The landscape of quarterbacks in the NFL has shifted seismically in the past four years alone. With the arrival of Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, and Carson Wentz, the new have already begun the process of supplanting the old. No longer is Tom Brady the best quarterback in football. No longer is Aaron Rodgers the most physically gifted quarterback in the NFL. No longer is Matt Ryan a top-10 quarterback.
The 2020 NFL season is still a few months away (hopefully), but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to rank the top-10 quarterbacks for the upcoming season. Below, you’ll find exactly that.
To no one’s surprise, Mahomes is atop the rankings. Nobody should be surprised by the quarterback positioned directly behind Mahomes considering he — Lamar Jackson — is the reigning MVP and all (don’t @ me about his playoff record). It also shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Russell Wilson in the third position.
But what’s most notable about the rankings is the absence of a few older quarterbacks who are on Hall of Fame trajectories. I’m talking mostly about Aaron Rodgers, an all-time great quarterback who I would — if I had the ability to do so — vote into Canton during his first year of eligibility. I’ve long said that Rodgers is the most talented quarterback I’ve ever seen play with my own two eyes, which remained true right up until the moment Mahomes took over for Alex Smith in Kansas City. Rodgers is one of the greatest quarterbacks I’ll ever get to watch. But I left him off the list because, as stated above, we’re looking ahead to the 2020 season and, well, Rodgers has already started his decline. In 2019, Rodgers threw for 4,002 yards, 26 touchdowns, and only four interceptions, but he averaged only 7.0 yards per attempt, and ranked 13th in DVOA, which measures value per play, and 20th in total QBR. The truth of the matter is, Rodgers hasn’t been operating at his peak for a few seasons now. We haven’t seen him at his best since 2016. Add in the Packers‘ dreadful offseason, when they refused to give him the reinforcements he needs, and well, that’s how you wind up with a top-10 quarterback list without Rodgers. I still think he’s a good quarterback, just not the great quarterback he once was.
Other quarterbacks, besides Rodgers, who just missed the cut include: Kirk Cousins (arguably the second-best quarterback in the NFC North), Matt Ryan (a future Hall of Famer who is slowly declining), Kyler Murray (who has a chance to be a top-10 quarterback after the Cardinals‘ awesome offseason, but needs to take a big step forward in Year 2 to do so), and Jimmy Garoppolo (which says more about Kyle Shanahan).
Without further delay, our list of the top-10 quarterbacks for the 2020 season.
We’ve all seen the beard. We’ve all heard about his offseason regimen. We all know he’s coming off major elbow surgery. We’re all aware that he’s 38 years old. These are all red flags. They’re all reasons for concern.
But the last time we got a meaningful glimpse of Big Ben back during the 2018 season, he was still the Big Ben we’ve all come to know over the past 15 years. Two seasons ago, Roethlisberger completed 67 percent of his passes for 5,129 yards (7.6 yards per attempt), 34 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, and a 96.5 passer rating. He ranked eighth in DVOA and fourth in total QBR.
Assuming he makes it through the 2020 season unscathed, it’ll be his first full season in a while without Antonio Brown. Despite Brown’s absence, Big Ben is still well-equipped to be a top-10 quarterback again in 2020. JuJu Smith-Schuster, who even after his disappointing 2019 season with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, is averaging 965 yards and 5.7 touchdowns per season, is still there. So is Diontae Johnson, who broke out with 59 catches, 680 yards, and five touchdowns last year, and James Washington, who racked up a career-high 735 yards last season. Meanwhile, the team did well to add Eric Ebron in free agency. Even without Brown, Big Ben will still be throwing to a talented collection of pass catchers. Perhaps most importantly, he’ll be throwing behind a dependable offensive line.
All of this is set up for Big Ben to reclaim his place in the NFL as a top-10 quarterback. But concerns still persist — namely, his elbow and age — which is why he’s ranked 10th on a list of 10.
9. Buccaneers‘ Tom Brady
Like with Big Ben, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned with Brady’s outlook in 2020. For one, he’ll be 43 when the new season kicks off. Two, he’s already shown signs of declining after a 2019 season that saw him throw for 4,057 yards (his lowest total since his 2016 Deflategate suspension season), 24 touchdowns (his lowest total since his 2008 torn ACL season), eight interceptions, and an 88.0 passer rating (his lowest rating since 2013). By both DVOA and total QBR, he graded out as an average quarterback, ranking 17th.
But Brady snuck his way onto the list because he’s no longer in New England on an offense devoid of playmakers. In Tampa Bay, he gets to work with Bruce Arians while throwing to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate, arguably the deepest and best receiving group of Brady’s entire career. That’s why I’m projecting a bounce-back season for Brady. Unlike Rodgers, Brady is now getting the help he needs in the later stages of his career.
8. Eagles‘ Carson Wentz
Wentz can certainly relate to Brady’s plight in 2019. Like Brady, Wentz didn’t get much help. At one point, after the Eagles’ receiving corps was decimated by injury, Wentz was throwing to receivers like Greg Ward and Mack Hollins. The team’s leading wide receiver, Alshon Jeffery, missed six full games and finished with 490 yards. The team’s top-two leading pass catchers were tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. The good news is that despite those unfortunate circumstances, Wentz still managed to complete 63.9 percent of his passes for 4,039 yards (an alarmingly low 6.7 yards per attempt), 27 touchdowns, seven picks, and a 93.1 passer rating. He finished the season 20th in DVOA, but 11th in total QBR.
