Quarterback Tiers and Rankings Based Exclusively on the 2017 Season

**These rankings are based exclusively on what each quarterback did from September 2017 to February 2018. It’s not about previous seasons, skill sets or where the quarterback is in his career at the time. It’s solely about each player’s performance in that single season.**

If you’re reading this it’s too late you’re likely American. You likely grew up in America. You were likely taught that quarterbacks should be evaluated by the numbers attributed to them and by how often their team won. It’s the traditionalist’s measurement of quarterback play.

But if you’d never been taught that. If you’d never been told to use the output of the whole offense to evaluate one individual player in that offense, do you think you’d have wound up using those numbers to evaluate quarterbacks? Maybe. But maybe not.

If you’re a traditionalist who evaluates quarterbacks through that prism, you won’t like this list. If you’re someone who buys into the name brand of a player and trusts each player’s reputation to impact where they should rank on lists such as this one, you won’t like this list. If you don’t recognize that this list is exclusively about the 2017 season and nothing else, you won’t like this list.

But really, you won’t like this list even if none of that applies to you. People don’t read quarterback rankings to enjoy them.

All of the numbers used in this article come from the Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue 2018. That ebook goes into great detail on the majority of the quarterbacks in the league, but also offers in-depth charting numbers for each quarterback in the league. This list only includes quarterbacks who threw 200-or-more attempts last year. (So no Jimmy Garoppolo!)

 

1. Tom Brady – Tier 1.

Did you know? Tom Brady had the most play action plays in the league in 2017, 152, all but three of those plays kept Brady inside the pocket by design. He only left the pocket by design in short-yardage situations.

A deserved MVP for the best quarterback in football in 2017.

The only real knock on Brady last year was that he threw too many interceptable passes and was (literally) the luckiest quarterback in football with defenders dropping his passes. But even if more of those passes had been caught he still would have been the best quarterback in the league because those interceptable opportunities were more a reflection of the change in style of offense.

Brady threw the ball deep 13.9 percent of the time, the fifth-highest rate in the league, and was 40 percent accurate while doing so. For a 40-year old quarterback to be four percent above the league average on deep throws while throwing the ball downfield that often is astonishing. And he could still do everything on short and intermediate throws that has made him a hall of fame quarterback over the course of his career.

He sustained his accuracy through the playoffs this year too, unlike 2016 when it fell off dramatically over the final weeks of the year.

 

2. Matt Ryan – Tier 1.

Did you know? Matt Ryan threw 13 interceptable passes in 2017 to get to his 13 interceptions. Derek Carr also had 13 interceptions, but it took him 36 interceptable passes. Ryan was the second unluckiest quarterback in the league.

Steve Sarkisian came in and blew up all the good that Kyle Shanahan did. That put Ryan back in more condensed pockets with more difficult reads and throws into tighter windows. It wasn’t good for the Falcons offense as a whole, but it let Ryan show off his ability to consistently make difficult plays that elevated his supporting cast.

Ryan didn’t get the same wide open throws off of play action, so his deep accuracy was built on touch throws into tight windows. His consistency throwing deep was impacted by that, but he was a top-10 passer on short, underneath and intermediate passes. Top five on the latter two.

A theme of the 2016 season was the effectiveness of the Falcons’ running back tandem. They were amongst the most potent players in the NFL and set the foundation for the passing game while thriving as runners. Both players regressed massively in 2017, ranking amongst the least reliable running backs in terms of catching the ball. Ryan’s overall failed reception rate ranked in the top 10. That curtailed his output.

The difference between Ryan’s 2016 and 2017 should be used as a case study to show off how the perception of a quarterback’s individual play can be impacted by his supporting cast. Everything helped him in 2016, everything hurt him in 2017.

 

3. Drew Brees – Tier 1.

Did you know? Drew Brees was the most-accurate passer in the NFL to the five-yard line and the most accurate passer in the NFL after the five-yard line.

If you put Drew Brees in an offense where he gets great protection, open receivers and a strong running game to act as the protagonist of the offense, he’s going to break one record or another. Brees’ completion percentage record was in part a result of him not throwing the ball downfield. 56.9 percent of his passes didn’t cross the five-yard line, the highest-rate in the league. Why throw downfield when Alvin Kamara can just do it for you?

Although the completion percentage came because of how often he threw short, that didn’t mean he wasn’t phenomenally accurate overall. Brees tied Aaron Rodgers with the highest depth-adjusted accuracy rate in the league and he did so while ranking second on short throws, eighth on underneath throws, first on intermediate throws and second on deep throws.

His precision as a passer was put on a pedestal by his role in the offense, showcased for everyone to see and preserved for later in the year. Brees didn’t have to throw as often and he didn’t have to move in the pocket or deliver against pressure as often.

