Ranking quarterbacks, at its core, is a subjective exercise.
In doing so, I’m choosing to lean heavily on career sample size out of the gate.
The first few weeks of an NFL season are exploratory and volatile. The most striking visual we have of Aaron Rodgers from Sunday is the agitated quarterback bent out of shape on the sideline. Whipping his hands about. Using the language of a sailor.
Not that different from a year ago, when Rodgers and the Packers looked asleep at the wheel in a 38-3 implosion against the Saints. Ultimately, MVP voters weren’t swayed an inch by that ill opener when handing him the award for a second straight season.
That’s why Rodgers — along with a handful of other rough-start passers — aren’t hanging out in the basement of these rankings. If last Sunday happens seven more times to Green Bay’s ayahuasca-loving signal-caller, I’ll be singing a different tune.
On to the list!
2022 stats: 1 game | 83.9 pct | 297 pass yds | 9.6 ypa | 3 pass TD | 2 INT | 56 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 0 fumbles
I still recall the day when Sports Illustrated’s 1988 NFL Preview showed up at my house. Splashed across the cover was my favorite player, Cleveland’s sidearm-flinging Bernie Kosar, beside a juicy caption: Last of the great quarterbacks? Even as an obsessed young Browns fan, the concept bugged me. How could one guy be the end of the line? Doesn’t humanity always find a way to surprise?
Late-’80s Football Heads would have exploded into a billion fragments at the sight of Josh Allen. His brilliant play against the Rams put his one-of-a-kind physical gifts on full display before Planet Earth: using his 6-foot-5, 237-pound alpha-doused framework to swat away a doomed defender, hurl his body into paydirt and patiently hunt for gold. Allen is built to overcome the occasional gaffe. His two picks — the first coming off an Isaiah McKenzie bobble that wound up in the hands of a defender — melt away against the overall body of work.
Allen’s chemistry with on-field dance partner Stefon Diggs is special. The game-sealing 53-yard touchdown shot to the wideout came with Allen darting away from defenders and hurling the ball while moving at 13.6 mph, the fastest recorded time on a completion of 50-plus yards in the history of Next Gen Stats. Having crossed over from our NFL offices to SoFi Stadium to watch this game live, it became clear: He’s the most physically dominant quarterback I’ve ever seen in person.
Kansas City Chiefs · Year 6
2022 stats: 1 game | 76.9 pct | 360 pass yds | 9.2 ypa | 5 pass TD | 0 INT | 5 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble
Questions draped around a post-Tyreek Hill Chiefs attack evaporated minutes into Sunday’s romp over the Cardinals. Mahomes morphed into a burning blaze, steering three straight touchdown marches to open the game en route to a 360-yard, five-touchdown day. It’s how he did it: Shrugging off Hill’s lost speed to connect with nine different skill-position players inside a scheme that leaned on two — sometimes three — tight ends. Signature shovel action, end-zone perfection and a perfectly placed dart to Travis Kelce tell the story. Andy Reid was tasked with cooking up a new plan on offense; Mahomes with making it go. Together they demoralized Arizona’s defense in mere minutes and never peered back.
Los Angeles Chargers · Year 3
2022 stats: 1 game | 76.5 pct | 279 pass yds | 8.2 ypa | 3 pass TD | 0 INT | 1 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles
Herbert’s in a good situation. His protection has improved. Brandon Staley’s defense — full of new pieces — made life hell on Derek Carr while Herbert watched from afar. Losing Keenan Allen to a hamstring injury didn’t help, but the Chargers quarterback found him in time for one of Sunday’s more eye-exploding feats. Herbert went on to hit Allen’s replacement, DeAndre Carter, on a 23-yard touchdown that showed off his hot-to-trot arm power. These throws seem to almost travel through defenders interdimensionally, crushing their spirit in the process.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · Year 23
2022 stats: 1 game | 66.7 pct | 212 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 1 pass TD | 1 INT | -1 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles
Did Brady look like the fourth-best quarterback in football on Sunday night? He did not. His heroics were de-emphasized in favor of a Leonard Fournette-led ground game that chewed up the Cowboys for 152 yards. Brady still made plays, though, showing off his arm with a 48-yard burner to Julio Jones. Brady’s ugliest play — “I threw a bad interception,” he later said — was an off-target, poor decision jumped on by Donovan Wilson. His defense made that a nonissue, though, smothering the ‘Boys into oblivion. I’m comfortable locking Brady into a top-five slot until we see something more distressing.
