The Definitive Likeability Ranking of the 32 NFL Quarterbacks
Welcome to the definitive likeability rankings of the 32 starting NFL quarterbacks. Just to be clear, these assessments are not based on relationships or knowing these people personally. The formula used to come up with the ranking is partly based on how the individuals perform on the field. Not so much how good they are, as how they play the game. More than that, it takes into account what they exude. The person they project as their public image. For that, a mathematical algorithm that took years to develop was created. I could explain all the factors that went into this algorithm, but who wants to sit through boring math? You came here to see where your guy ranks. So without further ado…
Oh wait. A little more ado.
Full disclosure: I have been a Kansas City Chiefs fan since I first encountered the untackelable Christian Okoye in Tecmo Bowl in 1991. Later, I’d see the real deal on television in a game and the combination speed and power set the hook. Then, in 1992, I saw the NFL Films footage from Super Bowl IV of a plucky Hank Stram mic’d up on the sidelines excitedly talking about “matriculating the ball down the field” or addressing the official as “Mr. Referee” and my lifelong passion for the all things Chiefs was born. That may have been a factor in some of the maths our team used. Now, on to the rankings.
#1 Drew Brees
“He’s too short. He’s not athletic enough. He lacks accuracy and touch.” That’s what the scouts said about the player who would go on to be the NFL’s all time leading passer. The same man who was cast aside when the team that drafted him decided they’d rather have someone else. All he did in response was quietly get better and better every year deep into his 30s. Oh, and guide his new city to a Super Bowl. That’s on the field, which is enough. But it’s off the field where Brees really sets the standard. He helped bring a city devastated by a hurricane back to life, which led him and his wife to start the Drew Brees Foundation. When you get to the part in your life where you have “Foundation” after your name, you’re doing something very right.
#2 Patrick Mahomes
Right, so I said that thing about being a Chiefs fan to kind of prepare you for this. But this ranking goes so much deeper than that. You want a gunslinger who runs from sideline to sideline throwing the ball across his body or even left-handed? Here he is. You want a guy who can bomb the ball 70 yards down field and hit a dime? This is your guy. You looking for an athlete who respects the fans, can seem down to earth and otherworldly all at once and perfectly treads the line between confidence and cockiness? Check, check and check. Mahomes isn’t just the most exciting QB to watch, he also seems like a genuinely nice guy.
#3 Andrew Luck
Maybe it’s the goofy smile. Maybe it’s the patting of the helmets of the giant men who just smashed him into the dirt. Or maybe it’s that even through an injury that jeopardized his ability to play the game he loves and cost him a year of playing, Andrew Luck never lost the “golly, I’m just gonna keep my chin up” attitude. Whatever it is, Andrew Luck is just incredibly likeable. Also, we all love a comeback story.
#4 Deshaun Watson
Speaking of comeback stories, Deshaun Watson not only blew out one knee in college, (and played on it) which most certainly would have cost lesser men their careers, he blew out his other knee while lighting the NFL up in his rookie season. But he handled it all with the grace he exudes both on and off the field. It’s that fluidity and grace that had Dabo Swinney compare him to Michael Jordan. So yeah Watson is likeable. Also, he just seems so cool.
#5 Eli Manning
How can you dislike Eeyore? Eli always does seem a little blue doesn’t he? And it ain’t just the helmet. I’m not suggesting Eli Manning complains, because I don’t think he does. At all. Even though he’s spent a lot of his career trying to live up to the high standards set by his dad and then the impossible standards set by his brother. But ol’ sad sack Eli seems to take it all in stride. Not only in stride, but to the tune of winning, not one, but two Super Bowl MVPs. Eli has quietly rewritten the Giants passing record book. We’ll forgive him if he looks a little sad.
#6 Alex Smith
I know he’s hurt and maybe never going to recover, but the team hasn’t had a starting QB since he went down with his Theismannian leg break. Poor Alex Smith. His whole career he’s been looking over his shoulder before being replaced and every time he’s handled it with humility and a team first mentality. Then, just when it looks like he might finally have his own team, he breaks his leg in a horrific way, strangely repeating history for Redskins fans. But, for playing the right way — and more importantly handling a trying career with poise — we salute you, Alex Smith.
