There is no position in football more important than quarterback.
I know. It’s a stunner.
Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Tom Brady and then promptly won the Super Bowl. Last year, the Los Angeles Rams traded for Matthew Stafford and then won Super Bowl LVI. The team they beat (the Cincinnati Bengals) drafted a young signal-caller named Joe Burrow the year before.
Most of the time, NFL teams will go as far as their quarterbacks take them.
It begs a question. Which squads are best positioned at the most important position? Which teams are in big trouble? And which ones enter the summer of 2022 mired in the gray area that is the in between?
Those are the questions this article will attempt to answer by combining past production, talent and future upside, with backups serving as a tiebreak of sorts, to rank all 32 quarterback corps from worst to first.
The top dogs shouldn’t surprise anyone. And frankly, neither should the league’s biggest mess.
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Starter: Geno Smith
Backups: Drew Lock, Jacob Eason
It’s hard to say what’s worse for the Seattle Seahawks, the uncertainty at quarterback or the fact that both options are essentially equally awful.
In one corner, there’s Geno Smith, the 2013 second-round pick of the New York Jets who spent the last two seasons backing up Russell Wilson. Head coach Pete Carroll said that Smith’s knowledge of the team’s offense offers him a leg up in the battle to be the Week 1 starter.
“Geno really has the package nailed,” Carroll told reporters.
In the other corner, there’s Drew Lock, who started 21 games for the Broncos over three years before joining the Seahawks in the trade that landed Russell Wilson in Denver.
“He’s hanging with Geno throughout all of this,” Carroll said. “We’re not holding anything back.”
Smith is a noodle-armed passer who topped 200 passing yards once in three starts last year. Lock has a bigger arm but seemingly little control over where his passes go. In 2020, he tied for the NFL lead with 15 interceptions.
Frankly, this is a competition in which there is no winner—except maybe Seattle’s opponents.
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Starter: Sam Darnold
Backups: Matt Corral, P.J. Walker
Remember when Sam Darnold was supposed to be good?
Yeah, fewer and fewer people do.
After three up-and-down seasons with the New York Jets, Darnold was traded to the Carolina Panthers last year. Unfortunately, his first season in Charlotte looked like his first three in New York. He completed 59.9 percent of his passes for 2,527 yards and nine touchdowns against 13 interceptions over 12 games (11 starts).
However, despite those struggles, Darnold told reporters at OTAs last week that he still thinks he can become one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
“As long as I know what we’re doing, what the defense is doing, I’m confident I can be one of the best quarterbacks in the league,” Darnold said.
Given that Darnold has completed 60 percent of his passes just once in four years with one 3,000-yard season and has barely more touchdowns (54) than interceptions (52) and a 17-32 record as a starter, it’s understandable if you don’t believe him.
With the Panthers trading up in this year’s draft to select Matt Corral of Ole Miss in the third round, it’s pretty clear that they don’t believe him either.
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Starter: Daniel Jones
Backups: Tyrod Taylor, Davis Webb
After the New York Giants used a first-round pick on Daniel Jones in 2019, there was promise and enthusiasm. By the end of his rookie year, Jones had earned the love of many fans and a nickname: Danny Dimes.
Since then, things have gotten steadily worse.
In his second season, Jones failed to hit 3,000 passing yards and had just 11 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Last year, his yardage dropped yet again to just 2,428. Over that two-year stretch, Jones won just nine of 25 starts.
Given that slide, it’s not a surprise that the Giants passed on Jones’ fifth-year option, making 2022 the final year of his rookie deal.
NFL Network analyst James Jones (h/t Dan Benton wrote of Giants Wire) is convinced that we’ve already seen enough from Jones to know what he is—and isn’t:
“Daniel Jones has showed us who he is. And I understand he hasn’t been on good football teams…We’ve seen him not take care of the football year after year after year. We see him make bad decisions year after year after year. He will come out and make some good plays, but I think we’ve seen the best of Daniel Jones. The Giants will be looking for a quarterback after this season.”
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Starter: Marcus Mariota
Backups: Desmond Ridder, Feleipe Franks
It’s a time of great transition for the Atlanta Falcons. For the first time since 2008, they are heading into a campaign with a starting quarterback not named Matt Ryan.
Unfortunately, that probably means that a long season is about to follow.
The depth chart isn’t bereft of talent. Marcus Mariota was the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner and 2015 second overall pick, and he has started 61 games in the NFL. Rookie Desmond Ridder was the highest-ranked quarterback in this class, according to the Bleacher Report NFL Scouting Department.