Green Bay Packers · Year 18
2022 stats: 1 game | 64.7 pct | 195 pass yds | 5.7 ypa | 0 pass TD | 1 INT | -1 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble
I’m applying my Brady logic to the league’s back-to-back MVP. Rodgers was visibly frustrated — often seething — over Sunday’s discombobulated passing attack in a bitter loss to the Vikings. Davante Adams wouldn’t have dropped the perfectly placed bomb that fluttered off the hands of rookie Christian Watson. Green Bay’s leading receiver was runner AJ Dillon. Environment matters. Missing your two starting tackles matters. How Aa-Rod rebounded from last year’s abysmal opener matters, too.
Cincinnati Bengals · Year 3
2022 stats: 1 game | 62.3 pct | 338 pass yds | 6.4 ypa | 2 pass TD | 4 INT | 47 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 2 fumbles
If Minkah Fitzpatrick doesn’t block Evan McPherson’s extra point with 2 seconds left in regulation, we’re using this space to tell you how Burrow can overcome even his worst career start. I’m less concerned about the five turnovers and more piqued by the seven sacks and 11 hits he took behind a supposedly rebuilt line. We thought those days were over. Still, Burrow threw just two picks over his previous eight games including Cincy’s Super Bowl run. This was a bad night at the bar.
Los Angeles Rams · Year 14
2022 stats: 1 game | 70.7 pct | 240 pass yds | 5.9 ypa | 1 pass TD | 3 INT | 2 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble
Burrow and Stafford pair well together in the I’m Not Freaking Out Yet portion of this list. Like Burrow, the Rams quarterback was sacked seven times behind a line unable to match a Bills defense that caused endless chaos with an organic four-man rush. Stafford was coaxed into off-target throws and failed to make use of Allen Robinson across from Cooper Kupp. Interceptions and streaky play are part of the package around a quarterback equally capable of lofty heights.
Minnesota Vikings · Year 11
2022 stats: 1 game | 71.9 pct | 277 pass yds | 8.7 ypa | 2 pass TD | 0 INT | 0 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles
Cousins has long been dinged for not raising the offense around him — for operating as a glass of milk — but this Vikings attack has new energy. I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I’m falling for the Minnesota outfit I saw on Sunday: OPOY candidate Justin Jefferson stamping the Packers with a 9/184/2 line and working in unison beside a quarterback who delivered the ball with flair. Maybe Kyle Brandt is on to something?
2022 stats: 1 game | 69.0 pct | 340 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | 2 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles
Growing pains were expected. That’s exactly what we got from Wilson’s first outing in Nathaniel Hackett’s offense. Sixteen points off eight possessions with too many drives stalling in the red zone. The Broncos kicked field goals from Seattle’s 8, 12 and 22 while losing a pair of goal-line fumbles. Hackett then opted for a flubbed Brandon McManus 64-yard field-goal attempt with 20 ticks left on the clock – the result of baffling clock management – over handing Wilson the ball on fourth-and-5. Pete Carroll’s loving life.
Arizona Cardinals · Year 4
2022 stats: 1 game | 64.7 pct | 193 pass yds | 5.7 ypa | 2 pass TD | 0 INT | 29 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble
Murray waltzed into a buzz saw on Sunday. Facing a rugged Chiefs defense, the diminutive passer was asked to keep up with Patrick Mahomes inside an attack missing DeAndre Hopkins and Rondale Moore. Murray found his pal Hollywood Brown a smattering of times, but little else, as Arizona tumbled into a 37-7 hole. Kliff Kingsbury pointed to offensive line issues — he’s not wrong — but Kyler struggles as a one-man band.
