The quarterbacks are on fire in the 2021 NFL season.
Two of the oldest passers in the NFL, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, aren't slowing down, while a new generation — including Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert — have taken over the league the last few seasons.
We also have a new generation of superstars. There are flashy, high-IQ passers as well as a couple with rare athleticism who prefer to run. Even the rookie quarterbacks from last year’s draft have given us some incredible shows, although none have made it into our top spots quite yet.
Let’s look at the league’s top quarterbacks so far this year. We’ve ranked them both by their performances in the recent past and the potential we believe they have for the 2021 season.
32. Taylor Heinicke, Washington Football Team
The reserve passer might be putting up decent fantasy football numbers, but he's struggled mightily to find success despite playing with superstar Terry McLaurin.
31. Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Zach Wilson, the Jets’ latest messianic figure, used a historic 2020 college season to rocket himself up to the second overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft pick. He had 33 passing touchdowns and an additional 10 rushing touchdowns in his final season at BYU to demonstrate a well-rounded offensive mind that just might be the key to finally bringing some magic to New York.
Unfortunately, the rookie has hit some major bumps in the road, leading the Jets to only one victory before injuring his knee that has sidelined him for multiple weeks.
Maybe that time off will be exactly what he needs to transform from "Mormon Manziel" to "Mormon Mahomes." So far, though, Wilson has been the worst of the rookie QBs this season.
30. Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers
While many believed that it was former Jets coach Adam Gase who was slowing down Sam Darnold's progress at QB, his short time with the Panthers have proven that it wasn't all his former coach's fault.
The former No. 3 pick came out of the gates firing to start the season against lackluster opponents, but he's since crashed and burned against more talented defenses.
He's been so bad recently that he was benched for XFL legend P.J. Walker.
Following Darnold's dismal performance against the Patriots, which included multiple interceptions, the USC product could be riding the bench for a lot longer. That makes the Panthers' decision to not draft Justin Fields or Mac Jones even more peculiar after the team surrendered multiple picks for Darnold.
29. Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
How the mighty have fallen.
Jared Goff is just a few years removed from leading the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. But his abysmal outing in the Super Bowl, along with his struggles beyond that, forced the Rams and coach Sean McVay to seek greener pastures in Matthew Stafford.
Goff, who the Rams traded up for to take No. 1 in the 2016 NFL Draft, was then dealt — along with two first-rounders — to the Lions for Stafford.
Goff vowed to prove the Rams wrong, but with a lack of offensive talent, the former California Bears passer was set up to fail. He's not doing himself any favors, either.
He's failed to lead the Lions to a single win through eight weeks while averaging a paltry 6.5 yards per attempt. Yikes.
The Lions will be in the market for a franchise QB in the offseason.
28. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
The first overall pick from this year’s draft seems to have everything on paper that you’d look for in a superstar. His arm has the potential to unleash downfield passes that many quarterbacks on this list couldn’t dream of making.
Unfortunately for Trevor Lawrence, he's on the lowly Jaguars and coached by Urban Meyer. Despite having those things going against him, Lawrence still unfurls jaw-dropping throws in every game. Once the Jags upgrade their talent, find an actual NFL coach and TLaw improves on some questionable decision-making, the No. 1 overall pick should live up to the hype. For now, he's low on the list.
27. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Although the Bears’ new first-round pick from the 2021 NFL draft got off to a disastrous debut in the first game of the season, Justin Fields has shown flashes of why Chicago traded up to select the Ohio State superstar.
Fields had his most impressive performance of his young career in Week 7 against the San Francisco 49ers. Fields unleashed some beautiful throws while adding 103 yards on the ground.
Fields might hold onto the ball too long sometimes, sure, but he's incredibly accurate and a playmaker with the ball in his hands thanks to his 4.3 40-yard dash speed.
With presumably a new coaching staff coming to Chicago in the offseason, Fields should be much better in his sophomore season.
26. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger flirted with retiring in the offseason, and maybe he should have called it quits.
The 39-year-old has looked his age this season as he's unable to move around in the pocket or fire the ball down the field accurately — two of his finer qualities in his prime.
Time is up on Big Ben and the Steelers' hard-to-watch offense.
25. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
It hasn't been an easy start to Tua Tagovailoa's Dolphins career.
After coming off a hip injury that he suffered at Alabama, Tagovailoa struggled in his rookie year in Miami. It's hard not to blame him, but the Dolphins already seem to be running out of patience for their once prized possession.
Miami upgraded their offensive weaponry in the offseason, adding Tua's former Bama teammate Jaylen Waddle after trading up in the 2021 NFL Draft, but that hasn't made much of a difference for Tagovailoa, who's struggled with reading defenses and staying healthy in his first two seasons in South Beach.
