Ranking the NFL’s starting QBs heading into 2023

Ranking the NFL's starting QBs heading into 2023
Ranking the NFL's starting QBs heading into 2023

The quarterback is everything in the modern NFL.

An elite player under center can make you an immediate contender. Anything less and you’d better have a stacked roster everywhere else.

With the 2023 season only days away, let’s check in on every team’s state at the most important position on the field.

1. Patrick Mahomes

You couldn’t possibly have expected anyone else. Combining S-tier arm talent with unfathomable improv skills, as well as the instincts and processing ability to beat opponents with his mind, Mahomes is already one of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever seen. The rest of the NFL’s top quarterbacks figure to be battling for a distant second place for the foreseeable future. The real question is whether Mahomes has the longevity to chase down some of Tom Brady’s seemingly unbreakable records.

2. Josh Allen

Allen gets this spot because of a skill set that’s straight out of a video game. While it feels like he’ll never be able to dial it back and let a play die, often opening the door for turnover-worthy plays, it’s hard to fault him when he can do the things he does on the field. And he more than makes up for the occasional negatives by making throws that other quarterbacks don’t have any business attempting. Allen has one of the strongest arms in football history, and his development in the accuracy department is unprecedented. Add in his size and athleticism, which make him a nightmare to bring down both in the pocket and on the move, and you’ve got a full-fledged unicorn.

3. Joe Burrow

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If the No. 3 spot feels too low for Burrow, fine. Call it 2B. It’s not like he’s that far behind, if at all. The Bengals superstar only loses the tiebreaker to Allen because he doesn’t have the same kind of physical gifts, thus limiting his arsenal. But that also doesn’t matter much with the way he plays the game. Burrow’s sublime accuracy and anticipation more than compensate for anything he lacks in terms of arm strength, and he’s also got the instincts and athleticism to keep plays alive and thrive outside of structure. Becoming more efficient in the short areas of the field, and working to checkdowns when defenses took away the vertical game, completed his rise to elite QB status last year.

4. Justin Herbert

Go ahead, reference the lack of team success – and an embarrassing playoff loss – in making the case as to why Herbert should be lower on this list. But none of that actually defines him individually. In fact, becoming the quarterback he has while playing for such a maddeningly mediocre franchise only makes him look better. Herbert is right up there with Mahomes and Allen in terms of freaky arm talent. He’s also incredibly accurate, an outstanding processor, poised in the pocket, and a threat to make plays with his legs. The arrival of Kellen Moore as offensive coordinator should help unlock Herbert’s true potential after two years of being held back by Joe Lombardi’s system. This ranking won’t be the least bit controversial by season’s end.

5. Lamar Jackson

Injury issues and a mind-numbingly stale offense over the last two years probably led to Jackson being something of an afterthought in the consensus elite tier of quarterbacks. We won’t make that mistake, though. Next to Mahomes and Allen, Jackson is probably the player opposing defensive coordinators least want to see on Sundays. He’s the most dynamic running quarterback in football history, and despite what popular narratives might tell you, he’s also a high-level passer. Todd Monken replacing Greg Roman as offensive coordinator – and the Ravens finally investing in the receivers – should have Jackson set for his best year since his 2019 MVP campaign. At that point, No. 5 may seem a little low.

6. Jalen Hurts

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Eagles fans will undoubtedly take this ranking as disrespect, but Hurts simply wasn’t going to earn a top-5 spot based on one dominant season with the most talented roster in football. He’s certainly headed in that direction, though. Hurts took a major step forward in 2022, showing improved poise in the pocket and far better results attacking the middle of the field. This growth as a passer, along with his unique skills as a runner, produced an MVP-caliber regular season and a Super Bowl performance that saw him go shot-for-shot with Mahomes. Anything close to a repeat in 2023, with some continued improvement seeing plays through from the pocket, could have Hurts rocket up this list once again.

