Picking right on up where we left off, here are the twenty best quarterbacks in the NFL as devised by El Wildcardo. Please don't sue...
20 (23) Jameis Winston – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winston’s jumped ahead of his draft class buddy Mariota after he really did make some leaps in 2016. Still throws a few too many risky passes and he loves a deep play but, hey, we need a few gunslingers out there. The lad was top quality on Hard Knocks too.
19 (13) Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens
The illusion is well and truly shattered by now. Those long ago debates about Flacco and the elite company are dead and buried. Now the question is more about how many worse quarterbacks can boast a Super Bowl ring.
Flacco was brilliant that 2012 season, it’s just everything that’s happened since that harms him. Obviously he’s not the worst QB to win a title and if he’d lost that game then Colin Kaepernick would’ve won and that dude isn’t even in the league as we speak. Having said that, these are the other quarterbacks to have won since 2003:
Tom Brady (x5), Ben Roethlisberger (x2), Peyton Manning (x2), Eli Manning (x2), Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.
Granted… Brad Johnson won it with the Buccs in 2002. Happens every decade or so, apparently.
18 (30) Sam Bradford – Minnesota Vikings
Something funny happened last season where Sam Bradford jumped in to replace the injured Teddy Bridgewater and was actually really good. The Vikings, under Mike Zimmer, really suited his style of play and Bradford finally emerged as a solid player after years of inconsistencies and injuries at the Rams (and briefly Eagles).
He didn’t have the toughest job out there, more or less employed as a game-managing Alex Smith kind of QB but you can’t much argue with 71.6% completion and four times as many touchdown passes as picks (20:5). That job will continue into 2017 with Teddy not likely to be back any time soon but the pressure to make the playoffs will be huge after they tumbled from a 5-0 start to end 8-8. Whoops.
17 (20) Kirk Cousins – Washington R*dskins
Fair play to a dude who made $20m last year spending the offseason living with his pregnant wife in his parents’ basement to dodge paying rent (it’s true) but those franchise tags are a tricky thing. Only LeBron James really gets away with one year contracts on his own terms. You’d imagine the Skins would’ve been happy enough to commit to the dude after back to back seasons with at least a 67% completion rate, at least 25 touchdowns, at least 4166 passing yards and at never more than 12 picks. Maybe he’d won a few more games, aye?
Nah I know why it is – it’s because he’s a massive weirdo and nobody wants to hang out with the “high five party!” guy.
16 (15) Alex Smith – Kansas City Chiefs
Similar to a couple other QBs, Smith has reason to be a bit pissed at his team after they traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes at 10 overall. The Perennial Game Manager has constantly won games with the Chiefs since he joined from San Fran and while it tends not to be pretty, at least he gets that job done. He’s 41-20 in the regular season with Kansas City. Unfortunately that doesn’t appear to translate into the playoffs where he’s 1-3 with the team which has meant his position has never been completely safe. Now they’ve drafted his eventual successor and time is ticking.
Take it easy on boring old Smithy though. He hit a career high 3502 passing yards last season. You may know exactly what you’re gonna get from him but that’s far preferable to plenty of other quarterbacks. Look, there’s nothing fancy about buttered toast but it’ll keep you from starving.
15 (12) Andy Dalton – Cincinnati Bengals
Things got bad last season. All that chatter about Dalton’s terrible post-season record (he’s 0-4 in a six-year career)… they didn’t even make the post-season in 2016. Four straight seasons with at least 10 wins were snapped as Cincy went 6-9-1. But Dalton was sneakily still decent. 64.7% completion, 4206 passing yards, 18 TDs and 8 INTs. Gotta up those touchdowns but other than that he was doing his part. You want a reason for that? Here’s one: Only Tyrod Taylor (42) was sacked more times than Andy Dalton (41)
This time the Bengals seem to promise him more opportunities to throw with a really talented bunch of receivers having been gathered up. A.J. Green is there after missing six games last season, Brandon LaFell emerged nicely in Green’s absence, Tyler Boyd can do some things and they drafted John Ross at ninth overall who is about the fastest man you’ve ever seen. Problem is their offensive line has not improved. So… yeah. Better be quick on that trigger, bro.
14 (11) Philip Rivers – Los Angeles Chargers
Big Phil has had bad years before. 2011 stands out as one of those what with his 20 interceptions. The three years immediately before that he was brilliant and the four years after were pretty sharp too. That’s the main reason why Old Man Rivers hasn’t slipped any further than he has.
