NFL Quarterback Power Rankings, Updated Post-Preseason
Preseason football is finally behind us, and a meaningful game is now just a day away. That means it’s time to take a look at the best and the worst starting NFL quarterbacks heading into Week 1.
With so much change happening each and every week in the NFL, it is amazing to see so much continuity at the quarterback position from one year to the next. Twenty-five teams are bringing back the same Week 1 starting quarterback that they had last year.
As you meander your way through the slideshow it’s important to understand these power rankings are not a reflection on which quarterbacks had the best career—nor is it a reflection of who I would pick to lead my franchise.
This is primarily a reflection of the “what have you done for me lately” mentality of the NFL.
Several key attributes for the quarterback position are factored in order to generate this ranking.
Personal observation and opinion will play a key role. A general section for film-review grades form a foundation, but the output of these QBs' most recent performances are what really send them flying up and down the rankings each week.
Wins also give quarterbacks a slight boost in addition to their individual performances. The statistics used to help determine the ranking system are pulled from ESPN.com, NFL.com and Pro Football Focus (subscription required) unless stated otherwise.
As the season moves on, the weighted influence from last year's output will be reduced by 25 percent each week.
Also, Pro Football Focus grades every single play of the season to generate a cumulative point total, which weighs into the metric as well.
Other key statistics considered are passer rating, touchdown-to-interception ratio, yards per pass attempt, fumbles lost, rushing yards per game, completion percentage, etc.
32. Shaun Hill, St. Louis Rams
Unless offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is able to figure out how to be a creative play-caller and use his talent properly, Shaun Hill is likely going to be running for his life against the devastating defenses of the NFC West.
Hill looks to replace the oft-injured Sam Bradford after he suffered an ACL injury in the third game of the preseason.
Despite being 34 years old, Hill has only started 26 games in his eight-year NFL career, during which time he has thrown 41 touchdowns to 23 interceptions with a passer rating of 85.9.
In this league it’s difficult to find a reliable QB—luckily the Rams have that in Hill. St. Louis fans just need to hope his age and relative inactivity haven't created too thick of a rust layer.
31. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Only one team will have a different opening-day starting QB for the third time in three years, and yes, it's the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders brought in veteran QB Matt Schaub, 33, to give them a veteran option in a pivotal year for this coaching staff and front office.
Entering the preseason, the organization had named Schaub its uncontested starting quarterback. As noted by Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, head coach Dennis Allen reassured that there would be no competition at the QB position.
That is, until the Raiders recently named rookie Derek Carr the starting QB for Week 1, as per ESPN.com.
Schaub was clearly a guy the Raiders felt confident about. But as the preseason unfolded, he seemed to lack the confidence and decision-making he once had.
Carr is a strong-armed rookie who has yet to prove at any level he can handle a muddy pocket. He will debut against the aggressive New York Jets defense.
30. Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars
As much as Chad Henne would like to slow down Blake Bortles' inevitable debut, his efforts will eventually prove futile.
It’s unclear whether Bortles will see any action this year, but the odds are heavily in his favor to make an appearance at some point—especially with the unimpressive Chad Henne as the starter.
Henne finished the 2013 season with a passer rating of 76 and a total QBR of just 31.86. He did manage to throw for 3,241 yards and complete 60 percent of his passes.
While head coach Gus Bradley has stood by his plan to sit Blake Bortles during his rookie season, his play on the field is hard to ignore. Of all the quarterbacks to attempt over 50 passes this preseason, Bortles has the highest average yards per pass.
In 13 starts last year, the struggling Henne went 4-of-9. He is 18-of-32 for his career. Coach Bradley must really value the philosophy of having a young QB watch and learn because it’s hard to see how Henne gives the Jaguars the best chance to win.
29. EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills
During his rookie year in 2013, EJ Manuel failed to be consistent with his accuracy and looked uncomfortable at times making quick decisions.
For a rookie, he did do a nice job throwing more touchdown passes (11) than interceptions (9) but just couldn’t stay healthy long enough to find his rhythm.
Manuel finished 4-of-6 as a starter while completing 59 percent of his passes.
Despite hoping to see signs of improvement this preseason, Manuel has looked shaky and indecisive at times, but he is still trying to learn the speed of the game.
In exhibition play he certainly had more downs than ups. He did, however, complete 61 percent of his passes to go with an impressive nine throws over 20 yards, which was good for second in the NFL during meaningless games.
With a talented supporting cast to take some pressure off, Manuel can be brought along at a comfortable pace.
If the Bills are going to end their postseason drought in 2014 the second-year QB will have to live up to the first round they obviously had in him.
