There’s nothing like a fresh quarterback ranking series to kick off the NFL season. Every week between now and the end of the season, I’ll take stock of every starting quarterback around the league and stack them accordingly.
This is the place to be if you want another person to yell at about your favorite quarterback being disrespected by the media.
My philosophy on ranking quarterbacks is simple in theory and complicated in practice: All things being equal, who can do the most for an offense? The more a quarterback can carry the burden for an offense, the better. Schematic flexibility and playmaking ability are at a premium.
Limited but productive quarterbacks may be punished within that framework, but so be it. Short stretches of random effective play happen all the time. Andy Dalton’s 2015 season and Jared Goff‘s 2017-18 run with the Rams are just a few recent examples of quarterbacks producing well above their level.
That’s why this exercise is about ranking the quarterbacks based on who I would want on my team, not on loosely rearranging ESPN’s QBR page.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the inaugural 2023 NFL quarterback rankings.
Note: Each week, only the 32 starting quarterbacks will be ranked. For example, Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray won’t be on the list until he returns to action. The same will be true of any quarterback who misses time as the season progresses.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes is one of one. In a generation of talented quarterbacks, Mahomes stands head and shoulders above the rest. Last season proved he is more than just an explosive-play slot machine. He can do all the simple, quick-hitting stuff to make an offense brutally efficient.
Mahomes has been the best player in the league for years and only continues to find new ways to evolve his game. It would take a historic, once-in-a-lifetime season from someone else for Mahomes to move down this list.
2. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen‘s UCL injury in the second half of last season tainted an otherwise exceptional campaign. He was far and away the second-best passer in the league before the injury, and he was pretty dang good even while battling it.
At his best, Allen was as explosive and aggressive as anyone while also developing a better sense for checking the ball down and remaining on schedule. Hopefully, a Bills offense with a little more personnel variety and a better bill of health will unlock Allen again.
3. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
It won’t be long until we all remember why Lamar Jackson won a unanimous MVP in 2019. Jackson is not only a special rushing threat but also a severely underrated passer. Jackson’s vision, pocket presence and creativity are tops in the league.
He is especially lethal throwing the middle of the field. With a revamped receiver room and a modern offensive mind at the helm, Jackson is primed to take the league by storm again.
4. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Injuries all around the Chargers’ offense hindered what their quarterback could do all season. Justin Herbert spent last year putting out fires, a playing style that often meant checking down and throwing short just to stay on schedule.
Herbert has all the talent in the world. He’s a brilliant processor and pocket manager with the arm strength to throw through a brick wall. Expect an inspired, more aggressive Herbert this season.
5. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow deserves a lot of credit for his maturation as a passer last season. Defenses spammed two-high shells to take away downfield throws, and Burrow immediately became a highly efficient checkdown master to combat that.
Burrow’s aggression and creativity are now perfectly tempered by understanding when and how to take his shots. Combine that ability with Burrow’s superb ball placement and the result is one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
6. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Two years in, Trevor Lawrence is already knocking at the door of the top five quarterbacks. Lawrence could stand to take the easy play more often and cut out one or two random sprays per game, but otherwise, he’s got every trait an elite quarterback needs.
Above all, Lawrence’s secret weapon is his pocket presence. Few, if any, quarterbacks in the league boost the quality of his offensive line like Lawrence does with his pocket movement and ability to preempt pressure.
7. Aaron Rodgers, New York Jets
Aaron Rodgers would be much further down if this list was based on last year’s play alone. This placement is more like a middle ground between what he can be and what he was last year. The good news for the Jets is that Rodgers has bounced back from shaky seasons before.
Rodgers still has all the arm talent and elasticity in the world, and it’s fair to assume he will be reinvigorated to step his game up with a new team this season. New York’s offensive line will dictate how much Rodgers moves up or down this list as the year progresses.
8. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott isn’t going to throw 15 interceptions again. Before last season, he had one of the lowest interception rates in the modern era. It’s more likely than not that Prescott returns to normal in that sense. When he does, the Cowboys’ offense is going to go nuclear.
Prescott is among the most intelligent, daring pocket passers in the league, and he’s got just enough play-making juice to keep defenses on their toes. With a healthier Michael Gallup and free agent Brandin Cooks in the building, expect Prescott to lead the Cowboys to regular 30-plus-point showings again.
9. Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams’ Super Bowl hangover had little to do with their quarterback; Matthew Stafford could still sling it. He took on a huge burden with the Rams’ dropback passing game and delivered as well as the surrounding talent allowed him to.
Stafford’s lack of play making outside the pocket and his affinity for danger are still downsides you have to live with, but he was largely an excellent passer last year despite the team’s embarrassing finish. Hopefully, Stafford’s body and offensive line can hold up this year.
10. Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Jalen Hurts is exceptional at three things: throwing go balls, running the ball and avoiding turnovers. Hurts’ legs and ball security help raise the floor of the offense, while his pinpoint placement down the field enables A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith to break the game open at any time.
That said, the Eagles’ offense is made easy for Hurts from a scheme and talent standpoint. Hurts doesn’t carry the same mental burden as the league’s elite quarterbacks. That doesn’t mean he can’t, but until he does, it’s hard to put Hurts in the same category as the guys who can.
With that in mind, Hurts has improved every season for about seven years. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he did it again.
11. Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks
Geno Smith‘s 2022 season is worlds apart from Case Keenum in 2017 or Nick Foles in 2013. Those seasons were flukes. Everything Smith put on film was the same stuff you see from the league’s best quarterbacks. He took on a fair amount from a schematic standpoint, especially in terms of pure dropback concepts, and his ball placement was second to none.
Smith’s pocket presence was also far improved from his days in New York. He is still prone to taking risks with the ball, and he isn’t the most electric play maker, but he looked like the real deal last year.
12. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
It’s easy to forget how good Ryan Tannehill is. His receiver room was pilfered, and his offensive line has only worsened since he arrived in 2019. Tannehill is still a hell of a quarterback, though.
While still sort of a play-action merchant, Tannehill sets himself apart from the others with his outrageous arm and willingness to test the limits of a defense. He isn’t quite a pre-snap wizard or a play making savant, but as far as playing tough, consistent football from the pocket, he checks all the boxes.
13. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Kirk Cousins is the ideal “teach tape” quarterback. He’s a very normal kind of good. Cousins excels at adhering to the Xs and Os on the chalkboard, playing on time and throwing with wonderful ball placement.
His downfall is that he can be robotic to a fault in crucial moments, and he doesn’t give you much outside the structure of the offense. Cousins can lead another respectable offense so long as the Vikings’ interior offensive line doesn’t collapse.
14. Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos
The more I studied last season’s Broncos, the less I felt Russell Wilson was to blame. That said, Wilson is the kind of quarterback who needs a low-passing-volume offense that leans on the run game to stay on schedule. That structure minimizes Wilson’s weaknesses as a quick-game passer and enables his strengths as a vertical passer via play action.
Nathaniel Hackett’s Broncos struggled to create that environment last season. New coach Sean Payton should correct that and get Wilson back on track. Wilson still has the arm strength, accuracy and play making mentality to be a difference-maker.
15. Mac Jones, New England Patriots
The 2022 season was kind of a throwaway year for Mac Jones and the Patriots’ offense. No second-year quarterback would play well with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge calling the offense, not even mentioning how ill-prepared Patricia’s offensive line was every week.
Bill O’Brien should get things back to normal. As we saw on better display in Jones’ rookie season, he is still a pre-snap genius, and his touch as a passer is Philip Rivers–esque. Jones isn’t physically gifted enough to rise to stardom, but he’s a better, more stable quarterback than last season’s stats suggest.
16. Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
Goff is a top-five quarterback if you only want to throw over the middle, especially with play action. Goff has just enough arm talent, sense of timing and toughness to execute at a high level in that specific way. In almost every other context, however, Goff is average or worse.
