It may be a while before every team names their starting quarterback for Week 1 in the NFL for the 2021 season. There will be several open competitions in training camp for starting spots around the league, especially for teams that drafted rookie QBs. Even with the NFL season still months away, it’s never a bad time to evaluate each of the league’s projected starting quarterbacks heading into the new season.
In a lot of cases, these are rankings are not just a sign of individual talent, but also the supporting cast that will make a quarterback shine. We know just how important fit is in terms of scheme and weapons. Thankfully, a lot of this year’s signal callers are in the best place for their abilities to shine.
Here are all of the league’s projected started QBs, ranked.
No. 32: Zach Wilson — Jets
Wilson is a rookie landing on a team still lacking offensive talent. I’m not the biggest Wilson fan, but putting him last is more indicative of how difficult it is to adjust to the NFL, not his talent ceiling. Hope for flashes of brilliance and some baby steps, and little more.
No. 31: Sam Darnold — Panthers
The Panthers believe in the Sam Darnold reclamation project, but that doesn’t mean it’s enough to put him higher on this list. Darnold needs to prove A LOT this season, and there’s definitely potential for him to reach his ceiling away from Adam Gase. This is the best group of receivers Darnold has ever had, so the excuses are gone. He’s going to need to start performing from the jump.
No. 30: Andy Dalton — Bears
Nothing about Andy Dalton’s game should excite anyone. It’s going to be a boring wait for Bears fans until Justin Fields gets his call to start. This is a caretaker role, and Chicago’s defense is good enough that it might be enough. Still, nothing to really write home about.
No. 29: Jameis Winston — Saints
I know there’s a lot of hope that Jameis and his new-found vision (literally) will lead the Saints to sustained success, but I’m not sold. I think the whole “I needed contacts” thing is a nice story, but doesn’t explain away his poor decision making or inconsistency. There’s a small chance he can break out, but I’m not holding my breath.
No. 28: Daniel Jones — Giants
This is it for Daniel Jones. If he doesn’t excel this season it should be over for him. The amount of talent the Giants have added to their offense during free agency and the draft is astounding, and if he remains a dink-and-dunk passer with a worrying lack of touchdowns then there’s nothing that can save him in the NFL.
No. 27: Drew Lock — Broncos
I still have no idea who will start in Denver, and I’m not sure the Broncos do either. They’ve basically been linked to every free agent quarterback, are rumored to still be trying to get a package together for Aaron Rodgers, and signed Teddy Bridgewater. Still, Lock remains. He’s been pretty unremarkable so far.
No. 26: Tua Tagovailoa — Dolphins
I think Tua was unfairly criticized for much of his rookie season. At times he looked every bit of the quarterback once pegged to be the No. 1 overall pick, and other times he played too safely and didn’t take enough shots downfield. I want to see more, and think the potential is there — especially after adding Jaylen Waddle in the draft.
No. 25: Jalen Hurts — Eagles
We have an exceptionally small sample size to go off here, but I’m leaning towards this being a breakout year for Hurts. The Eagles got an incredible partner for him in DeVonta Smith in the draft, and that reliability will pay dividends. A lot of pressure is on Hurts’ shoulders this season to prove to an unforgiving Eagles fanbase that he can be “the guy,” but I think he has the tools to rise to the occasion.
No. 24: Carson Wentz — Colts
A fresh start is exactly what Carson Wentz needs, and I think Indianapolis is a great landing spot for him. That said, he really needs to regain his confidence early to prove he can go back to being a top tier quarterback. The player we’ve seen the last two years was a shadow of his former self. There’s potential here, but I’m still on the fence too much whether I can have faith in him.
No. 23: Jimmy Garopollo — 49ers
There are a lot of questions who ends up being the starter in San Francisco, but in the end I think the team opts for familiarity while Trey Lance learns the system. Jimmy G clearly isn’t the franchise quarterback the team hoped for when they traded for him, but he’s good enough in a pinch to bridge the gap.
