This piece will be a ranking of starting quarterbacks, plus several backups and rookies, on a divisional basis. We will start in the NFC, and rotate from north to east.
Until further notice, this man is the top QB in this division and among the absolute best in the league. In a “down” year where he was constantly hurt, Rodgers went for 4400 yards, 25 touchdowns, and just 2 interceptions. He was sacked 49 times. Rodgers also set the record for intentional throwaway passes. That is, in part, why he only had two interceptions.
Rodgers has a tendency to hold on to the ball and look for the huge play instead of doing something simple, but that still cannot really be a knock. After all, over the time he has not been hurt, he has been perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL. The Packers as a whole were down last year. They now have a new head coach and seemed primed for a resurgence (please no).
Ranking the rest of this division was far more tricky. You could conceivably rank these other three in any order, and it wouldn’t be outrageous. There is not a huge gap between any of these three, especially compared to the gap from any of them to Rodgers. That said, Trubisky takes the two-slot. In essence, he was a rookie last year. In a system that Alex Smith said takes 2-3 years to learn, Trubisky was really good.
He was maddeningly inconsistent at times. Whenever he missed, he missed high and those were often intercepted. This said, the flashes of brilliance he showed were eye opening. He showed incredible improvement from his rookie year under John “run-run-pass” Fox. He was fantastic on third downs. He adds an entirely different element with his running ability. He set the Bears up to win their playoff game against the Eagles. The throw to Allen Robinson down the sideline was the most clutch thing I have ever seen a Bears QB do. Alas. Expect big things from this man this year.
Stafford has been a rock for the Detroit Lions. Since drafting him after their 0-16 season, he has been the man for Detroit. However, he has also been incredibly average. Since his amazing 3rd year, he has eclipsed 30 TDs only once, and only been to the playoffs once, which was the “loss” against the Cowboys.
Detroit is not where they are without Stafford. He is irreplaceable, but could Detroit do better? He is now 31, and his deal is not up until 2023. The Lions could pull something out of their hat. They spent a ton of money this offseason, but that has often not been a winning strategy in the NFL.
One of last offseason’s biggest signings finds himself in the bottom of the division he joined. Not a great look. That said, again, this was a tough division to rank. These “after-Rodgers-three” are all really close. Cousins finds himself here because he took over a team that was in the NFC Championship the year before, and was out of the playoffs with him.
The Vikings lost all of their games against better teams last year. In losses to the Bears, Seahawks, Rams, Patriots, and Saints (and Bills?), Cousins was not good. The defense was not either, but the way the Vikings are paying Cousins means they thought he was the piece that would push them over the top. Last year he was not, but he has two more years under contract to rewrite that narrative.
Being injured during the Super Bowl run and for a great chunk of last year seems to have clouded how good Wentz is (to the non-Philly folk). He was the MVP of the 2017 season until he got hurt. He still has a great coach, an excellent offensive line, and a litany of new weapons with him on offense.
Desean Jackson is going to be incredible to watch take the top off a defense, and Wentz chucking bombs to him adds another element to this attack. Wentz has an incredible ability to extend a play, or just take off and do the work himself. As long as he stays healthy this year, he will carry the Eagles.
Prescott is so tough to get a read on. The Cowboys in general are. They are loaded with talent, but are indubitably hampered by a certain someone on the sideline. Prescott has not put up massive numbers in his time in the league, but has not had a losing record yet. He is awesome some weeks, and awful others. He has issues with accuracy, but the Cowboys are clearly better off with him.
This is the last year of his rookie deal, and he is due for a massive pay raise. He is going to demand the kind of money that Carson Wentz and Russell Wilson are making. That is how this works, but he is clearly not deserving of that kind of money, and he has shown no inclination to take a discount.
The back half of this division is ugly, to say the least. Washington made an offseason trade with Denver to acquire the journeyman veteran. After his magical 2017 season with Minnesota, the 2018 followup with Denver was lackluster. While he did start all 16 games, he was unquestionably not as good as the year before. Denver agreed and shipped him to Washington for a 6th round pick.
He is a fine starter, but you won’t win anything with him. John Elway realized this and decided to go out and get Super Bowl Champion Joe Flacco instead! Keenum may not even start a game for Washington, for a reason to be visited shortly.
How the mighty have fallen. Manning is clearly into the deep twilight of his career. His performance has stagnated the last three years. The two years before that, Manning was pretty good, and the Giants went 6 and 10 twice. They drafted Daniel Jones at number 6 this year as the heir apparent.
