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Midseason QB Index: Tom Brady, Carson Wentz wow

Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson's fireworks spectacular on Sunday in Seattle detonated one of the dumber hot takes I've heard during this season. The future of the quarterback position in the NFL is just fine, thanks.

Watson's incredible deep ball, leadership and ability to improvise mark a natural evolution from Wilson, who has already established himself at the top of the game. Texans coach Bill O'Brien's creative adaptation to Watson's skill set should be an example to NFL coaches who routinely struggle to build around a young quarterback's strengths. Six of the top-10 quarterbacks in my full midseason quarterback rankings below are 28 years old or younger. Four of them -- Watson, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott and Marcus Mariota -- haven't even sniffed 25.

(UPDATE: Watson suffered a tear in his right ACL in practice on Thursday, ending his season.)

While the young guns have risen, established franchise quarterbacks like Joe Flacco, Eli Manning and Andy Dalton have routinely failed to transcend their surroundings. Mobility matters, especially in a league with an epidemic of poor offensive line play. This crop of young quarterbacks isn't just a boon for the future of the position, but will largely tell the story of the 2017 season. They're already here.

This is the Quarterback Index. The QBs are ranked based on 2017 play only. For the midseason rankings, the updated list reflects changes from the quarter mark.

Forget about outlasting Peyton Manning. Brady has now outlasted young competition like Jimmy Garoppolo in New England in part because Brady is moving like a younger man. Following Aaron Rodgers' injury, Brady is far ahead of the pack in my grading system, just like he is at Pro Football Focus. He's my pick for midseason MVP.

 **2017 stats:** 8 games | 66.7 pct | 2,541 pass yds | 8.2 ypa | 16 pass TD | 2 INT 

Are the Seahawks finally a passing team? Wilson has the deepest, healthiest, in-form group of receivers of his career with Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett now helping out Doug Baldwin. Wilson has made more big plays from the pocket since the bye week and the acquisition of tackle Duane Brown bodes well for the rest of the season.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 63.6 pct | 2,008 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 15 pass TD | 4 INT | 194 rush yds | 1 TD 

You know it's been a strange season when Smith seems almost too reliant on big plays. He has missed a few more throws in the past three weeks than his scorching first five games, but it's still been the best half season of Smith's career.

 **2017 stats:** 8 games | 69.1 pct | 2,181 pass yds | 8.4 ypa | 16 pass TD | 0 INT | 154 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

His Week 8 performance against the 49ers was a fine microcosm of his season, with periods of stagnant offensive play interrupted by feats of brilliance.

 **2017 stats:** 8 games | 61 pct | 2,063 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 19 pass TD | 5 INT | 203 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

 Brandin Cooks is gone. 
 Willie Snead barely plays. The 
 Saints aren't even in the top 10 
 in passing attempts and barely throw to tight ends anymore. It's been a season of transition in New Orleans -- away from what we knew about this Brees-Sean Payton offense to a safer approach -- and Brees is handling it all beautifully. This is the first 
 Saints team since perhaps 2011 
 with legitimate hopes to make a deep run in the playoffs. 
 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 70.6 pct | 1,951 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 11 pass TD | 4 INT 

While Deshaun Watson is rightly one of the biggest stories in the NFL, last year's Next Big Thing has quietly served notice that he's not going anywhere. (It's amazing that a Cowboys quarterback can quietly do anything, but this is what happens when the team's running back, owner and former quarterback are all bigger national stories.)

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 62.8 pct | 1,569 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 14 pass TD | 4 INT | 168 rush yds | 3 rush TD 

TyGod is a poor man's Russell Wilson as a passer and one of the best pure movers at the quarterback position I've ever seen. Taylor's fantastic season has come with him running less and using his feet to buy more time to find his rag-tag group of receivers down the field. Tuesday's trade for Kelvin Benjamin gives Taylor a real chance to end this season in the playoffs and then Hawaii.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 63.8 pct | 1,343 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 8 pass TD | 2 INT | 175 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

With every ensuing teardrop deep throw delivered right on the money, I'm reminded of Watson's college evaluations that questioned his deep ball. It's a reminder that college offenses often don't showcase a player's full skill set and that, well, 22-year-olds can improve when football becomes their profession.

