The NFL’s quarterback tiers after Week 10 of the season
We’re ten weeks into the 2023 NFL season, which has given us plenty of time to evaluate the league’s quarterbacks. It’s been an intriguing year in that respect, as injuries, uneven play and surprising developments at the position have shaken up its hierarchy. Here, then, is an attempt to tier the league’s quarterbacks based upon what we’ve seen this season, starting at the bottom and working our way up.
Tier VII: Playing themselves into another profession
Mac Jones (New England), Desmond Ridder (Atlanta), Jimmy Garoppolo (Las Vegas)
All of these players began the season as starters and have since been benched by their respective teams. Garoppolo, the veteran of the group, is on his third team, and between injuries and inefficiency may not get another crack at a starting job. Ridder and Jones are in their second and third years, respectively, and will inevitably catch on somewhere else. In Ridder’s case, he could even regain his starting position in Atlanta at some point. But it doesn’t seem likely. Both he and Jones have shown that the pro game moves a bit too fast for them, and that they don’t possess the skill set or the mental makeup to be effective NFL starters.
Tier VI: Backups masquerading as starters
Zach Wilson (NY Jets), Josh Dobbs (Minnesota), Gardner Minshew (Indianapolis)
Wilson may soon join the tier above him if he continues to play as ineffectively as he has. But with Aaron Rodgers on the shelf, the Jets don’t have another option for now. Dobbs is the feel-good story of the season in the NFL as he bounces from team to team playing great football with little preparation. But the sample size on him as an effective starter is very small, while his broader resume screams career backup. I’m not hating on Dobbs — I love what he’s doing — but I don’t expect it to last. Minshew is the place-holder in Indy until next season, when Anthony Richardson returns. All three are solid NFL backups, but none are likely to play well consistently enough to prove they can be long-term starters.
Tier V: The jury is still out
Justin Fields (Chicago), Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh), Brock Purdy (San Francisco), Jordan Love (Green Bay), Sam Howell (Washington), Bryce Young (Carolina), Will Levis (Tennessee)
This is the most intriguing tier because it’s the one where players could break either way. Let’s examine it by experience.
Fields has made the most starts of the bunch (31) and the Bears have won just six of those games. That’s more of an indictment of the organization than of the quarterback. Still, Fields’ low career completion percentage (60.5%), poor touchdown-to-interception ratio (35:27) and penchant for taking sacks have been disappointing. Then again, his athleticism is elite and it’s hard to say how he’d fare behind a better offensive line or with a different coaching staff. The jury has a tough call on this one.
So too on Pickett. His statistics are poor by today’s quarterback standards. 13 touchdowns versus 13 interceptions, 6.3 yards per attempt and a 62.3 completion percentage. Plus, Pittsburgh has ranked near the bottom of the league in points per game throughout his tenure as their starter. But the Steelers are also 13-8 in those games and have won 13 of their last 18 overall. Pickett also has more come-from-behind wins in the 4th quarter than any NFL quarterback the past two seasons. The question with Pickett is this: are the Steelers winning in spite of him or because of him?
Purdy has had the most success of this group, leading the 49ers to the NFC championship last season. But as he showed recently during San Francisco’s three-game losing streak, he may only be as good as his supporting cast. Minus Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel, Purdy looked ordinary. For the first time, questions emerged as to his long-term viability in San Francisco. I like Purdy better than many, but a quick playoff exit this season will raise suspicions about him even further.
The others are all first year starters in various stages of development. Love has been up and down, Young has been bad for an awful Panthers team and Howell and Levis have played well in limited action. The latter two look as though they could be fixtures with their respective teams but it will take more than a handful of starts to know for sure.
