Putting digital pen to paper on rankings that I could easily say on radio and deny in the future is probably mistake. This is, essentially, an invitation to be wrong. Our perceptions change dramatically over the course of an NFL season as players improve, fall off, get hurt, and everything in between.
That said, it's a fun discussion and a productive activity. Most analysts have 15 guys they'd say our top 10 quarterbacks without making an actual list, and I'm just as guilty of that as anybody. I know I've done it with quarterbacks, not to mention NBA players and who knows what else.
As we enter the NFL season, I thought it'd be productive to put the list down on paper to get a real feeling of how I feel about certain guys. This list is subject to change, and it does not exist without context. Just because I think one guy is 15 and another guy is 12 doesn't mean I think there is a significant difference. In fact, grading QB's in tiers is probably a better way to divide them. That said, everyone likes lists, so here's a list.
This list is made for this season only. It is simple. If I would trade Quarterback A for Quarterback B, then Quarterback B is ranked higher. Some of these are splitting hairs where both sides would say no. For instance, neither the Cowboys or the Giants would trade Tony Romo for Eli Manning, but I have to put one above the other because it's a list, so I picked one. Injury projection is essentially ignored because there's no way to predict injuries, even based on injury histories. With all that explaining out of the way, the list:
Aaron Rodgers - He can do everything. He's a football genius with a bazooka for an arm and legs capable of making plays. From a skill standpoint, there's literally nothing you would add to his toolbox, and he knows how to use them all. He's the best, the end.
Tom Brady - Everything Rodgers has from a passing standpoint, minus the ability to run. I could punish him another slot or two for the suspension (because of the lack of availability) but the 12 games he's scheduled to play will be better than most quarterbacks playing 16. He did fall off last year without Rob Gronkowski, who has already started battling injuries in camp, but he's still at the very top tier of the league.
Ben Roethlisberger - Big Ben has an A-grade command of his offense. He pushes the ball down the field like few others, resulting in an offense that moves in chunks through the passing game. His ability to extend plays is mostly a blessing, although it leads to him taking some unnecessary hits when he could have easy gains to stay on schedule with on-time check-downs.
Cam Newton - He's a superhuman. He's an incredible athlete with perhaps the best arm in the NFL. He plays in an offense designed to maximize all of those things. He, like Roethlisberger, looks to gain chunks in the passing game, leading to a top 10 yards/attempt in 2015 despite the 28th best completion percentage. He was the MVP for a reason. ESPN.com had him as the top, tier 2 QB. He's a tier 1 guy for me.
Russell Wilson - It's amazing how good he is considering there are plays where he flat out can't see what's going on because of his lack of height. He's super smart, well studied and makes plays in and out of the pocket. His escape ability is second to none and he escapes to throw, often leading to points.
Philip Rivers - Perhaps the most underrated QB of this generation is still really, really good. He's got over a decade of experience that he puts to use weekly. His release is one of the quickest in football and he's competitive as hell.
Drew Brees - Many would argue he's the smartest QB in football. He certainly has the best rapport with his coach. He knows what Sean Payton wants and has been delivering it at an elite clip for 10 seasons. He's thrown for 4,000+ yards every year in New Orleans and four of those seasons have gone for over 5,000. He's slowed down a touch, but is still safely a top 10 QB.
Carson Palmer - Another guy who loves to push the ball down the field. He's beyond technically sound. He's not going to make any plays running, but he has active feet in the pocket and throws darts to a talented receiving corps.
Andrew Luck - The pendulum has almost swung too far on Luck negatively. He's a prisoner of the outrageous expectations placed on him coming into the league, but he's largely been good. He has a turnover bugaboo that he needs to curb, but he's asked to do a lot in the Colts offense and has delivered more times than not.
Eli Manning - He's continued to get better every year and really played well in Ben McAdoo's system last year. In year two, you'd expect even more growth and another 4,000 yard season. He's unflappable (despite the occasional Manning face) and one of the best two minute QB's we've ever seen.
Tony Romo - Romo is still really effective when he's not asked to do too much. The '14 Cowboys that featured a running game also featured a Romo that would be significantly higher on this list. He's elite pre-snap. He gets into trouble when he tries to force. He's never quite mastered "discretion is the better part of valor," but he's still incredibly effective when healthy.
Joe Flacco - After a lost '15 season for the Ravens, Flacco looks to get back to his '14 form where he threw for 27 touchdowns and 12 INT's. Flacco at his best is as good as literally anyone. He's the holder of arguably the best postseason by a QB in NFL history when he lead Baltimore to the Super Bowl with 11 TD's and 0 INT's in '12-'13. He's not played that well since, but it's somewhere in there. He's probably the guy I have the hardest time with on this list. I could slide him at least four spots down.
