The 2021 NFL season is nearly upon us, and as fantasy football drafts rage across the nation, many are wondering which team is in position to win it all come February. While skill at every position is important, we all know a championship-caliber team usually starts with a great quarterback.
We’ve taken a look at the recent performance of all 32 of the NFL’s starting quarterbacks heading into the new season and compared them all. Here’s a look at every projected starter for 2021 and how they rank, from guys who have plenty to prove to likely frontrunners for MVP honors.
32. Tyrod Taylor (Houston Texans)
In terms of skill level, Tyrod Taylor is definitely not the worst starting quarterback in the NFL this season, but the last few years have been so spotty for him that we aren’t sure what to expect as he takes over in Houston. The former sixth-round pick for Baltimore hasn’t been a full-time starter since the 2017 season, when he played for Buffalo, and has only thrown 121 passes in games since then. Taylor, 32, is on his third team since then and has battled injuries nearly every season since 2015, including a punctured lung he got from a team doctor with the Chargers in 2020.
31. Andy Dalton (Chicago Bears)
The Bears have been searching for a consistent starting quarterback since the early 1990s, and Andy Dalton doesn’t feel like a long-term solution. The 33-year-old veteran is five years removed from his last Pro Bowl season and six years removed from the last time a team he led had a winning record. Last season with Dallas, where he ended up starting nine games after Dak Prescott’s injury, Dalton averaged less than 200 passing yards per game with one of the most talented groups of wide receivers in the NFL.
30. Sam Darnold (Carolina Panthers)
Consistently underwhelming play has been the theme of Sam Darnold’s career since he was drafted No. 3 overall by the Jets in 2018. That franchise gave up on him after three seasons that saw him throw for just 213.1 yards per game and maintain a passer rating below 80, trading him to Carolina in the offseason. After two injuries to his throwing shoulder in 2020, the outlook on his production this season is even more questionable.
29. Daniel Jones (New York Giants)
After a promising rookie season in 2019 that saw Daniel Jones take over as starter from Giants icon Eli Manning, the 24-year-old passer’s numbers fell sharply in 2020, raising doubts around New York. In the 26 games Jones has started over the past two seasons, the Giants have gone 8-18, not helped by his nearly 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season. He fought through injuries to his ankle and hamstring late last year, and his immobility got him sacked 45 times, which ranked Jones fourth among all quarterbacks for times they were brought down in the backfield.
28. Carson Wentz (Indianapolis Colts)
It’s hard to believe that three years after he helped lead the Eagles to their first Super Bowl victory in 50 years, Carson Wentz was traded for a pair of picks. But, speaking of picks, Wentz has thrown a ton of them in the past few years, leading the entire NFL in interceptions thrown last season. The 28-year-old former Pro Bowler was also sacked 50 times in 2020, which was the league’s top mark as well. Figures like that forced Philadelphia to move on and the Colts to try their third starting quarterback since Andrew Luck retired in 2019.
27. Ryan Fitzpatrick (Washington Football Team)
The immortal Ryan Fitzpatrick just keeps finding new teams that need his services. Now 38 years old, the veteran will be starting for his ninth team as he takes over in Washington this year. He’s managed to brew up some “FitzMagic” at virtually all of those destinations, but we’re not expecting a full season of it, as he’s started fewer than eight games in three of the past four campaigns. Fitzpatrick has been good for just 234.2 passing yards per game over the past two seasons, along with a passer rating of 89.
26. Teddy Bridgewater (Denver Broncos)
Now on his fourth team since being drafted in the first round by Minnesota in 2014, Teddy Bridgewater is still looking to show he can be a consistently great starting quarterback. After his breakout, lone Pro Bowl season in 2015, Bridgewater was quickly relegated to backup status for three years before returning as a full-time starter in 2020 with Carolina. The 15 touchdowns he threw in 15 games were a career-high mark, but his 11 interceptions were the most he’d thrown since his rookie campaign and seemed to only solidify his reputation as a “game manager.”
