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NFL QB Index, Week 6: Justin Herbert coming for No. 1 spot; Zach Wilson looks lost

NOTE: Up/down arrows illustrate movement from the Week 5 QB Index. Rankings reflect each quarterback's standing heading into Week 6, based solely on 2021 play.

Rank
1
3
Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · Year 22

2021 stats: 5 games | 66.2 pct | 1,767 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 15 pass TD | 2 INT | 36 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 2 fumbles


Somehow, Tom Brady's best games are still better than everyone else's. And somehow, Brady is still topping statistical benchmarks like 400 yards and five touchdowns that he hasn't topped before. It's a zone league, and Brady eats zones like INSERT TB12 DIET JOKE HERE. The craziest part of his performance against Miami: The Dolphins got a lot of pressure on him up the middle, yet the QB flourished. Just another old cliché Brady has defeated.

Rank
2
3
Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers · Year 2

2021 stats: 5 games | 67.1 pct | 1,576 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 13 pass TD | 3 INT | 60 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 1 fumble


The wildest aspect of Herbert putting up 47 on the Browns is that he didn't have to do that much. I graded him similarly in two other starts this year, with Joe Lombardi's play calling, the Chargers' running game and excellent plays by his teammates doing much of the heavy lifting. With that said, there isn't a quarterback I trust more now to throw 30 yards downfield while outside of the pocket or a quarterback more likely to hit a fourth-and-long. The previous sentence is proof that Herbert and the Bolts are playing football from the future, and it's on the rest of the league to catch up.

Rank
3
1
Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · Year 6

2021 stats: 5 games | 73.9 pct | 1,368 pass yds | 8.3 ypa | 13 pass TD | 3 INT | 60 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 5 fumbles


Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham fooled Prescott for one quarter. It's going to take a special defense to do it four straight. No quarterback makes 40-burgers look more routine.

Rank
4
2
Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · Year 4

2021 stats: 5 games | 67.1 pct | 1,519 pass yds | 9.1 ypa | 8 pass TD | 3 INT | 341 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 5 fumbles


It's as if Lamar and offensive coordinator Greg Roman set out this season to dismantle every trope from the last few years: Lamar can't win from the pocket. Lamar can't come from behind. The Ravens can't go pass-heavy because Jackson hits only the easy throws. With Baltimore's running game stuck in quicksand, Jackson's play within structure is carrying the organization. He hit 37 of 43 throws on Monday night despite so many of them having a high degree of difficulty. He's fifth in Pro Football Focus' passing grade, fifth in passing yards and eighth overall in rushing yards. Are you not entertained?

Rank
5
4
Kyler Murray
Arizona Cardinals · Year 3

2021 stats: 5 games | 75.2 pct | 1,512 pass yds | 9.2 ypa | 10 pass TD | 4 INT | 110 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 2 fumbles


The top of the QB Index is so loaded that one blah game is enough to knock Murray well off the top spot. Kyler had his usual allotment of ridiculous fall-away throws, but a pair of fumbles, some massive sacks and a few bad decisions in the red zone made last Sunday's effort his worst start of the season. Other teams should study how the 49ers' pass rush contained Murray so well.

Rank
6
3
Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · Year 5

2021 stats: 5 games | 69.2 pct | 1,490 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 16 pass TD | 6 INT | 153 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 1 fumble


Mahomes' three turnovers in Sunday night's loss to Buffalo were fluky: a dropped pass, a tip at the line of scrimmage and a fumbled snap. The effectiveness with which opponents have taken Mahomes' big throws away, however, is a trend. The 2018 MVP has fewer completions over 20 yards than Jared Goff, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones and Taylor Heinicke. This is hardly a situation to panic about, but there's no question Mahomes is working harder to move the ball than ever before.

Rank
7
Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders · Year 8

2021 stats: 5 games | 63.9 pct | 1,605 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 8 pass TD | 4 INT | 29 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 4 fumbles


Jon Gruden's biggest success in his second tenure with the Raiders was Carr's development. So, what happens now? Carr was already driving uphill, thanks to a stagnant running game, poor offensive line and some untimely drops. Perhaps Gruden's departure will empower Carr to take even more control of the offense at the line of scrimmage, where he's among the best in football.

Rank
8
3
Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · Year 4

2021 stats: 5 games | 62.3 pct | 1,370 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 12 pass TD | 2 INT | 188 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 3 fumbles


Allen delivered his best game of the season in prime time against the Chiefs, which should help everyone forget his first two erratic weeks. All of Buffalo's designed runs reminded me of Allen's rookie season, when he was possibly the second-best pure runner playing quarterback behind Lamar Jackson. That's an amazing skill set to break out on occasion.