See, he was bad again in 2016. His team only won five games but that was one better than the year before – difference was this time Rivers had to cop some blame. The worst completion percentage since his second year as a starter (2007) and the most interceptions he’s ever managed with 21 – the most of anyone in all 2016 and Jameis Winston was second with 18, three fewer. Actually it was the most of anyone since Eli Manning tossed 27 in 2013.
But, yeah, Rivers has bounced back from tough campaigns in the past. Could be that he was dealing with injuries, could be the impending distraction of moving to Los Angeles. He says that last one isn’t a problem but with eight kids he’s decided not to uproot the family and instead wants to hire a driver to take him to and from training every damn day – that’s 120km through LA traffic on the daily. Yikes. He looked super good in preseason though.
13 (18) Derek Carr – Oakland Raiders
And expect him to rise another five spots next season if things don’t change. Carr is immensely talented and has made big strides with each of his three seasons in the big time. Equally importantly, so has his team. This is pretty much the ideal rebuild timeframe as the roster around him is growing at the same time as he is, which should have them all peaking together in a year or two. Amari Cooper is incredible, Khalil Mack is unstoppable… they even brought Marshawn Lynch out of retirement for extra kicks.
What sucks is that after throwing 28 touchdowns to 6 interceptions, Carr was injured in their second to last game (a 33-25 win over the Colts) which ruled him out of the playoffs. There’s some unfinished business there, alright. The next thing he did was sign a monster five year, $125m contract extension, although he hardly seems like the type of player who’d let the money get to his head. Carr is a self-proclaimed Kobe Bryant fanatic. That’s exactly the competitive spirit you want a quarterback to have. That Mamba Mindset.
12 (8) Carson Palmer – Arizona Cardinals
It’s always been tough to know what to think of Palmy. At times he’s shown Drew Brees levels of ability and then at other times he’s been a bit more Jay Cutler. Since he’s been in Arizona, though, we’ve seen this real resurgence in his career – the only problem has been keeping fit and healthy in his mid-30s. He was one of the finest QBs in all the NFL in 2015, coming back from only managing six games the year before, but 2016 was a crash back down to earth.
At his age every bad season is a forewarning of the end. The Cardinals went 7-8-1 in 2016. They should’ve had a team worth competing for the title and they couldn’t even get to 50%. There were injuries and bad luck, but Palmer’s play was also far from blameless. He was tied-ninth in interceptions and twentieth in QB Rating. The fifth most sacked player all season.
He could bounce right back or he could crack a rib on the first play of the season. Nobody can tell at this stage. But Bruce Arians has built a strong and adaptable roster there with the Cardies and having David Johnson at running back… well, that helps too.
Carson Palmer to SI: “I just look at it this way: There is no way for two years in a row that our luck can be as bad as last year. We lost some bizarre games. We’re a year older, yeah. But I look at it like we’re years younger at some spots too. Robert Nkemdiche will step in and play well this year on our defensive line. We’ve got some rookies who are going to play early and play well. I hear the window thing, but in this league, I think you’re either rebuilding, or you’re overly optimistic. New England? They’re going 16-0. San Francisco? They’re rebuilding. And it’s never really exactly as it seems.”
11 (9) Eli Manning – New York Giants
Eli gives you a few things for certain. One is that he’s gonna make some big mistakes, he’s never thrown less than ten picks in a season. The other is that he will win you games you never felt possible. He had six game-winning drives in 2016 as the Giants went 11-5 despite an overall campaign which was objectively worse on his part than the two previous seasons… where the G-Men went 6-10. That’s the thing with Eli – they don’t need him to be perfect. They just need him to be Eli.
He’s 36 now and Younger Manning reckons he’s got another four years in him. That’s not bad considering his next game will mark his 200th consecutive match. They’ve already drafted Davis Webb who they hope will succeed him as Giants QB but this team remains firmly in Eli’s hands for now and they’ll be a dangerous prospect in 2017. Funny thing is Eli hasn’t won a playoff game since 2011. He’s only won playoff games in two different seasons – going on to win the Super Bowl both times. Manning can be streaky as hell, he’s durable and he’s clutch. None of those things strike you from watching him play but that’s the paradox of Eli Manning.
