Ranking NFL's top 32 quarterbacks before 2023 free agency and draft
Ranking NFL's top 32 quarterbacks before 2023 free agency, draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The NFL saw a ton of quarterbacks change teams last season, and not all of those trades and free agent signings had the intended impact.
Matt Ryan struggled with the Indianapolis Colts and was benched in the middle of the season. Russell Wilson was an absolute disaster for the Denver Broncos. Deshaun Watson failed to meet expectations for the Cleveland Browns after serving his suspension.
We could see more high-profile quarterbacks change teams over the 2023 offseason. Aaron Rodgers' future with the Green Bay Packers is unclear. The Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson have not yet come to an agreement on a contract extension. Derek Carr is already on the free agent market after being released by the Las Vegas Raiders.
Here's our ranking of the top 32 quarterbacks in the league ahead of free agency in March. For the first time in more than two decades, the recently retired Tom Brady is not included.
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32. Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
Winston has shown flashes of impressive play in New Orleans, but he just hasn't been able to stay healthy since joining the Saints. He has played in just 14 games over the last three years because of injuries.
31. Teddy Bridgewater, Miami Dolphins
Bridgewater is good (and accurate) enough to be a starting quarterback, but injuries have derailed his career. He has played in more than nine games just twice in the last six years.
30. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
Injuries have limited Lance to just eight games over his first two seasons with the 49ers. Given how well Brock Purdy played for the 49ers last season, it's fair to wonder if Lance will see the field much in 2023. The 49ers gave up a ton of assets to move up to the No. 3 overall pick in 2021 and draft Lance, but he's not better than what we saw from Purdy last season.
29. Jacoby Brissett, Cleveland Browns
Brissett is a starting-caliber quarterback, but there's definitely a ceiling to his game. You're probably not going to make the playoffs if he's your No. 1 QB, but there are plenty of worse options.
28. Marcus Mariota, Atlanta Falcons
Mariota did a nice job for the Falcons considering the circumstances. Atlanta exceeded expectations with seven wins and even challenged for the NFC South title. Mariota has a good dual-threat skill set, but he's best suited as a backup on a contender.
27. Taylor Heinicke, Washington Commanders
You could do worse than Heinicke as your starting quarterback. He was pretty solid in nine games last season, throwing for 12 touchdowns with six interceptions. He was actually the only quarterback to beat Jalen Hurts in the regular season. If Heinicke stays with the Commanders, he should benefit from longtime Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy joining Washington in the same role.
26. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pickett had a tough start to his rookie campaign, but he finished on a high note. The Steelers won six of the last seven games he started, and he threw only one interception over that span. Pittsburgh needs Pickett to make a Year 2 leap if the franchise is going to return to the AFC playoffs in 2023.
25. Andy Dalton, New Orleans Saints
Dalton's stats last season were better than you might think. He completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 2,871 yards with 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 14 games. Dalton is a serviceable starter, but he's not going to lead a team on a deep playoff run. He's best suited as one of the league's best backups.
24. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
Injuries forced Tannehill to miss five games in 2022. He was pretty solid when healthy, though, with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions over 12 games. We know what Tannehill is at this point. He's a solid, above average quarterback who can lead a good team to the playoffs. But if the goal is to win the Super Bowl, he's not your guy.
23. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Fields put together one of the best rushing seasons for a quarterback in league history. He ran for 1,143 yards (7.1 per carry) and eight touchdowns. Fields also improved as a passer with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 15 games. He needs to be more accurate throwing the football and take a few more steps in that facet of his skill set. But there is real promise here, which is exciting for a Bears franchise that's lacked a legitimate franchise quarterback for decades.
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22. Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos
There's no way Wilson is as bad as he played in 2022 -- his first season with the Broncos. He went from elite quarterback to below average. It was mind-blowing to watch the Broncos offense struggle so much on a weekly basis. Wilson is better than that, and with a new head coach in Sean Payton, it's fair to give the future Hall of Fame quarterback another chance.
21. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
Garoppolo is a good quarterback and, in the right situation, can lead a team on a deep playoff run. But the concern with him is always durability. He's dealt with a lot of injuries in his career. Garoppolo missed 10 games in 2020, two games in 2021 and six in 2022 due to injuries. He would be an upgrade for a team like the Jets, Panthers or Colts, but can you trust him to play close to a full season? Right now, you can't.
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20. Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers
It was tough to watch Purdy suffer a torn UCL in his right elbow during the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles. He had such a good season taking over for injured quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance. In nine games, Purdy threw for 1,374 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. The 49ers won eight of the nine games he started, with the only loss coming against the Eagles in the playoffs.
Purdy deserves to be the Week 1 starter in San Francisco next season, but if that happens, what will the franchise do with 2021 No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance? It's an interesting debate for the 49ers.
19. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
The 2022 campaign was a disaster for Murray. He played poorly, the team played poorly and then he suffered a season-ending ACL tear against the Patriots in Week 14. Murray has the potential to be a top 10 quarterback, but he needs to stay healthy. He has missed eight games over the last two years, and he could be out half of 2023, too, as he rehabs from the ACL injury.
18. Mac Jones, New England Patriots
Jones had a strong rookie season, but he was brutal in 2022. Some of it wasn't his fault. The offensive line struggled with injuries and penalties. The coaching situation was a disaster with Matt Patricia as the de facto offensive coordinator and Joe Judge as the quarterbacks coach. The Patriots also didn't surround Jones with a ton of talent at the skill positions. A sprained ankle suffered in Week 3 forced him to miss several games as well.
