Quarterbacks Uber Alles: The Definitive NFL Power Rankings

The NFL is defined by its quarterbacks. And now that we’re solidly into the 2012 NFL season, let’s see how those football-tossin’ fools stack up.

An NFL team’s quarterback is usually a reflection of that team’s sensibilities and status: a marquee QB, and the squad is sexy and popular; a struggling one, and they’re boring, staid, depressing. And it’s not just hype: in the current league, at least, the attention QBs get is justified by their importance on the field. In lieu of the typical team Power Rankings, then, we’re assessing the league’s 32 starting QBs. To the Quarterbackrankmobile!

32. Matt Cassel

Colin E Braley / AP

In 2012, Matt Cassel has been the worst quarterback in the NFL. Watching Matt Cassel play football is like watching a dog try to climb a ladder. So far this season, Cassel has thrown 5 TDs to 9 INTs, trailing only Brandon Weeden for the league lead in picks; his adjusted yards per attempt, which factors in TDs and INTs, is 4.8, the league’s worst.

When Matt Cassel got hurt, the Chiefs fans cheered, because they thought Brady Quinn was a better alternative. Brady. Quinn.

Enjoy this haiku about Matt Cassel:

I once tried to put
A baseball cap on my head.
It fell off; I can’t write haikus correctly either.

31. Mark Sanchez

Nick Laham / Getty Images

Through Week 6, Mark Sanchez had completed fewer than half of his passes. That is abominable. I’m not sure how to properly convey how bad this really is. One way would be to mention that the only quarterback who completed fewer than half of his passes in 2011 was Tim Tebow; the other would be to tape 12 hours of a Jets fan crying into his pillow. A common thread of discussion after the Jets’ Week 6 win over Indianapolis was, “Wow, the Jets won even though Sanchez only threw for 82 yards!” No. The Jets won BECAUSE Sanchez only threw for 82 yards, and this was proven in their Week 7 loss to the Patriots, when Sanchez fumbled away the ball in overtime because he holds it like a muddy shoe he’s trying to carry across the room before it drips on the carpet.

30. Blaine Gabbert

Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

When you search “Blaine Gabbert” in the wire service BuzzFeed uses for photos, almost every image is either Gabbert throwing a pick or Gabbert getting sacked. Images of Blaine Gabbert succeeding are rarer than My Bloody Valentine albums. If you have one, and it’s an original, hold on to it, maybe get it autographed — could be worth a lot of money one day, when the Jags win the Super Bowl after drafting Geno Smith.

Gabbert bullet points:

— A couple of puns on Blaine Gabbert’s name: Lame Gabbert; Blame Gabbert.

— The number of yards per game Blaine Gabbert throws for: 151.

— Blaine Gabbert’s role in the next Broadway revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire”: Blanche DuBois

29. Brandon Weeden

Mark Duncan / AP

Mike Holmgren interviews for a job.

…Yes, I was the president of the Cleveland Browns … Yes, I did think we should draft [Brandon] Weeden … No, I, uh, well, I had heard that he was a little older than normal … Well, I just forgot, I guess … Well, the night before, my wife had made a reservation at the Chessecake Factory, the night before the draft, and I really do love … the Oreo cheesecake, yes … so, yeah, imagine my surprise! ha, imagine my surprise when I found out I had just drafted a 25-year-old rookie quarterback! … What? … Turned 29? I guess I didn’t even realize. … The cane should’ve been a giveaway, possibly … So you’ll call next week? Do you need my phone number? … You’ll look it up in the White Pages, OK. Well, here’s my car— OK, I’ll hold on to the card.

28. Matt Hasselbeck / The Ghost Of Jake Locker

Wade Payne / AP

Look at how Matt Hasselbeck is throwing the ball in this photo. This isn’t an aberration; this is just how he throws the ball nowadays. Even when he’s trying to toss it downfield, like, even for 30-yards-plus, he just kind of chucks it underhand.

27. Mike Vick

Joe Robbins / Getty Images

26. Philip Rivers

Mike Blake / Reuters

Have you ever intercepted a Philip Rivers pass? Why not? Why are you so lazy? He’s already thrown nine picks THIS YEAR. He threw four in his last game! You’re seriously telling me you couldn’t go out and get one of those?