Rank
9
Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks · Year 10

2021 stats: 5 games | 72.0 pct | 1,196 pass yds | 9.6 ypa | 10 pass TD | 1 INT | 68 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 1 fumble


The controlled, opportunistic first half Wilson experienced Thursday before injuring his finger was typical of his 2021 campaign. He doesn't have a turnover-worthy play all season. He plays carefully while still showing off his beautiful arm on deep outs. He plays for a coach who runs twice on third-and-very-long rather than trusting his Hall of Fame quarterback to make risk assessments on his own.

Rank
10
Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · Year 17

2021 stats: 5 games | 65.6 pct | 1,241 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 10 pass TD | 3 INT | 8 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 0 fumbles


Rodgers is getting rid of the ball quicker than ever while throwing it deeper than he has in a decade, a strange combination that perhaps helps explain this uneven Packers offense. Green Bay is 13th in EPA/per dropback after finishing first a year ago. An inferior offensive line and Rodgers' inability to get any secondary receivers involved have helped prevent the dominant games we are used to seeing from No. 12. It's not that Rodgers is playing poorly since that gnarly Week 1; he's just not at his MVP level.

Rank
11
1
Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings · Year 10

2021 stats: 5 games | 69.6 pct | 1,396 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 10 pass TD | 2 INT | 41 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 2 fumbles


The rap on Cousins throughout his career in places like the QB Index has been that he can't elevate his teammates. He is elevating his teammates. I'm not sure how a quarterback can play so well when his team only scores 19 points against the Lions, but you'll just have to trust me. Or dial up Game Pass yourself.

Rank
12
4
Matthew Stafford
Los Angeles Rams · Year 13

2021 stats: 5 games | 68.0 pct | 1,587 pass yds | 9.2 ypa | 12 pass TD | 3 INT | 14 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles


Is Stafford getting knocked down slightly because his degree of difficulty is easier as a Ram? Absolutely. Did too many Rams drives in the last two weeks end because Stafford missed open throws? Why else would I ask? Stafford's talent and excellent closing ability make up for a lot, but his PFF grade has been worse each week this season for a reason. It's enough to move him down a few spots in an extraordinary year of quarterback play.

Rank
13
Ryan Tannehill
Tennessee Titans · Year 10

2021 stats: 5 games | 63.6 pct | 1,251 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 6 pass TD | 3 INT | 130 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 3 fumbles


According to PFF, Tannehill is using play action on 26.2 percent of his dropbacks, only good for 19th in the league. As usual, The Play Action King is killing it when asked to do so, grading second to Russell Wilson on those plays. I hate to be the "Just Do Play Action More!" Guy, but this is Ryan Tannehill we are talking about.

Rank
14
1
Joe Burrow
Cincinnati Bengals · Year 2

2021 stats: 5 games | 71.7 pct | 1,269 pass yds | 8.8 ypa | 11 pass TD | 6 INT | 24 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles


Consider it a great sign that Burrow is finding success through his accuracy and guile when it's clear that his mobility isn't all the way back. It also doesn't hurt that Burrow knows better than anyone that giving Ja'Marr Chase a chance to make a play even when he's not that open is a risk worth taking. If only Evan McPherson rewarded coach Zac Taylor's insane strategy to set up for a 57-yard field goal, Burrow would never have thrown that rough interception to start overtime.

Rank
15
3
Teddy Bridgewater
Denver Broncos · Year 8

2021 stats: 5 games | 69.8 pct | 1,180 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 7 pass TD | 1 INT | 57 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles


Don't hate me for this ranking; hate the analytics! Teddy Two Gloves is No. 1 (!) in EPA/CPOE composite this season, a nifty metric that measures efficiency and accuracy. That number doesn't take a lot of contextual evidence into account, but it points out that Bridgewater has consistently gained first downs, thrown on target and made good decisions. His first interception came on a fourth-down throw last week, as he was trying to complete a big comeback in Pittsburgh.

Rank
16
3
Matt Ryan
Atlanta Falcons · Year 14

2021 stats: 5 games | 69.1 pct | 1,332 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 10 pass TD | 3 INT | 26 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 2 fumbles


It was such a treat to watch Ryan at his best live in London. He saw blitzes before they came, beat pressure with darts and remained incredibly calm finding space in the pocket when his linemen lost. That was an example of grown-man quarterbacking for a second straight week, the sign of a veteran beginning to understand what his new offensive system has to offer.