 

4. Aaron Rodgers – Tier 1.

Did you know? Aaron Rodgers was the most accurate passer in the league when he used a play fake to settle inside the pocket, but he was the 29th-ranked passer when using a play fake to leave the pocket.

Even including that Panthers game where he clearly wasn’t ready to be on the field, Aaron Rodgers still managed to match Drew Brees as the most accurate quarterback in the league last season. Both Rodgers and Brees finished with a 64.8 depth-adjusted accuracy percentage. Brees was the more consistent passer overall but Rodgers was by far the best deep passer in the league last season.

That Panthers game was clearly Rodgers’ worst game of the season but he also wasn’t as sharp as he had been previously prior to that point. He went from being outlandishly good at avoiding interceptable passes in previous years to just an above-average interceptable pass rate in 2017.

If you were to judge Rodgers by his own standards it was an awful year. If you judge him by a human being’s standards he was still exceptional.

 

5. Dak Prescott – Tier 2.

Did you know? Only 5.3 percent of Dak Prescott’s attempts were screens, the second-lowest rate in the league.

If you thought Dak Prescott played like a superstar as a rookie but was awful during his second season, you’re likely conflating quarterback evaluation with evaluating the offense as a whole. Everything on the Cowboys offense got significantly worse in 2017. The offensive line got weaker at left guard and right tackle with new players, the center’s performances dropped off and the left tackle was hurt. Jason Witten was even slower at tight end. Dez Bryant spent the season struggling to get open then had a monumental number of drops when he did get open. Ezekiel Elliott was out of shape then out of the league for six weeks through suspension.

Everything was worse except for the quarterback. The quarterback actually got better.

Prescott wasn’t a star during his rookie season. The Cowboys should have gone back to Tony Romo. But he grew in his second season. He was one of the most accurate passers in the league, ranking fourth in the league with a 60.2 depth-adjusted accuracy percentage. That was while throwing to a group of receivers who couldn’t separate and offered limited catch radiuses.

Prescott wasn’t just checking down either. He threw 58.2 percent of his passes further than five yards downfield, the seventh-highest rate in the league. More significantly, he threw the second-highest rate of passes into the 1-20 yard range. 77.2 percent of the Cowboys passing game existed within those parameters. It was the opposite of a short and shot play offense.

Throwing into the 1-20 yard range is tougher to do than throwing the ball short and deep. In the Cowboys offense it meant an over-reliance on isolated routes with straight dropbacks where the quarterback had to manage the pocket. 29 quarterbacks used play action or screens more often than Prescott did. He wasn’t throwing into distorted coverages or making quick throws into the flat that gained big yardage. He was responsible for throwing receivers open and carrying an offense that wasn’t built to work without an all star supporting cast.

It was the same offense that Garrett ran during Prescott’s rookie season, but without the incredible pass protection and dominant running game, and with a worse group of receivers, the quarterback never had a real chance.

What really stood out from Prescott was his acumen. He showed off more command of his offense during his second season. Making successful audibles and adjustments to spring receivers open. That was on the occasions when he had opportunities to do so. Jason Garrett’s refusal to adjust to his personnel or to his opponents meant that Prescott often appeared to be the only one on the Dallas offense who was trying to make the offense function smoother.

Although the numbers weren’t there, Prescott’s precision as a passer, his intelligence as a quarterback and his physical skill set to function inside and outside of structure were obvious. The Cowboys have a lot of problems, the quarterback isn’t one.

 

6. Marcus Mariota – Tier 2.

Did you know? 59.7 percent of Marcus Mariota’s passes travelled further than five yards downfield last year, only three quarterbacks played in more aggressive offenses.

Quarterbacks who threw more interceptions than Marcus Mariota last season: 1.

Quarterbacks who threw more interceptable passes than Mariota last season: 26.

Mariota’s 2017 season was unlike any from recent times. He threw 16 interceptions but only 14 interceptable passes. How was that possible? An incredible 13 of his 14 interceptable passes were caught, 92.9 percent, the highest rate in the league by a large distance. On top of that, he had three interceptions that weren’t his fault, non-quarterback interceptions which aren’t included in the interceptable pass total.

Compare Mariota’s season to a quarterback close to the league average. An Andy Dalton for example. Dalton had 10 of his 32 interceptable passes caught. Russell Wilson had exactly the same numbers. Kirk Cousins threw 15 more interceptable passes than Mariota but had four fewer caught. If Mariota was as lucky as Derek Carr with with his turnovers last year, he’d have only thrown five all season long.

The Titans quarterback didn’t have an interception problem. He had a luck problem. He had a supporting cast problem and a coaching staff problem.