No. 22: Trevor Lawrence — Jaguars
The No. 1 pick from the 2021 draft lands in the early 20s in the overall rankings, and has the top for the rookie class. I think Lawrence is going to be an incredible pro, but it’s too early to have much a ton of trust him in this season while he adjusts to the NFL. The Jaguars need to put more receiving talent around him.
No. 21: Cam Newton — Patriots
Newton needs to rebound in a major way this season if he hopes to continue his NFL career. It’ll be interesting to see if he can bounce back to his pre-Covid form, which was objectively excellent — or if the NFL has just taken too much of a toll on him at this point. It’s a damn shame, but regardless of what happens I think New England moves on next year and hand the keys over to Mac Jones.
No. 20: Ryan Fitzpatrick — Washington
I’m not a big Ryan Fitzpatrick fan, but I have to admit he’s adept at doing his job. The role of caretaker is a difficult one, often moving from team-to-team waiting to usher in a new era, and Fitzpatrick does it well. I know how this year plays out. He’ll do phenomenally well for 8 weeks, fans will say he’s the new franchise QB, then he’ll struggle down the stretch and be replaced in 2022.
No. 19: Jared Goff — Lions
I don’t really know what to expect from Jared Goff anymore. A few years ago he seemed to be a lock to become of the best quarterbacks in the league, but it’s been a fairly steady decline since then. Now he’s leaving Los Angeles, and landing on a team with even less offensive talent around him. I think there’s a glimmer of potential here, but I’m not holding my breath.
No. 18: Baker Mayfield — Browns
The fact Mayfield is this low, with 3,500 yards and such a positive TD/INT ratio is simply an acknowledgement of how ridiculous the passing talent in the NFL is right now. In order to lift himself in the rankings moving forward he’ll need to improve his completion percentage a little. It’s not like 63 percent is bad, it’s just that players are completing so many passes it feels like 65 percent is a benchmark now — with 23 starters completing above that mark.
No. 17: Kirk Cousins — Vikings
You know what you get with Kirk Cousins. He’s going to put up big numbers, he’s going to make the Pro Bowl, and nothing he does will be remarkable. Cousins has found a niche, but I’m not really sure it catapults the Vikings into the playoffs this year.
No. 16: Derek Carr — Raiders
The best quarterback perpetually on a “it’s time to replace him” list, I feel like Derek Carr has never gotten a fair shake from fans. That said, there’s something to be said about his consistency. Last season his best game came against the Chiefs, and his worst against the Jets. That doesn’t do much to settle arguments about whether he can lead Las Vegas to a Super Bowl.
No. 15: Ben Roethlisberger — Steelers
I know Steelers fans are going to be angry. I get it. However, I have a hard time putting Ben too much higher here. At 39-years-old I know the wheels will fall of at some point, and I’d hate ranking him super highly and then seeing it all go down the tube. Roethlisberger still has an incredible supporting cast, and his life will get easier with Najee Harris, but I think getting back a strong running back will take away some of his passing numbers.
No. 14: Matthew Stafford — Rams
It’s going to be really interesting to see Matthew Stafford integrate himself into a new offense with new personnel and see how it plays out. I still think he’s a good quarterback, albeit not what he was at his peak — but the Rams have a lot of faith in him turning the tide. That’s possible, but it’s a big question mark at the moment.
No. 13: Kyler Murray — Cardinals
Kyler Murray didn’t take the kind of mammoth leap forward in 2020 that many expected, and that’s why he falls out of the Top 10. The Cardinals “keep passing until the wheels fall off” offense definitely improved with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins, but not by the magnitudes I expected. In the end Murray didn’t have a sophomore slump, which is a credit to his skill — but we need to see some more progression this season.
No. 12: Ryan Tannehill — Titans
The best reclamation story in the last 10 years of the NFL, Tannehill flies under the radar because Derrick Henry gets all the headlines. Tannehill has turned into the perfect quarterback for the Titans. He’s smart, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, and allows the rest of the team to shine. I wanted to put him higher, but finding a slot was difficult.
