We are eight weeks into the NFL season, so it’s time to take a look at PFF's quarterback rankings using a two-year sample size. Eight weeks is still a small sample from which to draw conclusions, but using our 2018 grades (including playoffs) combined with our 2019 data, we can get a good snapshot of the landscape of quarterbacking around the NFL.
As creatures of recency bias, let’s not forget that last year’s performances do have significance with regard to what is going to happen in the second half of 2019. Here’s a look at the highest-graded quarterbacks over the last year-and-a-half plus of action.
[Editor's Note: ELITE subscribers have access to all of PFF's advanced stats and grades in Premium Stats. Subscribe today to gain access!]
Coming off one of the best seasons of his career in 2018, Brees has continued his strong play in 2019 through two-plus games. He looked like his old self this week after returning from a five-game thumb injury as he showed off the short and intermediate accuracy that has ranked among the league’s best over the last few years. Brees currently has the highest percentage of positively graded plays in his limited 2019 action.
After a spectacular 2018 season, Mahomes’ play has taken a step back in 2019 as he’s battled an ankle injury for much of the year before missing Week 8 with a knee injury. His 2018 campaign was special as he not only led the league in big-time throws, but he also had just the second-lowest percentage of negatively graded throws in the league. This season, Mahomes is still putting up spectacular numbers to go with the third-highest percentage of big-time throws, but his negatively-graded throw rate is just 25th in the NFL, showing that there are more plays to be made in Kansas City’s explosive offense.
Wilson ranked sixth among quarterbacks last season with an 89.2 overall grade and he’s leading the way this season at 91.0 overall. He’s the league's leader in big-time throw percentage (6.6%), while he's also avoiding turnover-worthy plays better than anyone in the league (0.9%), a combination that makes him the leader in the clubhouse for MVP halfway through the season. Wilson has been fantastic from a clean pocket, grading at 90.3, but he also has an incredible 87.3 grade when facing pressure, a mark that will be difficult to sustain over the course of the season.
Last season saw Brady regress a from his 2015-17 stretch that was one of the best in NFL history on a play-by-play basis. He’s missed a few more throws than he has in the past, but the downtick in statistical production is as much about a group of pass-catchers that is a notch below his group in 2016 and 2017. Despite a few poor red-zone decisions this season, Brady is still among the league’s best at taking care of the ball (third in avoiding turnover-worthy plays this season) and he has the third-best ratio of big-time throws to turnover-worthy throws so far this season (2.67 to 1).
Rodgers has shown flashes of his old dominant self in recent weeks, and he remains one of the league’s best at peppering the field with big-time throws while avoiding turnover-worthy plays. The difference from his MVP-caliber seasons is his ability to maximize the expected throws while avoiding negative plays (taking too many sacks), and that’s still a work in progress. This season, Rodgers has the No. 5 overall grade in the league at 87.3, and he’s done it in a new offensive system with a makeshift group of pass-catchers since Davante Adams went down due to injury. Rodgers remains among the league’s best but still a tick below the peak levels that tore through the league at various points in his career.
The 2018 season saw Rivers post his best grade since 2010 as he showed that he’s still capable of making plays down the field, particularly the intermediate (10-19 yard) level where his 92.3 grade ranks fourth in the league over the last two years. Rivers’ play has been more uneven here in 2019, as he has the 10th highest percentage of turnover-worthy plays, but he also has the eighth-highest percentage of positively graded throws as gunslinger Rivers remains difficult for any opposing defense.
It’s been an odd few seasons for Wentz, who has played consistently well since 2017, though he’s finished each of the last two years on the sidelines due to injury. Wentz has the special plays in his arsenal (ranks seventh in big-time throw percentage this season), and that was a big part of his 2017 success as he continually made plays under pressure and while throwing into tight windows. This year, many of Wentz’s best throws have fallen incomplete, skewing his stats toward league average when he should rank among the league’s best.