If you can look past the turnovers, which you should, you’ll find a quarterback who was phenomenally accurate. Mariota was the closest thing the league had to Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers and Brees tied each other, far ahead of everyone else in depth-adjusted accuracy. Mariota was comfortably third as one of only four quarterbacks above 60 percent.

He was surprisingly accurate on deep throws and the best underneath passer in football. He did that while playing in a scheme that didn’t fit his skill set with a supporting cast that couldn’t create separation or consistently catch the ball. When you adjust Mariota’s yards per attempt number to account for receivers dropping accurate passes and catching inaccurate passes, it goes from 7.1 to 7.8, the biggest jump in the league. That means Mariota’s receivers hurt his production more than any other quarterback.

 

7. Cam Newton – Tier 2.

Did you know? 29 quarterbacks threw deep more often than Newton did in 2017. Only one did in 2016.

Accuracy has never really been an issue for Newton. It’s been discussed as an issue by people who rely on completion percentage and don’t understand the value/impact of throwing further downfield. Newton has never had accuracy issues because when adjusted for depth he’s been one of the more accurate passers in football. In 2017 that wasn’t the case.

In 2017, Newton was the least consistent week-to-week passer in football. He had some phenomenal displays and some awful displays. You never really knew which you were going to get. You did know that he was going to consistently limit Christian McCaffrey’s output.

On average last year, quarterbacks were 85.6 percent accurate when targeting running backs with at least 30 throws in their direction. McCaffrey’s accuracy percentage was 76.3 percent, the worst rate in the league. Newton hit 87 of 113 attempts towards his star running back. This was a big issue because the offense no longer had a deep threat who could create big plays downfield.

Ted Ginn’s departure made Newton’s deep throws tougher. Greg Olsen’s health made them even tougher. He now had to fit the ball into tighter windows for Devin Funchess, Kelvin Benjamin, Russell Shepard and Ed Dickson. Despite those challenges, Newton still managed to finish 11th in deep accuracy.

He didn’t rank above 20th at any other level of the field, meaning his efficiency as a passer wasn’t where it needed to be. But Newton’s value in the running game continued to offset any inconsistencies he had throwing to shorter routes. His presence made Jonathan Stewart’s job easier and afforded his blockers a numbers advantage so they could more easily create leverage.

Should he rediscover his consistency as a passer in 2018, Newton should be back in the top five of the league’s quarterbacks. Even with that consistency, he was still one of the best quarterbacks in the league last year.

 

8. Philip Rivers – Tier 2.

Did you know? Philip Rivers was responsible for only one of his sacks last season. His 5.9 avoidable sack percentage was the best in the league.

After a year when his arm died during the second half of the season, Philip Rivers’ initial play in 2017 was a major concern. His arm looked dead again. He soon improved though, and while he didn’t really get back tot he superstar level he’d been at before, he became one of the better week-to-week starters in the league again.

One of the fascinating elements of Rivers’ season was how his complete absence of athleticism made the pre-snap battle between he and the opposing defense so much more important. He led the league with 38 throwaways largely because Rivers knew immediately at the snap if he was going to have a chance at making a play. He would just give up on the play rather than try to make a tougher play.

Being that he’s Philip Rivers, he was still able to make the offense work while being more reliant on his pre-snap reads

That limited arm strength impacted his deep ball. He could still hit deep throws, he was just more reliant on laying the ball out rather than hitting tight windows. Rivers was still a phenomenal underneath and intermediate passer regardless of the size of the window he was targeting.

 

9. Alex Smith – Tier 3.

Did you know? 14.9 percent of Alex Smith’s attempts were screens, yet only 11.8 percent of his yards came on screen plays.

It took another quarterback drafted to replace him for Alex Smith to have the best season of his career. The best season of his career really isn’t a high bar to clear. Smith was more aggressive with his decision making in 2017. He ran an offense that was based on short and shot plays, finishing the year with 11.6 percent of his attempts travelling further than 20 yards downfield.

Smith was one of the most accurate deep passers in the league, one of the most accurate overall passers too, and he didn’t turn the ball over. He took way too many sacks, 38.9 percent of his sacks were avoidable, and he threw the ball away at an above-average rate, but besides those relatively minor issues his charting data was overall quite good.

The charting data doesn’t tell you how he struggled when he was asked to be a dropback passer rather than an athlete executing a system. Early in the year, when Reid was dictating to opposing defenses and the offense ran through Kareem Hunt, Smith hit open receivers from clean pockets on clearly-defined route concepts. When there was a bit more of a technical strain on him later in the year he became less consistent.

That’s always going to be the concern with Smith. He’s more of an athlete than a quarterback. It can work with Reid. To a degree.

 

10. Carson Wentz – Tier 3.

Did you know? 7.9 percent of Wentz’s yards were gained on inaccurate throws and three of his touchdowns were. Only one quarterback had more than three touchdowns on inaccurate throws.