25. Kevin Kolb / John SKELETON

Rick Scuteri / AP

By a few metrics, Kevin Kolb was having a very nice season. He’d thrown 8 TDs to 3 INTs, and his team was 3-2, much to the surprise of everyone in the world — literally every single one of the earth’s seven billion humans. But.

1. His passes barely go anywhere. At all. The only guys with worse yards per attempt stats are Mark Sanchez and Blaine Gabbert. Kolb is throwing for fewer than 200 yards per game.

2. He gets sacked so, so, so, so much. As in, an historic amount. As in, if he had stayed healthy and kept getting sacked at the pace he’s been getting sacked — 27 times through six games, only four of which he both started and finished — he would have become only the third player to be sacked more than 70 times in a season, according to pro-football-reference.com’s records. His sack rate this year — the percentage of his dropbacks on which he is sacked — is an astounding 12.9%, 3.6% higher than the next closest 2012 passer. And in 2011, guess who got sacked the most, aside from Tim Tebow? KEVIN KOLB. Of course, this is partly on Arizona’s offensive line, but it’s also on Kolb: the quarterback plays a surprisingly large role in how often he is sacked, and you especially don’t get sacked that often unless you’re holding the ball far too long. For comparison, consider this: last year, playing in eight games and starting seven, John Skelton’s sack rate behind the same offensive line was only 7.7%. (This season, Skelton’s only started and finished one game; in that game, he was sacked seven times. Which is, admittedly, a lot.) Moral of the story, Kolb needs to get rid of the damn ball.

The only other thing I have to say about John SKELETON is that people should dress up as him for Halloween. “Hey, little girl, what are you?” *throws interception*

24. Josh Freeman

John Raoux / AP

For some reason, ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating thinks that Josh Freeman’s perfectly ordinary season through Week 6 — 8 TDs, 5 INTs, 7.7 yards per attempt, a bad but not Sanchez-bad 55% completion rate — is just AWFUL. QBR pegs him as the fourth-worst passer in the league, ahead of only Hasselbeck, Weeden, and Sanchez. I don’t know who in the ESPN stats department is secretly in love with Freeman, and is just hoping that this weird negging behavior will eventually draw his attention, but it’s obvious that there’s something going on here.

23. Sam Bradford

Lynne Sladky / AP

Remember when Sam Bradford as a first-overall pick? Yeah, that happened. Almost all of that had to do with a weak draft class — remember that if Jake Locker had decided to leave school, he probably would’ve been the first-overall pick (Jake Locker!) — but there’s still something about a #1 pick that’s supposed to suggest potential, even if the floor might be just as low as the ceiling is high. That’s the remarkable thing about Bradford, though: he’s the most insistently, aggressively mediocre quarterback in the league. Bradford doesn’t have an impressive arm; he has OK accuracy; he’s mobile but not threateningly so; he’s smart enough, but not a Manning. Possibly Bradford will hold on to his starting job for a decade; possibly he’ll lose it next year or the year after and spend the rest of his career wandering the league, alternatively holding clipboards and helming 7-9 teams. Anything much brighter than that seems unlikely.

22. Matt Stafford

Matt Stafford is living, breathing, eating proof that sometimes, a quarterback just has a good year. Who knows why: he finally stays healthy, or he has a skill-position player who’s on the next level, or he just spent a few months in the zone. That was Matt Stafford last year. And sometimes, a quarterback just has a bad year: something’s wrong mentally, or past injuries have come back to haunt him, or he discovered the Taco Bell Doritos Locos tacos. This is Matt Stafford this year. Through six games, Stafford, who had a 5,000-plus-yard, 40-plus-touchdown 2011, has thrown an embarrassing 4 touchdowns to 5 interceptions and generally looks like a different player than the one who led Detroit to the playoffs last year. Stafford’s young, so the question of whether Touchdown Stafford or Doritos-Locos Stafford is the real Stafford is yet to be decided. And he’s dealt with a slate of brutal defenses so far this year, so he has a real chance to climb these rankings if he can get it together once the Lions’ schedule eases out.

(Stafford plays tonight against the Bears, so I’ll update based on his performance and chicken/steak/ground beef selection.)

