“Franchise player” has a synonym: Elite quarterback. There are no franchise receivers or guards. Perhaps once a decade the moniker is applied to a non-signal caller. J.J. Watt, Adrian Peterson, Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor have all made claims to it. Even amongst quarterbacks, those who earn true “franchise” status are few and far between. Perhaps 9-10 have it now. The rest must be built up instead of built around.
So which teams are in the best shape at sports’ most important position? It’s not as easy as simply having the best quarterback. Age and injury history must be included in any future calculations. Tom Brady is still playing at an MVP level, but how many years does he have left? Carson Palmer was dominant in 2015, but is a ticking time bomb of an injury risk. Tony Romo is having trouble staying on the field. With all that in mind, we’ll assess the league’s quarterback situations
Editor's Note: For updated rankings, projections, player profiles, positional tiers, mock drafts, sleepers and busts, exclusive columns and plenty more, check out our Draft Guide!
I’ll use the same explainer I did last year because it still rings true: This list will look dramatically different than a straightforward ranking based on 2016 expectations alone. Not that 2016 is completely discounted. Having a good quarterback locked down for even one year is an achievement many teams can’t muster. But the focus is on the future, particularly the next 3-5 seasons.
1. Seahawks, Russell Wilson
Last Year’s Ranking: 3
Russell Wilson was the No. 75 overall pick of the 2012 draft. Four years later, he’s made 74 straight starts, and is coming off a stratospheric 2015 that cemented his standing amongst the elite of the elite. You could certainly argue that Wilson still isn’t as good as Aaron Rodgers, but you can’t argue his age — five years younger. That’s not to say youth alone is Wilson’s claim to the top spot. Whereas Rodgers struggled with a bad supporting cast last season, Wilson has consistently thrived with them. He’s also been held back by a run-first scheme that finally gave way to his unique gifts in 2015. Marshawn Lynch slept through his victory lap, so Wilson took the reins of the offense and put it on his back. Wilson has no missing pieces. He’s durable bordering on unbreakable, has made 10 postseason starts — including two Super Bowls — and gotten better each year. He is the envy of the league at its most important position. He is the most irreplaceable player in football, and the No. 1 reason the Seahawks will be challenging for Super Bowls for years to come.
2. Packers, Aaron Rodgers
Last Year’s Ranking: 2
12 quarterbacks threw for over 4,000 yards last season. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t one of them. Playing with the worst supporting cast of his career, Rodgers proved human after all, posting career lows in completion percentage (60.7), yards per attempt (a stunning 6.68) and quarterback rating (92.7). This being Rodgers’ Packers, the season still ended in a place many would kill for — an overtime Divisional Round loss — but Rodgers proved no one is immune to an offense with Davante Adams as its No. 2 receiver. The good news is, Rodgers appeared in all 16 games for the second consecutive year, and didn’t lose any miles off his fastball. Although he’s now 32, Rodgers remains in his physical prime. The even better news is that Jordy Nelson is back for 2016, giving Rodgers the No. 1 he so desperately missed, and returning Randall Cobb to the No. 2 role he’s best suited for. 2015 was a bad year for Rodgers, but a one-off, not the beginning of the end. Rodgers is the league’s best pure passer, and should remain so for at least the next 2-3 seasons.
3. Panthers, Cam Newton
Last Year’s Ranking: 8
Cam Newton was already unlike any player in NFL history. In 2015, he had a season to match, becoming the first quarterback to throw for 35 touchdowns while managing 10 more on the ground. Newton did so with Ted Ginn as his “No. 1 receiver” and Jonathan Stewart as his No. 1 running back. Newton carried his offense to a degree rarely seen, and an unprecedented one for a dual-threat quarterback. Newton’s 2015 was the fulfillment of the Michael Vick prophecy. As you consider Newton’s future, you could harp on the fact that he takes more crushing hits than any quarterback, or instead marvel that he’s missed only one game with a football-related injury in five years. Newton may not be indestructible, but he sure has looked like it. He’s also remained on a steady upward trajectory, and is just 124 days older than Andrew Luck. It’s possible Newton has already had his career year, but he’s 27 with an MVP and three straight division titles under his belt. Newton has delivered on his promise, and promises to keep the Panthers in contention for years to come.