So yes, Wentz needs to elevate his level of play if he’s going to be the eighth-best quarterback in 2020. Luckily, the Eagles had the draft we all thought the Packers would have. Even though they drafted a quarterback in Jalen Hurts, they only did so after giving Wentz some immediate relief in the form of wide receiver Jalen Reagor. Furthermore, they added more speed to their pass-catching group by trading for Marquise Goodwin. Not to mention, both productive tight ends are still around.
If the Eagles can stay healthy at the skill positions, Wentz will have a tremendous chance to become a top-10 quarterback in 2020.
It continues to fly under the radar that Stafford was on pace to throw for 4,998 yards, 38 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in 2019 before an injury ended his season after eight games. At the time of his injury, Stafford ranked second in touchdown passes, fourth in yards per attempt, fifth in passer rating, third in DYAR, fifth in DVOA, and seventh in total QBR. Freed from the constraints of the Jim Bob Cooter offensive system that focused more on short passes and playing in a Darrell Bevell system that allowed him to use his arm talent to throw downfield, Stafford thrived.
As I wrote at the time:
What’s changed is that the Lions replaced Jim Bob Cooter with Darrell Bevell at offensive coordinator and Bevell has allowed Stafford to use his arm talent to throw the ball downfield with frequency. Cooter tried to limit the mistakes that Stafford has a habit of making by forcing him to get the ball out quickly to underneath receivers — at the beginning, it actually seemed like a good idea. In 2016, Stafford averaged 8 air yards per attempt, which was the league’s eighth-lowest average. In 2017, he also averaged 8 air yards per attempt. In 2018, he averaged 7 air yards per attempt, which was the league’s sixth-lowest average. This year, under Bevell, Stafford is averaging 10.7 air yards per attempt. Only Jameis Winston ranks ahead of him. As a result, he’s averaging 8.6 yards per attempt after averaging 7.1 yards per attempt during the first decade of his career. It turns out, letting Stafford use his God-given arm strength is actually a good idea.
With Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones still around, and T.J. Hockenson entering Year 2, Stafford is poised to pick up where he left off. Assuming he can stay healthy this time around, Stafford has a legitimate chance to put together the best season of his career. He’s never been better equipped to do so.
That’s why he’s ranked seventh on a list that doesn’t include Aaron Rodgers. I think he’s going to be the best quarterback in the NFC North in 2020.
6. Texans‘ Deshaun Watson
It doesn’t help matters that Watson is saddled with Bill O’Brien as his general manager, who jettisoned DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for an overpaid and unproductive running back. But if there’s one thing Watson has continually proven since entering the NFL in 2017, it’s that he’s capable of overcoming less than ideal circumstances.
As a rookie, playing behind a bad offensive line, he led the Texans to a 3-3 record as a starting quarterback; they went 1-9 without him. In his first full season as a starting quarterback, he operated behind the league’s worst offensive line, getting sacked 62 times, but also completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 4,165 yards (8.2 YPA), 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a 103.1 passer rating — not to mention his 551 yards and five scores as a runner. He did it again last year in a 15-game season with a 67.3 completion percentage, 3,852 passing yards, 26 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions, a 98.0 passer rating, 413 rushing yards, and seven touchdown runs.
So, even though he’ll be without Hopkins, I have faith he’ll be able to once again perform like a top-10 player at his position group. There’s no doubt he’ll miss Hopkins, but a receiving group composed of Kenny Stills, Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, and Brandin Cooks can still be effective — particularly downfield. Above all else, I trust Watson to elevate the team around him. It’s just what he always does.
5. Cowboys‘ Dak Prescott
The Cowboys’ refusal to give Dak Prescott the contract he wants and deserves continues to make no sense. They have a 26-year-old franchise quarterback they were lucky enough to draft in the fourth round four years ago and for some dumb reason, they haven’t given him a long-term contract. And let’s be clear: Dak deserves it.
In four seasons, Prescott is completing 65.8 percent of his passes, and averaging 3,944.5 passing yards per season, 7.6 yards per attempt, and 24.3 touchdown passes and nine interceptions per season. He’s accumulated a 97.0 passer rating. He’s also averaging 305.3 rushing yards and 5.3 rushing touchdowns per season. Since 2016, he ranks sixth in passing yards, tied for ninth in touchdown passes, and tied (with Russell Wilson) for second in quarterback wins (only Brady has more). He’s coming off a season that saw him finish sixth in DVOA and fourth in total QBR.
So, it’s not farfetched to think Prescott will play like a top-10 quarterback in 2020. He’s mostly been playing at that level over the past four seasons. Now, in addition to Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, he gets to throw to someone like CeeDee Lamb. I think there’s a good chance Prescott outplays his ranking on this list. He’s set up to thrive, which is why the Cowboys should sign him before the season begins and he drives up his asking price once again — just like how they should’ve signed before last season, but I digress.