21. Ryan Tannehill

Look: the expectations for Ryan Tannehill were really low. So low. The fact that he’s even completed a pass this year is overachieving. Considering that he actually had a 400-yard passing game, then — not to mention the Dolphins’ 3-3 record — you have to be impressed. That doesn’t make him a good quarterback, or even a league average one: fewer TDs than INTs, paltry yardage aside from that one big game; essentially, he’s taking decent care of the ball, but not doing much with it. It doesn’t even make him more famous than his wife. BUT IT’S A START.

20. Tony Romo

Nick Wass / AP

For all the shit that Tony Romo’s taken over his career, he’s actually been a top-10 passer pretty much every season. NOT THIS ONE. A couple of important Romo games in 2012 were the football equivalent of Gallagher smashing a watermelon with a hammer (Romo = Gallagher, concept of quality football = watermelon); if I remember correctly, the only reason he didn’t throw more than five picks against Chicago is because a few of them were credited to Jay Cutler out of habit.

19. Joe Flacco

Patrick Smith / Getty Images

This week, ESPN reports, “Flacco’s Total QBR, a metric that accounts for everything a quarterbacks does, was 0.3 on the 0-100 scale, the lowest rating for any quarterback with at least 30 action plays since 2008.”

18. Carson Palmer

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

Remember when Carson Palmer was one of the best quarterbacks in the league? Doesn’t it feel like so long ago? How does it make you feel? Does it make you feel sad? Nostalgic? Do you yearn for those times to return? Or are you glad they’re gone? Does seeing Carson Palmer in silver make you think of your grandmother? Did you and your grandmother have a good relationship? Was she a wise woman? Kind? Loving? Intimidating? Did she put weird candies on the coffee table, i.e. European candies that tasted weirdly of meat or soap? Does this talk of weird candies remind you of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow? Have you read Gravity’s Rainbow? Have you read Infinite Jest? Have you read Moby Dick? Do you consider yourself well-read? Do you consider Carson Palmer well-read? Are you sexually attracted to Carson Palmer? More so now or when he was on the Bengals? Are you sexually attracted to mediocrity? Are you afraid of your significant other being more talented than you? How about your running back? Would you sleep better if you weren’t 2-4?

That’ll be $400.

17. Ryan “Harvard Boy” Fitzpatrick

Ralph D. Freso / Reuters

The Robert Lowell of football is one of the league’s weirdest quarterbacks. Maybe it was those three years he spent living alone in a cabin in the woods of western Massachusetts, or maybe it’s just the way they cook the muffins in Cambridge, but somewhere along the line, the Ralph Waldo Emerson of football started throwing touchdowns and interceptions at a weirdly high rate. Like, both of them. This season, the Doris Kearns Goodwin of the gridiron has the league’s second-highest touchdown percentage (6.9%) and the fourth-highest interception percentage (4.1%); that means that 11% of his throws are either a touchdown or interception. Ryan “Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.” Fitzpatrick goes big AND he goes home.

16. Russell Wilson

FACTS about Russell Wilson:

1. He’s short
2. He’s handsome
3. Hes religious, but not annoying about it
4. He’s an UNDERDOG

Now that we’ve got those out of the way — because those are the only damn things anyone talks about when they talk about Russell Wilson — is he a good quarterback? Meh. He’s all right. For a rookie, he’s been impressive, but as a starter in the National Football League in 2012, he’s middle of the road at best: 23rd in yards per attempt, poor turnover numbers balanced by quite-good touchdown percentage. He’s not quite Harvard-boy-esque in how often he throws picks and touchdowns, but by that random TD% + INT% metric I created, he’s top quarter of the league. So he’s volatile. Makes sense. He’s a rookie.

But he’s a handsome underdog rookie who’s religious but not annoying about it. So even though he’s probably going to turn out like a Matt Schaub or a Matt Hasselbeck — one of those good but unremarkable quarterbacks who consistently make the playoffs but don’t dominate — you’re going to hear about him like he were Peyton Manning. And as far as fit goes, a Hasselbeck-type with Manning notoriety would be perfect for Pete Carroll’s defense-focused Seahawks.

