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Ranking the 5 best, 5 worst QB rooms in the NFL after free agency frenzy



With the bulk of NFL free agency in the rearview mirror and OTAs underway, it’s time for fanbases around the league to take stock of their rosters. Quarterback remains the most important position in football and this offseason was not lacking in drama at the position.

The headlines, of course, belonged to Kirk Cousins and his $180 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons. He wasn’t the only signal-caller to switch teams, however, with several projected starters changing locales (Russell Wilson, Gardner Minshew, Jacoby Brissett, Sam Darnold).

We shouldn’t expect too much movement on the QB front moving forward. There are still plenty of free agents and trade candidates floating around at other positions, but generally, every NFL team wants its quarterback room solidified by the time preseason activities roll around.

Let’s dive into the best and worst QB setups around the league, starting with those sitting at the bottom.

Depth Chart — Gardner Minshew II, Aidan O’Connell, Anthony Brown Jr.

The Las Vegas Raiders whiffed on the top quarterback prospects in the NFL Draft. One could argue it was a blessing in disguise, with six QBs coming off the board before Las Vegas was on the clock at No. 13 overall. While the Raiders need a quarterback to build around, reaching for a mid-tier prospect in the middle of the first round was never the best route forward. Other teams made that mistake instead.

Rather than splurging on Bo Nix or Michael Penix Jr. on draft night, the Raiders invested in free agent Gardner Minshew II for the next two years. He came at a bargain-bin price of $12.5 million annually, which is chump change relative to your average reigning Pro Bowl participant. Was Minshew a bit of a flukey Pro Bowler? Sure, and the inventive play-calling of Shane Steichen in Indianapolis undoubtedly did most of the heavy lifting. When push comes to shove, however, that is tremendous value for a competent, starting-level QB.

That said, Minshew ranks near the bottom of the NFL when it comes to surefire starters. He profiles more comfortably as an elite backup with the mobility and processing speed to effectively manage an offense, but without the arm strength to truly elevate it. Minshew should do just fine as the Raiders’ bridge QB until a talented prospect enters the fold next offseason or the offseason after that, but he’s not going to lead Las Vegas to the promised land.

If the Raiders decide to prioritize the future, Aidan O’Connell is coming off a mildly impressive rookie season. He’s probably too mistake-prone to win the starting job in camp, but O’Connell has a strong arm and legitimate upside. He, too, profiles most comfortably as the backup, but the Raiders have two very real options at QB. That is more than some teams can say.

Depth Chart — Jacoby Brissett, Drake Maye, Bailey Zappe

The New England Patriots were big winners in the NFL Draft, landing North Carolina gunslinger Drake Maye with the No. 3 overall pick. While that should pay dividends long term, it won’t help New England much this season. Rookie quarterbacks are rarely effective out of the gate, and Maye especially would benefit from a patient approach and the opportunity to polish his skill set with the second-stringers.

Jacoby Brissett landed in New England early in the offseason. His presence allows New England to take it slow with Maye, even if the fanbase is itching to see its shiny new toy on display. Brissett has experience in New England, albeit not with this coaching staff. He was one of the highest-paid backups in the NFL last season, but the Commanders devoted a whole campaign to Sam Howell (probably a decision they regret). Brissett bolted to ink a one-year, $8 million contract with New England, and here we are.

In a similar vein to Minshew and Las Vegas, Brissett is a proven NFL starter with a robust track record. He’s not exactly a star, but he can effectively pull the strings for an offense and operate under pressure. The rest of the Pats’ roster is a mess — especially at offensive line and wide receiver — so Brissett will be thrust into a crappy situation. All the more reason to keep Maye in bubble wrap until a more competent supporting cast is in place.

Brissett won’t win games on his own, but he can avoid crippling mistakes and keep the wheels greased as much as possible for a Patriots team that is destined to select near the top of next year’s draft, too. Eventually, Maye figures to elevate New England’s QB room out of this range, but that won’t happen until next season at least.