The highlight-reel plays continue to add up for Watson, who ranks sixth in big-time throw percentage and second in rushing grade (88.0) among quarterbacks this season. Watson’s high-end play is among the best in the league, but he must avoid the disastrous games, as he’s posted four single-game grades of 40.5 or lower since entering the league in 2017. If he can cut down on his sack rate and turnover-worthy plays (13th highest this season), Watson has all of the skills to rank among the elite signal-callers in the NFL, but he’s still refining those elements of his game.
After a solid 2018 and a slow start this season, Cousins has been the best quarterback in the league since Week 5. He’s had three top-10 finishes in passer rating in his four years as a full-time starter, but only one year as a top-10 quarterback by PFF grading, as he’s generally been elevated by his supporting cast. The one big complaint about Cousins’ career is his inability to step up in the biggest games, and even this season, his worst two games have come in road games against divisional rivals. The quest for consistency continues, but Cousins is currently in a groove, making accurate downfield throws while also protecting the ball at a high rate over the last few weeks.
10. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan’s full body of work would have him higher on the list, but the last two years have been a step down in performance, despite the top-notch stats last season (10th in PFF grade, fourth in passer rating). He had excellent turnover luck in 2018 (21 turnover-worthy plays, only seven interceptions), but those poor plays have caught up to him this year as already has eight interceptions and 12 turnover-worthy plays. Ryan is one of the league’s best when throwing at the all-important intermediate (10-19 yard) level, ranking sixth in the league with a 91.8 grade over the last two years, but he must do a better job of taking care of the ball in order to get to his previous level of play when he ranked as the No. 2 quarterback in the league in both 2016 and 2017.
In 2018, Prescott ranked 19th overall with a 74.6 grade, but he’s off to a fantastic start here in 2019, grading at 87.8 overall including a league-leading 88.2 grade as a runner. A new scheme has opened up more opportunities for Prescott, as his average depth of target is up from 7.9 last year to 10.1 this year, and he is leading the league in percentage of positively graded throws, a number that is up 6.5% from last season.
Goff got off to a fantastic start last season, but it’s been a steady decline since late in 2018. He’s thrown about the same percentage of positively graded throws this season, but his negatives are up 4.6%, the second-highest percentage in the league. Goff’s done his best work off play action, as he’s thrown for a league-high 4,262 yards while averaging 9.9 yards/attempt since 2017, but questions arise when he has to consistently make throw after throw in must-pass situations.
It’s been a night and day difference in playing style for Stafford, who went from an average depth of target of 7.1 in 2018 (tied for last) to 11.4 this season, highest in the league. The result is an 8.1% increase in positively graded throws to go with a 4.6% increase in negatively graded throws, a trade-off that has led to a more explosive passing game in Detroit. Stafford is currently tied for ninth with an 81.3 overall grade, and he looks like his old self with the second-highest percentage of big-time throws at 6.4%.
The 2019 season has been a disappointment for Mayfield, who has taken a step back from a performance standpoint while also having horrible interception luck that is making things feel much worse (12 interceptions, only nine turnover-worthy plays, including fumbles). Mayfield had an excellent rookie season, ranking eighth overall with an 84.5 grade, but this season has seen him look uncomfortable in the pocket while dropping from second to 18th in big-time throw percentage.
Carr has settled in as one of the more conservative quarterbacks in the league, ranking 15th in big-time throw percentage and posting the second-lowest percentage of negatively graded throws while posting the third-lowest average depth of target at 7.0 after tying for the lowest aDOT last season. Carr is more than capable of making big-time throws down the field, and perhaps a Stafford-like aggressiveness would add more value to the Oakland offense, but for now, Carr is moving the chains and letting his playmakers work while doing a fine job of avoiding mistakes.
Few quarterbacks have made as many strides as Jackson this season, as he’s cut down on his negatively graded throws by four percent, best in the league. His ranking is still being pulled down by his 2018 rookie year when he ranked just 32nd in PFF passing grade (60.0) to go with the second-lowest fumble grade at 25.1, but Jackson has the No. 9 overall grade in 2019 at 81.3. He’s always shown the ability to hit NFL throws, but he’s doing so at a higher level this season, all while cutting down on the turnover-worthy throws (1.8% is fourth-best in the NFL).