28. Geno Smith, New York Jets
There is no denying that Geno Smith wasn't surrounded by a lot of offensive talent in 2013. Considering he was a rookie QB on a team with low expectations all around, we need to give this kid credit. In his first three starts as a pro he managed to come away with two upset victories.
Despite the victories, he finished last year with some pretty underwhelming stats—however, even Tom Brady would’ve struggled on this offense.
In 2013, Geno tossed 12 touchdown passes along with 21 interceptions. His passer rating was 66.5, and he finished five games completing less than 50 percent of the passes. With that said, Smith still racked up five game-winning drives.
Preseason showed us that Geno has matured some since we last saw him. Adding wide receiver Eric Decker and rookie tight end Jace Amaro as targets should give Smith a fighting chance at leading a productive offense. The Jets also brought in running back Chris Johnson to help with a balanced attack.
If Geno can show he has the potential to be the face of the franchise, expect his name to rise in the rankings in the weeks to come.
27. Eli Manning, New York Giants
When you ask a guy to play in the same offense under the same coordinator for several years and then bring in a new coach to implement an entirely new system, terminology and concepts, you have to expect some period of adjustment. It is erroneous to think Eli Manning is somehow going to master those concepts seamlessly.
With all that said, something seems to be off with Peyton’s younger brother, and it could be morphing into a confidence thing.
During the preseason Manning had the second-worst QB grade by Pro Football Focus, which wouldn’t be that alarming if he wasn’t already coming off a nightmare season already. Last year he threw a career-high 27 interceptions with a passer rating of 69.4.
Unfortunately it looks like his negative momentum is carrying over into 2014.
26. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
For Robert Griffin III this offseason has been marred by criticism. It would seem like there’s a large group of fans and media who have a strong sense of animosity toward the third-year QB.
We seem to forget that RG3 was dealing with a knee injury last year. And this preseason is mostly about learning a new system.
In Griffin’s first two years he has completed 62.7 percent of his passes with 36 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Those are hardly the stats worthy of the criticism he has received of late.
The former Rookie of the Year winner is not oblivious to the doubters, as he addresses on his Twitter account, and he looks to add a Comeback Player of the Year award to his trophy case as well.
With that said, RG3 has the talent around him to be one of the best in the NFL this year—he really has no more excuses not to succeed.
25. Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns
Brian Hoyer has not done much in four preseason matches to solidify his position as the starter for a 16-game season. Even if he looks like the promising quarterback we saw in his two-game stint last season before getting injured, it’s highly unlikely the Browns will stick with him long-term.
Drafting Johnny Manziel can do that to an organization.
Interestingly enough, Hoyer was the only quarterback to start at least three games and finish the season undefeated in 2013. His passer rating of 82 was solid while throwing for five touchdowns and three interceptions.
With wide receiver Josh Gordon suspended for the year, this team is going to need playmakers. This is the opportunity Hoyer has been waiting for his whole career. His goal should be to prove, not just the Browns but to the entire league, that he can be a starting NFL QB.
The leash will be incredibly thin all season.
24. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Houston Texans
The Texans had the No. 1 pick but didn’t deem any quarterback worthy of that spot. Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the starter, but this seems like a team destined to make a QB change at some point during the season.
Fitzpatrick had a pretty decent season in 2013, completing 62 percent of his passes while filling in for the injured Jake Locker for the Tennessee Titans. His solid play landed him the opportunity with the Texans. So far the organization has been none too impressed with his 61 passer rating in the preseason.
The most likely candidate to replace the Fitz is Ryan Mallett, a career backup who was brought over from the New England Patriots via trade.
Mallet looked good during summer practice but struggled in preseason games. He was clearly beat out by rookie Jimmy Garoppolo for the second-string position.
23. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
For a Super Bowl-winning QB with a huge contract, Joe Flacco is facing a great deal of scrutiny.
Last year only Eli Manning threw more interceptions than Flacco’s 22—that was also a higher total than his previous two years combined.
The offensive line and injuries certainly didn’t help Flacco’s situation, which is why the Ravens are hoping to get a production boost from longtime veteran Steve Smith.
Flacco needs to rediscover that magical groove he had during the playoffs amid the team's championship run. This preseason was a good sign of that as he finished with a passer rating of 102 under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
22. Matt Cassel, Minnesota Vikings
In a fair and open competition for the starting QB job, Matt Cassel proved his veteran advantage was just too much for Teddy Bridgewater to overcome—at least for now.
Cassel started six games for the Vikings in 2013 and did a decent job under difficult circumstances, leading the team to a 3-3 record. Under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Cassel has played well enough to hold off the future of this team.