7. Trevor Lawrence

Lawrence’s rookie season, as it turns out, was about as good as we could have expected with Urban Meyer running the show in Jacksonville. Fortunately for the Jaguars, the arrival of a real NFL coach is unlocking the potential of a generational quarterback prospect. Lawrence took off in the second half of 2022 under Doug Pederson, leading his team to one win after another with a big-time arm, impressive athleticism, and the poise of a veteran. The Jaguars adding a true No. 1 target in Calvin Ridley should allow him to take another significant step this season.

8. Dak Prescott

Much like his predecessor Tony Romo, Prescott is the target of some wildly unfair narratives. Such is life as the leader of America’s Team. But don’t let some inflated one-year interception totals make you buy into these storylines. Prescott, despite a career-high 15 picks, finished the 2022 season ranked eighth in EPA/play, according to Ben Baldwin’s database. He remains a supremely intelligent passer who operates with an elite pocket presence and impressive accuracy. The Cowboys are in good hands with Prescott under center, no matter how much talking heads want to read into Dallas trading a fourth-round pick for a backup.

9. Aaron Rodgers

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A disappointing 2022 season makes Rodgers one of the most difficult quarterbacks to rank, but this feels like the absolute floor. He’s still won two of the last three MVP awards. And while his mobility is falling off in a hurry, robbing him of an underrated aspect of his game over the years, the rest of his Hall of Fame skill set hasn’t gone anywhere. Rodgers remains sharp as ever, and he’ll still make the kind of jaw-dropping throws that we’ve come to expect from him. The 39-year-old should be in for a bounce-back performance as he now steps into a more favorable situation with the Jets.

10. Matthew Stafford

Injuries really started to pile up for Stafford following his Super Bowl season in Los Angeles, with a difficult 2022 campaign leading to some retirement rumors. But he’s back for a third season with the Rams, and all indications are that he’s ready to go. A fully healthy Stafford has always been a top-10 quarterback, even at the age of 35. The throws unlocked by his rare arm talent compensate for the occasional turnover blunder, and he’s as tough as they come in the pocket.

11. Kyler Murray

Murray starts the season on the PUP list while he recovers from last year’s knee injury. He’s Arizona’s guy whenever he gets back, so we won’t waste time ranking Josh Dobbs or Clayton Tune among starting quarterbacks. While this may seem high for a player who’s had a rough few years – including having a homework clause added to his lucrative contract extension – Murray gets credit for the MVP-caliber flashes we’ve seen thus far. His arm talent and creative athleticism, in particular, are incredibly unique traits. He’s certainly not blameless for the not-so-good stretches, but Kliff Kingsbury didn’t give him much help, either. Murray will be fascinating to watch in a new system when healthy.

12. Geno Smith

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Smith’s belated breakout was one of the best stories of the 2022 season. Labeled as little more than a backup after having the misfortune of playing the first two years of his career with the Jets, the former second-rounder couldn’t get another look as a starter. When he finally did, Smith outplayed departed starter Russell Wilson and led the Seahawks to the playoffs. There was some minor regression down the stretch, but his arrival as a high-level starting quarterback was still very real. Smith finished his spectacular year ranked as the NFL’s No. 1 deep passer, according to NextGen Stats.

13. Kirk Cousins

Cousins is probably the poster boy of the Good But Not Great quarterback tier. That leads to more criticism than anything else, but there’s something to be said about steady play under center – obviously, not everyone can have a top-five player at the most important position on the field. Cousins is an efficient distributor from the pocket and he’s also improved his game under pressure every year in Minnesota. Replacing a player like this is much easier said than done.

14. Tua Tagovailoa

Dolphins fans may be expecting higher with their quarterback coming off the best season of his young career, but let’s exercise some patience here. While Tua was remarkably efficient over the middle of the field, destroying opposing defenses on RPOs, he had the benefit of an extremely QB-friendly offense with the league’s most dynamic receiver tandem. He also finished the season with more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws, according to PFF. It’s been an impressive rise, no doubt, and it may only continue with a healthy 2023 season. For the time being, however, the below-average arm talent and a lack of athleticism to create outside of structure keep Tua from top-10 status.

