NFL QB Power Rankings: How Do Passers Stack Up Heading into Week 1?
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The NFL has become a quarterback-driven league. Without a viable quarterback, there’s very little margin for error, and trying to win consistently like that is simply no longer a realistic option.
These days, Super Bowls are won exclusively by teams with capable quarterbacks.
This weekly series is designed to provide an updated power ranking of every starting quarterback in the NFL counting down from No. 32.
Each quarterback will be valued primarily on current performances and what he's been able to accomplish through the 2013 season rather than putting too much weight into previous years or unrealized potential.
Considering this is the first week of the season, we had to start somewhere. That means the reputations of these passers will be preceding them as we look ahead to the much-anticipated NFL season opener.
32. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
In Gabbert’s first two seasons in the NFL, he has shown little beyond a timid mindset when under pressure and an extreme lack of accuracy throwing the ball under any circumstances.
For his career, he's completed just 53.8 percent of his passes with an abysmal passer rating of 70.2.
In addition, Gabbert has failed to stay healthy for a full season. His career high in touchdowns came during his rookie year, when he threw for only 12 scores in 14 starts.
Gabbert has yet to demonstrate he truly belongs in the NFL in any capacity, let alone as a starting quarterback. It's somewhat puzzling as to why the Jaguars' front office has been so inactive in trying to improve upon one of the worst quarterbacking units in the league.
31. Terrelle Pryor, Oakland Raiders
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen informed his players late Monday night that Terrelle Pryor would be the starting quarterback over Matt Flynn for the season opener, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.
This feels like the right decision given the Raiders are limited in playmakers on offense and have a leaky offensive line.
Pryor at least brings a glimmer of excitement to an otherwise drab and uninspiring roster. There’s no telling what to expect with the former Ohio State signal-caller taking charge other than we should be prepared for a ton of quarterback scrambles. This should at least buy him some time while he learns how to play from the pocket and get the ball downfield safely and efficiently.
30. Geno Smith, New York Jets
Geno Smith’s preseason performances have been anything but a ringing endorsement for his case to be the Jets' starting quarterback. Fortunately for him, Mark Sanchez is the other guy in the competition, and he just so happens to be out with a shoulder injury.
If Smith can’t win the starting job for Week 1 over an injured Sanchez, well, that isn’t saying much for his NFL readiness.
It was already assumed that the rookie would have much to learn in his transition from a spread offense at West Virginia to a West Coast offense in the NFL. Footwork and timing are critical in any West Coast scheme, which is likely the biggest problem area in Smith’s maturation.
If the Jets hope to overcome the growing pains of their rookie quarterback early on, they’ll need to encourage this reluctant athlete to run more than he did in college. They just have to make sure he isn’t running out the back of his own end zone.
29. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
If Brandon Weeden’s stellar preseason performance is any indicator of what’s in store for the 2013 season, Cleveland fans should have a lot to be happy about. This talented young roster appears to be just a quarterback away from legitimate contention in the AFC North.
Weeden should benefit significantly from having Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator, which could help explain why he looks like a completely different quarterback this preseason than the guy who threw 14 touchdowns to 17 interceptions a year ago.
If Cleveland can just get Andy Dalton-like production out of him in 2013, then it won't be a reach to see the Browns end up with their first postseason berth since 2002.
28. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
Last year, the Titans finished 6-10 while Jake Locker threw more interceptions than touchdowns (10-11). Locker has publicly stated that he knows that he needs step up, as the team's patience with his development is beginning to wear thin after two lackluster seasons.
The former Washington Husky has struggled with accuracy in passes of 10-plus yards, which has really hampered this offense. In his career so far, he’s completed only 55.5 percent of his passes, which is unacceptable in today’s NFL.
One thing he has going for him is his mobility and athleticism. This has come in handy whenever he needs to buy time to make a play downfield. Now he just needs to hit his targets with consistency.
27. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
Christian Ponder is little more than a solid game manager with decent mobility and an inability to fit the ball in tight spaces.
The 2013 season is a pivotal one for Ponder’s future as a starting quarterback in this league. He simply must be able to generate more offense through the air or else his value as a member of the Vikings’ organization is no longer justified.
