Quarterback is arguably the most important position in all of football. Perhaps even more important than the head coach. Just look at the Rams Super Bowl appearance. Sean McVay, an offensive genius, could only drag Jared Goff so far. Goff’s inability to make audibles and pre-snap reads handcuffed McVay and ultimately led to their defeat. 10 points should be low enough for a defense to win a game, but nonetheless, they found themselves finishing with a loss. With that being said, here’s how the starting quarterbacks stack up going into 2021.
For this article, we’ll consider players like Joe Burrow and Dak Prescott starters despite their injury status leaving their Week 1 availability up in the air. We’ll also consider Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence starters as well. Other rookies may be considered starters as well, but the options behind those two make them likely starters no matter what.
32. Zach Wilson
Wilson is definitely going to start in New York, but the team around him is pretty bare bones. New head coach Robert Saleh is a defensive guru, so that doesn’t help Wilson, either. Of all the places to go, the Jets were probably one of the worst for a rookie quarterback.
31. Tyrod Taylor
There is no way Houston starts Deshaun Watson next year. If he’s not on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, that’ll be a shock and Houston would get never-ending bad press if they started him amid the rampant sexual assault allegations he’s facing. So, Tyrod Taylor gets the nod, and maybe he finally won’t get benched in favor of an up-and-coming rookie for once.
30. Justin Fields
There’s just no way Chicago can’t start Fields at this point. He’s definitely better than Andy Dalton and (while it sucks for Dalton) their previous commitment to him is a moot point. Fields was probably the second-best QB in the draft and fell way too far. Chicago was lucky to get him, and he’s lucky to go to Chicago. The wide receivers and defense make Chicago a QB-friendly place to go, but there’s a reason Fields didn’t go number one and the rookie rule applies here: he hasn’t been named a starter or played in the NFL yet.
29. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzmagic deserves a place to start a whole season after everything he’s done for all the teams across the league, but Washington probably wishes he didn’t have to. Fitzpatrick is definitely a backup but has performed well in spot starts and cleanup duty, so they could, I guess, do worse (maybe?). Still, if he is even able to beat out Taylor Heinicke remains to be seen, but starting a career backup in his late 30s is not a good recipe for a defending division champion.
28. Daniel Jones
Jones is probably in a make-or-break year, but he’s really not that good. The lofty draft selection (6th overall) doesn’t help him and he hasn’t been a bad starting quarterback, per se, he’s just not that good. With Darius Slayton and Kenny Golladay running routes for him, it should be easier, but New York would be smart to explore other options.
27. Trevor Lawrence
While many have heralded Lawrence as the best QB prospect ever (Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, and others would like a word), he still hasn’t taken a snap on offense in the NFL and hasn’t even been named the starter over Gardner Minshew (yuck) yet. He doesn’t have that one-year wonder status that Joe Burrow and Mitch Trubisky had, but he still had NFL-level surrounding talent at every position, so what he’s able to do without that will be telling. Jacksonville is far from what Clemson was, so I’d pump the brakes on Lawrence just a bit.
26. Jalen Hurts
Hurts hasn’t even been named the starter and the reports are that the brass isn’t sold on him, either. If the dysfunction in Philadelphia ever stops, though, he’s probably the starter and will probably do okay on the strength of some good rushing talent. He’s not an elite passer, but he’s probably good enough to get by and with his running ability, he’ll be a halfway decent starter.
25. Carson Wentz
Wentz has a fresh start in Indianapolis with a pretty solid situation. It’s undoubtedly better than being in Philadelphia. While he did lose the job to Jalen Hurts, he’s probably not that much worse (or better) than him. Still, getting benched in Philly on that team does not look good. If Frank Reich can succeed with a dying Philip Rivers, he can succeed with a healthy and motivated Carson Wentz, though.
24. Tua Tagavoila
Tua infamously said the NFL was easier than he expected it to be, and then later admitted he had a hard time adjusting. The Dolphins signal-caller lost his job at various points to career backup Ryan Fitzpatrick and even had to sit down at the end of close games to give Miami a shot at winning. That doesn’t scream franchise QB, and Alabama QB’s have notoriously not worked out. Adding weapons this offseason helps, but Tua doesn’t look like the guy so far.