4. Saints‘ Drew Brees
For as much attention as Brady’s longevity has gotten, Brees is aging just as well. In his age-40 season, he completed a league-high 74.3 percent of his passes, averaged 7.9 yards per attempt, threw a touchdown on a career-high 7.1 percent of his passes and an interception on only 1.1 percent of his passes, and generated a passer rating of 116.3, the best of his career. If not for a thumb injury that cost him five starts, he would’ve been in the MVP discussion (again).
Returning for his 15th season in New Orleans, Brees is set up to pick up where he left off. The Saints already had one of the league’s best offenses and then they went out and signed Emmanuel Sanders to bolster a receiving group led by the great Michael Thomas. The offensive line — already one of the league’s best — added first-round pick Cesar Ruiz to the interior. Unless Brees finally feels the affects of aging, he should remain one of the league’s best quarterbacks (and the best quarterback in the NFC South even after Brady’s arrival).
3. Seahawks‘ Russell Wilson
No quarterback continually does more with less than Wilson. If he had the benefit of playing for, say, Andy Reid in Kansas City, he’d probably find himself atop this list. Instead, he remains in Seattle with Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer, who seem hellbent on #EstablishingTheRun, much to Wilson’s detriment. That said, Wilson continually makes it work. At this point in his career, he’s one of the three best quarterbacks (and the best deep-ball thrower) in football.
Let’s run through the numbers. Since he entered the league back in 2012, he’s never missed a game, he’s won 86 games (only Brady has won more in that span), and he’s thrown for the seventh-most yards and the fifth-most touchdowns. Out of all quarterbacks since 2012, only Cam Newton has rushed for more yards. Since 2017, he’s averaging 3,847 passing yards, 33.3 touchdown passes, and 7.7 interceptions per season. Last year, he completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 4,110 yards (8.0 YPA), 31 touchdowns, only five interceptions, and a 106.3 passer rating. If not for Lamar Jackson’s historically great season, he would’ve won MVP. There’s a reason the Seahawks went 11-5 despite outscoring their opposition by only seven points over the course of the season. Wilson elevated them.
The scary thing is, Wilson is better equipped to do even more damage in 2020 than he did in 2019. D.K. Metcalf, after making a strong impression with 900 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, should be improved in Year 2. Tyler Lockett should be healthy. Newcomer Phillip Dorsett is actually an intriguing fit. Greg Olsen was a nice upside signing.
But above all else, it comes down to Wilson’s consistency. He’s almost always one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Don’t expect that to change out of nowhere.
2. Ravens‘ Lamar Jackson
What a first full season as a starting quarterback it was for Jackson, who emerged with a well-deserved MVP trophy after leading the Ravens to the top seed in the AFC. There’s no doubt that Jackson, unlike Wilson, was set up to thrive with an innovative coaching staff that catered the offense to his unique skillset and a top-five defense, but there’s also no doubt that the vast majority of the Ravens’ success came down to Jackson. In 15 games, he went 13-2 while completing 66.1 percent of his passes, averaging 7.8 yards per attempt, leading the league in touchdown passes with 36 despite attempting only 401 passes (26th), throwing six interceptions, and posting a 113.3 passer rating. And oh yeah, he broke the single-season rushing record for a quarterback with 1,206 yards (and seven scores). There’s just not another quarterback like him in the NFL right now — maybe ever.
While some have posited that Jackson could struggle next season now that teams have film on the Ravens’ offense, I lean the other way. I think he might still improve as a passer. This was Jackson’s first full season as an NFL starting quarterback in a new offense with young targets around him. The receivers, like Hollywood Brown and Miles Boykin, should improve in Year 2. Jackson himself should grow more comfortable in the offense. And offensive coordinator Greg Roman should continue to innovate the offense.
Don’t let one bad playoff game lull you into thinking the Ravens are a gimmick. Jackson is poised to terrorize the NFL for the next decade.
1. Chiefs‘ Patrick Mahomes
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It shouldn’t cause any controversy. We should all agree by now that Mahomes is far and away the best player in football regardless of position, and he just happens to play the most important position in all of sports.
Since becoming the team’s full-time starter at the beginning of the 2018 season, he is averaging 4,564 yards, 38 touchdowns, and only 8.5 interceptions per season — even though he’s missed nearly three games in that span. He won MVP in his first season as a starter by becoming the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000-plus yards and 50-plus touchdowns in a single season. He followed that up by leading the Chiefs to a championship in 2019, erasing a 24-point deficit in the span of a single quarter to kick off the team’s playoff run with a 20-point win over the Texans and eventually erasing a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl against an elite defense. Sure, his numbers in the regular season regressed after his record-setting 2018 season, but keep in mind that from 2018 to 2019, he cut his interception rate in half (from 2.1 percent to 1.0 percent). Including the playoffs, Mahomes now owns a higher winning percentage than Tom Brady.
If anyone has a chance to unseat Brady as the greatest quarterback of all time, it’s Mahomes. There’s no reason to think he’s set to decline. If anything, like Jackson, I think he’s going to keep getting better.