Week 5 of NFL action has finally begun to help sort out team quality, though there’s still a long way to go in what seems to be a pretty mucky year when it comes to the level of NFL play. Still, we got some exciting quarterback performances and close games. Factoring in those performances, what are the NFL QB Power Rankings going into Week 6?
NFL QB Power Rankings: Are We Giving Geno Smith Enough Credit?
In our Week 5 NFL QB Power Rankings, we talked about the dominance Jalen Hurts has had over the rest of the league and his average ranks in key quarterback metrics. Included in the comparison rankings were eight other quarterbacks, seven of whom have generally been considered elite QBs this year or in recent history. The eighth was Geno Smith.
And he took the top spot this week.
Smith’s play, particularly in the last couple of weeks, has been a revelation. While most career backups posting good numbers are doing so as a result of high-YAC offenses, a play-action-heavy script and excellent play design. That’s what led to productive seasons or individual games for Nick Mullens, Gardner Minshew, Luke Falk, Mike White, C.J. Beathard, Teddy Bridgewater, Chase Daniel, and others.
But that’s not what Smith is doing. He’s making big plays, throwing all over the field, and hitting accurate throws in stride with his receivers. Smith looks like a starter who’s succeeding rather than a backup who’s getting lucky. Who knows if that will last, but for now, it’s very impressive.
Players like Smith who bounce around the league for a couple of teams and emerge as a starter-level player at age 30 or older are rare. Excluding those who spent significant time in the CFL like Warren Moon or Jeff Garcia, this would be a cohort of players that includes Brad Johnson, Trent Green, Tommy Maddox, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Josh McCown.
Smith’s Evolution Since the 2013 NFL Draft
Smith, who came from Dana Holgorsen’s West Virginia, came out of the NFL draft as a much better field reader than typically comes from those systems but had weaknesses as a deep and intermediate passer, with much more experience peppering short areas quickly.
The accuracy concerns surrounding Smith evidently came to bear with the Jets, where Smith ranked 35th and 27th in the NFL in completion rate, a rate that doesn’t improve much when accounting for depth of target or receiver drop rate.
Now, Smith is No. 1 in the league in completion rate over expected, which accounts for depth of target and defender positioning. Though he benefits from the team’s low drop rate, adjusting his completion rate for that fact still allows him to lead the league.
Right now, he’s playing as more of a gun-slinger and is the league leader in big-time throw rate all while maintaining a high but manageable turnover-worthy play rate. Smith’s not as careful as he was with the Jets as a decision-maker, but the higher risk is coming with more decisiveness and when paired with better accuracy is turning into exciting QB play.
There are signs of instability, and we should see Smith’s interception and sack rate go up while his big-play rate goes down, but for now, it’s impressive — and fundamentally, the NFL needs stories where players discarded for years end up as high-level starters. It’s fun to root for and fun to watch.
Now let’s break down some quarterback tiers. As a reminder, quarterbacks are not ranked within tiers, just across them.
NFL QB Power Rankings | Tier 1: Elite
Elite quarterbacks are what you think they are. They are perpetually in the running for the playoffs and lead their team to wins.
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes is having, for him, a down year. And it’s better than everyone else.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
For some reason, it’s not a big enough story of how absolutely dominant the Bills are. But they are, and Allen is a reason why.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
It was a poor showing for Jackson on national television, and he certainly hasn’t been the most consistent quarterback this year. But he’s a game-changing talent.
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
After finally inducting Hurts into the group of elite quarterbacks, he put up a clunker. But the movement from tiers shouldn’t be one-game affairs.
NFL QB Power Rankings | Tier 2: Game-Changers
Yes, I’m changing the name of this tier every week. But part of the reason I’m doing that is because it’s been long enough. Players with enough playing time aren’t in a holding pattern, they are who they are.
They are quarterbacks that do not dominate games the way elite ones do but have the potential to with a single play or single drive. They’re players who teams can win because of, but won’t overtake elite players without elite supporting casts.
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brady is very much in the camp of “if it works, it works.” Work smarter, not harder I guess.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers absolutely works harder not smarter. And sometimes that works too.
Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
This isn’t the Justin Herbert we saw last year, but he definitely has more than a few of those moments.
Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks
He’s had an incredible run as the starter this year and capped it off this week with a pair of once-a-year throws in the same game.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
It will be a little bit longer before we see Tagovailoa again, but he was tearing it up at an incredible pace before his absence.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Like Jackson, Lawrence put up a dud this week. That’s OK — the balance games this year show a high-level performer thus far.
NFL QB Power Rankings | Tier 3: JAG Officers
These players are more than “just a guy,” but they definitely aren’t “the guy.” They’ve been promoted within that group to be players who add wins to their roster, even if they’re at the mercy of the team around them.
Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
If there’s one thing Garoppolo knows how to do, it’s how to steer a Kyle Shanahan ship.
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
After playing at a very high level for a good chunk of the year, Cousins broke a franchise record for consecutive completions and started off the game 17 for 17. His next 17 throws saw seven incompletions and a pick.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
There’s no question he’s playing worse football than he was last year. But Burrow has his moments.
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Both Murray and Burrow are meeting the limits of their offensive head coaches and could do with some schematic help.
NFL QB Power Rankings | Tier 4: Just One Thing
In this NFL QB Power Rankings tier, these players are almost equivalent to the JAG Officers, but there’s just one thing holding them back, whether it’s a penchant for late-game decision-making or an arm just too weak to make the throws they want to. They’re close to being higher-level quarterbacks but can’t make the leap.
Andy Dalton, New Orleans Saints
He’s playing just enough like a starter to make you think there’s something there. It might be a trick.
Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
A Ryan Tannehill that makes decisions just a tick faster would be pretty good!
Jacoby Brissett, Cleveland Browns
Brissett isn’t throwing many big plays or creating turnovers, and this systemic approach mostly works. But every so often he just misses something on the field and a pick appears out of nowhere.
Cooper Rush, Dallas Cowboys
I didn’t expect to place Rush this high on the tier list, but he’s playing well. The problem is he’s trying to be Tom Brady when he should be Chad Pennington.
Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
The Carr we saw play against the Chiefs would be a tier higher. If only he could do that every game.
Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
Goff can largely manage an offense and certainly has a good handle on what to do when things are going according to plan. But once he gets punched in the mouth…
NFL QB Power Rankings | Tier 5: There’s Hope
These quarterbacks are, at the moment, hurting more than helping. But there’s something there that makes you think they could turn it on and become much better players. Just don’t count on it.
Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning and Brady took a little bit of time to fully come online when they switched franchises. So that’s something to consider, though I don’t think a similar story is likely.
Daniel Jones, New York Giants
The last few games have been fantastic for Jones, but it’s hard to believe he can maintain that level of success given his career.
Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
The hope is more based on last season than this season, because it’s getting rough. But it’s also not as bad as the play of some of his contemporaries.
Bailey Zappe, New England Patriots
It’s not bad stuff! It’s just not a lot of stuff.
Zach Wilson, New York Jets
After a nearly disastrous game against Pittsburgh, Wilson put together a clean one against the Dolphins.
Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers
We’ve seen one full game from Pickett. It wasn’t great, but you can see the path to make it great.
NFL QB Power Rankings | Tier 6: Pack It Up
Teams with quarterbacks in this tier either need to have a good reason to be patient or should be expected to move on sooner rather than later.
Baker Mayfield, Carolina Panthers
It’s tough to believe that a player with the 2020 season that Mayfield had is in the running to be the worst quarterback in the NFL, but there’s enough evidence to make a case.
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Any decision the Bears make with Fields this offseason — to stay with him or move on — is easy to justify. He looked alright against the Vikings.
Carson Wentz, Washington Commanders
Wentz is actually coming off of a good performance with a last-minute catastrophe, but most of his games this year don’t have even that.
Marcus Mariota, Atlanta Falcons
Maybe fans are wrong to call for Desmond Ridder to play, but it’s at least understandable.
Matt Ryan, Indianapolis Colts
Matt Ryan probably deserved a better coda to his career, but most people don’t get to choose how they end their time in the NFL. It’s probably over for him after the season.
Davis Mills, Houston Texans
It’s not that Mills is playing poorly, especially given the circumstances. It’s just that there’s no sense that he could play any better, which is why he’s in Tier 6 of this week’s NFL QB Power Rankings.