Prior to tearing his ACL, Carson Wentz was ticking every box for the traditionalist’s method of quarterback evaluation. Most importantly, his team was winning a lot of games. Almost as importantly, he had thrown for a bunch of touchdowns. That was enough to make him a strong, maybe even the favoriite MVP candidate.

It was a very similar season to that of Matt Ryan in 2016. Wentz was the quarterback of a great offense more than a great quarterback in 2017. He was still pretty good overall, but his primary value was in not turning the ball over. Wentz threw seven interceptable passes in his first two games. Obviously an awful start. But after that it took him another seven games to throw another seven interceptable passes.

The primary difference between Wentz during his second season was his improved footwork. Instead of hitting the top of his drop and locking into one spot, he showed more balance and more comfort. That allowed him to move his eyes more easily, avoiding stare downs and creating better timing. It also allowed him to avoid the wild overthrown passes over the middle of the field that defined his rookie season. He became one of the best intermediate passers in the league.

If Wentz is going to take another step forward in 2018, he needs to show more consistency with his accuracy. He was a good intermediate passer but that was the only area where he impressed. He ranked 25th or worse on short throws, underneath throws and on deep throws. It didn’t hold the Eagles offense back because of how overwhelming the offense as a whole was. That’s why the offense didn’t fall apart when Nick Foles took over.

 

11. Tyrod Taylor – Tier 3.

Did you know? Tyrod Taylor was accurate on 61.1 percent of his deep sideline throws down the left sideline, the best rate in the league.

The Bills are going all out to find a quarterback who will solve all their problems. That’s a tall task considering all the problems their offense had last year. Taylor was very accurate and was better at taking care of the ball than any other player in the league, by a huge distance too. Taylor’s accuracy wasn’t felt on the field because of the receivers.

Zay Jones was the worst receiver in the league. Charles Clay was the least efficient receiver in the league. They played a large role in Taylor having the worst failed reception rate in the league. He and Marcus Mariota led the league with a 0.7 gain in their adjusted yards per attempt numbers, a number that accounts for receiver quality. It wasn’t just the drops though, Taylor was too often forced to hold the ball because his receivers couldn’t beat aggressive coverage.

His quality diversifying the offense as a runner and his ability to create behind leaky pass protection was invaluable. The Bills didn’t have a quarterback problem, they had a supporting cast problem, so giving away all your assets to chase the next quarterback doesn’t make much sense.

 

12. Jacoby Brissett – Tier 3.

Did you know? Jacoby Brissett was the best deep sideline passer in the NFL in 2017, second best to the left sideline and fourth best to the right sideline.

The biggest surprise from charting the 2017 season was the quality of Jacoby Brissett’s play. Consistently excellent deep accuracy was a rare commodity last season but Brissett was one of the best at creating big plays with his arm. Brissett hit 51.5 percent of his deep throws,16.1 percent above the league average, but too often those big plays were ruined by one of his receivers.

Only Tyrod Taylor lost completions to receiver error more often than Brissett did. Only three quarterbacks lost more completions and only three quarterbacks lost more yards.

Brissett was thrown into a very tough offense to execute. He had his inconsistencies, but those were issues you’d expect from an inexperienced starter and he didn’t make situations worse. He had one of the better interceptable pass rates in the league while ranking just outside the top 10 in avoidable sack percentage.

Despite arriving late in the offseason before being thrown into an offense that lacked talent and quality coaching, Brissett spent much of last season elevating his supporting cast. He was one of the most accurate passers in the league despite facing consistent pressure while being asked to throw into tight windows. It will be a shame when Brissett reverts to being a backup next season because he could be a very good starter if given the time on the field to grow through his development years.

He’d have been an upgrade for most teams in the league last year.

 

13. Jared Goff – Tier 3.

Did you know? 4.4 percent of Jared Goff’s throws gained more than 40 yards after the catch, the highest rate in the league. He had seven, nobody else had more than five.

Jared Goff made huge strides during his second season. Independent of his new supporting cast, independent of Sean McVay’s influence, Goff simply looked like an actual NFL player in 2017 when he couldn’t have looked further from one during his rookie season. It shouldn’t all be blamed on Jeff Fisher. Goff spent most of his rookie season turning away from pressure, falling over himself in the pocket and missing wide open receivers at every level of the field.

Sean McVay came in and gave him greater clarity with better designed plays, varied tempos and a better feel for what the defense was trying to do, but Goff still had to make throws that he simply couldn’t make as a rookie. He wasn’t especially accurate, in fact he was pretty inaccurate as the 29th-ranked passer in depth-adjusted accuracy. But he made enough plays for the offense to be consistently effective.