Rank
17
1
Baker Mayfield
Cleveland Browns · Year 4

2021 stats: 5 games | 66.9 pct | 1,240 pass yds | 8.6 ypa | 4 pass TD | 2 INT | 67 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 2 fumbles


It's typical that Mayfield's sharp performance in Los Angeles was overshadowed by another young gun and still left room for criticism. Baker's inability to run a cohesive hurry-up drive with a chance to win, as well as Kevin Stefanski's decision to run on third-and-10 with a chance to put the game away, left me convinced of the gap between Mayfield and the very best, even in a game where he threw the ball with terrific purpose.

Rank
18
4
Daniel Jones
New York Giants · Year 3

2021 stats: 5 games | 64.3 pct | 1,282 pass yds | 8.2 ypa | 4 pass TD | 1 INT | 197 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 3 fumbles


The Giants' struggles in short yardage and reliance on Jones' legs came back to bite them on the play that caused Jones' concussion. Before the injury, the Cowboys made Jones look like his pre-2021 self with constant pressure.

Rank
19
1
Carson Wentz
Indianapolis Colts · Year 6

2021 stats: 5 games | 65.3 pct | 1,322 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 7 pass TD | 1 INT | 73 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 2 fumbles


The rest of the country got to see Monday night why I've been writing that Wentz is playing just fine. He'll never be the most accurate quarterback, and his ability to create is diminished, but it's so obvious how much more comfortable he is playing in Frank Reich's scheme.

Rank
20
1
Jalen Hurts
Philadelphia Eagles · Year 2

2021 stats: 5 games | 64.8 pct | 1,365 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 7 pass TD | 3 INT | 256 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 4 fumbles


In most games this season, Hurts hasn't been as good as his fantasy numbers. On Sunday in Carolina, he was better, showcasing improved decision making and nabbing a road win despite four drops and an overturned touchdown. There was a great deep throw against pressure and a better two-point completion. (There were also only 50 yards to show for his first 21 attempts.)

Rank
21
1
Jameis Winston
New Orleans Saints · Year 7

2021 stats: 5 games | 60.3 pct | 892 pass yds | 7.7 ypa | 12 pass TD | 3 INT | 86 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 1 fumble


In one game, Jameis (inhale) threw an interception while his foot was stepped on; delivered a 72-yard touchdown on his next throw; fumbled three plays later; completed a Hail Mary to end the first half; hit on 1 of 10 passes during one stretch; scrambled for 12 yards on 3rd-and-14, doing his goofy version of Elway's helicopter play while somehow landing on his feet; converted a fourth down at his own 34-yard line with a fourth-quarter lead; led the Saints on two game-sealing touchdown drives.


(Exhale.)


This is what it looks like with the training wheels off. Giddy up!

Rank
22
5
Sam Darnold
Carolina Panthers · Year 4

2021 stats: 5 games | 65.6 pct | 1,366 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 6 pass TD | 6 INT | 62 rush yds | 5 rush TD | 4 fumbles


Asked to do more without Christian McCaffrey, Darnold has taken a step back. The first-year Panther repeatedly squandered great field position Sunday with errant throws and bad decisions against an Eagles defense sitting on his short stuff. Darnold is third in the NFL in interceptions, third in fumbles and fourth in sacks taken. That's a lot of negative plays for an offense trying to play it safe.

Rank
23
2
Mac Jones
New England Patriots · Rookie

2021 stats: 5 games | 71.1 pct | 1,243 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 5 pass TD | 5 INT | 30 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 2 fumbles


A big fourth-quarter comeback win on the road was a nice box for Jones to check, even if it came in Houston. Still, the game provided a reminder of how Jones is playing with a smaller margin for error than most. His game-tying touchdown pass to Hunter Henry required anticipation that just got the ball there in time, while his arm strength was an issue on another play where he had to reset out of the pocket, leading to one of a few near-interceptions.

Rank
24
3
Ben Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh Steelers · Year 18

2021 stats: 5 games | 63.6 pct | 1,286 pass yds | 6.6 ypa | 6 pass TD | 4 INT | 9 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 4 fumbles


Even an improved week from Big Ben included a rough fumble where he held the ball too long and a back-breaking red-zone toss right to a linebacker ... except this time, the linebacker (A.J. Johnson) dropped the ball. Still, pushing the ball downfield to Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson is one development that Roethlisberger should keep trying to repeat. When the Steelers' defense is right, Ben only needs to do so much.