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Jones also played poorly -- let's not lose sight of that. He threw 14 touchdown passes with 11 interceptions in 14 games. That's not the kind of production a franchise quarterback provides. Despite his awful sophomore seasons, there is reason for optimism with Jones. The Patriots hired a real offensive coordinator in Bill O'Brien, and he should be able to get Jones back on track.
It's still too early to give up on Jones.
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17. Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
Stafford won the Super Bowl in his first season with the Rams, but injuries forced him to miss seven games in 2022 as Los Angeles missed the playoffs with a lackluster 5-12 record. Stafford is 33, but he's only one year removed from throwing 41 touchdown passes. The Rams have weapons around him, too, most notably elite wideout Cooper Kupp. If healthy, Stafford should be a top 15 quarterback again next season.
16. Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns
Watson was an elite quarterback for the first few years of his career, so there are reasons to believe he will be much better in a full season with the Browns. He missed 10 games in 2022 due to suspension, and when he made his Browns debut the team didn't play well. Watson was unimpressive, too, throwing for just seven touchdowns and five interceptions in seven games. We'll give him a pass because he was jumping into a new team in the middle of the season. But expectations will be much higher for Watson in 2023 after the Browns gave him a massive $ 230 million contract.
15. Derek Carr, Free Agent
Carr is an interesting QB. He's pretty good from a statistical standpoint. He's accurate, and he's thrown 217 touchdown passes with 99 interceptions over 142 career games.
The Raiders also accomplished nothing during his nine seasons with the franchise. But in fairness to Carr, the Raiders drafted horribly and didn't have a good defense for much of his tenure. His 33 game-winning drives since 2014 are the most of any active quarterback. In a better situation, Carr could be a really good upgrade for a team that's a quarterback away from contender status.
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14. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Tagovailoa is a difficult player to rank because based on the box score numbers and advanced stats, he was a top 10 quarterback in 2022. But multiple concussions forced him to miss four games, including the AFC Wild Card defeat to the Bills. Tagovailoa has never played more than 13 games in each of his first three pro seasons. If healthy, Tagovailoa has proven to be a legit franchise QB, but it's hard to trust his durability right now.
13. Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks
Smith was one of the surprise breakout stars of the 2022 season. Did anyone think he would throw for 4,282 yards, 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, all while leading the Seahawks to a playoff berth in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year? Probably not.
Now the Seahawks must decide if this version of Smith is the real deal. If yes, then they should re-sign him this offseason before he reaches the free agent market.
12. Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Jones had the best season of his career under new head coach Brian Daboll. He threw for 3,205 yards with 15 touchdowns and just five interceptions, while also running for 708 yards and seven more scores. Jones is a free agent this offseason and the Giants need to figure out whether he's worth $30-plus million per season on a long-term deal.
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11. Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
Goff's numbers were impressive last season -- 4,438 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His better-than-expected performance was the primary reason why the Lions ranked No. 4 in total yards, No. 6 in passing yards and No. 5 in scoring. Goff will be expected to maintain this level of play and get the Lions into the playoffs next season.
10. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Cousins ranked No. 4 in passing yards and No. 5 in passing touchdowns last season as the Vikings won the NFC North with a 13-4 record. He has thrown for at least 4,200 yards and 29 touchdowns in each of the last three years. He's consistently very good, but playoff success continues to elude both him and the Vikings.
9. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys suffered another frustrating playoff loss to the 49ers in the NFC Divisional Round. Prescott played horribly with two interceptions. In fact, his 15 interceptions in the regular season were a career high even though he missed five games due to injury. Prescott is still a quality player, but he has a lot to prove in 2023.
8. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Lawrence took a huge leap in Year 2, throwing for 4,113 yards with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He led the Jaguars to an AFC South title with a 7-2 record down the stretch. He also helped Jacksonville pull off one of the best comebacks in playoff history against the Chargers in the AFC Wild Card round. Expectations for Lawrence and the Jaguars will be even higher in 2023.
7. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers and the Packers missed the playoffs after losing a must-win Week 18 game against the Lions at Lambeau Field. He threw double-digit interceptions (12) for the first time since 2010, but in fairness to the three-time league MVP, the Packers didn't exactly surround him with a ton of talent after trading away elite wide receiver Davante Adams.
Rodgers' future in Green Bay will be among the biggest storylines of the offseason. A team that's a QB upgrade away from being a real contender, like the New York Jets, should try to acquire Rodgers.
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6. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Jackson had an injury-plagued season in 2022, but when healthy, he's a perennial MVP candidate with an elite dual-threat skill set. Will the Ravens franchise tag him, sign him to a long-term extension or trade him this offseason? It's going to be a fascinating situation to watch unfold.
5. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Herbert threw 13 fewer touchdown passes compared to his 2021 total, but he also cut his interception total and improved his completion percentage. If you were starting an expansion franchise today and could pick any quarterback to lead it, Herbert might be the first or second guy taken after Mahomes. His potential is extraordinary.
4. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
The Bills fell short of expectations, but you have to give Allen some credit for battling through a tough season that included an elbow injury. He's still one of the most difficult quarterbacks to defend.
3. Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Hurts probably would have won league MVP if he didn't get hurt and miss a couple games late in the regular season. But he did lead the Eagles to Super Bowl LVII and would have won that game's MVP had Philly prevailed. He is the best dual-threat QB in football.
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2. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Burrow has led the Bengals to the Super Bowl (2021) and AFC Championship Game (2022) in each of the last two seasons. He's uber-talented, poised and clutch. The Bengals should win a Super Bowl with Burrow as long as they continue to surround him with enough talent.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
This is an easy one. The reigning league and Super Bowl MVP winner is the most talented and most clutch player in the sport. The Chiefs have won two of the last four Super Bowls and could be on the verge of a legitimate dynasty.