4. Colts, Andrew Luck
Last Year’s Ranking: 1
Neither Andrew Luck’s physical or mental gifts are in doubt. The 26 year old can make any throw, and is Roethlisberger-strong in the pocket. He is one of the most outwardly cerebral athletes in sports. He’s won. A lot. None of that can hide the fact that 2015 was a major step backwards. Even though he was playing hurt before he got injured, Luck’s performance cannot be excused. He produced only two more touchdowns (15) than turnovers (13), and was more Blake Bortles than Peyton Manning with his accuracy. The disastrous campaign also brought Luck’s good-but-not-great career numbers into sharp relief. Through 55 starts and 2,106 NFL throws, Luck has completed a mediocre 58.1 percent of his passes. He’s barely cleared 7.00 yards per attempt (7.05), and is the owner of an 85.0 quarterback rating. Luck is a born playmaker. He almost singlehandedly turned a 2-14 disaster into a three-time division champion overnight. But he’s not a finished product, and four years in, it’s fair to wonder what Luck is working toward. He still might be the heir apparent to Manning, Brady and Rodgers. He could also be a glorified Matthew Stafford. The former is still more likely, but the latter must at least be considered. That wasn’t the case this time a year ago.
5. Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger
Last Year’s Ranking: 5
Ben Roethlisberger is better than ever. This isn’t really up for debate. The 34 year old completed 68 percent of his passes last season while still somehow averaging 8.4 yards per attempt. Roethlisberger has the rare ability to not only drive the ball down the field, but maintain his accuracy while doing so. According to Pro Football Focus, no one was better at it last year. The problem is that even though Ben is better than ever, he’s also older and more injury prone than ever. Roethlisberger got carted off the field not once, not twice, but three times in 2015, suffering knee, foot and shoulder injuries. He mixed in a concussion for good measure. Roethlisberger has truly gotten better with age, but can age remain kind to someone who takes so many hits? If it does, Roethlisberger will threaten for MVP status with Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates and Ladarius Green at his disposal.
Last Year’s Ranking: 9
In the NFL, age does not let you down gently — it stalks like a predator on the open savanna. Peyton Manning was challenging for the MVP midway through the 2014 season. 16 months later, he was retiring because it was his only option. The cliff is waiting for Tom Brady, too, but damn if he isn’t doing an amazing job eluding it. Brady was the league’s best player last season before injuries robbed him of his weapons. Even with all the carnage, he still got his team to within a field goal of its seventh Super Bowl appearance on his watch. Going on 39, Brady could have as few as two years left, but two years of Brady is better than five from an average quarterback. Brady’s four-game suspension complicates matters for 2016, but 12 starts should be more than enough to put the Pats in the driver’s seat for their eighth consecutive AFC East title.
7. Saints, Drew Brees
Last Year’s Ranking: 6
Drew Brees missed his first ever game with injury last Week 3 — then he went on to lead the league in passing. Remarkably durable and consistent, Brees’ only concern is the one thing he can’t control — age. Otherwise, he’s still in the prime he’s been in since 2004. Brees has averaged 4,964 yards since his first 5,000-yard campaign in 2008, and owns six of the top 14 passing seasons in history, including three of the top five. He’s led the league in yardage four of the past five years, with his lone second place finish a 5,162-yard 2013. It’s not an exaggeration to say he’s shown zero signs of a slowdown. Brees is at the point of his career where the cliff can come without warning, but it’s more likely he leads the NFL in passing the next two years than has his Manning moment.
8. Bucs, Jameis Winston
Last Year’s Ranking: 15
The Buccaneers haven’t had a legitimate franchise quarterback since … ever. Jameis Winston might be up to the challenge. Winston came within 23 yards of the team’s passing record as a rookie, adding 213 yards on the ground for good measure. Showing the toughness and daring that he was known for at Florida State, Winston posted a healthy 7.56 YPA. His 22 passing touchdowns didn’t break the mold for a rookie, but his six rushing scores were about 3-4 more than expected. It was the exact season the Bucs needed after making Winston the first player off the board in the draft. Going forward, Winston is set up for success. His offensive coordinator is his head coach, and his No. 1 receiver is one of the most dangerous young players in football. Winston still has to up his completion percentage and cut down on his turnovers, but his rookie returns suggest a 10-year answer at quarterback.
