When discussing NFL QB’s, we hear a bunch of terms with no solid definition thrown around: elite, game-manager, franchise quarterback, gunslinger, etc. We also tend to let a players reputation, whether it’s based on past performance or mainstream media opinions, cloud our vision in terms of how well they’re actually playing on the football field.
As the 2014 NFL season winds down, there are more hot takes on QB’s than ever. What I’ve done here is taken the 32 primary starting QB’s from this season, separated them into five tiers, and ranked them. This is based SOLELY on their performance this season. I don’t care if you think Tony Romo is going to choke in the playoffs or Colin Kaepernick is going to develop into the games best. This is based on what these guys are doing right now.
I’ve taken everything into account: team success, individual stats, advanced metrics, and my own personal eye-test based on having watched at least a little bit of all of these guys. One more time, this is simply ranking how these guys have played this season.
The advanced stats I believe to be the most telling of quality QB play, and therefore the ones I use, are Adjusted Yard per Attempts, DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value over Average), EPA/P (Expected Points Added per Play), and WPA/G (Win Probability Added per Game).
If a player is NR in any of those categories it means they were so bad they couldn’t even crack the top 40. All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference, Football Outsiders, and Advanced Football Statistics.
Let’s begin, starting from the bottom.
Tier 5: Absolutely No Business Starting in the NFL
Pretty Simple: these guys should NOT be even considered as possibly being NFL-quality starters based on their play this season.
32. Josh McCown (Buccaneers)
Generic #’s (10 games): 55.9 comp %, 2091, 10 TD, 13 INT
Advanced #’s: 5.6 Adj. YPA, -38.1% DVOA, 33.79 QBR, Not Ranked in EPA/P or WPA/G
Josh McCown is a true underdog and a solid backup, but his last name is “McCown” after all which basically is Latin for “not a starting QB”. Good for him that he played well enough for Chicago last year to trick the Bucs into giving him starters money. He’s better than Mike Glennon, at least.
31. Blake Bortles (Jaguars)
Generic #’s (13 Games): 60.2 comp %, 2791 yards, 11 TD, 17 INT
Advanced #’s: 5.1 Adj. YPA, -38.5% DVOA, 23.01 QBR, Not Ranked in EPA/P or WPA/G
I hate to give up on a rookie so early but Blake Bortles has just been sooooooo bad. The athleticism and arm strength everyone said he had coming into the draft just haven’t been evident. He looks like a sitting duck in the pocket and fails to make many routine throws because it appears he short arms it. You can live with mistakes out of a rookie if they at least show you flashes of greatness, but Bortles hasn’t.
30. Geno Smith (Jets)
Generic #’s (13 Games): 58.2 comp %, 2167 yards, 10 TD, 13 INT
Advanced #’s: 5.2 Adj. YPA, -23.9% DVOA, 29.71 QBR, -.02 EPA/P, -.07 WPA/G
I’m sorry to admit that I was a believer in Geno Smith coming out of college, but it’s too hard to defend him now. He throws baffling interceptions and takes sacks that he shouldn’t. The Jets have plenty of holes and are more than just a decent QB away from being competitive, but I’d expect them to change guys next year whether Rex Ryan is still the coach or not.
29. Robert Griffin III (Redskins)
Generic #’s (8 Games): 69.4 comp %, 1358 yards, 3 TD, 4 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.2 Adj. YPA, -39.8% DVOA, -.02 EPA/P, -.07 WPA/G
RG3 does not look like the 2012 version of himself anymore. I’m not saying he doesn’t have a chance to turn things around (he was great in Week 16), but this season, he’s basically been Geno Smith with a slightly bigger arm. Maybe he needs a change of scenery. Maybe he needs a new offense or a new coach. I don’t know. But he needs something if he ever wants to come close to living up to his pre-draft hype.
