The quarterback position is debatably the most important in all of team sports.
You can win championships in basketball without a great point guard, or in baseball without a great catcher. But in football, your quarterback has to play well for your team to even have a chance at an NFL title (unless you’re Trent Dilfer, of course). Teams with great quarterbacks are regularly in contention, while franchises that finish at the bottom usually point to their lack of production from QBs as the biggest culprit.
As we head into the 2019 season, there’s a lot of exciting young talent at the position, but the old heads still reign supreme. Recognizing the importance of the position, we made a ranking of the 10 best signal-callers in the game heading into 2019. The central focus of the list is next year’s projected performance, not historical greatness. With that in mind, here are the 10 best players under center ahead of the upcoming season.
10. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Goff had the toughest end to his season possible, but it was still a very solid third year in the league for him, and we can expect more of the same in 2019. Much has been written about how easy Sean McVay’s system makes things for Goff, but he still has to make the reads and get the ball there.
His interception count spiked last year, but so did his TD tally, and he led one of the best offenses in the league to the big game (even if he couldn’t finish the job). Goff has a lot to prove to move up on the list, but it’s very hard to not place him on it after finishing last season as one of the top statistical QBs in the NFL.
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Big Ben era in Pittsburgh will come to a close eventually, but Roethlisberger will not go quietly. The longtime Steelers signal-caller threw for a league-leading 5,129 yards last year and averaged over 320 yards per game. On the flip side, Roethlisberger threw the most interceptions he’s had in a season in four years, and several of those cost his team potential wins. He also threw to the most productive receiver in recent history in Antonio Brown, who is no longer a Steeler.
Roethlisberger puts up big numbers, but his decline has already begun. JuJu Smith-Schuster is good, but AB’s absence will be felt. Still, even a version of Roethlisberger who puts up 4,000 yards and 30 TDs with 15 INTs is better than most QBs in the NFL.
8. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
Rivers was thought to be on the downside of his career before blowing up last season and leading a talented Chargers squad to the postseason and a playoff victory. He threw for 32 TDs and his 68 percent completion rate was his personal best since 2013. He also reached above 8.5 yards per attempt for the first time since 2010 and only the third time in his career.
Can Rivers keep it going? The talent is still around him (depending on what happens with Melvin Gordon’s possible holdout), and Rivers relies more on accuracy than arm strength with his wonky throwing motion. Still, last year felt like a statistical peak at this stage in his career. His team could be as, if not more, successful, but Rivers won’t put up bigger numbers than he did in 2018.
7. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
No one really knew what we’d get from Luck after a lost year due to a mysterious shoulder injury. Eight or so months later, we feel dumb for doubting him. Aided by a modern offense designed by guru Frank Reich, Luck had the most efficient season of his young career, posting his highest completion percentage and QBR en route to a playoff berth.
Luck was still a bit rusty at times, but after a full year and a half in Reich’s offense, his first offseason with no extensive rehab since 2016, and an elite offensive line, he should set the NFL on fire next season. After seven years in the NFL, Luck has the perfect circumstances around him to succeed in ways he hasn’t before. Somehow, it doesn’t feel like Luck has hit his ceiling.
6. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson went from being an under-appreciated QB among most fans to signing a $130 million extension as Seattle placed the future of its franchise on his shoulders in just one offseason. He led a banged-up Seahawks squad to the playoffs against all odds last year and threw 35 TDs with only seven picks at 8.1 yards per attempt. All this despite getting sacked on over 10 percent of his dropbacks.
Wilson proved he was an elite quarterback to any doubters with his performance last season. He can win games and hit receivers regularly at every level of the field. He’s not going to blow analysts away with his stat lines. But you can never count him out.
5. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan had a really good year in 2018 that was overshadowed by how badly the team around him performed after being decimated by injuries. Ryan threw for nearly 5,000 yards with 35 TDs at a 69 percent completion rate. It was his best season by every statistical measure since he set the league on fire and won MVP back in 2016-17. His team still lost games, but they were usually only in them because of Ryan.
After spending several top draft picks on offensive linemen, Ryan may yet improve upon last season. All the important contributors who missed last season due to one injury or another are back. If Ryan picks up where he left off, the Falcons will be contenders, and he’ll remind everyone why he should be considered an elite QB.
4. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Brady added another ring to his collection last season, and yet another argument as to why he should be considered the greatest quarterback to play the game. It was a down year for Brady in terms of turnovers after throwing 11 interceptions, the most he’s had in one season since 2013. Otherwise, he picked up where he left off as one of the best QBs currently playing, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 29 TDs.
The drop-off has to come soon for Brady… right? 3,500 yards and 25 TDs with 10 picks would be considered a disappointing 2019 for Brady, but it’s still far better than anyone his age should perform. Ultimately, it’s not the stats that define Brady, and it never has been. While he still wears a Patriots uniform, he’s a top-four QB at any given moment because he wins and makes the throws that matter most.
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Another year, another big season for Brees. The longtime Saints QB led one of the best offenses in the league to a first-round bye by throwing for almost 4,000 yards with 32 TDs and only seven interceptions. He hasn’t shown any sign of his age and continues to make every throw needed to get the Saints wins in another record-breaking season.
He also hasn’t been able to get over the hump and return to the Super Bowl since 2006 after two heart-breaking playoff loses in a row. Given how those losses went down, it’s impossible to place all blame on Brees, but the fact remains. He should break some more records this year, but the measure of success for Brees at this point comes from the team, not his own personal accolades.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
One of the greatest quarterbacks ever in terms of pure talent, Rodgers and the Packers went down in flames last season as Mike McCarthy was canned and Green Bay missed the playoffs. Nonetheless, Rodgers threw 25 TDs and only two interceptions, all on a fractured leg. If he’s as rejuvenated as he appears when the games start to matter, it could be a monstrous season for Rodgers.
It says a lot about Rodgers that the NFL generally considered last year to be quite the disappointment. He should come back with a vengeance and put up big numbers and wins if he remains healthy. He’s indisputably one of the two best QBs in the NFL at any given moment, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make a run at the top of the list again.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Yes, Mahomes has only one year of production compared to all of these guys. Yes, he’s paired with one of the best offensive minds in league history in Andy Reid. But this last year was an absolutely incredible performance from a second-year QB.
5,000 yards. 50 TDs. 82 QBR. 8.6 TD percentage. 8.8 yards per attempt. 318 yards per game. Every metric that you can come up with, Mahomes was elite. We’ve rarely seen a quarterback who can throw from the angles he can, and have never seen a quarterback who can throw it as far as he can from those angles. There’s a reason he won MVP last season. He was the best quarterback in the world for 16 games, and everything indicates it was only his first act.