Goff’s touch is lacking outside the numbers; he just can’t execute full dropback concepts the way top quarterbacks can. Goff also offers next to nothing outside of the pocket. The good news is that Goff’s skill set — warts and all — can still produce a top-10 offense.
17. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins found a formula that worked for Tua Tagovailoa last season. They loaded up on speed and used that speed to create an unholy amount of space in the middle of the field. Tagovailoa’s rapid-fire release and pinpoint ball placement were the perfect tools to take advantage of that.
Tagovailoa wasn’t very effective outside of that specific structure, though. His work on full dropback concepts, throwing outside the numbers and making plays outside the pocket are still significant question marks. Tagovailoa feels more like a high-level system operator than someone pulling the offense’s weight. That could change this season.
18. Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Daniel Jones is different from the player the Giants drafted four years ago. Once addicted to holding onto the ball too long and chucking up hopeless deep balls, Jones is reformed. Coach Brian Daboll restructured the offense to force Jones to get the ball out early.
Rollouts, playing a quick game and giving Jones the green light to scramble earlier in the down have helped Jones replace his negative plays with moderately efficient gains. The question is whether Jones can take the next step from “competent” to “good.”
19. Derek Carr, New Orleans Saints
Derek Carr has spent his entire career bouncing between the top and bottom of the quarterback middle class. At his best, Carr is an efficient passer whose quick-game prowess and occasional tight-window strikes keep the offense humming.
At his worst, Carr collapses under pressure and leans too hard into checkdown mode. Carr was closer to the worse version of himself in 2022, and it’s hard to imagine why things would turn around dramatically in New Orleans. Carr’s potential is higher than this, but he needs to prove it again.
20. Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers
There’s a lot of projection with Jordan Love. He hasn’t played much NFL ball yet. However, over a limited sample, he looks dramatically different from the player he was coming out of Utah State four years ago.
Love’s arm talent was always eye-popping, but now his mechanics, consistent ball placement and decision-making look sharper than what we saw from him as a prospect. There’s still a chance Love implodes when the real bullets fly, but I’m cautiously optimistic.
21. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers
As a rookie, Kenny Pickett proved that he belongs in this league. The question now is what his ceiling is. In his first season, Pickett did his best work either in the quick game or way late in the down as a scrambler.
Pickett’s next step is filling in everything in between. Last season, Pickett’s eyes and footwork were all over the place as soon as he moved off his first read, severely hindering his ability to throw the intermediate area. Pickett can jump up this list if he becomes a more consistent and complete dropback passer.
22. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Justin Fields might be the most dangerous ball carrier in the sport. His combination of size, speed and explosiveness is rare. Combine that with the unpredictability of option runs and scrambles, and you get a special rushing threat from the quarterback position.
The problem is that Fields is pure theory as a passer. He has the arm talent and flashes of high-level ball placement to be a weapon, but there isn’t any consistency. Fields’ processing and throwing motion are both slow. Plus, his accuracy comes and goes. Fields would be a star if he could become even an average passer, but he’s got a long way to go to get there.
23. Jimmy Garoppolo, Las Vegas Raiders
Jimmy Garoppolo is kind of the line for acceptable quarterback play. Garoppolo isn’t dynamic but plays with great timing and ball placement. That’s especially true over the middle and off of play action.
Those are highly valuable traits if the play caller can do his job well. While Garoppolo isn’t going to put up All-Pro numbers, there’s a chance his reunion with Josh McDaniels produces a decent offense for the Raiders. McDaniels just needs to ensure Garoppolo doesn’t throw directly at linebackers the way he is prone to.
24. Desmond Ridder, Atlanta Falcons
Ranking Desmond Ridder higher than about 30th requires some projection. I liked Ridder as a prospect, so I’m willing to do that. Ridder struggled with the speed of the NFL in his first two starts, however, he settled down in his final two starts and looked more like the commanding presence we saw at Cincinnati.