24. Daniel Jones, New York Giants
The No. 6 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft showed potential in his rookie season, maintaining a 62% completion percentage with about 11 yards per pass. Last year, his average settled down to about seven yards per attempt, and he had a modest 3,000 passing yards. This came with 11 passing touchdowns marred by 10 interceptions.
In Year 3, Jones hasn't done enough to give the G-Men confidence that they've found their franchise quarterback — especially with Jones' fumbling issue still a major problem.
The Giants could be in the market for a new QB, coach and general manager in the offseason.
23. Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Jalen Hurts is a much better fantasy football quarterback than an a real-life one.
The 53rd overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft is as boom-or-bust as they get under center. Hurts has shown playmaking ability with his legs and the ability to hit deep passes, but that's about it. That makes it incredibly tough to build an offense around. Hence, the Eagles' struggles.
If Hurts can somehow become more accurate in the short and intermediate passing game then he'll make the leap up this list, but we've yet to see it.
Philadelphia might be running out of patience as well. With potentially three top-10 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Eagles could be in the market to trade for a QB like Watson or draft one. That would spell the end of Hurts' starting career in Philadelphia.
22. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
Similar to Goff, the 49ers realized that their incumbent quarterback just wasn't good enough to lead the team back to the promised land.
In the offseason, the Niners traded three first-rounders to move up to No. 3 to select Trey Lance, who has yet to beat out Jimmy Garoppolo. While the franchise used the excuse of Jimmy G's availability — he's played in only one full season in his career — it really comes down to the former second-rounder's ability.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan clearly doesn't trust Jimmy G and we can see why. The 49ers' starting QB is walking turnover waiting to happen. Sapped of any athleticism he once had after multiple leg injuries, Jimmy G is inaccurate and doesn't attack downfield while still struggling to read defenses.
His quick release makes him a solid spot starter, but he's not a franchise QB, which is why San Francisco traded so much to find his replacement.
21. Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
Winston, known for his aggression, wasn't playing that way to start the season but hews beginning to unfurl some beautiful passes before getting hurt. He led the Saints to a 5-2 record and before the injury dropped some absolute dimes despite the Saints' lack of talent on offense.
It'll be interesting to see what New Orleans does in the offseason to address the QB position. We won't rule out Payton bringing Winston back for another season.
20. Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts
Similar to Jimmy G, Carson Wentz has lost the athleticism that allowed him to be great in his early years with the Eagles, but he's been able to rebound as a middle-of-the-road quarterback after reuniting with coach Frank Reich in the offseason.
Wentz still makes some boneheaded plays, like his left-handed Pick Six in the Titans game, but he'll also make some great plays and use what's left of his mobility on high-leverage plays.
19. Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos
Now starting for his fourth different team, Bridgewater has been a steady presence under center for the Broncos. Unfortunately, with the talent at Denver's disposal, he hasn't been able to elevate the Broncos in the competitive AFC West.
Bridgewater isn't a franchise QB, sure, but he's better than a lot of guys on this list.
18. Mac Jones, New England Patriots
The fifth QB taken in the 2021 NFL Draft has been the best of the bunch so far this season, which shouldn't be a surprise as Mac Jones was touted as the most "NFL ready" passer entering the league.
The former Alabama star looks like nearly the same player he was in college. He knows exactly where to go with the football and has displayed excellent accuracy. The question will be, how much better can he get?
Jones isn't an athletic specimen and doens't have the strongest arm in the league which will limit his ceiling, but his floor, as a league-average quarterback, is nothing to laugh at.
Jones will surely improve in the finer things, but don't expect him to become a top-10 QB anytime soon.
17. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons clearly still believe in Matty Ice after passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the draft to select tight end Kyle Pitts. He was supposed to form a dynamic duo with Calvin Ridley, but he's missed multiple games due to mental health issues, which has slowed down the Falcons' offense.
With Julio Jones out of town and a lackluster run game, Ryan has had to take on a lot of responsibility on offense. Now 36, Ryan doesn't have the same arm strength he used to, but he's still a savvy passer who can potentially lead Atlanta back to the playoffs.
Don't count out the 2016 NFL MVP just yet.
16. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
The No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft has struggled with drama and injuries in his fourth season in the NFL. With a hurt shoulder, Baker Mayfield's accuracy has taken a hit and forced the Browns to be a more run-heavy squad.
That, along with not getting on the same page with Odell Beckham Jr., has hurt Mayfield's stock this season.
The Browns' QB might have a huge arm, but he's always had a hard time with accuracy over the middle of the field and in the intermediate part of the passing game, which just so happens to be where ODB thrived.
Mayfield brings a swagger and confidence to a Cleveland franchise that desperately needs it, but it's also telling that the Browns have yet to sign their starting QB to a lucrative contract extension.
15. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Kirk Cousins is a lightning rod for criticism, which it's hard to blame anyone for that, but the Vikings QB is actually one of the more underrated passers in the league.