Goff’s biggest failing in 2017 was his inability to connect with Sammy Watkins downfield. Watkins was regularly open and played a big role in McVay’s play designs to pull defenses apart. Watkins only saw two accurate deep throws from his quarterback, an inexcusable number for a receiver who was open all season.

It was easier for Goff to hit Todd Gurley underneath. Gurley played a major role in Goff racking up 51.7 percent of his yards after the catch, the fifth most in the league. Screens boosted Goff’s numbers significantly. 10.9 percent of his throws were screens, 13th in the league, but 13.5 percent of his yards came on screens, the fifth most in the league. His five touchdowns on screen plays were the most in the league.

Goff would rank higher on this list if he showed more responsibility in his offense. With McVay calling audibles and John Sullivan there to help set protections, it’s hard to be completely certain how much he is doing mentally before the snap.

 

14. Mitchell Trubisky – Tier 4.

Did you know? Mitchell Trubisky threw 39 seam passes in 2017 and was accurate on 28 of them. Only Aaron Rodgers was more accurate on seam throws than he was.

The big concern on Trubisky at this point is his ability to process coverages and blitzes. He ranked 24th in avoidable sack percentage as a rookie. But even that’s not a major concern because he came out of college as a raw rookie. His overall performance in 2017 was really impressive. The only thing he was lacking was a decent wide receiver.

Trubisky was phenomenally accurate and he spent most of his season throwing receivers open at every level of the field. His receivers had a high failed reception rate but more importantly than that they really struggled to get open. Whenever they were pressed aggressively at the line, Trubisky was going to have to either make a perfect throw or extend the play outside of structure.

His combination of creating big plays while being efficient with his accuracy and decision making to work the underneath levels of the coverage made for a hugely promising rookie season. If he had a healthy Allen Robinson last year, his numbers would have been as impressive as his performances were.

 

15. Matthew Stafford – Tier 4.

Did you know? Seven of Matthew Stafford’s 28 interceptable passes were caught in 2017. Tied with Carson Palmer for the lowest rate in the league.

Marvin Jones isn’t Calvin Johnson, but he may as well have been in 2017. Jones was arguably the best receiver in football last year, catching a monstrous 330 yards and two touchdowns on 13 inaccurate throws from Stafford. Stafford threw a lot of catchable passes, but not necessarily a lot of accurate passes. The problem with that was he regularly forced his receivers into difficult adjustments and those were catchable passes for defensive backs as much as they were for his receivers.

That’s been the story of Stafford’s career. Too many throws that should have been turnovers and too many misplaced passes that took away big plays for his receivers. Jones offset those misses at an abnormal rate, Kenny Golladay flashed the potential to do similar in the future but had a limited role in 2017.

Stafford’s ranking in this spot reflects the general quality of quarterback play in 2017 more than it does his actual quality. What pushes him above some of his peers was his ability to create outside of structure and throw receivers open with precision downfield. If he was more consistent doing that and took care of the ball better, he’d actually be a quality quarterback. That “if” has been hanging around his head for too long at this point.

 

16. Ben Roethlisberger – Tier 4.

Did you know? Ben Roethlisberger was the third-least accurate passer in the NFL last season, finishing with a 45.4 depth-adjusted accuracy percentage.

Martavis Bryant was a focus of lots of media attention entering the 2017 season. He was returning to the Steelers offense to be one of the best deep threats in the NFL once again. Bryant had no real impact. He was reduced to being the third receiver on the depth chart behind Juju Smith-Shuster. But Bryant wasn’t really the problem. Roethlisberger was.

Roethlisberger was a horrendously bad deep passer in 2017. He was equally as ineffective throwing to Antonio Brown and Bryant, despite both of them offering him wide catch radiuses and separation ability deep downfield. This inaccuracy and inefficiency permeated through his performances on the whole, they were just emphasized most when he tried to throw deep.

The Jaguars game where he threw six interceptable passes was one of the worst performances from any quarterback all season long and it wasn’t far away from his typical display. Roethlisberger had nine games with more than one interceptable pass, including another four in his second game against the Jaguars.

He still has the ability to do things that most other quarterbacks don’t and his overall level of talent is much higher than 18th in the league, but his performances last year make this ranking a generous one. He’s fortunate that the league as a whole endured a season of underwhelming quarterback play, otherwise he’d likely have been in the 20s.

 

17. Kirk Cousins – Tier 4.

Did you know? Kirk Cousins was the 26th-most accurate passer to the five-yard line last year and the 22nd-most accurate passer past the five-yard line.

When you break down Kirk Cousins’ accuracy, his highest ranking was 16th in the league in the 1-10 yard range. He was 22nd to the line of scrimmage, 26th in the 11-20 yard range and 26th on deep throws. The Vikings aren’t getting a high-quality thrower. Cousins is a weak-armed effort passer who struggles to push the ball from one hash mark outside the numbers on the opposite side of the field.

