QB Index: Tom Brady's still the 1; Dak Prescott's a star

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Dak Prescott makes me want to pause the Game Pass and tell someone about the latest dart he threw after gliding from the pocket. But it's late, and my wife couldn't pretend to care.

I want to tell her that this just doesn't happen in the NFL. A quarterback taken with a fourth-round compensatory pick doesn't just step into the starting lineup and lead his team to the most first downs and 10-play drives in the NFL through five weeks.

This is the type of story that starts to feel normal as the weeks pile up. Roughly one third of the season is over, so another heady, accurate performance from Prescott is par for this new course. Oh, of course Prescott barely threw one off-target pass in a convincing win without Dez Bryant. That's what Dak does.

Don't explain away Prescott by saying the Cowboys' offensive line and running game is a huge part of Prescott's success. Thanks for the tip. Tell me you've seen the traits that can be isolated from his teammates. When Prescott does get pressured, he delivers. He creates space to throw and goes through his progressions better than a rookie Russell Wilson. Dak takes what the defense gives him and knows when to give up on a play like a veteran.

If Prescott was drafted No. 4 overall by the Cowboys instead of No. 135, there would be more buy-in that this fast start is no fluke. That it's the start of something big, like Carson Wentz in Philadelphia.

My highly imperfect grading ranks both rookies in the top 10 of this week's QB Index, ahead of names like Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Philip Rivers. That rank could be conservative. Prescott is No. 2 in ESPN's QBR metric, with Wentz 15th. They are both in the top five according to Pro Football Focus.

After making NFL quarterbacking look incredibly easy in the preseason, Prescott is five weeks into making the regular season look like a breeze, too. The sample size isn't so small now. Prescott and Wentz are the stories of this season. Tell your loved ones.

This is the Quarterback Index. Each week, we rank every starter based on 2016 performance alone. Last week's rankings are listed parenthetically for context.

Top shelf

1) Tom Brady, New England Patriots (Last week: NR)

2) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (LW: 1)

3) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 3)

4) Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (LW: 2)

5) Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders (LW: 5)

Carr is a hard quarterback to put in a box. Comparisons to Brett Favre have been floated, yet Carr is too careful for that. On third-and-long, Carr is one of the most likely quarterbacks to hit his checkdown receiver and set up Oakland's rock-star punter. Then again, Carr is the same guy who checks out of a safe play on a crucial fourth down to throw it deep to Michael Crabtree.

While Carr undoubtedly has a big arm, no other quarterback tosses lobs when the situation requires it quite like him. He changes speeds like a relief pitcher, innately knowing the right pitch for the right moment. He can have weeks where he plays by the book, and then a game like Sunday's win over the Chargers where he gets fancy. Combine a versatile skill set and an allergy to sacks or interceptions, and you have a top-five quarterback.

I sort these rankings by an average score, and Brady's start was one of the best performances by any quarterback this season. The improved team around him will help Brady stay near the top. Also, he's Tom Brady.

There isn't a lot separating the top 10 thus far. The players with the biggest highs (Roethlisberger, Rodgers, Luck) have thrown in a stinker. The steadiest options (Carr, Ryan, Wentz, Prescott) aren't hitting the same peaks, or they aren't asked to do as much.

Noted scientist Chris Wesseling moved Roethlisberger above Aaron Rodgers in his own, slightly more existential version of the QB Index. Big move.

Next level

6) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (LW: 8)

7) Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 4)

8) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (LW: 6)

9) Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (LW: 11)

10) Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings (LW: 13)

11) Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (LW: 10)

12) Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers (LW: 15)

13) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (LW: 7)

Sam Bradford is making his teammates better, and Sam Bradford displays incredible toughness, and Sam Bradford is blowing my mind on a weekly basis, and it's glorious. Every year in July, we know that the upcoming season will feature stories more fantastical than the boldest of predictions, yet we never see something like this coming. If Bradford can excel without Stefon Diggs in a game where Vikings left tackle T.J. Clemmings did everything possible to get Bradford maimed, then he can excel in any game. Bradford's passes are falling out of the sky from the college scouting reports of Oklahoma games I never watched. I get it now.

