NFL Position Ranking Roulette: The Top 12 QBs Following the 2020 Season
Welcome to a brand new blog series I like to call "NFL Position Ranking Roulette" or "NFL PRR". In this series, leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, I will be ranking the top 12 players at each position for the previous season. This is not where I believe they will rank at the end of 2021, just where they stand now. Because of this, incoming rookies will be exempt from the "Following the 2020 Season" blogs. After the draft, leading up to the 2021 NFL season, I will be ranking where I believe each player will rank after the 2021 season, including incoming rookies.
These lists will be controversial, they will raise some eyebrows, but, most importantly, they will open some eyes towards who is actually dominating in the NFL today. Without further ado, here are my top 12 QBs for the 2020 season:
12. Baker Mayfield - Cleveland Browns
Despite what his stats say, Baker was a top 12 QB in 2020. Baker finished in the bottom half of the league in yards and completion percentage, as well as finishing 15th in passer rating and tied for 12th in TDs. So what makes him a top 12 QB if can barely crack the top 12 in basic stats? He can get it done in crucial situations. For starters, his total QBR is 72.2, which is 10th in the league and better than Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, and Justin Herbert. He was also 9th in interception percentage with 1.6% of all of his passes getting intercepted. An impressive stat that stood out to me was his third and long (8+ yards) first down percentage, where he ranked 7th in the league with a 34.6% conversion rate. This doesn't seem like a big number, but how many times are teams getting first downs in 3rd & 8, 3rd & 9, or even longer situations? Baker is going to be a good QB for a long time if he gets back to the production we saw in his rookie year, while maintaining his dominance is crucial situations.
11. Derek Carr - Las Vegas Raiders
Derek Carr is one of the most underrated QBs in the league. His accuracy and mobility in the pocket are some of the best we've seen in recent years. People forget Derek Carr was in the conversation for MVP in 2016, until he broke his leg in Week 16 that year. Per PFF, Derek Carr posted a 90.3 PFF grade from Week 9-17 (3rd in the NFL during that span). Pair that with a career high in passing yards with 4,103, three 4th quarter comebacks and five game winning drives, Carr proved his worth and that he can still play at a high level. If he gets some better defensive weapons and one more good receiver, Carr could easily crack the top 10, maybe even the top 5 like he did in 2016.
Photo: Associated Press
10. Kyler Murray - Arizona Cardinals
The midseason MVP saw a steady decline in play during the second half of the year. After sustaining a nasty hamstring injury in a Thursday Night game against Seattle, Murray wasn't the same. Before then, he was on pace for over 4,000 yards passing and over 1,000 yards rushing. He would have been the first QB to ever accomplish this feat. He ended up finishing with 3,971 yards and 26 TDs through the air, as well as 819 yards and 11 TDs on the ground. The sad part about those rushing numbers is that Murray tallied only 215 of those yards and 1 TD during the final eight games of the year. He posted a 67.2% completion percentage, as well as taking only 27 sacks, which is impressive considering his mobility. Look for Murray to bounce back and put on a show in 2021.
9. Lamar Jackson - Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson is an interesting QB. He doesn't put up the craziest passing numbers, but that's not his forte. There's no question he is the best dual threat QB we've seen since Michael Vick, which is backed up by consecutive seasons with 1,000+ rushing yards (first QB with two 1,000+ yard rushing seasons). Pair that with a battered offensive line and a weak receiving core, it's easy to see why he took a step back this season. Even with an off year, he still had a 6.9% TD rate, which was third behind Aaron Rodgers (9.1%) and Russell Wilson (7.2%). He also posted a 73.7 total QBR, 7th highest in the league, ahead of Russell Wilson and Tom Brady. Although his passing stats don't jump off the page, there's no denying his incredible impact with his legs and precise decision making in crucial situations.
Photo: USA Today
8. Justin Herbert - Los Angeles Chargers
What a season for the OROY. Posting some of the best numbers we've ever seen from a rookie QB, Herbert put his name in the top 10 QB conversation. He broke Baker Mayfield's rookie passing TD record with 31 (Baker had 28), and was just shy of Andrew Luck's rookie passing yard record with 4,336 (Luck had 4,374). Given an abysmal offensive line, inconsistent receiver play - besides Keenan Allen - and a non-existent rushing attack for most of the season, the QB did everything he could in 15 games to prove he is a top level talent. My pick for the 2021 MVP looks to improve on his rookie season, which saw a lot of potential left on the field.