9. Giants, Eli Manning
Last Year’s Ranking: 12
Welcome to the Odell Beckham anti-aging institute. In the two years and 32 games before Beckham’s arrival, Manning completed just 58.7 percent of his passes while tossing only two more touchdowns (44) than interceptions (42). He averaged a modest 7.1 yards every time the ball left his hand. In the two years since, Manning has drunk from the Beckham fountain of youth, turning in the best 32-game stretch of his career. Manning’s completion percentage has spiked to 62.8 percent, with his 65 touchdowns more than doubling his 28 picks. It turns out all Manning needed to prove he wasn’t done was the most explosive receiver in football. Manning is old (35), but the most durable signal caller since Brett Favre, and headed into his third season in Ben McAdoo’s passer-friendly offense. If Manning can match his 2014-15, he’ll be a top-10 quarterback in his 13th year in the league.
10. Falcons, Matt Ryan
Last Year’s Ranking: 4
When does stability become stasis? When your eighth-year starter turns it over as many times as he scores (21). Matt Ryan’s plateau located a valley in 2015, throwing for 4,591 of the emptiest yards in history. Ryan’s squad has now failed to make the playoffs in three straight seasons, and he’s produced just 75 touchdowns in the process. Ryan hasn’t missed a game since 2009, but his management of them has not improved. None of that is to say Ryan is bad. There are teams that would kill for an annual 16-game starter who completes 65 percent of his passes and throws for 4,000 yards in his sleep. It’s just that the next step isn’t coming. Ryan needs an elite supporting to elevate his averageness, and an elite supporting cast is not walking through that door for 2016.
11. Lions, Matthew Stafford
Last Year’s Ranking: 7
Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford. That’s the complete list of quarterbacks to pass for at least 4,200 yards each of the past five seasons. It’s an arbitrary stat, sure, but highlights not just Stafford’s prolificacy, but his durability. Stafford’s career has been nothing if not frustrating, but 2015 was something of a new leaf under interim — and since retained — OC Jim Bob Cooter. Stafford’s 67.2 completion percentage was the fifth-best in the league, and 3.7 points better than his previous career mark. His interception rate, 2.2 percent, barely increased on his strong 2014 number of 2.0. Following Cooter’s hiring, Stafford posted a 19:2 TD:INT ratio over the Lions’ final eight games. It was the best football of Stafford’s career, and the latest stubborn reminder that he very much remains a net positive for his team. Calvin Johnson’s retirement is the haunting specter for 2016, but Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Theo Riddick and Eric Ebron can hardly be considered a bare cupboard. With Stafford, there will be good, bad and sidearm. Don’t let the last two distract from the fact that so many teams can’t even count on the first one.
12. Chargers, Philip Rivers
Last Year’s Ranking: 16
By nearly every account, Philip Rivers remains in his prime. He’s averaged 4,519 yards and 31 touchdowns over his past three campaigns, and completed a dazzling 67.3 percent of his passes. If there’s a problem, it’s not necessarily Rivers’ age (34), but his wheezing finishes the past two seasons. In 2014, Rivers’ quarterback rating for games 1-8 was 109.9. 9-16? 79.2. It was the same story last year, with Rivers’ splits checking in at 102.1 and 84.6. Injury was to blame in 2014, but that’s not comforting for an aging signal caller. The issue last season was a hollowed-out supporting cast, something that should be improved by Travis Benjamin and better injury luck. In theory, Rivers is a prime suspect for a near-future collapse, but even with the 2014-15 fades, his recent numbers are impossible to ignore. Throw in a career that’s featured injury but zero missed games, and you have a well above average quarterback who will probably continue to cheat football death the next 2-3 years.
13. Raiders, Derek Carr
Last Year’s Ranking: 23
Derek Carr was there as a rookie, making 16 starts and showing unusual fortitude. But was he going places? This was much less clear. Carr’s rookie YPA of 5.46 was historically bad, placing him in the company of Blaine Gabbert and Jimmy Clausen. Was Carr a victim of bad circumstance or simply a brave kid who knew how to take a sack without breaking his ribs? Turns out he was both. Carr’s toughness remained the same as a sophomore, but everything else was improved. Playing with a new coaching staff and enhanced supporting cast, Carr’s numbers skyrocketed across the board. His all-important YPA went up by nearly a yard and a half, while his 32 scores tied for seventh league-wide. Blemishes included a turnover-happy stretch run and five sub-200 yard performances, but “resilient playmaker” should be the image that lingers from Carr’s 2015.
