In Round 1 of the playoffs, Tom Brady and Drew Brees were upset at home. It seemed like a shift in power.
The quarterback pool in the NFL is deep and good, and we can see that in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. While the eight quarterbacks got to this point in different ways, they’re all capable.
Before ranking the eight quarterbacks left, it is worth looking at how they were acquired.
Five QBs were first-round picks, four still with original team
The truth of the NFL is most of the top quarterbacks still come from the first round.
Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson were all first-round picks and still with the team that drafted them. However, all four were drafted 10th or lower. Funny enough, the highest drafted quarterback remaining in the playoffs is Ryan Tannehill, who was drafted eighth overall by the Miami Dolphins and then traded this past offseason.
Two QBs were acquired via trade
Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Tannehill came to their teams in trades, but with a lot different fanfare.
Garoppolo was a high-profile trade, moving from the Patriots to the 49ers for a second-round pick in a midseason trade. After a strong finish to his first 49ers season, Garoppolo signed a big extension.
Tannehill was an afterthought, traded with a sixth-round pick to Miami for a 2019 seventh-round pick and 2020 fourth-round pick. Miami also took on a huge salary-cap hit just to get rid of Tannehill, who reinvented himself after taking over for Marcus Mariota after Mariota started the first six games of the season.
The NFC quarterbacks are getting paid a lot more
You may have seen already that each of the NFC quarterbacks made more money in 2019 than all four AFC quarterbacks combined.
The NFC has a lot of high-priced quarterbacks, including Kirk Cousins, who is the only quarterback still in the playoffs who was acquired in free agency. Cousins signed a historic $84 million, fully guaranteed deal with the Vikings in 2018. The AFC quarterbacks are still on their rookie deals except for Tannehill, and all four are soon to cash in.
Here are the rankings for the eight remaining quarterbacks. This isn’t a ranking of who has had the best career but who are the best on the field right now — if we were redrafting the quarterbacks, what would be the order in which they’d be selected?
8. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
You could make an argument that Tannehill should be higher. He had a marvelous season, as unexpected as it was. Tannehill became the third quarterback in NFL history to average nine yards per attempt and complete 70 percent of his passes, joining Sammy Baugh (1945) and Joe Montana (1989). Baugh and Montana were just named to the NFL’s all-time team.
Tannehill’s passer rating of 117.5 ranks No. 4 all time on the single-season list. He had a great year.
Still, the Titans didn’t do much against the Patriots in the passing game, and it invited skepticism about Tannehill. He’s certainly the quarterback in this group who isn’t like the others.
7. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
Garoppolo checking in at No. 7 probably says more about the depth of the field than Jimmy G. He had a fine season, throwing for 3,978 yards and 27 touchdowns. His 13 interceptions were a bit high, but he did come up big in some clutch moments. The 49ers seemed to be in a game that went down to the last play every week over the second half of the season, and they won most of those games.
One thing Garoppolo doesn’t have is playoff experience. He has two career snaps, which came in a 45-7 Patriots win over the Colts.
6. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
While there will always be questions about Cousins’ ability to come up big in the clutch, he did have two great plays in overtime against the New Orleans Saints to help lead an enormous upset. And he had a great season that didn’t get a lot of attention because of the never-ending skepticism of Cousins and the criticism of his huge contract.
Cousins had a 26-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a sparkling 107.4 passer rating. That was fourth among NFL quarterbacks this season. There will still be questions about Cousins’ ability under pressure, but he has been better than most have given him credit for this season.
5. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
For many seasons, the only list in which Rodgers would have ranked as low as No. 5 would have been one of all-time great quarterbacks. And maybe he wouldn’t have been as low as fifth.
But Rodgers isn’t the same intimidating quarterback he was a few years ago. He is still capable of big moments and great games, but he has been surpassed by others around the league. Whether that is due to coaching or his non-Davante Adams supporting cast is up for debate. But Rodgers, one of two quarterbacks in the field who has started and won a Super Bowl, doesn’t carry the Packers’ offense anymore.
4. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
Watson might be a spot too high. He had a good but not great regular season. He didn’t take a big step forward this season. He looked mostly like the quarterback we saw in 2018, which wasn’t that bad.
But he’s capable of making a name for himself this month. He already had an iconic playoff moment when he bounced off two blitzing Buffalo Bills defenders in overtime and delivered a pass to set up a game-winning field goal. As we saw when Watson was at Clemson, he has a knack for playing his best in big games. Watson is still a future star in the NFL, and more playoff heroics could be in his future this season.
3. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson is capable of plays that nobody else can make. He’s simply masterful throwing on the move. He had 325 passing yards against the Eagles, helping lead his team to a win. It was the ninth time Wilson has been the quarterback in a playoff win. One of those wins, of course, was a Super Bowl victory.
The Seahawks seem to live on the edge each week, and win more often than not because of their dynamic quarterback. Wilson has the experience and the playmaking ability to be the signature player of this postseason.
2. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Let’s talk about the 2018 MVP and the player who will be this season’s MVP together, shall we?
Jackson has been the story of this season. He set a single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback, and also led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes. He had a truly historic season, and we might not see anyone replicate what he did unless Jackson beats his own records in future years.
Yet, let’s also not forget how special Mahomes is. He had the second 5,000-yard, 50-touchdown season in NFL history last season. This season his numbers were predictably down, but were still very good (4,031 yards and 26 touchdowns) and he missed two full games and most of another due to a dislocated kneecap. Injuries were an issue from the season opener, when he sprained his ankle.
But Mahomes did cut his interception rate in half (2.1 percent in 2018 to 1 percent in 2019) and many of his rate stats weren’t too far off his MVP season. It has been clear through the season, especially later in the season when he looked healthier, that Mahomes is still the same special quarterback we saw break records in 2018. He has incredible arm talent, capable of making throws that only a few other quarterbacks in NFL history could dream of making.
There would be nothing wrong picking Jackson as the top quarterback remaining in these playoffs; he deserves to win MVP and should be the unanimous pick. But don’t sleep on Mahomes either. Hopefully we can see them duel in the AFC championship game.
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