28. Zach Mettenberger (Titans)
Generic #’s (7 Games): 59.8 comp %, 1412 yards, 8 TD, 7 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.0 Adj. YPA, -31.3% DVOA, 30.11 QBR, -.05 EPA/P, -.05 WPA/G
Nobody expected Mettenberger to see the field this year and while at times he’s shown off his big arm, he’s mostly been what we thought he would be; a wildly inaccurate thrower who can’t buy time in the pocket. Mettenberger certainly isn’t the reason the Titans are so bad but he’s shown enough inherent flaws in his game for this team to be looking at QB’s in the 1st round.
Tier 4: Fringe Starters/Rookies Who’ve Handled the Pressure Well
If you have one of these guys, you’re probably looking for a new QB. Unless it’s one of the rookies, in which case, you’re probably impressed with what they’ve done, all things considered.
27. Kyle Orton (Bills)
Generic #’s (11 Games): 63.9 comp %, 2842 yards, 17 TD, 10 INT
Advanced #’s: 6.4 Adj. YPA, -6.6% DVOA, 40.28 QBR, .01 EPA/P, .02 WPA/G
Kyle Orton deserves credit for stepping in and not allowing the Bills to collapse, but it’s also safe to say that if this team had even a league-average QB, they’d be one of the top dogs in the AFC. He’s long been viewed as one of the leagues top backups and I agree with that notion. Buffalo has an elite defense and some weapons at the skill positions but unless they want their championship window to close completely, they need to find a new QB soon.
26. Brian Hoyer (Browns)
Generic #’s (14 Games): 55.3 comp %, 3326 yards, 12 TD, 13 INT
Advanced #’s: 6.8 Adj. YPA, -5% DVOA, 43.08 QBR, .06 EPA/P, .09 WPA/G
I understand that Johnny Manziel has not looked good in his brief moments on an NFL field, but has Hoyer really been any better? The Browns stayed in the hunt as long as they did because of an elite secondary and an easy schedule. Hoyer’s first four games this year were quite impressive but he’s come back down to earth and now we all can see why he was never really viewed as anything more than a backup.
25. Teddy Bridgewater (Vikings)
Generic #’s (12 Games): 64.2 comp %, 2710 yards, 13 TD, 11 INT
Advanced #’s: 6.6 Adj. YPA, -20.2% DVOA, 49.0 QBR, .07 YPA/P, .10 WPA/G
Bridgewater’s game tape is much more impressive than his numbers. He’s dropped some dimes and that crap about his hands being too small is clearly not an issue as he’s shown no problem pushing the ball down the field despite a weak WR core. He still looks a bit timid in the pocket, but he’s a rookie playing behind a bad line, you can’t expect anything else. There’s no reason to think Bridgewater won’t continue to improve. The Vikings should be very happy with his play so far.
24. Shaun Hill (Rams)
Generic #’s (8 games): 62.0 comp %, 1414 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.0 Adj. YPA, -18.9% DVOA, 45.27 QBR, .03 YPA/P, -.06 WPA/G
Whenever he gets a shot, Shaun Hill shows us that he is one of the top backups in the league. I don’t know what else to really say. The Rams will be happy to move on from Sam Bradford’s contract and will have a new QB next year, but if they’re smart, Hill will still be around in case something goes wrong.
23. Derek Carr (Raiders)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 58.6 comp %, 3112 yards, 20 TD, 11 INT
Advanced #’s: 5.4 Adj. YPA, -15% DVOA, 40.85 QBR, -.01 EPA/P, -.02 WPA/G
Despite being on the worst team in the NFL and coming into the league as a supposedly “developmental prospect”, Derek Carr has impressed. He’s flashed his arm talent but what’s really been a surprise is his ability in the pocket and his decision-making. The Raiders have a long way to go but it appears they’ve found their QB with Derek Carr.