In the exhibition, he racked up a passer rating of 103.
Anytime a QB is faced with this type of situation, his best bet is to show the NFL he is a starter in this league.
21. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
The present belongs to Jake Locker in Tennessee, and with a proven system and tons of offensive targets he is in a perfect situation to succeed. There is just one agonizing stone rolling around in his shoe by the name of Zach Mettenberger.
In the preseason, Mettenberger's 659 passing yards led the league while he completed an impressive 69 percent of his passes. In addition, of all the quarterbacks who have attempted at least 50 passes, only one has a higher average yards per pass attempt.
To be fair, Locker’s numbers are equally as impressive, and between him and Mettenberger, one of these guys will eventually end up carrying this franchise.
It’s safe to say Locker has done nothing to lose his starting job yet, but anyone who knows new head coach Ken Whisenhunt and his affinity toward strong pocket passers knows that Mettenberger is more his style of QB.
Locker is a good athlete who struggled early in his career with accuracy beyond 10 yards, but Whisenhunt might be able to make a star out of the former first-round pick after all.
20. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer may have a strong arm and a prototype frame for a franchise quarterback, but something is amiss when it comes to his decision-making—especially under pressure. This pattern has played itself out throughout Palmer’s up-and-down career.
In preseason action Palmer showed us more of the same, completing just 50 percent of his passes and finishing with a 75.9 passer rating.
One player who can really make things interesting in a few years is physically-gifted rookie QB Logan Thomas. He looked much better than expected throughout exhibition play.
19. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Smith recently became one of the richest players in the NFL with a new contract that guarantees him $45 million over six years. The total deal is valued at $115 million.
Whether you consider Smith a game manager or not, the truth of the matter is this—of the 16 quarterbacks who threw more than 500 times last year, only the Jaguars' Chad Henne had fewer passing yards.
Furthermore, only three of those 16 QBs threw fewer touchdown passes than Smith. But just like perfect game manager form, Smith did throw the fewest interceptions of that same group and led his Chiefs to 11 wins on the year.
This preseason, he seemed to take a step back with his depleted offensive line, throwing two interceptions with zero touchdown passes.
Of all the projected starters for 2014, only Robert Griffin III had a worse passer rating in the preseason—funny how this sort of performance was going on while negotiating such a lucrative contract. That goes to show we shouldn’t read too much into what happens during these games in August.
18. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Unlike last year, Ryan Tannehill should be able to benefit from a capable offensive line that will allow him sufficient time to throw.
In any case, it let the team and the fans to realize how tough this kid really is. No quarterback in the NFL was sacked more times than the 58 times opponents got to him in 2013. Yet Tannehill just kept getting up. That is how you win the respect of your teammates and show you can lead this group in the long term.
Tannehill is progressing at a nice rate so far as he manages to increase his passing touchdowns while decreasing his interceptions each year. Hopefully for the Dolphins this trend continues.
The QB and his high-priced offensive target, Mike Wallace, have yet to find any chemistry between them, but this is too critical for them to just give up on.
17. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Stafford may not be the most consistent QB in the league, but he does have a unique ability to push the ball down the field. In fact, only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have completed more plays of 20-plus yards than Matthew Stafford. That should at least tell you he knows how to generate big plays.
Arm strength and athletic ability will only take a player so far in the NFL, but winning consistently in this league is about understanding situational football. This is an element to the game that seems to elude the likes of guys such as Matthew Stafford and Tony Romo.
This offseason, new head coach Jim Caldwell and staff spent a lot of time focusing on Stafford’s mechanics and fundamentals, hoping to take his game up a notch. When the regular season starts, they'll be able to tell if the investment paid off.
16. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
So far in his brief yet exciting NFL career, Kaepernick has proved he still has a lot of developing to do from the pocket, specifically regarding his reads and progressions. One of his goals for the 2014 season should be completing at least 60 percent of his passes.
Surprisingly, Kaepernick had two of the five best games of the 2013 season in terms of total QBR, including a 99.8 QBR against the Jaguars in the 49ers' 42-10 blowout win. His other elite game came against the Titans in Week 7's 31-17 win.
One of the most impressive elements to Kaepernick’s game is his ability to throw down the field regularly without turning the ball over. He also is incredibly dangerous if given a small window or crease to take it up the field. His long strides make it hard for even the fastest defenders to take a proper angle on him.
The rising star recently inked a new contract that guarantees him $61 million. In order for him to earn this contract, he will need to prove the offense can carry the load when needed.
15. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Cutler’s 19 touchdowns and 63 percent completion rate helped justify his seven-year contract extension, but many would argue the now-departed Josh McCown was the better option during the last leg of the 2013 season.