15. Cam Newton

Nell Redmond / AP

Time for an exercise:

(If you are one of the people who criticized Cam Newton for “sulking,” please excuse yourself from this exercise, because you’re biased.)

Look at Cam Newton. Then scroll up through the rest of this list to review everyone that came before him. Even taking into account his mediocre numbers this year, would you take any of those guys over Cam? And that’s why Newton makes it into the top half of our rankings.

14. Christian Ponder

Patrick McDermott / Getty Images

Fun fact: nobody has even seen Christian Ponder with his helmet off. Not even his family.

Seriously: if my life depended on picking Ponder out of a lineup, I would just lie down and die.

Oh, and there’s this:

I’m sure this is surprisingly high for many people to be seeing Ponder, though, so jokes aside: the Vikings’ sophomore is completing his passes at a 67% clip and taking care of the ball nicely. He’s becoming a protoypical game manager type, and considering the quality of Minnesota’s defense, special teams, and running game, that’s all he really needs to be.

12. Andy Dalton

Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

Andy Dalton is a ginger.

Red hair is a sign of weakness.

In all seriousness, Dalton came screaming out of the gates earlier this year before running into the BUZZSAW DEFENSES of… Miami and Cleveland. 5 INTs later, everyone’s wondering if, like, the orange on the other teams’ jerseys distracted him, or something? I mean, how hard can it be to just throw the ball to A.J. Green every play? Apparently, really hard, since over the course of a miserable game against the Steelers Dalton only hit him once.

Speaking of which, everything Andy Dalton does should be viewed through the lens of how good A.J. Green is. So far in 2012, and excluding the stumble against Pittsburgh — at least his one catch was a touchdown — an average game for Green is 7 catches for 104 yards and a TD. He’s been dominant. Having that kind of receiver is a godsend for a young quarterback, and Andy Dalton has been blessed by God. Now he just needs to beat the damn Browns.

11. Andrew Luck

Nick Laham / Getty Images

With the sky gray now, smudged with ash and smoke, the only real light coming from mushroom clouds in the distance, Andrew Luck can barely see where he’s throwing the football. He’s all alone. Sometimes he feels like he’s the last man left on Earth — not the last creature, but the last man. But he thinks the others are still out there somewhere, believes that Reggie Wayne has survived the wreckage — who else could he be throwing these footballs to? — but he can’t be sure; he believes it because he has to believe it. And still he throws. Throws 50 times a game. One day, Luck knows the world will get better; he can sense it. For now, he’ll just keep throwing.

10. Matt Schaub

Elsa / Getty Images

Baldest QB in the NFL? Baldest QB in the NFL.

9. Alex Smith

Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

Alex Smith has been more or less exactly what the 49ers need him to be. Aside from one disaster of a game — SF’s beatdown by the New York Giants, in which every aspect of the team played well below capability — Smith has no multiple-interception games and is completing over two-thirds of his throws. And what’s new about 2012 Smith is that he’s shown the ability to blow up a defense, something he’d never been able to do before; just ask the Bills, who he torched for 300 yards and 3 TDs on only 24 passes. With the team around him, Smith is good enough to win a Super Bowl, and that’s all you can really ask for.

8. Ben Roethlisberger

Justin K. Aller / Getty Images

Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley are feuding right now. Like, they’re having a tiff, a little squabble; Ben’s saddddd that he can’t throw the ball farther, and Haley’s sadddddd that the Steelers don’t let him beat on players with a tire iron when they miss assignments. I hate everything about this team. But alas, Roethlisberger’s playing pretty well by just about every metric. I’m just personally looking forward to the Steelers losing by 37 in the first round of the playoffs.

Statistically, Tom Brady’s 2012 looks very Tom Brady-esque: 12 TDs, 3 INTs, 65.3% completion rating. Through Week 6, Football Outsiders metrics had him as the third-best passer in the league. But anyone who’s watched the Patriots for any extended period of time this year knows that they’re not the same offense that has basically owned the NFL for the last decade. Digging through the stats, the first bit that jumps out as an aberration is Brady’s low yards per attempt; if it holds at 7.4, that would his worst since 2006. Brady’s throwing the ball a whole lot, but the passes are slants and outs, and beyond that, ineffectual deep throws. It isn’t entirely Brady’s fault; Brandon Lloyd has been an unimpressive deep threat and Aaron Hernandez has been injured. It’s just that Brady used to elevate everyone into a borderline All-Pro, and it doesn’t seem like that’s in the cards anymore. None of this should be surprising: Brady’s 35 years old. At some point, he had to start to decline. And with the Patriots’ abysmal passing defense, the older Brady can’t continue to outpace the number of points his team is giving up.