Garoppolo was fantastic in 2017 when he took over as the 49ers starter, but his limited work in 2018 and half-season in 2019 have not been up to that level. He’s taken advantage of the fourth-highest percentage of open throws at or beyond the first down marker, leading to his No. 8 ranking in percentage of positively graded throws. Like his 2017 stint, Garoppolo ranks low on the big-time throw charts, coming in at only 30th in the league so far this season. Garoppolo’s quick release and accuracy fit in well with San Francisco’s offensive system, but he must cut down on the turnover worthy plays, as he has the 16th-highest total here in 2019.
One of the biggest stories of the season, Minshew has broken out as a sixth-round pick with the possibility that he’s the long-term answer in Jacksonville. He’s showed excellent anticipation, accuracy, and outside-the-pocket playmaking, though he ranks just 19th in PFF grades (compared to 14th in passer rating) due to his poor ball security in the pocket that has led to the third-lowest fumble grade in the league at 25.9. If Minshew can cut down on those turnover-worthy plays, he’s shown more than capable of getting the ball down the field (91.0 grade on 10-plus yard throws) despite subpar NFL velocity.
After a conservative start to his career, Murray has started to show off the downfield zip and accuracy that made him the No. 1 pick in the draft. He has the second-lowest percentage of turnover-worthy plays, an impressive feat for a rookie, and the big-time throws are starting to catch up as he now ranks 16th in that department. Murray still ranks just 29th in percentage of positively graded throws, so it will be on the scheme and an influx of playmakers in order to create more downfield opportunities. One other area for improvement is taking unnecessary sacks, as Murray has been charged with a league-high 11 so far in 2019.
It’s easy to forget just how well Fitzpatrick played early in 2018 before coming back down to Earth, but he was dominant throwing the ball down the field and he finished the season with the highest percentage of positively graded throws. Of course, he also ranked second in turnover-worthy throw percentage, but last season was one of those years in which the highly volatile quarterback paid off (No. 9 overall grade at 84.4) when he was on the field for the Bucs. This season, Fitzpatrick’s splits are not nearly as extreme, as the offensive situation is as bad as it gets. He now ranks 26th overall among quarterbacks.
21. Joe Flacco, Denver Broncos
Flacco has undergone a conversion from big-armed gunslinger to conservative game manager in recent years, and his season in Denver has been no different. He ranks just 23rd in big-time throw percentage while ranking in the bottom-five in average depth of target for the third time in four years. While Flacco hasn’t been bad when actually throwing the ball this season, his 28.1 fumble grade is fifth-worst in the league and he has more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws.
It’s the same old story for Winston, who lives dangerously at the most extreme levels of volatility. He’s maintained his usual presence ranking near the top of the league in positively graded throws (third this season), but he’s also kept his spot near the top of the turnover-worthy play rankings, as well (second-highest at 6.1%). Every week is a roller coaster of emotions when watching Winston as his aggressiveness allows for the ability to light up the scoreboard, but it also keeps open the possibility of a four-turnover game at any time.
It’s been a Winston-like start to Jones’ career, as he’s shown off top-notch NFL throws with the 11th highest percentage of big-time throws, but he also has the fourth-highest percentage of turnover-worthy plays (5.8%). Jones has no fear throwing the ball down the field, even in a crowded pocket, and that leads to many of the highs and lows that have been prevalent in his first NFL action. If there’s a big area for improvement, it’s in the pocket, where Jones has a poor fumble grade of 28.5 and he’s taken sacks on 18.8% of his pressured dropbacks, 11th highest in the NFL.
24. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Allen came into the league with short-area accuracy issues and a big arm to push the ball down the field, but he’s morphed into the complete opposite player so far in 2019. His 27.5 passing grade on 20+ yard throws is by far the worst in the league, but he’s done his best work on passes in the 1-19-yard range with an 86.2 grade that ranks fifth. The short passing game has not cut down on Allen’s turnover-worthy plays, as he is tied for the 10th highest percentage in the league, and he ranks just 34th in big-time throw percentage at 1.6%.
