The 2018 opening day NFL quarterback rankings
Breaking down all 32 starters, from Nathan Peterman to Aaron Rodgers
The 2018 NFL season is off and running, and not a moment too soon. An incredible 11 opening day starters from 2017 did not open the new season, a 35% turnover rate. Of course that counts Carson Wentz and Jameis Winston, but it also includes Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, Mike Glennon, DeShone Kizer, Trevor Siemian, Josh McCown, Tom Savage, and Scott Tolzien. An ugly list. I ranked Hoyer the #23 opening day QB. Brian Hoyer was an opening day starter and wasn’t even in the bottom quarter of the league. You don’t even remember what team Hoyer started for, do you?!
The NFL is in a much better place this season, at least outside of Buffalo. There are at least vaguely competent quarterbacks on nearly every roster, and that means better football for everyone since no position in sports is more important than QB.
If you had to rank every opening day starting quarterback from worst to first based on their ability to help you win this season, how would you do it?
Tier X — No. Just no.
32. Nathan Peterman (last season: not ranked)
The Bills benched Tyrod Taylor amidst a 2017 playoff hunt, and Peterman responded by going 6-for-14 with 66 yards and 5 interceptions. He completed almost as many passes to Chargers as Bills. Peterman’s adjusted yards per attempt was -11.4. Remember the play where Aaron Brooks got turned around and accidentally threw the ball backwards? Peterman basically did that for an entire half. Yet somehow he beat out Josh Allen to start Week 1, only to get benched at halftime again. Peterman has three NFL starts, in which he’s completed 16 passes combined at a 38% completion rate, seen his yardage drop from 66 to 57 to 24, and yet to complete a start. Buffalo, WYD?
Tier IX — When you know, you know
31. Ryan Fitzpatrick (NR)
The 35-year-old journeyman sits atop Week 1 fantasy scoreboards, but he’s a Peterman away from dead last here. Crazy enough, this wasn’t Fitzmagic’s best career game (six 2014 TDs against the Texans) or even his first 400-yard, 4-TD game. Of course, Fitzpatrick also has five- and six-interception games. For every Fitz-yin there is a Fitz-yang. Fitzpatrick has started for seven NFL teams, duping each of them at some point into thinking he was good. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the Harvard of the McCowns.
30. Blake Bortles (31)
Bortles has completed 59% of his passes with 64 picks in 62 games, and almost nothing about his numbers improved last year — he just had less of them thanks to Leonard Fournette and a defense. Jacksonville extended him anyways, setting their franchise back another two seasons. But Bortles is a pop culture icon now thanks to The Good Place, so at least there’s that.
29. Andy Dalton (19)
Dalton is a placeholder. Maybe it’s good for the NFL if he is really one of the league’s worst starters, but what’s even the point of this Marvin Lewis-Dalton experiment that failed half a decade ago? Dalton isn’t good, and if he gets to the playoffs, he’s a disaster: 0–4 lifetime with one TD, six picks, and 5.5 YPA. Andy Dalton’s made one clutch throw in his life, and it didn’t even help his own team. Buffalo Bills fans thank him, and perhaps they’ll get to thank him in person in a year or two if the Bengals finally move on.
28. Case Keenum (NR)
Keenum was quite good last year. He finally cut out the mistakes, with only 7 interceptions and 22 sacks, and he was the perfect game manager right up until the NFC Championship game. By last year alone, Keenum should be five to seven spots higher, but did this guy really break out at age 29?
27. Ryan Tannehill (NR)
Tannehill is one of the most mediocre, forgettable, longtime starters ever. He’s never won more than 8 games and has 12+ interceptions every season. He is consistently almost average, just good enough to keep his job. He’s the opposite of Ryan Fitzpatrick — all floor, no ceiling. Tannehill is teal Dalton.
26. Sam Bradford (22)
Bradford is a genuinely good quarterback. He doesn’t turn it over, has a good YPA, and has improved over his career. As a Viking, Bradford threw 23 TDs and just 5 interceptions. The problem is Bradford can’t stay on his feet. He gets sacked every time he breathes and usually gets hurt doing it. Bradford hasn’t completed a healthy season since 2012. A 16-game season from Bradford ranks top 20, but so does 16 games with LeBron at QB, and we ain’t playing make believe.
Tier VIII — Sometimes not knowing is better
25. Mitch Trubisky (NR)
These two definitely aren’t better than the guys ranked below them, but at least the empty slate gives fans false hope. It may not last long in Trubisky’s case. In 13 career starts, he’s yet to throw more than one TD in a game and has hit 200 yards just three times. It doesn’t seem like he has the trust of the new coaching staff, and perhaps that’s because it appears Mitch Zoobisky cannot even throw left. And also, this:
24. Sam Darnold
On the first play of Darnold’s career, he rolled right and threw back across his body the width of the field for a pick-six. A Favresque throw, especially since Favre also threw a pick-six on his first career pass. Chalk that up to nerves, Monday Night Football, and the coaches stupidly drawing up a first play for the youngest starter in NFL history that involved him rolling right with only three options. After that play, Darnold settled down and went 16-for-20 with a pair of TDs, and the Jets rolled. And hey, at least we know he can throw left.
