This article is based off of a series that The Athletic does each year where NFL execs and coaches vote on each quarterback in the NFL and place him into one of five tiers. Below are what each of the tiers represent:
- Tier 1: Can carry his team each week. The team wins because of him. He expertly handles pure passing situations.
- Tier 2: Can carry his team sometimes but not as consistently. He can handle pure passing situations in doses and/or possesses other dimensions that are special enough to elevate him above Tier 3. He has a hole or two in his game.
- Tier 3: A legitimate starter but needs a stronger running game and/or defense to win. A lower-volume passing offense makes his job easier.
- Tier 4: Could be an unproven player with some upside or a veteran who is ultimately best suited as a backup.
- Tier 5: Not a starter, period.
I will be placing each team’s starting quarterback (not including rookies) plus some notable backups/free agents into one of the tiers and ranking them in comparison to each other. To clarify, this is evaluating a player right now and where they fit according to the criteria above, not considering age or team. Hopefully I will be able to continue this series each year and see how quarterbacks progress. Now with all that said, let’s get started:
Tier 1: Can carry his team each week. The team wins because of him. He expertly handles pure passing situations.
These are the players that shine under the brightest lights, they consistently step up and carry their team to victory. This clutch ability combined with their talent makes them an elite franchise quarterback.
- Patrick Mahomes
No surprise the 24 year-old sensation that is Patrick Mahomes starts off my list. Through 3 seasons in the pros (and only two as the starter) the young man is a Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP and league MVP. With an absurd 108.9 passer rating and 76/18 TD/INT ratio, Mahomes has taken over the league and looks to lead the Super Bowl champion Chiefs to many more titles.
- Russell Wilson
I would strongly recommend my article on Russell Wilson (the most popular piece of content on this site – Why Russell Wilson has my MVP Vote) for an in-depth version of my thoughts on him (and why Lamar is not in Tier 1) but put simply, he’s a stud. Him and Mahomes are far above everyone else not only because of their incredible talent but also because of their ability to simply carry the team in clutch situations. Seattle won 9 games by one score last year and Wilson led the NFL in game-winning drives. Just like Mahomes did in the Super Bowl, Wilson can put the team on his back and find a way to win – something very few QB’s can do, yet somehow Mahomes and Wilson seem to be able to do consistently.
- Aaron Rodgers
Jordan Love’s selection doesn’t change the fact that Rodgers is still one of the NFL’s elite talents – when he’s on, no matter what the defense does, they’re wrong.
- Deshaun Watson
In only three years, Watson has established himself as a clutch, dual-threat quarterback with elite football IQ and talent.
- Tom Brady
Brady being this high may surprise some people but as far as where he stands now: he’s still a top 5 QB for me. The GOAT has earned his title because of his incredible discipline when handling the ball. As the master of checkdowns and moving the sticks, his value isn’t seen in stats but rather his preparation and consistency; there’s not many quarterbacks I would want leading a team more than Brady – he’s the ultimate game manager and the best to ever play.
- Drew Brees
Brees is another veteran late in his career still dominating the league. We aren’t considering age but the value of veteran leadership is undeniable. His standout quality would be how precise he is – consistently making throws into the tightest of windows. Brady and Brees show that while it might help, quarterbacks don’t need to be mobile or have a cannon for an arm – a field general type player can definitely find success with accuracy and elite decision making.
- Carson Wentz
If Wentz was healthy, he would easily be in the top 5 of my list – he’s that special of a player. But sadly injuries have severely hindered his young career thus far costing him an MVP, playing in the playoffs twice and when he finally did get his chance, an unlucky concussion knocked him and the Eagles out of the game before they were ever in it. Let’s hope Wentz is all healed up and ready to lead the Eagles with his elite athleticism and arm talent.
Tier 2: Can carry his team sometimes but not as consistently. He can handle pure passing situations in doses and/or possesses other dimensions that are special enough to elevate him above Tier 3. He has a hole or two in his game.
These players are franchise quarterbacks that any team would be happy with, they just lack some of the elite skills that the Tier 1 players have.
- Lamar Jackson
Once again I’ll refer you to the Russell Wilson article for my thoughts on Lamar but to sum them up, I think Lamar is a very special player, just not an invaluable, elite one (like Wilson). Baltimore had 11 pro bowlers including 6 on the offence – Lamar had a lot of help last year and I think there’s quite a few quarterbacks who could have succeeded there last season. His highlights will wow you but in the biggest moments of his career Lamar has unfortunately not delivered. For an NFL quarterback he has below average passing ability (I understand and respect that’s not how he wins) but I see his spinning and juking playstyle not being sustainable over a decade whereas someone like Mahomes can dominate with his skillset for two decades. It’s only a matter of time before the NFL figures Lamar out, he’s 1-3 when playing teams a 2nd time in his 22 game career as a starter with his only win against the 2-14 Bengals – Big Truss is filled with talent but I’m not ready to call him an elite, top-tier quarterback yet.
