Arguably no NFL offseason has displayed the power of the quarterback position like this one. An all-time great in Tom Brady celebrated a Super Bowl title after leaving his former dynasty for greener (Tampa) pastures. Another, Aaron Rodgers, appears to be angling for a similar career move. Two former first-rounders in Carson Wentz and Matthew Stafford successfully bargained for fresh starts via trade. A couple of other stars in Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson either flirted with or are still seeking the same. It’s no wonder, either, considering how important (and expensive) QBs are in a passing league.
Which of the NFL’s current QBs, however, truly stand above the rest? Regardless of whether they’re committed to their current team or hoping for a new one, which passers reign supreme entering 2021? We’re glad you asked. Incorporating both past performance and future projection, here’s how we’d rank the top 10 QBs going into the new season:…
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10. Kyler Murray (Cardinals)
For all his highlight-reel plays, Murray has struggled to deliver big results in Arizona, going 13-18-1 with 24 interceptions and a so-so 90.9 passer rating in two seasons under Kliff Kingsbury. Still, he improved in almost every category from 2019 to 2020, can extend plays as well as anyone this side of Lamar Jackson, and offers more upside at age 23 than most anyone under center. He could stand to cut down on forced throws, but he’d also benefit from better in-game coaching from Kingsbury. At the end of the day, his dual-threat athleticism always makes him a tough out, which is why he edged out more consistent or refined passers like Baker Mayfield, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Ryan Tannehill. Ask any of those other QBs’ teams whether they’d trade their starter for Murray at this point in his career, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a “no.”
9. Justin Herbert (Chargers)
If anything, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year is too low. It’s fair to be cautious with hype considering we’ve seen first-round studs flame out before (see: Wentz, Carson; Goff, Jared), but Herbert is a different animal. His rookie poise and production has been matched only by mostly Hall of Fame-caliber talents in NFL history, and he also boasts one of the game’s strongest arms. The physical tools, then, are not even a remote concern. The question is whether he can adapt quickly to a new staff, led by a defensive head coach, and thrive behind a rebuilt offensive line rather than as more of an off-script gunslinger. Either way you slice it, the arrow is pointing up. He’s a prototype under center. He just needs more time to prove he’s sustainable.
8. Lamar Jackson (Ravens)
There are legitimate critiques to be made about Jackson’s deep-ball and big-game passing (he’s 1-3 in the playoffs, completing just 56 percent of his throws). But God bless you if you’re discounting his “franchise QB” label entering his age-24 season. You do not compile 68 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and a 102.6 passer rating through 37 starts – and go 30-7 in them – by accident. Is he one-dimensional considering how often he uses his legs, and how much the Ravens depend on them? Obviously more than most QBs, but he’s still got a rocket of an arm, and that “one dimension” makes him one of the most indefensible play-makers in space. Jackson may not be the best quarterback in the NFL, but he remains arguably its best talent, and that always gives you a chance.
7. Dak Prescott (Cowboys)
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Anyone who still thought the former fourth-rounder was more good than irreplaceable (the Cowboys included) learned a lesson in 2020: Dallas’ weapons mean very little without one of the NFL’s steadiest point guards. Prescott had been a model of durability before injuring his ankle in his fifth season, but he’s long been reliable as a QB, too: Except for a 2017 slump, he’s been both relatively averse to turnovers and capable of hitting the big play, all while managing the pocket like the best of them. You still wonder if he can go toe to toe with an elite rival in a big game, but his career record (42-27) suggests he’ll always put the Cowboys in a position to challenge. Put him on a club with better coaching and an improved defense, and you’re talking about a real contender.
6. Deshaun Watson (Texans)
It’s unclear what the future holds for Watson, who’ll turn 26 in September. Facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault or misconduct, he may or may not be suspended. He also reportedly still wants out of Houston, requesting a trade early this offseason. From a football perspective, he remains one of game’s top young QBs, offering a solid arm, solid athleticism and poise both in and outside the pocket. His 2020 numbers (4,823 yards, 33 TD, 7 INT) may have been inflated a bit on a bad team, but on the field, he checks almost every physical and mental box. The question is where, when and if those talents will return.