22. Mark Sanchez (Eagles)
Generic #’s (8 games): 64.1 comp %, 2126 yards, 12 TD, 10 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.0 Adj. YPA, -13.7% DVOA, 57.45 QBR, .09 EPA/P, .16 WPA/G
The Sanchize has come back to reality after a fast start replacing Nick Foles in Philly. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen him divert to his old ways; throwing stupid picks and making weird decisions with his pocket movement. There was a month-long stretch where people thought that Sanchez might be the guy for the Eagles. That, along with the Eagles playoff chances, have been flushed down the toilet. Sanchez certainly makes for a high-end backup, however.
21. Colin Kaepernick (49ers)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 60.6 comp %, 3165 yards, 17 TD, 10 INT
Advanced #’s: 6.8 Adj. YPA, -10.3% DVOA, 54.12 QBR, .07 EPA/P, .07 WPA/G
Obviously, the 49ers aren’t looking to replace Kaepernick right now like many other teams in this group are with their guys. But the circus hype surrounding him has died down dramatically due to the fact that Kaepernick has been dreadful this season. A major problem is that teams have figured him out so he’s no longer a plus-plus rusher like, say, Russell Wilson. When forced to be a pocket passer, Kaepernick continues to struggle, often locking-in on one guy. There is, of course, a ton of physical talent here. But if Kaepernick has another season like this one, questions will be raised about his future in the NFL.
20. Cam Newton (Panthers)
Generic Stats (13 Games): 58.3 comp %, 3013 yards, 17 TD, 12 INT
Advanced Stats: 6.5 Adj. YPA, -17.5% DVOA, 54.62 QBR, .09 EPA/P, .16 WPA/G
Just like the 49ers, the Panthers aren’t looking for a new QB. But Newton has still been pretty terrible this year. There are two reasons I give Newton the edge over Kaepernick: the Panthers have a horrible WR core and a weak defense that puts Newton in tough spots, unlike the Niners who have talent at the skill spots and one of the top defenses in the league. Also, Cam Newton continues to be an elite rusher, which sort of makes up for his struggles as a passer. Both guys have all the talent in the world but need to improve ASAP.
Tier 3: Serviceable albeit Unspectacular Starters
Nobody is going to argue that these guys are elite, but if you put a good team around them, you’re probably going to the playoffs.
19. Andy Dalton (Bengals)
Generic #’s (14 Games): 63.4 comp %, 3008 yards, 15 TD, 14 INT
Advanced Stats: 6.4 Adj. YPA, -3% DVOA, 57.35 QBR, .09 EPA/P, .18 WPA/G
Dalton’s numbers are nowhere near as good as last year, and while some of that can be attributed to the Bengals becoming a run first team, he has still turned it over too much to rank any higher than this. Given how effective his running game is, Dalton should have a higher completion percentage. He does deserve some credit for his improved deep ball though, while injuries to A.J. Green and Marvin Jones has limited his arsenal at times. Ultimately, Dalton’s season will be judged on whether or not Cincy makes the playoffs and what they do when/if they get there.
18. Ryan Fitzpatrick (Texans)
Generic #’s (12 Games): 63.1 comp %, 2483 yards, 17 TD, 8 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.9 Adj. YPA, 5.5% DVOA, 55.29 QBR, .1 EPA/P, .02 WPA/G
This is where you need to realize I am only talking about this year. I do not think any team wants Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter moving forward, but he’s done a very nice job for Houston this year. He’s long been one of the most turnover-prone QB’s in football due to his style of play but he’s really gotten smarter on the field this year. As you can see from his numbers, he’s benefited from being on a very good team, but Fitzpatrick still deserves praise for stepping and and keeping Houston in the playoff picture.
17. Eli Manning (Giants)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 64.1 comp %, 3981 yards, 29 TD, 13 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.3 Adj. YPA, -3.7% DVOA, 72.67 QBR, .09 EPA/P, .2 WPA/G
Take away a few awful games, and Eli has been pretty solid this year. He’s not to blame for the Giants struggles. He’s always going to be a high-turnover guy, but that needs to be taken with a grain of salt based on the offense he plays in. He’s a volume passer.
