The NFL’s top 12 quarterbacks

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We have reached the final list of positional rankings for the summer.

And perhaps the toughest list to put together.

If I told you that I actually lost sleep putting this list together, would you believe me? Long-time followers of the work probably would. I consulted with others in the media space, watched and rewatched all the quarterbacks from last season, and even consulted with my two cats about the list.

Sunny and Rosie offered absolutely no help.

However, my editors are telling me it is time to push the big blue publish button. So without further ado, here are the NFL’s top 12 quarterbacks.

You will note that Deshaun Watson is not on this list. Watson is coming off a year where he did not play a snap, and we anticipate a suspension will be handed down shortly from retired judge Sue L. Robinson. If Watson plays this season, perhaps he fill find himself on next year’s version of this list.

If you have missed any of our player lists, leading up to our lists of the 101 best players in the NFL today (coming soon!), you can see them all here:

The NFL’s top 13 safeties

The NFL’s top 12 slot defenders

The NFL’s top 12 outside cornerbacks

The NFL’s top 11 linebackers

The NFL’s top 11 edge defenders

The NFL’s top 12 interior defensive linemen

The NFL’s top 12 centers

The NFL’s top 11 offensive guards

The NFL’s top 11 offensive tackles

The NFL’s top 12 tight ends

The NFL’s top 11 slot receivers

The NFLs top 16 wide receivers

The NFL’s top 11 running backs

(All advanced metrics courtesy of Sports Info SolutionsPro Football Focus, and Football Outsiders unless otherwise indicated).

12. Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders

Derek Carr
Derek Carr

(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

We kick things off with one of the more polarizing quarterbacks in the NFL. There seems to be no middle ground with Derek Carr. Either he is one of the game’s elite, or the Las Vegas Raiders would be wise to move on from him sooner rather than later.

As you can see from this ranking, I find myself more aligned with the first camp. 2021 saw Carr and the Raiders manage to secure a playoff berth, despite dealing with a host of off-field issues including the departure of head coach Jon Gruden mid-season. During their run to the postseason, Carr completed 68.4% of his passes for 4,804 yards (a career-high) and 23 touchdowns, along with 14 interceptions.

Cutting that number down is likely to be a focus in the upcoming season.

Where Carr stands out is at the catch point, specifically, with his ball placement. As charted by Pro Football Focus, on throws in the intermediate range of the field (10-19 yards) Carr posted an Adjusted Completion Percentage of 68.8%, fourth-best in the league. On throws in the short area of the field (0-9 yards) Carr’s ACP of 87.5% was second-best in the league.

Those 405 attempts accounted for 65% of his throws last season.

That accuracy enabled completions like this one to Darren Waller in the playoffs, as he splits the safeties while targeting the “Monument Defender:”

The season ahead is full of promise for Carr. He is reunited with Davante Adams, his old Fresno State teammate, and will be playing under Josh McDaniels. Back in 2019, I wrote that a McDaniels system might be ideal for Carr, to unlock his full potential as a quarterback.

We’ll see if that comes true this fall.

11. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals took a step forward last season. As a team, the Cardinals reached the postseason for the first time under Kliff Kingsbury, losing in the wild card round to the Los Angeles Rams.

As for Murray, his third season saw him complete 69.2% of his passes (a career-high) for 3,787 yards and 24 touchdowns, along with ten interceptions. He also posted an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 6.90, ranking him 11th in the NFL and also setting a new career-high mark for him.

When one thinks of Murray, his ability to create outside the pocket and off-structure certainly comes to mind, and 2021 was filled with moments like this one against the Detroit Lions:

On this play from Week 14, you can see Murray start to slide to the right, but instead he resets his feet in the pocket and targets Christian Kirk on a deep crossing route, dropping in a perfect throw to move the chains on fourth down.

This play also illustrates another strength of his game: The deep ball. Last season, according to PFF, Murray posted an Adjusted Completion Percentage of 54.9% on throws over 20 yards, second only to Tua Tagovailoa.

The Cardinals gave Murray a new contract this week that makes him one of the NFL’s highest-paid players, so the pressure to corral his randomness and harness his explosive play ability is on.

10. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

As we crack the top ten, we encounter yet another polarizing quarterback. Even within Dallas Cowboys circles, Dak Prescott remains a lightning rod. Some fans wonder if the Cowboys will ever win a Super Bowl with Prescott at the helm, while others maintain he is their best chance at hoisting a Lombardi Trophy.

Count me in the latter camp.

This is not to say that 2021 was a flawless season for Prescott. Coming back from a gruesome leg injury, Prescott started 16 games for Dallas, completing 68.8% of his passes for 4,449 yards and a career-best 37 touchdowns.

However, there was a stretch of games mid-season where Prescott was dealing with calf injury, and during that time you could see Prescott struggle to get velocity on throws. That stretch caused him to not only miss a game, but lose three of the next four contests when he returned.

Two areas where Prescott has improved during his NFL career are with manipulation, and anticipation. To the first point, take this play against the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild-Card round. Dallas dials up “585,” a design that has a comeback route along each sideline, along with a post route in the middle of the field.

The 49ers roll with Cover-3 on this play, dropping one safety down as a robber. Typically, against single-high coverage the quarterback will throw one of the comeback routes. Here, however, Prescott targets the post route:

The NFC East has not seen a repeat division winner since 2004, when the Philadelphia Eagles won their fourth-straight division title. If the Cowboys are going to buck this trend and defend their title, they’ll need Prescott at his best in 2022.

9. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

(Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)

During the summer “list season,” placement of Lamar Jackson — or the lack of placement in some cases — on lists such as this one has fueled many pieces of content.

From where I sit, I think two things are true about Jackson’s 2021 campaign. First, during the first two months of the season, he was playing at a near-MVP level.

Second, the rest of the way was a struggle as he, and the Baltimore Ravens, dealt with mounting injuries.

Now perhaps that second half of the season is what has led some to leave Jackson off similar lists, wonder if regression has set in, and question whether the Ravens would be wise to give him a long-term contract extension.

But in my view, that ignores what we saw from Jackson at the start of the year, which was a complete NFL quarterback who was punishing defenses in a variety of ways. Whether with his arm from the pocket:

Or his legs, when the Ravens dialed up one of their many designs that incorporate his athleticism into their run game schemes:

With the questions looming, 2022 could be a pivotal year for Jackson. But questions are nothing new for the young passer, as he has dealt with them since his draft evaluation process. Given how he responded to those, I would bet on a big year ahead from Jackson.

8. Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos

(Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

We are now entering what was the toughest stretch of this list.

In putting this together, I felt pretty comfortable about the four players we just discussed, and their placement on this list. I also felt pretty comfortable about the four names at the top, and their order.

But it is this next four-QB stretch that gives me the least amount of confidence. With any list, you can make a case for almost any order. But with these next four players, that is certainly the case.

We start with Russell Wilson, who has a new home in the AFC having joined the Denver Broncos this off-season via a trade that has the potential to reshape the AFC West. Despite a hand injury that sidelined him for a few weeks, Wilson still put up solid numbers for the Seattle Seahawks a season ago, despite enduring his first losing season in the NFL. Last season, he completed 64.8% of his passes for 3,113 yards and 25 touchdowns, with just six interceptions.

Wilson remains one of the more effective deep-ball passers in the NFL. While his ACP last season on throws over 20 yards was 40.0% — ranking him 24th among qualified passers — he completed 29 of 75 such attempts for 1,090 yards (third-most in the league) and nine touchdowns, along with just a pair of interceptions.

That deep-ball prowess was in display on throws like this one against the Chicago Bears, where he moved the free safety with his eyes and a subtle pump fake before targeting D.K. Metcalf along the right sideline:

Wilson is still one of the game’s best, and his presence in Denver has Broncos fans thinking about the Super Bowl. Others can, and will, argue he should be placed higher on this list, and I more than understand.

Again, this stretch of four is the toughest to stack in my mind.

7. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

(Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)

Long-time followers of my work — likely just my mom and dad, but still — know that I place an emphasis on competitive toughness at the quarterback position. It matters. The ability to fight through adversity, and get the other ten men in the huddle to believe in you, matters a great deal.

