Quarterback is the most important position in American sports. It’s not particularly close. Of the past 16 Super Bowls, only two have been played without Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger. 32 championship game starts have been made by just 18 total players. If you’re hoisting the Lombardi without a superstar quarterback, it means you’ve got someone like Warren Sapp or Ray Lewis helming a legendary defense.
This is why the state of the quarterback room is a team’s most pressing concern at any given moment. Evaluating the league’s situations, we’ll take everything into account. Age, injury history, past success, future potential, retirement rumors, etc. This means simply having the best quarterback doesn’t automatically make you No. 1. Tom Brady is about to turn 40. Drew Brees is 38. This can’t be ignored when comparing them to Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson. Last year’s list can be found here. 2015’s is here.
1. Packers, Aaron Rodgers
Last Year’s Ranking: 2
Coming off the second 40-touchdown campaign of his career, Aaron Rodgers is also coming off his third straight 16-game season. Rodgers has played through soft-tissue injuries and bizarre 2015-16 slumps, but keeps ending up in the same place: The top of the quarterback totem pole. The Packers have made the postseason eight straight times on Rodgers’ watch, reaching the NFC Championship Game twice in the past three years. Rodgers has been the Pack’s sun, moon and stars, almost single-handedly overcoming shaky defense, questionable coaching, an inconsistent backfield and slew of receiver injuries. He both stuffs the stat sheet and earns a perfect score on the “eye test.” Playing the most important position in sports, he is football’s most dominant player. Headed into his age-33 season, Rodgers won’t be around forever, but should have a minimum of 2-3 peak years left. If you’re talking quarterbacks, you can’t do better than that.
2. Seahawks, Russell Wilson
Last Year’s Ranking: 1
On a seemingly endless upward trajectory, Russell Wilson finally had a “down” year in 2016, accounting for the second fewest total touchdowns of his career (22) while posting a new high in interceptions (11). He still led a playoff-team for the fifth time in five seasons, and threw for a personal-best 4,219 yards. Wilson’s 2016 problem was injury, racking his ankle in Week 1 before spraining his knee in Week 3. Throw in an October pectoral issue, and you had a dual-threat quarterback who was suddenly one-dimensional. That’s why Wilson’s 2016 was ultimately encouraging, as even without his scrambling threat, he still posted solid passing numbers. Injury is always the concern for quarterbacks who make plays outside the pocket, but Wilson has never missed a game. Although he operates behind one of the league’s annually-worst offensive lines, he’s an artist at avoiding hits. Wilson is savvy enough to ensure that 2016 is an injury-complicated aberration, not the start of a trend. The Seahawks will be in gifted hands for years to come.
3. Colts, Andrew Luck
Last Year’s Ranking: 4
The coronation seemed so close. The Colts made the playoffs Andrew Luck’s rookie season, won a Wild Card game in his second and made the AFC Championship Game in his third. Everything was progressing on schedule. Except there is no such thing as “on schedule” in the NFL. Not in a league with this many injuries, and where teams are 53 players deep. Luck got hurt in 2015 and ex-GM Ryan Grigson’s roster got exposed. New GM Chris Ballard has spent the offseason digging out of his predecessor’s mess. Luck got a head start in 2016. Even though he was playing through a shoulder injury he suffered the previous September, Luck rebounded on his lost 2015 with the second best campaign of his career. Both his 7.78 YPA and 63.5 completion percentage were new personal bests. He missed a game with a concussion, and got his shoulder surgically repaired in January, but reminded why we were all so high on him in the first place. Luck’s health cannot be taken for granted behind an offensive line that remains one of the league’s shakiest, but things are back on the up and up in Indy. 28 in September, Luck’s ceiling remains multiple Super Bowl victories.
4. Falcons, Matt Ryan
Last Year’s Ranking: 10
30-year-old Matt Ryan had as many turnovers as touchdowns in 2015 (21). So you’re forgiven if you didn’t see last year’s MVP campaign coming. Ryan wasn’t just the best player in the league, he was historically good. His 4,944 yards were 13th most all time, while his 9.26 YPA was the highest since Kurt Warner’s 9.88 mark in 2000. That number would be staggering for any era, but particularly in this decade’s small-ball atmosphere. Ryan ripped big plays at will. That, of course, would not have been possible without a fully-stocked stable of weapons. But Ryan knew what to do with them after less-impressive supporting casts stunted his upside in 2013-15. Ryan, who plateaued following Tony Gonzalez’s retirement and Roddy White’s decline, has always only been as good as the players around him. He lacks Aaron Rodgers’ creativity or Tom Brady’s ability to turn every random Wes or Julian into a 100-catch receiver. What Ryan provides is floor — he’s completed at least 66 percent of his passes while throwing for over 4,500 yards each of the past four seasons — relative youth (32) and durability (two missed games in nine years). if there’s a next time, his Falcons won’t be blowing another 28-3 lead.