This season alone, Cousins has been one of the best QBs in the NFL. That hasn't quite turned into victories on the field, but that's not his fault.
Cousins has led a high-octane pass attack despite missing Dalvin Cook for multiple games. With really just two viable options in the passing game in Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, the Vikings still have one of the more deadly passing games thanks to Cousins.
One of the biggest issues with Cousins has been turnovers, but he's eliminated some costly turnovers this season. It might be his final year in Minnesota, along with Mike Zimmer, but Cousins should have another couple years left as a low-end QB1.
Like Tom Brady with the Bucs or Tannehill in Tennessee, 32-year-old Cousins has seen somewhat of a revival of his career since moving to Minnesota after many years with Washington, the team that drafted him. The Vikings created a simple offense to suit Cousins tastes, with Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson as two flexible wide receiving options and superstar running back Dalvin Cook to strike terror into the defense’s heart.
You might not like that, but he will.
14. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow has bounced back nicely after suffering a season-ending knee injury in his rookie season. It helps that the 2020 No. 1 pick has plenty of offensive talent around him, even if he has a lackluster offensive line protecting him.
Before the injury last year, Burrow put up 2,688 passing yards to complete 13 passing touchdowns along with three rushing touchdowns and five interceptions.
The team then decided to draft his former LSU teammate Ja'Marr Chase fifth overall, and it's been beautiful to watch them reconnect on the gridiron. Chase has established himself as one of the premier young receivers and teams up with Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon on a deadly Bengals offense.
Burrow and the Bengals started the season strong until dropping a winnable game against the lowly Jets.
Burrow might not have the big arm or athleticism of Justin Herbert, who was taken after the LSU product, but he's got incredible accuracy and anticipation to make up for a not-so-strong arm.
13. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
Ever since leaving the Miami Dolphins, Ryan Tannehill has enjoyed a mid-career resurgence as one of the better passers in the league.
In his first two seasons in Tennessee, Tannehill played better than ever, lowering his turnover rate, while leading the Titans deep into the playoffs in 2020.
After some stellar victories to start 2021, Tannehill and the Titans have their sights set on a Super Bowl.
12. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
When he's on the field, Deshaun Watson is a top-10 quarterback. The problem is, he's not on the field.
That's because the disgraced Texans QB has 22 sexual assault claims against him and the Texans refuse to trade him for anything less than his peak value.
The Clemson star burst onto the scene in his rookie season, showing his amazing playmaking skills until he tore his ACL.
Watson's running and playmaking ability, who is still in his prime, makes him arguably the greatest QB to ever be on the trade market, but his off-the-field issues greatly complicate things, including this ranking.
The Dolphins, or whoever ends up with him, will surely get a great QB, but how good will he be after potentially more than a year off and with all the drama that comes with him?
11. Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
The three-time Pro Bowler has never played better than he has in 2021.
Carr has been more aggressive than ever unfurling beautiful dimes down field even with Darren Waller off to a slow start to the campaign.
Carr has done this all while showing the kind of leadership a team would expect from its franchise QB after losing their head coach and starting receiver.
The Raiders are currently tied at the top of the AFC West and that's all because of Carr's stellar play.
10. Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
The No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft is enjoying his new surroundings.
Traded to the Rams in the offseason for Jared Goff and mutiple draft picks, Matthew Stafford has gotten off to an MVP-level star under coach Sean McVay.
After toiling away in Detroit, Stafford has brought new life to an offense that was being dragged down like an anchor by fellow No. 1 pick Jared Goff. Stafford has completely opened up the Rams' passing attack and fed his new favorite receiver Cooper Kupp like he's Calvin Johnson.
Although he had his worst start of the season against the Titans, the Rams are still one of the best teams in the NFC and that's because they are led by Stafford and his cannon of an arm.
9. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
For a brief time last season, we finally got to see Russ cook.
The "Let Russ Cook" movement apparently worked as the Seahawks, notorious for their conservative playcalling, finally unleashed their incredibly talented QB. For a while, it worked, too. Russell Wilson was connecting on beautiful deep passes to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett until defenses adjusted and forced Wilson to be more patient by taking away the deep ball.
That seemed to be all that Wilson could take with coach Pete Caroll as the eight-time Pro Bowler seemingly asked for a trade from the franchise that drafted him in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
The Seahawks smartly refused to trade their franchise QB who still has the uncanny ability to make defenders miss and magically move the ball down the field. Even with an injury that sidelined him for a part of the season, Wilson is the key to Seattle's success. And everyone knows it.
8. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Following arguably the greatest rookie season from a QB in NFL history, Justin Herbert had incredibly high expectations entering Year 2.
In his first year, Herbert gained 4,300 yards at a 66.6% completion rate, throwing for 31 touchdowns to smash Baker Mayfield’s 2018 rookie record of 27. And even with a new offensive coordinator, Herbert started out strong as Mike Williams finally lived up to the draft hype and became the Oregon star's favorite target.