Depth Chart — Bryce Young, Andy Dalton, Jack Plummer

The Carolina Panthers sold the farm to draft Bryce Young first overall in the 2023 NFL Draft. The early returns on that investment weren’t particularly impressive, as Young struggled behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. The Panthers went 2-14 with Young under center last season and earned the right to pick first overall again — only that pick belonged to Chicago due to the trade for Young, a cruel twist of the knife.

Still, there’s optimism about Young’s ability to rebound as an NFL sophomore. Carolina certainly hasn’t given up hope, nor should it. Young was a winner through and through at Alabama and he processes the game at a high level. With slight tweaks on the O-line and in the wide receiver room, not to mention an offensive wiz in Dave Canales patrolling the sidelines, maybe the Panthers can start to show signs of progress.

Ideally, Young breaks out in his second season and removes Carolina from this exceedingly unimpressive company. But, the concerns persist. It’s not like Carolina has overhauled its offensive personnel and put multiple high-wattage playmakers around Young. He’s still 5-foot-10 as well, prone to big hits and especially vulnerable to pressure in the pocket.

Andy Dalton is a nice backup in theory, the sort of established veteran who can whisper words of wisdom to Young on the sideline. He’s not going to win too many games if called to action, though, and the burden of proof is on Young to prove his mettle. Until that happens, Carolina remains near the bottom of the NFL QB rankings.

Depth Chart — Sam Darnold, J.J. McCarthy, Nick Mullens, Jaren Hall

Sam Darnold is expected to start the season under center for the Minnesota Vikings. After a brief stint backing up Brock Purdy in San Francisco, the former No. 3 pick is back in the driver’s seat. While Darnold is stepping into an extremely favorable situation with Minnesota, it’s hard to be too confident about the Vikings’ outlook right now.

For all his natural talent and tarnished prestige, Darnold has done little at the NFL level to prove he is a starting-caliber quarterback. The Vikings will surround him with Justin Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, and one of the best playmaking corps in football, so complete failure is out of the question. It is, however, fair to wonder if Darnold can push Minnesota beyond the mediocrity of last season.

The Vikings do have depth working in their favor. J.J. McCarthy needs time to develop. Even with the NCAA title under his belt, he is the least experienced of the six first-round quarterbacks. Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall both took starting snaps last season, however, so the Vikings aren’t short on options.

McCarthy presents serious long-term upside, and Mullens is probably on the shortlist of best QB3s in the NFL. That just isn’t enough to overcome Sam Darnold as the probable starter, with an unproven and ill-prepared McCarthy as the only logical alternative. The Vikings could win games on the power of their supporting cast this season, but any victories will be in spite of the QB room, not because of it.

Depth Chart — Bo Nix, Jarrett Stidham, Zach Wilson

The Denver Broncos made the abject mistake of drafting Bo Nix 12th overall. I am sorry, but until proven otherwise, that is a mistake through and through. Nix enters the NFL with more experience than any other prospect. He started five seasons of college football, a whopping 61 games split between Auburn and Oregon. It took Nix several years to pop up on pro radars, but by the end of his fifth and final campaign in Eugene, Nix was college basketball’s most reliable quarterback.

Last season, he completed 77.2 percent of his passes and threw for 45 touchdowns, compared to a mere three interceptions. He was helped out by Oregon’s robust WR room and a very simple offense rooted in intermediate passes and creating yards after the catch, but those numbers are difficult under any circumstances. Nix deserves his flowers.

Projecting to the next level, however, it’s hard to justify taking the 24-year-old with limited arm strength. Nix threw a ton of screen passes at Oregon, with an average depth of attempt that ranked 122nd out of 125 qualified quarterbacks. He’s mobile outside the pocket and undeniably sharp with his decision-making, but how well does Nix do when asked to create explosive plays and actually operate under pressure? There’s a lot of uncertainty for a quarterback so far along his developmental track.