6. Drew Brees

Jonathan Bachman / Reuters

5. Matt Ryan

John Bazemore / AP

Hey man. My name’s Matt, but all the brothers call me Matty Ice — I picked up that nickname while pledging, because, man, it was after semi and we were just crushing cases and Turner was like, “Yo, Matt, you think you can drink 12 Nattys in a row?” and I was like, “Fuck yeah I can,” and I got through four before I booted all over Julio’s bed. Fucking A. Anyways, you’re rushing, so like, you’re trying to decided between a bunch of different shit, I get it. But let me tell you why Alpha Tau Lambda — they call us ATL, for short — why this is the best frat on campus. I mean, we’ve pretty much got everything: great house, great parties, great wide receivers. And we haven’t lost in anything. Ever. Sure, we haven’t really been around that long, and they say our parties kind of start slow, and we usually run out of booze like halfway through, but we ALWAYS get more, and we always finish strong, because that’s how ATL does it. … Um, yeah, we might have some trouble with the administration. And we haven’t really had a party on the same night as any of the other good frats yet. But we will! And it’s gonna be great! Here, drink this.

4. Peyton Manning

Steven Senne / AP

At 36 years old, after leaving the only team he’d played for over 13 seasons, after rehabbing what appeared to be a career-ending neck injury, Peyton Manning is still one of the four best quarterbacks in the league. This is preposterous. This is completely inexplicable. It would’ve been amazing enough if Manning came back as a league-average passer and managed to guide a defensively solid Broncos team into an early-round playoff exit. Instead, he’s fourth in the league in touchdowns, fourth in yards per attempt, has thrown only four interceptions, and his helmet is approximately 19 sizes too small, leaving the large and unsightly red marks seen above. The Broncos are 3-3, but two of those losses are to arguably the best two teams in the NFL, the Texans and the Falcons, and one was against the Patriots, who aren’t exactly chaff either. In the moribund AFC, aside from the Texans, the Broncos have as good a shot as any other team at making a run to the Super Bowl; if Manning can accomplish that, 2012 will go down in history as one of the most unlikely and remarkable seasons ever recorded by a man with a red forehead.

3. Robert Griffin III

Richard Lipski / AP

If Robert Griffin III was a running back, he’d be one of the ten best running backs in the league. Keep in mind, for a second, that this completely excludes his incredible success as a passer — he’s the only guy in the league currently completing 70% of his passes, he leads the league in adjusted yards per attempt, and only Brady, Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers have had a smaller percentage of their passes intercepted. But JUST RUNNING THE BALL: six touchdowns (2nd in the league); 7.3 yards per attempt (tied for first); 468 yards total (12th). What the Redskins (and fantasy owners) are getting out of Griffin is, essentially, the production of both a running back and a quarterback. Considering that ‘Skins have the league’s third-worst defense in both yards and points allowed, he’s the only reason why the team are hanging around .500 Oh, and he’s revived a depressed franchise that hasn’t felt the warm touch of hope in over a decade. If these power rankings were based entirely on charisma and just sheer awesomeness, Griffin would be #1 by an enormous margin.

2. Eli Manning

Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

DID YOU KNOW that Eli Manning’s full first name is “Elisha”? Now you know!

Also, Manning trails only Drew Brees in yards per game, has been dominant in the fourth quarter, and has the Giants at 5-2, including an absolute thrashing of the 49ers. Elisha is playing the best football of his life.

1. Aaron Rodgers

Scott Halleran / Getty Images

19 touchdowns, and
Only four interceptions.
That is not human.

Two games, 54
For 74. Who needs
Incompletions, right?

LOLOL
You didn’t draft Rodgers first?
That was a mistake.

Discount double check.
Rodgers! Rodgers. Rodgers! Hey—
Discount double check.

The only perfect
Player in the NFL
Is Aaron Rodgers.

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