But Mariota hasn’t started a game since he lost the starting gig in Tennessee to Ryan Tannehill in 2019, and there’s a reason why Ridder slipped into the third round of the draft.
And Mariota said that while he wants to be a starter again, he realizes that part of his role in Atlanta is to mentor Ridder.
“I kind of always view that relationship in the quarterback room as important and special,” Mariota said, per Charles Odum of the Associated Press. “I always felt that a good quarterback room can allow everybody to be better and allow everybody to grow. … At the end of the day, if they’ve got questions or I’ve got questions, they’re a great set of eyes for me as well.”
The biggest question is how long Mariota can hold off the 22-year-old Ridder and what the youngster will look like once he is handed the reins.
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Starter: Zach Wilson
Backups: Joe Flacco, Mike White
The Jets have been searching for a dependable, high-end starter at quarterback for the better part of half a century.
Whether Zach Wilson is that guy remains to be seen. Last year’s second overall pick showed occasional flashes, but his first season offered more questions than answers. He failed to complete even 56 percent of his passes, threw a measly nine touchdown passes in 13 games with 11 interceptions and posted a genuinely terrible passer rating of less than 70.
The Jets did what they could to improve Wilson’s chances of success in 2022 with the addition of wide receiver Garrett Wilson and running back Breece Hall in the draft and the free-agent signing of guard Laken Tomlinson. And head coach Robert Saleh likes what he’s seen from Wilson in OTAs.
“He looks good. He’s confident. He’s smiling. He’s vocal,” Saleh told reporters last week. “I’ve said it before that you can always tell the confidence level and their understanding of what they’re being asked to do by the volume of their voice, and he’s getting pretty loud.”
If Wilson can’t carry that improvement over to games that count, the Jets could be facing a tough decision a year from now.
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Starter: Davis Mills
Backups: Kyle Allen, Jeff Driskel, Kevin Hogan
Davis Mills wasn’t the first quarterback drafted in 2021. In fact, he wasn’t the fifth quarterback selected. But the third-round pick from Stanford wound up starting 11 games for Houston, and he’s entering his second season as the unquestioned starter.
To be fair, by most estimations, Mills exceeded expectations last year, and former Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli told NFL Network (h/t Anthony Wood of Texans Daily) that he thinks Mills has the potential to be a decent starter:
“As I watch him, there’s a lot of people down [there] that are quietly excited about this player and a number of people that I know and I saw with my own eyes who really liked him coming out. He wasn’t one of the big names, he wasn’t Zach [Wilson], he wasn’t Trey [Lance], he wasn’t Trevor [Lawrence] [but] there’s a lot to like about Davis Mills: His accuracy, his poise, his dependability, and his consistency. His arm strength is good enough, he’s got the tools, but it’s his makeup that I think that that team is really falling in love with.”
Mills only won two of his 11 starts last year, but that had as much to do with the cast around him as the player himself. That supporting cast isn’t much better in 2022, though, and if the Texans have another awful season, it’s possible the franchise will hit the reset button at the position next year.
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Starter: Jared Goff
Backups: Tim Boyle, David Blough
This is a make-or-break year for Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft had a forgettable first year in Detroit, throwing for the fewest yards and touchdowns since his rookie season. If Goff and the Lions struggle again in 2022, the team can clear more than $20 million off the salary cap by releasing Goff in 2023.
While there was speculation the Lions would add a quarterback in the 2022 draft, general manager Brad Holmes expressed confidence in Goff last month during an appearance on The Rich Eisen Show (h/t Vito Chirco of FanNation):
“We feel good about Jared, the way that he finished the year, with all the adversity that he faced last year, the way he finished. And, [head coach] Dan [Campbell] and I just want to make sure he’s set up for success. We’re still going to put in efforts to do that going forward. And, Jared knows it’s, every year he’s got to come out here, compete and prove that he’s the guy. But, thus far this offseason, he’s done that.”
For all of the criticism of Goff, the 27-year-old is a two-time Pro Bowler who helped lead the Rams to an appearance in Super Bowl LIII.
His future as an NFL starter depends on recapturing that form in 2022.
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Starter: Justin Fields
Backups: Trevor Siemian, Nathan Peterman
There may not be a young signal-caller harder to peg than Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears.
Based solely on his production, it’s hard to make an argument for slotting him anywhere but in the bottom five. Fields’ rookie season was, for lack of a better description, a mess. The former Ohio State standout failed to complete even 59 percent of his passes, threw three more interceptions than touchdowns, posted a miserable passer rating of 73.2 and won just two of his 10 starts.
