Breaking news: Quarterback is the most important position in football. You don’t need a PFF subscription to be aware of that fact (although you should get one anyway!), and it’s not getting any less true as the years go by. As NFL teams look ahead to the offseason, the first real chance to change course at the most important spot opens up with free agency, the 2022 NFL Draft and the possibility of trades once again.
Some teams are obviously happy with the player they have and the direction that takes them in, but others are desperate for an answer.
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1. Denver Broncos
Denver had a chance to snag a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft and consciously chose a cornerback instead. Patrick Surtain II was about as good as a rookie as you could reasonably expect, but the lack of a viable starting signal-caller still resulted in the team firing head coach Vic Fangio after a 7-10 campaign. \
Teddy Bridgewater’s PFF grade rang in at 73.5, 21st in the NFL, although he made more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws. And 127 dropbacks from Drew Lock wasn’t enough to change any opinion on him. Denver was supposedly targeting Aaron Rodgers last offseason, and the team may be trying to resume that pursuit, but whatever their approach, the Broncos can’t go into next season without a new solution at the position.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Ben Roethlisberger era in Pittsburgh was wildly successful for the team. Both he and head coach Mike Tomlin never endured a losing season, even as his play became tough to watch down the stretch this year. The Steelers couldn’t compete with true contenders because they didn’t have the passing firepower.
Over Roethlisberger's last five games this season, he averaged 4.6 yards per attempt and made 12 turnover-worthy plays. Pittsburgh’s receiving weapons are capable, and it remains to be seen what the offensive line would look like if it was tasked with blocking longer than the league’s fastest average time to throw of 2.2 seconds. With Roethlisberger presumably retiring, the Steelers now need a new signal-caller for the first time since 2004.
3. Carolina Panthers
The Sam Darnold experiment returned miserable results for the Panthers this season, and even though they are on the hook for his fifth-year option next season, they simply can’t go into the year with him as their projected starter.
Darnold posted a 55.2 PFF grade — lower than any single season he had with the Jets and 38th out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks in 2021. It wasn’t all his fault, as the team desperately needs to upgrade an offensive line that surrendered 213 pressures on the season. The answer to Carolina’s quarterback woes doesn’t lie on the current roster.
4. Washington Football Team
Washington dealt with an unfortunate quarterback situation this season, losing Ryan Fitzpatrick to injury after just eight dropbacks and never getting him back. Taylor Heinicke had flashed talent in limited action — including giving Tom Brady and the Buccaneers everything they could handle in the playoffs last year — but he just never really showed the same upside as a full-time starter.
Heinicke made the kind of mistakes you would expect from an inexperienced quarterback — a 4.4% turnover-worthy play rate ranked sixth-worst figure in the league — but he didn’t make as many positive plays as his previous play may have suggested. He wasn’t able to become a younger version of Fitzpatrick, instead just becoming trapped in mediocrity. Given Fitzpatrick’s age and the season Heinicke just had, Washington now needs to attack the quarterback spot with enthusiasm.
5. Detroit Lions
The Lions’ need at quarterback is as glaring as any team in the league, and they are in an unusual position of undertaking a multi-year rebuild. The question becomes whether the quarterback comes now or if they believe it to be the capstone to finish the project — possibly another year away.
Jared Goff put forth just a 60.7 PFF grade this season, and he made six more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws. Detroit’s offensive line progressed as the season went along, and rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown earned himself a role within the passing attack going forward. Releasing Goff would come with a significant dead-cap hit in 2022, so the Lions may elect to give him one last lame-duck season while they put everything else in place before finding their future starter.
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6. Miami Dolphins
Evaluating Tua Tagovailoa is an incredibly difficult task because Miami’s offensive line was historically bad this season. The unit allowed 235 pressures despite being protected with a lot of RPOs and a relatively quick time to throw. He elevated the play of both the line and his receiving weapons compared to Jacoby Brissett (a good backup) when each played, but his overall play was still average at best.
An improved environment around Tagovailoa would unquestionably improve his play, but nobody knows by how much, and that is what determines whether he can be the long-term answer. While it may be harsh on Tagovailoa, the team can’t have seen enough yet to stop looking at alternatives, even if the biggest issues lie elsewhere.
7. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan has enjoyed a great NFL career, but the best of it looks clearly behind him. His 75.8 PFF grade this season was his lowest since his second year in the league. Ryan’s arm doesn’t look what it once used to be, and his play under pressure is an issue. His performance when kept clean is far better, but even from a clean pocket, his big-time throw rate sat at just 2.6%, 27th in the NFL.
The Falcons need to add weaponry and protection, regardless of the quarterback, but at this point in a rebuild, they may also be looking to a new direction at the most important position.
8. Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield injured his left shoulder badly trying to prevent a touchdown after throwing an interception against the Texans in Week 2. He fully tore his labrum and suffered other associated damage, yet he played through it all season until the team was eliminated from the playoff hunt. That decision may have been in the best interest of the Browns, but it certainly didn’t enhance Mayfield's on-field reputation, as he earned just a 63.6 PFF grade — 30th out of 39 qualifiers and the worst of his career.