16. Jay Cutler (Bears)
Generic #’s (14 Games): 66.1 comp %, 3640 yards, 28 TD, 18 INT
Advanced #’s: 6.5 Adj. YPA, -.5% DVOA, 54.99 QBR, .04 EPA/P, .04 WPA/G
I’ve always been a Cutler defender, and I still am. Yes, he’s turned the ball over too much this year and has turned off some people with his facial expressions, but that’s just Jay Cutler. He’s always been that way. Statistically, he hasn’t been any worse this year than the last few seasons in Chicago. Trestman’s offense is reliant on having a QB with the arm to push the ball over the field. There are a lot of NFL QB’s, very good ones, who couldn’t make the throws in this offense that Cutler makes look routine. Don’t take that for granted. He’s over-paid, yes. But he’s one of the better QB’s in the league and continues to show that on the field. It’s a joke he was benched for Jimmy Clausen. Trestman needs to go, not Cutler.
15. Matthew Stafford (Lions)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 61.1 comp %, 4040 yards, 19 TD, 12 INT
Advanced #’s: 6.9 Adj. YPA, 2.2% DVOA, 56.41 QBR, .11 EPA/P, .24 WPA/G
Jim Caldwell has calmed Matthew Stafford down this season and the Lions have become a better team because of it. He’s not throwing it as much, or as deep, as he has in years past. Stafford’s five 4th quarter comebacks this year lead the league. He’s still good for a mind-boggling mistake every now and then, but Stafford has become a smarter, and better, quarterback. Having Golden Tate as a legit 2nd option has certainly helped.
14. Alex Smith (Chiefs)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 65.3 comp %, 3265 yards, 18 TD, 6 INT
Advanced Stats: 7.2 Adj. YPA, 7.3% DVOA, 49.4 QBR, .11 EPA/P, .09 WPA/G
Alex Smith continues to be the most cautious QB in the NFL, perhaps to a fault. But that style makes sense given the Chiefs roster and offense. He’s actually aired it out a little bit more this year than we’re used to seeing from him. Nothing flashy here, but if you have a plus-rushing attack and a decent defense, you could do A LOT worse than Alex Smith. Hell, if the 49ers still had Alex Smith, they’d be going to the playoffs.
13. Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 67.0 comp %, 3786 yards, 26 TD, 12 INT
Advanced #’s: 6.8 Adj. YPA, 2.4% DVOA, 60.52 QBR, .11 EPA/P, .17 WPA/G
Ryan Tannehill is a good NFL quarterback. Now, he may be nothing more than that, but the Dolphins have no excuse to not be in the playoffs given the talent on their roster and Tanny at QB. It appears as if Joe Philbin will be around another year, which should be bad news if you’re a Dolphins fan. Tannehill has greatly improved his accuracy and mobility since coming into the league.
12. Carson Palmer (Cardinals)
Generic #’s (6 Games): 62.9 comp %, 1626 yards, 11 TD, 3 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.6 Adj. YPA, 7.8% DVOA, 64.83 QBR, .19 EPA/P, .33 WPA/G
Despite being a shell of his former self, physically at least, Palmer showed before his injury this year that he is still a very good NFL starter. He throws a solid deep ball and has become a much smarter QB with age. It’ll be tough for him to rebound from another brutal knee injury but if he can do what he did in the first 6 games this year, Arizona will be happy to have him back.
11. Joe Flacco (Ravens)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 62.0 comp %, 3674 yards, 25 TD, 12 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.0 Adj. YPA, 20.5% DVOA, 67.81 QBR, .18 EPA/P, .14 WPA/G
Flacco struggled against Houston this week, but has been very good for the majority of the season. He’s easy to criticize due to the gigantic contract he received after winning the Super Bowl, but it’s not his fault Ozzie Newsome chose to overpay him. Since entering the league, Flacco has been one of the most reliable QB’s in the NFL in terms of both individual and team success. You know what you’re getting with Flacco. He’s not a guy who’s going to have those incredibly efficient numbers, but any coordinators playbook is fully open with Flacco at the helm and he’s proven he can get hot for a few games and carry a team.