23. Jimmy Garoppolo
For now, Jimmy G remains the 49ers starter, though he’s not likely to hold off rookie Trey Lance for long. Though he and Kyle Shanahan can be fit into the same scenario I mentioned for Jared Goff in the intro, Jimmy G has had success in the past. Playing for Kyle Shanahan helps a lot, but Jimmy G has been overrated for a while, and will ultimately lose his starting job to Trey Lance. The contract is atrocious, but he could start on other teams.
22. Sam Darnold
Sam Darnold was atrocious in New York, even despite the potential he once showed. How much of that was Adam Gase and how much was his fault remains to be seen. Still, with development that stunted, it’s hard to expect a quarterback to get much better at this point in his career. Playing with Robby Anderson and improved weapons and coaching should help, but Darnold has yet to prove he’s anything other than the guy the Jets didn’t even want.
21. Drew Lock
Lock may not even be able to start over Teddy Bridgewater who was ousted from Carolina after just one year, and he’s probably never going to be elite. With such a good receiving corps, though, he doesn’t have to be. Still, if Denver wants to really compete, an upgrade would be in order here.
20. Jameis Winston
Winston threw for 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns when he was blind. If Sean Payton wises up and actually starts him instead of Taysom Hill, he’ll do pretty well throwing to Mike Thomas and Alvin Kamara. He got eye surgery and can see better and is in a better offensive system now. If Payton commits to him, he’ll be a solid if unspectacular starter. He’s a step down from Brees, but Brees was hurtling towards this area of starting QBs at mach speed, so that’s ok if you’re New Orleans.
19. Joe Burrow
Burrow was playing fairly well before getting hurt, but a torn ACL can often have really adverse effects on a player. Combine that with the fact that it was becoming clear that Herbert was roundly better than him, and you can see why he’s so low. And since Cincinnati elected to ignore the offensive line early on, it might be difficult for him again. One year wonders in college have a rough track record (ahem, Mitch Trubisky), so the odds aren’t in his favor that he can be elite without elite surrounding talent and Joe Brady.
18. Jared Goff
If Goff was an above-average quarterback, he’d have a ring. I’m willing to say if he was even an average quarterback, he’d have a ring. His prime may be right now, but he was just shipped from a quarterback’s dream situation to Detroit, so it’s not likely to get any better for the former number one overall pick.
17. Kirk Cousins
Cousins will never be an elite quarterback, though some weeks he looks like he might. His record against .500 teams speaks for itself, though. He struggles against good competition, and he often displays poor decision-making skills. He’s not bad enough for Minnesota to pursue other options (at least not aggressively), but he probably imposes a lower ceiling on the team than they’d like.
16. Cam Newton
The Patriots could certainly do a lot worse than sticking with Newton for another year, despite how bad last season went. Newton’s numbers were not good, but they were fairly close to the playoffs and had some really good wins last season. The whole team was awful- even driving Tom Brady out of town. Still, Newton’s days of dragging an offense to relevancy like he did in Carolina are probably over, which hurts to say. Mac Jones, the first round pick, is breathing down his neck, but Bill Belichick has reiterated at every turn that Cam Newton is his guy, and Newton has had a pretty strong camp and likely hasn’t lost the starters job. The revamped offense should be to his benefit this year.
15. Ben Roethelisberger
Big Ben had a surprisingly solid season last year returning from elbow surgery. An arm injury at his age and physique did not bode well, but credit to him for actually being pretty decent last year. His prime is well behind him, and Father Time is probably right outside the door, but he’s certainly not the worst quarterback in the league. The drop off is inevitably coming, and his numbers are inflated by playing in a system that just produces elite level wide receivers, but he’s really not terrible.
14. Derek Carr
There are always a few weeks out of the NFL season in which Derek Carr looks unbeatable. Unfortunately for him and Las Vegas, that doesn’t last over a full season. Still, while Carr will never be “that guy”, he’s still pretty solid. The Raiders seem to make inexplicable decisions left and right, but sticking with Carr isn’t necessarily one of them.
13. Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill has been somehow both overrated and underrated. The comparisons to Patrick Mahomes are why he’s overrated, but the ignorance towards those numbers is why he’s underrated. He’s not a top 10 quarterback on his own strength, but he’s developed into a solid starter after leaving Miami and Adam Gase (Sam Darnold, anyone?). Tannehill has AJ Brown and Derrick Henry to take almost all of the pressure off of him. Now, with Julio Jones, he doesn’t have even have to be that good for them to succeed. Still, Tannehill is a solid QB and several teams would benefit from having him.