The Bears also haven’t exactly put the 23-year-old quarterback in the best position to succeed. Their wideout corps might be the weakest in the NFL. However, in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report last month, Fields said he thinks the Bears can make hay through the air with the weapons they have.
“The fans outside of the facility, they don’t know what’s going on at practice,” Fields said. “Just because we don’t have a big-name guy, doesn’t mean those guys aren’t talented. I have plenty of confidence in myself and my teammates that we’re going to get the job done.”
Fields had better hope he’s right. If he has another year like his first season, every young player’s least-favorite four-letter word is going to start being thrown around.
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Starter: Mitchell Trubisky
Backups: Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph
This might be the most uncertain quarterback situation on this list. The Pittsburgh Steelers signed veteran Mitchell Trubisky in free agency to serve as a bridge starter, but his future became a lot shakier when the team used its first pick in the 2022 draft on the University of Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett.
Throw in holdover Mason Rudolph, and you have the makings of what head coach Mike Tomlin believes will be quite the camp competition, per The Rich Eisen Show:
“I expect it to be fierce because I know all three guys. I don’t expect anyone to take a backseat. The challenge is from a structure standpoint. Are we providing enough of a platform for all the guys to show what they’re capable of? And so that’s going to be the challenge component of it. I’m excited about watching these guys compete, just like I am at any position where you’ve got some viable options. And so, we will proceed with that understanding that it’s going to be challenging from an organization standpoint. But it’s a good challenge, and I’m excited about watching those guys perform.”
Trubisky wasn’t as bad in Chicago as he was made out to be, winning 29 of his 50 starts. He’s the likely front-runner to start in Week 1 against the Bengals. But whoever does start should be on a short leash.
It’s likely we’ll see at least two players start games in the Steel City in 2022.
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Starter: Trevor Lawrence
Backups: C.J. Beathard, Jake Luton
Heading into the 2021 draft, Trevor Lawrence was the no-doubt top prospect at his position. Bleacher Report’s scouting report for the Clemson star and eventual No. 1 overall pick painted a glowing picture:
“Lawrence is as legitimate a generational QB prospect as you’ll ever see. He will instantly become the face of the franchise for the team that drafts him, and he can live up to such expectations. He is the complete package of size, arm talent, athleticism and intangibles. Only injuries or an incompetent franchise will put him on a path of failure.”
That last part wound up being a problem. Mired in the nightmare that was Urban Meyer’s tenure as head coach for the Jaguars, the 6’6″, 220-pound quarterback face-planted, with a completion percentage under 60, just 12 touchdown passes and a league-leading 17 picks.
There’s a new head coach (Doug Pederson) in Jacksonville now, and second-year general manager Trent Baalke told The OZone Podcast (h/t John Shipley of FanNation) that he expects a big step forward from Lawrence in 2022.
“He’s just more confident,” Baalke said. “You know, he’s carrying himself with more confidence. He’s delivering the ball quicker. He’s continuing to do that. I’ve seen that through the course of the offseason, getting the ball out of his hands, being more decisive.”
Until we see that on the field, Lawrence is stuck toward the bottom of this list.
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Starter: Trey Lance
Backups: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nate Sudfeld
There isn’t a harder team to assess than the San Francisco 49ers.
As things stand, Jimmy Garoppolo is still on the roster. The 30-year-old doesn’t have an especially high ceiling, with no elite escapability or a cannon for an arm. But Garoppolo is 31-14 as the starter for the Niners, and in two of the past three seasons, he’s guided the team to at least the NFC Championship Game.
However, it’s more than a little possible (even probable) that Garoppolo won’t be with the Niners when they face the Bears in Week 1 at Soldier Field. And if Trey Lance is under center when the regular season opens in September, then that changes things.
In theory, the 2021 third overall pick has an upside that Garoppolo can’t match.
“Do I think that Jimmy Garoppolo was a special, dynamic, elite quarterback? No,” NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah said (h/t David Bonilla of 49ers WebZone). “Do I think that team was in the postseason with him consistently, that team was in the Super Bowl with him? I actually think Trey Lance—I said it when they drafted him—I think he can give them something that they have not had. He can take that group to another level.”
However, the North Dakota State product is also something of a raw prospect with 71 passing attempts in the NFL.
A sure bet he ain’t.
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Starter: Carson Wentz
Backups: Taylor Heinicke, Sam Howell
There was a time, in the long-ago days of 2017, when Carson Wentz was an MVP front-runner. He was going to be a star.
But then, late in that sophomore season, Wentz tore his ACL. And things have been headed downhill ever since.
According to David Harrison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Wentz said during an appearance on Colin Cowherd’s podcast that he was surprised when he was drummed out of Indianapolis after just one season.