#7 Lamar Jackson
What are you gonna say about Lamar Jackson? He seems humble, confident and can flat out ball. Before the draft, a scout suggested that if Jackson wanted to play in the NFL he’d have to switch positions. He quietly stood his ground and every game he starts gets that scout closer to switching positions of his own. Someone has to sell Kias. Really the only bad thing we can say about Lamar is that he kept us from getting to write about Flacco.
#8 Case Keenum
The man with the comic book name. The Minneapolis Miracle was fun. So is rooting for a guy that’s had to fight for every bit of playing time he’s had his whole professional career. Undrafted, he bounced around from practice squad to practice squad until finally getting a real shot when starter Sam Bradford went down. He made the most of it and now he’s got his own team to helm. The early reviews haven’t been great, but people have been counting out Case Keenum his entire life. Cue dramatic music.
#9 Josh Allen
A California farm boy who wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, in part because he refused to switch to a higher profile school, living by the family mantra: you bloom where you’re planted. Many scouts saw Josh Allen as the number one pick in the NFL draft and everyone is starting to see why. He might be on his way to being a super athlete. He’s already breaking records with his legs and showing enough with his arm to make him an exciting rookie to watch in a draft class filled with exciting rookies. Proving once again, if you want a good crop you got to make sure you water… I don’t know.
#10 Tom Brady
He’s the greatest quarterback of all time and we have to respect greatness. There is nothing about Tom Brady that says super athlete and yet here he is, at the top of the mountain, even after he passed forty. That’s not a gift. That is earned through sweat, probably blood and certainly tears. When teams become super teams, at some point they pass through being the team you love to hate to being the team you can’t help but respect. Tom Brady has led the Patriots past that threshold. Maybe he’s on the decline. I mean it is inevitable, right? Right? In any case it’s good to enjoy greatness while it lasts. And he’s promised to stop cheating.
#11 Nick Mullens
If this had been written after Nick Mullens’ first start he probably would’ve ranked in the top five. Mullens went undrafted. Then, Beathard (best, worst name ever) went down and the third string quarterback who wasn’t supposed to see the field was forced into action. On primetime no less. Everyone expected him to crumble. Of course they did. They should have. He should have. Instead, all he did was throw for 260 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, becoming a household name in the process. Hopefully the quiet kid who went to Southern Miss still has a lot to write before his career is over. But what a start.
#12 Sam Darnold
It’s hard for a rookie passer to make an impression. Especially a guy who isn’t known for extending plays with his legs. That being said, Darnold has shown enough to excite Jets fans and to give hope to a franchise that hasn’t had a quarterback of note since a guy nicknamed Broadway called his shot. He also has the sort of even-keeled temperament that the position demands in the era of cameras in everyone’s pocket. The even-keeled temperament and the hair.
#13 Nick Foles
First the good news. Nick Foles comes in last season and against all odds led the Eagles to the Super Bowl. Including catching a touchdown pass. That’s catching, not throwing. A play that will live on in Super Bowl history forever and one of many reasons he went on to be Super Bowl MVP. Nobody is ever going to take that away from him. What they did take away from him is his starting quarterback job. You could argue that it’s not his fault, that it’s out of his control, but Foles didn’t even seem to care. Call me old fashioned, but I want my quarterbacks fighting for that starting job. I say that, now watch the guy go win another Super Bowl. Maybe he’ll punt in this one too.
#14 Dak Prescott
It’s a testament to Prescott that he’s this high up the list while playing for the Evil Empire. He’s seemingly convinced Emperor Jones that he’s turned to the dark side, but we can see different. It’s in the unflappable way he keeps showing up while under the incredible scrutiny of the Dallas football media. But this is a history that’s yet to be written. He and his speedy little ewok sidekick Elliot may still turn to the dark side. That snaggletoothed smile could be a harbinger for evil triumphs yet to come or it could be a nod to the rest of us that he will never give up his soul.
#15 Matt Ryan
If Matt Ryan had not been given the nickname “Matty Ice” before he’d earned it maybe he wouldn’t be choking under the pressure of it now. I imagine this is what’s going through his head every time he’s in the red zone: “Okay, here we are in the red zone. I’m Matty Ice. What would Matty Ice do? Don’t even ask yourself that! You are Matty Ice. Just be Matty Ice. Stop freaking out and just be Matty Ice.” At which point he does the most un-Matty Ice-like thing possible and the guy who has thrown the ball all over the rest of the field with laser like precision sails that same ball over the head of one of the most gifted receivers of all time.
