Ranking the Top Quarterbacks from the 2018 NFL Season

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2019

Ranking the Top Quarterbacks from the 2018 NFL Season

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    In 2018, we saw running backs take back some of the glory in the NFL. Marlon Mack and Ezekiel Elliott have carried their teams into the second round of the playoffs, while rookies like Saquon Barkley and Nick Chubb took the league by storm.

    It's still a quarterback-driven league, however, and teams with legitimate franchise quarterbacks under center are best-suited for sustained success. With this in mind, we're eager to take a look back at the 10 best quarterbacks of the 2018 regular season.

    Defining which quarterbacks are the best can be tricky because everyone has an opinion about what makes a quarterback great. For this list, we'll look at statistics as well as factors like physical talent, performance in key situations and the ability to elevate surrounding talent.

       

Honorable Mentions

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    Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

    You know we're in a golden age of quarterbacking when Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff passes for 4,688 yards and 32 touchdowns and doesn't even crack our top 10.

    Goff was tremendous at times in 2018, but he also struggled when asked to put the offense on his shoulders in losses to the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles. His success may be dependent on Sean McVay's offensive system, but Goff is excellent at running that system.

               

    Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

    Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was asked to do a lot in 2018. He had to learn Jon Gruden's offense, play behind an inconsistent offensive line and work with a receiving corps that parted with Amari Cooper midseason. It didn't help that a poor Raiders defense often left Carr trying to play catch-up.

    Yet Carr still finished with 4,049 yards passing and 19 touchdowns. Those aren't tremendous numbers by today's standards, but the adversity Carr overcame cannot be overstated.

              

    Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is a game manager and is unlikely to rack up gaudy stats or get a ton of credit. However, he is very good at what he does, and his ability to make plays with both his arm and his legs makes him dangerous.

    Prescott finished the season with 3,885 yards passing, 305 yards rushing and 28 total touchdowns. He would have made our top 10 if he hadn't struggled to push the ball downfield as much as he did before the acquisition of Cooper. Remember, the ability to elevate talent is an important quarterback trait.

               

    Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

    It's been fashionable to bash Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers this season, and it's true that we're leaving him off our top-10 list. His play has taken a hit—he missed open receivers and was too quick to get rid of the ball—but Rodgers still played like a quality franchise quarterback.

    He finished the season with 4,442 yards passing, 25 touchdowns and two interceptions. If the Packers improve any in 2019, he should be back in the top 10.

10. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Statistically, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was the top quarterback of 2018. He passed for a league-leading 5,129 yards with 34 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Roethlisberger still has plenty of ability, and there are few quarterbacks teams would rather have.

    However, Roethlisberger is at the bottom of our list for a few reasons. His leadership style is questionable at best, and it's not like he needs to elevate receivers like Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Roethlisberger has openly criticized teammates, and his friction with Brown could well lead to the star wideout's departure.

    Roethlisberger also made his fair share of mistakes in 2018. His three interceptions in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns likely kept Pittsburgh from securing a win. His late-game interception against the Denver Broncos in Week 12 cost the Steelers another.

    One could argue that if not for some of Roethlisberger's mistakes, Pittsburgh would have made it into the postseason. At the same time, Roethlisberger is a big reason why the Steelers got close.

9. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

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    Along with the rest of the Houston Texans, Deshaun Watson performed poorly in the playoff opener against the Indianapolis Colts. However, his play in the regular season was remarkable and perhaps the biggest reason Houston got into the postseason.

    Watson is a dual-threat quarterback in every sense of the word, but unlike unpolished players like Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, Watson is also lethal throwing from the pocket. He finished the regular season with 4,165 yards passing, 551 yards rushing and 31 total touchdowns.

    He also lost receivers Will Fuller and Demaryius Thomas to injury, leaving DeAndre Hopkins as the lone reliable target on the roster. Hopkins is an elite receiver, but Watson was able to get the most out of other pass-catchers as well.

    If not for a propensity to take sacks—he had 62 of them in the regular season—Watson would be higher on our list.

8. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

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    No, Tom Brady has not reached the cliff yet. Sure, he's missed some throws we aren't used to seeing him miss, and he's been uncharacteristically rattled by pressure. However, he's also passed for 4,355 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions—not that Brady cares about those numbers.

    "I'm not a big stat guy," Brady told reporters in December. "I'm into wins."

    Brady helped deliver 11 wins to New England this year and got the Patriots a first-round bye. With one more win, he'll be back in the AFC Championship Game.

    We also have to give Brady credit for elevating the players around him. While he did have Josh Gordon for part of the season—plus whatever is left of Rob Gronkowski—he's done a lot more with the likes of Chris Hogan, James White and Cordarrelle Patterson than most other quarterbacks would have.

    Even at 41 years old, Brady will be on equal footing with virtually any quarterback he faces from here on out in the postseason.

7. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

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    The only rookie on our list, Baker Mayfield didn't just elevate the talent around him. He put the entire Cleveland Browns organization on his back and nearly led it to the postseason. In just 14 games and 13 starts, Mayfield passed for 3,725 yards, a rookie-record 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions—and it's not like he was playing with a star-studded supporting cast.