14. Bengals, Andy Dalton
Last Year’s Ranking: 21
What is really the difference between Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco? Don’t say the playoffs. Both are durable quarterbacks coming off the first significant injuries of their careers, and both prefer to manage games rather than take them over. Raw numbers is where the separation is found. Dalton has simply been the better player, and his 2015 was easily the best campaign of the duo’s 13 combined seasons. Dalton’s 106.3 QB rating and 8.42 YPA were marks Flacco has never approached. His 25 scores in 13 games were only two fewer than Flacco’s high-water mark of 27. Flacco has the bigger arm, but Dalton is a (slightly) steadier and more accurate passer. The margin is thin, but if you were starting a team today and sorting through the league’s second-tier signal callers, Dalton would be the pick. That’s not a ringing endorsement, but it is life if you’ve missed out on the Mannings and Bradys of the world.
15. Ravens, Joe Flacco
Last Year’s Ranking: 11
Perfect health was the one thing that always set Joe Flacco apart. The Delaware product is no stranger to off years, let alone off games, but he did the same thing each of the first 122 weeks of his career: Start. That changed last November when he tore his ACL and MCL. Flacco is expected to be ready for Week 1, but there is no longer an unassailable part of his résumé. Flacco has mediocre numbers for an eight-year starter, most notably a sub-7.00 YPA and 60.9 completion percentage. Over the past three seasons, he has only 14 more scores (60) than interceptions (46). Flacco has seen marked improvement in his accuracy under Gary Kubiak and Marc Trestman (63.1 percent), but is largely a finished product, one that won’t win without a great supporting cast. That’s something injury robbed him of in 2015. So why is Flacco even this high? There’s a lot to be said for being a finished product, even a non-elite one. The Ravens know what they’re getting out of their big-armed starter, and can plan accordingly. They also know that, at least 95.3 percent of the time, he will be out there under center. Flacco is good enough to win a Super Bowl with. The Flacco experience isn’t always fun, but there are no surprise endings.
16. Dolphins, Ryan Tannehill
Last Year’s Ranking: 10
Ryan Tannehill has spent a good deal of his career maligned. He can’t throw the deep ball. He isn’t a commanding leader. His pocket presence can be … lacking. At best, Tannehill’s progress has been stop and start. There are reasons for this, of course, but getting into them can make you sound like a Sam Bradford truther. Tannehill isn’t the only quarterback who’s had to deal with awful coaching and even worse offensive line play. And yet, for all his issues, Tannehill isn’t Bradford. That might seem like damning with faint praise, but whereas the Bradfords of league always fold up, Tannehill has stayed on the field and gotten (slowly) better. Coming off career highs in yardage (4,208) and yards per attempt (7.18), Tannehill now has his best chance yet at a true breakout campaign. That’s because he finally has a coach. Gone is Joe Philbin, arguably the worst head man of the 21st century, and in is Adam Gase. Tannehill’s new mentor not only oversaw the greatest quarterback season in NFL history, Peyton Manning’s 2013, he made Jay Cutler watchable. Maybe Tannehill, who is already 28 (in July), will never put it all together, but there’s enough clay here for Gase to mold something. At the very least, Gase should be able to turn Tannehill into a 3-4 year answer under center.
17. Jaguars, Blake Bortles
Last Year’s Ranking: 24
Blake Bortles was bad as a rookie. Was he lucky as a sophomore? Coming off a Locker-esque inaugural campaign, Bortles needed to show signs of life in 2015. Does finishing tied for second in touchdowns (35) and seventh in yards (4,428) count? We’d reckon so. But the underlying numbers, while showing undeniable improvement, can be considered skewed. With the Jaguars constantly in comeback or shootout mode, Bortles got to attempt more passes than all but five quarterbacks. His touchdown rate, while brilliant, is unrepeatable. A truly preposterous 87.5 percent of the Jaguars’ offensive scores came through the air. For comparison’s sake, that number was 72 percent in New England and 66.6 percent in New Orleans. Bortles also saw his completion percentage fall from his unimpressive rookie mark of 58.9 percent. His interception rate remained above three percent. All of this is a long way of saying that Bortles has proven he can play, but still has a long ways to go. Bortles has earned at least two more years under center, but he’ll have to show further improvement in 2016 to lock himself in as the Jaguars’ franchise player.