5. Buccaneers, Jameis Winston
Last Year’s Ranking: 8
Jameis Winston, who just turned 23 in January, has already posted two 4,000-yard seasons. Not too shabby considering his skill corps has consisted of Mike Evans and … other players. Winston has been far from perfect, tossing 33 interceptions across his first 32 starts, but he improved across the board last season, guiding the Bucs to a 6-2 finish after both he and the team got off to a rough start. Winston has essentially done everything that could be reasonably ask of a No. 1 overall quarterback who came into the league at 21. Winston’s extreme youth and sophomore progression gives him an edge over similarly-accomplished young guns Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota, with the tiebreakers being Carr’s age (26) and Mariota’s injury history. Durable, cannon-armed and daring, Winston has the looks of a decade-plus answer at quarterback in Tampa.
6. Raiders, Derek Carr
Last Year’s Ranking: 13
Progressing every season, Derek Carr would probably already have a playoff win on his résumé if not for the gruesome leg break he suffered last Week 16. One of the toughest quarterbacks in football, Carr had already spent weeks gutting out a finger issue before Trent Cole fractured his fibula. The injury may have delayed postseason glory, but couldn’t obscure the cementing of Carr’s 2015 arrival. The Raiders’ first multi-year answer at quarterback since Rich Gannon, Carr is one of the NFL’s most promising franchise quarterbacks. Carr’s ceiling is probably pre-2016 Matt Ryan, but look around the league and see how hard that is to find. The Raiders spent more than a decade searching for Carr. His presence should mean it’s at least 6-8 years before they have to find another quarterback.
7. Patriots, Tom Brady
Last Year’s Ranking: 6
Tom Brady was the best player on the best team in football last season. He’s also older than the new president of France. The most accomplished player in NFL history turns 40 in August. That’s a perilous age if you’re playing rec softball, let alone football. By nearly every account, Brady is in remarkable shape. So was Peyton Manning when a 2014 Week 11 battering in St. Louis left him never quite the same. It’s true that, if any quarterback can beat the aging curve, it’s probably Brady. That’s still just a hope, not a plan. This being the Patriots, they have a plan. Against all odds, they’ve hung onto Jimmy Garoppolo, creating a scenario where he’s either franchise tagged or allowed to walk in 2018. That is, unless they part with Brady, amicably or otherwise. CSN New England recently guessed that the unthinkable was at least within the realm of possibility. Today, right now, Brady is the favorite to be under center in New England in 2018. That alone is enough to give the Patriots a top-10 quarterback situation. The kicker is, should Brady retire or the Pats decide to move on, they have a well-groomed replacement waiting in the wings.
8. Panthers, Cam Newton
Last Year’s Ranking: 3
The MVP in 2015, Cam Newton posted his lowest completion percentage (52.9) in 2016. Never easy to forecast on an annual basis, Newton had easily the worst season of his six-year career. Along with awful stats — 6.88 YPA, 19:14 TD:INT ratio, 75.8 QB rating — came troubling reminders of the risks Newton’s runs as a dual-threat quarterback. Leveled on a Week 4 two-point conversion attempt, Newton missed Week 5 with a concussion. 10 weeks later he racked his shoulder, suffering an injury that would eventually require surgery. Newton has missed only three games as an NFLer, but it stands to reason the hits will soon begin taking a greater toll. Those around Newton have realized this. His “inner circle” has asked him to be more careful, while coach Ron Rivera has pledged to curtail his carries. Newton is still just 28, and has bounced back from rough seasons before. He remains the 3-5 year answer in Carolina, if not beyond. Unless he can make improvements as a passer and better protect himself as a runner, however, he is not going to have a Brady or Brees shelf life as a franchise quarterback.
