In Episode 10 of NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2019," four quarterbacks -- Aaron Rodgers (No. 8), Tom Brady (6), Patrick Mahomes (4) and Drew Brees (2) -- were revealed between Nos. 1 and 10. With that in mind, NFL Network analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner provides his own ranking of the top 10 quarterbacks heading into the 2019 regular season.
Training camps are well underway, and providing a quarterback ranking is the perfect gasoline to keep the fire burning until we get to actual football. Right now, it's my turn to stoke the flames.
During the regular season, I discuss my top five quarterbacks weekly during the #KurtsTop5 segment of "NFL Total Access," in which I break down QB play from the previous week. (Side note: This segment lists and highlights WEEKLY plays; it is not a career achievement list, as the social media world seems to insist it is every week. Come on, guys.)
Today, I give you my #KurtsTop10 list ahead of the 2019 season. Again, this is simply a ranking of the quarterbacks who I feel are the best in the game RIGHT NOW. To eliminate some foreseeable disagreements (knowing we can't eliminate them all), I have supplied three factors I took into account when making my evaluations.
1) How does the QB play in the biggest moments? This includes third-down and red-zone situations, how he plays in the final two minutes of a half or a game when plays must be made and, finally, how he performs on the biggest stages in the postseason.
2) Decision-making. Many break this down into a touchdown-to-interception ratio, but for me, it goes much deeper. I weigh whether the passer made the right decision on each and every play, which can mean varying statistical results. It includes questions like: Did he make the right read? Did he force a throw into coverage? Did he execute the timing, velocity and trajectory of a throw? Did he throw the ball away when needed? Did he take a sack when he didn't need to? Or was taking a sack the best thing to do in the given situation? I realize this is a big category, but that's what goes into playing the toughest position in sports.
3) Winning. We are in the business of winning games and competing for championships (and our jobs). So which players give their teams the best chance to win each and every time they step on the field? Yes, it's a team game, and no quarterback can win a game by himself, but no position has a greater impact on the success of the team than this one. Thus, it has to factor in.
I know he is another year older (he'll be 42 on Saturday), and we are waiting for the glass slipper to fall off. That said, my job is not to project when that's going to happen; rather, it is to weigh what I see on Sundays. After reading the criteria above, I'm not sure anyone can argue with Brady being at the top of my list. Who has been better in big moments -- both last season and throughout his career -- than this guy? He is consistently one of the best decision-makers in all of football, especially when you look at his touchdown-to-interception ratio (217:56 over the last seven seasons). Oh, yeah ... and winning. No quarterback in the history of the game has been better at winning than No. 12, who won the Super Bowl in his first season as a starter in 2001 (trust me, I remember that one) and his most recent season as a starter, at the age of 41. Incredible.
I'm not going to deny that there may be some form of bias at work in Brees' placement at this spot, but I also feel he is more than deserving of it. You see, I am not sure there is anyone who plays (or played) the position so similarly to how I did when I was in the league. Brees' ability to see the field, make quick decisions and throw with uncanny accuracy are second to none in today's NFL. He smashed the league's single-season completion-percentage record (74.4) last season, breaking his own mark set the season before. We could all argue it's due to the nature of the modern NFL and how many more passes are thrown at, or close to, the line of scrimmage. But simply pop on the tape and watch each and every throw he makes -- watch the when, the where and the how of each pass (or come watch with me, and I'll show you), and you'll witness greatness. Yes, his numbers weren't as gaudy last season as they have been in the past (Brees failed to clear the 4,000-yard mark for the first time since 2005), but his control of the game and the football were as good as ever. I mean, over the past two seasons, he was two fluke plays away from advancing in the playoffs and adding another Super Bowl appearance to his resume.
It is always difficult to rank an individual who has such a limited body of work, but when that limited work is so special, you have to weigh it differently. The hard part is, while last season was his first as an NFL starting quarterback, he was also the best quarterback in football in 2018, so wouldn't that make him No. 1? I could make that argument, but I don't want to put that kind of pressure on a 23-year-old kid who is still developing as a quarterback (which is scary, given that he just threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns while winning the MVP award). Very few can bottle up a spectacular season and repeat it, but I do believe -- based off what I saw last season -- this young man will be great again in 2019.
He was as good in the pocket with his decision-making as he was outside of it, which says a lot, because all people want to talk about are his no-look passes and 40-yard across-the-body bombs. Mahomes has shown he has the ability to beat defenders conventionally or by playing backyard, sandlot football. No matter how he plays the game, though, the young passer knows how to win.
