The NFL is a quarterback league. That is clear no matter where one looks. The data suggests the position is the most critical in professional sports. But on an even simpler level, look at network television and sports talk radio.
Every narrative begins and ends with quarterback play. Even the best quarterbacks in the NFL are not free from criticism.
2023 QB Power Rankings
While we don’t want to be rash in our decisions about how we view these quarterbacks in the macro, a “power ranking” is about the micro. They are more about the here and now. While perceived talent remains important, performance so far in 2023 will be weighed heavier.
32) Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers
Bryce Young has the lowest yards per attempt (5.2) mark in the NFL and the second-worst adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A, 3.4). According to Sports Info Solutions, only Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, and Kenny Pickett throw a higher rate of uncatchable passes. And it is very clear that right now, the game is moving way too fast for the first overall pick.
His receivers certainly aren’t helping the cause much. Only Adam Thielen has found a way to produce, and he is doing so despite being the opposite of quick at this point of his career. There are certainly flashes of ability on his tape, but he’s far from a finished product at this point.
31) Mac Jones, New England Patriots
“No matter how good of cook you are, you cannot make garbage taste good.”
That is very true about many quarterbacks in the NFL. However, most quarterbacks in the NFL have the skill set to make an Arnold Palmer out of lemons every once in a while. Unfortunately for Jones, his lack of athleticism and overall arm talent leaves him lost in his poor environment.
While sometimes receivers and runners are responsible for interceptions, assigning turnover-worthy plays accounts for things like receiver drops and slips. Nobody in the league has more turnover-worthy plays through five weeks than Jones.
30) Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Zach Wilson remains heart-attack-inducing on the football field. Every time he drops back to pass, we’re left praying to whatever god we prefer that the New York Jets maintain possession of the ball.
Against the Denver Broncos, some people were left pleading with their computer monitor for Nathaniel Hackett to run the ball late in the game and live to see a field goal.
The Patrick Surtain II interception was the Jets’ Icarus moment. They were flying too close to the sun, and it ended up melting their wax wings.
29) Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Daniel Jones is in an impossible situation. However, independent of that impossible situation, Jones isn’t helping himself out. All quarterbacks must know their outlets. They must understand their hots.
The New York Giants offensive line is a mess, Mike Kafka and Brian Daboll are trying to provide answers, and Jones is still blindly circling in C on the test.
28) Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers
Jones is missing pressures and taking unnecessary sacks, but Kenny Pickett is seeing ghosts, trying to create in unnecessary situations, and running himself into pressures and poor decisions. Pickett’s sloppy decision-making is clear even in the broadcast film.
However, despite all of that, he led a fantastic final drive to beat the Baltimore Ravens. That drive encapsulates why the Pittsburgh Steelers fell in love with the former Pitt QB. He just needs to play with that attitude all of the time.
27) Sam Howell, Washington Commanders
Sam Howell is so much fun to watch play football. On any given play, he can spin a 25-yard dig on the dot, hold the ball for seven seconds, try to create something from nothing, and end up fumbling the football to the other team.
There is a whole lot to like about Howell. He is some kind of combination between Taylor Heinicke and Baker Mayfield. Is that going to be good enough to lead an NFL team in the long term?
Maybe, and maybe not. But it certainly is not unless he’s able to speed up his process and make more consistent decisions to help his OL.
26) Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers
One simply cannot throw three interceptions against a team that’s had only seven in the past 21 games and remain in the middle of the pack among NFL QBs. He also has the second-worst completion percentage over expected (CPOE) in the league through five weeks, mostly because of how much he’s struggling to complete passes downfield.
25) Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns
Watson didn’t play in Week 4, and the Cleveland Browns had a bye last week. It’s been some time now, but he is still coming off of his best performance since becoming a Brown. If he can keep up at that pace, this team can legitimately compete in the AFC North.
24) Joshua Dobbs, Arizona Cardinals
Joshua Dobbs has finally started showing the warts that have kept him from being an NFL starter for his entire career. The Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive front made him speed up his process, and things didn’t go well for him.
Despite having a bad day at the offense, there is still a lot to like about Dobbs and the Arizona Cardinals’ offensive structure. The offense has done a nice job of setting him up for success, but his quick-wittedness has helped the offense stay on schedule.
23) Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Speaking of coming off outstanding performances, Justin Fields got to play against Jack Del Rio’s defense! DJ Moore is as advertised, and Fields did an outstanding job of hitting the “layups” given to him by the Washington secondary.
He’s always been a great downfield passer, and Chicago was schematically able to take a shot against Washington.