The flip side to that? That moment where you step into the huddle and ten sets of eyes refuse to make eye contact with you, because they don’t believe in you? That is a lonely place, my friends.

But enough about me…

Joe Burrow checks this box, and it is what propelled him and the Cincinnati Bengals into Super Bowl LVI. Battered and bruised by the Tennessee Titans, Burrow kept fighting, putting the Bengals into the AFC Championship game.

In that game a week later, with the Kansas City Chiefs out to a lead and their defensive front pinning their ears back, he maintained his composure and helped lead the comeback.

Or course, football is a team game and the Bengals defense, as well as those around him, played a big role too. But plays like this one against the Titans certainly stand out, as he beats the Cover-2 rotation with timing and anticipation:

While Burrow might not have the NFL’s best arm, his accuracy is a strength. When you can put throws like this one against the Las Vegas Raiders into the proverbial shoebox, you’re doing something right:

While the Bengals’ season ended with a loss in the Super Bowl, their fans have to be excited about their future, thanks to the presence of young talent like Burrow.

6. Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

For years, many NFL analysts argued that Matthew Stafford was one of the league’s top quarterbacks, and were it not for the situation in Detroit, he would be universally viewed as such.

For those analysts, 2021 must have delivered a bit of vindication.

In the wake of a blockbuster trade that sent Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams, the quarterback delivered in a big way during his first season out west, helping the Rams win Super Bowl LVI. For his part, Stafford completed 67.2% of his passes — tying his previous career-high mark set in 2015 — for 4,886 yards and 41 touchdowns.

His presence in Los Angeles helped unlock portions of Sean McVay’s playbook which had previously been closed. Whether it meant attacking downfield out of empty formations, and using his eyes to move defenders in the process:

Or hitting the backside dig route, which was one of the key elements to the Rams’ offense:

Just filthy.

5. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Almost every offseason, members of NFL media talk themselves into the Los Angeles Chargers are a potential Super Bowl team.

With Justin Herbert on the roster, that process is even easier these days.

In just a few short seasons, Herbert has established himself as one of the league’s premier talents at the position. After earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2020, Herbert followed that up with a sophomore campaign that saw him complete 65.9% of his passes for 5,014 yards and 38 touchdowns, earning his first Pro Bowl selection. He did this while leading the Chargers on five game-winning drives over the course of the season.

What puts Herbert high on this list? His arm. Herbert’s ability to truly stress a defense from sideline-to-sideline, and from the line of scrimmage deep downfield, makes him so dangerous to defend. This lets the Chargers expand the playbook with designs like this one:

Then there were moments like these, which saw him creating outside of the pocket. Whether it was getting over the top of the New York Giants:

Herbert’s arm talent is special.

Whether that translates into these preseason predictions coming true remains to be seen.

4. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

He turns 45 in a few weeks.

Please read that again, as I need a moment to ice my 45-year-old shoulder a bit. Typing for long periods of time causes some discomfort…

Even as 45 beckons, Tom Brady continues to play at an absurdly high level. When Brady announced that he was going to step away from the game this spring, it came as a surprise given just how well he played in 2021. Despite playing at the age of 44, Brady put some of his best work on the field last year, completing 67.5% of his passes for 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns. His Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 7.41 was fifth-best in the NFL, and when we last saw him, it looked like he was going to deliver one of his more impressive comebacks, as he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back against the Los Angeles Rams.

Only a big throw from Matthew Stafford ended what would have been one heck of a story.

Still, even in defeat Brady managed to deliver some vintage moments. Take this completion to Scotty Miller, which finds Brady climbing the pocket and delivering a precision throw with perfect anticipation:

Beyond that game, Brady’s season was filled with masterful moments. Whether it was this game-winner against the New York Jets:

Again, he is about to turn 45. How is this possible?

While you ponder that, I’m off to ice the other shoulder…

3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Just a simple flick of the wrist.

Every so often, someone writes a piece inspired by Frankenstein, assembling the best quarterback imaginable by taking pieces from some of the game’s best players.

