NFL starting quarterback rankings

Which signal-callers are capable of greatness? Which ones are going nowhere?

Originally Published: August 23, 2012
By John Clayton |

For the past several years, my annual breakdown of the NFL's elite quarterbacks has taken plenty of criticism.

Much of it has involved semantics. I usually go with about a dozen "elite" quarterbacks each year, and I do it for a reason. This is a quarterback-driven league, so the elite category is reserved for the signal-callers who are good enough to elevate a team into the playoffs. Four of my five healthy elite quarterbacks in the AFC made the playoffs last year. Five of my elite choices in the NFC made the playoffs.

If you can get past the terminology and go to the basis of the ratings, you'll understand my point. In the playoffs, a Joe Flacco can beat a Tom Brady. A Philip Rivers can beat a Peyton Manning. An Eli Manning can beat anyone, as he has proven in beating Brady twice in Super Bowls. For that reason, I didn't want to break up the top quarterbacks into two groups.

An elite quarterback has the ability to throw for 4,000 yards, complete 60 percent of his passes and generate more than 20 points a game. I divide the league into three categories. You have the elites. The next group is the Chad Penningtons, a position reserved for budding elites or quarterbacks who are good enough to take a team to the playoffs. The final group, which is smaller than most years, is the hit-or-miss division.

Despite some changes, I have 13 elite quarterbacks this season, and there are more who might be knocking at the door for a spot on the list next season.

Click here to see No. 1 to No. 10  |  Click here to see No. 11 to No. 20
SportsNation: Rank 'em -- Starting QBs


21. Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders

Analysis: Palmer got so sick of the Bengals that he left football for part of last season. The trade to the Raiders gives him a chance to show whether he still has his elite skills, but he has to cut down on interceptions. Give Palmer man coverage, and he'll gamble deep.

Arrow is pointing: flat

22. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills

Analysis: Chan Gailey's spread offense is perfect for Fitzpatrick. He's good at making quick decisions. He's accurate throwing short. The Bills are thinking playoffs as long as Fitzpatrick cuts down on interceptions.

Arrow is pointing: up

23. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets

Analysis: If Tim Tebow takes red zone plays away from Sanchez, he'll have more interceptions than touchdown passes. Plus, the Jets don't have a lot of weapons on offense.

Arrow is pointing: down

24. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Analysis: Seeing Luck work in Bruce Arians' offense, I think Luck can throw for between 3,500 and 4,000 yards as long as he stays healthy. The Colts have enough offensive talent to sustain those numbers.

Arrow is pointing: up

25. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

Analysis: RGIII may not post the stats of Luck, but he might get more victories. He's exciting when he gets out of the pocket, and he loves to throw deep.

Arrow is pointing: up


26. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings

Analysis: Ponder is caught in a tough spot. The Vikings are rebuilding their roster and might not win many games this year. If they finish with a high pick in the 2013 draft, they may be pushed into taking one of the top quarterbacks if Ponder doesn't put up good numbers.

Arrow is pointing: down

27. Matt Flynn or Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

Analysis: With only two career starts, it's difficult to give a full report on Flynn. Odds favor him being a hit. He's accurate and makes good passing decisions. He just hopes he had enough time with the first-team offense to be successful as a starter. If Wilson is named starter, he would rank below No. 27.

Arrow is pointing: up

28. Kevin Kolb or John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals

Analysis: Neither quarterback has done much to win the starting job. That's not an insult to Skelton, who is considered a developmental quarterback. It is for Kolb, who is paid more than $10 million a year.

Arrow is pointing: down

29. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans

Analysis: The Titans face a tough opening schedule that features four 2011 playoff teams in the first six games. The Titans may be rushing it by promoting him over Matt Hasselbeck now, but if he gets through at 3-3, the plan might work out.

Arrow is pointing: up

30. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

Analysis: The problem is not starting Tannehill as a rookie. The problem is the surrounding cast. Miami doesn't have enough good receivers to give him a chance to be successful.

Arrow is pointing: up

31. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns

Analysis: Weeden has a good arm and decent grasp of Pat Shurmur's offense. It helps him that Shurmur did a good job two years ago in St. Louis with Sam Bradford. But it's going to be a tough year for the Browns and Weeden because the receiving corps is so young.

Arrow is pointing: flat

32. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars

Analysis: His rookie season was a disaster. Mike Mularkey has one season to make it right for Gabbert, or the Jaguars may be in the market for a new quarterback next year.

Arrow is pointing: down.

Click here to see No. 1 to No. 10  |  Click here to see No. 11 to No. 20
SportsNation: Rank 'em -- Starting QBs

John Clayton

NFL senior writer