By season’s end, will the strong-armed Cutler still be riddled with questions about his demeanor, toughness, talent or value?
14. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan started out the 2013 season doing rather well, but that all started to fall apart some once Julio Jones got injured for the season. From that point on it was chaos in the making. Ryan finished the season completing 67 percent of his passes, fourth behind only Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.
According to Pro Football Reference, Matt Ryan’s 90.6 passer rating is the eighth-best among all NFL active QBs with at least 1,500 pass attempts.
Ryan has demonstrated he can be a top-tier quarterback, but he will do so without his biggest safety net of all time, tight end Tony Gonzalez.
The good news is that both Roddy White and Jones return healthy and hungry to take this team back to the postseason.
13. Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Josh McCown is coming off a career year where he replaced Jay Cutler in Chicago for part of the season. Having Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall on the outside is sure to help any quarterback.
Luckily McCown has a similar situation with wide receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. But Tampa Bay’s offensive line will need to hold up if this aging QB is going to repeat the same type of success.
No quarterback in the league had a better total QBR than Josh McCown’s 85.1 last season. He also led the league with the lowest number of interceptions per pass attempt.
If McCown should falter at any point, second-year QB Mike Glennon would be more than happy to give it a go.
12. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are trying to win a Super Bowl with the decent yet inconsistent play of quarterback Andy Dalton. With talent at every turn on this roster, the Bengals have a chance to do it. The trick is to surround the average QB with as good of talent as possible. This is exactly what the Bengals are doing now.
At the very least, Dalton did succeed at shaking any stigma or perception of being conservative. He’s actually tied for the league lead with 15 plays of 40 yards or more.
Dalton looked well in preseason, completing 71 percent of his passes. Expect him to take a giant leap forward in the Hue Jackson era.
Limited physical tools may keep Dalton from ever becoming one of the best, but he has certainly played like a guy who can win a Super Bowl some day. However, his playoff performances will have to improve.
11. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton suffered a hairline rib fracture in the Panthers' third preseason game. Though this type of injury can be painful, it really shouldn’t be too big a deal. If anything, it might cause the physical quarterback to think twice before taking off for the first down.
With that said, Newton may have to do that more than ever this year by the looks of his receiving corps.
The Panthers are in desperate need of warm bodies to rise to the occasion and fill the void at the receiver position after cleaning house this offseason. They drafted Kelvin Benjamin early to provide a big target for their franchise QB, and he performed well during the preseason.
If Newton manages to perform at a high level with this supporting cast we really need to give this guy a lot of credit. Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick showed us last year how much a QB’s play can suffer by not having his primary weapons.
At this point, Cam doesn’t even know what it’s like to have that go-to receiver.
10. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Two seasons ago, he came to the Indianapolis Colts as the heir apparent to Peyton Manning and has delivered on that promise to a degree. As he begins Year 3 as the face of the franchise, expectations continue to grow.
His passer rating of 87.0 ranked 18th last season. His 6.7 yards per attempt ranked 26th.
His touchdown percentage was tied for 21st. Luck ranked 23rd in completion percentage.
This year there is a lot to be excited about with the Colts offense—that is, if Indianapolis can get this offensive line in order. Luck’s group of receivers includes a healthy Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks, rookie Donte Moncrief and freakish athlete Da’Rick Rogers.
Don’t be surprised if Andrew Luck throws close to 40 TD passes in 2014.
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
It has now been two years since Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to the postseason. But anyone who thinks the quarterback is primarily to blame is making a mistake.
Big Ben has established himself as one of the toughest QBs in the NFL.
Well, no active QB has been sacked more times than Roethlisberger’s 386 in just 10 seasons, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
This preseason, Big Ben has struggled some, especially in Game 3, which is widely considered the most important of all exhibition games.
According to Bleacher Report’s Andrea Hangst, “Through nearly three quarters of football, Ben Roethlisberger's offense was held scoreless—and not because Philadelphia put on a defensive clinic.”
Hangst goes on to say, “The struggles began with the quarterback. Roethlisberger was inaccurate, appearing hesitant, especially in the first half. Attempts to build a rhythm with second-year wideout Markus Wheaton resulted only in incompletions.”
Hopefully this is not a sign of what’s to come for the 2014 season.
8. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo has always been great at producing big numbers, but solidifying victories has proved to be more difficult for him as the Cowboys quarterback. He will need to put up big stats more than ever considering the ominous signs coming out of the defense side of things.
Romo made his preseason debut against the Ravens on August 16 after recovering from offseason back surgery. It will be interesting to see if his aging body can hold up for a full season.