Most Consecutive NFL Starts (Active Streaks):
- Eli Manning (NYG) – 199
- Philip Rivers (LAC) – 176
- Jason Witten (DAL) – 163
- Joe Thomas (CLE) – 160
- Donald Penn (TBB/OAK) – 156
10 (34) Dak Prescott – Dallas Cowboys
It was a sad thing to have to say farewell to the legend of Tony Romo… but how good is his replacement!? Find a rookie that can throw with Russell Wilson’s accuracy and Drew Brees’ poise, why not. Good on his feet, fantastic leader, clinical playmaker… he only threw four picks in 459 pass attempts as a rookie. As a ROOKIE. Sure that offensive line does plenty for him and the Cowboys have a superb running game to keep that yardage ticking over but beware the Dak Attack. It’s a bit rare that I chuck a player as inexperienced as him this high but, put it this way: I don’t see him falling back next season. Granted some people do but those people are all just salty their teams didn’t draft him first.
Here are some if his rookie records:
- Tied most wins as a rook, with 13 (equals Big Ben)
- Best completion percentage – 67.8%
- Best TD-INT ratio – 24 to 4
- Best Passer Rating – 104.9
- One of only 12 rookie quarterbacks to lead a team to the playoffs with a majority of the starts
- His 0.9% interception rate was a rookie record
- Most pass attempts before first NFL interception – 176
- 11 games with a passer rating over 100
- Record touchdown to interception differential
You get the idea, Prescott is for real.
9 (16) Matt Stafford – Detroit Lions
The Matt Stafford you think you know is not the same Matt Stafford as starts games for the Detroit Lions. That deep ball bomber with a million pass attempts is gone, replaced by a more mature and precise kind of quarterback.
The Staff 2009-2014: 77 G | 59.6% COMP | 131 TD | 85 INT | 11.8 Y/C | 83.6 RATE
The Staff 2015-2016: 32 G | 66.3% COMP | 56 TD | 23 INT | 10.9 Y/C | 95.1 RATE
Add in there that of the Lions’ nine wins last season, eight came from game-winning drives by their quarterback. So he’s way more reliable, still equally as clutch… you know what that gets you in the modern NFL:
Yeah… not all that dissimilar to when Mike Conley was the highest paid player in the NBA. Both great players but come on. You can’t moan though. Gotta be happy for Staff getting his cheques and gotta understand that this record will be broken again next year if not next month.
8 (7) Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts
Another player like several on this list who simply hasn’t made the leaps we thought he would and it probably isn’t his fault. The Colts don’t deserve Andy Luck for the trash-heap of a team they keep putting around him. In fact they’re so bad they’ve ruined him. He’s still out injured with the shoulder he had surgery on months back and while they could rush him back early in the season that seems like a risky thing to do when they’re committed to him in the long term and, you know, he’d have to stand behind the offensive line that’s more or less responsible for him getting hurt in the first place.
Eight months out of the game (and counting) doesn’t really reflect the eighth best QB in the NFL but Luck built up plenty of credit with his play against the odds the last few years. Those late victories, those unfathomable plays. There’s nothing wrong with Lucky Boy. Well… except his shoulder. And probably his karma if this is what keeps happening. Hey if they’re as bad as they were in 2011 when Peyton Manning was injured then maybe they can draft another Luck and keep one spare. Bound to be better than Scott Tolzien – who isn’t even on this list.
Luck should be back playing soon but that rustiness might take some time. Try not to judge.
7 (6) Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints
He keeps on clinging to the top of that cliff, aye? Thing is, Breezy could still be top five here if he really wanted it but then he’d have to be a bit more of the bad guy and he doesn’t seem like the type. The Saints are not great and have been not great for several years now – three straight 7-9 seasons keeping the out of the playoffs since 2013. That’s not terrible but given they’ve got one of the finest quarterbacks of his generation still throwing incredible numbers despite some pretty average weapons around him, that’s not really the ideal outcome either.
In the last six seasons Brees has thrown at least 4870 yards every time and the only reason he was that low in 2015 was because he missed a game. He’s 38 years old now but just bagged 5208 with 37 touchdowns last season. Now, Breezy always does things by maximum. The Saints haven’t had a good defence since they won the Super Bowl so max damage on Brees’ part is essential. But not everyone can do that – you don’t see Blake Bortles doing things like Brees, that’s for damn sure.