18. Titans, Marcus Mariota
Last Year’s Ranking: 18
Marcus Mariota’s rookie season is why the “incomplete” grade exists. Mariota flashed dangerous playmaking potential, but also struggled downfield. He completed a league-worst 16.7 percent of his passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air. An awful line and shaky receiver corps played a big part, but Mariota won’t last very long without an improved deep ball. More concerning than Mariota’s long game was his health. The dual-threat quarterback injured both his MCLs, costing him four games of development, and casting the durability shadow that usually hounds mobile signal callers. Not that Mariota ran all that much. His 2.8 rushes per game were fewer than Andy Dalton (4.4) and Aaron Rodgers (3.6), amongst others. Ultimately, Mariota neither struggled nor excelled. He kicked the can down the road. The Titans still have one of the league’s most exciting prospects, but that’s what Mariota remains after one year in the league: A prospect.
19. Redskins, Kirk Cousins
Redskins 2015 Rank: 29
Sometimes the crazed fans are right. The cult of Kirk Cousins existed long before he proved he was actually good, but its validation was one of the most surprising storylines of 2015. Named the starter late in camp, Cousins went on to lead the league in completion percentage (69.8). In his first full year under center, Cousins finished 10th in yards (4,166), eighth in YPA (7.67) and 12th in touchdowns (29). He posted a quarterback rating north of 100.0 in each of the Redskins’ final six games as they sprinted toward a division title. You can debate how good Cousins actually was, but you cannot debate that he was good. A tailor-made fit for Jay Gruden’s spread out, pass-happy attack, Cousins has the accuracy and the instincts to nail down Washington’s quarterback position for at least the next 3-4 years.
20. Chiefs, Alex Smith
Last Year’s Ranking: 20
Alex Smith has been in the league 11 years. He’s thrown for more than 20 touchdowns one time. There’s a limit to the amount of offense you’re going to get with Smith under center. To his credit, he keeps nudging it upwards. Smith marked his age-31 season by setting new career highs in both passing yards (3,486) and rushing yards (498). Only three quarterbacks — Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Tyrod Taylor — chewed up more field on the ground. None of the three bettered Smith’s 5.9 yards per carry. Even with the career year, Smith is not how you would draw up a franchise quarterback. Rare in the history of sport has a player been more risk averse. But with just 24 turnovers in three years in Kansas City, Smith’s conservatism is at least producing the desired result. Could a team stomach 10 years of Smith’s brand of football? Probably not. Will the Chiefs roll him out for another two or three? Almost certainly. The game doesn’t have to be beautiful when you manage it as carefully as Smith does.
21. Bears, Jay Cutler
Last Year’s Ranking: 22
Jay Cutler is coming off the cleanest season of his career, but the man responsible, OC Adam Gase, has packed up and left for South Beach. Security blankets Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett are gone, as well, stripping Cutler of much of the armor that fortified him against his disastrous 2014. Now 33, Cutler hasn’t appeared in all 16 games since 2009. On the bright side, 2015 first-rounder Kevin White is healthy after missing his entire rookie campaign, and Cutler’s coaching buddy Dowell Loggains is replacing Gase. Cutler showed last season that he still has good football left in the tank, but with his guaranteed money out after 2016, he is very much a year-to-year proposition for a team in rebuilding mode.
22. Rams, Jared Goff
Rams 2015 Ranking: 26
The Rams have had two good quarterbacks in the past 20 years. One of them, Kurt Warner, was an undrafted free agent. The other, Marc Bulger, was a sixth-round pick. Both were protégés of a generational offensive mind, Mike Martz. Jared Goff? He will not be playing for a generational offensive mind. Jeff Fisher’s take an offense is that it’s a necessary evil, something best approached with the subtlety of a tactical nuke. Runs and screens, runs and screens. Goff, who was successful in college despite not being set up for success, will have to hope the approach translates to the NFL, because he is not being set up for success. He’ll be playing for the league’s least-creative offensive coach behind one of its worst lines. His “No. 1 receiver” is a 5-foot-8 gadget player who has a “I’d Rather Be Playing Running Back” bumper sticker on his car. Goff should clear the lowest bar: Be better than Case Keenum and Nick Foles. But in trying to avoid the same fate as Sam Bradford, he’ll have to work through all the same issues. Uninspired coaching, a shaky supporting cast and an impatient fanbase. Good luck, kid.
