News & Analysis

PFF's 2015-2016 NFL quarterback rankings

By Steve Palazzolo
Jan 7, 2016

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes against the Indianapolis Colts in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

The regular season is in the books, so it’s time to expand our quarterback rankings to look at the entire league. There are a few external factors considered in this ranking, as I’ve considered situational play, game-to-game consistency, and other factors in addition to each players’ PFF grades when compiling the list. The top-tier has gotten a boost after a late push from two quarterbacks, though there’s never been a better time to be a tier-two or -three quarterback in the league, as rule changes and evolving playmakers have elevated quarterback production more than ever.

Here are the top quarterbacks from the regular season.

(Editor’s note: A quarterback must have recorded 200+ dropbacks this season to qualify for this ranking. For some teams, more than one quarterback may appear on the list.)

Best of the bunch

1. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals, 98.5

The best quarterback in the league from start to finish, Palmer’s season was a fantastic to watch, as he made jaw-dropping throws every week on his way to our top passing grade (97.5). He led the league with 52 big-time throws (BTTs), while throwing the highest percentage of positively-graded throws in the NFL. His week-to-week consistency was unmatched, as he graded positively in all 16 games. Palmer’s career year was one of the best we’ve seen in the PFF era, dating back to 2007, earning him the first team QB slot on our All-Pro roster.

2. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers, 97.9

When healthy, Roethlisberger was right up there with Palmer with regard to downfield, pinpoint accuracy, actually edging him slightly to lead the league in highest percentage of BTTs, at 8.49 percent. He did make a few questionable decisions throughout the season, but he’s still playing the best football of his career while leading perhaps the league’s most dangerous passing attack.

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots, 92.9

Brady started the season in dominant fashion, but a rash of injuries along the offensive line and within his receiving corps tempered the raw numbers. Even with a lesser supporting cast, he continued to play well, even though the gaudy numbers tapered off. Brady was the league’s best at taking care of the ball (turnover-worthy throws on only 1.11 percent of his attempts), and his 14 touchdowns thrown under pressure were the most of any QB in the PFF era (2007).

4. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, 87.0

After looking very much like the same quarterback his first four years in the league, Newton took a massive step forward in 2015. His running ability makes him the league’s most unique quarterback, as he can move the chains as a short-yardage runner, or when things break down in the pocket. Most impressive was the way he zipped the ball around the field accurately, something he’d struggled with early in his career. Newton’s 41 BTTs ranked fifth in the league, and he dropped his TWP percentage to 3.06 percent, good for 12th in the NFL.

5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, 87.0

A late push moves Wilson into the top tier, as he was outstanding in the second half of the season (outside of a poor game against the Cardinals in Week 10). His PFF pass grade of 86.4 ranked fifth in the league, and he supplemented it with his usual scrambling ability at 91.2. Wilson had the second-lowest percentage of negatively-graded throws, and he led the league with 15 touchdowns on deep passes (20+ yards in air).

6. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints, 87.6

While the Saints struggled as a team, Brees quietly performed up to his previous levels of play, aside from a few games battling through injury. He finished strong with the league’s highest grade in the fourth quarter of the season. Despite missing a game and playing Week 2 with an injured shoulder, Brees ranked second in the league with 1,180 yards on deep passes, while finishing third in BTTs (43). He cut back on the turnover-worthy plays after an uncharacteristic 2014, as the veteran still looks like he’s capable of elite play.

 

Tier two

7. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals, 84.7

Dalton’s career year was railroaded by a thumb injury, but he had made great strides at spreading the ball around to his playmakers, while ranking 10th in turnover-worthy throw percentage (3.01 percent).

8. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders, 82.5

Perhaps the league’s most-improved quarterback, Carr took to Oakland’s new receiving corps of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and made a number of impressive downfield throws. He finished fourth in BTTs, with 42.

9. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons, 82.1

While the overall stats don’t stick out, Ryan made the most of his one good playmaker (WR Julio Jones), quietly making quality throws to move the chains. Ryan lacked the flashy plays, and despite a high interception total of 16, he only threw 20 turnover-worthy passes on the season.

10. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills, 81.7

A surprising inclusion into the top 10, Taylor made some of the best throws of the year. It was seemingly a weekly event watching him drop a perfect throw in the bucket down the field, but he still has great strides to make in the short (39th-best passing grade) and intermediate game (24th-best passing grade) to take the next step in his development.

11. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, 80.7

Rodgers had a strong start, but he clearly wasn’t the same this season when working within the flow of the offense. He still made the special throws for which he’s known (BTT percentage of 5.17 percent ranked 10th), but the easier positives were lacking (19th).

12. Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles, 81.5

Bradford’s grade is a case of not missing a high percentage of throws and some bad interception luck. He got more comfortable as the season went along, and quietly played better than perception or his numbers would indicate.

13. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins, 78.3

A strong finish to the season moved Cousins up the ranks, as he cut down on early-season questionable decisions and allowed his playmakers to make plays. His accuracy percentage of 79.3 led the league.

14. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers, 77.1

No quarterback faced more pressured dropbacks than the 282 faced by Rivers, and he ranked fourth in the league in pressured accuracy percentage (71.0 percent).

15. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears, 77.1

There were some ups and downs to Cutler’s game, much like in year’s past, but he finished with positive grades in 10 of his 16 games.

16. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings, 76.8

Another quarterback who is more about not missing throws than making big-time throws, Bridgewater had the third-lowest percentage of negatively-graded throws in the league, but ranked 16th in BTT percentage, at 4.38 percent.

 

Tier three

17. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 71.8

Winston lived up to his boom-or-bust reputation, finishing seventh in big-time throw (BTT) percentage at 6.02 percent, but sixth in turnover-worthy play (TWP) percentage, at 5.09 percent.

18. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars, 69.7

Bortles took big strides in his second year, taking advantage of downfield playmakers to lead the league with 1,330 yards on deep passes. Similar to Winston, Bortles was boom-or-bust, with 35 BTTs and a league-high 38 TWPs.

19. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins, 73.4

A disappointing fourth-year for Tannehill, who posted the lowest grade of his career and finished with the 13th-highest percentage of turnover-worthy throws, at 4.00 percent.

20. Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos, 71.3

Osweiler had some positive moments in his first extended action as a starter, finishing right in the middle in accuracy percentage, at 73.4 percent (18th of 37 qualifiers).

21. Brian Hoyer, Houston Texans, 70.6

After settling in as the Texans’ starter, Hoyer put together a few strong games, though he finished 30th in accuracy percentage, at 70.5 percent.

22. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs, 70.2

It’s the same story for Smith, who does a nice job of taking care of the ball (fifth-lowest turnover-worthy play percentage, at 2.47 percent) but 24 QBs had more than his 17 big-time throws.

23. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions, 69.8

Split the season in half, and you get two different stories. Second-half Stafford was one of the league’s best, but he ranked dead last among QBs for the first eight games of the year.

24. Eli Manning, New York Giants, 67.5

Manning had his moments, but overall, he received good interception luck (fourth-most TWPs at 30, only 14 interceptions) and incredible play from Odell Beckham Jr. certainly helped his cause.

25. Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets, 59.6

It was a very similar season for Fitzpatrick, who put the ball in harm’s way quite a bit (32 TWPs), but finished with only 15 interceptions. He did a fine job making plays as a scrambler, finishing with a 92.6 grade on the ground.

26. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens, 68.5

It was not a great start to the season for Flacco before getting hurt in Week 11. His grade when pressured was the fifth-worst in the league.

27. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans, 64.5

There’s a lot to like about Mariota’s skillset and using his quick release and athleticism in the NFL, but he has to improve his downfield accuracy percentage (20.4 percent, ranked last in the league).

28. Josh McCown, Cleveland Browns, 64.3

McCown performed well in challenging areas, such as under pressure and on third down, but he also made a number of questionable decisions along the way, finishing 10th in TWP percentage, at 4.51 percent.

 

Bottom of the league

29. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos, 60.0

It was a rough season for the future Hall-of-Famer, looking like a fraction of his former self for much of the year, while adding surprisingly poor decision-making into the mix. However, he still throws with great anticipation, and his knowledge of the game gives the Broncos the best chance of making a postseason run as they head into the playoffs.

30. Matt Hasselbeck, Indianapolis Colts, 69.8

Hasselbeck kept the Colts’ offense afloat for a few weeks, using the quick passing game to overcome concerns on the offensive line, but he couldn’t maintain it, further confirming his status as a good backup, and not much more at this point.

31. Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers, 66.5

Expectations weren’t high for Gabbert, given his poor play in Jacksonville, but he showed that he’s at least a capable backup.

32. Nick Foles, St. Louis Rams, 53.9

A strong four-game start turned disastrous quickly, as Foles struggled through his last seven games of action. His accuracy was all over the place, as he finished 33rd in accuracy percentage (69.4 percent).

33. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers, 48.6

Aside from a strong game against Pittsburgh in Week 2, not much went right for Kaepernick, who finished 35th in accuracy percentage and graded out poorly against pressure.

34. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts, 47.3

A poor start to the season was further derailed by injury, as Luck simply didn’t look right from the start. Even with only seven games under his belt, he still ranks seventh in the league with 25 turnover-worthy plays.

35. Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns, 50.7

There were some positives, but Manziel still struggled to make plays from the pocket, while earning cumulative grades of -12.9 under pressure and -11.5 against non-blitzes.

36. Matt Cassel, Dallas Cowboys, 50.6

Cassel struggled in his eight starts, posting just two positively-graded games.

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