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QB Index, Divisional Round: Ranking passers on next three years

With the NFL's 100th regular season in the books, editors Ali Bhanpuri, Tom Blair, Gennaro Filice and Dan Parr join forces to update the QB Index -- the hierarchy among starting quarterbacks -- heading into the Divisional Round.

How do we arrive at these rankings? Well, each of the four QB watchers submits a ballot, and through the power of mathematics, we average out the results to arrive at our list. The individual rankings of each writer are listed in every QB blurb.

Now that the regular season is over, we will be focusing our rankings exclusively on the surviving playoff quarterbacks, limiting the field this week to the eight quarterbacks who still have a role to play in the story of the 2019 season. And while the regular-season rankings attempted to take into account both in-season production and past history to create a holistic hierarchy of every starting QB in the NFL, the rankings for the Divisional Round have been made with the future in mind. Balancing age, production and promise, we set out to rank each passer based on the following question:

Which quarterback would we most want to build a team around for the next three seasons?

Check out the FedEx Air NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote.

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 2 | Blair: 1 | Filice: 1 | Parr: 1

 **2019 stats:** 14 games | 65.9 pct | 4,031 pass yds | 8.3 ypa | 26 pass TD | 5 INT | 218 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost 
 **Filice:** What makes Pat the most coveted building block in this exercise? This week's most decorated/mic'd-up adversary, 
 J.J. Watt, seems to have the answer. Asked Wednesday about the challenges Mahomes will present in 
 Sunday's Texans-Chiefs Divisional Round bout, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year unfurled a run-on sentence of unadulterated adulation: "It's the challenges of playing against a great quarterback, a guy who you know can obviously run around and scramble and make throws on the run because he has an extremely strong arm, but also (a) guy who's extremely intelligent, smart, leads their offense well, knows how to get them into good plays, knows how to put them in the right situations and knows how to deliver the ball." And then Watt really hit the nail on the head with a succinct, idiot-proof summation of Mahomes' skill set: "Whether it's a short pass or it's (a) long pass all the way down the field, he can do everything." 
 *He can do **everything**.* And it's true! Yes, this injury-abbreviated regular season wasn't as productive as his 50-touchdown, 5,000-yard MVP parade of 2018. But the guy still laid waste to opponents in 2019, decimating defenses in myriad ways. You like deep passing? According to Next Gen Stats, Mahomes led the NFL with 12 touchdown passes of 20-plus yards during the regular season. How about throwing against the blitz? He ranked third with a 120.2 passer rating, boasting a glowing 8:0 TD-to-INT ratio to boot. Play-action production? Pro Football Focus spits out a 105.1 passer rating and an 8:1 TD-to-INT ratio. On third down? 116.4 passer rating, per NGS. Two-minute drill? Another passer rating north of 100. On the road? A 107.8 passer rating with a 15:2 TD-to-INT ratio. OK, this is getting exhausting -- you get the point. And I haven't even touched on all the arm angles. Or the off-platform artistry. J.J. said it best: He can do everything. 

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 1 | Blair: 2 | Filice: 2 | Parr: 2

 **2019 stats:** 15 games | 66.1 pct | 3,127 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 36 pass TD | 6 INT | 1,206 rush yds | 7 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost 
 **Filice:** Jackson's fresh off one of the most awe-inspiring regular seasons in NFL history. He's going to win MVP in an absolute landslide. His team is 14-2, the best single-season mark in the NFL over the past three campaigns. His offense has scored more points than any other. And he just turned 23 earlier this week. So why does this second-year signal-caller 
 *not* sit atop this list? Well, Ali Bhanpuri slotted him No. 1, but the rest of us placed him at 2. Why? How do we explain ourselves?! I have a theory, about myself and my fellow No. 2 rankers: Lamar broke our brains. And we're afraid to fully commit to something we don't completely understand. How on earth does a quarterback rush for 1,200 yards 
 *and* lead the league in touchdown passes? Is this replicable? Can the human body carry such a load over multiple seasons? Will opposing defenses spend all offseason concocting 
 The Lamar Rules? Who knows? Who 
 *could* know? We've literally never seen anything like this before. In Michael Vick's oft-cited 2006 campaign, when Vick set 
 the previous QB rushing record of 1,039 yards, the 
 Falcons signal-caller completed just 52.6 percent of his passes for 2,474 yards with a 20:13 TD-to-INT ratio and a 75.7 passer rating, as Atlanta finished third in the division at 7-9. That pales in comparison to Lamar's 2019 passing production (66.1 comp%, 3,127 yds, 36:6 TD-to-INT ratio, 113.3 passer rating) and his team's current standing (AFC No. 1 seed). This is completely uncharted territory for the position. And our feeble minds can't truly comprehend what it means, or -- most importantly for this exercise -- how it can be projected forward. Call us unimaginative cowards. It's fair, given the utter transcendence this former Heisman Trophy winner put on display over the past four months. He's unquestionably been 
 *the* story of the 2019 campaign. So I'm sorry, Lamar, but basically ... You rank second because your season was just 
 *too* mind-bendingly remarkable. 

