Those who start the third week of the NFL preseason are typically those who on track to start Week 1 of the regular season. And thus, we have a strong feel for who will be under center for all 32 teams come the second weekend of September.
Here’s how we rank ’em.
32. Case Keenum, Washington Redskins: This’ll eventually be Dwayne Haskins, but the rookie first-round pick has yet to win the job with his one year of college starting experience. Keenum is a decent backup who got hot with a great supporting cast in Minnesota in 2017, but he has never been worthy of a starting job anywhere else.
31. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: The soon-to-be 32-year-old peaked about three years ago and has just been getting by ever since. He’s posted sub-90 passer ratings in back-to-back seasons, and he’s unlikely to suddenly shine in Year 9.
30. Joe Flacco, Denver Broncos: Flacco was benched for a raw rookie on a playoff-caliber team last year in Baltimore. He’d been living off his one hot 2012 Super Bowl run for the better part of a decade, until even the Ravens lost patience. The 34-year-old has never been elected to a Pro Bowl and is the second lowest-rated qualified passer in the NFL dating back to 2013.
29. Eli Manning, New York Giants: Fifth-last on that same list is Manning, who lost it midway through this decade and is never getting it back at or beyond the age of 38. His 6.8 yards-per-attempt average the last three years is just horrendous.
28. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami Dolphins: The 36-year-old journeyman has never been consistent enough to hold it down as a regular starter, and that isn’t about to change. Still, he ranks out of the bottom four because of what happened last year in Tampa. With the Buccaneers, Fitzpatrick averaged a league-high 9.6 yards per pass attempt in 2018 while becoming just the 14th quarterback in league history to post three qualified passer ratings of 140 or higher. And yet he lost his starting job and wasn’t re-signed.
27. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Stafford is a lot more talented than a lot of quarterbacks ranked higher than him, but he’s been a starter in this league for a decade now and has continually failed to deliver. He’s been to just one Pro Bowl and is coming off an ugly season in which he averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt. He’s supposed to be in his prime, but it’s not happening for him.
26. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers: We’re giving Kyle Shanahan the benefit of the doubt here, because Garoppolo wasn’t good during a small sample last year and hasn’t been good since returning from a torn ACL this summer. The 49ers saw enough from him to make him one of the highest-paid players in NFL history, but we don’t have much to go off. The 27-year-old still has just 10 career starts under his belt.
25. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals: This is obviously a wild card because we’ve yet to see Murray throw a regular-season pass, he started just one season in college and he struggled mightily in Arizona’s second preseason game. Still, the talent is remarkable and the upside is hard to ignore. It makes sense to slot him in just behind a pair of sophomores who showed promise as rookies.
24. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens: Like Jackson, who helped get the Ravens to the playoffs despite being viewed as a developmental quarterback entering the league. He’s got a long way to go with his passing accuracy, but he’s a playmaker with tremendous legs and a bright future.
23. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills: Allen and Jackson are so similar. Both weren’t expected to play major roles as rookies but then surprised with promising but inconsistent rookie campaigns, and both need to work on accuracy and technique. Still, the physical elements are there, and Allen might be a tiny bit ahead of Jackson with his arm.
22. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: There’s some benefit of the doubt here for Winston, who hasn’t delivered on his draft hype four years into his career but still has a lot of talent and potential entering his fifth season. Bruce Arians could take the 25-year-old to the next level. Note that he finished last season with a 100.1 passer rating and a 13-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his last seven games. If he can do that for a longer stretch in 2019, he’ll move out of the bottom 12.
21. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans: Drafted one spot after Winston in 2015, Mariota’s career numbers and 2018 numbers are a little better than the player to whom he’ll be compared for the rest of his career. He’s also more of a playmaker on the ground and has had some playoff success, but inconsistency and a lack of durability keep him from being considered even a middle-of-the-pack starter for now.
20. Nick Foles, Jacksonville Jaguars: It’s been a peak-and-valley-filled career for Foles, who was one of the best quarterbacks in the league in 2013 and earned Super Bowl MVP honors in 2017 but hasn’t been particularly good in any of his other five seasons. He’s likely to either plummet or rise rapidly on this list in 2019.
19. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings: Cousins’ broad numbers aren’t bad at all, but it’s become almost impossible to trust him when it matters. The 31-year-old has led just two fourth-quarter comebacks in his last two full seasons. He’s 5-13 in prime-time games, he’s 4-25 against winning teams, and he’s 13-23-2 in road games. That’s a huge problem, even if he was the 10th-highest-rated passer in the NFL last season.
18. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders: I actually believe in Carr, who has been to three Pro Bowls and was actually a strong MVP candidate in 2016. Injuries marred his 2017 season and Jon Gruden’s circus affected his 2018 campaign. We can only make so many excuses for the guy, but it’s worth noting that Carr’s passer rating was 97.2 from mid-October on, and he threw just two interceptions in the final 11 games of the regular season. Don’t be surprised if the three-time Pro Bowler rises on this list in his age-28 season.
