There may be no more coveted position in all of sports than that of an NFL starting quarterback. At any given time, there is only room for 32 of them in the world — and not all are created equal.
Josh Allen — Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen is officially the Buffalo Bills starting quarterback as of week three of the 2018 season. The rookie passer was noted for his cannon arm and courage making tough throws while playing college ball at Wyoming. But he was also fairly inaccurate, never finishing with a completion rate higher than 56 percent.
Sam Darnold — New York Jets
When 21-year-old Sam Darnold took the opening snap for the New York Jets this year, he became the youngest quarterback to start an NFL season-opening game since 1970. In college at USC, Darnold showed off his arm strength, accuracy and pro-level poise, while also showing he may be prone to turnovers. The upside of Darnold could be huge for the Jets, a team that’s desperately seeking its first playoff appearance since 2010.
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Blaine Gabbert — Tennessee Titans
A true journeyman player, Blaine Gabbert is currently playing for his fourth NFL team in eight seasons. He’s the Titans starter until Marcus Mariota heals up and has been unimpressive so far in leading the team. Known to be one of the more wild passers in the league, Gabbert has thrown 44 interceptions compared to 45 touchdowns in his career, through week two of the 2018 season.
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Mitchell Trubisky — Chicago Bears
Fourteen games into his NFL career, Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky has had flashes of brilliance that have been matched by foolish mistakes. Through the second week of the 2018 season, he’s thrown as many career touchdowns as he has interceptions, to go with four career fumbles lost. The ceiling for Trubisky could be high and Bears fans hope he’ll eventually get them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010, when he was just 16 years old.
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Sam Bradford — Arizona Cardinals
Another journeyman, with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018, Sam Bradford is starting for his fourth NFL team in nine seasons. Despite all that experience, he’s got a lackluster career win/loss record to show for it. He’s had injury issues in his career and his stint as the Cardinals’ starter may be in jeopardy after an 0-2 start and an exciting rookie sitting behind him in Josh Rosen.
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Joe Flacco — Baltimore Ravens
In his 11-season NFL career so far, all spent with the Baltimore Ravens, Joe Flacco has remained an enigma for fans. His powerful arm has led the team to a Super Bowl win and six playoff appearances, but they haven’t made the postseason since 2014. He’s prone to throwing interceptions but he almost never gets hurt and can wow with deep passes. Unfortunately for Flacco, if he doesn’t impress in 2018, he’ll likely lose his starting job to star rookie Lamar Jackson.
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Eli Manning — New York Giants
Unlike other veteran NFL quarterbacks whom we’ll get to later in this list, Eli Manning has aged more like milk than wine. His career numbers — including two Super Bowl wins and more than 52,000 career passing yards — are indisputable but in the past few seasons, he’s looked pedestrian. Since 2014, he’s led the Giants to a record of 26-38, not including two losses so far to start 2018.
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Ryan Tannehill — Miami Dolphins
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill is in the middle of his seventh NFL season after missing all of 2017 with a knee injury. He’s got about a .500 career win/loss record as a starter but has his team off to a solid start in 2018. He’s one of the league’s more accurate passers but won’t typically set the stat sheet on fire.
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Tyrod Taylor — Cleveland Browns
Despite three solid seasons starting for the Buffalo Bills, Tyrod Taylor remains overlooked. His numbers won’t put him in the MVP race but, as the Bills’ starter from 2015-2017, he threw 51 touchdowns and only 16 interceptions, which are numbers that will thrill any coach. After two games leading the Cleveland Browns in 2018, Taylor led all NFL QBs in rushing yards.
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Deshaun Watson — Houston Texans
Ex-Clemson QB Deshaun Watson is one of the NFL’s most exciting young players, but fans are still waiting to see how truly great he’ll be. As a rookie with the Houston Texans in 2017, he stunned the league, accounting for 21 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards in just seven games before an injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. After just two games in 2018, his comeback season has been shaky, with Watson having as many turnovers as touchdowns and the Texans starting 0-2.
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Dak Prescott — Dallas Cowboys
When Dak Prescott was named the NFL’s rookie of the year in 2016, he wowed Dallas Cowboys fans with 23 touchdown passes, along with only four interceptions. In 2017, he came down to Earth a bit, throwing 13 interceptions, but still showed he was one of the league’s most dynamic players. The ceiling remains high for Prescott as long as he watches the fumbles when he’s running the ball.
