- Jalen Hurts stands out: The Philadelphia Eagles star is the only NFC quarterback on the level of the cream of the AFC.
- So much unknown: Almost half the conference has a near-unknown quantity at the most important position.
- Dak Prescott has the supporting cast to stand out: The Dallas Cowboys and Prescott may be the best combination of team and quarterback outside of the elite.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
The AFC is full of elite quarterbacks, which is only going to be intensified whenever the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets finalize a trade for Aaron Rodgers.
Along with Tom Brady retiring, Rodgers’ departure leaves the NFC thin on elite talent at the most important position in the game, certainly when compared to the competing conference that is overflowing with talented signal callers.
On one hand, the NFC is also now a far weaker conference on paper, which means it has a much more generous path to a Super Bowl for any team looking to win a Lombardi Trophy. On the other hand, the number of quarterbacks that seem capable of that feat — let alone knocking off an AFC powerhouse if and when they get there — seems very low.
Therefore, we will rank the NFC quarterbacks by tiers in terms of how capable they are of actually winning a ring in the current NFL landscape.
As elite as the AFC
We can debate how much of last season’s success was down to Hurts' development with another year in the NFL or the improvement in his supporting cast — the A.J. Brown addition and the best offensive line in football (among others) — but he was getting MVP buzz for much of the year, something that seems unlikely for almost any other NFC player. Hurts has been a dynamic rushing threat for the Philadelphia Eagles, and his development as a passer has been significant. His PFF passing grade has gone from 57.5 in Year 1 to 69.2 in Year 2 and finally 83.8 in Year 3 on his way to a Super Bowl. If the Eagles maintain a competitive team around him, there’s no reason to think Hurts can’t back up his 2022 performance, and he may not be done improving.
Capable of a run of elite play
- Kyler Murray (when healthy)
- Matthew Stafford
- Kirk Cousins
- Dak Prescott
After Hurts, the NFC quarterback landscape nosedives. From that point, the guaranteed elite is already exhausted, leaving a group of good quarterbacks capable of runs of elite play but probably not entire seasons instead.
Stafford showed most recently that combination can be enough to take home a Super Bowl ring, especially in the NFC where the postseason run is likely weaker, but it’s far less reliable as predicting the run of elite play isn’t easy.
Cousins, Murray and Prescott have each had stretches of elite play, but it rarely transformed the team into a true contender at the sharp end of the season. Timing that run for the most important games of the season is the alchemy achieved by the likes of Joe Flacco, Eli Manning and Stafford.
The only one from this group who looks to be entering the 2023 NFL season with a team around them that could capitalize on their run of elite play if it manifests itself is Prescott with the Dallas Cowboys.
Needs a super team supporting cast
After the players who are capable of elite play at times, we have a group of capable starters whose teams are still fairly strongly invested in them.
Jones received a big extension this offseason when a franchise tag seemed the more logical step based on his career to date. Smith earned a big payday with his play in 2022, and Goff has consistently been more than just a makeweight in the trade for Stafford.
Each is well capable of good play, but to win a Super Bowl, they likely need a truly elite roster around them. The New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks made the playoffs last season, while the Detroit Lions came close, but the gulf in class between fringe NFC playoff team and true contender remains massive.
Is Baker Mayfield
Too young/inexperienced to tell
Ranking this group is difficult because the likelihood is one or more of them will propel themselves into a higher category once we get a little more evidence.
Purdy put up scarcely believable numbers for the San Francisco 49ers last season (a league-leading 108.0 passer rating), but had a more modest 77.7 PFF grade. He clearly brought something to the table above what the 49ers were getting from Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance, but did he just catch lightning in a bottle or is this the start of something great?
Fields overcame a disastrous supporting cast to emerge as one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league, but he passed for fewer yards in 15 games than Murray managed in 11, and how good he can be as a passer with more help remains an unknown quantity.
Love flashed enough in his 2022 cameo (and presumably practice) that the Packers finally decided they would prefer to roll with him as the starter than Aaron Rodgers going forward while both Howell and Ridder still have to make it to Week 1 as the starter before they can even get to perform on the field.
Carolina’s quarterback is the most unknown quantity, as we have yet to get any firm confirmation on his identity beyond the video of quarterback coach Josh McCown seeming set to adopt Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud at his pro day.