9. Saints, Drew Brees
Last Year’s Ranking: 7
The only current NFLer as ageless as Tom Brady is Drew Brees. For his age-37 campaign, Brees threw for the fourth-most yards in NFL history (5,208). Remarkably, it wasn’t even the highest total of his career. Brees has eclipsed 4,800 yards in each of the past six years, and blown by 5,000 five times since 2008. He is a metronome. He’s also a human being, one who turned 38 in January. Although Brees believes he could play until he’s 45, he admits his career is now a year-to-year proposition. The smart money is on Brees playing at least two more seasons, both of them in New Orleans. That’s even taking into account his impending free agency. The specter of Father Time looms too large to assume anything more. Two years of Brees is better than five years of just about anybody on this list. That’s why New Orleans is still in the top 10. Staying there will require coming up with a succession plan better than Chase Daniel and Luke McCown.
10. Lions, Matthew Stafford
Last Year’s Ranking: 11
Still somehow only 29, Matthew Stafford has started all 16 games and passed for at least 4,200 yards each of the past six years. There have been stops and starts in Stafford’s development, but he’s been more up than down, completing 66.3 percent of his passes over the past two seasons while averaging 7.24 yards per attempt. Stafford has cut back on his swashbuckling antics, tossing a modest 35 interceptions over his past 48 starts. Stafford does not put teams on his back like an Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but knows what to do when given weapons. In this regard, he is not dissimilar to Matt Ryan. Durable and consistent with playmaking ability, Stafford has proven worthy of his No. 1 overall pick, and should have at least another 5-6 years under center in Detroit.
11. Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger
Last Year’s Ranking: 5
Fresh off his fifth AFC Championship Game appearance, Ben Roethlisberger is still one of the five best quarterbacks in football. It’s just unclear how long he wants that to remain the case. Although no one would listen, Roethlisberger spent the first three months of the offseason claiming he might retire. Ex-teammate Willie Colon insisted his quarterback was “serious.” Always one for drama, 35-year-old Roethlisberger has made it clear his status should be considered “year-to-year” going forward. The Steelers took Big Ben’s Hamlet act seriously enough to spend a fourth-round pick on Josh Dobbs. Even if Roethlisberger doesn’t voluntarily hang it up, the decision could be made for him. He has injured just about every body part over the course of his 185 games. Roethlisberger has appeared in all 16 contests twice in the past eight years. Were serious injury to befall Big Ben in 2017, Dobbs and Landry Jones would represent a bottom-three quarterback situation. The future isn’t here yet in Pittsburgh, but the time to plan for it is.
12. Redskins, Kirk Cousins
Last Year’s Ranking: 19
Some still insist on talking about Kirk Cousins like the matter hasn’t been settled. It has. Since Cousins replaced Robert Griffin III as starter, he’s been one of the league’s best signal callers. Amongst quarterbacks with at least 17 starts since 2015 (one full season plus one game), only Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan have generated more yards, while just Ryan, Brees, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson have posted higher quarterback ratings. Cousins has completed 68.3 percent of his 1,149 pass attempts. His touchdown percentage ranks 15th, his interception percentage 12th. His 7.91 YPA places him behind only Ryan, Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger. “Elite” is too strong a word, but “answer” is not. That’s why it’s so baffling that his own team has aligned with the Twitter hordes and pretends the jury is still out. If the Redskins won’t pay Cousins, there will be a dozen-plus clubs busting down the door to do so in 2018. Eventually, the Redskins figure to come to their senses and lock Cousins up, guaranteeing a strong quarterback situation for at least 3-4 more years.
13. Titans, Marcus Mariota
Last Year’s Ranking: 18
Marcus Mariota was excellent as a rookie and better as a sophomore. So why is he ranked eight spots below Jameis Winston, the draft mate with whom he’s inextricably linked and has arguably out-performed through two seasons? His health. Mariota has already sprained both his MCLs, and had his 2016 cut short by a fractured fibula. The injuries could end up flukes, but they could also be harbingers. They’re especially worrisome because Mariota, a dual-threat, has done little running through his first 27 games. Fear of losing their quarterback could prevent the Titans from cutting Mariota loose, lowering his overall ceiling. Mariota has also displayed an inconsistent deep ball and struggled with fumbles. His 19 cough ups are fourth amongst quarterbacks over the past two years. Those are nitpicks. The health concerns are not. Mariota has provided ample reason to be excited. He just can’t be vaulted into the top 10 until he proves he can stay on the field for all 16 games. Nothing is more important than availability.