“I didn’t expect things to unfold the way they did,” Wentz said. “I thought things were in a pretty good place there. I had awesome relationships with every single person in that building. I can’t say enough good things about the people over there. It kinda came out of left field.”
Frankly, he shouldn’t have been. Wentz’s stats weren’t terrible, with 3,563 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and seven picks. But all the Colts had to do to make the playoffs was win one of their final two games, including a matchup with the league-worst Jaguars.
In both games, Wentz failed to complete 60 percent of his passes, throw for 200 yards or toss multiple touchdowns.
At his best, Wentz is an average starter. At his worst, he’s a team-sinker.
What he isn’t is a quarterback who will lead a team on a deep playoff run.
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Starter: Tua Tagovailoa
Backups: Teddy Bridgewater, Skylar Thompson
There was a time when Tua Tagovailoa was considered a can’t-miss prospect, a surefire star in the making.
Just a few short years later, he is entering a make-or-break season.
For his part, the Miami Dolphins’ new No. 1 receiver (Tyreek Hill) told reporters last week after a workout with Tagovailoa that he thinks the third-year southpaw has all the tools for a breakout in 2022.
“Tua actually has probably one of the prettiest balls that I’ve ever caught in my life,” Hill said. “Very catchable. But Tua is a very accurate quarterback. He’s a heck of a talent, has crazy arm strength, arm talent, you know.”
There’s no arguing that Tagovailoa is accurate. He has a 66.2 percent completion rate over his first two seasons. But it’s fair to question whether he has the same ability he had to push the ball down the field before dislocating his hip at Alabama.
The Dolphins made big-time investments this offseason to improve their passing-game talent and the O-line. That will ratchet up the pressure on Tagovailoa, though, as does the presence of a backup quarterback with extensive starting experience in Teddy Bridgewater.
There’s real potential here for a quarterback controversy.
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Starter: Mac Jones
Backups: Brian Hoyer, Bailey Zappe
Mac Jones wasn’t the first quarterback drafted in 2021. But in terms of team success, the former Alabama star was the top first-year quarterback in the NFL last season. He completed 67.6 percent his passes for just over 3,800 yards while leading the New England Patriots back to the postseason.
Per Henry McKenna of Patriots Wire, new wide receiver addition DeVante Parker said he’s been impressed with Jones’ maturity and leadership ability.
“He’s a leader,” Parker said. “Like, he’s a young guy, but he’s vocal as a leader. That’s what this team needs.”
However, while Jones is a capable leader and a smart player, he doesn’t seem to be the sort of quarterback who can put a team on his shoulders and carry it to victory. Despite playing in all 17 games, Jones threw just 22 touchdown passes with 13 interceptions. In a blowout wild-card loss to the AFC East rival Bills, Jones threw two picks and looked out of his depth.
It’s not impossible that Jones will improve. But unless he takes a quantum leap forward, his limitations as a passer give the Patriots a ceiling.
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Starter: Jameis Winston
Backups: Andy Dalton, Taysom Hill, Ian Book
The New Orleans Saints were one of the teams that went hard at Deshaun Watson in the offseason. That pursuit didn’t pan out, and the team turned back to the player who started seven games last year.
Jameis Winston is working his way back from an ACL tear. But his rehab is progressing well, and Winston told Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated that he expects having a normal offseason after the COVID-19 pandemic affected practices will only help him be that much better in 2022.
“The thing people don’t understand, me and Taysom [Hill] were not only in a competition during training camp, we didn’t have OTAs,” he said. “My first two years here with New Orleans, we didn’t have OTAs where we went out there and repped plays. We didn’t have times where I was able to really grow in this offense other than me setting up throwing sessions with the guys and working on it by myself.”
Winston has shown that he can sling the ball around. He led the league in passing yards in 2019 as a starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but also led the NFL in interceptions. If he can continue limiting turnovers the way he did last season, the Saints could wind up with the quarterback the Bucs hoped they were getting with the first overall pick in 2015.
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Starter: Ryan Tannehill
Backups: Malik Willis, Logan Woodside
What a difference one game can make.
Heading into last year’s playoffs, Ryan Tannehill was the entrenched starter for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. He was coming off a season where he completed 67 percent of his passes for 3,734 yards with 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He was 23-10 as Tennessee’s starter during the regular season over the past two years.
But then it all fell apart against the Cincinnati Bengals during the divisional round. Tannehill went 15-of-24 for 220 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in a three-point home loss.