Tier VII — The game managers wing
23. Nick Foles (NR)
In the right scenario with the right scheme and defense, Tier VII quarterbacks can look good. Hello, Nick Foles. Foles has never started more than 10 games in a season and is under 60% completion for his career. He’s one Chip Kelly month and one Joe Flacco month away from complete irrelevance. This is still the same guy whose presence left Eagles fans burying their season last December, and we saw why on opening night. Get well soon, Carson.
22. Eli Manning (12)
Speaking of overrated quarterbacks that got hot twice for a month! Eli hasn’t been good in five years, a stretch during which he’s averaging 17 interceptions and had just one winning season. But sure Giants fans, get excited about Saquon Barkley instead of all those quarterbacks you should’ve drafted.
21. Jared Goff (30)
Goff ranked top five in QB rating, YPA, TD rate, interception rate, and many advanced metrics in 2017, but forgive me for chalking that up to Coach of the Year Sean McVay. The eye test still doesn’t love Goff, and it’s hard to trust him to make a play in the big moment. Just know that Goff is by far the worst QB of any presumed contender. You’ve been warned.
20. Derek Carr (11)
Two years ago, Derek Carr led seven fourth-quarter comebacks and was in the heat of the MVP discussion, but maybe that’s because Oakland’s defense was so bad. Carr has yet to crack 7 YPA as Captain Checkdown, and he’s the third highest-paid player in football despite just one winning season. Carr may have the most to gain of anyone on this list, but he also has the mo$t to lo$e.
19. Alex Smith (21)
Maybe it’s not fair to rank Smith this low as good as he’s been the past few seasons, but the guy can only get you so far. That’s true both in the playoffs and on the field, where Smith has been consistently awful in the red zone with a career 44% completion percentage. Smith has been molded into the perfect game manager, but he can only get out of his own way for so long.
18. Joe Flacco (18)
It seems high, but hear me out. Flacco’s had one losing season in a decade, boasting a career 10–5 playoff record despite just two home playoff games. Ten playoff wins ranks ninth all time and is more than Manning, Marino, and Rodgers. Put it another way: the only QBs with more career playoff wins are Brady, Elway, Montana, Bradshaw, Big Ben, Favre, Aikman, and Staubach. He’s only had one 4,000-yard season and one 25-TD year, but the results don’t lie. Flacco keeps your team in contention for the playoffs, and he can get the job done once he gets there. Joe Flacco has never gone one-and-done in the playoffs. Maybe the numbers aren’t there because he’s never been asked to provide them. Maybe Joe Flacco is the ultimate Al Davis QB: just win, baby.
17. Dak Prescott (10)
This is almost certainly the wrong Prescott ranking. He’s either seven spots too high or seven spots too low, but good luck figuring out which. Prescott has won two-thirds of his starts and has nine game-winning drives in two seasons. But he took a serious step back last season and hasn’t shown the ability to succeed outside of the league’s perfect offensive situation. Prescott’s line is no longer invincible and his receivers are bad. We’ll learn a lot this season.
Tier VI — Let’s get excited
16. Patrick Mahomes (NR)
15. Jimmy Garoppolo (NR)
We really just don’t know yet with this duo, but the early returns sure have been exciting. Garoppolo started his career 7–0, and Mahomes is 2–0 and just threw four touchdowns on opening day. Both have big arms, and both play for quarterback gurus that will certainly make them look good. There’s not much to say about Jimmy G or Patty Ma yet, but there will be soon. Both could be top-10 guys by season’s end.
Tier V — The guys that can win with their feet, too
14. Tyrod Taylor (15)
Nobody ever seems to appreciate TyGod, despite that he carried a miserable Bills offense to 22–20 the last three seasons. Taylor has never been asked to throw much but actually has excellent YPA and QB rating, and he almost never turns the ball over. The guy simply makes plays, and he’s the best QB Cleveland’s had this century. Of course that’s not really saying much considering one Brown in 30 years has thrown for 18 TDs.
13. Deshaun Watson (NR)
Is Watson already the best quarterback in Texans franchise history? His 19 TDs in 7 games last season were fourth most in Houston history, and his 16-game pace from his six starts was 4,250 yards and 48 TDs on passing alone. Watson certainly isn’t going to be that good, but he was a dynamic winner in college and turns the Texans into legit contenders once he gets his legs back.
12. Marcus Mariota (8)
I’m one of the last believers on Mariota Island, and even my faith is wavering after yet another injury. Mariota led the NFL in game-winning drives and fourth-quarter comebacks last season and won his first playoff start on the road, and he’s had a winning record despite playing in a ridiculous smash-mouth scheme. He could flourish with Matt LaFleur’s emphasis on play-action and spread concepts, where Mariota was one of the best all-time in college.