15. Derek Carr

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Carr can be a frustrating player, and a bizarre 2022 season under a new coaching staff in Las Vegas did nothing to change that. His talent has always been abundantly clear, though, and he’s approached top-10 territory when everything around him is right. Carr still has some issues dealing with pressure, but he takes care of the ball and has a lot more arm talent than many people realize – he’s quietly found some aggressiveness and become one of the league’s best deep-ball passers. Carr could be in for a bounce-back year with a strong supporting cast in New Orleans.

16. Jared Goff

Goff remains a solid quarterback who can be an efficient point guard when everything is right around him. He can make almost every throw in the book from a clean pocket, and he will generally make good decisions with the ball. A lack of athleticism outside of structure and some long-standing issues against pressure keep him from the upper levels of the middle tier, but neither is really an issue with the system and supporting cast Detroit has in place on offense. The Lions are confident they can win with Goff, and they’re probably right.

17. Deshaun Watson

The Watson we saw in Houston would easily be among the top 10 on this list, and perhaps threatening the top five. He was one of the league’s brightest young stars at the position, doing some incredible work outside of structure. The Watson we saw over 11 games in his first season with the Browns, a borderline unplayable starter, would be closer to the bottom five. This feels like a good middle ground with the understanding that more game reps, and maybe some schematic changes to better suit his strengths, might help him get back to the player he used to be.

18. Ryan Tannehill

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Tannehill is an unspectacular but remarkably solid quarterback. He doesn’t get nearly the love he deserves, with defense and the running game having long been the foundation for Tennessee’s success, but you could do a whole lot worse under center. Tannehill’s a good athlete with a strong arm who plays with consistent poise from the pocket.

19. Russell Wilson

Wilson was absurdly bad in his first season with the Broncos. The one-and-done coaching staff deserves much of the blame for his performance, and that of the offense as a whole, but certainly not all of it. There seems to be a real chance that he’s losing (lost?) the mobility that made him such a dynamic player outside of structure in Seattle. He’s still got the arm, so the hope is that Sean Payton and an improved offensive line can set him up for a different kind of success. But a quarterback who has never really excelled throwing over the middle of the field – or working through multiple progressions – could have a tough time reimagining himself as a pocket passer.

20. Justin Fields

You’ve heard all about Fields’ ability as a runner by now. The Bears finally gave him the freedom to make plays with his legs last season, and it resulted in some of the best rushing performances we’ve ever seen from a quarterback. Fields still has a long way to go as a passer, particularly in terms of processing speed and decision-making, but he’s got the arm talent and accuracy. Any notable improvements from the pocket to complement his ultra-rare skillset as a ball-carrier could make Fields a superstar.

21. Mac Jones

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The Patriots offense was an abomination in 2022, but we’re not putting that on Jones. Bill Belichick’s decision to put his offense in the hands of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge will never make sense. That experiment is over, though, and New England is back to being a serious offense with Bill O’Brien as coordinator. This arrangement should go a long way toward helping Jones return to the path he created for himself in 2021, finishing as the Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-up. The former first-round pick is a smart, accurate passer who can handle pressure when the scheme gives him opportunities to do so.

22. Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy G is an accurate passer with a decent arm and a lightning-quick release. For all his success in San Francisco, some decision-making lapses, a lack of creativity, and consistent injury issues had the 49ers looking for an opportunity to make a change. Carr is undoubtedly the better player, but Garoppolo, who is familiar with Josh McDaniels’ offense from their days in New England, may well prove to be the better fit for the Raiders’ system.

23. Daniel Jones

Jones took a major step forward in his first season under Brian Daboll, but we need to see more before concluding that he’s a long-term starter. A scheme designed to get the ball out of his hands quickly, due in part to some major shortcomings at receiver, led to Jones’ league-low average depth of target at 6.4 yards. His seven big-time throws in 16 games, according to PFF, were matched by Jameis Winston in three starts. Jones can pick up first downs with his legs when necessary, but making one read and then taking off is not a sustainable way to play quarterback.