#16 Marcus Mariota
Meh. The rivalry between him and Winston to be the next great quarterbacks never really happened. We still don’t really know who this guy is as a quarterback. Sometimes we see flashes of the promise that made him the number two overall pick and sometimes he looks like the Titans would be better off bringing back Zach Mettenberger. Marcus Meh-riota.
#17 Andy Dalton
Let’s jut get it out of the way: Andy Dalton has red hair and he’s sensitive when people like JJ Watt maybe make fun of it even if that’s clearly not what people like JJ Watt meant. There, I said it, and it in no way influences his ranking. What does influence his ranking is that there’s a thing called the Dalton scale which is that he is the baseline for what is acceptable for a franchise quarterback. Above the Dalton line, your franchise is in good shape. Below the Dalton line you may wanna start thinking about going Gruden so you can draft your next guy.
P.S. We’re sure Jeff Driskel is a nice person.
#18 Philip Rivers
Oh, Philip. More of a name for someone from the Royal family than an NFL quarterback, no? For much of his career we couldn’t stand Philip Rivers. The constant jawing, the temper tantrums. A few years ago he would have been much lower on this list. But then something turned. The team moved to L.A. and you could see a new perspective on Phil. You could see a guy who has always simply played well, despite the changing cast and cities around him. A man who puts family first, to the point where he’s willing to commute from San Diego to L.A. so his 4000 kids don’t have to move. A man whose team has never quite been able to get over the hump, but still gives everything he has every week. He brings a passion to the game that’s hard not to respect. Respect. I never said anything about like.
#19 Cody Kessler
Kessler was thrown to the wolves in Cleveland. As they do. He wasn’t ready to play and it showed. But he did his best. Getting traded to the contending Jaguars must have felt like a gift. Maybe Blake Bortles wouldn’t be the best guy to apprentice behind, but at least he’d be on a winning team and see what that feels like. Then the wheels fell off in Jacksonville. Again, Kessler was thrust into game action and he’s doing his best. But we all know what Sean Connery said about people who talk about doing their best. So again he’s playing on a losing team and then his model girlfriend breaks up with him. What’s next for Cody Kessler? Lucy’s gonna pull the ball away right as he goes to kick it?
#20 Ryan Tannehill
Why does it feel like Tannehill is still just about to live up to his potential? Just one more season and it’s finally going to all come together. That held some weight at 22, even at 26, but at 30 it’s possible he is who he is. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Dolphins seem to refuse to surround him with talent. Or maybe he’s just ready to get on with being an orthopedic surgeon already.
#21 Kirk Cousins
Shannon Sharpe said, “Kirk Cousins is the girlfriend you like, but you never give her a key to your house,” and we could probably leave it at that. Look, Kirk Cousins didn’t ask to be drafted by a team that had already drafted a quarterback in the first round. Just like he didn’t ask to be franchise tagged by that same team over and over. And he didn’t ask to be the poster boy for the first fully guaranteed contract in NFL history. But, this is where he is and it was inevitable that he would disappoint. We’ll always have him pointing and screaming at reporters “you like that!” as he stormed off the field after a win.
#22 Jared Goff
I guess Jared Goff is good. The way a remote control is good at changing channels. Or a couch is good at napping. I mean, the operator needs the instrument, there’s no doubt. But, can we really get excited about a quarterback who is so completely controlled by his coach? You can imagine Jared Goff losing his pre-snap communication with McVay, panicking and just running around in circles until one of his linemen finally have to pick him up and take him to the sidelines. What’s worse is that he seems like a robot that can’t function properly in the cold. Maybe McVay will fix that next season when he uploads the Goff 3.0 OS.
#23 Mitch Trubisky
He was a deer in the headlights in his first season, his shaky legs frozen while the oncoming traffic got ready to bowl him over. This year he’s a guy that sometimes looks all world and other times looks like he just figured out that oblong thing he’s holding is called a football. It’s hard to imagine the Bears with a competent quarterback, let alone a good one, so nobody will blame you if you’re suspicious of ol’ Mitch. Just don’t call him Favre. He hates that now.
#24 Russell Wilson
Based on his on the field play, Wilson deserves to be top ten at least. He’s an undersized guy who just wins. If there’s two minutes left and he has the ball there’s almost no question he’s going to drive for the win. And he plays through pain. He’s a beast. Off the field is where he gets in trouble by our calculations. He says all the right things but it just seems somehow scripted. Why the script, Russ? Are you hiding something really dark behind saying the perfect thing? Something so unthinkably evil even Voldemort would blush. Maybe we’ll never know. Or maybe one day your dark secret will be exposed.