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Case Keenum — Denver Broncos
Despite only being in his sixth NFL season, Case Keenum is starting for his fourth different team by leading the Denver Broncos. His numbers had mostly been average until 2017, when he had a breakout season and nearly led the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl. His 2018 season got off to a shaky start but Keenum has proven he can lead a good team to greatness.
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Jimmy Garoppolo — San Francisco 49ers
Coming into the 2018 seasons, 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo had famously never lost a start in his career, which consisted of seven games. That streak ended with the first game of 2018 but Garoppolo remains one of the top players to watch in the NFL. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is nothing to write home about but he’s an efficient passer who’s been known to rack up points for fantasy-football owners. His career passer rating of 95.7 is also respectable.
Derek Carr — Oakland Raiders
In 2016, Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders looked poised for a Super Bowl run until his season ended in injury and anguish. Carr came back and had a more pedestrian 2017 season, but still managed to throw for nearly 3,500 yards to go with 22 touchdowns. Raiders fans are hoping he’ll recapture that magic that made him an MVP candidate a couple years ago but his 2018 season has been anything but great after two games.
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Andy Dalton — Cincinnati Bengals
The quarterback play of Andy Dalton in seven full seasons leading the Bengals has been consistent, if uninspiring. From 2011 to 2015, he led the team to five straight playoff appearances but no wins and the team hasn’t been back since. You know what you’re going to get with Dalton — which is more than can be said for many QBs on this list — but it’s not anything incredible.
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Blake Bortles — Jacksonville Jaguars
Through four seasons with the Jaguars, quarterback Blake Bortles has been occasionally brilliant but still isn’t viewed as a sure thing on Sundays, despite taking the team to the AFC Championship Game in 2017. He’s also got them off to a hot start in 2018 so far. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is dicey but he’ll throw for more than 3,500 yards and 20 touchdowns in a given season.
Andrew Luck — Indianapolis Colts
Despite coming into the NFL in 2012, Colts QB Andrew Luck remains a bit of a mystery. Frequent injuries have meant he’s only played in 22 games since 2015, including missing all of 2017. Luck put up incredible numbers in both 2014 and 2016, so he should be due for another great season in 2018.
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Philip Rivers — Los Angeles Chargers
For 13 years, Philip Rivers has been the only quarterback to start games for the Los Angeles Chargers (formerly of San Diego), proving he’s an indestructible freak of nature. Despite being 36 years old, Rivers is still one of the league’s best QBs, throwing 348 career touchdowns so far, including six in the first two games of 2018. If Rivers had been blessed with better offensive lines during his career, he’d probably be higher on this list.
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Ryan Fitzpatrick — Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Few expected it but, in his 14th season, Ryan Fitzpatrick is suddenly putting together the best year of his career. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the seventh team he’s started for and he’s quickly become a fan favorite there. Fitzpatrick routinely has averaged about 3,000 passing yards and 20 touchdowns as a starter, but after two games of 2018, he leads the league in passer rating, yards per game and total yards.
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Patrick Mahomes — Kansas City Chiefs
The hype train for Patrick Mahomes may have more steam than any other in the NFL but he has been impressive so far. The 23-year-old has only started three games in his career so far but has notched 10 touchdowns, nearly 1,000 yards passing and only one interception in them. After two games of 2018, he’s got a near-perfect passer rating of 143.3.
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Jared Goff — Los Angeles Rams
Another young QB with a bandwagon about a mile long is Jared Goff. In three seasons with the Rams, Goff has proven to be an effective leader, taking them to a playoff appearance in 2017, the team’s first since 2003. That season, his first as a full-time starter, he threw for 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns, putting him in the conversation as one of the league’s must-watch passers.
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Matthew Stafford — Detroit Lions
When you’ve got Matthew Stafford under center, you know you’ll get about 4,000 to 4,500 passing yards and about 28 touchdowns, but those stats haven’t always translated to a lot of wins. Now in his 10th season, all with the Detroit Lions, he’s racked up a 60-67 record, not including an 0-3 playoff record. He can set off fireworks as well as anyone in the NFL but he’s yet to prove he’s a consistent winner.
