QB Index: Midseason Starter Rankings 1-32


Midseason Report time at NFL Media is a week for reflection, celebration and useless awards. It's a time to take stock of what's happened before this hyperspeed season hits Thanksgiving and things really get weird.


This has been the most disruptive half season in the three years I've written the Quarterback Index. Try to find an August column expecting Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer to play like top-five options. Preseason top-10 picks Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning cratered. Franchise quarterbacks with $15 million McContracts like Colin Kaepernick, Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill have collapsed.

Yet we know so many of these stories will transform down the stretch. Bradford could still get that long-term deal if he turns it around. Luck can still save Pagano's job. Peyton Manning can still get his Elway goodbye. We've got a long way to go.

This is the Quarterback Index. The rankings below are based on this season's play only. I've included their quarter season rankings in parentheses.

Alone at the top

1. Tom Brady (2)

Brady has been dancing on the embers of those Jimmy Garoppolo thinkpieces since the day Judge Richard Berman saved the NFL from itself. All of those corny takes about Brady going on a ruthless tour of vengeance have come true. Brady hasn't played anything close to an average game yet. New England's scoreless first quarter against Pittsburgh was the last scoreless quarter the Patriots have played this season. He's getting talked up as the GOAT instead of being mocked for holding baby goats.

Top Shelf

2. Carson Palmer (3)
3. Aaron Rodgers (1)
4. Andy Dalton (5)
5. Ben Roethlisberger (N/A)

Imagine if Aaron Rodgers' last three games were his first three games of the season. There would be far more "What's wrong with Rodgers?" pieces. The disaster in Denver, however, was proof it's not about Rodgers. His receivers aren't winning early in the down. The coaching staff is struggling to scheme Randall Cobb open. The usually steady pass protection couldn't survive the Broncos, but few teams can. Green Bay needs more than Rodgers making magic after his first two reads are taken away. Potential NFC playoff opponents like Carolina, Arizona and Seattle all possess terrific defensive backfields and the Packers need to climb out of their rut.

Big Ben's fourth-quarter meltdown against the Bengals was given a pass because he was coming off injury. He was the hottest quarterback in the league before he hurt his knee in Week 3, so it will be interesting to see how fast he can regain that level. ... Dalton is also coming off his worst performance of the season. The Bengals had nine first downs through three quarters. But we've seen too much from Dalton 2.0 to believe a backslide is coming. It's also telling Dalton's worst game by far came on a day they scored 10 points in the final five minutes to win in Pittsburgh.

Top-10 Talent

6. Cam Newton (6)
7. Philip Rivers (7)
8. Russell Wilson (8)
9. Drew Brees (10)
10. Derek Carr (12)
11. Matt Ryan (4)

Yes, we're going 11 deep in top-10 talent because there is a huge drop after this tier. Everyone but Wilson is coming off a very strong game, including Brees' record-tying day. You could start to see Brees' outing against the Giants coming. He played much better in the second quarter of the season overall, with the Saints' offense gaining rhythm after the win over Atlanta on Thursday Night Football. It wasn't that long ago when Brees' shoulder injury looked like a permanent problem. ... It's been a strange season for Ryan. He has often struggled in wins, and played his best game of the season Sunday in a home loss to the Bucs.

Rivers has done the most with the biggest obstacles. Losing Keenan Allen for the season to a lacerated kidney is the biggest obstacle yet. ... I'm still getting used to seeing Carr's name among the stars, but he's continued to improve as the season wears on. A franchise quarterback changes everything, and Carr could very well get a lot of folks paid in Oakland over the next five years.

Next Level

12. Eli Manning (9)
13. Joe Flacco (14)
14. Tyrod Taylor (17)
15. Teddy Bridgewater (13)
16. Jay Cutler (18)
17. Ryan Fitzpatrick (25)
18. Blake Bortles (21)
19. Peyton Manning (15)
20. Jameis Winston (27)
21. Alex Smith (22)

Peyton Manning doesn't reveal much to the media, but it was telling he told NBC's Al Michaels that "indecision creates inaccuracy" when talking about his early season struggles. Manning played fast and decisive against Green Bay, often throwing deep. He focused on passes up the seam where his arm strength is not an issue. He treated Demaryius Thomas like the true No. 1 he is. The running game finished drives for him. Just like Tom Brady a year ago, Manning could rise up these rankings quickly with a strong second half.

Manning had quietly thrown a handful of very nice passes throughout October, even during his slump. He just was too indecisive in big moments. Now he can break the all-time wins and passing yards record in the house that he built in Indianapolis. Something tells me there will be sleepless nights in the Irsay home this week. The pressure around that team looks suffocating. ... Winston is on schedule. His Week 7 game in Washington was as impressive as any Marcus Mariota game this year, with a ton of big-time throws. He came back to Earth against Atlanta, yet still made the key plays in overtime to get a Bucs win.

With Andy Dalton playing so well, Alex Smith now feels like the prime meridian of starting quarterbacks. If your starter is playing at a level below Smith, something needs to change.

After Smith

22. Josh McCown (31)
23. Ryan Tannehill (26)
24. Brian Hoyer (N/A)
25. Nick Foles (19)
26. Kirk Cousins (23)
27. Sam Bradford (24)
28. Andrew Luck (16)
29. Matthew Stafford (20)
30. Matt Cassel (N/A)
31. Colin Kaepernick (28)
32. Zach Mettenberger (N/A)

Benching Kaepernick was an act of mercy. His performance against the Rams on Sunday felt like a cry for help, and was tough to watch for anyone that enjoyed his bionic run to the Super Bowl in 2012. The coaches showed no confidence in Kaepernick and his poor throws were stuff you don't see in the NFL often. It looked like the weight of this season overwhelmed him, and he couldn't see straight. It's like he listens to all those bad hot takes out there, including one from my friend Anthony Jeselnik on our new podcast. (Plug!) ... Jeff Fisher would rather play football without quarterbacks, and is nearing his ideal vision. Nick Foles is such an afterthought on the Rams besides a few deep shots each game. Those plays usually either result in an overthrow or a Kenny Britt drop.

Bradford enjoyed a clean game in Carolina before the bye. He looked more comfortable in the pocket and was protected well. Perhaps he will enjoy a Manning-like boost after a week off. .. There's not much left to say on Luck we didn't say last week. Hopefully new coordinator Rob Chudzinski will pick up the tempo and get Luck on the move more. My preseason No. 3 quarterback fell 13 spots in the first quarter, and another 12 this time. He can't fall much further.