7. Ryan Tannehill - Tennessee Titans
Ryan Tannehill was the best QB in 2019. He backed that play up with another great season in 2020. He posted the 4th highest total QBR in the league at 78.3, a 33:7 TD:INT ratio, 3,819 passing yards and 266 rushing yards (7 TDs on the ground), and the best first down percentage in the NFL at 42% (percent of passes resulting in a first down). Yes, he has the best running back in the league to help him, but given he has only one stud receiver in AJ Brown - this was Corey Davis's first good season, so he's not a stud - and their offensive line ranked 15th in 2020, Tannehill had to do a hefty amount of playmaking to help the offense produce. His numbers are even more impressive when you consider that the Titans passed the ball, as a percentage, less than 29 other teams (48.2% of the Titans plays were passes). Tannehill has proven that he is a very good quarterback, and could take the next step with a healthy offensive line, one more offensive weapon, and a somewhat competent defense.
Photo: Pro Football Network
6. Tom Brady - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The GOAT continued to prove why he still has it. At 43 years old, the Super Bowl MVP scored 43 total TDs (40 passing, 3 rushing), threw for 4,633 yards, a 6.6% TD rate, and the 2nd highest PFF grade for QBs with a 93.5. Father time showed he can still get it done at his age. Granted, he had a very good offense and defense around him to make that happen, but this is pretty much the same team the Bucs had last year besides a few players (Leonard Fournette, Gronk, Antonio Brown, Tristan Wirfs, Antoine Winfield Jr., and others). After a down year in 2019, Brady came back and showed he's still one of the best QBs in the league, and further cemented his claim as the GOAT.
5. Russell Wilson - Seattle Seahawks
Russell had one of the best starts to a season we've ever seen from a QB. From Weeks 1-5, Wilson tallied 1,502 yards, 19 TDs, a 72.8% completion rate, 129.8 passer rating, and only 3 INTs. Over the course of 16 games, this pace would result in 4,806 yards, 60 TDs, and 9 INTs. This would be a historic season, but we all saw how the remainder of the year played out. As a result of poor offensive line and defensive play, Wilson saw the Seahawks time of possession drop and was given worse field position. With this, Wilson played worse as the season went on, finishing with 4,212 yards, 40 TDs, a 68.8% completion rate, 105.1 passer rating, and 13 INTs. Still an impressive season, but he could've played far better, maybe even the best out of all QBs. Finishing 5th isn't all too bad either.
Photo: Sports Illustrated
4. Josh Allen - Buffalo Bills
After finishing bottom 5 for QB play the past 2 seasons, Josh Allen turned it around and had an MVP caliber season. After combining for 30 TDs and 21 INTs through his first 2 years, Allen played lights out, posting 37 TDs and 10 INTs, as well as 4,544 passing yards, 81.7 total QBR, 421 rushing yards and 8 rushing TDs, and 1 catch for a 12 yard TD. He also had incredible redzone numbers, posting 25 passing TDs and 0 INTs, as well as 7 rushing TDs. He also had 30 big time throws (completions of 25+ yards), tied for 10th most in the league. If you need any further evidence as to why Allen was a top 5 QB, just pull up his highlights from every game this year. He was one of the most electrifying players with his speed, arm strength, tight window throws, and strength to break sacks.
3. Patrick Mahomes - Kansas City Chiefs
The best QB in the NFL had another great season in 2020. Although he wasn't the best in 2020, he still put up admirable numbers. 4,740 passing yards, 38 TDs, 82.9 total QBR, only 6 INTs as well as another Super Bowl appearance, Mahomes showed he is still MVP worthy. Anyone who watched the Super Bowl knows Mahomes is one of the most talented players in the league, creating incredible plays and making the unbelievable passes he does is something that we've never seen before. Mahomes didn't light up any particular situational category, but was super consistent all year long and led the Chiefs to a 14-1 record when starting. The face of the NFL looks to have one of the best seasons a QB has ever had in 2021.
