Week 3 was one of the more frustrating NFL-watching experiences for the casual fan, given how many marquee matchups fell flat and how little we learned from teams who were supposedly going to teach us quite a bit.
Not much has changed since the conclusion of Week 2, but that does allow us to focus a little bit on what the Baltimore Ravens are doing with Lamar Jackson. After, we’ll get to all the different QB ranking tiers throughout the league and see who’s where heading into Week 4.
NFL QB Rankings: A deeper dive with Lamar Jackson
On the field, the results are magnificent. Jackson is number two in expected points per dropback, number one in adjusted net yards per attempt, number one in big-time throw rate, number two in big-time throws minus turnover-worthy plays… and he can run the ball better than anyone else, too.
On top of that, his receivers have had the seventh-highest drop rate in the NFL, so his production doesn’t even reflect how well he’s playing.
This is all possible in part due to their willingness to let Jackson be aggressive. One of the benefits of having a strong runner at quarterback is the ability to functionally play with an extra receiver.
If a team keeps six in to block and sends four receivers on deep routes, that generally clears out the middle of the field. If those four receivers aren’t open, Jackson can scramble for additional yardage.
In essence, his legs are in the progression.
That would be a big efficiency boost for any offense, even if the quarterback could only get three yards on those runs. Sending more receivers downfield for bigger gains when things are working well already has efficiency benefits, but when those receivers aren’t open, it’s no longer an 80 percent chance of a four-yard gain but a 100 percent chance of a three-yard gain – meaning the offense stays ahead of schedule and can keep the chains moving.
But Jackson isn’t getting three yards on his scrambles. He’s averaging 9.2 yards a carry on scrambles, which is somehow more efficient than his throwing – already more efficient than the other quarterbacks in the league.
And on designed runs, he’s averaging 12.3 yards a carry. This is why the Ravens have been the only team in the league to consistently produce a running game that adds expected points. Generally speaking, the run game is a complement to the passing game and loses points every play.
What does this mean?
That doesn’t mean teams should run the ball less (though they probably should) but rather that teams take on the cost of running the ball in order to accomplish some second-order goals that might help them win.
That might mean draining the clock or setting up explosives, like play-action or a jet sweep. It might be to tire out a particular defensive lineman or the whole defensive unit. It could be to punish a light box. These can have long-term game effects that translate into more wins but means that the short-term cost is to lose some points.
But the Ravens get to do all of that while still generating value in field position. It’s an almost unholy combination. This is why he can generate such a high first-down percentage despite passing for the second-deepest passing attack in the NFL. With a below-average completion rate — made up for by the sheer yardage — the amount of first downs he can produce in the air is limited.
With a top-ten first down rate and the highest rate of yards per play, Jackson can lead both an explosive and consistent offense, something that we rarely get to see even in the modern NFL.
And all of it is happening while Jackson is in the last year of his contract with the team.
There are so many reasons that not having an agent has disadvantaged him throughout the process – he’s had to suspend negotiations as the season started, something an agent wouldn’t have to do – and he could be missing out on minutiae like the value of putting in likely to be earned incentives versus unlikely to be earned incentives and how that impacts his payout.
But it does mean he gets to pocket the full contract value. Seeking out a high guaranteed total value also means that those details that might make an agent more valuable will matter a great deal less.
On top of that, he is in contact with advisors who are familiar with these contracts, so he’s not flying blind. But it’s an interesting approach that might have hurt him. As of right now, the Ravens are the ones looking kind of dumb not locking him down sooner.
NFL QB Rankings | Tier 1: Elite
Elite quarterbacks are self-explanatory. Teams build around them, fans tune in to watch them, and they win games through the sheer force of their talent. Games are almost never over when they’re at the helm.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
The Bills probably have the best team in the NFL, and a heat and injury-induced loss against the Dolphins probably isn’t changing that. Allen has the highest “usage” rate of any quarterback in the NFL and is still producing top-three efficiency in nearly every metric, including the rushing metrics.
There’s some noise that the Bills are winless in one-score games since 2021, and this somehow reflects on Allen — it doesn’t.
The Bills have had the fewest wins in one-score games in that span and also have had the fewest one-score games of any team in that span — because they keep winning by double digits (they have four more two-score game wins than the second-ranked team, 13 to 9).
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
It is not a down year for Patrick Mahomes, who leads the league in expected points added per dropback. But it certainly doesn’t feel like an up year. He’s a little more prone to turnovers and a little less likely to produce big plays, but he still showcases unerring creativity, arm talent, and accuracy. He’s Patrick Mahomes.
Lamar Jackson, Ravens
Imagine how productive Jackson would be with a league-average skill corps and offensive line group. Mark Andrews is great, but beyond that, the Ravens could help him out a little bit more. Even without them, though, he’s producing better than anyone else in the NFL.
Tier 2a: Over the Hill?