- Ben Roethlisberger
A steady and reliable big-armed quarterback; when you need a play Big Ben will deliver. Overall talent prevents him from being higher for me but I probably do trust Roethlisberger more than anyone else not in Tier 1.
- Dak Prescott
It’s clear Jerry Jones is hesitant to pay up for Dak even though last year made it abundantly clear he is worthy of franchise QB money. Dallas’ problem is how much money they already have within their top players but this is about Dak, not teams. Dak’s leadership, talent and clutch ability land him firmly in Tier 2 with potential to move up.
- Matt Ryan
The former MVP is another smart, reliable veteran with a good arm and solid decision making. Matty Ice is a franchise QB but nothing more.
- Matthew Stafford
Stafford has loads of talent but even when Detroit has had an above average team, he has failed to win the big games. A great career but no playoff wins to show for it keeps him in Tier 2.
- Kyler Murray
There is no one in Tier 2 I feel has a greater chance to make it to Tier 1 than Kyler. I think if he was on a good team, we would be talking about a MVP-calibre quarterback. Despite his size, Kyler has had excellent accuracy, mobility and decision making in the biggest moments of his young career and I’m excited to see how he progresses with perhaps the best receiver in the NFL to throw to.
- Jimmy Garoppolo
I discussed earlier with Brees and Brady how quarterbacks don’t need a cannon or fancy spin moves to be successful and that’s where Jimmy G comes in. He’s a smart, disciplined quarterback who does what he needs to win games. You can talk about his lack of talent or that he didn’t have to do anything in Shanahan’s system except hand it off but when you watch games like when the 49ers road win vs. New Orleans, it’s clear he has the ability to win games for his team. His 23-6 record as a starter (technically has 2 rings as well) speaks for itself and he is very much deserving of being in Tier 2 for me.
Tier 3: A legitimate starter but needs a stronger running game and/or defense to win. A lower-volume passing offense makes his job easier.
These are players that certainly deserve a starting role but probably aren’t true “franchise” quarterbacks (at least yet). Teams are satisfied with having them now but mostly likely wouldn’t want them for 10+ years at their current level of play.
- Josh Allen
Surprisingly, two years out and Allen is the best of the 2018 quarterbacks on my list. With plenty of room to grow, Allen flashed some elite moments last year and with his rushing ability as well (did you know he has the same number of rushing TD’s as Saquon!), the sky’s the limit. However, he also has some poor decision making at times.
- Philip Rivers
Rivers is ready for a fresh start and Indy might be the perfect fit, unfortunately for the purposes of this list he remains in Tier 3 as he made some extremely questionable decisions last year.
- Jared Goff
We’ve seen Goff take his team to a Super Bowl but we’ve also seen him lose games with some poor throws. For now he’s in Tier 3 due to his inconsistency but I think it’s very likely he moves up in the future.
- Kirk Cousins
Kirk had a very good season last year and finally showed the world he can perform under pressure in the playoffs but I need more than one year of franchise QB level to move him up.
- Baker Mayfield
Baker was a rookie sensation and then a turnover machine. As you can see, the common theme in this tier so far is inconsistency and that’s no different for Mayfield. With 3 coaches in 3 years though, he hasn’t really got a chance to succeed yet. Hopefully Kevin Stefanski and their new and improved offensive line can help him get back on track this season.
- Sam Darnold
Darnold hasn’t been able to catch a break either. Ankle injuries, mono, poor receivers and head coach changes have haunted (Get it? But yet another adversity he’s faced) his young career. I have hope for him though, the final few weeks of his rookie year showed lots of potential. If the Jets can get him some help, he could be a Tier 1 or 2 guy in the next couple years.
- Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill escaped Miami and capitalised on his chance in Nashville. His career revival landed him a big contract this offseason but I want to see more before labelling him as a true franchise quarterback. He was undeniably good this past year leading the NFL in passer rating and coming 5th in completion percentage. As efficient as he was, this offence still ran through Derrick Henry and he’s never carried this team like Tier 1 or 2 guys have shown they can do.
- Derek Carr
Another uber-efficient passer, Carr has regressed from his 2016 form but still remains a very accurate and underrated quarterback. Nothing special, but a solid starter.
