It’s a lot easier to criticize someone else’s list than to make your own list. So I’ve decided to open myself up to the full wrath of every fan base by compiling an offseason ranking of each of the 32 NFL teams’ quarterback situations.
My intention with this was to factor in the age of each starter, as well as his upside — while also taking into account what each has already accomplished. So while I’m certainly looking at this season, it’s not limited to this season.
This was not scientific other than studying the numbers and making a general gut reaction to this question: For the next 1-3 years, would I rather have the QB situation of Team X or Team Y? And then I stacked teams up accordingly. I didn’t go into this thinking I’d divide the QB situations into tiers, but they kind of separated themselves that way. In any event, here we go:
1. Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers. As much as the Packers get teased around these parts, I’m also on record saying Rodgers is the best QB I’ve ever seen play. At age 32, he should still be plenty good through the rest of this decade.
2. Carolina: Cam Newton. Good luck trying slow down Newton, 27, over the next 8-10 years. If you described everything you’d want in a modern QB, you would draw his picture.
3. Seattle: Russell Wilson. He’s durable (started all 64 games his first four years), he’s a winner (46-18 with a Super Bowl title in that span) and he keeps adding wrinkles to an already dynamic game. Wilson is the real deal.
4. New England: Tom Brady. He’ll turn 39 before the season starts, but I learned about five years ago — when I started to write off the NBA’s Spurs because they were getting older — that until someone visibly slips they should get the benefit of the doubt. If you need a QB for the next two or three seasons, Brady is still very high on your list.
5. Indianapolis: Andrew Luck. He’s already accomplished a ton, and he’s still only 26. Assuming he’s fully healthy and back to his 2014 form, Luck is an elite QB still on the rise.
6. New Orleans: Drew Brees. For a guy who came to the Saints with a lingering question about an old injury, Brees has been remarkably durable in addition to putting up video game numbers. He’s missed just two starts in 10 years. Amazing — and still elite even at age 37.
7. Pittsburgh: Ben Roethlisberger. He’s a two-time Super Bowl champ, and his grit level is off the charts. More than that, Roethlisberger has a huge arm and elite talent.
THE NEXT ECHELON
8. Dallas: Tony Romo. When he’s healthy, Romo is a surgeon on the field. Trouble is, he’s often needed a surgeon off the field. But 65 TDs and 19 INTs combined in 2013 and 2014 don’t lie, even if Romo will have to fend off questions about his age (36) and durability this year.
9. New York Giants: Eli Manning. If you’re a Vikings fan who only watches Manning against the purple, you probably think he’s one of the worst QBs of all-time (career passer rating of 54.8 in eight starts against the Vikings). But Manning is 8-3 all-time in the playoffs, including 2-0 in the Super Bowl, and has at least 3,800 yards passing each of the past seven seasons. Oh, and he hasn’t missed a start in the past 11 seasons.
10. Arizona: Carson Palmer. The 36-year-old Palmer had a brilliant regular season in 2015. Then the playoffs rolled around and he looked cooked — broken down, injured or both. If he’s fully healthy — and like Romo, that’s a big if — Palmer is still a game-changer.
11. Atlanta: Matt Ryan. The ultimate second-tier quarterback. Ryan has evolved from “game manager” into an above-average playmaker, but he’s never going to be one of the first guys you think of when someone says, “I need one quarterback to win me one game.” But at age 31, he’s very solid and here to stay. If this is what Teddy Bridgewater becomes — more on that in a bit — Vikings fans would by and large be happy.
12. Washington: Kirk Cousins. In his first full season as a starter last year, Cousins took Washington to the playoffs by completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 4,166 yards, 29 TDs and just 11 INTs. You like that? Yeah, I like that.
13. Oakland: Derek Carr. He threw for almost 4,000 yards with 32 TDs and 13 INTs in his second NFL season last year, helping the Raiders jump from three to seven wins. At age 25, he could be primed for big things.