#25 Baker Mayfield
We have to admit that Baker Mayfield’s antics in college kind of rubbed us the wrong way. How could it not? The guy is grabbing his crotch on the sidelines and cursing opposing coaches. These days he’s getting into Twitter feuds with Matt Miller and calling out the Browns fans for not filling the stadium. Baker, this is a fanbase that has endured nothing but losing. Historical losing. And historical disrespect from ownership, come to think of it. The team up and left in the middle of the night. Literally. The fact fans show up at all is a testament to the good people of Cleveland. Just ask the L.A. Chargers.
#26 Josh Rosen
I know it’s not his fault, cause its just his face, but he just looks like the spoiled rich kid who doesn’t really need football. He looks like he’s just collecting a check and having a laugh before he goes back to his parents’ mansion and live out his years playing tennis and lounging by the pool with his wife, Muffy. That can’t be entirely the case since playing in Arizona this year wasn’t exactly a day at the country club. Still, it’s his face.
#27 Matthew Stafford
People are laughing at Matthew Stafford. Well, they’re laughing at the Lions’ attempt to get Matthew Stafford in the Pro Bowl, which isn’t really his fault but somehow you still don’t feel sorry for him. This may be another example of he can’t help his face because he kinda looks like the kid who throws a rock through a window and when the old man comes out he’s suddenly crying and saying you hit him. I mean it must be that dislikeable mug that drops him this far, because the guy does just ball out.
#28 Cam Newton
There are sharp dressed athletes like Lebron James and DeAndre Hopkins. Then there’s Cam Newton. Questionable clothing taste aside, what really drops Newton down the list is laughing at female reporters when they ask football questions, pouting and refusing to talk to the media after losing in the Super Bowl and — finally — pretending to be Superman as his signature touchdown celebration. We get it, you’re an amazing athlete, but maybe try winning something before calling yourself Superman.
#29 Derek Carr
Listen, football is a tough game. I’d probably cry too if some of the most gifted and freakish athletes on the planet were routinely bouncing my head off the turf. So, this ranking has nothing to do with that. I don’t think. On the one hand Carr plays for the Raiders. So, yuck. On the other hand he just keeps trying to win even after a lot of his teammates seem to have given up around him. Even after he loses his best weapon to the Evil Empire. Still, the crying thing is not a good look. What’s worse is getting all your brothers to come to your defense on the internet. Let it go Derek. We all have. I think.
#30 Jameis Winston
Disappointing. That’s what sums up Jameis Winston. Not so much on the field, although he’s had his issues there. But what I’m talking about here is the guy who looks like such a nice kid on Hard Knocks only to later add to the long list of yucky things he’s done off the field. Just get your act together man. And while you’re at it, go save some baby seals or something, your karma could use a boost.
#31 Ben Roethlisberger
I wish we could all have Ben Roethlisberger’s accountability. Doctor leaves his watch in a patient after surgery? It was the nurse’s fault for walking the wrong way around the table when she handed him his gloves. Like it’s not bad enough that you threw an interception to lose the game, you have to also throw your teammates under the bus? But don’t take my word for it: Roethlisberger is one of the most disliked players in the league and we know this because he consistently tops the lists of most disliked players in the NFL, despite the fact he plays for one of the most beloved franchises of all time. Maybe it’s the weird E in his name.
#32 Aaron Rodgers
Here we are. The most dislikable starting quarterback in the NFL and he might actually be the best. Which is part of it. Strange, Aaron, that you have one of your best games of the year after getting your coach fired. Strange indeed. But this is just the tip of the cheesehead. Listen, the family stuff is hard to judge him on. We don’t have the full story. But when your dad is quoted as saying “fame changes things,” it’s not a good look. The picture really starts to become clear when we hear about him trying to trade Greg Jennings. In the middle of a game! Or when Jermichael Finley feels compelled to come forward and let us know that Rodgers is “self-centered” and “not a good leader.” But, the biggest reason Aaron Rodgers bottoms out here is because he seemed so nice. He has so thoroughly deceived us all with his best friend All State commercials and his casual smile. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, we know he’s demanding bowls of blue M&Ms and that little cushions be laid out before every step.
So there it is. The definitive rankings. There’s really no disputing it. Because: math. But you’re encouraged to say how much you agree in the comments.