Cam is the best QB currently not starting in the NFL in my opinion. If he’s healthy, Cam is a special talent with an elite arm, crazy mobility and good decision making. Health problems has brought him from an MVP to without a job within 4 years but I think he’s got more left to give.
5109 passing yards, released. Why? 30 interceptions. The man is impossible to figure out! How can someone be that erratic and volatile? He lands in New Orleans being paid under 2 million (!!) this year. I think he is definitely worthy of a starting job and apparently his eye surgery helped significantly. Tannehill and the next player on this list have shown backup roles can revive a career and I strongly believe the Jameis Winston saga isn’t finished yet.
- Teddy Bridgewater
Within the chaotic and volatile players in this Tier, Teddy slots in as a steady game manager with excellent precision. He will get his shot with a developing Panthers’ team to prove he’s a true franchise quarterback.
- Drew Lock
My bold prediction since last August was Drew Lock 2020 MVP. Think about it – in 2017 a 2nd year quarterback broke out and won a Super Bowl – that would be Carson Wentz who should’ve won MVP. 2018, Patrick Mahomes bursts onto the scene and lights up the NFL throwing for 5000+ yards and 50 touchdowns – MVP and eventual Super Bowl winner. 2019, 2nd year phenomenon Lamar Jackson jukes his way to a unanimous MVP. You see the pattern? I think Lock has a real chance to continue it but at the very least I’m expecting a big breakout this year.
I truly believe Mariota is deserving of a starting job in the NFL. Another Carr or Tannehill type player that’s very efficient and deceptively mobile. Entering Week 6 last year, Mariota had a 7/0 TD/INT ratio, but one bad half cost him his job. He is still a talented player who will be ready to contribute when his time comes.
Dalton has had some pretty bad teams the last few years but remains a solid veteran quarterback good enough to start in this league. At this point in his career, he will backup Dak in Dallas and then probably transition to a mentor type role for other teams but I think he’s still got what it takes to win in this league given the right team.
Tier 4: Could be an unproven player with some upside or a veteran who is ultimately best suited as a backup.
These players are young players still developing that aren’t quite at a NFL starter level yet or veterans that are best suited as backups.
- Daniel Jones
Jones had some good moments in his rookie year but turnovers keep him in Tier 4 for now. However, he showed everyone that Gettlemen wasn’t insane in picking him at 6th overall and has the potential to be the Giants franchise quarterback.
For this list, I am considering Trubisky the starter because that’s who I honestly think will win the job but I do believe Foles is the better quarterback at this point. His passing ability isn’t amazing but winning 4 playoff games, a Super Bowl (against Tom Brady) and being a Super Bowl MVP with a string of incredible performances is something only a few people can say they’ve done in NFL history.
I’m not ready to label Rosen as a bust yet. My favourite QB from the 2018 class has been behind the worst O-line on two different teams. Sadly, Fitzmagic somehow beat him out for the job which concerns me but I think Rosen deserves a chance somewhere.
- Tyrod Taylor
People forget this man led the Bills to the playoff in 2017 – he’s still got it and frankly I’d rather have him over Herbert. However, it’s clear he’s best suited as a backup/mentor type of QB at this point in his career.
- Mitch Trubisky
I think the Bears need to admit their mistake and move on. Trubisky showed his upside in 2018 when he made the Pro Bowl (Trubisky’s 3223 passing yards ranked 20th in the NFL but Matt Ryan’s 4924 yards (3rd) couldn’t get a Pro Bowl nod). He was a double doink away from a playoff win! But unfortunately, he made some pretty bad mistakes in 2019 that you just don’t expect a top 2 pick to still be making in his 3rd year.
- Gardner Minshew
The 6th round rookie sensation actually looked pretty good last year, good enough for the Jags to be confident enough to trade Foles and commit to him for 2020. His football IQ, escapability and fun energy made up for the lack of arm strength as he posted an impressive 21/6 TD/INT ratio.
- Dwayne Haskins
Haskins is a solid talent who coming out of college needed a patient team to nurture him. Of course, the Redskins couldn’t resist throwing him in early and because of this he struggled his rookie year. He looks to get back on track with a new coach this season.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick
When Fitzpatrick is on he’s a Tier 2 type of player, the problem is he plays like a Tier 5 guy at times as well. I suspect he will see a solid amount of snaps this season as the Dolphins prepare to contend with Tua in 2021.
- Jarrett Stidham
Not a huge fan of his coming out of college but sitting behind Brady for a year certainly can’t hurt. The Pats’ confidence in him has me optimistic about his future.
Tier 5: Not a starter, period.
- Ryan Finley
Finley is just here as a placeholder as Burrow can’t be on this list. Didn’t look great last year but not many QB’s could’ve in Cincy.