12. Baker Mayfield
Mayfield will likely never need to carry this Browns team. The defense is stacked, and he has quite a bit of weapons at his disposal which makes life easy. Still, he deserves some credit for the Browns status as title contenders because without a good quarterback, they’d go nowhere. Mayfield won’t ever be the best quarterback in the league, but he’s a pretty good guy to have on your team.
11. Kyler Murray
Murray probably doesn’t deserve the blame for missing the playoffs last year, but he had a few rough games that cost them. Still, his prowess rushing the ball (while not the best running quarterback in the league) can’t be overlooked and his ability as a passer has only improved each year. With a stud wide receiver corps, Murray should succeed this year.
10. Justin Herbert
Herbert had an incredible rookie season with a rough offense and a subpar head coach. It may be a little while before they become contenders, but they’ve found their QB. Herbert has solidified himself as a borderline star and definitely the best quarterback of the class. Pro Bowls and MVP races are definitely in his future.
9. Tom Brady
Brady is the most accomplished quarterback to ever play. Scratch that- the most accomplished football player to ever live. Winning 7 rings won’t be matched- not even by Patrick Mahomes. Is he the most talented? No. Is he the best? Depends on the definition, but probably not. And yet, at 44, he’s still a top 10 quarterback. No one has ever been able to say that. Winning last year was his most impressive feat yet, but he definitely did not do it alone. Brady isn’t the most talented guy in the league (maybe he never was), but a whole lot of teams should have been more interested in him when he hit free agency.
8. Russell Wilson
Is Russell Wilson the best quarterback in the league? No, absolutely not. Is he overrated? Probably. Is he still really good? Yeah. Most teams would benefit from adding Wilson. His mobility and accuracy haven’t waned over his career. He does benefit from routinely having a good defense and great receivers, but let’s not kid ourselves. He’s pretty good at football.
7. Lamar Jackson
Jackson may have seemingly plateaued after winning MVP, and may have even taken a step back from that level. Still, the dual threat is arguably one of the best rushers in all of football, and he can sling it, too. Don’t let anyone tell you he can’t throw the ball or that he’s a bad quarterback. He’s great at quarterback and he can run really well. Both things can be and are true.
6. Josh Allen
Allen took a huge leap and is still quite young. Allen has certainly proven all his detractors wrong and has ascended into the elite level of quarterbacks. The list of teams that wouldn’t benefit from having Josh Allen is very short. Allen has the big arm and big body to be good for a long time, but he’s quite good now, too.
5. Matt Ryan
Often overlooked because of the surrounding talent, Ryan’s 2016 MVP season was one for the record books (literally). Even 5 years removed from that, Ryan has been really good every year. Changing coaches and offensive coordinators hasn’t affected him one bit. Now, we’ll see if losing Julio Jones impacts him, but having Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts on the roster will soften that blow.
4. Matthew Stafford
Stafford has routinely been overlooked because of Detroit’s ineptitude, but a bad quarterback doesn’t throw for 5,000 yards in a season. Now, finally in a position to succeed with Los Angeles, Stafford should finally get the credit and respect he deserves. With McVay at coach and the duo of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp to throw to, Stafford should light the league on fire this year.
3. Dak Prescott
Assuming he comes back healthy, there’s not a lot of quarterbacks that should be ranked ahead of him. Through just 6 games last season, Prescott racked up over 1,800 yards and 9 passing touchdowns. 3 touchdowns on the ground and just four interceptions shake up to be an MVP-level start to the season. The Cowboys offense was averaging 31 points a game, and that’s with Prescott missing the rest of the 6th game. If his ankle heals properly, Prescott will again be one of the best QBs in the game.
2. Aaron Rodgers
The former MVP may not suit up for the Packers if he has his way, but as of now he’s projected to be the Packers starting QB. There are not a lot of options that are better than having Rodgers behind center, even at his elevated age. The drop off may be coming, but it’s a long way off if his recent play is any indication.
1. Patrick Mahomes
The half a billion dollar man is the best quarterback in the league. Hands down. There may not be as talented a quarterback in football, past present or future. Until something drastic happens, he’s not losing the top spot to anyone any time soon.