Philadelphia Eagles · Year 3
2022 stats: 1 game | 56.3 pct | 243 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 0 pass TD | 0 INT | 90 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 0 fumbles
It’s no surprise Hurts plowed through the Lions for 90 yards and a score off 17 carries. It’s how — and why — he did it. Hurts used his legs to save the attack from breakdowns up front, with center Jason Kelce acknowledging: “He bailed us out numerous times.” The Eagles don’t beat the Lions without that aspect to Jalen’s game, but his arm helped, too. Check out this heave to A.J. Brown, who dialed up a monster 10/155 line in a powerful debut.
Las Vegas Raiders · Year 9
2022 stats: 1 game | 59.5 pct | 295 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 2 pass TD | 3 INT | 0 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 2 fumbles
Vegas is cooked when Carr turns into a mistake-prone fellow on the run. It’s no picnic behind an overwhelmed Raiders line, but this throw was dangerous. So was this one. Rinse and repeat. Carr and Davante Adams created a flock of positive plays, but the entire operation sits under siege behind a patchwork front five that used four different combinations of blockers in Sunday’s loss to the Chargers. The new attack deserves time, but there’s little margin for error in the gnarly AFC West.
New Orleans Saints · Year 8
2022 stats: 1 game | 67.6 pct | 269 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 2 pass TD | 0 INT | 9 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles
Once a Pick-Six Droid, Winston now has a 16:3 TD-to-INT ratio in his last eight starts. He took a beating for three quarters against a Falcons rush that piled up four sacks and sent Jameis to the tent. Then Winston turned electric, hitting 11 of 12 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns on back-to-back, fourth-quarter marches that brought the Saints within two points of Atlanta. His 40-yard hookup with Jarvis Landry to set up a game-winning field goal was arguably the biggest play of his career. Winston’s chemistry with Michael Thomas bloomed as the game grew more frantic. All of this happened in a post-Sean Payton world!
Indianapolis Colts · Year 15
2022 stats: 1 game | 64.0 pct | 352 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 1 pass TD | 1 INT | 12 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 4 fumbles
Ryan’s debut against the Texans was predictable. He made his share of Ryan-esque throws, lobbed an awful pick on a screen pass and lost a fumble. He was hurt by drops, including an eye-rolling flub by rookie wideout Alec Pierce in the end zone. Coach Frank Reich leaned more on rumbler Jonathan Taylor to tug the game into overtime. I see a Colts team with plenty to clean up and it starts up front: It was uncomfortable watching Indy’s 37-year-old quarterback absorb one punishing hit after the next.
2022 stats: 1 game | 69.7 pct | 270 pass yds | 8.2 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | 0 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble
Tua is 4-0 against the Patriots. That translates to Dolphins fans. So does the look of Mike McDaniel’s offense. The first-year coach has Tagovailoa dipped in a broth of bootlegs and play-action looks tailored to the third-year passer. His accuracy remains a plus, but he’s lucky to have Tyreek Hill win the occasional jump ball. The touchdown strike to Jaylen Waddle was the kind of throw that raises belief in Tua’s future, but I’m comfortable placing the under-pressure starter right in the middle of the pack right now.
Washington Commanders · Year 7
2022 stats: 1 game | 65.9 pct | 313 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 4 pass TD | 2 INT | 12 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles
Washington fans got a full taste of Wentz in Sunday’s win over the Jaguars. Touchdown passes on his first two drives to build a 14-3 lead. Back-to-back picks to open the fourth quarter and sink the Commanders in a 22-14 hole. Then a pair of scoring strikes, including the winning touchdown pass to rookie Jahan Dotson. He misses throws. Stares down a target or two. Then fires off a gorgeous bullet. This kid can play. And then he can’t. And then he can!
Jacksonville Jaguars · Year 2
2022 stats: 1 game | 57.1 pct | 275 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 1 pass TD | 1 INT | 4 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles
Lawrence is growing. He’ll miss a throw. Then whip something special. Then watch as Travis Etienne drops a wide-open screen near the end zone. The Jaguars put up a fight in Washington. Lawrence helped, but also chose to uncork a wayward late-fourth-quarter deep shot that landed in enemy hands to end the game. Lawrence feels close to a monster performance, but never far from a decision or two that costs his team a win.