5. Josh Allen (Bills)
If you asked anyone in 2018 whether the Bills made the right call moving up to draft Allen out of Wyoming, most probably would have suggested they did not. An inaccurate QB remained inaccurate as a rookie, not to mention careless with the football. But Allen has improved in each of the two seasons since, to the point of rivaling guys like Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes as the position’s premier play-maker in a 2020 MVP candidacy. He could still stand to protect the ball (and himself) better, but his progression – coupled with unteachable size, arm talent and toughness – all but ensures Buffalo will remain a contender in 2021 and beyond. The numbers may not always be as pretty as they were a year ago, but his rugged attitude and athleticism are top-notch.
4. Tom Brady (Buccaneers)
For 14ish months, it looked like TB12 might actually, finally, be on a real decline, even if just to the big crop of mid-tier QBs. Then Brady did as he always does, erasing memories of a sluggish final year in New England and mercurial start in Tampa Bay to come through in the clutch, powering down the home stretch in 2020 with some of his finest passing in years. Going on 44, could a physical setback finally be coming? We refuse to entertain the idea until Brady hangs up the cleats himself. He doesn’t have the biggest arm, he’s practically immobile, and he’s more prone to turnovers than you’d think. But he’s still got the touch for both precision and deep-ball passing, he’s still one of the smartest to play the position, and he’s surrounded by a familiar and talented supporting cast.
3. Russell Wilson (Seahawks)
It’s pretty astounding that we can review Wilson’s 2020, in which he threw a career-high 40 TDs to go 12-4, and consider it kind of disappointing because of the way it ended. It speaks to the bar Russ has set for himself. You’d like to see more of a playoff presence (he’s lost four of his last five postseason games), and he’ll endure occasional bursts of head-scratching picks. But those are nitpicks for a guy who’s never once had a losing season, who remains arguably the game’s calmest pocket operator alongside Mahomes, and who might still be ascending as a passer going into his 10th season. As long as Wilson is on the field, the Seahawks are not a pushover. And given enough support, Russ is always a championship contender.
2. Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
Brady waltzing from New England to Tampa Bay to win Super Bowl MVP was a showy performance for an old-timer, but Rodgers’ 2020 MVP resurgence might’ve been even more impressive. A-Rod has never not been one of the NFL’s most clutch and talented signal-callers, but from 2018-2019, after a serious collarbone injury, he became a bit more conservative, keeping the INT total low but also registering fewer game-changing darts. Then Green Bay upset him (in part by drafting a potential successor, it seems), and he went off to the tune of 48 TDs and a second straight NFC title bid. At 37, he’s still got one of the sharpest minds and arms in the league. A move out of Green Bay would test whether he can also win big without his familiar weapons, but most teams would scrap their own QBs if it meant a couple years with Rodgers, and for good reason. The ultimate end to Rodgers’ spite tour at Lambeau would be a 2021 Super Bowl run, then a move elsewhere on his own terms.
1. Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs)
How can it be anyone else? Brady, Rodgers and Wilson offer more experience, but no one offers the tantalizing combo of youth (25), size (6-3, 230), effortless arm talent, early-career production (114 TDs, 24 INTs, 108.7 rating through 46 starts) and postseason familiarity (three AFC title games and two Super Bowls in three years as a starter) that he does. Like everyone else, he can be fooled into turnovers. But not often. Is he boosted by Kansas City’s elite weapons and coaching? Sure. But let’s not pretend Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater is pulling off what he does for Andy Reid. If Lamar Jackson is a magician on the ground, Mahomes is a magician everywhere else, pairing impossible throws with an inherent confidence. If you’re betting on any QB to win multiple championships starting in 2021 and for years to come, there’s no question it should be on No. 15.
Just missed: Kirk Cousins (Vikings), Matthew Stafford (Rams), Ryan Tannehill (Titans), Baker Mayfield (Browns), Matt Ryan (Falcons), Derek Carr (Raiders)
The next tier: Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers), Ryan Fitzpatrick (Washington), Jimmy Garoppolo (49ers), Teddy Bridgewater (Broncos)
Maybe next year: Joe Burrow (Bengals), Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars), Carson Wentz (Colts), Jalen Hurts (Eagles), Trey Lance (49ers)