The selling point for the Vikings will be that Cousins is a an excellent decision maker who diagnoses coverages at the snap and gets the ball out quickly. He does get the ball out quickly, he was a catch-and-release passer during his best stretches of the season, but he’s not a good decision maker. He had 29 interceptable passes last season and too many of those came when he predetermined where he was throwing the ball before the play had even begun.

Cousins played with Josh Doctson last year. Doctson’s biggest contributions might have been preventing interceptions on severely underthrown sideline passes that should have been intercepted. Doctson became one of the most efficient receivers in the league while Cousins was only accurate to him on 45 percent of his targets, the only receiver in the league without an accuracy rate above 50.

He threw Doctson catchable passes but rarely hit the receiver with precision despite his wide catch radius and ability to get open. Maybe Cousins can be carried by Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen the way Case Keenum was, but that’s not what they’re paying him huge money for.

 

18. Nick Foles – Tier 4.

Did you know? 43.5 percent of Nick Foles’ passes came on a screen or after a play fake, no other quarterback eclipsed 39 percent and only two other quarterbacks eclipsed 34 percent.

There’s no doubt that Nick Foles played the best football of his career in 2017. Of course, that’s not saying a huge amount considering the rest of his career. Foles has been fortunate enough to play for two of the most talented offenses the NFL has seen over the past decade. Chip Kelly’s offense just overwhelmed everyone whereas Pederson’s offense did that while Pederson called plays that perfectly suited Foles’ skill set.

Foles’ skill set is still too limited for a team to buy into him as a full-time starter. His lack of arm strength and inconsistent decision making were minimzed by the Eagles’ option play designs. Those plays also allowed him to be very accurate on shorter throws while throwing to open receivers further downfield. He was the third-most accurate passer to the five-yard line and the 24th most accurate passer past the five-yard line.

 

19. Case Keenum – Tier 4.

Did you know? Case Keenum gained 37.9 percent of his yards on plays that featured a screen or a play fake, the seventh most in the league.

The admiral aspect of Case Keenum has always been his aggressiveness. He lacks arm talent and isn’t especially good at diagnosing coverages or fitting the ball into windows at any level of the field, but when you give him a receiver running downfield or in one-on-one coverage, he’ll attack it if he sees it. Seeing it can be an issue at times too though.

Keenum’s contract with the Vikings should primarily be paid to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Keenum had an official yards per attempt number of 7.3 but when adjusted for receivers catching inaccurate passes and dropping accurate passes, his number dropped to 6.7. He fell further than any other quarterback, meaning his receivers helped him more than any other quarterback.

Their ability to create big plays downfield and catch poorly-placed shorter passes kept the offense on track when Keenum did everything possible to push it off. Throw in a great offensive line, smart play calling and more than 50 percent of his yards coming after the catch, and Keenum’s big season didn’t have a whole lot to do with him making big strides forward in his career.

 

20. Russell Wilson – Tier 4.

Did you know? Russell Wilson threw 15.9 percent of his passes further than 20 yards downfield last year, only Deshaun Watson was more aggressive.

Early in his career Russell Wilson was phenomenal. He defined himself by being able to make difficult plays, to elevate his teammates even though he wasn’t being asked to throw the ball as often as his peers. When Peyton Manning broke the touchdown record, Wilson was right there with him through the regular season as one of the most impressive quarterbacks in the league.

He should have been an MVP candidate in 2017. He got the benefit of the doubt because he was hurt in 2016, but all of the issues he showed off in 2016 got worse when he was fully healthy in 2017. He threw an outrageous number of interceptable passes, including an eight-interceptable pass performance against Washington that was by far the worst performance any regular starter had last season. (That distinction is to allow for Kevin Hogan’s horrendous start for the Browns.)

His interceptable passes were constant in quantity but also egregiously bad in how they came about. This wasn’t the case of the offensive line being the problem. Most of Wilson’s problems he created himself. His 32 interceptable passes gave him one of the worst interceptable pass rates in the league.

But compounding that propensity for throwing the ball straight to defenders was his inability to hit wide open deep throws. He had four of the best deep threats in the league in his offense, and yet he continually curtailed their output with poor placement and floated passes. Velocity is a huge concern for Wilson.

When he was regularly creating big plays and showing off precision as a passer while protecting the ball, Wilson’s positives massively outweighed his negatives. So much so that those negatives were irrelevant and the criticisms were unfair. Now that he’s not showing off peak traits, his inability to execute the offense as designed and tendency to run into himself into sacks has become a real issue.

 

21. Carson Palmer – Tier 4.

Did you know? Carson Palmer was the eighth-most accurate passer in football last year.