No. 11: Justin Herbert — Chargers
I love, love, love Justin Herbert and his flowing locks. For the Chargers to move on from Philip Rivers and find an heir apparent this quickly is surely something very few people saw happening. I could easily see Herbert progressing further and cementing himself near the top of this list, but even if he stays put he’s one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, bar none.
No. 10: Joe Burrow — Bengals
I’m giving the slight nod to Burrow here over Justin Herbert because of just how good he was prior to injury. Yes, I’m putting some faith in him returning to form — but with Ja’Marr Chase as a new weapon, Burrow is poised to make an impact. I still wish the Bengals got him a little more protection, but this was a guy who was on pace for 4,300 passing yards prior to injury. That’s similar to Herbert, sure ... but he didn’t have the same support around him.
No. 9: Matt Ryan — Falcons
Often a scapegoat for frustrations, even the angriest of fans have to admit Ryan is a top 10 passer. Sure, he has a tremendous pool of talent around him made even better with the addition of Kyle Pitts, but this year could be really tough if Julio Jones leaves town. Expect another 4,000 yard year from Ryan, that still leaves nobody truly happy.
No. 8: Lamar Jackson — Ravens
Unquestionably one of the most exciting quarterbacks to watch, 2021 will really be a big year for Lamar Jackson. He’s getting a bolstered receiving corps with the likes of Sammy Watkins and rookie Rashod Bateman, which should allow him to show off his arm a little more than he has in the past. Jackson has shown he has all the skills, but to jump into the conversation with the top 5 he’ll need to show he can throw for more than 3,500 yards in a season.
No. 7: Russell Wilson — Seahawks
Russell Wilson belongs higher on this list, he really does — but until he shows more consistency, it’s tough. A midseason lock for MVP a year ago, Wilson struggled in the back stretch finishing with three games with a QB rating under 80, and looking nothing like the player who dominated to open the season. Some struggles with Seahawks management only exasperated the issue and this is really going to be a “prove it” year, not so much for Wilson himself, but for Seattle to keep him happy.
No. 6: Josh Allen — Bills
We’re past the point now of pretending Josh Allen didn’t make EVERY analyst look foolish by turning into a different player than the one we saw at Wyoming. Settling into his fourth season, Allen has now shown he made it past the three year evaluation hump, and is truly one of the top 10 passers in the NFL. His early tendencies to rely on his legs too much are gone, and with a good supporting cast of receivers he’s poised to become a major problem for defenses this season.
No. 5: Dak Prescott — Cowboys
It’s so weird to think of a Dallas Cowboys quarterback flying under the radar, but it feels like Prescott is the best quarterback people don’t really talk about when it comes to the NFL’s best passers. This is probably due (in part) to a year of Cowboys fans saying Dak wasn’t that good because he didn’t sign a low-ball offer, now needing to pivot into championing him again.
No. 4: Deshaun Watson — Texans
Honestly, I don’t know what Watson’s situation will be in 2021. There’s a pending league investigation into allegations of sexual assault, and that could mean he’s suspended for a significant amount of time. However, if we look purely at on-field play he remains one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, even on the league’s most dysfunctional roster.
No. 3: Tom Brady — Bucs
Brady is past the point where he’ll be a stat-stuffing God, but until someone else proves it he’s still the best pure winner at the position in football. With the support around him in Tampa Bay, there’s nothing preventing him from having another great season, perhaps even taking the Buccaneers back to the Super Bowl.
No. 2: Patrick Mahomes — Chiefs
It’s Pat Mahomes. Nuff said, really. Seriously though, crushing Super Bowl loss aside, the Chiefs have made moves to get Mahomes more protection, which feels like the only thing holding him back from throwing for 5,000 yards a season like it’s nothing.
No. 1: Aaron Rodgers — Packers
Rodgers is the reigning MVP, sure — but this is also a product of him doing so much with such little support. For Rodgers to actually be the top quarterback again in 2021 could depend on where he plays, but I have a feeling enough will be done to keep him in Green Bay and get him some help.