Last year, only Blaine Gabbert had fewer yards per attempt. This speaks to both Ponder's overdependence on checkdowns and his inability to find and hit targets downfield.
The Vikings offense still runs through Adrian Peterson, but it needs to be more balanced moving forward.
26. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If the pressure of being an NFL quarterbacks isn’t enough already, things just got a lot more tense for Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay—especially after a poor preseason with rookie Mike Glennon looking over his shoulder.
It’s starting to seem like that magical year in 2010 was more of an outlier than a sign of things to come. Freeman did pass for over 4,000 yards last season with 27 touchdowns, but it was his 54.8 completion percentage that prevented him from quieting the critics.
There could be a short leash on Freeman heading into the 2013 season, as it has become rather clear head coach Greg Schiano is unimpressed with his inherited quarterback.
25. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
For some reason, Carson Palmer seems to be continuously overvalued despite a career record of 54-67 and a passer rating of 86.2.
Not only has his game not translated into wins, but his stats are far from anything worth getting excited about. In his brief two-year stint in Oakland, Palmer threw 35 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. This ratio is well below average in today’s pass-happy league.
Palmer should just be happy teams have continued to see him as the answer to their problems rather than a key contributor to the misfortune.
After losing most of his 121 career starts, you really have to start asking the question—does Carson Palmer know how to win football games? The Arizona Cardinals will soon find this answer out the hard way.
24. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
How quickly the mighty do fall in the NFL. Philip Rivers was once considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Now he seems to be sinking deeper and deeper into a permanent slump.
There was some hope that new coach Mike McCoy could revive Rivers’ dying career, but after posting the worst passer rating in the preseason among starting quarterbacks, those hopes have quickly turned into concerns.
In all fairness, Rivers still boasts a career passer rating of 94.5, which is an impressive statistic after 112 career starts. He shouldn’t be counted out just yet.
23. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton struggled at times last year but could be poised for a huge season in 2013. That's even more plausible with the additions of two playmaking rookies, explosive running back Gio Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert.
A huge season is a relative term when talking about Dalton and his limited arm strength. Anything near 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdown passes would be career bests and a huge upgrade to the offensive production.
Physical attributes aside, Dalton is a proven winner who has led the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. A true step forward might be getting that elusive first playoff victory.
22. EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills
Rookie first-round draft pick EJ Manuel has yet to play more than just a few quarters in the preseason, yet somehow he's ranked ahead of several more established quarterbacks. How does something like this happen?
Well, I’m of the belief that Manuel will have a major impact his rookie year, similar to what we saw out of Cam Newton a few years back.
Manuel’s size and athleticism are comparable to Newton’s, yet he enters the NFL with much better accuracy, intelligence and maturity. Those factors should make Manuel a highly explosive playmaker while providing new hope for Bills fans who have waited a long time for a franchise QB.
Expect Manuel’s reads to be simple and quick as he baits defenses early with his ability to take off and run for big yardage.
But who will be the Bills' starter come Week 1? If Manuel is healthy and avoids any setbacks in practice, he likely will be the guy moving forward. The final decision will be made on Wednesday by head coach Doug Marrone.
21. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Anytime you can throw for over 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in a season, you’re doing something right. This is the type of high level of play you can potentially get out of Matthew Stafford when he's healthy. It doesn't hurt that he has the best wide receiver in the league to throw to in Calvin Johnson.
But Stafford also has several unanswered questions about his ability as a quarterback which may determine just how good he can be in the NFL.
How much of his 17-28 record as a starter should we hold him accountable for?
The success he had in 2011 had many out there thinking Stafford was going to be the next Dan Marino. After a disappointing 2012, expectations seemed to fall back down to earth after a significant drop-off in all the major statistical categories aside from passing yards.
I personally haven’t seen enough out of him so far in his career to project him as a top-six quarterback, as I’m forced to constantly consider the impact Calvin Johnson has had on his career.
20. Mike Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
After a rigorous battle this offseason for the starting quarterback spot, the triumphant Mike Vick seems well-suited for Chip Kelly’s high-tempo offense. This type of diverse scheme maximizes Vick's strengths while allowing him to play reactionary football rather than trying to make him the cerebral pocket passer he never could be.