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 3 | Blair: 3 | Filice: 3 | Parr: 4

 **2019 stats:** 16 games | 66.1 pct | 4,110 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 31 pass TD | 5 INT | 342 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 2 fumbles lost 
 **Parr:** The guy who was the MVP front-runner for a good chunk of this season is 
 *third* on our list? And I dared to rank him 
 *fourth*? Look, Wilson is undeniably great. He has an absurdly spectacular TD:INT ratio of 100:23 since 2017. The guy ranks second in passer rating (101.2) 
 *in NFL history*. Only 
 Tom Brady has led his team to more wins since 2012 (Wilson's rookie season). For me, it came down to factoring in (perhaps foolishly) the potential declines that can hit a QB reaching his mid-30s who often leans on his mobility and has taken at least 41 sacks in each of the past seven seasons. Wilson is nearly a decade older than the other quarterbacks in our top four. Maybe he slows down a touch while the others round into their prime? Or maybe not. I mean, Wilson has said he 
 wants to play until he's 45. Maybe 
 *he's* the one just reaching his prime. 

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 4 | Blair: 4 | Filice: 4 | Parr: 3

 **2019 stats:** 15 games | 67.3 pct | 3,852 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 26 pass TD | 12 INT | 413 rush yds | 7 rush TD | 3 fumbles lost 
 **Parr:** I feel like I can just include a link to video of 
 *that play* from last week in this space, and it should suffice as an explanation for why Watson deserves a spot near the top of this list. But I'll provide this note via NFL Research for a little more context to his greatness: Watson is one of three QBs in NFL history to have 20-plus wins and a 100-plus passer rating in their first three seasons. The others are reigning MVP 
 Patrick Mahomes and Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. You can nitpick his game if you want. Sure, he holds the ball for too long sometimes, and he had a handful of multi-turnover games in 2019. He looked human down the final stretch in the regular season. Then he reminded everyone of why his college coach 
 likened him to Michael Jordan. Yes, this guy can put a team on his back and carry it to a victory even when one looks out of reach. What more do you want in a QB? Call him football's MJ. Call him Superman. Or just listen to 
 Texans coach Bill O'Brien, who summed up Watson's heroics vs. the 
 Bills like this: "He knows how to win, and there's not too much more you can say about it." 

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 5 | Blair: 5 | Filice: 5 | Parr: 5

 **2019 stats:** 16 games | 62.0 pct | 4,002 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 26 pass TD | 4 INT | 183 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 4 fumbles lost 
 **Bhanpuri:** At 36 years old, Rodgers is the elder statesman of the Divisional Round QBs. But I'd immediately and with absolute confidence make the 15-year vet the QB1 on my hypothetical franchise (or the Bears) for the next three seasons. Sure, his 2019 campaign might not have been the finest of his illustrious career, but he still threw for more than 4,000 yards, produced an incredibly efficient TD-to-giveaway ratio and inarguably outplayed at least 80 percent of the league's QBs. Oh, and he led the 
 Packers to double-digit wins (the eighth time in 10 healthy seasons since taking over as Green Bay's starter), an NFC North title and a first-round bye. Plus, he said himself that he'd like to play for another 
 four to six years, so I'd expect him to fulfill the life of the contract. If I can't have one of the three young superstars, or the ultra-dependable Wilson, then I'll gladly 
 *settle* for the eight-time Pro Bowler -- if only to mercifully save Chicago from inevitably losing to him twice per year. 

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 8 | Blair: 6 | Filice: 7 | Parr: 6

 **2019 stats:** 15 games | 69.1 pct | 3,603 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 26 pass TD | 6 INT | 63 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 3 fumbles lost 
 **Bhanpuri:** I must've arranged and rearranged Tannehill, Garoppolo and Cousins at least 20 times before settling on my final order of sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively. I still don't feel confident about it. All three veterans had (surprisingly) sensational seasons as complementary pieces to dominant run-first offenses. I ultimately ranked Cousins last because he's the least capable (again, it's very close) of carrying a team on his own, as evidenced by his performances this season when the 
 Vikings' rushing percentage dropped under 50 percent: 
 **Cousins:** 1-5 record, 60.5 comp%, 233.3 pass ypg, 6.7 ypa, 10 total TDs, 7 giveaways, 88.2 rating 
 **Garoppolo:** 5-2 record, 67.2 comp%, 291.3 pass ypg, 8.4 ypa, 17 total TDs, 8 giveaways, 105.9 rating 
 **Tannehill**: 2-3 record, 67.1 comp%, 277.4 pass ypg, 8.5 ypa, 13 total TDs, 4 giveaways, 105.4 rating 

Cousins has had an outstanding year, and obviously just came up huge in the Vikings' upset over the Saints. But as much as I liked that QB story, it pales in comparison to Tannehill's unbelievable (and lucrative) 2019 tale. Since we've already gotten a glimpse of what a three-year deal for Cousins looks like, I'm inclined to gamble with the resurrected first-rounder and see what happens.

