to rely on the limitless athleticism that saw him average 7.4 yards per carry last season while he develops as a passer.