Matt Ryan - Ryan is the other guy I have a hard time placing. He's super smart, has the arm and has a solid, but not elite track record of success. He also has had some really disappointing games in big spots and extended stretches of "why isn't this guy better?" All things considered, I'd still be comfortable with him as my QB but know it comes with no guarantees of glory.
Jameis Winston - The reports out of Tampa is last year's number one overall pick looks really good. He's shed weight, allowing him to make more plays with his feet. He's a football genius that will be in the top 10 of this list next year with more experience to pull from and shred defenses with. Simply a matter of time.
Kirk Cousins - The next step for Cousins is looking for bigger chunks more often. He's already super effective getting a pre-snap read and quickly distributing the ball for positive yards. There are times though where 7 yards could've been 27 or more. Some of the bigger plays in the Redskins offense never get a chance to develop because Cousins gets to his check-downs too quickly. By doing this, he gives his backs and receivers chances to make plays because defenders aren't close. He was better at this when DeSean Jackson came back, but he still left plays on the field. If he finds a better balance, he'll shoot up this list into the top 10.
Andy Dalton - Dalton was excellent in the regular season last year, but still only threw for 3200 yards. He cut down on turnovers, but he's also not asked to do quite as much as a guy like Cousins who threw it 4 more times per game last season.
Derek Carr - Another guy who has a chance to shoot up this list. He's super talented, has a stud young weapon in Amari Cooper and will continue to get better. Another "just a matter of time" guy.
Matthew Stafford - He's one of the best arm talents in the league and he's thrown for a ton of yards, but only made the playoffs once in his career. He's now without Calvin Johnson. I don't expect the production to stay or the lack of winning to change.
Alex Smith - You know exactly what you're getting with Smith. He's not going to turn it over. He's going to make some plays with his feet. He will never throw the ball down the field. It's Cousins problem, but worse and with a longer track record of not fixing it. Smith won't change. Cousins might (and I predict he will). That's why Smith is lower.
Teddy Bridgewater - We're 20 QB's in and I'd still be happy with Bridgewater. He's still young and not asked to do much. He could move up with a more accurate year, both in the completion percentage and interceptions department.
Jay Cutler - The Bears QB had a renaissance year under Adam Gase, but Gase left his offensive coordinator post to become the head coach in Miami. Can Cutler retain and apply what he learned. Part of that renaissance was simply cutting what he was asked to do. He threw it less, resulting in fewer turnovers. He's a worse version of Tony Romo who mistakenly over-trusts his arm too often.
Blake Bortles - He's still getting better, but he's not there yet. He's gotta be more accurate. Eighteen interceptions is too many. Completing less than 60% of passes isn't good enough either. That said, Bortles did throw 35 touchdown passes which is a great number and something to build on.
Marcus Mariota - We still don't know much about Mariota as an NFL QB. He had ups and downs as a rookie before his season ended with an injury. He's got plenty to grow on moving into 2016.
Ryan Fitzpatrick - He has a beard. It is spectacular. He also has a track record of mediocrity, although he was solid enough last year. If he can just be solid, the Jets might have a shot at the playoffs.
Ryan Tannehill - He's not good on 3rd down. He's not good in the 4th quarter. He does have Adam Gase on his side and one of the best receivers in football in Jarvis Landry to throw to. He's gotta be more consistently accurate and maintain that level in high leverage situations.
Tyrod Taylor - He's fine for what Rex Ryan wants in a QB. He'll hit the occasional bomb. He's a pain in the ass on 3rd down because he's so skilled as a runner. He's got lots of room to grow as a pocket passer, but still produced at a very solid level last year.
Brock Osweiler - Big guy. Big arm. Couldn't beat out noodle arm Peyton Manning at the end of last year. He has a long way to go and experience will help. So will Bill O'Brien. He's the first guy on this list where I'd go "you can have him," which isn't bad for 27.
Sam Bradford - He can't stay healthy and when he is, he isn't very good. We'll see how he is in a more traditional system after a turnover plagued year under Chip Kelly.
Robert Griffin III - He's an incredible straight line runner with a terrific arm, but really struggles to read defenses from the pocket. Hue Jackson is trying his best, but the reports out of Browns camp say he's still struggling. He never had to read a defense before getting to the NFL. I also think he might still be struggling with proper drop depth on some plays. He just seemed out of rhythm multiple times last Friday night.
Mark Sanchez - He's not accurate. He doesn't throw well down the field. He struggles with complex coverages. There's a reason he's #30.
Colin Kaepernick - Cannon arm, incredible sprinter but he clearly has a lot of issues playing the position. He has no touch. Everything is a fastball. Since Jim Harbaugh left, he's been a disaster.
Case Keenum - If the Rams thought he was good, they wouldn't have drafted Jared Goff number one overall. He's not a disaster, but he's not good either.
That's it, that's the list! Let the debate begin!