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 7 | Blair: 7 | Filice: 6 | Parr: 7

 **2019 stats:** 16 games | 69.1 pct | 3,978 pass yds | 8.4 ypa | 27 pass TD | 13 INT | 62 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 5 fumbles lost 
 **Blair:** In 2019, Garoppolo started a full 16-game season for the first time in his career. So while he's been a presence in our collective lives for more than half a decade, in a way, he's still a relatively unknown quantity. His stats in 2019 aren't 
 *bad*, but they don't stand out, either; he ranks 12th among qualified passers in yards (3,978), is tied for fifth in touchdowns (27) and ranks eighth in passer rating (102.0). He also ranks 32nd in air yards per attempt (6.5) among those with 200-plus passes, while 56.5 percent of his yardage came via his pass-catchers' legs, after the catch -- that is more than anyone but 
 Derek Carr. But then, San Francisco didn't ask him to do as much as other QBs, with the Niners ranking 29th in pass attempts (478) and second in rushing attempts (498). And don't forget that Garoppolo was coming off a torn ACL this season. His passer rating steadily increased throughout the year, climbing from 99.4 in the first four games to 103.3 over the last four, while his yards-per-game bumped up from 225.8 in the first half of the season to 271.5 in the second. 

If he's no longer a rookie but not yet a veteran, how do we classify him here? It's reasonable to assume there is still untapped upside, but it's just as easy to imagine still waiting for him to ascend to superstardom as it is to picture him becoming a true world-beater. For now, let's consider how he compares with the late starts of two other QBs who had to wait a while before getting on the field:

 Aaron Rodgers' first full season as a starter (2008): 63.6% completion, 252.4 yards per game, 7.5 yards per throw, 28 TDs, 13 INTs, 93.8 passer rating. 
 Kirk Cousins' first full season as a starter (2015): 69.7% completion, 260.4 yards per game, 7.7 yards per throw, 29 TDs, 11 INTs, 101.6 passer rating. 

Garoppolo (69.1% completion, 248.6 yards per game, 8.4 yards per throw, 27 TDs, 13 INTs, 102.0 passer rating) is right in line.

Individual Rank: Bhanpuri: 6 | Blair: 8 | Filice: 8 | Parr: 8

 **2019 stats:** 12 games | 70.3 pct | 2,742 pass yds | 9.6 ypa | 22 pass TD | 6 INT | 185 rush yds | 4 rush TD | 3 fumbles lost 
 **Blair:** You can't deny that Tannehill's 2019 numbers are positively sparkling. Among those with 200-plus passing attempts, no one posted a better completion percentage above expectation (8.1%) or passer rating (117.5). The 
 *gigantic* gap in performance between now and before he arrived in Tennessee is quite impressive -- excluding the 2017 season, which he missed with a torn ACL, Tannehill's completion percentage above expectation in 2016 and '18 was 1.8%, while his passer rating was 91.6, per Next Gen Stats -- and it's also a serious source of concern when considering him as a potential three-year building block. No one can predict with certainty whether Tannehill will keep playing at this level, but we 
 *know* as surely as we can know anything that he was thoroughly average over six healthy seasons in Miami. That said, there are plenty of reasons to believe in his transformation. The 
 Titans seem a good deal more stable than the 
 Dolphins did when he was with them. He might be clicking with the coaching staff and the rest of the talent on offense in a way that he never has in the NFL before. He's also free of both the expectations that come with being an anointed franchise savior and the burden of falling short, maybe making it easier for him to realize his true talent. (Until we see how he holds up against Baltimore this weekend, I'm not going to give much weight to his barely-there showing in the 
 Titans' wild-card win over the Pats.) I don't know that he'd fall much further than No. 8 if we were to consider the three-year futures of all 32 starters. But as much as I want New Ryan to also be The True Ryan, the uncertainty factor keeps him at the bottom of this list -- for now. 

The Air Index delivered by FedEx ranks NFL quarterback performances all season long. What's the possibility Ryan Tannehill would rank higher in this exercise a week from now?

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