There’s no way of knowing how much the injury affected his play, including decision-making, but at a minimum, any hope of a big-money extension this offseason went up in smoke. The Browns would be negligent not to be at least exploring potential alternatives. While there’s a good chance they settle on Mayfield next season again as their best option, his play was bad enough that they have to be interested in any upgrades that present themselves.
9. Houston Texans
Expectations for rookie Davis Mills were not high entering the season or when he first got an opportunity to start for the Texans. The team has a terrible supporting cast, and Mills did not have encouraging college tape. Yet, he flashed real potential across 13 games, throwing six more big-time throws than 2021 second overall pick Zach Wilson over almost 100 fewer attempts.
Mills’ adjusted completion rate ranked second only to Mac Jones among the rookies, and his best performances came against the best teams he faced. Mills likely still isn’t the long-term answer for the Texans, but he may have earned the chance to start another year while they try and bridge the talent gap everywhere else on the roster. He has at least done enough that they don’t need to do everything in their power to pursue a quarterback.
Of course, the team also still has Deshaun Watson under contract, whose status remains in limbo as he faces 22 civil lawsuits for alleged sexual misconduct.
10. Indianapolis Colts
The season could not have ended in a more disastrous fashion for the Colts. Carson Wentz played in all 17 games, ensuring the conditional draft pick traded to acquire him was a first-rounder, but he collapsed down the stretch and was a quarterback obviously propped up by the system rather than facilitating the play of everybody around him.
Wentz had three games with at least three turnover-worthy plays, each of which earned him a PFF grade of 46.1 or worse. The team likely lacks real confidence in Wentz being the guy going forward, and even though the Colts may not be able to get rid of him anytime soon, they would be crazy not to have their eye on potential contingency plans in the draft.
11. Minnesota Vikings
The outgoing Vikings regime tied itself to Kirk Cousins, who has outperformed expectations on a personal level each season since arriving from Washington. The issue is that the contract needed to keep him around led to too much pressure on the Vikings to nail personnel decisions everywhere else, and they were unable to do so, leading to the roster eroding in talent.
A reset button on the franchise gives Minnesota an opportunity to move on from Cousins and search for a truly great quarterback, not merely a good-to-very good one.
12. New York Giants
The Giants let down Daniel Jones this season. He finished the year with a 71.6 PFF grade — a number that was over 85.0 through the first five weeks of the season before the supporting cast around him disintegrated. His big plays completely evaporated — he made just seven big-time throws all year — and that’s something he was good at in each of his previous two years starting.
With the Giants pressing the reset button, they can’t have seen enough in Jones to prevent them from exploring other options. However, there is also a world where none of the alternatives are attractive enough and the team gives Jones one more chance while the rebuild commences.
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13. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are in one of the toughest situations in the league. Jalen Hurts outperformed most reasonable expectations as a starter this year, ranking 10th in overall PFF grade and 16th in passing grade, but his season ended with a weak playoff performance against the Buccaneers in which his limitations were on full display.
Philadelphia has three first-round draft picks and a rare opportunity to aggressively pursue any quarterback it covets, but in a year lacking top, surefire prospects, the Eagles may instead elect to deploy those picks to enhance the rest of the roster and rely on Hurts improving as he gains experience. He has the advantage of giving them at least two more seasons on a very cheap contract, a competitive advantage in itself.
14. Chicago Bears
Chicago’s quarterback situation was a farce this year, with the coaching staff reluctant to turn to rookie first-rounder Justin Fields until injuries forced their hand. Once they did, you saw a quarterback with huge upside, whose big-time throw rate (6.1%) ranked tied for fifth in the league, just behind Aaron Rodgers.
Fields made plenty of mistakes, and his propensity to draw and then suffer from pressure was a problem, but the Bears have some hope at the position for the first time in several years, and Fields will be the guy for the foreseeable future.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence was the best quarterback prospect to enter the NFL since at least Andrew Luck (2012) — and possibly dating as far back as Peyton Manning (1998) or John Elway (1983), depending on who you listened to. He finished his rookie season with precious little evidence of that billing, averaging just 6.0 yards per attempt and racking up four more turnover-worthy plays (26) than big-time throws (22).
Lawrence flashed the talent at times, and he finished the season with his best performance, shocking the Colts in Week 18. Year 2 is when the Jaguars want to see the generational talent they drafted.
16. New York Jets
It’s difficult to be too encouraged by Zach Wilson‘s rookie season with the Jets. Throwing more interceptions than touchdowns tells its own story, one backed up by a 59.3 PFF grade, and he put up just 10 big-time throws all season. The fact that Wilson was also shown up by multiple Jets backups during the season is also not a mark in his favor.
Ultimately, he was too highly touted a prospect for the team to think about anything other than building around him and hoping Year 2 is vastly improved. The Jets’ focus should be elsewhere this offseason.
17. San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo may be the most frustrating quarterback in the league for his head coach, but between mistakes, he is exceptionally productive. He averaged 8.6 yards per attempt this season, second only to Joe Burrow.
Garoppolo may have earned the right to hang around for another year. Either way, the team has a huge investment in first-rounder Trey Lance waiting to take over. Lance attempted only 71 passes as a rookie, most of them coming in two starts. In that time, he already showed some development and flashed his rare physical tools. The 49ers won’t be in the market.
18. New England Patriots
Mac Jones was by far the most capable rookie passer this season. He finished the regular season ranked 12th in PFF grade, and that was with a poor run of games late in the year. Jones was extremely accurate and didn’t put the ball in harm’s way often. There remains a question of how good he can be and where his ceiling is, but for now, the Patriots will be encouraged by his first season — especially relative to the struggles of the rest of the rookie signal-callers.
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19. Seattle Seahawks
The Russell Wilson era seems likely headed for some kind of ending in Seattle. If Wilson was upset last offseason, nothing that happened this year can have improved his disposition. He was under pressure as much as ever, the scheme was doing little to help and he suffered the first significant injury of his NFL career.
Wilson has been an excellent quarterback for the team, but the Seahawks' roster is now bad enough that even he can’t drag them to the playoffs every year. If he wants out, Seattle needs a new answer, because Geno Smith isn’t taking over.
20. Las Vegas Raiders
Derek Carr put together an excellent year, but the Raiders blew themselves apart from within. Head coach Jon Gruden was fired and multiple former first-round draft picks were released. Carr did a fantastic job of keeping the whole show on the road, but he is going to be looking at a new contract sooner rather than later, which will push his price tag up considerably.
As good as Carr is, the Raiders have to be running the cost analysis of whether he is good enough for that new deal, or whether they have an alternative option that represents better value and a superior strategy for the entire roster.
21. New Orleans Saints
The Saints are in a tough spot, albeit one entirely of their own design. With Jameis Winston healthy all year, they would have likely made the playoffs and been a dangerous team, even with Winston’s PFF grade (74.2, 19th) falling short of his box score stats before injury.
Winston is likely a cheap option, yet the Saints persist in handing Taysom Hill ever-escalating contracts for little discernible reason. Hill averaged the same 7.3 yards per attempt Winston did, and he brings almost none of the big-play upside, with the second-lowest big-time throw rate (1.5%) in the NFL this season. Winston made 10 more big-time throws than Hill on just 30 additional passing plays.
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22. Arizona Cardinals
Don’t let Kyler Murray‘s disastrous playoff exit taint what was a phenomenally good season. He led the league in big-time throw rate (8.1%) by a full percentage point and was the best-graded quarterback on third and fourth downs, posting an absurd 17.1% big-time throw rate on those plays.
23. Tennessee Titans
The Titans had so many issues this season, so it’s incredible that they still earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Ryan Tannehill’s performance was notably worse this year than in the past, but at times he was operating without any of his top threats, so to finish the year with an 83.6 PFF grade is still highly impressive.
24. Los Angeles Rams
Matthew Stafford was a significant investment by the Rams. He won his first playoff game in 13 seasons this year and earned a 90.3 PFF grade in the contest. It remains to be seen whether the experiment will get the team the Lombardi Trophy it desperately wants, but Stafford is likely the answer for a while regardless.
25. Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson won a unanimous MVP award in his second season and likely secured himself a long-term career with Baltimore — injury notwithstanding — at that point. This season wasn’t a good year for him, with injury limiting him to just 12 games. And even when he was out there, his grades badly tailed off as the season progressed. Even still, the Ravens' entire offense is built around his unique skills, and that’s not changing anytime soon.
26. Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott wasn’t the same player this season after his calf injury but still ranked No. 4 in PFF passing grade before he got hurt, averaging 8.2 yards per attempt with a 77.1% adjusted completion rate. A healthy Prescott is everything Dallas needs at the position.
27. Green Bay Packers
As long as Aaron Rodgers remains a Packer, the team has one of the best the game has ever seen. There will be talk and rumors of his departure all offseason, but that was also the case a year ago. He got back in the building and backed up his MVP award with a season that likely wins him another one.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady is 44 years old, and the end is approaching, but we should have given up looking for the moment to arrive by now. He just finished the regular season as PFF’s No. 1-graded passer — and did so leading the league in passing volume, with 792 dropbacks. Until Brady hangs them up, the Bucs are fine at the position.
29. Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert didn’t just stave off any second-year regression, he actually improved and remained consistently elite in the highest-leverage situations. Only Matthew Stafford earned a higher PFF grade in the fourth quarter and overtime.
30. Buffalo Bills
When Josh Allen is at his best, there’s no quarterback who can match the breadth of his threats to a defense. Boasting one of the best arms in the league, Allen is also a rare rushing threat capable of beating opponents with his legs. He averaged 3.4 yards per carry after contact this season and broke 37 tackles.
31. Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow elevated his game to a new level this season despite coming off a major knee injury. He only just missed out on the top spot in PFF’s quarterback grading by resting in Week 18, and he grabs that top spot back if you include his wild-card game. Burrow averaged an incredible 8.8 yards per attempt this season.
32. Kansas City Chiefs
You may have heard of Patrick Mahomes and his half a billion-dollar contract. Mahomes hasn’t had his best season, but he is still arguably the most talented and gifted quarterback the game has ever seen. The Chiefs are set.