Every time I see one of those pieces, I wonder if the right wrist of Aaron Rodgers is a selection. After all, sometimes the Green Bay Packers quarterback simply flicks his wrist, and fifty yards later the ball has reached its destination.

It amazes me every time.

After winning MVP honors back in 2020, pushing back on the argument that regression had set in, Rodgers earned his fourth NFL MVP award after the 2021 campaign. Last season, he completed 68.9% of his throws for 4,115 yards and 37 touchdowns, against just four interceptions. He led the league in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, posting a mark of 8.00. He also led the NFL with a QBR of 69.1, and for those believers in NFL Passer Rating, his mark of 111.9 led the NFL as well.

While putting up those numbers, sometimes that flick of the wrist was all he needed:

Throws towards the boundary are nice and all, but what about attacking the middle of the field?

Consider that box checked as well:

2022 could look a little different for Rodgers, as Davante Adams is now in Las Vegas with the Raiders. However, as we have seen from the past two seasons in Matt LaFleur’s offense, Rodgers is still among the NFL’s best.

And he still has that right wrist.

2. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

(Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

The other night I was at Camden Yards with my son, his best buddy and his best buddy’s dad. We were taking in a Baltimore Orioles game and got to see Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani up close.

Somehow the two boys started talking about how cool it would be to know the outcome of sporting events ahead of time, which sent us down the past of a discussion regarding Back to the Future II. It then got me thinking about what I would do armed with the knowledge at our current disposal and the ability to go back in time.

One stop would certainly be the 2018 draft, as like many, there are some rankings that we might want to revisit…

Josh Allen has come a long way since that cycle, growing from a talented but raw prospect into one of the top quarterbacks in the league. We knew about the arm talent, but his improved accuracy — to all levels of the field — has been a key part of his growth in the NFL.

Take this throw from a blustery night that he puts on the money:

Over his NFL career, Allen has also grown the mental side of his game. If you were to go back in time and tell me that he has become an anticipatory thrower, I would have told you that you were crazy.

But here he is, drilling in a dig route on-time and in-rhythm:

It is also important to remember that Allen was also a huge part of Buffalo’s running game. He was second on the team with 122 attempts for 763 yards and six rushing touchdowns, coming in behind Devin Singletary in all three categories.

In almost any other era, that would make him the best quarterback in the game.

However… this is not any other era.

Still, the fact that he is in the conversation must be sweet, sweet solace for Bills fans, after what the 2018 draft season was like for them.

1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

In some ways, Patrick Mahomes has become a victim of his own success.

After all, in a year where he completed 66.3% of his passes for 4,839 yards and 37 touchdowns, and guided the Kansas City Chiefs to a 12-5 record, a division title and the AFC Championship game, Mahomes and the Chiefs faced questions about regression, and whether the NFL had figured him and the Kansas City offense out.

But as I wrote at the time, the Chiefs — and Mahomes — were equipped to figure things out. Which they did, with Mahomes delivering on throws like this one along the way:

Of course, a discussion regarding Mahomes would not be complete without one no-look attempt, so let’s check that box with this throw against the New York Giants:

With Mahomes on the list, astute observers will not that all four AFC West quarterbacks are ranked. Those games are going to be must-watch next season.

Returning to Mahomes and the Chiefs, questions might linger after Kansas City’s loss in the AFC Championship game, which saw them blow a lead and struggle when the Bengals relied on drop-eight coverages in the second half. How Mahomes adjusts to those coverages in 2022, as well as how he adjusts to life without Tyreek Hill, will determine whether he stays atop Quarterback Mountain this season.

Honorable Mentions

(Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)

If we were to expand the list by two names, the “next two in” would be veterans Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins. Some are expecting a big season from Ryan in 2022, thanks to his fit with Frank Reich and the Indianapolis Colts. Cousins is perhaps dependent on the system in Minnesota with the Vikings, which relies on play-action designs to create opportunities downfield, but he has put up some elite numbers the past few seasons. In each of the last three years, he has posted an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt over 7.4, which does stand out.

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