There are many people who are so enamored with Rodgers' arm talent that they would rank him fourth or higher based on that trait alone. Good thing I have never really been in awe of the physical gifts (maybe because I didn't have them). Rather, I'm evaluating quarterbacks on how they play the position. Rodgers is very similar to Mahomes in that they are almost equally effective inside and outside the pocket. The veteran has a quick release, can make every throw and is deadly if the defense doesn't keep him in the pocket. Rodgers excels in all of the above-named criteria, but there is one thing keeping him outside of my top three: his decision-making and timing inside the pocket. Rodgers is too quick to bail on his conventional reads, and he's too eager to make something special happen outside the pocket. If Rodgers is able to get back to playing conventional football inside the pocket, coupled with his physical ability and uniqueness outside of it, I won't be surprised if the Packers signal-caller tops this list by season's end.
We're all interested to see how Big Ben fares after losing the other two components of the Killer Bs (receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell) over the offseason. I think it'll be business as usual for the veteran passer. Roethlisberger might not lead the NFL in passing yards like he did in 2018, but I have no doubt he'll keep the Steelers in every game, as the 16th-year pro has done throughout his tenure in the league. What has impressed me most about Big Ben is his ability to win games in so many different ways. Early in his career, he made plays off-schedule. Then he transitioned to making big throws downfield with his strong arm. Now, he makes quick decisions and gets the ball out of his hands on time. It's the completeness with which he plays the position that gives him a slight edge over Russell Wilson. Speaking of ...
There is so much to like about Wilson, who ranks high in all three criteria. Few NFL quarterbacks are better at making big plays in critical moments, and with Wilson under center, the Seahawks are never out of any game. I would have no problem placing him higher on this list, and it's easily justifiable, with him being the highest-paid quarterback in the league. But here are two reasons why he lands at No. 6. First, he plays in a run-first offense and, thus, isn't asked to make as many plays through the air as others in this list -- Wilson ranked 20th in the NFL with 427 attempts last season. (Though I realize that is no fault of his own, and he's a huge threat in the ground game, which is part of why Seattle has ranked in the top four in rushing yards in five of his seven NFL seasons.) Second, Wilson must continue to improve on making quicker reads and throws on time within the structure of the Seahawks' offense. Once he does this, he will climb the ranks, as he meets other criteria with flying colors.
Rivers isn't flashy, but his competitiveness and leadership set him apart from a lot of players at the position. The eight-time Pro Bowler is excellent at reading defenses, getting the ball out on time and throwing accurately -- the reasons he has been able to play as well in his late 30s as he did early in his career. Rivers ranks seventh because, although he has made numerous big plays in his career (Rivers ranks second in the NFL with 720 passes of 20-plus yards since becoming the Chargers' starter in 2006, per Pro Football Reference), he just hasn't shown the ability to play his absolute best football in the biggest moments consistently (5-6 playoff record, with a career postseason passer rating of 84.2). The Chargers great will always be referred to as one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history, but I'm not sure he'll get the recognition he deserves until he leads his team to more postseason success.
You could argue that the Ryan played better last season than he did in his MVP campaign of 2016. The 12th-year pro continues to show the ability to carry more of the load on his right arm, which is essential for the QBs on my list. Although Ryan has demonstrated consistent improvement in many areas, the most impressive aspect of his game is his ability to make chunk plays. According to Next Gen Stats, Ryan has been one of the best deep-passing quarterbacks since 2016. In that span, on throws of 20-plus air yards, Ryan ranks fourth in completion percentage (39.4) and passing yards (2,613), is tied for fifth in touchdowns (23) and ranks first in passer rating (117.7) among quarterbacks with a minimum of 75 such attempts. Being consistently accurate at those distances is extremely difficult, and Atlanta's QB1 does it as well as anyone.
Luck bounced back in a big way -- earning the 2018 Comeback Player of the Year award -- after one year and eight months away from game action. I expected Luck to be rusty, but it appeared as if he was even better than the last time he took a snap. He has always shown command when reading defenses and making throws, which he does with a great combination of touch and velocity, making his passes some of the most catchable in the NFL. Luck's total of 39 touchdown passes last season was one shy of his career high, evident of how good he is when kept upright. The Colts' offensive line improved greatly; in 2016, Luck was sacked 41 times, but last season, Indianapolis gave up a league-low 18 sacks, allowing Luck time to make his reads and good decisions with the football. With an up-and-coming young defense (ranked 11th overall) and better protection, Luck became a smarter quarterback in 2018.
Newton is one of the most difficult quarterbacks to rank because he plays the position so differently compared to almost any quarterback we have ever seen. The 2015 league MVP continues to have some deficiencies as a passer, but he showed improvement last season in several areas, including a career-high 67.9 percent completion rate (more than 6% higher than in any other season). Newton more than makes up for the areas in which he lags behind (his inconsistency in the pocket) by generating big plays in big moments. The reason his "big plays" may not show up on the stat sheet is because most of them are 1-yard runs on third-and-short or at the goal line rather than big-yardage gainers. Newton plays the position differently by almost every metric, but what makes him the same as every other quarterback on this list is the impact he has on each play.