25. Jameis Winston (New Orleans Saints)
Former Pro Bowler Jameis Winston threw only 11 passes off the bench for the Saints in 2020, which was a far cry from the NFL-leading 626 passes he threw with the Buccaneers in 2019. Winston has proven that he can be one of the most dangerous and tireless passers in football, but he’s also highly prone to interceptions, throwing a league-worst 30 of them during that latter season. Saints fans who’ve gotten used to the constant pinpoint accuracy of the newly retired Drew Brees over the past couple decades may have to prepare themselves for the unpredictable ride Winston will take them on in 2021.
24. Mac Jones (New England Patriots)
One of three rookies who will be the week-one starter for their team, Mac Jones is trying to fill the mighty shoes of Tom Brady in New England, where Cam Newton struggled last season. In 2020, while playing as a junior at Alabama, Jones was simply incredible, throwing for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns over 13 games. During the 2021 preseason, he kept his accuracy high, completing 69.2% of his passes over three games, which was second best among all rookies.
23. Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles)
Another former Alabama star, Jalen Hurts took over as Philadelphia’s starter with four games left in the 2020 season. In those games, the team went 1-3 and Hurts completed just over half of his passes, but Eagles fans were clamoring for more after his performance during his second start. In that game against Arizona, the 23-year-old quarterback passed for 338 yards with three touchdowns and no picks, showing the kind of skill that made the franchise trade away Carson Wentz and give Hurts the keys.
22. Tua Tagovailoa (Miami Dolphins)
While news is out that Miami is trying to trade for embattled Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson, young Tua Tagovailoa is still the Dolphins starter. The 23-year-old former Alabama passer — hmm, I’m seeing a pattern here — led the team to a 6-3 record in his first nine games as an NFL starter last season. In those games, the lefty looked very promising, completing 64.1% of his passes and contributing 14 total touchdowns to just five interceptions, three of which came in a single game.
The issue with Tagovailoa is that he’s been prone to serious injuries in the past, making his ability to last through an entire season and into the playoffs an unknown.
21. Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco 49ers)
Speaking of guys who have been brilliant in small doses when injuries aren’t sidelining them, that’s the lowdown on Jimmy Garoppolo. The no-time Pro Bowler is just a year removed from taking the 49ers to a 13-3 record and a trip to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, he only played six games in 2020, which has been typical for him, as the 29-year-old passer has landed on the season-ending IR in two of the past three seasons. Still, when he’s been active, he’s been extremely accurate, maintaining a 99.9 passer rating over the past two years.
20. Zach Wilson (New York Jets)
After the incredible season Zach Wilson had at BYU as a junior in 2020, few were surprised to see the Jets gamble big by taking him No. 2 overall in the most recent draft. Based on what we saw during the preseason, Wilson’s got a chance to be an elite quarterback at the next level. He only played in two of the team’s four exhibition games but finished with the best passer rating of any rookie QB this preseason and completed a whopping 75% of his 20 attempts against genuine NFL defenses.
19. Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)
“Big Ben” had a perfectly decent year in 2020, but some major flaws are starting to show in the future Hall of Famer’s game. At 39 years old, Roethlisberger, as you’d probably expect, just can’t throw with the same kind of power he had even five years ago. In 2020, he averaged the fewest passing yards per game that he’s put up in nearly a decade, and the Steelers offense has only gained 6.2 yards per pass attempt from him over the past two seasons, which is easily the weakest such figure in his long career.
Still, Roethlisberger kept his interceptions to a minimum last year, and the confidence the two-time Super Bowl champ instills in his teammates is hard to deny.
18. Jared Goff (Detroit Lions)
It will be interesting to see how Jared Goff performs after the shocking trade his old team in Los Angeles pulled to swap him for Matthew Stafford early in the offseason. Goff has proven to be a consistent 4,000-yard passer over the past four years and has been a workhorse in that time, landing in the top 10 for pass attempts in each of the past three seasons. However, he’s never been considered an elite quarterback, probably because his passer rating has sagged noticeably over the past couple years.
The durable 26-year-old will likely find himself leading the worst team he’s ever fronted in Detroit this year, putting his performance squarely in the spotlight.
