It’s amazing how many young quarterbacks have established themselves as bonafide stars in a few short seasons. The hierarchy of quarterbacks in the NFL has almost been turned on its head from where it was a few years ago.
In fairness, a few old favorites are still hanging around, but even three years ago, it would have been impossible to predict what the QB landscape would look like today.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top 20 NFL quarterbacks heading into the 2020 season.
20. Philip Rivers, Colts
It’s impossible to pretend that Rivers is still anywhere close to being an elite quarterback in the NFL. His 20 interceptions last season is a big concern for the now 38-year-old. However, he had the fifth-most passing yards of his career last season, in part because the Chargers couldn’t run the ball effectively and a lot fell on Rivers’ shoulders.
In 2020, we’ll see if a change of scenery can help Rivers breathe new life into his career. He worked with Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich in San Diego from 2013 to 2015 when he had some of his better years. It’s reasonable to think that he has something left in the tank and is more reliable than at least a dozen of the other starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
19. Josh Allen, Bills
It’s fair to say that the jury is still out on Allen, but he did enough to get his team to the playoffs last season. In his second season, Allen surpassed 3,000 passing yards and had 20 touchdown passes compared to nine interceptions. He’s also a great athlete who can make plays with his legs better than most quarterbacks.
To be fair, he has a lot of work left to do. His 58.8% completion percentage still leaves something to be desired. But there’s no doubt that he made progress in his sophomore campaign. With Buffalo adding Stefon Diggs, Allen will have a legitimate No. 1 receiver at his disposal, which should help him raise his game in 2020.
18. Derek Carr, Raiders
Carr became a scapegoat for the Raiders last season, but he was far from the team’s biggest problem. Once Antonio Brown was gone, Oakland’s talent level at receiver was a joke. Nevertheless, Carr completed over 70% of his passes, set career highs for passing yards and yards per attempt while also limiting himself to just eight interceptions.
Obviously, Carr now has to hold off Marcus Mariota just to keep his job. But we shouldn’t forget that he’s a three-time Pro Bowler who has more than enough arm talent to win games in the NFL. He may not get the respect he deserves, but he’s still a top-20 quarterback.
17. Ryan Tannehill, Titans
It’s hard to know where Tannehill fits among the quarterback hierarchy in the NFL. He’s obviously getting paid like a top-flight quarterback after helping the Titans reach the AFC Championship Game last season. But many believe it was Derrick Henry who carried Tennessee that far with Tannehill just along for the ride.
That being said, Tannehill led the NFL in passer rating last year, which has to count for something. Plus, he had some decent seasons in Miami when he didn’t exactly have a stellar supporting cast around him. We’ve seen enough of Tannehill to know that he’s a decent quarterback and with a team that believes in him, he has a chance to actually live up to that big contract.
16. Kyler Murray, Cardinals
Murray won the Heisman two years ago and took home NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors last year, so he’s certainly on the right path. It’s still too early to say that he’s going to grow into an elite quarterback who was deserving of the top pick in the draft. But there were moments when you couldn’t help but be in awe of his talent.
More than anything, we’re curious to see if Murray can continue to progress in his second season. That’s not always easy, especially with a head coach who hasn’t proven that he can win games in the NFL, so we have to be a little cautious when it comes to setting expectations for Arizona’s young passer.
15. Matthew Stafford, Lions
Unfortunately for Stafford, he only played half of the 2019 season, but he looked good during those eight games. Consider that he threw for 3,777 yards and 21 touchdowns in 16 games in 2018 but 2,499 yards and 19 touchdowns in just half of the 2019 campaign. The Lions may not win a lot, but there’s no denying that Stafford can sling it.
Obviously, he first has to prove that he’s healthy after sitting out the second half of last season. But if his health isn’t an issue, Stafford is better than at least half of the starting quarterbacks in the league. With the talent Detroit has at receiver, Stafford could have a big year in 2020.
14. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Let’s not forget Big Ben when we talk about quarterbacks heading into the 2020 season. Since he was injured early in the 2019 season, he’ll have almost a full year to recover from elbow surgery by Week 1. Even at age 38, it’d be foolish to write off Roethlisberger before giving him a chance to prove himself.
Keep in mind that he threw for a league-high 5,129 yards in 2018 while also tossing a career-best 34 touchdown passes. Even if he doesn’t have the same physical abilities he had five or 10 years ago, Roethlisberger still has the smarts and savvy to play in the NFL... if his elbow heals properly.
13. Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
Despite getting his team to the Super Bowl, Garoppolo isn’t yet in the elite class of quarterbacks. He’s not even in the top 10, at least for now. We all know that it was the San Francisco defense and running game that carried the 49ers to the Super Bowl last season.
That being said, it’s important to remember that 2019 was Garoppolo’s first full season as a starter. With 27 touchdown passes and nearly 4,000 passing yards, he showed plenty of promise, especially after suffering a season-ending injury early in 2018. The potential is there but Garoppolo needs to take the next step in his development.
12. Tom Brady, Buccaneers
Brady is still a notch above his former backup, but he’s starting to show signs of aging. In 2019, his completion percentage and yards per pass average were down considerably from recent years. To his credit, Brady still led a 12-4 Patriots team to the playoffs, but he couldn’t carry New England past the Wild Card Round.
In 2020, it’ll be uncharted territory for Brady, as he plays without Bill Belichick for the first time in his career. The good news is that the move to Tampa means an upgrade in offensive talent around him, which makes us think his decline will be a gradual one.