24. Kenny Pickett

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Pickett’s rookie season wasn’t all that encouraging. He threw just seven touchdowns against nine interceptions across 12 starts, with concerns about his arm talent and pocket presence hinting at a relatively low ceiling. Wins in six of his last eight starts created some cautious optimism, though, and there’s been nothing but glowing reviews from training camp and preseason action. He’s accurate with the football and has the ability to make things happen with his legs. If he can learn to extend plays within the pocket, and even slightly improve his arm strength, the Steelers may have something.

25. Brock Purdy

Purdy was the talk of the league last season, and deservedly so. He unlocked a new element for the 49ers’ offense with a second-reaction playmaking ability that was never really an option with Jimmy G, and the moment was never too big for him. But let’s pump the brakes on the hype train for a second. Purdy’s small sample of success, impressive as it may have been for a rookie Mr. Irrelevant, came in a dream scheme and talent scenario for quarterbacks. The objective was to have Purdy run the offense and not make mistakes. To his credit, he did exactly that. But his pocket presence has to improve and some below-average physical tools cap his upside. We’d have to see a lot more – in a much more significant sample – to rank him any higher.

26. Jordan Love

Nobody truly knows what to expect from Love after three years sitting behind Aaron Rodgers, but it feels like there’s a reason to be optimistic. Reports out of the Packers’ camp were quite favorable, and he’s followed that up with some impressive preseason play. Love was an interesting prospect coming out of Utah State largely due to some unique physical gifts. It’ll be fascinating to watch him grow alongside a young Green Bay receiving corps.

27. Bryce Young

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Young gets the top spot among rookie quarterbacks on account of everything that made him a slam-dunk No. 1 pick in the first place. A tantalizing combination of vision, creativity, and accuracy makes the Alabama product truly incredible to watch. In truth, we could probably justify starting him a whole lot higher on this list. But let’s see him do it at the NFL level first. It likely won’t take long for his natural playmaking abilities to shine through.

28. C.J. Stroud

Brighter days are ahead for the Texans. Stroud is a proficient pocket passer who has the arm talent and accuracy to make every throw on the field. He didn’t always tap into his athleticism and creativity in college, but an incredible CFP semifinal game against the powerhouse Georgia defense hinted at some upside in that regard, too. Stroud has Pro Bowl potential, even if his transition from the Ohio State offense to a still-challenging situation in Houston takes some time.

29. Anthony Richardson

Say it with me: Richardson is not a project. That may be the label he got in the pre-draft process, but it was a lazy one. The Florida product complements his otherworldly physical tools with an innate feel for pressure, some advanced pocket management, and the ability to manipulate defenders. Does that sound like a boom-or-bust player? Inconsistent footwork will lead to the occasional off-target throw, so that part will be a work in progress. But there’s just so much to like about his prospects, and the elite rushing ability gives him a high floor for production in the meantime.

30. Baker Mayfield

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The best quarterbacks are those who are able to elevate the team around them when everything may not be perfect. Mayfield’s swift fall from grace after a breakout 2020 season with the Browns offers an important reminder that top-tier offenses can occasionally prop up middling quarterbacks. Mayfield simply hasn’t shown the ability to produce consistently outside of the most favorable situations to this point in his career.

31. Desmond Ridder

It would have been nice to get Ridder more than four games worth of reps during his rookie season – especially when Marcus Mariota did so little to hold him off. Here’s what we know so far: Ridder is a good athlete who processes the game well as a passer. His arm talent is only average, though, and he tends to be far too hit-and-miss in the accuracy department. The latter part of his game could improve with time, but the Falcons will likely need to lean heavily upon their ground game for now.

32. Sam Howell

Howell got just one start as a rookie, completing 11 of 19 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown, and one interception en route to a Week 18 win. It was a nice way to get some momentum heading into Year 2 but ultimately didn’t give us much to work with. Howell has always had a decent arm, good accuracy, and the ability to make some plays with his legs. But he’s on the smaller side and needs to get better at operating on time from the pocket. Could Eric Bieniemy installing a Chiefs-like offense develop him into an average starter?

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