2022 stats: 1 game | 56.8 pct | 215 pass yds | 5.8 ypa | 2 pass TD | 1 INT | 9 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble
Goff showed resilience against a white-knuckle Eagles defense. He started a horrid 3-of-10 for 6 yards with a frustrating pick-six that buried Detroit in a 21-7 hole. He sat at 53 yards by halftime. Goff threw a handful of dimes down the stretch, but his big early mistakes arguably cost the Lions a win. Detroit knows what Goff is: a streaky player who vibes one-dimensional. His uglier miscues forced the Rams to make a decision. The Lions will likely make their own after this season.
2022 stats: 1 game | 60.6 pct | 215 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 0 pass TD | 0 INT | 72 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 2 fumbles
Mariota piled up 72 yards on the ground and went without a pick. Still, his fumbled snap on third-and-1 in Saints territory with 1:40 to go was a killer. It forced a punt and allowed New Orleans to rip down the field for a game-winning field goal. “That’s completely on me,” said Mariota. Peering beyond Atlanta’s crumble job against the Saints, one of the bigger developments for the offense was proof that rookie wideout Drake London will be an immediate contributor. Mariota leaned on him for 74 yards off five grabs – but where was Kyle Pitts?
2022 stats: 1 game | 47.1 pct | 121 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 2 pass TD | 1 INT | 28 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles
Fields recorded just eight completions in an upset win over the Niners in a driving rain. The elements make for a murky evaluation, but the second-year passer showed growth. Against a formidable San Francisco front, Fields magically escaped the rush, rolled to his left and uncorked one across the field to a solitary Dante Pettis for a 51-yard touchdown. He took advantage of another Niners breakdown on his scoring strike to Equanimeous St. Brown. Fields is visibly more comfortable than a year ago. Some of his best plays come on the move. If he can avoid hazardous reactions to pressure, the Bears have something intriguing on their hands.
Seattle Seahawks · Year 10
2022 stats: 1 game | 82.1 pct | 195 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 2 pass TD | 0 INT | 14 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble
Geno owned Monday night. Smart decisions. Crisp passes. A juicy on-the-fly completion to tight end Will Dissly and a burner to Colby Parkinson. All unfolding as Russell Wilson watched from the visiting sideline. Smith piled up 17 points on Seattle’s first four drives and looked more comfortable in Wilson’s old offense than Wilson looked in Denver’s. Geno threw 28 passes and missed on just five attempts without turning the ball over. As the final seconds ticked away, the home crowd boomed in unison: “GENO! GENO! GENO!” Nothing short of a Gregg Rosenthal fever dream from Planet X.
Pittsburgh Steelers · Year 6
2022 stats: 1 game | 55.3 pct | 194 pass yds | 5.1 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | 9 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles
“He did not blink,” Mike Tomlin said. “(He) made the necessary plays in the waning moments. I’m appreciative of his efforts.” Behind a suspect offensive line, Trubisky went turnover-free in a wild win over the Bengals. His mobility arguably saved the day for Pittsburgh on a daring escape act and overtime rope to tight end Pat Freiermuth. Trubisky has been pitched all along as a game manager – a stopgap – for a team hoping to win games the old-fashioned way. This version of Mitchell looks far more comfortable than the jittery fellow we witnessed in Chicago.
New England Patriots · Year 2
2022 stats: 1 game | 70.0 pct | 213 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 1 pass TD | 1 INT | 0 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble
The hope is that Jones will be healthy enough to suit up against the Steelers after dealing with back spasms in the loss to Miami. If he plays, will New England grow more creative against a rabid Pittsburgh defense? Jones was plopped into a scheme that used just two personnel groupings against the Dolphins, per The Athletic. The Pats mostly ignored play action, a schematic friend to Jones in the past. One of the team’s better weapons, Kendrick Bourne, barely saw the field. Last year’s top rookie quarterback deserves better.
2022 stats: 1 game | 81.0 pct | 188 pass yds | 9.0 ypa | 2 pass TD | 1 INT | 25 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble
Danny Dimes is playing for his future in New York. His second-to-last throw against Tennessee was a 1-yard touchdown to Chris Myarick to pull within a point of the Titans. His next was a masterfully designed shovel pass to Saquon Barkley that put Big Blue up 21-20. The edgy two-point conversion call covered many sins, including Jones throwing a terrible pick in the end zone earlier in the quarter. New Giants coach Brian Daboll was caught on camera chewing out his starter. It’s the same exact treatment he once gave Josh Allen.
