Below are my 2014 projected quarterback rankings. Let me be very clear at the top of this post as to exactly what these rankings mean: they represent my projections of the order in which these quarterbacks will finish in my preferred measure of quarterback play. Everyone has their own measuring sticks when it comes to quarterbacks; for me, it’s Adjusted Net Yards provided above league-average. As a reminder, here is how we calculate that metric.
First, we start with Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, which is calculated as follows:
(Passing Yards + 20 * PassTDs – 45 * INTs – Sack Yards Lost) / (Pass Attempts + Sacks)
Then, we take each quarterback’s ANY/A average, and subtract from that number the league average ANY/A metric, which should be around 5.9 ANY/A. Then, we multiply that difference by the quarterback’s number of dropbacks.
Last year, Peyton Manning led the league in this category, with 2,037 Adjusted Net Yards of value provided above average. The benefit to this approach to ranking passers is that the results are easy to test. At the end of the season, we can calculate the actual results, and then look back and laugh at this post.
So, ranking 1-32, here is how I project the top quarterback for each team to finish in 2014.1) Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
There’s a reason Manning is the heavy favorite to repeat as NFL MVP. The Broncos lost Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, and Wes Welker’s concussion concerns only worsened this preseason. No matter: Manning remains the gold standard. Denver added Emmanuel Sanders in the offseason, and he caught five passes for 128 yards with two touchdowns against Houston in the preseason. Manning has led the NFL in sack rate in three of his last four seasons, and the return of Ryan Clady should make Manning even more difficult to sack in 2014. No need to over think this one: Manning is the clear favorite to again provide the most value of any quarterback in the league.
2) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
3) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Choosing between Brees and Rodgers is tough, but the return of a healthy Randall Cobb and the departure of Darren Sproles is enough to tip the scales towards Rodgers for me. Green Bay tends to forget about the little things — Corey Linsley, a fourth round pick, will be the team’s starting center — but Rodgers has a way of curing all ills. Brees turns 36 in January, which is yet another reason to break ties in favor of Rodgers. Since ’09, Rodgers is the league-leader in ANY/A, while over that period, Brees has thrown the most touchdowns and gained the most yards. If Manning isn’t the king in 2014, it’s a good bet that either Rodgers or Brees took the crown.
4) Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
This might seem a bit high for Kaepernick, but he finished 9th in this metric last year despite:
- 2013 being just his first full season as a starter;
- Michael Crabtree playing in only five games;
- The 49ers coaching staff spending long stretches in the first half of the season seemingly as confused about offense as Kaepernick.
It’s easy to forget that including the playoffs, Kaepernick has started just 29 games in his career; he has room to improve, but I think he’s going to take those steps this year. After a shaky start, Kaepernick finished last season strong, and I expect better numbers with a healthy Crabtree around. San Francisco also added Steve Johnson and Brandon Lloyd, giving the team one of the most star-studded receiving groups in NFL history. Kaepernick isn’t a top-5 quarterback as of September 2nd, 2014, but I think he will be as of January 3rd, 2015.5) Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Calm down, Seahawks fans. The Seattle defense should be much better than the one in Santa Clara; that will lead to quite a few more attempts for Kaepernick than Wilson. The hunch here is that Wilson finishes in the top three in ANY/A, but still in the bottom half of the league in dropbacks.
There are reasons to expect 2014 to be Wilson’s best season yet. Remember, Seattle only benefited from eight games of Russell Okung in 2013, and Wilson basically gets two new weapons in Percy Harvin and Colorado speedster Paul Richardson. The loss of Golden Tate hurts, but I think Wilson has the talent around him to make the jump this year from very good in ANY/A (he ranked 8th in 2012 and 7th in 2013) to great.
6) Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
My goodness will the Cowboys defense be bad this year. That will lead to a lot of attempts for Romo, which should be enough to get him into the top six in these rankings as long as he finishes in the top 10 in ANY/A. Dallas may have the best offensive line in the league: add in Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Romo favorite Cole Beasley, and Romo could be in line for another 2011-type of season. That may only get the Cowboys to 8 wins, however.
7) Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Disclaimer: I have Brady ahead of Romo in ANY/A, but the Patriots defense will put a hard ceiling on Brady’s number of pass attempts. New England should have a top ten defense and top ten running game, so I think the Pats might resemble their teams from a decade ago. As for the quarterback himself? If you like to play with multiple end points, consider:
- In the first eight weeks of the season, Brady ranked 26th in AY/A;
- In the final nine weeks of the season, Brady ranked 6th in AY/A
Shane Vereen played in week 1, and weeks 11 through 17; Rob Gronkowski was active only in weeks 7 through 14, while Danny Amendola also was in and out of the lineup. At least for now, all three players are healthy entering the first week of the season. Brady isn’t the quarterback he was in 2007 anymore, but a healthier supporting cast should lead to better numbers in 2014. That’s not the case for the next two quarterbacks on the list.
8) Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
I’ve been a big Rivers fan for years: he finished 1st or 2nd in ANY/A in 2008, 2009, and 2010, one of the most under-appreciated three-year runs in NFL history. After a down 2011 and an even worse 2012, he rebounded with another great year in 2013. That’s great for Rivers, but I’m not betting on a repeat performance this year. He should look more like 2013 Rivers than 2012 Rivers: that’s good for a top-10, but not a top-5 season.
9) Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
If you’re an Eagles fan, this seems absurdly low; after all, Foles ranked 1st in ANY/A last year, and 2nd in the value metric by which we’re projecting passers. But even if you don’t think Foles is a “system quarterback” he’s still the worst quarterback in my top 10. The loss of DeSean Jackson is one reason to expect worse numbers this year, and regression to the mean is another. I’m a big believer in Chip Kelly, but I’m just not prepared to predict another top-five season for Foles, and he doesn’t have the track record of a Romo, Brady, or Rivers to rank in my top eight, either.10) Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
11) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
12) Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Stafford ranked 10th in this category last year, and looks primed for a better 2014.
Ryan ranked 9th in 2013 if you perform the same calculation after adjusting for strength of schedule, and he also should be on the rise (not to mention face an easier schedule).
Cutler may have the best supporting cast in the league; combine the numbers produced by him and McCown in 2013, and that player would have ranked 5th in this category in 2013.
All three feel a bit low at 10, much less 12. Still, that just adds to my confusion, and I don’t know how to separate this trio. Stafford has a fantastic supporting cast that I think works beautifully as a whole: Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, rookie Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew, Reggie Bush, and Joique Bell give Stafford more weapons than the team can put on the field on any given play. Ryan may have lost Tony Gonzalez, but he gains Jake Matthews and healthier versions of Julio Jones and Roddy White. And despite what I wrote at the beginning of the paragraph, even Detroit can’t match Chicago’s combination of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, and Matt Forte. The only thing that can bring the Bears down is Santonio Holmes. So how did I break the ties? Stafford should throw the most passes, and while McCown and Cutler were a top-five quarterback last year, that was more the product of McCown’s numbers than Cutler’s.
13) Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton is not the physical equal of Stafford or Cutler, but the Bengals supporting cast may be as good. I’d take Cincinnati’s set of skill position players (minus the quarterback, of course) — A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Giovani Bernard, Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham, and for the second half of the year, Marvin Jones — over any other group in the AFC. Remember, the Bengals had the youngest set of targets in the NFL last year; considering Dalton’s age, one could easily construct a narrative where the Bengals passing attack looks very good in 2014.14) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
This isn’t a knock on Luck: he’s better than the 14th best quarterback in the NFL, but ANY/A just hasn’t been his stat to date. Even with Hakeem Nicks and a healthy Reggie Wayne, Luck doesn’t have the weapons of a Cutler, Stafford, or Dalton. One reason: he has to count on Hakeem Nicks and Reggie Wayne to stay healthy and produce. Nicks is an inconsistent player who has been trending downwards in recent years. Wayne is coming off ACL surgery and turns 36 in November.
One could envision a scenario where Wayne and Nicks play like it’s 2010, and T.Y. Hilton is still the team’s best receiver. In that scenario, Luck might finish the year as a top three quarterback. But I’m skeptical of it all coming together in Indianapolis, at least right away. The Colts offensive line and Pep Hamilton only bring more question marks, and I can’t pretend that the constant abuse he’s faced doesn’t worry me. I nearly ranked Luck a few spots higher, but Trent Richardson doesn’t give Luck the weapon out of the backfield that Forte, Bush, and Bernard provide their quarterbacks just ahead of Luck on this list.
15) Robert Griffin III, Washington
16) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
I think Griffin is in for a rebound season. Adding DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts to Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed means Griffin’s supporting cast is one of the top ten in the NFL. Griffin ranked near the bottom of the list in this metric last year, but he took the 6th overall spot in 2012. With an infusion of talent around him and no Shanaclan shadow, I think we’ll see a bright year from the former Baylor star.
I hated putting Roethlisberger this low. Is he the 16th best quarterback in the NFL? No, but there are probably 16 quarterbacks that I want to put in my top 12. So why Griffin over Roethlisberger? Well, the Steelers have Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, Antonio Brown, Lance Moore, Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, and Antonio Brown. Nobody is a bigger Brown fan than me, but Roethlisberger doesn’t have the weapons of most of the quarterbacks ranked above him. As a result, among Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, I’ve got him as only the 6th best of 2014. Of course, there’s still two more to go.
17) Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
Roughly speaking, about half of all starting quarterbacks will sport an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt average that’s above league-average, and about half will be below-average. The way this formula works, a quarterback that is exactly average will, by definition, be above a quarterback who was below average, regardless of how many attempts each quarterback has.
Bridgewater will start the season on the bench behind Matt Cassel, but I have a feeling he’ll produce average or slightly above-average numbers this year. The former Louisville passer has an excellent set of weapons around him in Minnesota – you know about Adrian Peterson, but Greg Jennings has more left than you think, Cordarrelle Patterson is ready to break out, and Kyle Rudolph is an above-average tight end. It may be 200 attempts, and it might be 500, but I think Bridgewater will be at least average from day one.18) Geno Smith, New York Jets
19) Eli Manning, New York Giants
20) Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
These were the three quarterbacks who provided the most negative Adjusted Net Yards of value to teams in 2013. But I’m expecting slightly better numbers from each this year, with all approaching league-average. For Smith, his biggest issue was interceptions, but rookie quarterbacks struggling with interceptions isn’t anything new. If we assume some progression from Smith — remember, he was the youngest quarterback in the NFL in 2013 — that alone would be enough to move him out of the bottom tier of starters.
Most think Eric Decker isn’t a true number one wide receiver, whatever that means. Well let me tell the more relevant stat: the difference between Eric Decker and Stephen Hill is larger than the difference between the average number one wide receiver and the average wide receiver. Since Hill ran the most routes of any Jet last year, replacing him with Decker should lead to a significant upgrade for Smith’s numbers.
The Jets also had one of the worst sets of receiving backs in the league last year; the addition of Chris Johnson and rookie tight end Jace Amaro should help Smith when it comes to the short-passing game. Add it all together, and I think Smith goes from one of the worst three starters in the NFL to nearly average in his second season in the league.
The other quarterback in New York also should have a better season. No, he’s not going to complete 70% of his passes (and perhaps shouldn’t even try), but he should benefit from an improved offensive line, the addition of Rashad Jennings, and (starting in late September) Odell Beckham Jr. Prior to 2013, Manning was above-average in ANY/A in every year since ’07; I was willing to bet on that happening again (particularly against an easy schedule) in 2014, but that ugly preseason has me a little more skeptical.
As for Flacco, he was basically a league-average passer his entire career prior to 2013. The addition of Football Perspective HOFer Steve Smith, plus a full season out of Dennis Pitta, should help bring Flacco’s numbers back towards league average.
21) Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Newton and Dalton were both selected in the 2011 draft. Dalton will put up more impressive passing numbers this season, but Newton is the better quarterback. The Panthers experienced more turnover on offense than any team this offseason, and it’s not as though Newton had great numbers last year (he was slightly below-average in ANY/A). Newton struggled with sacks more often in 2013 than during his first two seasons; it’s hard to see that improving now that long-time left tackle Jordan Gross has retired.
22) Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
The Titans have done a nice job surrounding Locker with talent: Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter are a great young set of receiers, Nate Washington is ideal as a third receiver, and Delanie Walker is a versatile tight end. The line could be one of the best in the NFL: from left to right, it’s Michael Roos, Andy Levitre, Brian Schwenke, Chance Warmack, and Michael Oher. And that’s with Taylor Lewan, the 11th overall pick, starting the season on the bench. If Locker can’t break out this year with above-average numbers, it’s time for the Titans to move on.
23) Ryan Fitzpatrick, Houston Texans
I’m not sure how long Fitzpatrick will hold off Ryan Mallett (and perhaps Tom Savage) for the starting job. Of course, when we’re talking about below-average quarterbacks, fewer snaps is better, as the quarterbacks who are below average over the most dropbacks are the ones who will rank at the bottom of the list. As a result, don’t take this ranking to mean I prefer Fitzpatrick to some (or any) of the quarterbacks ranked lower. Rather, call it was it is: a hedge. Fitzpatrick either puts up decent numbers slinging it to Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins under Bill O’Brien, or he loses his job after a couple hundred pass attempts and still ranks ahead of the 16-game starters who also struggle.
24) Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
There’s a positive narrative you can build about the Cardinals. The left side of the line is being rebuilt with Jared Veldheer and Jonathan Cooper. Rookie wide receiver John Brown is turning heads, and that’s impressive on an offense with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and Andre Ellington.
But there’s another way this story could go, too. Palmer turns 35 in December. Can he even make it through six games against the 49ers, Seahawks, and Rams? Will this be the year that wear and tear takes an irreversible toll on Palmer’s career? Like Andrew Healy, I have a bad feeling about this year’s Cardinals.
25) Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
McCown may get a sense of deja vu when he sees Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins on the field for the Bucs this year. The 2013 Bears didn’t just have the tallest targets in the league, but the third-tallest of any group since 1950. But while McCown was great last year, going from Marc Trestman to Lovie Smith is… well, we’ve already seen what that can mean for someone like McCown. At 35, I’m not ready to predict a late-career breakout for McCown, especially when this Bucs defense makes me think this team will look very much like a Lovie Smith team in every sense of the word.26) Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns
We’re in the bottom quarter of the league, so the quarterbacks with the fewest attempts have a built-in advantage over the full-time starters who can accrue below-average value every week. I expect Manziel to wind up with the most pass attempts of any Browns quarterback, but not by much. Without Josh Gordon, there’s not much hope for Manziel to produce above-average numbers, but his 25th ranking reflects him posting mediocre stats over 10 starts.
27) Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars
Henne is another player who will benefit, at least in this system, from not playing a full season. I expect Blake Bortles to finish the year as the starter, but that change won’t take place until November. Regardless of the passer, the Jaguars still lack the talent on offense to produce an above-average offense even with a good quarterback. But if rookie wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson can produce with Henne, that’s a good sign for the offense’s hopes under Bortles in 2015.
As we move to the bottom five quarterbacks, these are all players who I would expect to play the full season, barring injury. Being below average over 16 games is a good way to produce the most negative value in the league. Drumroll, please…
28) Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Tannehill provided the fourth most negative value among all quarterbacks in 2013. I guess that makes this projection an improvement? Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, and Charles Clay aren’t the worst set of targets in the league, but they’re not going to strike fear into most defenses. The offensive line is bound to be much better, but after 32 starts, I’m not projecting a Tannehill breakout season. Last year, Tannehill nearly finished in the AFC cellar in Net Yards per Attempt. Geno Smith had a worse ANY/A due to his interceptions, but edged the Dolphins passer in NY/A. And Tannehill finished .01 NY/A ahead of the other rookie, EJ Manuel. The additions of Branden Albert and Ja’Wuan James should help, but there was a lot of room for improvement based on 2013. Tannehill hasn’t come close to hitting league-average ANY/A numbers in either of his first two seasons, so I’m not betting on it happening in 2014.
29) Shaun Hill, St. Louis Rams
30) Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
The Rams should be one of the most run-heavy teams in the league, which will help Hill finish “ahead” of Smith when it comes to providing less negative value. Hill is not much of a downgrade from Sam Bradford, but the Rams passing attack already figured to be below-average. The best defensive line in football and a steady dose of Zac Stacy and Tre Mason will be the Rams’ blueprint for victories this year. But don’t expect that to stop Brian Schottenheimer from thinking he can outsmart the Seahawks defense by putting Tavon Austin in at Wildcat QB.
As for Smith… well, you’re not going to find many more pessimistic predictions on Smith than right here. But in addition to Albert heading to Miami, Jon Asamoah went to Atlanta and Geoff Schwartz signed with the Giants. The offensive line goes from a strength to a weakness overnight, and Eric Fisher’s rookie performance doesn’t inspire confidence as he moves to the left side. Dwayne Bowe’s still dealing with an injury to his finger, and he’s not a good WR1 even when he’s healthy.
Smith was well below average in NY/A last year even with a great line and a dominant season out of Jamaal Charles. The former number one overall pick has been great at avoiding interceptions, but if that trend flips, he’ll be one of the three worst quarterbacks in the league. Smith has been fortunate to play on very good teams the past few seasons, but I’m not expecting a return to the playoffs for Kansas City in 2014. As a result, I see him being forced to make more plays, leading to more interceptions and an ugly ANY/A average this season.
31) EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills
32) Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
I want to like Manuel. He was the top quarterback selected in the 2013 draft, and the Bills seem to have a very clear plan in mind: build the league’s fastest team and then run as many plays as possible. Buffalo is a very fast team. Manuel, Marquise Goodwin, C.J. Spiller, and backup tight end Chris Gragg are among the fastest players in the league at their positions. Oh, and then the Bills drafted Sammy Watkins.
As for tempo, the Bills trailed only the Eagles in offensive pace last year. I can envision a scenario where it all comes together for Buffalo: Goodwin stretches defenses vertically, Spiller horizontally, Watkins and Robert Woods win one-on-one matchups, and the pace tires defenses. The problem? Manuel has inspired no hope with an ugly preseason, on the back of an underwhelming rookie year. He’s a high-variance player for 2014, but right now, the most likely outcome is the Bills are looking for a quarterback in next year’s draft. Maybe Watkins can do that for them.
Raiders fans shouldn’t be too disappointed to see Carr’s name at the bottom of this list. Hey, he’s not Matt Schaub, and that counts for something. With James Jones, Rod Streater, and Denarius Moore, there’s hope that…. actually, no, even I can’t come up with hope for this outfit. Carr had very good numbers in college, but there’s a reason he fell to the second round of the draft. When non-elite prospects start immediately for bad teams, they get placed at #32 in the quarterback projections.