It was the second straight one-and-done exit for the Titans, and it created enough unease about Tannehill’s long-term viability as the starter that the team used a third-round pick on Liberty quarterback Malik Willis.
Tannehill then caused a stir when he said he didn’t think it was “his job” to mentor Willis. But he insisted that his comment was taken the wrong way.
“I meant no disrespect to Malik or anything like that,” Tannehill told reporters. “We’ve been in constant communication since he was drafted. I’m disappointed in how things got spun and twisted a little bit. I pride myself on being a great teammate my whole career, going back to when I was a kid playing youth sports.”
Barring a complete collapse, Tannehill’s job is probably safe for the 2022 season. But if he falters at some point along the way, the drumbeat will start for a changing of the guard.
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Starter: Jalen Hurts
Backups: Gardner Minshew, Reid Stinnett, Carson Strong
Jalen Hurts led the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs in 2021 in only his second NFL season and his first full season as a starter.
During a recent appearance on JAKIB Sports’ Sports Take, Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid—the Eagles’ former longtime head coach—said Hurts has everything it takes to be an impact starter in the NFL.
“The one thing you got there is a guy that’s willing to work hard and wants to be great. … He sincerely wants to do well. That’s the foundation. And with the coaching he’s getting from [Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni], that’s gonna take place. Everybody just has to hang with him, and Nick will deflect some of the stuff that you have to deflect from the public until it feels like he’s grounded all the way. And then he flies from there.”
Hurts racked up 3,144 passing yards and 16 passing touchdowns along with 784 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground last season. However, he still needs to overcome his limitations as a passer, which were on full display during the Eagles’ playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card Round.
The Eagles did their part to help him address those limitations in the offseason, giving him a new No. 1 wide receiver in A.J. Brown.
But if Hurts struggles out of the gate, it might not take long for fans to start clamoring for Gardner Minshew.
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Starter: Kirk Cousins
Backups: Sean Mannion, Kellen Mond, Nate Stanley
Kirk Cousins is the quarterback that fans love to hate. His agent certainly doesn’t hate him, though.
Over a decade in the NFL with the Washington Commanders and Minnesota Vikings, Cousins has already cleared $160 million in career earnings. He just signed a one-year, $35 million extension that will keep him under contract through 2023.
But during a recent appearance on PFT PM, new Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah admitted Cousins isn’t an elite quarterback.
“Look, Kirk’s a really good quarterback,” he said, via Adam Patrick of The Viking Age. “When you study historically what wins in the NFL, yes, elite, special quarterback play does matter. But there are other ways to win it. We think the best version of [Cousins], and surrounding him with other things, gives us a really good chance [to win].”
Most of Cousins’ numbers are solid, especially with the Vikings. In four years in Minnesota, he has completed 68.3 percent of his passes with a passer rating of 103.5. Last year, he topped 4,200 passing yards with 33 scores against only seven interceptions.
But those numbers haven’t equated to a ton of wins, especially in big games. The Vikings have made the playoffs only once since Cousins arrived in 2018.
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Starter: Matt Ryan
Backups: Nick Foles, Sam Ehlinger
The quarterback position has been a revolving door for the Indianapolis Colts ever since Andrew Luck abruptly retired in 2019. That year, Jacoby Brissett was thrust into the starting role. He gave way to Philip Rivers in 2020, who gave way to Carson Wentz in 2021.
The Colts went the veteran route once again this offseason, trading for Matt Ryan after Wentz’s one year at the helm ended in disappointment.
In many respects, Ryan would appear to be the best of the lot. He’s a four-time Pro Bowler who will all but certainly surpass 60,000 career passing yards this year. He was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2016 when he led the Atlanta Falcons to a berth in Super Bowl LI.
And Ryan has already made a favorable impression on wide receiver Michael Pittman.
“The ball is just right there, and you just turn and catch the ball. I mean, it just makes it easy,” Pittman told reporters at OTAs. “Matt can pretty much put it wherever he wants.”
However, Ryan is also a 37-year-old who failed to hit 4,000 yards last year and hasn’t posted a winning season as a starter since 2017.
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Starter: Derek Carr
Backups: Jarrett Stidham, Nick Mullens, Chase Garbers
Derek Carr finally has some job security.
Carr has spent the last eight years as the Las Vegas Raiders’ starter and has accumulated 31,700 passing yards, almost 200 touchdown passes and three trips to the Pro Bowl. Despite that, the Raiders were frequently linked to any available veteran quarterback as a potential landing spot.
However, after Carr set a career high with 4,804 passing yards and led the Raiders to the playoffs in 2021, the new regime in Vegas firmly committed to him.