14. San Diego: Philip Rivers. His body language is terrible, his throwing motion is worse and some of his numbers come during garbage time. But Rivers has also been ridiculously durable (started every game for the past 10 years) and productive (4,000+ yards in seven of the last eight). At age 34, there’s no reason to think he’ll have a major drop-off very soon.
15. Detroit: Matthew Stafford. Kind of a younger version of Rivers, minus the terrible body language and throwing motion — but also minus a little of the production. I’m still confused about his ceiling, even after seven years in the league.
THE MURKY MIDDLE
16. Tampa Bay: Jameis Winston. He threw for 4,000 yards as a rookie last year and he’s only 22 years old. I’d say the Bucs are in good shape going forward, but I’d also say there is plenty left to prove in an important second season.
17. Tennessee: Marcus Mariota. He’ll forever be compared to Winston, and luckily for both Tampa and Tennessee both franchises look to be on the right track.
18. Baltimore: Joe Flacco. This is an average quarterback who’s been on a lot of above-average teams. But he played out of his mind for four playoff games in 2012 (11 TDs, 0 INTs) and was absolutely instrumental in helping the Ravens win a Super Bowl. There’s plenty to be said for shining in the spotlight.
19. Jacksonville: Blake Bortles. You take the good (4,428 yards, 35 TDs last year, just 24 years old) and you take the bad (league-high 18 INTs last year, 106 sacks taken his first two years, 8-21 record as a starter). You take them both and there you have Bortles.
20. Buffalo: Tyrod Taylor. If you weren’t paying attention last year, you might not have noticed that Taylor had a very nice season for the Bills – with 20 TD passes and just six INTs, which helped him to a Total QBR of 67.8 that ranked 7th in the NFL.
21. Minnesota: Teddy Bridgewater. There aren’t many QBs on this list — and possibly not any QBs on this list — with more to prove than Bridgewater in 2016. After all: how many things have you read about the Vikings that more or less start out, “If Teddy Bridgewater can take a step forward, they can be Super Bowl contenders?” Were his muted numbers of the first two years merely the product of a conservative attack and poor offensive line? Should we focus more on the little things that he did to help the Vikings win 11 games last season? Is he a guy who can win a game on his own or simply not lose one? Tough questions, and 2016 is a big part of unfurling the answers.
22. Kansas City: Alex Smith. At age 32, Smith is Bridgewater without the upside. He has a 49-21-1 record as a starter the past five years with the 49ers and Chiefs, but he’s never really shed the “game manager” label.
23. Cincinnati: Andy Dalton. You have to feel bad for Dalton, who was having a genuinely good season in 2015 before a broken thumb ended it. The previous four seasons followed a similar pattern: decent regular-season play followed by a clunker in a playoff loss. He, too, has plenty to prove.
24. Chicago: Jay Cutler. Quite possibly the most volatile QB in the league from one play to the next, one game to the next and one season to the next. That’s a tough way to win.
25. Houston: Brock Osweiler. Despite the big money given to Osweiler this offseason by the Texans, let’s not forget: he was benched last season by the eventual Super Bowl champs in favor of the ghost of Peyton Manning. And Osweiler has started exactly seven career games, with mixed results.
26. Miami: Ryan Tannehill. I think after four years, the book on Tannehill is that he’s just good enough to make you believe you’ll win and just bad enough to make you lose.
IF YOU HAVE TWO STARTERS, YOU HAVE NO STARTERS
I really don’t make much of a distinction between any of these teams because none has a clear-cut starter so all are at the bottom of the list in terms of what QB situations I would want to have.
Some have plenty of potential (i.e. teams who spent high draft picks on QBs in April), while others are just stuck in transition. Regardless, you really wouldn’t want any of these collections in 2016 and there’s no guarantee you’d want them in 2017 or beyond, either.
27. Philadelphia: Sam Bradford/Carson Wentz
28. San Francisco: Blaine Gabbert/Colin Kaepernick
29. Cleveland: Josh McCown/RGIII/Cody Kessler
30. St. Louis: Case Keenum/Jared Goff
31. NY Jets: Geno Smith/Christian Hackenberg
32. Denver: Mark Sanchez/Paxton Lynch