The Broncos have a couple realistic alternatives in Jarrett Stidham and Zach Wilson, both of whom have a non-zero chance of starting Week 1. Judging from recent reports, Wilson might actually have the clearest path to challenging Nix’s status in Sean Payton’s offense. That is how dire the situation is. Wilson and Stidham are both primed for long careers as backup quarterbacks, and Nix figures to struggle out of the gate, like most rookies do. The Broncos are really testing Payton’s knack for QB shepherding.

Jalen Hurts

Depth Chart — Jalen Hurts, Kenny Pickett, Tanner McKee, Will Grier

There has been a lot of hand-wringing about the rough end to last season and a few difficult practice sessions under a new offensive coordinator. At the end of the day, however, Jalen Hurts remains one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL — plain and simple. It doesn’t hurt that the Philadelphia Eagles added Kenny Pickett this offseason, securing one of the top backups in the league.

Hurts’ share of the blame for the Eagles’ late-season collapse is minimal. It was the offensive structure around him that collapsed. Nick Sirianni’s play-calling went haywire and Hurts was asked to operate outside his comfort zone, tossing vertical bombs and hunting big plays instead of feasting on intermediate routes and creating chunk gains with his legs.

In a more refined and cohesive offense, we should once again start to see Hurts’ brilliance shine through. He’s a powerful runner and easily the best dual-threat QB in the NFL not named Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen. He is also plenty adept in the pocket, with a strong and accurate arm that is wired through the nervous system to a sharp football mind. When he’s not asked to throw a touchdown on every pass, Hurts’ interception numbers should come back down to earth.

Not long ago, Hurts put together one of the best Super Bowl performances we’ve ever seen in a loss. He has appeared in back-to-back Pro Bowls at 25 and he still has plenty of room to grow. Pickett never quite clicked as the Steelers’ starter, but he is more than capable of holding down the fort in a backup role. Pickett is overly cautious, but he doesn’t throw a ton of picks and he generally makes the simple reads. That is all one can ask for out of a QB2.

Depth Chart — Joe Burrow, Jake Browning, Logan Woodside

Take or leave Jake Browning and the Cincinnati Bengals‘ depth pieces, but there is a reason Joe Burrow signed a historic five-year, $275 million contract last offseason. When healthy, he’s on the shortlist of best quarterbacks in the NFL — the rare peer to actually out-duel Patrick Mahomes on the postseason stage.

If not for his injury-fueled struggles last season, Burrow and the Bengals would probably rank even higher. The 2023 campaign was a sobering reminder of how fickle contention is, but Cincinnati should feel good about Burrow coming off a full spring of rest and training. If he can return to his standard form, the Bengals will be right back in the AFC North mix with a chance to dethrone the red-hot Chiefs.

Burrow managed 10 starts last season and put up a respectable 2,309 passing yards with 15 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Even at half speed and hobbled by injury, Burrow outstripped the majority of NFL quarterbacks. He is a proven winner going back to his days at LSU, with a penchant for delivering under pressure in the game’s biggest moments.

As for Browning, he went 4-3 in seven starts last season. The Bengals posted a winning record in the games he started, which is the best possible stat for a backup quarterback. That is all Browning needs to do — keep Cincinnati afloat when Burrow misses time. So long as he can do that, there shouldn’t be too much to worry about in the heart of Ohio.

Depth Chart — Lamar Jackson, Josh Johnson, Devin Leary

It’s generally safe to roll with the two-time MVP. Lamar Jackson still needs to prove it on the big stage, of course, as the Baltimore Ravens fell flat in the AFC Championship Game. But, short of winning the Super Bowl, there’s not much left for Jackson to accomplish at the professional level. He has proven those who doubt him wrong time and time again, putting the “running back” narrative to bed once and for all.

Jackson is the reigning MVP and deserves the respect that comes with that title. Some will quibble with the names behind him — Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott — but Jackson’s skill set keeps defenses in constant flux. He is a supreme creator, capable of transforming broken plays into electric gains.