17. Baker Mayfield (Cleveland Browns)
Browns fans will cry that we are vastly underrating Baker Mayfield, but the fact is he puts up the figures of a game manager despite having the notoriety of a star quarterback. The 26-year-old deserves plenty of credit for vastly improving his interception figure over the past season, but his output still feels pedestrian when you look at the talent surrounding him at the receiver positions in Cleveland. Mayfield has averaged just 230.9 passing yards per game and 24 touchdowns per 16 games over the past two years, both of which put him squarely in the middle of the pack.
16. Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars)
The No. 1 overall pick from the 2021 draft class, Trevor Lawrence will certainly have the biggest microscope on him of any rookie quarterbacks this season. The Clemson legend has the ideal build for an NFL passer, towering over linemen at 6 feet, 6-inches tall. He had an impressive preseason, which saw him complete more than 70% of his 44 total passes over three games, not turning the ball over once. If Lawrence is able to perform with the same poise and efficiency he had in three phenomenal seasons in college, he’ll be a Pro Bowler in no time — but Sundays offer a much tougher game.
15. Joe Burrow (Cincinnati Bengals)
The knee injury that ended Bengals star Joe Burrow’s rookie season prematurely makes it a little tougher to project how he’ll do in 2021, but we saw enough for optimism. The 24-year-old slinger showed the type of poise and fearlessness in his passes during those games to show his remarkable Heisman season at LSU in 2019 was no fluke. In 10 starts last year, Burrow contributed 16 total touchdowns to just five picks thrown, averaging nearly 270 yards per game through the air.
14. Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings)
By all the individual metrics, Kirk Cousins had a superb year throwing the football in 2020 — unfortunately, it didn’t amount to much for the Vikings. Despite multiple Pro Bowl selections and consistent 4,000-yard passing seasons, the 33-year-old veteran has yet to break through to that elite category where you know he can take control of a game by himself and lead his team to a win. Still, a guy who has averaged 31 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions per 16 games over the past two years is one most teams would trade anything to have.
13. Derek Carr (Las Vegas Raiders)
It’s eerie how similar the passing figures of Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins are. While Cousins is the higher-paid and higher-profile of the pair, we’re giving Carr the edge because of the 24 game-winning drives he’s engineered for the Raiders since 2014, which eclipses the 14 led by Cousins over a longer tenure. Carr has been very good over the past few seasons, throwing for at least 4,000 yards in each of the past three and completing 68.8% of his passes and maintaining a passer rating of 101.1 over the past two.
12. Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)
Over the past decade, Matt Ryan has been as consistent as any starting quarterback in pro football, but he’s getting older and finds himself on shakier ground this season. The 36-year-old former league MVP will be without future Hall-of-Fame wide out Julio Jones for the first time since 2011, which will make his job considerably tougher. Ryan led the NFL in passing attempts a year ago but his final figures were somewhat mediocre by his elite standards.
Will he still be able to average nearly 300 passing yards per game without Jones on the roster? We doubt it, but only time will tell.
11. Matthew Stafford (Los Angeles Rams)
After a couple forgettable seasons, Matthew Stafford had his first 4,000-yard passing season since 2017 in 2020, getting back to what was always his reliable benchmark. Following 12 frustrating years in Detroit, Stafford was traded to the Rams this offseason and will finally get the chance to put his big arm on display with a contending team, which should be exciting. The 33-year-old veteran will be looking to get back to the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2014 and we like his chances, as the 99.8 passer rating he’s had over the past two years is the best such mark he’s ever had over a two-season stretch.
10. Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee Titans)
The Ryan Tannehill bandwagon is reaching capacity at this point, but it’s tough to overlook the turnaround his career has taken in the past couple years. After six seasons of treading water in Miami, the former top-10 pick was traded to Tennessee in 2019 and immediately had his first Pro Bowl season. In these two years with the Titans, Tannehill, 33, has been good for a whopping 37 total touchdowns per 16 games and a passer rating of 110.6. Adding Julio Jones to his arsenal only makes the prospect of 2021 look more like another great one for the veteran.
9. Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals)
While the Cardinals have yet to make a playoff appearance in the Kyler Murray era, those two seasons have shown him to be one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league. He’s accounted for an average of 283 total yards per game — more than 40 of which come from his runs — and has averaged 31 total touchdowns per 16 games played. With all the mobility he provides, it’s impressive that Murray, 24, has yet to miss a start. His numbers improved across the board in 2020 and Arizona’s record did as well.
8. Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Having a 44-year-old starting quarterback ranked comfortably in the top 10 is a bit bizarre, but we’re talking about the GOAT here. Tom Brady’s debut season with the Bucs saw them win the Super Bowl — Brady’s record seventh ring — and plenty of the credit went to the future Hall of Famer. There’s no question that Brady was playing with a new sense of purpose, as virtually all of his passing statistics improved from his final couple seasons in New England, as he had his most passing yards since 2015 and his most passing touchdowns since his 2007 MVP season.
Still, his age does give us some pause when comparing him against the other elites, as does the fact that he was tied for the most interceptions thrown in the NFL last year.
7. Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers)
Arguably the biggest surprise of the 2020 NFL season was Justin Herbert — who was supposed to be backing up Tyrod Taylor — emerging as the Chargers starting quarterback and eventually being named Offensive Rookie of the Year. The 23-year-old started in 15 games and proved he was more than ready for the challenge. Looking like a veteran star, Herbert contributed more than 300 total yards of offense per game and chipped in 36 total touchdowns with very few blemishes. He finished with a passer rating of 98.3 and more total passing yards than MVP Aaron Rodgers, despite playing in one fewer game.
6. Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys)
Dak Prescott was ranked near the top of many lists of the best quarterbacks headed into the 2020 season and was seen as a favorite for MVP honors, but a brutal ankle injury dashed those dreams. The 28-year-old Cowboys star ended up missing the last 11 games of the season and subsequently suffered a slight shoulder injury during the 2021 preseason. Even with those durability questions, Prescott has proven to be electric over the past few seasons, accounting for more than 5,000 yards of total offense in 2019 and averaging 321.8 passing yards per game over the past two seasons.
5. Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills)
Over the past two seasons as a starting quarterback, Josh Allen’s Bills have had the exact same record as the teams led by Russell Wilson and Tom Brady, at 23-9. That’s obviously not all because of quarterback play, but the 25-year-old Pro Bowler deserves plenty of credit because he’s simply been excellent. Allen’s final stat line in 2020 was the stuff dream seasons are made of, as he completed 69.2% of his 572 passes, had a passer rating of 107.2, contributed 45 total touchdowns and nearly 5,000 total yards of offense.
4. Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens)
Lamar Jackson had a bit slower season in 2020 after the historic pace he set during his 2019 MVP season, but it wasn’t much different. It can be argued that no single player in the NFL can take over a game the way Baltimore’s star player can, as his arm is laser accurate and his ability to suddenly rush is rivaled only by elite running backs. Jackson has missed just two starts in the past two years, and the Ravens have been 24-6 when he’s under center in that time. That says even more than many of his video-game-like statistics can.
3. Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks)
Russell Wilson was the odds-on favorite to win MVP honors for much of last season until his numbers suffered a bit down the stretch. The 32-year-old Seahawks icon still had a brilliant season, as football fans have become used to. Wilson has maintained a passer rating of 105.7 over the past two seasons, while averaging 36 touchdown passes per 16 games. He’s been a Pro Bowler for the past four consecutive seasons, and there’s no indication he’ll drop off soon.
2. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)
While Russell Wilson had a great 2020, he was outdone by Aaron Rodgers, who took home his third MVP trophy. The 37-year-old part-time “Jeopardy” host played on a whole new level last season, even by his lofty standards. He led the league in passing touchdowns, completion percentage and passer rating. Rodgers has thrown more than 1,000 passes over the past two years and only nine of them have been picked off, which shows just how dialed in he is right now.
1. Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs)
Coming into the 2021 season, Patrick Mahomes is the betting favorite to be named NFL MVP, and we can’t argue with the bookmakers’ logic. He’s two seasons removed from winning that honor once already, and his play has continued to amaze. The Chiefs star, who is now 25, led the league in passing yards per game last year and is the only starter on the list to have averaged more than 300 passing yards per game for the past two seasons combined.
Combine that with his ratio of 35 passing touchdowns to six interceptions per 16 games in that span and an uncanny ability to create plays out of thin air, and he’s still the quarterback to beat in our estimation.