14. Cowboys, Dak Prescott
Last Year’s Ranking: 23
The No. 135 overall pick of the draft, Dak Prescott was thrust into starting duties after Tony Romo injured his back in the third preseason game. He responded by setting rookie records for quarterback rating (104.9), completion percentage (67.7) and interception percentage (0.87). He also guided the Cowboys to home-field advantage and ushered Romo into retirement. What did you do with your rookie season? Any talk of Prescott’s historic 2016 must acknowledge that he was set up for success. The Cowboys’ dominant line play and running game would make things easier for anybody. But there’s no such thing as “just push play” quarterbacking. As Bill Belichick would tell you, the NFL is about doing your job. Displaying poise rare for any player — let alone a first-year starter for America’s most-scrutinized team — Prescott did his to perfection. If he can do it again in 2017, the Cowboys won’t just have their quarterback of the future, but a potential Hall-of-Famer.
15. Bengals, Andy Dalton
Last Year’s Ranking: 14
Andy Dalton once seemed destined for stop-gap duty. Instead, he’s stubbornly become the long-term answer in Cincinnati. Dalton couldn’t match his career 2015 last season, but quietly turned in his second-best campaign. This was despite the fact that A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard combined to miss 20 games, with each player sidelined for at least six weeks. With better health likely for Dalton’s playmaking trio in 2017, he could be positioned for another career year with John Ross and Joe Mixon joining the fold. Dalton is never going to single-handedly drag teams to the playoffs. Few quarterbacks do. What he will do is make the best of what he has, and offer subtle, annual improvements. Absent a future Hall-of-Famer, there’s not much more you can ask of your quarterback. Headed into his age-30 season, Dalton should have at least another 3-4 years to get the Bengals their first playoff win since 1991.
16. Dolphins, Ryan Tannehill
Last Year’s Ranking: 16
It would be inaccurate to say Ryan Tannehill was a completely different player last season. He will always be a flawed passer, inconsistent down the field and often unaware in the pocket. But jettisoning Joe Philbin for Adam Gase had the expected effect. 2016 was easily the best year of Tannehill’s career, as he posted new highs in completion percentage (67.1), yards per attempt (7.70) and quarterback rating (93.5). Coaching can’t solve Tannehill’s intractable flaws. What it can do is mask them. From Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning to Jay Cutler, Gase has made every quarterback he’s overseen better. Gase won’t make Tannehill an All-Pro, but he’s already made him the answer in Miami. Leading the league’s brigade of non-star signal callers, Tannehill will be quarterbacking the Dolphins for at least the next 4-5 seasons.
17. Chargers, Philip Rivers
Last Year’s Ranking: 12
Philip Rivers is still a decent quarterback. He’s also 35, has faded badly down the stretch each of the past three years and leads the NFL in interceptions since 2014 (52). Injuries to his supporting cast deserve some of the blame, but 2016 was arguably the worst season of Rivers’ career. That is not to say it was bad. “Worst” for Rivers is still good for a lot of other quarterbacks. He’s just made it abundantly clear that the downturn is here. The Chargers can still win with Rivers, this year and probably next. But they would be fools not to be thinking of life after the signal caller who has guided them since 2006.
Last Year’s Ranking: 20
The Chiefs have made a habit of settling for field goals under Alex Smith, but it was another team’s three-pointers that finally convinced Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey they had to change course under center. Playing at home in the Divisional Round, the Chiefs limited Pittsburgh to six field goals and 18 points … and lost. They held one of the best offenses in the league in check but still couldn’t make their first AFC Championship Game since 1993-94 because Smith was so uninspiring. It doesn’t matter how many playmakers you surround Smith with — Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce, Jeremy Maclin, Tyreek Hill — he’s never going to make plays. That’s where Patrick Mahomes comes in. Smith’s polar opposite, Mahomes is a born gunslinger whose aggressiveness sometimes gets the best of him. He takes the fight to the defense. That’s the natural way to play in the Big 12. In the NFL, it could get you killed. The good news is, Smith can hold down the fort while Mahomes develops. The sooner, the better, but the Chiefs have an ideal situation in a potential franchise quarterback who doesn’t have to be thrown into the fire from Day 1.