Tier 2: High-End Starters
If you have one of these guys and you don’t make the playoffs, something is seriously wrong with your coach and/or roster.
10. Russell Wilson (Seahawks)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 62.8 comp %, 3236 yards, 20 TD, 6 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.9 Adj. YPA, -.6% DVOA, 64.4 QBR, .17 EPA/P, .19 WPA/G
Wilson is not and probably never will be a volume passer who ever throws for 4,500 yards in a season, but he takes care of the football. The reason he comes in a bit lower than you probably expect this year is because his accuracy has undeniably taken a hit. In terms of both completion percentage and YPA, he’s having the worst season of his very young career. However, he’s still more than good enough to lead the Seahawks to a Super Bowl again.
Also, Wilson is BY FAR the best rushing QB in the NFL. It’s the reason he ranks high in WPA and EPA despite actually having just average passing numbers. All Wilson needs to do in order to jump into the next tier is improve his passing outside the hashes………or wait for some old guys to retire. He’s well-deserving of the $100 million contract he’ll surely get.
9. Matt Ryan (Falcons)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 66.4 comp %, 4434 yards, 28 TD, 12 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.7 Adj. YPA, 17.5% DVOA, 70.01 QBR, .19 EPA/P, .21 WPA/G
Despite a very disappointing season, Atlanta is just one win away from hosting a playoff game. That is due to two things: the NFC South being a mess, and Matt Ryan. Despite (again) having poor protection and often being put in clear passing situations, Ryan continues to put up some of the best numbers in the league. There are a lot of “despites” with Matty Ice, but he continues to play at a high level.
8. Andrew Luck (Colts)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 61.7 comp %, 4601 yards, 38 TD, 16 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.7 Adj. YPA, 10.2% DVOA, 64.28 QBR, .14 EPA/P, .07 WPA/G
Luck continues to turn the ball over at such a high rate it severely hurts his win probability added. His generic numbers are so impressive in part due to the fact that only Drew Brees throws the ball more. But still, Luck is right on the brink of becoming an elite QB because he’s perhaps the only QB other than Aaron Rodgers who can truly destroy a defense at all three levels of the passing game. Ever since coming into the league he has carried the Colts and now the team is making its third straight playoff appearance. He’s not there quite yet, but there’s no reason to believe that Luck won’t be at an All-Pro level for the next decade.
7. Philip Rivers (Chargers)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 67.0 comp %, 3995 yards, 31 TD, 16 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.3 Adj. YPA, 18.3% DVOA, 69.34 QBR, .18 EPA/P, .24 WPA/G
Per usual, Rivers has had an up and down season. Also per usual, there have been a lot more ups than downs. He’s single-handedly kept San Diego in the playoff hunt. He’s not shy with his arm (or his mouth) and that leads to a few more INT’s than you would like but Rivers makes so many spectacular throws into tight windows that it’s hard to complain about the occasional INT into double coverage. Rivers has been in this tier for pretty much his entire career and if he was to ever lead the Chargers to a Super Bowl, we’d have to seriously consider him as a Hall of Fame guy.
6. Drew Brees (Saints)
Generic #’s: 69.6 comp %, 4671 yards, 32 TD, 14 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.5 Adj. YPA, 21.8% DVOA, 72.24 QBR, .19 EPA/P, .16 WPA/G
The decline of Drew Brees has been blown way out of proportion. Yes, the Saints are bad this year. But it’s hard to put that on Brees, who put together another remarkably efficient season. He’s lost a bit in terms of sheer arm strength and it’s hurt his deep ball but the team has adjusted the offense accordingly. Brees is always going to be near the top of the league in turnovers because he throws it more than anyone else. If you use INT% instead of total INT’s, Brees looks much better on paper.