Rank
25
2
Jared Goff
Detroit Lions · Year 6

2021 stats: 5 games | 66.8 pct | 1,303 pass yds | 6.6 ypa | 7 pass TD | 3 INT | 72 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 6 fumbles


While Sunday's effort in Minnesota wasn't Goff's best game as a Lion, his touchdown drive and two-point conversion to take a late lead got me thinking how he's playing no worse for the 0-5 Lions than he was for the playoff-bound Rams a year ago.

Rank
26
2
Jacoby Brissett
Miami Dolphins · Year 6

2021 stats: 5 games | 65.2 pct | 858 pass yds | 5.4 ypa | 4 pass TD | 2 INT | 57 rush yd | 1 rush TD | 4 fumbles


I spent way too much time on my flight home from London debating Heinicke vs. Jacoby in these rankings, a sign of an unhealthy mind. Or jet lag. That they are different sides of the same coin is telling. Quality backups should be better than most rookie quarterbacks, and that's the mini-tier Brissett and Heinicke comprise. If Brissett is done starting games this season, he's earned another solid backup contract for 2022.

Rank
27
1
Taylor Heinicke
Washington Football Team · Year 4

2021 stats: 5 games | 64.2 pct | 1,208 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 8 pass TD | 5 INT | 127 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 0 fumbles


Oakland A's architect Billy Beane famously once said, "My s--- doesn't work in the playoffs." Heinicke's s--- doesn't work against quality pass defenses. For the third time in three tough matchups (Chargers, Bills, Saints), Heinicke's ratio of "He did that!" to "He did that?!" throws weren't correctly calibrated.

Rank
28
NR
Trey Lance
San Francisco 49ers · Rookie

2021 stats: 4 games | 52.1 pct | 354 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 3 pass TD | 1 INT | 133 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 0 fumbles


Lance played well enough to start again, assuming he's healthy. The rookie was a few drops and short-yardage conversions away from the postgame narrative being much different. To put it another way: Lance threw the ball with enough accuracy outside of one sailed interception to make his running ability too intriguing to put back on the bench. This 49ers offense, possibly the worst of the Kyle Shanahan era, needs more juice than 2021 Jimmy G can provide.

Rank
29
Justin Fields
Chicago Bears · Rookie

2021 stats: 5 games | 51.4 pct | 458 pass yds | 6.4 ypa | 1 pass TD | 2 INT | 59 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 3 fumbles


Chicago didn't need Fields to do much to beat the Raiders. His presence has inspired creativity from the Bill Lazor-directed running game, and he hit just enough crucial throws in a quiet 111-yard effort to keep everyone excited about what's next. Fields' third-and-12 dime to Darnell Mooney in the fourth quarter was the type of winning play that Bears fans hope to see for a long time to come.

Rank
30
1
Trevor Lawrence
Jacksonville Jaguars · Rookie

2021 stats: 5 games | 59.4 pct | 1,146 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 6 pass TD | 8 INT | 110 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 2 fumbles


The stat splits back up what Jaguars fans must know by now: Lawrence starts games a lot faster than he finishes them. Whether that's poor coaching, randomness or something more mysterious, Lawrence's second-half fades are putting a damper on his otherwise-steady improvements.

Rank
31
1
Davis Mills
Houston Texans · Rookie

2021 stats: 4 games | 61.5 pct | 669 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 5 pass TD | 5 INT | 3 rush yd | 0 rush TD | 2 fumbles


The third-round rookie has started three games. He did very little in the first, staying out of the way. He authored the worst performance by any quarterback this year against Buffalo, followed by the best performance by a rookie quarterback in a game all season against the Patriots. The most surprising part of Mills' showing against New England: his plays on the move. That's enough to reward him with a reprieve from the No. 32 spot for at least a week.

Rank
32
2
Zach Wilson
New York Jets · Rookie

2021 stats: 5 games | 57.3 pct | 1,117 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 4 pass TD | 9 INT | 22 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 2 fumbles


The bye week comes at a perfect time for Wilson, who looked lost in London. He was late throwing to open receivers, didn't see other potential big plays in front of him and continued to miss a few gimmes. He doesn't appear ready to run the Jets' hurry-up offense well when they need it. Beyond his obvious arm talent, Wilson's aggressiveness is the best aspect to his game through five weeks. But for now, he is playing like a kid who snuck on the bumper cars before he could control the ride.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter.

The Air Index presented by FedEx ranks NFL quarterback performances all season long. Check out the weekly FedEx Air NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote after Sunday Night Football.

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