Losing Odell Beckham is awful, and there is no way around that. The guys left are all short-to-intermediate targets and do not possess the raw ability that Beckham has. Manning has gotten less and less aggressive as time has gone on, so receivers who can get open quickly and allow him to make quick reads may be the best fit.
Dwayne Haskins and Daniel Jones
The two first round rookies bring up the rear of the division. Both of these guys are gonna start games for these teams by the end of the season. For the Redskins, it will be by design. For the Giants, it would be if Manning is a tire fire. The Jones pick is still confounding, but personally I see what the Giants were going for. Basically, I think they hope that Jones can be like Mitch Trubisky – player with awesome physical tools but limited experience from a blue ACC team. However, Trubisky got noticed for having one amazing year at UNC, while Jones had three “meh” years at Duke. Only time will tell, but this is still a head-scratcher as of now.
Haskins was part of awesome Ohio State teams, which may actually work against him. Is he good because he is good, or because of the litany of top recruits, and coaching staff, around him? The fact head coach Jay Gruden was not involved in this process is…concerning, but he may not be around much longer anyway. The Redskins are going to force Haskins into starting, even though this makes no sense. They are not a contender this year, so the best move would be letting Keenum start most of the year and easing Haskins in at the end. That is probably not going to happen. Both of these teams have systemic front office issues.
In actuality, Smith is probably the second best QB in this division, but due to the horrific leg injury he suffered last season, he is likely to miss most, if not all, of this upcoming season. Which is a shame, because he has evolved from an apparent bust into a great NFL QB. Smith kept Washington afloat against a barrage of injuries, and then fell victim to the plague himself. He deserves mention.
The NFC South has the best “one to four” of all starting QBs in the league. Brees is one of the best to ever do it. The Saints have experienced absolutely brutal playoff losses the last two years. Brees is getting older, and that showed at the end of last season. After the Falcons Thanksgiving game (where he definitely got hurt, but they never said that), he did not have the same zip on the ball and did not push it downfield as much. The offense only cracked 30 points once after, against the Steelers in a weird game for both teams.
Brees only needs 20 touchdowns to set the all-time record, and Tom Brady is right there with him. Brees will almost certainly claim that record this year, after taking the all-time yardage record last year. Will he be able to add a second Super Bowl ring to these accolades? The Saints under Brees are running out of time, and this may be their last best chance.
The Falcons are a team that seems poised to bounce back this year. They were absolutely decimated by injuries on defense and subpar offensive line play. They addressed the line with great vigor in free agency, and their defensive stars have mended. But Matt Ryan is still the engine that makes them go. He was nearly as good last year as his 2016 MVP season. The rest of the team around him just could not pick it up. Hopefully they can this year.
Ryan has the best triplets of wideouts in the league in Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu. Devonta Freeman will be back, and Ito Smith is a solid backup. The Falcons have a brutal early schedule, and then after their week 9 bye, have all six of their divisional games in weeks 10-17. They will need Ryan to be excellent if they want to stay in the hunt.
Another former MVP in the mix here. Newton and the Panthers were having an excellent season until they met, and were curb-stomped by, the Steelers. Newton suffered a (then undisclosed) shoulder injury in that game, and as the season dragged on, it became more and more noticeable. Throws were scattershot, and it became obvious Newton could not throw the ball further than 20 yards.
The Panthers believe he is healthy now, but personally, this could set them up to ruin Newton. Andrew Luck suffered a throwing shoulder injury, sat out all of 2017, and came back and was amazing last year. The Panthers SHOULD do that. They drafted Will Grier out of West Virginia (#6 on this list), in the third round. That’s not a move you make if you think Newton is healthy. More likely is Newton starts the season, hopefully healthy, but not at 100%, and will end up re-aggravating the shoulder injury.
Winston’s performance has steadily declined each year since being taken number one overall in 2014. Winston’s problems do not stem from effort. He very clearly gives a hoot. He’s not just there to cash checks. It is more immaturity and panicking. In pressure situations, he goes to try and win the whole game on one play, leading to absolutely awful decisions.
The Buccaneers are another team that is not very well run. GM Jason Licht has led the team to four 4th place finishes with one second place, a 9-7 record, and no playoffs. Tampa hired Bruce Arians out of retirement this year. Arians is known as a QB whisperer, so perhaps he will work his magic.