It would have been nice to dissolve this tier after seeing some more play from the quarterbacks in question and getting to make a definitive statement on whether or not they’re washed up.
But we didn’t really get definitively bad or good performances from them this week, so the tier stays up until we get more answers.
For now, the best I can do is change the tier number to make it clear that I don’t think it’s clear that the quarterbacks in the next tier are any worse than the quarterbacks in this tier.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
He looked great in the first couple of drives against the Buccaneers but then took a step back. It was never anything that rose to the level of liability, but it’s notable that the Packers – despite an elite running game – couldn’t put the game away while they held the Buccaneers to six points until the final drive.
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Without his receivers or his offensive line, it’s difficult to tell if Tom Brady is declining or if he’s just being let down by the talent around him.
The production isn’t all there, but he’s been accurate and has showcased good decision-making. We’ll see what happens when Mike Evans and Chris Godwin return to the lineup.
Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos
The Broncos scored 11 points against the 49ers, and two of those points were on defense. Had his performance in the fourth quarter been his level of play for the rest of the game, we might be able to call him a big asset at quarterback.
Had the opposite been the case, we might be further along the way to calling him washed up. But that’s not what happened, so we’re here in a holding pattern to see if Wilson can unlock what made him such an attractive trade candidate in the first place.
Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
Stafford was pretty good against an awful Cardinals defense, and he looked like his old self. But we need to be aware of what he was up against and how much space he was throwing into.
Personally, I’m confident that he’s back, but it just makes sense to wait and see what happens when he goes up against a more cohesive defensive unit.
NFL QB Rankings | Tier 2b: On alert
Players in this tier have seen a fairly recent significant change in their level of play, whether that’s due to a developmental leap, a change in environment, or injury. As a result, it’s difficult to tell how much of their rise or fall is a product of something fluky or more permanent.
Because of that, they are in a sort of temporary holding tier until we learn more about them. They are not necessarily better or worse than players in the Over the Hill tier, but there are different circumstances surrounding them.
Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
When healthy, Herbert is unquestionably elite. At the moment, without a good chunk of his offense and damaged ribs, he’s playing well below that level, but above the level of most quarterbacks.
The production numbers aren’t great – he ranks seventh to 23rd in various production metrics, and some of that is on him rather than his supporting cast. It’s also clear that his injury is holding him back, and if he continues to play at this level, this version of Justin Herbert isn’t an “elite” player.
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Maybe it’s being overly cautious to put Hurts here. The Eagles have a fairly easy schedule going forward, so one would hope he can continue to produce, but it’s worth noting that Hurts is right now the most or second-most productive quarterback in the NFL behind Jackson. It’s wonderful that he has a great supporting cast but making the most out of that circumstance is what elite quarterbacks do.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Tagovailoa is in the same circumstance as Hurts, though has played tougher opponents, at least on paper. Both have relatively weak histories entering the year, so it makes sense to wait a while before declaring either of them elite, but the level of play they’ve showcased thus far is certainly exciting.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Burrow’s performance against the Jets was a bit of a get-back moment for him, but we still need to see some more consistency before putting him in an elite tier or some other tier between elite and high-level system quarterbacks. Still, it’s nice to see.
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Late-game heroics are becoming a bit too common for Murray, who might rather see the offensive be productive from the get-go. A week removed after his stunning two-point conversion, we now get to absorb the full-game struggles from the Cardinals and what that might mean for evaluating Murray.
The defense is a liability, but Murray is not pulling weight as an elite quarterback, vacillating somewhere in between high-level explosive playmaker and volatile hero-ball specialist.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Lawrence was always better than the box score indicated in Jacksonville, and the latest beatdown the Jaguars put over the Chargers emphasizes that fact.
He’s not elite yet, but he’s doing a lot with a little and showcasing the subtle details that separate great quarterbacks from good.
Tier 3: System enablers
Last week, there was a fair amount of criticism for grouping together all the quarterbacks whose hopes ride more on the talent around them than their individual ability to overcome those circumstances, and that makes some sense.
These quarterbacks can often be the same type of quarterback and demand similar team-building strategies, but there are some you’d rather have in the building over others.
In essence, this is the difference between two drivers of high-performance cars – one has mastered stick-shift, and the other only knows how to drive automatic. The car still goes pretty fast, but one is a smoother and more efficient experience.
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
A high-level system quarterback, Cousins hasn’t played at a high level in the past two weeks but might be able to prove himself against an underrated Saints defense. The comeback against the Lions was nice, but like with Wilson, it would have been nice to see that level of play earlier in the game.
Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
We finally saw more of the quarterback that had led the way in efficiency numbers not too long ago, though he’s still more a product of executing an excellent system than he is one who carries the team. The struggles early in the season are still worth consideration, too.
Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
Carr was a pretty big liability against the Titans, so we may be acting a little too generously putting him here, but we know what he’s capable of and that he can become a more aggressive thrower. The skill players are there, he just needs to produce.
Tier 4: System dependent
This group of quarterbacks is also highly dependent on their supporting cast but can produce wins in a good environment. They will move a team forward that has a solid supporting group but won’t do much more than that.
Jacoby Brissett, Cleveland Browns
It’s a rushing offense, and Brissett is there to take advantage of some of the friendlier passing looks that that provides. He’s doing a pretty decent job of that, and this upcoming slate of opponents should help him look even better.
Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks
Smith is playing decisively and accurately, though he did make some mistakes against Atlanta. His play-to-play performance has largely been helpful, and the film shows a prototypical caretaker quarterback. Still, if he plays as he did in Week 3 going forward, he could drop a tier.
Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
At the very least, he’s not holding the Lions back, which would have been a weird sentence to say three years ago.
Mac Jones, New England Patriots
Before his ankle injury, Jones wasn’t playing all that well and might have even gotten lucky with picks despite throwing three of them. But that was an uncharacteristic performance that had him play well outside of his preferred playing style. When in rhythm and in sync, he can play distributor to a good offense very well.
NFL QB Rankings | Tier 5: Carried
This tier of quarterbacks doesn’t generally tank things for their team, but they certainly don’t push a good team to get good results on a consistent basis. When they win, much of it has to do with how well that team set them up more than anything else.
Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
It might be unfair to put Garoppolo here given how he didn’t interact with the team during practices this offseason, and he’s a timing-and-chemistry type quarterback.
But he panicked early and made bad decisions – and as a point guard type player, he cannot be caught making bad decisions. He could easily move up a tier or even two as he refamiliarizes with the offense and its players.
Joe Flacco, New York Jets
The Jets may be able to play Zach Wilson this week instead of Flacco, and that could mean we get to see what this offense looks like with a player the team really wants to be aggressive with.
Seeing Flacco try to be more aggressive resulted in a disastrous outing against Cincinnati, though he was more efficient when operating at his own pace for the two weeks prior.
Cooper Rush, Dallas Cowboys
Maybe Brissett wasn’t going to push Deshaun Watson for a starting job. Obviously, it was supposed to be Cooper Rush who caused controversy with his level of play. He’s benefiting a lot from what Dallas has put together around him, but it is easy to overrate that supporting cast.
Davis Mills, Houston Texans
Victimized by drops more than almost any other quarterback in the NFL, Mills is playing better than his numbers. But the numbers are pretty bad, and he gets easily bullied by the blitz. If he could be more aggressive without losing his ability to avoid turnover-worthy plays, he’d actually be a big asset.
Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
Perhaps a healthy Winston does more than what he’s been able to – his performance in a clean pocket with good timing is actually pretty impressive. But the back injury may be exacerbating what pressure can do, and it’s taking too much off of his arm. For now, he’s almost hurting his team.
Marcus Mariota, Atlanta Falcons
Drake London, Kyle Pitts, and Cordarrelle Patterson are absolutely fun skill position players to build around, and Mariota even occasionally finds ways to enable them. We haven’t seen him play with this level of aggression in his career, even going back to Oregon. But it’s also a poor fit of playing style, and it has come back to bite them more often than not.
Mitchell Trubisky, Pittsburgh Steelers
Already looking much better than he did during his time in Chicago, Trubisky has played like a competent quarterback who can get the most out of the players around him. But the cracks are starting to show, and his inability to throw over the middle or play with consistent accuracy means he can’t always do that.
Tier 6: Liabilities
These quarterbacks are actively hurting their team. Because it’s so hard to find quarterbacks in the NFL, it’s not as if these players are playing below replacement level.
But maybe they should have traded for Garoppolo when the 49ers first put him on the market.
Matt Ryan, Indianapolis Colts
It hurts to put Ryan here given how strong and underrated his career was. But it’s just not working in Indianapolis, and it’s hard to blame the receivers or offensive line for all of it. Ryan is somehow seeing the field worse, and his arm isn’t helping him make the throws he needs to make.
Carson Wentz, Washington Commanders
Just get rid of the ball, man. Please.
Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Jones has his moments, like during some of the more interesting moments on Monday Night against Dallas. But mostly, he over-relies on a short passing game that isn’t giving the team production dividends, and there’s the lurking fear of the fumble in the background of every snap.
Baker Mayfield, Carolina Panthers
It turns out that Mayfield’s collapse in Cleveland was less injury-related than it was skill related. At least that’s what it looks like so far; Mayfield plays with a lot of fire, but it’s pretty deflating to see a quarterback put his all out there to get out of a bad play only to throw it into the dirt.
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Fields doesn’t have to be the worst quarterback in the NFL – he may be substantially better. But he’s not playing like it right now, regardless of how much we want to blame Chicago for refusing to build around him.