There were obvious signs that Carson Palmer was washed up before his career prematurely came to an end at midseason. But those signs weren’t as prominent as they felt when I went back to review his performances after the season. He was very accurate in difficult circumstances and gave plays a chance for success where other quarterbacks would have simply capitulated.

 

22. Eli Manning – Tier 4.

Did you know? Eli Manning’s receivers had more failed receptions than anyone else’s in 2017, 48 on the season.

The Giants offense was built on the quality of its receiving corps. When those receivers were taken away, Manning’s job became impossible. They didn’t have the offensive line or running game to turn to, the receivers in cohesion with the quarterback were going to have to compensate for those limitations even when everyone was healthy.

In what could have very quickly become a disastrous year, Manning managed pockets well, largely made good decisions and threw well enough into extremely tight windows with receivers who couldn’t win on routes to make the offense somewhat effective.

 

23. Andy Dalton – Tier 4. 

Did you know? Andy Dalton threw five interceptable passes against the Bills and only had one interception. He had five more games with multiple interceptable passes without an interception.

Only three quarterbacks had a worse interceptable pass rate than Andy Dalton last season. A huge number of his interceptable passes were directed at A.J. Green. Dalton resorted to forcing the ball to Green when his supporting cast was weakened. He had previously put up big numbers with dominant supporting casts, but his narrow skill set meant that his pocket limitations were exposed more with less effective pass protection and more limited receivers.

Dalton still played well to his strengths. He was accurate in the same ways he’d been accurate previously and he showed off the same level of athleticism that stood out in the past.

 

24. Jameis Winston – Tier 5.

Did you know? Jameis Winston threw 10.8 percent more often than the league average into the 11-20 yard range. Every quarterback with at least 200 attempts threw more often into the 1-10 yard range than he did.

What more can you give Winston and hope for him to be successful? In 2017 he had the best combination of deep threats in the NFL and he was still one of the worst deep passers in the league. He couldn’t throw short or underneath either, the only thing he could do was throw intermediate passes.

His elongated release and imbalanced mechanics have taken away any chance for him to become a precise quarterback. Combine that inaccuracy with a preference for throwing the ball to defenders rather than his teammates, and Winston has become an anchor quarterback rather than the star the Buccaneers hoped they were selecting with the first overall pick.

 

25. Deshaun Watson – Tier 5.

Did you know? Deshaun Watson was 100 percent accurate on throws to the line of scrimmage, the only quarterback in the league to achieve that feat.

The NFL needs more quarterbacks like DeShaun Watson. He’s bucked the conservative, fear-based decision making trend that has taken over the modern NFL. He drops back and he’s thinking touchdown on every throw. That mindset perfectly fits with Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins. If Watson can come back healthy, the Texans have reasons to be excited. But he’s also got a lot of development to go through before he can be considered a quality starter.

Watson was almost as reckless with the ball as DeShone Kizer was, he was just luckier that defenders dropped his misplaced passes more often. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was bloated by some phenomenal support from his skill position players, a group who had the lowest failed reception rate in the league.

He did finish the year as the least-accurate quarterback in football, but that was partly because of how often he threw deep downfield. Watson was 8.1 percent worse than the league average on deep throws. Hopkins and Fuller can cover some of that up but for him to maximize his output moving forward, in the type of offense Bill O’Brien ran with him, then he’ll need to be more accurate throwing downfield. He will hopefully get better at avoiding turnovers with greater experience.

 

26. Derek Carr – Tier 5.

Did you know? Despite his arm strength, Derek Carr was the worst deep sideline passer in the NFL last year. He was accurate on only 22.2 percent of qualifying attempts.

Derek Carr enjoyed a bloated touchdown-to-interception ratio courtesy of his offensive line in 2016. It’s how he got paid so handsomely entering 2017. But then that offensive line suffered a slight drop-off in performance, that asked Carr to actually manage some pockets and show some consistent technique with his feet and throwing motion. Didn’t happen.

Carr threw more interceptable passes than any other quarterback, even Blake Bortles, and his accuracy ranked in the bottom five when adjusted for depth.The Raiders fell for his numbers during Jack Del Rio’s first season in charge, then blamed Del Rio when Carr was inevitably exposed the following season. Jon Gruden has a tall task ahead of him.

 

27. Blake Bortles – Tier 6.

Did you know? Blake Bortles went from being the worst deep passer in football in 2016 to the 16th-ranked deep passer in 2017 despite not having Allen Robinson.

Doug Marrone did everything possible to not let Blake Bortles interception his way into a losing season. It worked…somewhat. If you had said the Jaguars would make the AFC Championship Game before the season began you’d call it a successful season. But once the season began it became clear that they had one of the best rosters in football. They just didn’t have a quarterback.

Bortles was the same guy he’s always been. Too turnover prone, too inefficient and often incapable of even imitating a competent quarterback. So naturally the Jaguars signed him to an extension.