 *(**UPDATE:** Watson suffered a tear in his right ACL in practice on Thursday, ending his season.)* 
 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 61.8 pct | 1,699 pass yds | 8.3 ypa | 19 pass TD | 8 INT | 269 rush yds | 2 rush TD 

If you squinted through the New Jersey rain last Sunday and overlooked the center-snap exchange issues, Ryan had one of his most encouraging performances of the season. Drops killed three drives on an afternoon where Ryan was consistently on target and made some high-level throws.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 65.9 pct | 1,844 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 9 pass TD | 6 INT 

The schedule gods gave Mariota the Colts and Browns to face with an injured hamstring. Perhaps that makes up for Mariota suddenly learning how to play without a consistent running game to support him, especially in short-yardage situations.

 **2017 stats:** 6 games | 62.5 pct | 1,301 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 4 pass TD | 4 INT | 124 rush yds | 3 rush TD 

Roethlisberger had his best half of the season to open the team's win over the Bengals. In the six quarters that followed, the Steelers called 50 runs and 39 passes, excluding kneel-downs. This is an organization that now plays to its running game and defense.

 **2017 stats:** 8 games | 61.1 pct | 2,062 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 10 pass TD | 9 INT 

I didn't think it was possible for the Panthers to put more on Newton's plate, but Tuesday's trade of Kelvin Benjamin pulled it off. Newton has gained more than double the rushing yards of the team's No. 8 overall running back Christian McCaffery and now the team's receiving attack is led by Devin Funchess and Ed Dickson.

 **2017 stats:** 8 games | 63.1 pct | 1,841 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 10 pass TD | 11 INT | 255 rush yds | 3 rush TD 

Is Stafford a few spots too high on this list because of his incredible amount of "wow" throws in an otherwise so-so season? We all have our blind spots.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 60.4 pct | 1,851 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 12 pass TD | 4 INT 

The Raiders' performance in Buffalo was typical of Carr's season. Oakland has the fewest plays of any offense in the league, in part because of its sagging defense and amount of turnovers. Too much of the Raiders' attack relies on jump balls to wideouts who aren't making plays.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 64.6 pct | 1,654 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 12 pass TD | 6 INT 

The last few seasons have included Rivers starting fast before a dramatic second-half fade, exacerbated by offensive line injuries. The pass protection is better this season, so perhaps Rivers can reverse the trend.

 **2017 stats:** 8 games | 60.5 pct | 2,028 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 13 pass TD | 6 INT 

Cousins is a solid NFL starter whose yardage is inflated by a lot of screen passes, yards after catch and open receivers. He's largely the function of the players around him, making this median ranking sensible.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 67.9 pct | 1,900 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 13 pass TD | 4 INT | 121 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

Consider it a great sign the Rams were able to get wins over the Jaguars and Cardinals without Goff needing to do that much. The bad news: He has increasingly struggled when not protected well as the season wears on, ranking No. 28 by Pro Football Focus when under pressure. The good news: He's not under pressure that much. Goff shows off progress in other areas on a weekly basis, including his ability to get the Rams into the right play before the snap.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 59.9 pct | 1,719 pass yds | 7.7 ypa | 9 pass TD | 4 INT 

Aside from a strong outing in Buffalo, this Buccaneers offense has failed to stay in rhythm all season. Winston's shoulder injury probably impacted his accuracy in Week 8 against the Panthers, although it's not like Winston has been on the money or had great timing with his receivers otherwise. He's ranked in the top 13 by PFF and DVOA, so maybe I'm missing something.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 61.8 pct | 1,853 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 10 pass TD | 6 INT 

Before his arm injury, Palmer was a great test to see which analysts were actually watching the games this season. While far from his 2014-15 peak, Palmer was throwing the ball well after an ugly season opener set the national narrative. Context is needed when a quarterback is supported by the league's worst running game, according to Football Outsiders, and the league's worst pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 61.4 pct | 1,978 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 9 pass TD | 7 INT 

It's unfortunate for the journeyman quarterback that the best stretch of his career could soon be ended by Teddy Bridgewater taking over as the Vikings starter.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 63.9 pct | 1,610 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 7 pass TD | 3 INT 