Winston has great weapons to throw to. Mike Evans is one of the best receivers in the league, and Chris Godwin is a rising star. Cam Brate is a solid tight end. That said, we are still waiting for OJ Howard to break out, and they lost Adam Humphries and Desean Jackson this offseason. If Winston does not show signs of improvement, he may join the long list of QBs drafted by Tampa who does not receive a second contract.
Bridgewater will not start a game this year as long as Brees is entirely healthy. It seems more likely the Saints are grooming him to become the successor, or at least some kind of bridge (no pun intended) to cross once Brees retires. Bridgewater’s comeback from a horrific offseason injury three years ago has been admirable, and he clearly still has a future in the league.
The Panthers selected Grier in the third round this year. He does not (at least on the surface) appear to be a long-term successor to Newton. Grier received a lot of buzz as a possible high round pick this past draft cycle. The Panthers taking him seems weird if Newton is okay. So, he is probably not 100% okay. Grier is going to end up starting games this season, but the question is when and under what circumstances.
This is the best QB in the NFL right here (who isn’t Tom Brady). Not Rodgers, Brees, Mahomes, or Wentz. Russell Wilson is absolutely incredible. The fewest games the Seahawks have won under him is 9. Every other season has been 10 wins or more and a playoff berth. If not for Malcolm Butler, he would be a 2-time champ. Wilson went for 35 TDs against 7 picks last season, in what was the best campaign of his career.
The thing that will hold this team back on offense is if they insist on being a running team. The Seahawks had the best rush attack in the league last year, but that came back to bite them in their playoff game. Wilson has gotten better each year of his career, and the Seahawks need to lean more on their franchise quarterback.
Seattle added enigmatic DK Metcalf, who is going to be so fun to watch with Wilson creating magic under center. Losing Doug Baldwin really, really sucks to put it plainly. He was Wilson’s most reliable target over the course of their time together. Yet, Tyler Lockett had a breakout year last year, and David Moore was a rising player for them. They have a wealth of backs with multifaceted skill sets who can serve various roles on offense. That said, Wilson is the type of QB who elevates those around him, and he will continue to do so this year.
Since his disastrous rookie year, Goff has evolved into an excellent NFL QB, leading one of the league’s best offenses. That all came to a thunderous crash in the Super Bowl, where the Rams not only didn’t score a single touchdown, they didn’t run a play in the Red Zone. The question that the league is trying to answer about this team, is how much of the offensive success is Goff, or head coach Sean McVay being in his ear until the mic is cut.
Goff makes the throws, but the Patriots forced him off script in the Super Bowl, making him look more like his rookie year. Teams, the NFC West especially, have to be looking at that tape as a way to beat this team. McVay is sure to adjust, but what does that say about Goff? Is he just a product of McVay’s genius? This is a big year for this team. The Todd Gurley issues cloud this further, but they will likely be fine for this year. They also have Aaron Donald still, so good luck with that, all interior offensive linemen.
Garoppolo’s first full season with San Francisco was cut short in week 3 by an ACL injury. The season before, in the five games he started, he went 5-0, showing the same promise he did in the limited time he started in New England. However, in those three starts last year, he was not very good. Rather, he was not good compared to the $137 million contract he signed during the offseason. That is an insane amount of money to hand to a guy who had seven starts under his belt.
The Niners probably had no choice, except they did. They could have franchise tagged Garoppolo, and paid him less than they did with the contract. The pressure is rising on both GM Jason Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. The Niners were offseason darlings last year, and flopped hard. It is going to fall on to Garoppolo this season to live up to his contract.
And finally, the number one pick from this past draft. The Cardinals said goodbye to previous #10 pick (for whom they traded two picks) Josh Rosen and one year head coach Steve Wilks, to draft Murray at one and bring in former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury. The entire draft process was centered around Arizona and “will they, won’t they?” It seemed insane at the time that a team would bail on a top 10 QB after one season, yet here we are.
Murray was last season’s Heisman Trophy winner. Murray has an intriguing stable of weapons in Christian Kirk, Dave Johnson, Ricky Seals-Jones, Hakeem Butler, Andy Isabella, and the ETERNAL Larry Fitzgerald. Kingsbury is a coach who should know how to get the best out of Murray. This is a young and exciting offense. Yet, they seemed to have missed out on one kind of important piece. The offensive line. Arizona’s line was perhaps the worst in the league last season, and they have done very little to address that. Perhaps a coaching and scheme change can address this, but that is an incredibly risky gamble to take.
A quick ranking of 1-21
- Smith* if not injured
- Bridgewater (all rookies after)
The AFC is soon to follow!