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Russell Wilson — Seattle Seahawks
One of the most poised and unpredictable players in the league, Russell Wilson also boasts eight playoff victories and a Super Bowl ring. His numbers have stayed consistent since his rookie year in 2012, routinely turning in about 3,700 passing yards and 16 touchdowns a year between his arm and legs. He’s been more turnover-prone in recent years but, with a career passer rating of 98.8 after 2017, Wilson’s still among the league’s elite QBs. Oh, and did I mention his career winning percentage is better than that of Aaron Rodgers?
Carson Wentz — Philadelphia Eagles
Before going down with a knee injury late in 2017, Carson Wentz was a pivotal part of the eventual Super Bowl run of the Eagles. In each of his two seasons starting for the Eagles, he’s put up solid numbers but he looked like a true MVP before getting hurt. He was the best quarterback in the entire league in 2017, according to ESPN’s QBR points system — so now that he’s healed, it’s time to see if he can pick up where he left off.
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Alex Smith — Washington Redskins
It took him a little while but, 14 years into his NFL career, Alex Smith is finally living up to his status as the first overall pick in the 2005 draft. After eight average years with the 49ers, he became a consistent 3,300-yard passer with the Kansas City Chiefs before being traded to the Redskins for the 2018 season. Last year he was nothing short of remarkable, racking up more than 4,000 passing yards to go with 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Also, his career .572 winning percentage as a starter is better than likely Hall of Famers Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees.
Getty Images | Patrick Smith
Kirk Cousins — Minnesota Vikings
Now in his seventh NFL season, Vikings QB Kirk Cousins has quietly become one of the league’s most consistently impressive players. He’s averaged 4,392 passing yards and 27 touchdowns in the past three seasons and his passer rating always hovers around 100. He’s still unproven in the postseason but there’s a reason the Vikings made him the highest-paid player in NFL history when they signed him in 2018.
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Cam Newton — Carolina Panthers
Panthers QB Cam Newton remains one of the most exciting players to ever wear an NFL jersey. His numbers have come down a bit from his insane MVP season in 2015, but he’s never thrown for fewer than 3,100 yards or accounted for fewer than 23 touchdowns in his entire career, which is now in its eighth season. Fumbles and interceptions remain big concerns but there are few players who can single-handedly change a game or occupy a defense like #1.
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Ben Roethlisberger — Pittsburgh Steelers
In 14 full seasons as an NFL starter, Ben Roethlisberger has never finished a year with a losing record. That fact alone will get you toward the top of a ranking of best players. The knock on Big Ben is that he has a hard time staying healthy, evidenced by the fact he’s only started all 16 games of a season three times. But it’s hard to argue with two Super Bowl rings, more than 50,000 career passing yards and a career winning percentage of .672.
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Matt Ryan — Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons don’t pay Matt Ryan $30 million a year because he sucks. In 11 seasons leading the team, he’s only missed two starts and has been consistently amazing, averaging more than 4,500 passing yards every season since 2011. After only two games in 2018, he’s tied his career high for rushing touchdowns with two. Ryan’s nickname may be “Matty Ice” but his career 4-6 playoff record and his team’s historic 2017 Super Bowl collapse would beg to differ.
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Drew Brees — New Orleans Saints
If it weren’t for one other guy that we’ll get to later in this list, Drew Brees would be the NFL’s best evidence that age is just a number. The 39-year-old Saints star has been consistently incredible since 2004, when many current starters were in middle school. Brees has thrown for at least 4,000 yards every season since 2006, including five 5,000-yard seasons. Put simply, there is nobody more accurate than Brees. Unfortunately, he’s only got a 3-4 playoff record since the Saints’ Super Bowl win in 2009.
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Aaron Rodgers — Green Bay Packers
Injuries may have put a damper on a couple of Aaron Rodgers’ seasons with the Packers, including 2017, but he remains the best quarterback not named Tom Brady in the NFL. His stats, including regular 4,000-yard/40-touchdown seasons, are mind-blowing and his poise is nearly unmatched in NFL history. Since he’s been starting for the Packers, beginning in 2008, he’s taken them to the playoffs eight times, winning at least one game five of those times.
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Tom Brady — New England Patriots
Who wins an MVP award in their sport at the age of 40? This guy. He’s played in three Super Bowls since 2014, winning two of them. You name an NFL record and there’s a good chance Tom Brady holds it. Five Super Bowl wins, three MVP honors, 224 career wins, a .772 career win percentage are all stats that can’t be argued with. But his career playoff record of 27-10 might be most impressive of all. Oh, and he’s topped 4,000 passing yards in six of his last seven seasons.