Not only does Jackson thrive outside the pocket, but he possesses one of the strongest arms in football. Those looking to nitpick can point to Jackson’s tendency to wander outside the pocket and focus on his legs more than his arm, but when determined, Jackson can lob a vertical bomb as well as any quarterback. What is truly singular is Jackson’s ability to deliver long, accurate throws on the move. He can evade pressure in a collapsed pocket, roll to the outside, and deliver a dart off one foot. There aren’t many quarterbacks who can match Jackson’s live-wire athleticism and dynamism.

The Ravens’ reserve options are limited. Josh Johnson is a long-time journeyman, while sixth-round rookie Devin Leary comes with his share of NFL question marks. That said, Jackson has been fairly durable for his entire career. He alone elevates Baltimore’s QB room to the upper echelon.

Depth Chart — Josh Allen, Mitchell Trubisky, Shane Buechele

Ladies and gentleman, we have reached that most improbable point in time. Mitchell Trubisky is a member of the NFL’s second-best QB room.

The obvious reason for the Buffalo Bills‘ high placement is their QB1 — the (almost) indomitable Josh Allen, who proved last season that he is the most explosive, dynamic playmaker in the NFL not named [redacted]. The Bills have plenty of questions to answer after trading their best wide receiver, but so long as Allen lines up under center, Buffalo has a puncher’s chance in the AFC.

Allen is pretty much the quarterback you’d formulate in a lab, or in Madden’s Create-A-Player. He’s listed at 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, with a cannon attached to his right shoulder and the mobility to create outside the pocket and scramble when needed. Allen’s blend of power and evasiveness as a runner is difficult to fathom. A man so large should not be able to side-step tackles and out-run defensive backs, and yet Allen does so on a regular basis.

When stationed in the pocket, Allen regularly delivers high-arching bombs down the sideline. He can also thread the needle into traffic, making his progressions at high speeds and never shying away from an ambitious target. That can get Allen into trouble from time to time — he threw 18 interceptions last season — but a talented quarterback unafraid of mistakes is better than a talented quarterback hamstrung by fear.

Mitch Trubisky is a former top pick with a healthy volume of NFL starts under his belt. Say what you will about his oft-bemoaned tenure in the pros, but he’s a totally adequate backup. The Bills aren’t built to win a ton of games if Allen misses time, but hey, it could be worse. It could always be worse.

Depth Chart — Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz, Chris Oladokun

Well… duh.

There isn’t much debate about this spot, unless we want to really stretch the definition of “QB room” and quibble about the strength of the Kansas City Chiefs‘ backup quarterback. Even then, Carson Wentz is far from a terrible stopgap, especially in the Andy Reid system. If there’s any coach who can bring the most out of Wentz’s brave approach to playmaking, it’s Reid. Think of Wentz as Patrick Mahomes without the talent or the credentials.

Mahomes, however, has cemented his claim on the title of ‘best QB in the NFL.’ He will cede MVP honors to his peers from time to time, just as Michael Jordan once did with the Chicago Bulls, or Tom Brady with the New England Patriots. When it comes time to produce in the postseason, however, there isn’t a more reliably productive signal-caller in the NFL. Mahomes led Kansas City to its second straight Super Bowl last season despite a mess of injuries and a god-awful WR room. Even without a reliable set of hands to throw to outside of Travis Kelce, Mahomes mustered enough magic to topple Tua Tagovailoa, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and Brock Purdy en route to his third ring.

It was a collective effort, of course. Mahomes is not the sole reason for Kansas City’s historic success and it would be wrong to paint him as some sort of lone wolf. That said, there isn’t a single quarterback in the NFL — or in recent NFL history, for that matter — who could have accomplished what Mahomes did in the playoffs with such a shoddy supporting cast. On the offensive end, to be clear.

Wentz is a fine QB2, and if it gets to QB3 territory, the Chiefs can look for emergency options elsewhere. The overarching point is simple. So long as Mahomes is healthy and on the field, Kansas City will be favored to win next year’s Super Bowl. He alone constitutes the best QB room in the NFL.

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