19. Ravens, Joe Flacco
Last Year’s Ranking: 15
Joe Flacco is not elite. Lately, he’s barely even been competent. The owner of a 34:27 TD:INT ratio over his past 26 starts, Flacco’s YPA slumped to 6.42 in 2016. Only Blake Bortles, Carson Wentz and Brock Osweiler averaged fewer yards per attempt amongst qualified starters. Flacco has posted a sub-85.0 quarterback rating three of the past four seasons. His 2015 torn ACL and questionable supporting casts haven’t helped, but that’s hardly comforting heading into his age-32 campaign. Flacco’s receiver corps has gotten worse on paper, while it’s not like injury will become less of a concern for an aging statue in the pocket. Flacco isn’t exactly Tom Brady or Peyton Manning when it comes to avoiding hits. His 290 sacks taken in eight seasons are just 13 fewer than Manning took in 17. The Ravens can obviously win with Flacco, but he will remain an ancillary factor, never the driving force. They could seek an upgrade sooner than people think.
20. Giants, Eli Manning
Last Year’s Ranking: 9
Fresh off a two-year rebound from his 2012-13 doldrums, Eli Manning slumped to a 10-year low in 2016. The 12th-year starter averaged 6.73 yards per attempt, overseeing an offense that generated a sickly 1.9 offensive touchdowns per game. Manning flunked the eye test, as well, struggling to drive the ball down the field. Manning’s career has been a series of peaks of valleys — scarred, empty river beds amongst Himalayan heights — but struggles take on a new light when you’re 36. Coach Ben McAdoo flatly blamed Manning for the G-Men’s 2016 offensive woes, while both GM Jerry Reese and co-owner John Mara admitted the team needs to begin the search for Manning’s successor. So far, all those words have produced is free agent castoff Geno Smith and third-rounder Davis Webb. Manning’s job is not under threat for 2017, and likely 2018, for that matter. But the clock has been started. The Eli Era is in its twilight. It’s good that the Giants have acknowledged this. Now they need to do something to meaningfully address it.
21. Eagles, Carson Wentz
Last Year’s Ranking: 26
After laughably generating early MVP hype, Carson Wentz regressed down the stretch of his rookie season, with his mechanics largely in shambles by Week 17. Wentz’s elongated throwing motion caused elbow pain, necessitating offseason work with quarterback gurus Adam Dedeaux and Tom House. Wentz posted a quarterback rating higher than 80.0 just four times over his final 12 starts, with his deep ball checking in as particularly erratic. Wentz was not without alibis for his struggles. He was dealing with one of the league’s worst supporting casts, and was, after all, a 23-year-old rookie making the jump from the FCS to the NFL. That, of course, is also cause for concern. Already headed into his age-24 campaign, Wentz isn’t as projectable as some young quarterbacks. Ultimately, Wentz will live and die with his mechanics. If he can’t clean them up, he’s a Blake Bortles waiting to happen. There’s promise here, but the risk is real after Wentz’s inconclusive rookie year.
Last Year’s Ranking: 24
The Vikings have two acceptable quarterback options. The problem is that one of them is Sam Bradford and the other is returning from a catastrophic knee injury, and both are headed into contract years. It’s unlikely either player will be the starter in five years, let alone 10. The Vikings are still set up decently for 2017. Coming off a season where he completed an NFL record 71.6 percent of his passes — seriously — Bradford will enter Week 1 as the starter. More impressive than last season’s conversion rate was the fact that Bradford didn’t miss a game with injury for the first time since 2012. Going on 30, perhaps Bradford has learned a new trick or two. If he hasn’t, and either regresses mightily or again goes down with injury, Teddy Bridgewater will be an excellent fallback option if healthy. “If” is the operative word, as Bridgewater is doubtful for Week 1, and will likely begin the season on the reserve/PUP list. The long-term outlook at quarterback in Minnesota remains cloudy. The near-term is clear, which is more than a lot of teams can say.
Last Year’s Ranking: 21
The Bears were so ready to get rid of Jay Cutler they accidentally followed the 2016 Eagles’ quarterback plan, overpaying a stop-gap veteran before investing all their draft capital in a questionable prospect. Urgency is a virtue at quarterback — it’s nearly impossible to get anywhere without one — but impatience is a vice. The Bears are operating with more of the latter than former. Mike Glennon has earned zero deference through four years as an NFLer, but Mitchell Trubisky was a hope and a prayer at No. 2 overall. That does not mean Trubisky will automatically bust. The odds are simply not what they should be for a quarterback drafted ahead of 253 players. Going on 23, Trubisky has made 13 starts since high school. You could argue we know less about him than any quarterback to go in the top five in NFL history. That’s more reckless than bold. The risk comfortably outweighs the reward, which is not a calculation you should make at No. 2. If Trubisky flops, the Bears will be set back with the force of 1,000 Cutlers.