11. Cam Newton (4)
I think I’m out on Cam Newton. I’m just not sure he’s a quarterback. He’s an incredible weapon as a runner but one of the worst passers in the league. Watch Newton several games and you see a guy that still struggles to make the right read and sails balls consistently over targets’ heads. Newton’s under 60% completions four straight seasons, and despite his play-making ability, has just one fourth-quarter comeback the last two years. Cam Newton is like if you took Andy Dalton and taught him to run like Tim Tebow, and honestly, that’s a little unfair to Dalton. Actually, Newton might just be Tyrod Taylor on a better team. Cam Newton is the Russell Westbrook of NFL quarterbacks. He’s awesome at being Cam Newton, but I’m out on the whole experience.
Tier IV — These are top-ten QBs??!
10. Matthew Stafford (17)
Is Matt Stafford a top-10 QB? He sure didn’t look the part Monday night. Stafford puts up huge numbers, but he’s 6–52 lifetime against teams with a winning record. That includes a miserable 4–25 at home and 0–3 in the playoffs. Stafford averages 43 sacks the last four seasons. He’s had 20 game-winning drives in that span, most in the NFL, but maybe that’s just because Detroit is always in position to lose.
9. Kirk Cousins (14)
You might not think Cousins belongs, but maybe that’s just because he wasn’t the #1 pick. His production the last three years has matched step-for-step with Stafford and Matt Ryan, and that includes an MVP season. I say Cousins was one of the best NFL free agents ever. Could he be the next Drew Brees?
8. Matt Ryan (6)
Ryan looked awful in the opener, but we have too long a track record to bury him. He’s only a year removed from one of the all-time great QB seasons, and he’s typically reliable late and in the playoffs, where he has 21 TDs and 7 picks in 10 games. One area Ryan struggles is the red zone, where he completes just 46% of his passes, third worst last year. That’s been a bugaboo lately.
Tier III — The perennial Pro Bowlers
7. Ben Roethlisberger (7)
This home/road Big Ben thing is a problem. Over the last four seasons, Roethlisberger is 21–6 at home with 77 TDs and 23 interceptions. Over the same stretch, he’s 20–10 on the road with 35 TDs and 28 picks plus 5% lower completion. Road Ben reared his ugly head in the opener, and Roethlisberger is starting to look his age. He’s 36 and has played 16 games only three times in 14 seasons. Is he nearing his expiration date?
6. Andrew Luck (NR)
We don’t know really, so I’m going with the eye test. I watched Luck’s game against the Bengals and he looks healthy and whole. The passes are accurate, good timing on deep strikes, and he looked especially good in hurry-up mode when he could utilize his greatest strength — his mind. Luck also bounced back from a few hits and didn’t have happy feet. Luck is 10–13 since the 2014 season with 25 interceptions in 22 games, but let’s hope for everyone’s sake that he’s really finally back.
5. Philip Rivers (9)
How did we get here? This spot would belong to Carson Wentz but he’s still rehabbing, and no one else is consistent or healthy enough to grab this spot. Few quarterbacks consistently do more with less. The rest of his team is forever on a collision course with the IR, but Rivers has never missed a game and puts up results every year no matter who his teammates are. He has a career 7.8 YPA and has cut his interceptions and sacks, and he consistently gives his team a chance. Philip Rivers, top-five quarterback. What a world.
4. Drew Brees (5)
Brees has incredible numbers. He’s led the NFL in passing 7 of 12 seasons as a Saint, averaging 4,841 a season. Last year was his lowest in New Orleans, and his 4,334 yards still ranked fourth in the league. Brees had passed for 32+ TDs for a decade straight before last year’s anomalous 23. But why do we forgive Brees for losing so much but not Rivers? Brees has finished under .500 four of his last six seasons. He’s just 25–52 against winning teams. Brees is a tremendous front runner on the right winning team, but he can’t do it all on his own. And that separates him from the top three guys.
Tier II — These guys can do it on their own
3. Russell Wilson (3)
The top three remain the same. Wilson scored all but one Seahawks offensive touchdown last season, a confounding statistic. Wilson has a career 22–16 record against winning teams, including 10–10 on the road. He’s the only QB in the league to post a .500 road record against winning teams. He’s not exactly surrounded by offensive talent and hasn’t had blocking for years, but he just keeps getting the job done.
2. Tom Brady (2)
Brady just had the greatest season ever by a quarterback in their 40s. He threw 26 TDs and 0 interceptions in the red zone. He’s played in seven straight AFC Championship games. But if you put him on the Packers, would he drag that roster to 10+ wins? He might be the greatest of all time, but he’s second best right now.
The Undisputed King
1. Aaron Rodgers (1)
Rodgers has never gone back-to-back years without winning a playoff game. There’s no roster in the NFL that wouldn’t immediately be a playoff contender with Rodgers. No player is more valuable to his team, maybe in any sport, short of LeBron. It’s an American tragedy Rodgers has only ever played in one Super Bowl, and as a Vikings fan, I thank Mike McCarthy for it.
You watched Sunday night. Any questions?