23. Cowboys, Tony Romo
Last Year’s Ranking: 13
Tony Romo had a career year in 2014, but is now part of the “when healthy” brigade. Romo remains one of the league’s best quarterbacks … when healthy. He makes the Cowboys a Super Bowl contender … when healthy. For being 36 years old, he is shockingly spry and agile … when healthy. The second career break of Romo’s collarbone cost him seven games last season. The third sidelined him for the final five. The recurring clavicle issues led to an offseason surgery, Romo’s third in four years. That doesn’t include the “minor” back fracture that interrupted his MVP candidacy for one game in 2014. Romo has become one of the best players in Cowboys history, but he is only one injury away from being history. Owner Jerry Jones admitted as much when he lamented not trading up for Memphis QB Paxton Lynch. With no talent to speak of behind Romo on the depth chart, the Cowboys have the most extreme risk/reward quarterback situation in football.
24. Vikings, Teddy Bridgewater
Last Year’s Ranking: 14
It would be too harsh to say the Vikings made the playoffs in spite of Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater played his part, committing a modest 12 turnovers while mostly sticking the football in Adrian Peterson’s gut. On the other hand, it would be far too optimistic to say Bridgewater has claimed “quarterback of the future” status in Minnesota. Bridgewater has managed just 32 total touchdowns in 29 NFL games played, and actually saw his dismal rookie (passing) touchdown rate of 3.5 percent decrease to 3.1 in 2015. Bridgewater doesn’t challenge beyond the immediate area of the field, and is too slight to improve on the 200.5 rushing yards he averaged over his first two seasons. Bridgewater won’t derail the Vikings’ offense in 2016, but barring dramatic improvement, he’s probably not going to stop the team from at least considering life after Teddy.
25. Cardinals, Carson Palmer
Last Year’s Ranking: 25
Carson Palmer was one of the best players in the NFL last season, but ended on the sourest of notes, committing six turnovers in the Cardinals’ NFC Championship Game loss. A finger injury was partly to blame, but rather than serving as a convenient excuse for his struggles that Sunday, it should serve as a reminder of Palmer’s age and fragility. A true statue in the pocket, Palmer was limited to six games by ACL and nerve issues in 2014, and is one of the league’s biggest injury risks under center. When you throw in the Cardinals’ continued lack of a plan behind their starter, their quarterback situation becomes the most volatile this side of Romo. Arizona’s 2016 ceiling is a Super Bowl title, but the floor is a losing campaign where the likes of Drew Stanton and Matt Barkley are forced to make over half the starts.
Eagles 2015 Ranking: 27
Sam Bradford can’t even get overpaid in a normal fashion. Already one of the most marked up players in NFL history, Bradford somehow got $26 million more guaranteed on March 1. That should have been the end of the story. 2016’s Peak Bradford before so much as a pass was thrown. But one of the laws of Peak Bradford is that there is no such thing as Peak Bradford. Things can always get more Bradford. So eight days later, the Eagles made Chase Daniel one of the league’s highest-paid backups. But not even that was Peak Bradford. Not quite done building up Bradford’s world before burning it all down again, the Eagles surrendered an enormous amount of draft capital to move up to No. 2 overall and select Carson Wentz. Now the Eagles have three quarterbacks, and contrary to the old cliché, it does not mean they have zero quarterbacks. They have three ready to play this instant, with the only certainty being the job should be Wentz’s by 2017. The future is probably bright, but it has to get past a dim present first.
27. Bills, Tyrod Taylor
Bills 2015 Ranking: 32
The Bills are the blind squirrel and Taylor is the nut. The Bills came into last season with the most hopeless quarterback situation in all of football. Making barely $1 million, Taylor shined a light at the tunnel’s end. A 2011 sixth-rounder, Taylor entered 2015 with 35 career attempts and zero starts. He was a 57.2 percent passer in the ACC. There was little reason to expect him to pay off. Named the starter in the final days of camp, Taylor set about making plays from Week 1, turning in a 7.99 YPA and 20:6 TD:INT ratio. Only Cam Newton managed more yards on the ground amongst quarterbacks. So why isn’t the Bills’ situation ranked higher? Because not even they are willing to commit to Taylor beyond 2016. GM Doug Whaley is slow playing Taylor’s expiring contract. He has reason to do so. Playmaker that he was, Taylor was as raw as you would expect from a 26-year-old dual threat making his first NFL starts. Taylor exposed himself to injury far too often, and ran as hot and cold as Tim Tebow. More than once, Taylor went an entire half without making a play. Taylor was a 2015 surprise, but could easily be a 2016 disappointment.