24. Jaguars, Blake Bortles
Last Year’s Ranking: 17
Disaster. That’s the only word for Blake Bortles’ 2016. Regression was inevitable after Bortles tossed 35 touchdowns in 2015, but his complete lack of progress was alarming. The main culprit is a throwing motion that veers between shot-putting a Honeybaked Ham and windmilling a guitar. It’s long and ragged, giving defenses too much time to react and Bortles too much opportunity to commit turnovers. He gave the ball away 22 times in 16 games last season, and has 51 interceptions across 46 career appearances. The struggles seemed to take a toll on Bortles’ confidence in 2016. Like Carson Wentz, he’s tried to rebuild his motion with QB guru Adam Dedeaux, working to make it “more efficient, quicker.” The reality is, now 25, Bortles is going to have a difficult time remaking his mechanics. At that age, you’re pretty much stuck with it. So is muscle memory. If Bortles can’t learn to play around his deficiencies, he will be a failed state at quarterback. 2017 is make or break.
25. Texans, Deshaun Watson
Last Year’s Ranking: 29
The Texans could have had Tony Romo. Instead, they’re casting their lot with a rookie quarterback who throws 45 miles per hour. For comparison, none of last year’s first-year starters threw below 54. Deshaun Watson was a legitimate superstar at Clemson, guiding his team to a 32-3 record and two national title game appearances. He was a playmaker and top-shelf athlete. Michael Jordan, in the words of his coach. There’s a chance he’s more Crying Jordan than Michael Jordan for the Texans. In addition to his stunningly weak arm, Watson struggled with ball location in the ACC. He was a one-read quarterback, one often uncomfortable in the pocket. Watson could end up more than the sum of his quarterbacking parts. That’s a hope, not a plan. A quarterback shy of legitimate contention, the Texans forced the issue. Out their first- and second-round picks in 2018, they better hope it works.
26. Bills, Tyrod Taylor
Last Year’s Ranking: 27
Quarterback rating is far from perfect. We know that. But if we’re going by it, only 10 players were better than Tyrod Taylor over the past two seasons. Amongst quarterbacks to make at least 17 starts (one season plus one game), Taylor’s 12 interceptions were third fewest. And yet, the Bills weren’t even sure if they were going to keep him. It’s legitimately crazy in some regards — who are you going to upgrade him with? — but understandable in others. Taylor is inconsistent bordering on erratic, flat out missing too many throws. He disappears for halves at a time. He will never be a well-oiled machine. Taylor’s strengths are his deep ball and legs. Those are things you can work with. The Bills have averaged 389 points in Taylor’s two years as starter compared to 341 the two years prior. Some teams would gladly take him. All that matters is that the Bills aren’t sold. If the Bills aren’t sold on their own quarterback situation, we can’t be either.
27. Cardinals, Carson Palmer
Last Year’s Ranking: 25
An injury risk in irreversible decline, Carson Palmer is a ticking time bomb under center. Behind him are mega-bust Blaine Gabbert and journeyman Drew Stanton. Stanton was not up to the challenge when Palmer missed 10 games with injury in 2014. Few teams in football were in more dire need of adding a young quarterback this offseason, but the Cardinals passed. They’re using duct tape and glue to keep Palmer together for his age-37 campaign, going as far as to eliminate his spring throws. Palmer is fully aware the end is near, taking two months to decide his 2017 status. To Palmer’s credit, he stabilized last season after a dreadful start. There are just too many warning signs for the Cardinals to feel comfortable. Palmer is no longer year to year, he’s game to game. Finding his successor is all coach Bruce Arians and GM Steve Keim should be thinking about between now and next spring.