Here is the complete list of players with 5000 yard seasons:
- Peyton Manning (2013) – 5477
- Drew Brees (2011) – 5476
- Tom Brady (2011) – 5235
- Drew Brees (2016) – 5208
- Drew Brees (2012) – 5177
- Drew Brees (2013) – 5162
- Dan Marino (1984) – 5084
- Drew Brees (2008) – 5069
- Matthew Stafford (2011) – 5038
Brees has five of the nine, including four of the top six. He continues to produce like that despite it all and it’s hard not to wonder if he’d forced his way out of the Saints a year or two ago that he might even have room for another Super Bowl run. He could have too – but he signed a one-year cheapo deal in the offseason to help the Saints through some salary cap issues. Once you do that, all cards are on the table. Just a matter of how many years the Saints give him on his next contract.
There are reasons to be optimistic though. Michael Thomas had a superb rookie season and he might be the best WR Brees has worked with in years. A few of their latest draft haul could emerge decent too, particularly on defence – this is a pretty young team these days. Plus, of course, they still have Drew Brees.
6 (2) Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers
Rose all the way up to second with his MVP season but drops back a few spots after the one that followed. It’s only fair. He possibly shoulda dropped further but you can’t blame him for all of his troubles when that roster was so flawed around him. Frankly when you get hit as often as Newton does then you’re asking for trouble. Part of that is Newton’s fault, he hangs around outside the pocket with the ball in hand too much, part of that is the refs not calling shots they ought to (that was a big thing for a while, remember?) and part is a dead-average O-Line.
The franchise has looked to solve that by giving him a proper rush game through rookie running back Christian McCaffrey and also a faster slot receiver in rookie wideout Curtis Samuel. It’s not a fool-proof plan given that Newton’s strengths are as a play-action rusher and a deep thrower and his accuracy over short distances isn’t the greatest but variety is key. Show a genuine threat through and over the middle and those other options open right back up again.
Which is why a man whose stats were as ugly as these can still be the sixth best quarterback in the league. Dunno if it’ll come anywhere near the success of 2015 but I’m picking a resurgent year for Super Cam.
Cam Newton 2015: 16 G | 59.8% COMP | 3837 YDS | 35 TD | 10 INT | 1 MVP
Cam Newton 2016: 15 G | 52.9% COMP | 3509 YDS | 19 TD | 14 INT | 0 MVP
5 (5) Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers
If you’re one of those people who care about that old cliché: ‘The Elite’, then this is about where that tier begins. The top five in the business, the five blokes that dominate their vocation like nobody else. Except that it’s a fluid thing and Cam Newton could be back up here next time, Dak Prescott might make that rise, Andrew Luck too. Okay, Luck’s got other things to worry about but that’s cool too because it’s an irrelevant distinction.
Big Ben is coming back for year 14 and his continued success is pretty insane considering all the hits he’s taken, all the injuries he’s suffered. You get this thing when you’re a quarterback like Roeth where people applaud you for taking shots and getting back up. You’re a tough guy. Except that those hits have an effect and in the last few years Ben seems to have adjusted his game slightly to avoid them. But he still throws arguably the best deep ball in the NFL and with Antonio Brown running down for them that’s a stunning weapon. Martavis Bryant is back from suspension too although Le’Veon Bell’s contract situation is a bit of a distraction.
The suggestion from Roethlisberger has been that this could be his final season before retirement. He had to talk it over with his wife as to whether he came back at all but having gone down to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game last time and with possibly his most talented and dynamic offence he’s ever had it was a tad too tempting not to.
4 (3) Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks
Is it fair to say that Rusty’s a bit underrated these days? 2016 was his worst as a pro but he’s surely got more money in the bank than people are giving him credit for – remember how good he was in that stretch the season before? Dude was bloody flawless for like two full months.
Nah, Wilson’s suffering a bit of fatigue among the experts and part of that is down to a weakened Seahawks team which has never recovered from not offering Jarryd Hayne a contract… either that or all their Legion of Boom lads coming up for contract extensions over the course of a couple seasons and having to let a few of them go. Also there was that one horror game he had in Green Bay where he threw five picks. Yeah that wasn’t good.
But consider this: if you take that game out of his stats then his remaining 15 games account for a 65.3% completion rate, 3979 passing yards, 20 TDs and only another 6 INTs. His interception percentage would go from 13th in the league (unlucky for some) all the way up to sixth. Gotta get those other offensive numbers up there considering the push and pull between offence and defence in Seattle, Pete Carroll looking to balance things back up, but give him an O-Line worth a dollar and he will.
3 (10) Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons
Had to slide this bloke all the way up, even if it’s only for this one time. I mean, did you see how good he was last year!? Shoulda won the Super Bowl even, though it’s probably best not to bring that one up in his company again. To be fair, Ryan had the best QB Rating for a losing player in a Super Bowl so fair play on his part at least.