In limited action this preseason Romo did look good, finishing with a passer rating of 98. Having WR Dez Bryant to throw the ball to certainly makes life easier.
7. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
In 2013 Nick Foles led the NFL in several significant passing categories, including passer rating (119) and yards per attempt (9.1), all while only in his second season as a pro. His contributions certainly helped the Eagles take the NFC East and provide hope to the City of Brotherly Love for years to come.
It would be hard to separate Foles’ success with the scheme and unique play-calling of head coach Chip Kelly and the Eagles. Either way, Foles is executing his assignments and getting the job done.
The kid from Arizona University struggled a bit in preseason with a passer rating of 73.6 and three interceptions, but this shouldn’t generate much cause for concern. With that said, expect Nick to have a less statistically impressive year this time around. He will be faced with similar problems to what Brady had the year before—a young receiving corps with no real established playmakers.
6. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers has a chance this season to define his legacy as a two-time Super Bowl champion. He might be the most complete player at QB in the NFL, and he is just entering the prime of his career.
If there is anyone capable of surpassing Peyton Manning this season as the No. 1-ranked QB, that person is Rodgers.
Although No. 12 will be looking for a reliable tight end to emerge this season, he can find comfort in the fact this offense has finally established a potent running game.
Rodgers only played nine games in 2013, but he did make a big enough impact to get his team to the playoffs. The Packers were 6-3 with him and 2-4-1 without him.
His 104.9 passer rating ranks him fifth among qualified quarterbacks, while his 68.66 total QBR ranks sixth.
5. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Tom Brady has done a lot throughout his career, especially considering he has only had one great receiver in all of his years of stellar play.
As far as all the AFC East defenses excited for his inevitable retirement, it might be a lot longer than they initially thought.
Brady had this to say in an interview via CSNNE.com: “I love playing for this team, and I love representing this team. Hopefully I can do that for as long as I can. When I suck, I’ll retire. I don’t plan on sucking for a long time.”
He doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Last season he had a career-high five fourth-quarter comebacks, according to Pro Football Reference. His leadership was a major asset when he guided a receiving corps full of rookies to a 12-win season.
Expect this future Hall of Fame QB to move up the rankings in the weeks to come.
4. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Rivers has played impressively under head coach Mike McCoy, who was hired before the 2013 season, which certainly explains his huge bump in productivity while cutting down on turnovers.
Let’s not forget Rivers made his incredible comeback a year ago with a severely diminished receiving corps due to injuries and a rookie wideout as his primary target. It’s safe to assume the San Diego passing attack can still reach its ceiling.
Last year Rivers was able to convert on first downs on 42.3 percent of his plays. That stat puts him second overall behind Peyton Manning.
This preseason has been more of the same as the Chargers work to shake off the vacation rust.
3. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson has another year of experience under his belt, and it seems to be showing up in his play so far. Teams looking to surpass the Seahawks should be worried with Wilson’s new toys, Percy Harvin and rookie wide receiver Paul Richardson.
Wilson is rising quickly to become one of the league’s most impressive quarterbacks, regardless of age or experience. Last year he was a member of an elite club of just seven QBs to attempt at least 100 passes and have a passer rating over 100.
Few could have predicted this meteoric rise for the undersized third-round QB.
Per Pro Football Focus, Wilson had the highest grade of all the QBs this preseason based on every single snap he participated in.
2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Aside from Drew Brees’ incredible ability to read defenses and find the open man, he also happens to be one of the most accurate passers alive. Few QBs, if any, can place a ball more accurately than him. It's these qualities that compensate for his relative lack of size or athletic ability.
The future Hall of Fame QB has thrown for over 5,000 yards four times in his career, including the last three years.
These types of record-breaking seasons are beginning to be commonplace for him. Hopefully fans and analysts don’t begin to take this level of quarterbacking for granted.
1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Just in case anyone was wondering whether Peyton Manning is too old to still play at a high level, that question has been answered before the first game of the regular season.
Denver has looked very much like a team primed for a Super Bowl run this preseason. Manning is in midseason form already and has the offense functioning on a very high level. Keep in mind—this is the time of year when these guys are keeping all their best plays off the review tape.
Last year Manning had an unbelievable season. The aging vet with a weakened arm and multiple neck surgeries threw for an NFL-record 5,477 yards on the season to go with another all-time-record 55 touchdown passes. As if that wasn’t enough, he threw just 10 interceptions all season.
Manning has clearly established himself as one of the best quarterbacks the league has ever seen.
In the twilight of his career, it’s his preparation and intelligence that separate him from the pack. His body might not be what it once was, but his mind is stronger than ever.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player who currently writes for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter.