The most important position on any given NFL offense is without a doubt the quarterback. The NFL has become a pass-first league, and without an above average signal-caller, you can’t expect to make it far in this league. As I have done with the running backs, wide receivers and tight ends, I have ranked the AFC’s quarterbacks. This time, we will feature only the projected starters for each team in these number rankings. For teams with question marks at the position, we will rank them based on their different options.
16. Cleveland Browns
No surprise here. The Browns have yet to have a successful quarterback for…. I’ve lost count. Right now the competition is between Johnny Manziel, who faltered in limited time as a starter last year, and Josh McCown. McCown is pushing 36, and is nothing better than a one year stop gap for this team. He had 11 touchdowns to 14 interceptions last year starting 11 games for Tampa Bay, and basically engineered the campaign that led the Bucs to 2-14 record and Jameis Winston. Honestly I think Cleveland’s best option is to see what Manziel can do as the full time starter at the beginning of the year, but when your best option spent time in rehab over the offseason, yikes.
15. New York Jets
I would gladly move the Jets higher up on this list,
14. Buffalo Bills
If you are Rex Ryan, newly appointed head coach of the Buffalo Bills, do you start Tyrod Taylor, E.J. Manuel or Matt Cassel at quarterback? No, sadly none of the above is not an acceptable answer. If I had to choose, I would go with Cassel. He is the most proven out of the three, and should have at least one good year left in him, despite being 35. Back in 2008, Cassel stepped in for an injured guy named Brady and led the Patriots to an 11-5 record. Granted, that was the New England Patriots and not the Bills. Whoever leads these Bills needs to play mistake free and let the defense do their thing.
13. Tennessee Titans
I would be absolutely shocked if Marcus Mariota doesn’t beat out Zach Mettenberger for the starting job in Nashville. Mariota was one of the most productive quarterbacks ever in college, and will be coached by quarterback guru Ken Wisenhunt. Still, the Titans may opt to wait a few games or even a season to let Mariota grow and get used to NFL speed, but I doubt it. This is another case where the Titans could move up or down this list depending on who starts and when.
12. Houston Texans
I was tempted to put the Texans lower on this list, but I was also equally tempted to place them higher. That all rests on the play of Brian Hoyer, who actually had quite a bit of success with the Cleveland Browns at times (he beat the Bengals and Patriots while in Cleveland). The key is whether or not Hoyer can stay consistent. When he’s on top of his game, he plays mistake free football and is accurate. When he’s not, he can throw three picks a game. Hoyer is still not the determined starter. Ryan Mallett is still in the mix, simply because of his cannon arm.
11. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Finally, a team with a known starter. Blake Bortles, despite what the stats said, actually had a fairly successful rookie season. He has improved his throwing motion, and has an improved offensive line heading into his sophomore campaign. Mark my words, Bortles will have a positive touchdown to interception ratio this year, and a passer rating over 70. That is my prediction. He has an above average defense to play behind, and has one of the best young wide receiver groups in the AFC. Bortles is in the perfect position to take great strides in year two. The Jaguars are headed in the right direction.
10. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Derek Carr was possibly the most underrated offensive rookie in the league last year. He finished his rookie campaign with 348 completions on 599 attempts (58.1%), 21 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. This year, he will add Amari Cooper and Roy Helu as offensive weapons, as well as Latavius Murray. The Raiders will also have a new coach in Jack Del Rio, who made winners out of Byron Leftwich and David Garrard in Jacksonville. Carr is more talented than both of those passers. Look out for the Raiders in these next couple of seasons.
I’m not the biggest Andy Dalton fan, but it is hard to put Dalton any lower than this, especially since he has led the Bengals to the playoffs the past four seasons. The only problem with that is that the Bengals have also lost in the first round the past four seasons. Dalton moves up this list when they get past that barrier. Simple as that. It would help if he could start throwing less interceptions too.
This is where things start to get difficult. I am going with Smith here at number eight. His numbers really weren’t that impressive last season. Granted, he had just six interceptions last season (good enough to rank him in the top five fewest), but he also only had 18 touchdown passes, and zero of those went to wide receivers. Is that necessarily Smith’s fault? No. But his production is nowhere near as high as the arms above him, so for that he stays at eight. A lot of Smith’s success comes from having running back Jamaal Charles on his team too.
Ryan Tannehill had a career year last year, completing 66.4% of his passes (fifth best in the league) for 4,045 yards (11th best in the league), 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Those numbers should only go up this season, as he enters the second year in offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s offense. The Dolphins will also bring back a healthy Branden Albert, and rookie draft pick DeVante Parker will join Jarvis Landry, Jordan Cameron, Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills in a loaded group of pass catchers. Throw in Lamar Miller (a top 10 back in 2014) and rookie running back Jay Ajayi, and Tannehill has the tools to finally take the Dolphins to the playoffs. If head coach Joe Philbin can get out of his way, that is.
Rivers is a proven winner, and will finish his career in San Diego. He has put up fantastic numbers over his career, and has been the franchise quarterback for this team for the past decade. He’s a five time pro bowler, and has led the Charges to the playoffs five times. Rivers had a fantastic year last year, completing 66.5% of his passes for 4,286 yards and 31 touchdowns. There is no sign of him slowing down this year. I am predicting he will lead the Chargers to an AFC West title in the process.
Flacco would not be this high without his stellar playoff play and his Super Bowl ring. But you can’t take those things away from him. He took a hit last year early when he lost Ray Rice, but bounced back nicely and had a solid year. I think he will be even better this year, and has new weapons around him, including rookie burner Breshad Perriman. Flacco belongs in the top five in the AFC.
Despite his superhuman numbers last season, I sadly believe that Peyton Manning’s days as the one of the best quarterbacks in the league are over. Manning has at best one to two years left in this league, and is still this high on this list simply out of respect and admiration. I also think he will put up big numbers (though maybe not as big as we are used to with Peyton). Manning’s success this year depends almost entirely on his offensive line. The Broncos lost Ryan Clady for the year, and will need to get the ball out of Manning’s hands quickly. Still, don’t count Manning out. As long as he is on the field, he will give 100% and produce. The question is how much and for how long.
Roethlisberger has become a Hall of Fame quarterback. Looking past his Super Bowls, he has consistently put up the numbers to be considered alongside Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as one of the best quarterbacks of this generation. Last season against two of the AFC’s better teams in the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts, Roethlisberger put up an uncanny 12 touchdowns, 862 yards and zero interceptions. That’s two thirds the amount of total scores Alex Smith threw for last season. In just two games. He has led the Steelers to the playoffs five times, winning the Super Bowl twice. He is also nearly impossible to bring down in the pocket, and is more dangerous out of the pocket. Expect another big year from Big Ben.
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Whether you think Brady is a cheater or not, he has still been one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Part of why he is so good undoubtedly comes from his coach, Bill Belichick. These two go together like eggs and bacon. Okay, more like Joe Montana and Bill Walsh. However you want to spin it, Tom Brady is at the top of this list and has been for the past decade. With even tighter pregame restrictions this year, and even though Brady will sit the first four games of the season, my money is still on the Patriots competing come January. All thanks to Brady.
1. Andrew Luck
Considering that Andrew Luck has only been in this league for three seasons, and considering what he has accomplished, it is foolish not to have Luck number one on this list heading into the 2015 season. Winning a Super Bowl is no longer the question for Luck. It is only a matter of time. In three seasons, Luck has made the pro bowl three times, and the Colts have made the playoffs three times with an 11-5 record. Not a coincidence. Last year, Luck was simply ridiculous. He completed 380 of his 616 passes (61.7%) for 40 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions. He also ran for 273 yards and four scores. What’s even more nuts about what Luck has done and is doing is that I think he will have even a bigger yearin 2015. He’s that good. He’s number one!