The key this season will be reducing turnovers while at the same time trying to stay healthy. Both goals could be aided with a bit more sliding and less of the unwanted hits from defenders looking to punish him into submission.
The stage appears set for a breakout performance from Vick as he looks to spearhead a new era in Philadelphia.
19. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
The Rams have patiently waited and faithfully believed in their young quarterback for the last three seasons. Injuries have been Sam Bradford's biggest issue, but his play has yet to justify his status as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft.
This year, St. Louis surrounded Bradford with a plethora of young talent to spread the ball to while attempting to keep him off the ground with the free-agent acquisition of Jake Long from Miami.
If Bradford fails to excel under these conditions, expect the term “bust” to be associated with him for the rest of his career.
On a positive note, he did make impressive strides last year, throwing for career highs in touchdowns (21) and passing yards (3,702). But the bar is set pretty high for a team who passed on the rights to draft Robert Griffin III.
18. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Jay Cutler’s arm is an impressive weapon in terms of velocity. He and new head coach Marc Trestman seemed to flash some success this preseason, which could be a preview of things to come in 2013. Mysteries abound in Chicago, though, as the retooled offensive line and new scheme cloud any projections to what we should expect out of Cutler.
His last two seasons under Lovie Smith were complete failures, as he failed to stay healthy or to generate much through the air.
When it comes to body language, nobody is more unimpressive than Cutler. Perhaps the new-look Bears can finally put a lasting smile on their grumpy quarterback’s face. That would probably require a few more touchdown passes than the 19 he had a season ago.
17. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
In Alex Smith’s seven years as an NFL quarterback, he has never thrown more than 18 touchdowns in a season. His career completion percentage is just under 60 percent, and he has only exceeded 3,000 yards passing one time in his career.
These stats have done nothing to dim the Chiefs' expectations for their new quarterback—especially those of offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. Earlier this summer, he proclaimed Smith as the best quarterback in the league, according to Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star.
Perhaps he’s referring to the Alex Smith who finished seventh overall in Total QBR last season, according to ESPN. Smith has clearly improved under the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh and could stand to learn a few more lessons while playing for Andy Reid.
The Chiefs' new quarterback will likely have to be much more than a game manager if the team hopes to be in the playoff hunt down the stretch. This is something the 29-year-old Smith has yet to prove thus far in his career.
16. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
Well, the Texans finally provided Matt Schaub with a wideout option other than Andre Johnson, and not a second too early for this 32-year-old vet. DeAndre Hopkins is a talented rookie who will step in as the No. 2 receiver right away and take advantage of any defense looking to apply blanket coverage on the opposite side.
Schaub and head coach Gary Kubiak seem to be on the same page in terms of the offense and have had a lot of success together keeping the unit within the top 10 in yardage in four of the last five seasons.
Schaub has never been a great athlete, nor does he have that rocket arm teams covet, but he does make great decisions with the ball and knows how to play within his limitations efficiently. This essentially makes him an average starting quarterback at this stage in his career with an influx of rising stars at the position.
15. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
This former receiver from Texas A&M looked promising for Miami during his rookie campaign a year ago, racking up over 3,200 yards with limited weapons at the receiving position.
This offseason, the Dolphins added speedster Mike Wallace hoping to find the deep threat they’ve lacked for several years now.
One thing Tannehill will need to do is raise his completion percentage (58.3) and find the end zone more. Last year, he only threw 12 touchdown passes, compared to 13 interceptions.
The future looks bright for this athletic, young quarterback as he looks to climb the ranks of the NFL’s elite.
14. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
We all know what Cam Newton can do to defenses as a run threat, but his ability to read defenses and throw accurately downfield is still somewhat a work in progress. He has at least proven his worth to some degree from the pocket, but he has a long way to go if he hopes to be considered one of the best.
Maturity is also a big buzz word surrounding Newton, as his body language on the sidelines and in postgame interviews suggests he can become overly emotional in times of defeat. But this is likely just a side effect from his ultra-competitive nature and should eventually be channeled in a way that better suits a team leader.
Maybe one day, the Carolina Panthers will actually give him a few receiving targets to make his job easier. Until then, the offense will live or die by the ground game.
13. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
The reigning Super Bowl MVP enters the 2013 season with a big new contract and the swagger of a champion.
His depleted roster might pose a problem for Flacco, considering he has never been especially impressive in the regular season. Let us not forget that the Delaware alum ranked 25th overall in ESPN’s Total QBR for the 2012 regular season—not very good for one of the highest-paid players in NFL history.
It was his remarkable playoff performance to cap off last season’s Super Bowl run that has us looking at him through a whole new lens—which is why he’s ranked this high heading into Week 1.
12. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
The reviews for Tony Romo as a quarterback are mixed at best. He seems to carry with him a lingering reputation as a guy who lacks the “clutch gene.” Well, considering he has started for the Cowboys the last seven seasons yet only won a single playoff game, perhaps there is some validity to this.
However, all the blame for the Cowboys’ woes cannot fall solely into the hands of their quarterback.
Statistically speaking, he is actually quite impressive. His career completion percentage is nearly 65 percent, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is right where you want it to be (177-91).
But at the end of the day, it all boils down to wins and losses. When you earn the kind of money Romo is making, the weight of a game’s outcome does fall more heavily on his shoulders. Will he justify his paycheck and finally establish himself as elite, or will his critics continue to have something to harp on?
11. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
For anyone out there who was told they were too small to play quarterback, please see Exhibit A. Russell Wilson happens to be the only starting quarterback in the NFL under six feet tall. Yet after only one stellar rookie season, the Wisconsin alum is now ranked among the league’s best signal-callers.
His road to NFL stardom may be unorthodox, but then again, so is nearly everything about this mild-mannered passing prodigy. Few projected the third-round pick to throw for over 3,000 yards with 26 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions in his debut season, yet somehow he managed to shock the entire country and produce one of the most impressive rookie seasons ever.
The Seahawks have found a franchise quarterback for perhaps the first time in the history of the organization. Only time will tell if height is really a limitation for the development of this impressive young quarterback.
10. Eli Manning, New York Giants
This two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback has a knack for playing his best football once his back is against the wall. It’s as if those are the moments when his decision-making is at its best.
Without those elements at play, Manning tends to throw far too many interceptions and has a career completion percentage under 60 percent.
Eli’s magic during his two championship runs is hard to ignore when considering how high he ranks on this list. It wasn’t long ago that we laughed at the assertion that he was an elite quarterback. Now it appears the joke may be on us.
Since 2005, Manning and the Giants have never had a losing record.
9. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Few quarterbacks in the history of the sport have ever made an entrance quite like Robert Griffin III. His exciting style of play and impressive accuracy have quickly catapulted him into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks.
The big question here is whether or not this gift from the football gods can actually stay healthy for the entire season. His reconstructed knee, combined with a reckless willingness to take hits, doesn’t seem to favor career longevity—nor does his relatively petite frame.
However, if he can learn to slide and avoid unnecessary damage, RG3 might become the star quarterback the Atlanta Falcons wished they had in Michael Vick a few years back.
8. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck may not have had the splash stats of a Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson, but this kid was able to throw one of the worst teams in the NFL on his back and will it all the way to the playoffs. What’s more significant is that Luck did this under relentless pressure thanks to a lackluster offensive line that ranked near the bottom in sacks (24th), QB hits (31st) and QB hurries (32th), according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
What he managed to accomplish throughout his rookie season, all while being forced to fill the shoes of a legend, is nothing short of a miracle.
Within a year or two, Andrew Luck’s name will be up there in the same breath as Aaron Rodgers in terms of pure quarterback talent.
7. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Few quarterbacks are able to match Colin Kaepernick's deadly combination of size, speed, intelligence and accuracy—not to mention that he has one of the strongest arms in the league. From the moment he took over the offense midway through the 2012 season, the 49ers experienced a significant boost in both excitement and big-play ability. Finally, the defense was not being asked to hold teams to under 20 points in order to win games.
Stopping Kaepernick in the years to come should prove to be a great challenge, as he can destroy a defense equally with his legs or his arm. Last year, he finished third in ESPN’s Total QBR score behind only Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and should only be expected to improve after a full offseason entrenched as the starter.
6. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
With all of the negative talk about Todd Haley taking over as offensive coordinator a year ago, he and Ben Roethlisberger were at least able to produce some rather impressive QB numbers. Sure, they failed to make the playoffs, but it’s hard to fault Big Ben considering he did throw for 26 touchdowns and just eight interceptions in 13 games.
Expect his offensive line to be much improved from a year ago, with several young players getting healthy and benefiting from game experience from last season. Roethlisberger also has a few exciting new weapons to pass the ball to who could make life a bit easier on him.
The thought of Pittsburgh missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons is hard to comprehend. With Roethlisberger at the helm, the Steelers should never be counted out or underestimated. His competitive drive is what fuels this proud franchise.
5. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan's career production has improved each year he's been in the league. Last year, he won his first playoff game, dispelling questions about his ability to be clutch in big games.
Now it’s time for “Matty Ice” to take the next step in his development and see if he can add some coveted hardware to his ring finger. One thing he has no shortage of is talented receivers with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez all among the league's elite. Arming Ryan with this caliber of weaponry is like giving Spiderman an armor-plated tank.
If he manages to duplicate his 68.6 percent pass completion rate from a year ago, we might be talking about Ryan in the same breath as the names in the following slides.
4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
An undersized body with oversized ability has been the theme of Drew Brees’ record-breaking career. Needless to say, he’s far from finished.
Throughout the years, his No. 1 target has always been decided by whoever is open. This lack of favoritism has made it nearly impossible for defenses to slow down the Saints' passing attack. Brees is the only quarterback in history to throw for over 5,000 yards in three different seasons—making it reasonable to expect another high-flying year in ‘13.
Brees is undoubtedly excited for the return of his soulmate/coach Sean Payton, who has been an instrumental part of New Orleans' success. With the reunion of this dynamic duo, scoring points should not be an issue. Stopping opponents from scoring is another matter altogether.
3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
This savvy veteran and future Hall of Fame quarterback has racked up quite the NFL resume during his time under coach Bill Belichick.
Multiple Super Bowls? Check. MVP honors? Check.
Tom Brady has clearly established himself as one of the best in the business for quite some time now. This year, however, will be a big test of his leadership and ability to find favorable matchups, as he looks to lead a unit of alarmingly young and relatively unproven receivers to the top of the AFC totem pole.
Expect Brady’s streak of three straight seasons with 30-plus touchdown passes to be broken this year, unless tight end Rob Gronkowski shows up big. But that doesn’t mean his place among the league’s elite is no longer justified. Brady is the only reason New England is even considered for playoff contention at this point.
2. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning’s first year in Denver was also his return to football action after concerns about nerves in his neck led to a one-year hiatus. It’s safe to say he has reaffirmed his greatness after putting together one of his best seasons ever—even as he edges closer to the ripe old age of 40.
One of Manning’s most valuable qualities has always been his ability to maximize the talent around him. This is the product of leadership, unparalleled preparation and attention to detail.
His cerebral approach to the quarterback position has helped him maintain a high level of success even into what should be the twilight of his career. This ability has made Manning one of hardest quarterbacks to get your hands on in the league, further perpetuating the idea that a great mind is significantly more valuable than speedy legs at the quarterback position.
Denver fans can only hope his mental woes in playoff action won’t continue to tarnish one of the more immaculate legacies in the NFL.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
It’s hard to argue any claim anointing Aaron Rodgers as the best quarterback alive at this stage in his career. His numbers are ridiculously good.
How ridiculous are they? Over the last two seasons, Rodgers has thrown 84 touchdowns to only 14 interceptions—yes, you did read that correctly.
No quarterback has a better combination of accuracy, velocity, mobility and intelligence. These elite attributes have helped guide him to a Super Bowl MVP, league MVP, first-team All-Pro honors and the highest career passer rating in NFL history.
If there’s any questionable element to his game, I suppose it has to be his leadership. But having known Rodgers personally from our time as roommates in college, I can say his leadership is best demonstrated through his preparation and game readiness on a weekly basis. This is when we see that relaxed, laid-back photo-bomber we’ve become all too familiar with.
If the trends continue, this top-ranked signal-caller is on the fast track toward football immortality with his bust in the Hall of Fame.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.