First, the Raiders traded for star wideout Davante Adams, who played with Carr at Fresno State. Then they signed Carr to a three-year, $121.5 million extension that will keep him in Sin City through 2025.
New Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels recently told reporters that he has no shortage of confidence in Carr’s ability to lead the offense.
“He’s a great human being and he’s a really smart football player—and you don’t have to say it five times for him to get it. There’s a natural way he learns that’s pretty easy as a coach. And he’s a great leader. So his teammates follow him. He’s a competitive guy. He wants to do it the way you want it done, which I love that about him.”
Carr might not be one of the league’s best quarterbacks, but he’s better than he’s been given credit for.
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Starter: Kyler Murray
Backups: Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley, Jarrett Guarantano
In three seasons, Kyler Murray has established himself as one of the NFL’s better dual-threat quarterbacks.
In 2021, Murray threw for 3,787 yards with 24 touchdown passes, chipped in 423 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, posted a passer rating north of 100 for the first time in his career and made his second straight Pro Bowl.
He’s now ramping up the pressure on the Arizona Cardinals to hand him a new long-term extension. His agent issued a strongly worded statement in February, and he skipped the Cardinals’ first week of OTAs.
During a recent appearance on the Pat McAfee Show, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said he thinks they’ll work something out with Murray soon.
“I just think it’s a timing thing,” Keim said. “Anyone who has done it before has done it anywhere from July to September. No different for us. We know he is under contract for another year and also the fifth-year option [in 2023]. He is our future, we feel that strongly. I feel like we’ll be able to get something done this summer.”
Sure enough, things are already headed in a positive direction. Murray showed up for workouts on Wednesday, which would appear to indicate the two sides are making at least some progress toward an extension.
That’s good, because while Colt McCoy is a capable backup, the Cardinals will go exactly as far in 2022 as Murray takes them.
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Starter: Deshaun Watson
Backups: Jacoby Brissett, Joshua Dobbs, Baker Mayfield
Strictly from a talent perspective, the Cleveland Browns should arguably be ranked higher than this.
In his four NFL seasons, Deshaun Watson has made the Pro Bowl three times. When last we saw him on the field, he threw for a league-leading 4,823 yards with 33 touchdown passes against only seven interceptions.
However, Watson missed the entire 2021 campaign after 22 women filed lawsuits against him alleging sexual assault and misconduct. There’s no telling when we will see him on the field again, as he could be facing a lengthy suspension once the NFL wraps up its investigation.
Trading a package including three first-round picks for Watson and then handing him a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract was a gamble of unprecedented proportions by the Browns. And while they acquired at least some insurance against a Watson suspension by signing an experienced backup in Jacoby Brissett, it’s Watson who will define the Browns for years.
Technically, Baker Mayfield is still on the team, although he was a no-show at OTAs while the Browns attempt to unload him. The market for Mayfield’s services (and hefty 2022 salary) has been all but non-existent, but even though the Browns have reportedly already said they won’t release Mayfield, it’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario where Mayfield ever sees the field in Cleveland again—even if Watson is suspended.
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Starter: Dak Prescott
Backups: Cooper Rush, Will Grier, Ben DiNucci
By most measurements, Dak Prescott has had an excellent career, especially for a fourth-round pick.
After six years in the league, Prescott has been named to a pair of Pro Bowls and was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016. He has passed for over 4,400 years twice and tossed at least 30 touchdown passes an equal number of times, including a career-high 37 scores in 2021.
Prescott has gone 53-32 as a starter and led the Dallas Cowboys to a 12-5 record and an NFC East title last year. The 28-year-old has engineered 10 fourth-quarter comebacks and 17 game-winning drives, per Pro Football Reference.
But when you’re the Cowboys’ starting quarterback, winning the Super Bowl is the only real measure of success. And while Prescott has led the Cowboys to the postseason three times, he’s been one-and-done twice and hasn’t made it past the divisional round.
At OTAs in late May, Prescott acknowledged that all of the talent in the world doesn’t matter if the Cowboys don’t make some noise in the postseason.
“We know what we have in this locker room and we know what we can be,” Prescott told reporters. “Talent is one thing, but if you don’t fulfill it, it doesn’t really mean anything.”
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Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backups: John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
What a difference a change of scenery can make.
Matthew Stafford didn’t have a bad career in Detroit. He topped 5,000 passing yards in 2011 and then came up just short of that mark the following year. Stafford threw 29 or more touchdown passes four times, led Detroit to the playoffs in three different seasons and went to the Pro Bowl in 2014.