 

28. DeShone Kizer – Tier 6.

Did you know? DeShone Kizer was the seventh-best deep passer in the NFL last year.

While he can’t complain too much because overall he was a bad rookie, DeShone Kizer got a raw deal from Hue Jackson. Kizer’s receivers were amongst the worst in the league, he lost more yards than anyone on accurate throws. He was regularly making precise deep throws into tight windows for big plays that went forgotten because his receivers couldn’t hold onto the ball.

The primary reason Kizer didn’t deserve another chance was his interceptions. He wasn’t the worst in the league in terms of interceptable pass rate, there were quite a few quarterbacks worse than him, but Kizer’s big problem was how egregious his mistakes were. He too often made it easy for his passes to be intercepted because he misread the coverage and threw the ball into the chest of a defender.

Hue Jackson didn’t protect his rookie quarterback then sold him out whenever criticism came. Benching him for Kevin Hogan/Cody Kessler was disgraceful, but it likely won’t matter much for either party moving forward.

 

29. Josh McCown – Tier 7.

Did you know? Josh McCown ranked in the top 10 of depth-adjusted accuracy.

It was the quintessential Josh McCown season. He came away with okay numbers but didn’t execute an offense that maximized its opportunities to win games. McCown too regularly threw to covered checkdowns and took the safe play rather than attempting the play that would move the chains or score points. The Jets re-signing him based on last year is almost as illogical as the Jets signing him last year. There is no upside to Josh McCown.

 

30. C.J. Beathard – Tier 7.

Did you know? C.J. Beathard was responsible for 42.1 percent of his sacks, the worst rate in the league.

C.J. Beathard just never really looked like an NFL quarterback. He had some athleticism and could make the odd big play but overall he was just out of his depth at this level. He didn’t possess the accuracy, pocket presence or awareness of coverages to execute Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

 

31. Trevor Siemian – Tier 7.

Did you know? Trevor Siemian was the worst seam passer in football, his 32.4 accuracy percentage was less than half of Drew Brees’ 70 percent.

The Vikings trading for Case Keenum makes sense because they are similar quarterbacks. Inaccurate, weak-armed passers who don’t see the field well enough to compensate for their physical limitations. They can both extend plays outside of structure and play with aggressive mindsets.

As a rookie, Siemian maximized his skill set and only had one major weakness, his accuracy. During his second season, his skill set as a whole regressed and the optimism for him to have a long career as a backup dwindled away.

 

32. Jay Cutler – Tier 7.

Did you know? Jay Cutler threw more than 50 percent of his passes fewer than five yards downfield and still managed to have one of the worst interceptable pass rates in the league.

A quarterback who said he wasn’t sure if he still wanted to play football after retiring became a quarterback who didn’t look like he wanted to play football after he signed for the Dolphins. One of the least-accurate, most turnover-prone quarterbacks in the league who struggled to execute his offense as designed.

 

33. Brian Hoyer – Tier 7.

Did you know? 12.4 percent of Brian Hoyer’s yards came on inaccurate throws, the highest rate in the league.

The Brian Hoyer signing was always going to be just a blip in the 49ers season. He did what he’s always done, missed open receivers, missed passes to open receivers and shown a lack of awareness and poise in the pocket. His skill set is just too limited to start at this level.

 

34. Tom Savage – Tier 7.

Did you know? Tom Savage was the worst sideline passer in the NFL last year, hitting 17 of 51 attempts that travelled further than 10 yards downfield and outside the numbers.

Savage is an athlete who lacks pocket presence and nuance as a passer. He doesn’t show off timing or an understanding of coverages or even the basic principles of throwing a football.

 

35. Joe Flacco – Tier 7.

Did you know? Joe Flacco was the third-worst deep passer in the NFL last year and threw the second-lowest rate of deep passes out of all qualifying quarterbacks.

He doesn’t execute the offense as designed. He doesn’t read coverages. He stares down defenders and throws the ball to them and is woefully inaccurate even when throwing from completely clean pockets to wide open receivers. His contract is an insult to the quarterbacks who actually have to perform to earn their opportunities.

 

36. Brett Hundley – Tier 7.

Did you know? Only 12.7 percent of Brett Hundley’s passes went into the 11-20 yard range, the worst rate in the league.

Mike McCarthy’s defence of his quarterback at midseason obviously didn’t mean much considering the trade for DeShone Kizer. Hundley can feel aggrieved but he has little evidence to back him up. When he came in, the Packers passing game basically shut itself down. There were no intermediate routes, deep throws didn’t come consistently either. It was mostly just Hundley checking the ball down to covered receivers or forcing the ball to his first read from the pocket.

He looked like someone who hadn’t played quarterback before, which is basically what he was. Not a great selling point for McCarthy’s development process.

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