Having always been Matty Ice, he needed a proper season to establish himself amongst the league’s finest and with 2015 having probably been his worst since the first two years of his career that made 2016 something of a defining campaign for him. And the bloke could not have responded better (okay, short of winning the Super Bowl).
Matt Ryan’s MVP Season: 16 G | 69.9% COMP | 4944 YDS | 38 TD | 7 INT | 117.1 RATE
Then in the playoffs he was even better!
Matt Ryan’s 2016 Playoffs: 3 G | 71.4% COMP | 1014 YDS | 9 TD | 0 INT | 135.3 RATE
Now clearly Matty Ice isn’t about to repeat that feat again this time. Back to back seasons of that standard simply don’t happen and he’s bound to see plenty more pressure from the genius defensive coordinators out there. But, like… what’s the argument that he’s gonna get so much worse? I know there are buggers out there who still don’t believe but it’s hard to fathom why. Even an average QB is gonna do well with Julio Jones to throw to and Devonta Freeman coming off back to back 1000+ rush yard seasons too. This is the NFL’s best offence and they’ve not gotten much worse while their defence, with some clever drafting and free agent work, should be plenty better.
2 (1) Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
Wait, what’s this!? Aaron Rodgers at two! Yeah well that’s what you get when you only throw 40 touchdowns in a season while also throwing a monstrosity of seven interceptions. Yeah, nah, there’s nothing wrong with Aaron Rodgers. The chat last season about his family estrangement and some potentially complacent play was blasted by a Don’t Panic stretch for the ages as Rodgers led the Packers to six from six to close the regular season, edging them on into the playoffs where they took it to the NFC Championship game.
Over those six games, Rodgers did this:
6 G | 71.0% COMP | 1667 YDS | 15 TD | 0 INT | 121.0 RATE
He said it too. They were 4-6 and under huge pressure and with a microphone or twenty shoved in his face he uttered these words: “I feel like we can run the table, I really do” … and they bloody did it. They ran that table right into the ground.
So, no, there can be no underestimating the brilliance of Aaron Rodgers entering the 2016 season. It may have been six years since his Super Bowl appearance but every campaign in which Rodgers is healthy and playing is one in which the Green Bay Packers can win it all. It’s just that there was this other chap who edged him out for first this time, is all.
1 (4) Tom Brady – New England Patriots
Look, it had to happen. Aaron Rodgers has dominated this thing every year but not acknowledging the continued greatness of Tom Brady would be criminal. Do I appreciate watching the Patriots win Super Bowl after Super Bowl? No. I do not. Those spy-gating, deflating bastards can go take a running jump for all I care. But even as he hits the age that most QBs are retired by if not at least declining by, Brady remains as brilliant as ever. His arm strength was supposedly deteriorating a couple years ago and now look at him.
It’s no coincidence. Brady lives and breathes football like nobody else, he treats his body like a temple and works harder than anyone else… plus he has Bill Belichick to constantly challenge him. You can talk about an athlete’s sacrifices but Brady tops the NFL just like LeBron tops the NBA – they’re the best because they do the most, in and out of the sporting arena.
That four game suspension ended up being a blessing in a way for Brady. As much as he must’ve hated having to sit out he was also four games fresher going into the big one and it’s not like they were losing without him either. What Brady did when he returned, however, was inconceivable.
28 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. Twenty-eight to two. A full 16 games at the level he was throwing would’ve netted him these numeros:
16 G | 67.4% COMP | 4738 YDS | 37 TD | 3 INT | 112.2 RATE
Technically that’s slightly worse overall than what Matt Ryan did in winning MVP but so as you know the only players in history with a lower interception percentage over a season than what Brady just did are Damon Huard (2006 w/KC) and Josh McCown (2013 w/CHI) and as you might have guessed they each played a lot fewer games with a lot fewer pass attempts and way less TDs.
Brady, 2017: 0.5% INT | 432 ATT | 28 TD
Huard, 2006: 0.4% INT | 244 ATT | 11 TD
McCown, 2013: 0.4% INT | 224 ATT | 11 TD
And the other two jokers threw a combined 27 picks in their following seasons too. Point being that Brady walks where no other quarterback has ever been before. He’s that good and there’s no reason to think he’s about to stop just coz he can fill an entire hand up with Super Bowl rings now.
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