But while Stafford experienced some individual success, the Lions struggled more often than not. He went 74-90-1 as a starter during his 12 years in the Motor City and never won a playoff game there.
However, the Rams saw Stafford as the missing piece in a Super Bowl puzzle, which is exactly what happened after they traded for him last offseason.
In his first year with the Rams, Stafford tied a career best with 41 touchdown passes. His 4,886 passing yards trailed only Tom Brady among NFC quarterbacks. And the season ended with confetti raining down at SoFi Stadium as Stafford and the Rams celebrated the franchise’s second Super Bowl win.
As Stafford prepares to play his 14th NFL season, he’s still only 34 years old. And with at least 3-4 more good years ahead of him, Stafford’s first Super Bowl win may not be his last.
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Starter: Russell Wilson
Backups: Brett Rypien, Josh Johnson
The Denver Broncos have been searching for an answer at quarterback ever since Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset at the end of Super Bowl 50. They tried the rookie route with Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Drew Lock and the veteran route with Teddy Bridgewater, Joe Flacco and Case Keenum, but nothing worked.
However, this time should be different. Because this time, the Broncos landed a Super Bowl champion and nine-time Pro Bowler in a blockbuster trade with the Seahawks in March.
Russell Wilson’s 2021 season wasn’t his best. The 33-year-old missed three games and posted the fewest passing yards (3,113) of his decade-long career. But two years ago, Wilson passed for over 4,200 yards and a career-best 40 scores.
Wilson has thrown for over 37,000 yards, will surpass 300 career touchdown passes in 2022 and has added almost 4,700 yards and 23 more scores on the ground. He’s already made quite the impression of Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton as well.
“He bleeds football,” Sutton told reporters at OTAs in late May. “Saying that, he watches the film, and he prepares himself to be able to be in the right place at the right time and at all times to give himself an A, B, C in whatever the situation may be. [It’s] all off of his preparation.”
Calling Wilson’s arrival in the Mile High City a game-changer doesn’t do him justice.
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Starter: Justin Herbert
Backups: Chase Daniel, Easton Stick, Brandon Peters
From all indications, Justin Herbert is the real deal.
Herbert set a new NFL rookie record for touchdown passes with 31. He followed that up by throwing for 5,014 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2021, both of which paced the AFC.
As impressive as those numbers were, Herbert recently insisted that the best is yet to come.
“The biggest thing is understanding that we’re miles ahead of where we were last year,” Herbert told reporters at OTAs in mid-May. “Last year, we were focused on calling the right plays in the huddle and making sure everyone was lined up in the huddle and getting lined up on the field.”
The Los Angeles Chargers appear to have the pieces in place for Herbert to have another massive statistical season. They bolstered their offensive line this offseason, and they have an impressive array of skill-position talent headlined by wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and all-purpose tailback Austin Ekeler.
If Herbert not only has another big season but also leads the Chargers to the playoffs for the first time since 2018, he could work his way into the top five in the next set of these rankings in 2023.
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Starter: Joe Burrow
Backups: Brandon Allen, Jake Browning
Last year, Joe Burrow had his coming-out party in the NFL.
After tearing his ACL 10 games into his rookie season, Burrow exploded into stardom as a sophomore. The 2020 No. 1 overall pick completed a league-high 70.4 percent of his passes, eclipsed 4,600 passing yards, threw 34 touchdown passes against 14 interceptions and posted a robust passer rating of 108.3.
Most importantly, Burrow led the Bengals to 10 wins in 16 starts and an AFC North title before embarking on an improbable run to Super Bowl LVI.
There’s reason to think that the 2022 campaign could be even better for Burrow.
A Bengals receiving corps headlined by 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja’Marr Chase, Burrow’s old LSU running buddy, is as deep and talented of a unit as any in the NFL. And after allowing a whopping 70 sacks last year (including the postseason), the Bengals added three new veteran starters on the offensive line this offseason.
If there’s one potential pitfall in Cincy, it’s the quarterback position itself. Backup Brandon Allen has made six starts over the past two seasons, but the Bengals are toast if Burrow gets hurt.
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Starter: Lamar Jackson
Backups: Tyler Huntley, Brett Hundley, Anthony Brown
The Baltimore Ravens have one of the league’s top young quarterbacks in Lamar Jackson. The 2019 MVP is the only quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons and is quite possibly the best running quarterback the game has ever seen.
However, the Ravens don’t know how long Jackson will be around.
With Jackson entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, the Ravens have been clear that they want to lock him up long-term. But Jackson, who represents himself, appears to be amenable to betting on himself and playing multiple seasons on one-year franchise-tag deals if needed.