25. Sam Darnold, New York Jets
Much like his college career, Darnold’s play has had extreme peaks and valleys as he started out slow in 2018 before finishing strong. In 2019, he’s had two solid outings to go with disastrous performances over the last two weeks, leading to his ranking 35th out of 38 qualifiers in PFF grade this season. Darnold has the fifth-highest percentage of turnover-worthy plays while ranking just 31st in positively graded throws.
Brissett has landed on the conservative/game manager spectrum as he ranks just 32nd in positively graded throws, but he has the ninth-lowest percentage of negatives. While he’s shown flashes of high-end play, Brissett has received plenty of help from his playmakers, as 53.2% of his yards have come after the catch, third-highest in the league this season. Brissett’s stats are a bit inflated at this point, particularly his 14 touchdowns, and he has only two PFF passing grades above 78.0 so far this season (Week 1 vs. Chargers, Week 7 vs. Texans). But his short-area accuracy and ability to take care of the ball has kept the Colts in every game this season.
While Tannehill has been impressive in his two starts with the Titans, last season was the worst of his career, and that has really crushed his two-year grading. He had the lowest grade in the league in 2018 at 45.3 overall, despite a 92.7 passer rating that was inflated by five of his 17 touchdowns coming on screens, a 69-yard Miami miracle for a score, and incredible turnover luck (highest turnover-worthy play percentage, only nine interceptions). All that said, Tannehill has a history of strong short and intermediate accuracy, and that’s been on display in his two starts this season with a 92.8 grade on passes up to 20 yards.
Trubisky was never as efficient as his stats or team record would indicate last season, and he’s taken another step back in his development so far in 2019. He has the seventh-highest percentage of negatively graded throws this year after posting the second-highest percentage in 2018, but he’s seen a 6.9% drop in positively graded throws, the highest mark in the league. The Bears’ scheme and overall playmaking were much better in 2018, leading to a higher perception of Trubisky’s play. He simply misses too many throws at this point, while not complementing the negatives with enough positives down the field.
After an outlier 2017 season, Keenum has settled into a bridge quarterback role at this point in his career. He has the eighth-highest percentage of turnover-worthy plays, including the second-worst fumble grade in the league at 23.8. Last year, Keenum ranked 25th in the league with a 70.0 overall grade and he’s dropped to 32nd this year at 50.5 overall.
While Allen’s story as an unexpected success story was a fine one, his 106.6 passer rating and zero interceptions in his four starts was fool’s gold. It caught up to him last week against the 49ers, and his current numbers (88.5 passer rating) are more in line with his actual performance. He must improve his pocket presence, as his 22.5 fumble grade is worst in the league and he ranks just 31st in adjusted completion percentage (71.3%) despite showing impressive flashes at times during Carolina’s winning streak.
After a promising start in relief of Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2, Rudolph has struggled as a starter, hitting only three big-time throws compared to eight turnover-worthy plays. Rudolph’s production has been inflated by 57.6% of his yards coming after the catch, the highest percentage in the league by a wide margin. An area of strength in college that hasn’t yet translated at the next level, Rudolph has graded at just 55.5 on 10-plus yard throws.
NOT ENOUGH INFORMATION
New Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley throws with great anticipation and ball placement at all levels of the field. Among all FBS quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks in 2018, Finley ranked ninth in PFF passing grade at 89.2. He also completed 282-of-386 passes for 21 touchdowns and just seven interceptions working from a clean pocket in 2018, earning an impressive 91.8 clean-pocket passing grade that ranked tied for ninth among qualifiers.
Finley specifically thrived throwing the ball at the intermediate level of the field, as he completed 80-of-130 passes for an FBS-high 1,378 yards throwing between 10 and 19 air yards in 2018. He also recorded nine touchdowns and four interceptions his way to the 15th-ranked PFF passing grade on intermediate throws (86.2) among signal-callers with 100 or more such attempts.
He isn't without limitations (e.g., arm strength, play under pressure), but Finley still has several tools to build off of in the NFL.