Tier IV: Veterans who remain decent starters… for now
Deshaun Watson (Cleveland), Baker Mayfield (Tampa Bay), Russell Wilson (Denver), Matthew Stafford (L.A. Rams), Derek Carr (New Orleans), Daniel Jones (New York Giants), Kyler Murray (Arizona)
This tier is largely for those whose best quarterbacking days are behind them. Wilson doesn’t seem to figure into Denver’s plans beyond this season. Stafford can still play, but his age (35) and injury history are issues. The same is true of Carr. Watson hasn’t been the same quarterback in Cleveland he was in Houston. Mayfield has always run hot and cold. Jones threw two touchdowns and six interceptions this season before getting injured. He could be on his way out in New York.
As for Murray, he’s an outlier here because he’s still young. Frankly, I wasn’t sure where to include him. Drama seems to follow Murray, as do injuries, rumors about poor work habits and reports he wants out of Arizona. There will be a market for him if he does leave, but how big that market is will depend on how well he performs over the next eight weeks.
Bottom line — these quarterbacks have enjoyed some fine moments in their careers, and may still summon the occasional brilliance from time to time. But none seem likely to lead their teams on a long playoff run and most could be vulnerable if a younger, shinier option becomes available.
Tier III: Renaissance Men
Geno Smith (Seattle), Jared Goff (Detroit)
That’s the best way to describe these veterans who have reinvented themselves in their current homes. Smith was considered a bust after eight seasons with four different teams in which he went 13-21 as a starter. But he’s been fantastic the past two years in Seattle, throwing 41 touchdowns against 18 interceptions while leading the Seahawks to a playoff berth last year and most likely another one this season. Goff fell out of favor after piloting a Super Bowl run with the Rams and was largely considered a salary dump when they traded him to Detroit for Stafford. But he has found new life in Dan Campbell’s offense with a young supporting cast and a “take no prisoners” approach to the game. The career renaissance these two players are enjoying rank them among the top third of starting quarterbacks in the league.
Tier II: On the verge of greatness
Tua Tagovailoa (Miami), Dak Prescott (Dallas), Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville), C.J. Stroud (Houston)
Tagovailoa, Prescott and Lawrence are all candidates for our top tier whose shortcomings keep them out. They’ve all shown themselves to be capable of carrying their respective teams on their backs and of playing the position at its highest level. They’ve also displayed inconsistency and a troubling tendency to disappear in big games, like Lawrence did at San Francisco on Sunday, or Tua did against the Chiefs, or Prescott has done numerous times over the years. A deep playoff run would eliminate that part of the narrative on any of these players, and would likely catapult them into the top tier.
As for Stroud, It may seem premature to include a rookie in this category. To anyone who believes so, I’d simply urge them to watch him play. Stroud is enjoying one of the greatest rookie seasons of any quarterback in NFL history, and it’s no fluke. His command of the offense, ability to read defenses and accuracy are off the charts for a rookie. Stroud will have to play at this level for a while to be considered elite. But it will be surprising if he doesn’t.
Tier I: The Elite
Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia), Joe Burrow (Cincinnati), Lamar Jackson (Baltimore), Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City), Josh Allen (Buffalo), Justin Herbert (LA Chargers)
Hurts, Burrow, Jackson and Mahomes are inarguable here. They are the four best quarterbacks in the league. They have all been to the Super Bowl. They are consistent winners capable of carrying their teams when necessary. They are the four players most likely to be the answer to the question, “If you had to drive 80 yards to score a touchdown in the final two minutes to win a playoff game, who would you want at quarterback?”
Allen and Herbert do not have the playoff pedigree of the others. Allen is prone to clunkers where he throws bad interceptions or completes just 50% of his passes. Herbert is yet to win a playoff game despite a talented roster in Los Angeles. Those are legitimate knocks on each. But outside of Mahomes, Allen is the most gifted quarterback in the league and has thrown an absurd 126 touchdowns over the past three-and-a-half seasons. Herbert has thrown 111 touchdowns over that time, and passed for more yards in his first three seasons than any quarterback in league history. So, while the playoff wins haven’t always materialized, the potential and the output of these two players qualify them as elite.
So, what do you think? Any differences in opinion? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll be sure to respond.