The Eagles started to mix in some designed runs last week, which figure to be a bigger part of Wentz's game in the second half of this season. His athleticism makes him fun to watch, but one trait he shares with Prescott is a comfort level for simply chilling in the pocket for as long as it's prudent. Players like Ryan Tannehill and Tyrod Taylor often bail too soon.

Middle men

14) Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (LW: 9)

15) Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 12)

16) Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens (LW: 14)

17) Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos (LW: 16)

18) Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals (LW: 17)

Last Thursday's Cardinals win made it look like Bruce Arians has mishandled his backup quarterback situation. The Arizona coach hasn't developed any young options behind Palmer -- remember Logan Thomas? -- and Arians' hand-picked reserve, Drew Stanton, played like he was incapable of helping the Cardinals against most any team except the 49ers. The Patriots have provided a blueprint that more teams should follow: Keep drafting quarterbacks, no matter who you have as a starter.

It is not a good sign for Dalton when the Cowboys' meager pass rush sacks him four times. Both Bengals running backs are also under 4 yards per carry, another sign that Cincinnati's offensive line has fallen off.

Mixed bag of mixed play

19) Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 18)

20) Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills (LW: 20)

21) Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 19)

22) Brian Hoyer, Chicago Bears (LW: 25)

23) Eli Manning, New York Giants (LW: 21)

24) Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins (LW: 23)

25) Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans (LW: 27)

26) Cody Kessler, Cleveland Browns (LW: 30)

The Giants have a confusing offensive identity. They want to play fast and have the second-fastest pace of any offense early this season, but they can't sustain drives. Once aggressive to a fault, Eli now might be playing too passively. Manning didn't attack Green Bay's banged-up secondary on Sunday, and he was all too eager to throw the ball 3 yards on third-and-long. The 13th-year pro is playing in a frenetic manner more typical of a young quarterback. Giants coach Ben McAdoo looks confused, too.

Hoyer is proving again he can put together stretches where he plays like a solid starting quarterback. Asking him to do it for a whole season is asking too much.

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was ready to play for overtime Monday night, having lost confidence in Winston. Thankfully, Panthers coach Ron Rivera started taking timeouts, and Jameis responded with a few sharp sideline throws that helped get the Bucs their second win. The start of the Koetter era has me worried about Winston's next few years, just like Mike Mularkey doesn't inspire confidence regarding Mariota's development.

It's uncanny how Cousins plays worse than his box score every week. Maybe this is the perfect formula for coach Jay Gruden and general manager Scot McCloughan. Cousins is making the decision easy about not handing him a long-term deal while winning enough games to keep the heat off his bosses.

Disappointments of all ages

27) Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans (LW: 22)

28) Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets (LW: 28)

29) Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins (LW: 24)

30) Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 26)

31) Case Keenum, Los Angeles Rams (LW: 29)

32) Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers (LW: 31)

Every Brock Osweiler start has a few common traits, starting with a long stretch of struggling. The Texans regularly don't move the ball for entire halves at a time. On Sunday in Minnesota, it lasted until garbage time. Protection is not the only issue. He doesn't look comfortable, even when he has time to throw, and he misses some routine throws. Osweiler has Kaepernick disease: Every throw is a fastball, which hurts him on the short stuff. After one bad miss against the Vikings, Osweiler walked off the field like a sad George Michael Bluth, looking as if he wished he had never left Denver.

Oh, and on the subject of Colin Kaepernick -- he'll be making his debut in these rankings next week. Chip Kelly announced that the former franchise building block will get the start in San Francisco's visit to Buffalo, so we'll have some 2016 tape to assess. Gabbert leaves these rankings where he started a month ago: at No. 32.

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