San Francisco 49ers · Year 2
2022 stats: 1 game | 46.4 pct | 164 pass yds | 5.9 ypa | 0 pass TD | 1 INT | 54 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble
Lance is a ball of potential. He made a big-boy throw on Sunday with a dart that cut through a swath of Bears defenders to find Ray-Ray McCloud for a 20-yard gain. His 11-yarder to Ross Dwelley over the middle on third-and-10 saw the quarterback maturely step up and make a throw. Lance also produced a rough interception where he didn’t see Eddie Jackson on a risky pass. The newbie put up a 13/54 line on the ground, but also generated just three points in the second half, struggled in the rain and was ultimately outclassed by fellow second-year passer Justin Fields. I doubt the win-now Niners will long tolerate a “developmental season” under center, but how does Lance grow without forging through the ups and downs?
Carolina Panthers · Year 5
2022 stats: 1 game | 59.3 pct | 235 pass yds | 8.7 ypa | 1 pass TD | 1 INT | 6 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 4 fumbles
Baker was Baker on Sunday. Streaky play, moments of intrigue and scant suggestion he’s the long-term answer in Carolina. After the Panthers squeezed out 6 yards of offense in the first quarter, Mayfield tossed an interception in the second and had four batted balls before halftime. He also muffed a quartet of snaps on the day — luckily losing none — and nearly still beat the Browns. His 75-yard bomb to Robbie Anderson was on the money. He threw a pretty ball in stride to tight end Ian Thomas for 50 yards that set the table for a touchdown. Carolina’s offensive line is an issue, though, which typically spells doom for consistent play from this quarterback.
2022 stats: 1 game | 62.2 pct | 240 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 2 pass TD | 0 INT | -1 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble
You see a little bit of everything from Mills …
THE GOOD: He looked great flinging a power-arrow to O.J. Howard, who caught a pair of touchdowns during Sunday’s bizarro tie with the Colts.
THE IFFY: Mills could have put more juice on a creative flea flicker to Brandin Cooks.
THE BAD: Mills missed a wide-open Chris Conley on third down to kill a drive. It’s a throw he’s got to nail.
Dating back to last September, though, he’s put a weekly batch of intriguing passes on tape. Under the watch of Pep Hamilton, Mills sits in an ideal low-pressure situation to just keep playing.
Cleveland Browns · Year 7
2022 stats: 1 game | 52.9 pct | 147 pass yds | 4.3 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | 10 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles
Lumbering. That’s the word that comes to mind watching Brissett cycle through his workday. He found Kareem Hunt for Cleveland’s first score of the year only after missing the runner on a wide-open shot downfield. All over the map against the Panthers — he nailed an upright at one point — Brissett’s play was masked over by Hunt and Nick Chubb rumbling for a dominant 186 yards on the ground.
2022 stats: 1 game | 62.7 pct | 307 pass yds | 5.2 ypa | 1 pass TD | 1 INT | 0 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles
Armed with the mobility of a funnel cake, Flacco struggled in Sunday’s ugly loss to Baltimore. Gang Green pass catchers didn’t help with a pair of fumbles, too many drops and a tight end slipping to the turf on Flacco’s lone pick. Flacco’s major issue — a complete inability to move in the pocket — isn’t something the 37-year-old can fix. Having him throw the ball 59 times doesn’t help. Why not dial up Mike White until Zach Wilson heals up?
2022 stats: 1 game | 53.8 pct | 64 pass yds | 4.9 ypa | 0 pass TD | 0 INT | 0 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles
With Dak Prescott sidelined following Monday’s thumb surgery, the Cowboys now turn to Rush. Chalk it up as a dark dream for Jerry Jones.
Even before the injury, Prescott appeared uncharacteristically adrift against the Bucs inside a Cowboys offense with a beaten-up line and depth issues at wideout. We knew the attack had problems, but it was worse than expected, with Dallas pumping out seven straight possessions of 13 or fewer yards after an opening-drive field goal. It will help when CeeDee Lamb is joined by Michael Gallup, but can Dallas play around Cooper?
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