22) Jimmy Garoppolo, Las Vegas Raiders
Jimmy Garoppolo is what he has always been, but now he’s in a much less ideal situation. Davante Adams is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, but the offensive line is playing inconsistently, and the Las Vegas Raiders are not as schematically flush as the San Francisco 49ers.
Garoppolo’s inability to create when things break down has always been evident. He’s also been prone to making mind-numbing decisions from time to time when he is pressured. With six interceptions in only four outings, it seems the veteran QB may be over his head in Las Vegas.
21) Gardner Minshew, Indianapolis Colts
Gardner Minshew isn’t someone you’ll win a Super Bowl with. He’s not even really someone you’d expect to make the playoffs with, even in a good situation. But as a backup QB or spot starter, he is everything you could ever want.
Pressure can get to him just like anyone else, but he does an outstanding job keeping the offense on schedule. Additionally, his experience with Shane Steichen has made for a seamless transition multiple times so far mid-game in 2023.
20) Desmond Ridder, Atlanta Falcons
Desmond Ridder stood in front of his bathroom mirror at midnight with the lights off and chanted, “Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Tannehill,” three times the night before the game.
Kyle Pitts and Drake London combined for 20 targets, and each caught over half of the targets coming their way.
Ridder was the best version of himself against the Houston Texans, including on the final drive, where he called London’s number down after down until the Atlanta Falcons were in field goal range to win the game.
If Ridder can build off of that performance, the Falcons will have a real chance of winning the NFC South.
19) Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos
Have we all calmed down yet now that Russell Wilson and the Broncos offense aren’t getting schedule candy playing defenses like Las Vegas, Washington, Miami, or Chicago?
Wilson’s issue has never been about making throws. He even made a few against the Jets. And while New York was down a few defensive backs during the game, he still made plays. That’s why he’s still inside of the top 20.
His final play encapsulates the issues with Wilson. And Matty F. Brown did a nice job explaining it.
Overload line mugged. Broncos in 5 man slide protection.
Can do things to fix this pre and post snap. Pretty clear Wilson never saw the free rusher come off the edge. Put back in. Or maybe site adjustment/throwing hot (look at the RB stick his hand up)pic.twitter.com/PNdKaL8kXw
— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) October 8, 2023
The finer points of QB play are lacking with Wilson. He is the antithesis of Drew Brees, whom Payton coached for well over a decade. The creation ability is still somewhat there, and his downfield passing remains sublime, but playing quarterback is incredibly detailed, and he’s playing it on 480p.
18) Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
On the flip side, Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans’ passing attack is usually more intermediate. But the Indianapolis Colts took most of that away, and Tanehill’s passing chart looked more like a Garoppolo chart than anything he’s ever produced.
But like Wilson, there are finer points of playing quarterback that Tannehill simply struggles with. Those issues have always kept him out of the top-10 QB conversation, even when he was producing top-five efficiency numbers with Arthur Smith.
17) Derek Carr, New Orleans Saints
Derek Carr’s shoulder still isn’t right. Much of the work he did against the New England Patriots came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Aside from that, Carr has provided us with more than enough opportunities to get a good feel for his game.
There are times he can be as clutch as anyone late in games, but he is often gunshy in his approach.
16) Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mayfield got a week off with the rest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he probably didn’t want that yet. He’s been an absolute menace on third and fourth down so far in 2023.
He has an adjusted EPA of .532 (first), a success rate of 54.9% (first), and a CPOE of 20.3 (first) on third and fourth downs in 2023.
However, we’ve seen a similar story once before with Carson Wentz, who in 2017 had similarly unsustainable splits between early and late-down heroics. It will be fascinating to see if Mayfield’s playmaking prowess continues to yield such positive results without the regression wall hitting him like a Mack truck.
15) Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow looked better in Week 5 than he has so far in 2023. He appeared more mobile than the previous weeks, and the Bengals’ passing attack was lightyears better than it’s been at any point previously this season.
But it’s still not right. The offensive line is still an issue, and Burrow doesn’t have enough mobility back to be the QB that made him the highest-paid player in NFL history.
Until that calf is 100% and Tee Higgins is healthy on the field again, this passing attack will lean heavily on Ja’Marr Chase producing 150-yard days.
14) Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Kirk Cousins is about as established as it gets in the NFL. With such a substantial track record, there isn’t much we can say that hasn’t been said already. At his peak performance, Cousins is a top-ten passer in the NFL, despite being part of the dying pocket passer breed.
We’re going to see things get really difficult for him without Justin Jefferson on the field for what could be an extended period.
