Ranking the 2021 NFL potential starting quarterbacks into tiers

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The offseason means lists and rankings of all sorts. Pro Football Focus recently ranked the starting quarterbacks in the NFL and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was ranked only No. 17, much to the chagrin and ire of Arizona fans.

So where should he be ranked?

Below I have ranked the quarterbacks into tiers. Rather than pick nits about the individual quarterbacks, I rather group them into a few categories — elite starters, starters on the cusp of eliteness, good to great quarterbacks, quarterbacks who need to be replaced or have major question marks, and then the unproven players.

They are explained and grouped below.

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Elite starters

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The elite quarterbacks are those who make their teams competitive just by being on the field. They are battle-tested playmakers with their arms, brains and leadership. Who is in this group?

Allen would not have made the cut last year but was great in 2020. He will have to continue his play to remain here. Watson is fantastic but he did lead a terrible football team a year ago and his future in the league is uncertain at this point. Jackson still can be and needs to be better as a passer, but he is undoubtedly a star. The others are MVPs and Super champs.

On the cusp of stardom

These are the quarterbacks who have done enough to be viewed as franchise quarterbacks but aren't quite at the same level or as proven as the ones in the elite category. These are players who will either move up or drop, based on their play in 2021.

  • Kyler Murray

  • Justin Herbert

  • Baker Mayfield

  • Dak Prescott

Prescott is just shy of being a star. Murray is trending in that direction after winning Offensive Rookie of the Year and then earning a Pro Bowl selection in his second season. He was an early MVP candidate before an injury limited his play. Herbert looks like he will be a stud. Mayfield bounced back from a rocky second season to lead the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs and a playoff win,. Prescott almost was in the elite category. We will see after this season, coming back from his gruesome ankle injury.

Good to very good starters

Some of these quarterbacks might have been stars but have declined. They are those players who are hard to replace because there aren't many players better out there and a team could certainly do worse. They need the right team around them to be great or to lead their team to greatness.

  • Matthew Stafford

  • Jimmy Garoppolo

  • Kirk Cousins

  • Ryan Tannehill

  • Ben Roethlisberger

  • Matt Ryan

  • Derek Carr

  • Jared Goff

This is where former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer would have landed. This is a wide range of players. Goff actually is close to dropping into the next tier below. Ryan is at the top end and some might consider him elite, although that was a few years ago. The same can be said about Big Ben.

Major question marks or simply guys that will be replaced

[ALLEN EYESTONE/The Palm Beach Post]

This has two type of quarterbacks. They are the once-promising player who has hit some adversity or just hasn't emerged as good to great, the starter you like but can't completely trust for a season, or they are the quarterbacks you know are going to be replaced They include:

  • Ryan Fitzpatrick

  • Daniel Jones

  • Sam Darnold

  • Jameis Winston

  • Carson Wentz

  • Drew Lock

  • Teddy Bridgewater

  • Andy Dalton

  • Tyrod Taylor

  • Cam Newton

Fitzpatrick is the closest to being up a tier. Newton was a star but injuries have made him a question mark now. Wentz was on the cusp of greatness but fell quite far. Bridgewater is now a journeyman. Taylor and Dalton are simply placeholders. Jones and Darnold just haven't quite put it all together, while Winston's turnovers are impossible to ignore. Lock shows flashes every so often but is on the replacement track.

Unproven

This group is what it is. They haven't done anything or enough to put them anywhere else.

  • Joe Burrow

  • Taysom Hill

  • Justin Fields

  • Trey Lance

  • Tua Tagovailoa

  • Jalen Hurts

  • Trevor Lawrence

  • Mac Jones

  • Zach Wilson

Burrow looked like he will be great. His knee injury keeps him down here. Jones and Lance are behind established NFL veterans. Wilson and Lawrence will get to prove themselves from Day 1. Fields will eventually replace Andy Dalton. Hurts and Tagovailoa both had flashes.

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