Herbert started out the season strong, tossing some of the most eye-popping passes in the league, but the offense has hit somewhat of a cold streak. Still, Herbert makes jaw-dropping throws every week and once he improves his decision-making, he should find himself in the top five of this list eventually.
7. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to quarterback development. And that's most evident in the development of Josh Allen.
In his first season, the Wyoming product looked lost on the football field, but he's now emerged as one of the best — and most fun to watch — players in the entire NFL.
In 2020, Josh Allen showed the most improvement of any quarterback in recent history. The Bills rewarded their new and improved superstar rookie in the offseason, building around his skills and shoring up his weaknesses.
While Allen is one of the favorites to take home the 2021 NFL MVP award, he still plays a little too loose with the football and tries to do too much at times for the Bills to take the next step as a Super Bowl contender.
6. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers told all his doubters last season to R-E-L-A-X after winning the NFL's MVP award in his resurgent 2020 campaign. He completed 4,299 passing yards for 48 passing touchdowns at just over eight yards per attempt. Add that to only five interceptions all season, and it’s no wonder he was voted the league’s most valuable player.
Rodgers doesn't have the same athleticism as he once did, he's still incredibly savvy and still has incredible arm strength. He's been playing with less aggression in 2021, but perhaps that's because he knows he has limited weapons and a solid defense, so he doesn't have to do as much.
His chemistry with wide receiver Davante Adams has helped bring new life to Rodgers late in his career as he tries to win his second Super Bowl.
5. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
There's nobody quite like Kyler Murray.
The diminutive QB sure doesn't look like your typical franchise QB, but that doesn't matter when Murray is the most dangerous player on every snap.
No quarterback has the ability to move quite as he does, and when you combine that with his accurate arm, it's a nightmare for every defense in the league.
Just 24, Murray has already elevated his play to MVP status as he's led the Cardinals to a phenomenal start to the season.
The Heisman Trophy winner's ability to read defenses has greatly improved and that's made him a better and more efficient passer. That's not good news for the rest of the NFL.
There might not be a more unstoppable player with the ball in his hands.
4. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
No quarterback started their career better than Patrick Mahomes.
After sitting for nearly his first NFL season, the Texas Tech star took the league by storm for the next three seasons, winning a Super Bowl and MVP.
While he's certainly not the most accomplished QB (yet), there's an argument that Mahomes is already the most talented QB to ever play the position. His ability to move in the pocket and unleash back-breaking passes has made the Chiefs passer must-watch TV every time he takes a snap.
His third-and-long conversion against the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV completely changed the game and showed how talented the All-Pro is.
While he's experiencing his first real slump in the NFL in 2021, Mahomes is still a great talent who should dominate the league for the next decade.
3. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
The Lamar Jackson haters are pretty quiet this year.
The former MVP has taken his game to another level in 2021, which is quite the accomplishment after being one of the best QBs in the NFL over the past couple of seasons.
The knocks on Jackson were that he couldn't lead the team back from a deficit or throw outside the numbers, but this season he's done both with excellence. The incredibly athletic specimen has turned the Ravens from a run-heavy offense into one of the most pass-happy teams in the league. And it's because of how good the Louisville star has become.
Jackson not only can make defenders miss in the blink of an eye but he has also one of the quickest releases in the league. Thanks to his improved accuracy and mastery of the passing game, he's only going to get better.
2. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
It's time to start giving Dak Prescott his due.
The former fourth-rounder has transformed into one of the smartest and most deadly QBs in the league.
Coming off a brutal season-ending leg injury, Prescott isn't quite back to the same athleticism he once had, but that doesn't really matter becaue of how good the Cowboys' signal-caller is before and after the snap.
Like a young Tom Brady, Prescott is a maestro in the pre-snap, always knowing where to go with the football and he has the arm strength, accuracy and drive to slice up defenses
The Cowboys' cast of characters surrounding him on the offensive line and at wide receiver — along with teaming up with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore — has truly unlocked Prescott's abilities as an elite quarterback.
1. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It's truly remarkable what Tom Brady is doing.
At the tender age of 44, Tommy Terrific is still the best QB in the league.
Left for dead by the Patriots, Brady, the G.O.A.T., struggled to find a team for his services. The 49ers, Titans and Chargers all reportedly passed on Brady's services, which opened the door for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get a bargain for Brady.
He quickly proved that he might be old, but he's not washed.
Brady led the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory and the seven-time Super Bowl champion seemed to get better with age. His arm strength was as good as ever and Brady's movement in the pocket hasn't slowed down.
Brady, of course, hasn't rested on his accomplishments. He's still playing as good as ever for Tampa Bay in 2021.
But can he hang on to the top spot and another championship ring?