17. Sam Darnold, New York Jets: Love what we saw from the 2018 No. 3 overall pick down the stretch last year, with Darnold throwing five touchdown passes to zero interceptions while posting a triple-digit passer rating in the final three weeks. He’s also had an encouraging offseason and should be ready to take off with more support in place in 2019.
16. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys: If not for an ugly sophomore slump in 2017, the 2016 offensive rookie of the year would be ranked higher here. He bounced back with a Pro Bowl 2018 campaign, but he hasn’t returned to that rookie form. It’s fair to wonder if the league has figured him out to an extent, and how he’d fare without all of the support he has in Dallas.
15. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: Forget his injury-marred 2018 season. Newton is one of the most uniquely talented players in the NFL, he’s a former MVP and it appears he’s healthy again after early-offseason shoulder surgery. His numbers have never been consistently good, but he’s a matchup nightmare in his prime at age 30.
14. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears: The 2017 first-round pick made the Pro Bowl as a sophomore and should be set to make another leap in Year 3. He’s not elite yet, but he isn’t far off at the age of 25.
13. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles: The 2016 No. 2 overall pick was a prime MVP candidate before tearing his ACL late in his sophomore season, and he was just as effective before a balky back ended his 2018 campaign prematurely. Wentz faces questions about his durability, but the 26-year-old has been one of the league’s best when healthy. He could easily move into the top 10 or even top five this season.
12. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: Big Ben throws too many interceptions these days, but his numbers are still consistently high and he’s still a freakish quarterback who is often impossible to defend. His reputation helps, too, as Roethlisberger is a six-time Pro Bowler and a two-time Super Bowl champion.
11. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams: The gross Super Bowl LIII performance costs him some points, and you have to wonder if he’s a product of his system and his support in Los Angeles. Still, the 24-year-old former No. 1 overall pick has posted triple-digit passer ratings in back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons.
10. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns: The 2018 No. 1 overall pick completed 68.4 percent of his passes and threw 19 touchdowns to eight interceptions while posting a 106.2 passer rating in the second half of his uneven but still-fantastic rookie season. No reason to think he won’t be a top-10 quarterback with all the support he has in 2019.
9. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts: Luck’s durability is a concern, but did he ever get hot late in a Pro Bowl age-29 season. The comeback player of the year posted a 106.8 passer rating during his final 10 games of the 2018 regular season, and if he can get/remain healthy he should be even better in 2019.
8. Tom Brady, New England Patriots: The 42-year-old Brady is not the quarterback he used to be. He lost plenty of zip and was less accurate and consistent than usual as his passer rating dropped below the 100 mark in 2018. But he’s still the most decorated player in NFL history and is coming off another Super Bowl win.
7. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: Brees led the league in passer rating while shattering the record for completion percentage in 2018, but the 40-year-old showed serious signs of decline during a four-game stretch to end the regular season in which he threw three picks to only three touchdown passes and posted a mere 84.7 rating. He also wasn’t himself in the playoffs, so we’re accounting for a potential big dip in 2019.
6. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers: The eight-time Pro Bowler was the league’s fifth-highest-rated passer and was one of just three quarterbacks to average 8.5-plus yards per attempt in 2018. He’s a fine wine at the age of 37, and he should be in for another big campaign in 2019.
5. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons’ 2018 season didn’t go as planned, but Ryan was still one of the best in football. He was the league’s fourth-highest-rated passer, and he also ranked in the top four in terms of completion percentage, touchdowns and TD-to-INT ratio. Throw in that he’s got an MVP on his résumé and he’s a lock for the top 10 despite his many big-game failures.
4. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans: Watson’s career passer rating of 103.1 is identical to that of Aaron Rodgers, who happens to be the highest-rated passer in NFL history. He’s rising in a major way at age 23, and that’s without even considering that he has over 800 rushing yards and seven rushing scores in 23 career games.
3. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: The game’s best improviser and one of the most clutch quarterbacks in NFL history has posted two 110-plus passer ratings in his last four seasons. He’s of course a two-time NFC champion, a Super Bowl winner, and he consistently makes a huge impact with his legs. We’re watching a future Hall of Famer in his prime.
2. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs: Mahomes’ 2018 season was one of the best in NFL history, but it was just one season. In order to be crowned best quarterback in the land, he’ll have to do something similar without the element of surprise in 2019. We just need a bigger sample.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: Even in a down year in which he was injured and lacked support from his coaching staff and arsenal, the highest-rated passer in NFL history posted a ridiculous 25-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Now healthy and in an offense that has some imagination, look for Rodgers to explode in his age-36 season and make a run at a third MVP award.
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