13) C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans
C.J. Stroud did everything except win the game against the Falcons. The rookie quarterback led Houston down the field on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that lasted over five minutes to take the lead from Atlanta.
Stroud once again looked sharp passing the ball and has yet to throw an INT. He broke Dak Prescott’s record of 176 attempts without one to start a career.
12) Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Prescott had been efficient, if not unexplosive, to start the season. He leveled up when he had to on third downs, but the rest of his game and the Cowboys passing attack, in general, left a lot to be desired.
After the San Francisco 49ers game, it’s pretty clear that Mike McCarthy’s offense has blacked out the middle of the field because even when the looks are there, Prescott isn’t attacking there.
That’s a problem because that is inarguably where Prescott is most dangerous. The problem is that danger goes both ways. But playing cowardly football is how a team gets its doors blown off by a good team.
11) Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
Matthew Stafford is so back. The Rams QB now has two best friends to split the ball to in Sean McVay’s offense, and he couldn’t look happier doing it. He isn’t performing at the efficiency levels this team found in 2021, but his playmaking ability has returned with a vengeance in 2023.
10) Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles passing attack might finally be getting something going. They finally returned to form against the Los Angeles Rams, using Dallas Goedert often as a manufactured touch guy around the line of scrimmage.
But Hurts and A.J. Brown are finally back in lock-step with one another. While things still aren’t Carlos Santana smooth, they are improving.
9) Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
Jared Goff is the more naturally talented version of Jones in New England and Garoppolo in Las Vegas. Goff needs a good environment around him to maximize his performance, and that’s exactly what he’s getting in Detroit.
Ben Johnson is an outstanding offensive coordinator, the offensive line rocks, and Amon-Ra St. Brown and Sam LaPorta are perfect for the middle-of-field attacking Goff.
8) Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks
Geno Smith and the Seattle Seahawks got a week off to recover in Week 5. Smith ranked fifth in success rate and ninth in CPOE entering the bye. The only problem is the same as it was a season ago.
The Seahawks offense lacks explosion in a way an offense with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett shouldn’t. They rank just 15th in EPA.
7) Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence has been awesome in 2023. Numbers Never Lie was canceled for a reason. Sometimes, numbers lie. They lie their arse off. Anybody who has turned on the Jacksonville Jaguars tape this season has seen Lawrence playing the position at an incredibly high level.
His poise, presence, and placement are incredible. When the offense avoids shooting itself in the foot, they are tough to stop.
6) Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers
Brock Purdy has been a hot topic over the past week or so. The conversation surrounding quarterbacks like Purdy or even Tua Tagovailoa is complicated.
Purdy doesn’t possess the same physical gifts as Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, or Josh Allen. His arm is underwhelming, and although he is mobile, he isn’t a true rushing threat.
We also can’t ignore that his draft slot will hold him back for quite some time regarding his national narrative. But it’s impossible to argue how impressive he’s been since becoming the 49ers starter, and he appears to only be improving with each game.
Are things easy for him in San Francisco’s offense? Absolutely. Does he also make high-caliber reads and throws that separate him from Shanahan’s former QB in San Francisco? Also, yes.
Purdy can create. He pushed the ball downfield and gave the offense another layer of explosiveness aside from the YAC they consistently found before his arrival.
5) Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Then, there are the physical freaks (and Tua) that make up the top five. It turns out that replacing Joe Lombardi with Kellen Moore appears to be as much of an upgrade as most anticipated. Herbert is without Mike Williams and is still sixth in EPA and ninth in success rate.
He is using his extreme physical gifts to push the ball downfield, unlike in past years.
4) Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Anybody blaming Jackson for the loss against the Steelers either didn’t watch the game or has a complete and utter lack of ball knowledge. The interception wasn’t his finest moment. Testing a 6’2″ cornerback on a back-shoulder throw that ended up too far inside was never going to turn out well.
Jackson’s receivers didn’t want to catch the football against Pittsburgh. Jackson is still fifth in dropback success rate on the season, and his passing from the pocket in 2023 has taken a huge leap forward.
3) Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills couldn’t come away with a win against the Jaguars in a difficult environment overseas. Allen wasn’t as sharp as he’d been over the previous three weeks, but he still played at a high level overall.
2) Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Tagovailoa had his worst outing of the season, and yet he still threw for over 300 yards, completed over 70% of his passes, and threw two touchdowns.
Although he lacks the physical capabilities of other quarterbacks, his anticipation and accuracy take the Miami Dolphins’ passing attack to a level that cannot be matched.
1) Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the world on two feet, and he’s the second-best quarterback in the world on one foot.
Even though he is playing at less than 100%, he is still an unbelievable playmaker both in and out of structure.