Ball placement remained an issue, but Ridder’s pocket toughness and pre-snap control started to shine through. Ridder isn’t star material, but he can become a high-floor system operator in Arthur Smith’s play-action offense.
25. Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers
So long as Kyle Shanahan is calling plays and the 49ers’ quartet of All-Pro-caliber skill players are healthy, it would be impossible for Brock Purdy not to put up numbers in this offense. It’s hard for me to get there with Purdy as an individual, though.
Purdy’s dash of playmaking outside the pocket is a welcome addition compared to Garoppolo’s static playing style. Still, Purdy isn’t more or less dynamic of a pocket passer than previous 49ers quarterbacks. Purdy still has a long way to go as a pre-snap commander and passer outside the numbers. For now, Purdy feels like a passenger in a loaded offense.
26. C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans
C.J. Stroud was my top quarterback prospect in the 2023 class, and I didn’t see anything in the preseason to move off of that take. While Ohio State quarterbacks have typically struggled with NFL speed, Stroud quickly adjusted by his second preseason game.
Stroud’s decision-making is sharp, and he is exceptionally accurate to all levels of the field. He also has just enough of an athletic spark to get himself out of jams. Stroud is low on the list now because he’s unproven, but I expect him to make a strong run for the Rookie of the Year award.
27. Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers
Bryce Young is a good quarterback whose size makes me worried about him as an NFL player. Young is a smart, confident processor who can win pre- and post-snap. His anticipation and accuracy in the preseason are easy to get fired up about.
Young also has a rare feel for making plays outside the pocket, though it will be interesting to see how his athletic profile stands up at the NFL level. Young has the skills to be a good quarterback. We’ll just have to see if his physical gifts are good enough and if his body can hold up.
28. Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns
It’s been three years since Deshaun Watson played good football. In his return to action last season, Watson looked like a shell of his former self. The confidence and dynamic play making ability that once made him a star were all gone.
Also, Watson’s erratic ball placement was among the worst in the league. It would be hard for Watson to be as bad or worse than he was in 2022, but I’m not betting on him to be much better until he proves it.
29. Anthony Richardson, Colts
In the long term, Anthony Richardson might be the best quarterback from this rookie class. That could even be true by the season’s end. However, Richardson is a raw and inexperienced player, and it will take a lot of live reps to get him up to speed.
Richardson has the arm talent and pocket management to be a dangerous passer, but the short-area accuracy and trigger speed have to get cleaned up. Thankfully, Richardson’s one-of-one athletic profile and explosive arm talent should buy him the time to develop the finer parts of his game.
30. Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Baker Mayfield is so far removed from the flashes of greatness that we saw from him in the second half of his rookie season. Mayfield has the arm talent to stick around and make some stellar throws occasionally, but the rest of his game is inconsistent.
Pocket presence and processing between the numbers have been significant issues for Mayfield. Mayfield also isn’t athletic enough to support his scramble-heavy playing style.
31. Sam Howell, Washington Commanders
Sam Howell is a dice roll for the Commanders. He is a bundle of traits who needs time and reps in an NFL scheme to become a real-deal pocket passer. Howell’s deep ball accuracy is already a clear positive, and he is tough in the pocket, but his footwork, processing speed, and decision-making all need to get up to par.
That said, Howell is a reasonably dangerous runner, which should help raise the floor of the offense while he works out the kinks in his game. I’m not too optimistic about Howell working out, but I understand the bet the Commanders are making.
32. Josh Dobbs, Arizona Cardinals
There isn’t much to say here. Josh Dobbs is a career backup who is only starting because Kyler Murray is injured and because the Cardinals aren’t interested in winning games right now.
To be fair, Dobbs looked serviceable when thrust into the lineup for the Titans last year. He flashed decent arm talent and toughness in the pocket. But Dobbs will need a lot more than that to look good on this Cardinals roster.