11. Jared Goff, Rams
There’s no denying that Goff took a step back in 2019. However, that’s not enough to negate everything he did in the previous two seasons when he went to the Pro Bowl and led one of the best offenses in the NFL. His stock took a hit, but Goff has shown enough promise to bounce back in 2020.
The Rams put a lot more on Goff’s shoulders in 2019 than they did the previous season, which is part of the reason why he threw a career-high 16 interceptions. But his completion percentage and total passing yards didn’t take a huge hit from 2018 to 2019, so there’s hope that Goff will continue to be an above-average quarterback in 2020.
10. Kirk Cousins, Vikings
To be fair, most quarterbacks would kill to have Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, so Cousins has been in a good position to succeed since arriving in Minnesota. Still, he deserves plenty of credit after recording the highest QB rating of his career in 2019. He threw just six interceptions last year, which is a sign that his past problems with turnovers are improving.
Of course, with Diggs being traded, Cousins’ job figures to be a little harder in 2020. But he’s taken a step forward during his two seasons with the Vikings and even won a playoff game, so Cousins has a chance to establish himself as a top-10 quarterback for the long-term.
9. Dak Prescott, Cowboys
Prescott, much like the Cowboys, has been a little up and down the last few seasons. But if you ignore the disappointing 8-8 record, Prescott is coming off the best season of his career. He's turned the Dallas offense into one of the most dynamic in the NFL.
Last season, Prescott recorded career-highs with 4,902 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. He also had the highest passer rating since his rookie season. The kicker is that he’s also a great athlete who makes plays with his legs better than almost every other quarterback in the NFL.
8. Matt Ryan, Falcons
A lot of people have started to sour on Ryan because his team has gone downhill ever since their epic collapse in the Super Bowl a few years ago. But there hasn’t been that much of a dip in Ryan’s performance. That doesn’t mean he’s an MVP candidate, but he’s better than most people think.
Keep in mind the Falcons had a porous defense and a lackluster rushing attack for most of 2019. Ryan was also playing behind a dreadful offensive line, taking a career-high 48 sacks. Considering the circumstances, Ryan going 7-8 as a starter last year is impressive. If he can get a little more help around him, he’s still capable of playing at a Pro Bowl level.
7. Carson Wentz, Eagles
Questions about his ability to stay healthy linger, but you have to be impressed with how Wentz performed last season. He threw for over 4,000 yards with 27 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. Wentz also carried the Eagles to the playoffs despite a no-name group of wide receivers around him for most of the season.
To be fair, Wentz is far from perfect. But when he’s healthy, Wentz is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league. During the second half of the 2019 season, the Eagles signal-caller showed that he can win games with a diminished supporting cast around him.
6. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
At this point, it seems like his best years are behind Rodgers. In his defense, he’s made the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons. However, he’s also 36 and doesn’t look like the same player he was during his last MVP season in 2014 despite playing on a team that went 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game.
Rodgers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and avoids mistakes better than any other passer, throwing just four interceptions last season. But with a passer rating under 100 in three straight seasons, it’s safe to say that a few of the younger quarterbacks in the league have passed him by.
5. Deshaun Watson, Texans
Following back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons, Watson is proving that he’s going to be one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks for the foreseeable future. There was a slight drop in his numbers from 2018 to 2019 but nothing significant.
Like many of the other quarterbacks in the top five, Watson’s abilities as a runner help set him apart from the middle of the pack. Of course, there is no reason to doubt his abilities as a passer, which is why Watson is poised to remain one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.
4. Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Wilson has been in the league for nearly a decade and it seems like people are starting to take him for granted. We can’t lose sight that he’s been selected to the Pro Bowl in seven of his eight seasons. More importantly, Wilson made a strong case for MVP honors in 2019 despite a disaster of an offensive line and a defense that was rather average by Seattle standards.
Heading into 2020, Wilson looks to be in the prime of his career. He had 31 touchdown passes and a career-low five interceptions last season. If the Seahawks can do a better job of protecting him, don’t be surprised if Wilson puts together another MVP-worthy campaign.
3. Drew Brees, Saints
Even in his 40s, Brees remains one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. For the third straight season, he led the league in completion percentage last year, connecting on 74.3% of his passes. He also averaged nearly eight yards per attempt and tossed 27 touchdown passes in just 11 regular-season games.
Heading into 2020, Brees is 41 and likely heading into his final campaign. However, there’s nothing from the last few seasons to indicate that he won’t continue to be one of the most accurate and productive quarterbacks in the league.
2. Lamar Jackson, Ravens
A year ago, there was reason to be skeptical about Jackson. But he answered any and all questions facing him while taking home MVP honors in 2019. We know that Jackson is a dynamic athlete, setting an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback. But he also showed incredible progress as a passer last season, completing 66.1% of his passes while leading the league with 36 touchdown passes.
The amazing part is that Jackson is only 23 and has just 22 career starts under his belt. In theory, the sky is the limit for him heading into 2020. If Jackson can continue to be accurate and limit his interceptions the way he did a season ago — throwing just six picks — he’ll have a chance to win MVP for the second year in a row.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
For the best quarterback in the league, look no further than the one who just won the Super Bowl. If you look at only the last two seasons, there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that Mahomes is the best passer in the NFL right now. Over that span, Mahomes has thrown 76 touchdown passes during the regular season and 13 more in five playoff games.
When you can go under the radar and have a “disappointing” season while throwing for over 4,000 yards with 26 touchdowns and just five interceptions, you’re something special.
Mahomes is the new gold standard in the NFL and leads the best offense in the NFL in 2020.
Photo: Getty Images