The offense everyone expected -- with tight end Tyler Eifert and first-round pick John Ross making plays -- never materialized. The play calling is tepid, built around surviving a rough offensive line. The further we get away from 2015 the more it feels like that season was Dalton's unfinished masterpiece, an anomaly in a career otherwise played on the border between franchise quarterback and liability.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 63.3 pct | 1,603 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 11 pass TD | 8 INT 

Eli is playing better than he did a year ago, although he's not going to elevate the players around him. The next nine games could rank as Manning's most challenging stretch since his first starts in New York as a rookie replacing Kurt Warner.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 64.2 pct | 1,600 pass yds | 6.2 ypa | 10 pass TD | 5 INT 

McCown is playing better than any Jets fan could have hoped, although his stats and decision making have routinely nose-dived in the fourth quarter.

 **2017 stats:** 8 games | 70.5 pct | 1,840 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 12 pass TD | 7 INT | 57 rush yds | 2 rush TD 

It says a lot that Brissett bounced back to play so well on the road in Cincinnati after his nightmare performance against the Jaguars, which included taking 10 sacks. As up and down as any quarterback in the league, Brissett has enjoyed more ups this season than established quarterbacks like Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and Eli Manning.

 **2017 stats:** 8 games | 60.4 pct | 1,642 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 5 pass TD | 4 INT | 135 rush yds | 3 rush TD 

Siemian is not getting much help from his teammates, but his erratic accuracy and decision making have snowballed rapidly over the last three weeks. He only ranks this high because of a solid first four games elevating his grade just above the bottom tier of quarterbacks. This is likely the last time he gets ranked after getting benched for Brock Osweiler.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 61.5 pct | 1,669 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 9 pass TD | 10 INT | 89 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

No quarterback who has started each of his team's games has thrown fewer passes, which is the whole idea behind this bizarre Jaguars season. Bortles has had two nice starts out of seven. That's progress, but it's fair to say even the Jaguars coaching staff has no idea which Bortles they'll get in a given week.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 58.7 pct | 1,398 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 9 pass TD | 5 INT | 137 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

He doesn't look hurt. His arm appears fine. The offensive line isn't that bad. All the normal excuses that could explain how one of the NFL's best pure throwers is operating the league's worst dink-and-dunk offense don't apply. After an improved outing against Miami, Flacco finally passed DeShone Kizer to escape dead last in yards per attempt (5.39 to Kizer's 5.37).

 **2017 stats:** 8 games | 64.0 pct | 1,290 pass yds | 5.4 ypa | 6 pass TD | 8 INT 

 Matt Moore's performance 
 against Baltimore coupled with 
 Jay Ajayi's trade to Philadelphia were two strong signs that Miami's offensive despair goes well beyond just 
 Jay Cutler, and it doesn't figure to end anytime soon. 
 **2017 stats:** 6 games | 62.8 pct | 995 pass yds | 5.5 ypa | 7 pass TD | 5 INT 

Each game, Trubisky shows off the skill set that got him drafted so high. Other than that, he's almost impossible to evaluate, considering the team he's on and the weapons around him. He is often a beat (or three) late on throws, but that's a typical area to improve on for any rookie quarterback.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 47.5 pct | 512 pass yds | 6.4 ypa | 2 pass TD | 2 INT | 110 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

It's just not the same hearing "GREEN 18, GREEN 18 HIKE" from a voice other than Aaron Rodgers'. Mike McCarthy's bona fides as an offensive mind will be tested over the next nine weeks. The few deep attempts Hundley has taken also suffer in comparison to Aaron Rodgers, but that's true of all humans.

 **2017 stats:** 3 games | 52.5 pct | 244 pass yds | 4.1 ypa | 1 pass TD | 4 INT | 47 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

Positives: His pocket movement and arm strength. But getting benched three games in a row along with the 3:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio feels like a worst-case scenario for how this season could have played out so far.

 **2017 stats:** 7 games | 52.1 pct | 1,144 pass yds | 5.4 ypa | 3 pass TD | 11 INT | 144 rush yds | 3 rush TD 

The Iowa rookie has now thrown more career passes than new teammate Jimmy Garoppolo, a stat that shouldn't last long. New England's surprise offer to the 49ers could not have come at a better time, because Beathard was not ready for NFL action in four outings where even his short passes were often off the mark.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 52.7 pct | 647 pass yds | 5.9 ypa | 2 pass TD | 3 INT | 84 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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