Broncos 2015 Ranking: 17
In reality, there’s no way Denver’s quarterback play can be worse than it was last season. Peyton Manning was the worst starter in the league, and fill-in Brock Osweiler was uneven at best. But even if the situation can’t get worse, it’s only in the embryonic stages of getting better. No. 26 overall pick Paxton Lynch is probably the rawest first-rounder since E.J. Manuel, and his mentor Mark Sanchez is … Mark Sanchez. It’s going to be a take-your-lumps year under center for the Broncos, with the focus being on Lynch showing signs of life for 2017. To do so, Lynch will have to make major strides on the ball placement and mechanics he displayed on college film. GM John Elway was right not to overpay Osweiler, but his 2016 plan will likely require tapping into some of the considerable goodwill he’s built up since taking over for Brian Xanders.
29. Texans, Brock Osweiler
Texans 2015 Ranking: 31
Maybe Brock Osweiler really is worth $72 million. All we know for sure is that he’s a 25-year-old former second-rounder with 11 career touchdowns. The last time Osweiler was on the field, he was getting benched for the remains of Peyton Manning. Osweiler offers ideal size, plus athleticism and a decent arm, but had glaring flaws as a first-year starter. Osweiler suffered numerous second half implosions, and often failed to see beyond his first read. When option one was covered, Osweiler tended to hold onto the ball too long before taking a sack. That’s the glass half empty assessment of his arrival in Houston. If we want to get half full about it, Osweiler will be working with a coach who has made Christian Hackenberg and Brian Hoyer watchable. Bill O’Brien clearly believes Osweiler can be molded into something. Some benefit of the doubt is warranted here. The same can be said for healthy skepticism.
49ers 2015 Ranking: 19
Chip Kelly could be the best thing that’s ever happened to Colin Kaepernick, but that didn’t stop Kap from spending the entire offseason trying to force his way out of San Francisco. Now stuck with his on-paper savior, Kap is also stuck with something else: A quarterback competition. Kelly is famous for his success with dual-threat quarterbacks in college, but fancying himself an iconoclast, he’s time and again gone with pure pocket creatures in the pros. That’s why the possibility that Kelly might buy into Blaine Gabbert’s 2015 “revival” cannot be written off out of hand. It’s also possible that Kap is simply unsalvageable. The only thing steady about his recent play has been its downward trajectory. There’s a universe where Kap and Kelly save each other’s careers, but many more where things go wrong.
Browns 2015 Ranking: 30
When last we left Robert Griffin III, he was overwhelmed, overmatched and getting utterly dominated … in the preseason. He was no longer recognizable as the player who galvanized a city and set numerous rookie records in 2012. That’s what quarterback whisperer Hue Jackson is up against as he takes on the daunting task of solving the thus far unsolvable puzzle of Cleveland’s quarterback situation. If — when? — Griffin falters, ancient veteran Josh McCown and game-managing rookie Cody Kessler will be all that stands between the Browns and taking a signal caller at No. 1 overall in 2017. There’s a little bit of everything in Cleveland’s quarterback room. Griffin offers hope, McCown a steady hand and Kessler a lottery ticket. The one thing all three share in common is the strong possibility of not being the answer.
32. Jets, Various Players
Jets 2015 Ranking: 28
Ryan Fitzpatrick was the Jets’ best quarterback since Chad Pennington. So naturally they’re playing hardball with him, making him toil for a lowball offer. If the Ivy League-educated Fitz decides to cut his losses and move on with his life — there have been reports that he is willing to retire — Gang Green will have a Three Stooges episode where their quarterback room is supposed to be. Geno Smith has a career 72.3 QB rating. Christian Hackenberg hasn’t been good since he was a freshman in college. Bryce Petty is just now learning what an “under” coverage is from Madden. Fitzpatrick, of course, is no one’s idea of a franchise player, but he’s Joe Montana compared to the trio left in his wake. The Jets will vie for a Wild Card spot if they bring back Fitz. They’ll compete for the No. 1 overall pick if they don’t.