Tier 1: The Truly Elite QB’s of 2014
5. Tom Brady (Patriots)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 64.5 comp %, 4029 yards, 33 TD, 9 INT
Advanced #’s: 7.6 Adj. YPA, 22.7% DVOA, 75.44 QBR, .2 EPA/P, .19 WPA/G
Guess what? He’s still one of the very best in the league by any measure. The 5-yard out and the wheel route, which used to be the staples of this offense, have been replaced by Brady zipping it up the middle to Gronkowski on an inside post. It’s a nearly unstoppable play, as Gronk is almost always open, and even if he’s not, Brady places the ball in an area where Gronk can catch it anyways.
The Pats have relied more on their ground game and defense this year, but Brady is still one of the very best.
4. Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 67.4 comp %, 4635 yards, 30 TD, 8 INT
Advanced #’s: 8.6 Adj. YPA, 24.5% DVOA, 73.54 QBR, .24 EPA/P, .25 WPA/G
The narrative surrounding Big Ben last year is that he lost his deep ball and his ability to read defenses.
Welp. 2014 has been the best season of Roethlisberger’s should-be Hall of Fame career. Le’Veon Bell is a nice RB, but don’t fool yourself, the Steelers are in the playoffs because of Roethlisberger throwing it to Antonio Brown. On top of hitting defenses for more big plays than ever, Big Ben has cut down his turnovers. He’s still difficult to bring down in the pocket, and Bell finally gives him a legit checkdown superstar to go to when he is under pressure.
3. Tony Romo (Cowboys)
Generic #’s (14 Games): 70.3 comp %, 3406 yards, 32 TD, 8 INT
Advanced #’s: 9.2 Adj. YPA, 23.6% DVOA, 82.3 QBR, .28 EPA/P, .27 WPA/G
Romo, for the first time in his career, has had a reliable rushing attack and a defense that doesn’t always require him to play from behind. The result has been the best season of his very underrated career. Romo has always been a volume passer until now and that style never really suited him. He’s great off play action rollouts and quick throws to pass catchers who can beat the press, such as Jason Witten and Dez Bryant.
It’ll only take one bad postseason turnover for everybody to turn on Romo again but his dominance this season should not be forgotten. He leads the league in completion percentage and standard YPA.
2. Peyton Manning (Broncos)
Generic #’s (14 Games): 67.1 comp %, 4143 yards, 37 TD, 11 INT
Advanced #’s: 8.5 Adj. YPA, 32.4% DVOA, 80.8 QBR, .25 EPA/P, .31 WPA/G
It’s funny that we’re not hearing Manning’s name brought up in MVP discussions. That’s probably because he had such a ridiculous season last year, that anything less than that is seen as a disappointment. Despite having a “noodle arm” now, Manning leads the league in DVOA, is on pace for another 4500 yard/40 TD season, and the Broncos are likely going to get another 1st round bye.
He’s made a star out of Emmanuel Sanders and plays at such a methodically dominant level that maybe people are just bored of Manning the way they’ve become bored of LeBron James.
1. Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
Generic #’s (15 Games): 65.1 comp %, 4155 yards, 36 TD, 5 INT
Advanced #’s: 9.3 Adj. YPA, 28.6% DVOA, 81.19 QBR, .32 EPA/P, .31 WPA/G
Those advanced stats tell the story with Rodgers even more than his insane TD:INT ratio. He’s playing at a level above everybody else. He throws it wherever he wants. He knows what the defense is going to do. If the defense does get pressure on him, he just dodges the guys and chucks it downfield for a 20 yard completion.
If MVP goes to a QB, which it usually does, it’s got to be Rodgers. There are plenty of worthy signal callers, but he’s on another level right now. If Green Bay wins the division, they’re not going to lose a playoff game in Lambeau.