Photo: Associated Press
2. Aaron Rodgers - Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is an incredible QB, probably top 5 all time with Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Joe Montana. 2020 was an amazing season for Rodgers, posting one of the best TD:INT ratios in NFL history at 48:5, 4,299 passing yards, and the second highest passer rating ever of 121.5. Pair that with a trip to the NFC Championship, Rodgers made a strong claim for the MVP award and won it in a landslide. So why is he not the best QB in 2020? His talent surrounding him and easy schedule. He has the best receiver in the NFL, a top 5 running back, top 5 tight end, the second best offensive line, and a top 10 defense. Rodgers also faced only two pass defenses in the top 8, and played in eight total games against top 20 pass defenses. If you need more convincing, Rodgers was pressured less than any other QB in the league (14.4%), with the next closest guy who played 16 games being Philip Rivers (16.5%). Rodgers receivers also had the 4th most yards after catch with 2,201 yards. Given all of this information, Rodgers had an amazing season that was possible due to a great supporting cast. So who was better than Rodgers?
1. Deshaun Watson - Houston Texans
Yes, Deshaun was the best QB in 2020. Given his situation, from the 10th worst offensive line, the 3rd worst defense, the 2nd worst rushing offense, all while being pressured at the 9th highest rate (26.6%), losing a top 3 WR during the previous offseason, and facing four top 8 pass defenses and playing in eight games against top 20 pass defenses, Watson did more with much less than Aaron Rodgers. With only 1 receiver eclipsing 1,000 yards, and having no receiver with more than 8 TDs, Watsons passing numbers of 4,823 yards, 33 TDs, and only 7 INTs are incredibly impressive. PFF has Deshaun Watson ranked as the 3rd best QB with a 92.5 grade, but the one gripe I have about PFF is the grades do not take surrounding talent and difficulty of schedule into account. To boot, the Texans lost 8 games by 8 points or less; they could've been 12-4 instead of 4-12, which would have put Deshaun's name into the MVP conversation. In addition, Watson had a whopping total of 184 less snaps played that Rodgers! If Watson has at least an extra half of those snaps, and passes the ball at the same rate of his normal offensive snaps, he would have thrown for an extra 448 yards, 5 TDs, and 1 INT, putting him at 5,271 passing yards, 38 TDs, and 8 INTs on the year.
Throwing in another comparison, Rodgers threw 29 TDs inside the 10 yard line, Watson threw only 12 TDs at that range. If you take these TDs away, Watson threw 21 total TDs outside of the opponents 10 yard line, where Rodgers threw only 19. In addition, if you take away Rodger's redzone trips, his completion percentage drops from 70.72% to 70.5%. If you take away Watson's redzone trips, his completion percentage goes up from 70.2% to 72.33%. This is a testament to the poor redzone weapons Watson has compared to Rodgers, where a good chunk of Rodgers touchdowns came from. Lastly, Watson led the NFL with 42 big time throws, compared to Rodgers who had 37. Pair this with Watson's receivers producing 1,971 yards after the catch, 230 yards less than Rodgers receivers, Watson did a lot of the dirty work for his offense, while also rushing for 444 yards for 3 TDs and 31 first downs.
Finally, the stat that is the most jarring for me, is that Watson threw for 2,850 yards through the air, where Rodgers threw for 2,051 yards through the air. Rodgers threw for more yards after the catch than actual air yards. If this says anything, it's that Rodgers receivers did the majority of the work for Rodgers to get the yards he did. Deshaun was, without question, the best QB in 2020.
Stat Sources: Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Washington Post
Just a reminder, this is not who I think is the best QB in the NFL at this moment, just the best for the 2020 season alone. I know I will get a lot flak for picking Deshaun over Rodgers, but it's almost the same exact argument I had for Derrick Henry winning MVP over Aaron. Henry and Watson both did more with less, and Rodgers has the best supporting cast in the NFL.
The next position we'll be taking a look at are the best edge rushers of 2020. There are some clear choices to be at the top, but there will be some others that may surprise you. And before you ask, no, Haason Reddick will not be on the list. Let me know what you guys think about this list and who you would pick as the top 3 QBs for 2020.