    Mayfield also deserves credit for weathering a midseason coaching change and the ascension of a first-time offensive play-caller. Despite plenty of turmoil and the foul stench of the Browns' losing culture, Mayfield brought confidence to the franchise and produced one of the great rookie campaigns of all time.

    Not only did Mayfield break a touchdown record held by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson—in just 13 starts, no less—he also set a new Browns rookie passing-yardage record and was named NFL Rookie of the Week a remarkable seven times.

    Mayfield has a great chance to beat out Saquon Barkley as the Offensive Rookie of the Year, and he's deserving of the award. If he continues to improve, Mayfield will find himself near the top of this list in future seasons.

6. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

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    The Los Angeles Chargers have one of the most balanced rosters in the NFL this season, so it may be easy to overlook the job quarterback Philip Rivers has done.

    Yes, he's benefited from a strong rushing attack and a cadre of talented receivers—including Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin. However, he's been great in pressure situations for most of the season.

    Rivers' late-game heroics against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15 showed exactly why Los Angeles is a dangerous postseason team.

    While Rivers isn't likely to garner MVP consideration because of his surrounding talent, he's still a truly elite signal-caller. He has a passion for the game rivaled by only his talent and on-field ability. He finished the regular season with 4,308 yards passing, 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He is one of the few quarterbacks who won't be intimidated by a quarterback duel with Brady in the postseason.

5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

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    In a year highlighted by remarkable quarterback play, Russell Wilson's raw numbers may not be all that impressive. He finished the regular season with 3,448 yards passing, 376 yards rushing and 35 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.

    Let's not forget, though, that Wilson led a run-oriented offense—one that averaged 160 yards rushing per game in the regular season.

    Wilson was efficient as a passer, and his ability to escape pressure behind Seattle's inconsistent offensive line helped sustain many drives. His ability to thrive in pressure situations won several contests for the Seahawks.

    In fact, as Wilson lamented, Seattle's refusal to lean on him against the Cowboys may have led to the team's early playoff exit.

    "I think that when you reflect back on it, we were throwing it pretty well in the game," he told reporters. "I think we could have kept doing that some more."

    Wilson remains one of the best in the game, and that isn't likely to change anytime soon.

4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

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    Like Russell Wilson, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees remains one of the best signal-callers in the game. While detractors will point to his average play during the Saints' three-game road stretch late in the season, Brees did indeed perform at an MVP level in 2018.

    He finished the season with 3,992 yards passing and 32 touchdowns. More impressively, he tossed just five interceptions. That's exceptional.

    We shouldn't act like Brees works with an all-star receiving corps either. There is little to be excited about aside from Michael Thomas. If Brees didn't benefit from a dominant rushing attack and one of the better offensive lines in the league—ranked eighth by Pro Football Focus—he'd belong even further up this list.

    Still, what Brees has done at 39 years old—including breaking his own single-season completion-percentage record and becoming the NFL's all-time passing leader—is incredibly impressive.

3. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

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    Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan isn't going to get much, if any, MVP love for two big reasons. For one, the Falcons went just 7-9, and quarterbacks who don't make the postseason are rarely seen as MVP-caliber.

    The second reason is that Ryan benefits from passing to guys like Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu.

    Still, Ryan was brilliant in 2018. He passed for 4,924 yards with 35 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He did so while regularly playing from behind thanks to a suspect defense. It isn't Ryan's fault that the Falcons defense was injured and ineffective in 2018, and it isn't his fault that the Falcons missed the postseason.

    If the Falcons had slipped into the playoffs, we would absolutely be talking about Ryan as an MVP candidate.

2. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

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    Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck missed the entire 2017 season while recovering from shoulder surgery. It was fair to wonder if he'd be able to play again at a high level, let alone an MVP level.

    Yet that's where we are with Luck after the first round of the postseason. An emerging rushing attack and a strong defense have played their roles in Indianapolis' success this season, but Luck has had to go out and win games several times this season. He brought Indianapolis back for victories against the Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins and New York Giants. Heck, he led the Colts back from a 1-5 start to the season.

    Luck has been phenomenal in critical situations this season. He's also produced an impressive stat line, passing for 4,593 yards with 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

    There are few quarterbacks who can outduel the next entry on our list, but Luck is one of them.

1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is going to be your 2018 NFL MVP. After he got 45 of 50 first-place votes during All-Pro selection, anything else would come as a shock.

    Mahomes is deserving of the MVP award too. The second-year pro—and let's not forget, first-year starter—has been brilliant. He has physical tools we haven't seen at the quarterback position before, including the ability to throw from multiple angles, on the run and even while not looking.

    These abilities have helped produce gaudy statistics. Mahomes passed for 5,097 yards, rushed for 272 more and scored 52 total touchdowns. These numbers are beyond impressive for any quarterback, but for a guy who's still adjusting to the speed and nuances of the pro game, they're unbelievable.

    While we have yet to see how he handles his first playoff action, Mahomes has been without a doubt the most impressive quarterback in the NFL this season. There's a good chance he remains that for the foreseeable future.