Last Year’s Ranking: 28
Managed and manipulated as a system quarterback by guru Gary Kubiak, Trevor Siemian was surprisingly passable as a first-year starter. With Kubiak gone, it’s back to the drawing board for the former Northwestern struggler. Kubiak’s retirement was particularly ill-timed for Siemian since he will be competing with 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch. 23 with a first-round pedigree, Lynch is the kind of player who is always going to get the benefit of the doubt. Lynch, of course, was billed as raw coming out of Memphis and more than looked it as a rookie. He offers a high ceiling but low floor. Siemian has already established a decent floor, but probably doesn’t have much of a ceiling. It adds up to a highly volatile situation for a team that received some of the best quarterback play in league history from 2012-14. There could be a new Broncos name on this list in 2018.
Last Year’s Ranking: 22
Jared Goff’s rookie season was in rarefied air for all the wrong reasons. Neither physically nor mentally ready to play, Goff was forced onto the field for seven games. Of the 49 rookie quarterbacks to make at least seven starts since 2000, Goff posted the fourth-lowest touchdown total (five), sixth-lowest YPA (5.31), 15th-worst QB rating (63.6) and 22nd-worst completion percentage (54.6). Using Pro Football Reference’s “Player Season Finder,” Goff kept company like Blaine Gabbert and Quincy Carter. The only thing Goff was shorter on than awareness was moxie. His 2016 is the reason “deer in headlights” exists as a phrase. The reasons for encouragement are few, though new head coach Sean McVay leads the list. Unlike his predecessor Jeff Fisher, McVay at least believes in offense as a concept. He will have the goal of scoring points, something Fisher did not share. A system quarterback at Cal, it should become clear rather quickly if Goff is qualified to become a cog in McVay’s machine. If he fails — which seems more likely than not — the Rams will be back at Square 1 less than two years after trading the farm for the No. 1 overall pick.
Last Year’s Ranking: 31
Learning from mistakes like E.J. Manuel and Christian Ponder, the rebuilding Browns have wisely avoided forcing a quarterback solution. Although admirable and wise, it doesn’t improve the current situation. The Browns’ quarterback room consists of a pair of day-two fliers in Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer and collateralized debt obligation Brock Osweiler. Kessler displayed base-level competence as a rookie, but struggled to make big plays. He also had an extremely difficult time staying on the field, looking rather brittle. Kizer, meanwhile, oozes confidence off the field, but lacked it on the field at Notre Dame. From touch to ball placement to game speed, he’s a work in progress. Osweiler is unlikely to be on the Week 1 roster. The Browns are doing things they’ve needed to do since 1999. Paul DePodesta’s project is right where it’s supposed to be. Unfortunately for Browns fans, it doesn’t yet include a long-term answer at quarterback.
Last Year’s Ranking: 30
The 49ers signed the 3-13 2016 Chicago Bears’ Nos. 2 and 3 quarterbacks and wasted a third-round pick on Iowa’s C.J. Beathard. Somehow, they don’t have the worst situation in the league. Kyle Shanahan has coached Brian Hoyer before, overseeing the Browns’ 2014 offense. Their last five games together? Hoyer completed 81-of-163 passes (49.6 percent) for 1,114 yards (6.83 YPA), two touchdowns, nine interceptions and four losses. Hoyer was slightly better for the 2015 Texans and 2016 Bears, but that’s not the point. The worst team in the NFC has nothing resembling a future at football’s most important position. Fresh off calling one of the best offenses in NFL history, maybe Shanahan will work some magic and turn Hoyer into a viable option for 2018. That would be a major accomplishment. What it would not be is an answer. The 49ers are resetting. Hoyer will be long gone by the time the dust settles.
Last Year’s Ranking: 32
This is not a quarterback room. It’s a cry for help. You can see the smoke signals, sent via dumpster fire, from space. The Jets have surrendered on the 2017 season months before it’s even begun. In some ways, that’s good. Forcing a quarterback “solution” only creates more problems down the road. But how could you let your franchise end up in this position? Josh McCown is 38 (in July) and can’t play more than 2-3 series before his collarbone starts to ache. Christian Hackenberg is one of the most stupendous follies in recent NFL history. The takeaway from his final three seasons at Penn State was that he couldn’t play. Ignoring two years of film, the Jets made him the No. 51 overall pick and … he couldn’t play. Hackenberg was so bad in the preseason the Jets pretended he didn’t exist down the stretch of a lost season. He struggled in warmups. Typically, when a team without a legitimate starter has an early-round prospect, you have to physically restrain them from forcing Joe Rookie onto the field. Bryce Petty … maybe he picked up some more tips from Madden this offseason. The Jets’ quarterback is not in East Rutherford. He’s in college, waiting for 2018.
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