Jackson missed the Ravens’ first week of OTAs in May, which was the first time he’s ever done so, per ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh wasn’t interested in commenting on his absence.
“It’s not for me to speak for somebody else on that,” Harbaugh told reporters. “It’s up to him to speak for himself on that.”
Jackson’s contract situation will dominate the conversation in Baltimore for as long as it drags on. Although Tyler Huntley played well in Jackson’s stead last year, the long-term drop-off from starter to backup in Baltimore is a knee-buckler.
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Starter: Aaron Rodgers
Backups: Jordan Love, Kurt Benkert, Danny Etling
Even at age 38, Aaron Rodgers is showing no signs of slowing down yet.
Last year, Rodgers threw for 4,115 yards and 37 touchdowns against only four interceptions on the way to a 13-4 record, the Green Bay Packers’ third straight NFC North title and his second consecutive MVP award (and fourth overall).
That sort of production is hardly new for Rodgers. Over his 17 NFL seasons, he has been named to 10 Pro Bowls and earned first-team All-Pro honors four times. Rodgers’ passer rating of 122.5 back in 2011 was the highest single-season mark in NFL history. He also has the all-time records for interception percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Rodgers hasn’t enjoyed the sort of postseason success that Tom Brady has. He’s won only one Super Bowl. But five years after he calls it a career, Rodgers will unquestionably be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That timer—and Jordan Love’s chance to start under center in Titletown—will have to wait a while. After signing a three-year, $150.8 million extension this offseason, Rodgers is now under contract through 2026.
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Starter: Josh Allen
Backups: Case Keenum, Matt Barkley
Unlike some of the other young quarterbacks on this list, Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills is all smiles this offseason.
In each of the past two seasons, Allen has eclipsed 4,400 passing yards with at least 36 touchdown passes. Allen has added nearly 1,200 yards and 14 scores on the ground while winning 24 of his 33 regular-season starts over that span. Last August, Allen got a six-year contract extension worth a whopping $258 million.
The Bills are considered one of the AFC’s front-runners in 2022. Although they’re breaking in a new offensive coordinator in Ken Dorsey this year, Allen expects that the Bills won’t miss a beat (via Myles Simmons of Pro Football Talk):
“In terms of what he’s doing, how he communicates with the guys, getting on guys and lighting some fires, it’s been good to see. He’s played quarterback. He understands what it’s like when we’re back there. So to have that open relationship and a rapport with him, and for him to understand what we’re seeing at the same time and not just expecting us to do something that he hasn’t, or he wouldn’t do, I think is the most important thing and he’s been doing a really good job with it.”
After losing Mitchell Trubisky in free agency, the Bills swapped out one experienced backup for another, trading for Case Keenum. But this lofty ranking is all about No. 17.
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Starter: Patrick Mahomes
Backups: Chad Henne, Shane Buechele, Dustin Crum
There will be some grumbles that Patrick Mahomes isn’t No. 1 on this list. And those grumblers have a point.
Mahomes’ first five seasons have been the stuff of legend. In his second season (and first as the team’s starter), he became only the second player in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns on the way to being named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
The following year, Mahomes led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl win in a half-century. In 2020, he threw for 4,740 yards and 38 touchdowns and Kansas City made it back to the Super Bowl.
Since 2018, Mahomes has never completed fewer than 65 percent of his passes. He has thrown for over 4,000 yards in four straight campaigns. He has thrown 37 or more touchdown passes three times. His career passer rating is a gaudy 105.8. And the Chiefs have won the AFC West and hosted the AFC Championship Game in each of Mahomes’ four seasons as a starter.
Given that he’s still only 26 years old, it’s premature to mention Mahomes among the all-time greats at the position. But at the rate he’s going, he might be the all-time great at the position whenever he retires.
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Starter: Tom Brady
Backups: Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask, Ryan Griffin
Yes, Tom Brady is old. Really old by NFL standards. He’ll be 45 when the regular season begins.
But Brady must either be a vampire or an android, because he showed zero signs of slowing down in 2021.
Last year, Brady threw for a career-high 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns, both of which led the NFL. His completion percentage of 67.5 was his best since 2007. He posted a passer rating over 102 for the second time in as many seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
No one in NFL history has more passing yards than Brady’s 84,520. No one has more touchdown passes than his 624. He’s also the all-time leader in pass attempts (11,317) and completions (7,263).
Oh, and Brady has appeared in a staggering 10 Super Bowls, seven of which he won. That’s more than any team in league history.
Brady is the NFL’s greatest quarterback ever, and it isn’t close. So long as he’s playing, he rules the position.