Skip to main content

Air Index

Presented By

QB Index, Week 5: Mahomes sizzles, Big Ben fizzles

The top two quarterbacks in the QB Index after four games are each 23 years old. Combine the ages of Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff and it's not that much higher than the age of Tom Brady, the fella who finished in the top spot a year ago.

It's way too early to make sweeping judgments about a changing of the guard at the position. Even though Brady is off to a slow start, familiar names like Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers remain at the top of their game. The overall picture of the position is more complicated than any over-arching narrative, with many of this year's most surprising performances coming from established veterans like Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The quarterback position as a whole is incredibly healthy, with record passing numbers buoyed by aggressive offensive concepts infiltrating the entire league. For new readers, the rankings below reflect each quarterback's 2018 play alone. All that matters is what's happened so far this year. That's why Brady is low and very likely to climb when I do the complete rankings again in four weeks. The QBs ranked below have played the bulk of the snaps for their respective teams.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from the preseason QB rankings.

I'm afraid to miss a play during any Mahomes start. He makes routine plays more fun because the ball comes out of his hand differently. The arm strength is obvious, but Mahomes' touch, timing and ability to throw from any angle on the run set him apart. The combination of natural feel for the position combined with Mahomes' mature recognition and advanced coaching makes his ceiling higher than that of any young quarterback since Andrew Luck in 2012. It was all there in Mahomes' first start last year, as those paying attention saw.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 65.2 pct | 1,200 pass yds | 8.7 ypa | 14 pass TD | 0 INT | 53 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

This ranking isn't just about Goff's performance against the Vikings, although that was the highest-graded game of the season, with a few of the prettiest throws imaginable flying through the Los Angeles dusk. Goff took a big step in his development as far back as OTAs, showing an improved ability to create room in the pocket before delivering strikes with bodies around him. I wondered if Goff was ranked too high here until I saw he was at the same spot on my colleague Chris Wesseling's excellent MVP list this week.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 72.4 pct | 1,406 pass yds | 10.5 ypa | 11 pass TD | 2 INT | 22 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

The best quarterback of all time never to earn the MVP award is still producing a master class in accuracy every Sunday. It's as if he and Sean Payton have unlocked the final achievement level in the Saints' offense in a desperate attempt to make one more playoff run before the new generation of offensive cheat-code quarterbacks takes over.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 75.8 pct | 1,295 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 8 pass TD | 0 INT | 5 rush yds | 2 rush TD 

Like an artist who produces some of his best work because of self-imposed limitations, Rodgers' play this season may be aided by mostly staying in the pocket. I still wouldn't bet against him finding his way to a third MVP award.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 63.5 pct | 1,130 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 7 pass TD | 1 INT | 67 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

My least favorite running bit in football: Rivers' reaction shots to mistakes by his defense and special teams. Rivers' next-level anticipation is on point this year, but the team's efficiency, per Football Outsiders, serves as a symbol for Rivers' career. They are fourth in offense, 21st in defense and 31st in special teams.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 68.0 pct |1,156 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 11 pass TD | 2 INT 

Cousins matched Rodgers throw-for-throw in one of the games of the year, then nearly did the same against Goff last Thursday night. Cousins' total no-show against the Bills in the week between included some skittish throws in the face of relentless pressure. Cousins' production has gone up and down this year, but the amount of times he's been hit remains a troubling through-line all season.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 69.3 pct | 1,387 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 10 pass TD | 2 INT | 61 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

Ryan has benefited from good play-calling by coordinator Steve Sarkisian, taking a second-year leap in Sark's offense like Ryan did with Kyle Shanahan. The deep ball may sometimes look funky, but Ryan is the guy you want deciding where to throw on third-and-7. He wasn't nearly as bad as his numbers showed last year, and he probably hasn't been quite as good as the numbers say this time.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 68.3 pct | 1,316 pass yds | 9.1 ypa | 10 pass TD | 2 INT | 43 rush yds | 2 rush TD 

Dalton's season has been characterized by making key drives when needed, helping to prop up a lackluster defense. Neither of the two observations above have been characteristic of most of his career.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 65.6 pct | 1,197 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 11 pass TD | 6 INT | 21 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

Fitzpatrick graded as my No. 2 quarterback through two weeks, then played below average over his next six quarters before getting benched. It may not be fair for him to lose his job, but I don't blame Bucs coach Dirk Koetter for preferring to see what Jameis Winston can do with this loaded receiver group and coordinator Todd Monken calling plays. September Fitzmagic already feels like a half-forgotten dream.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 67.4 pct | 1,356 pass yds | 10.5 ypa | 11 pass TD | 5 INT | 62 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

It's weird for Cam to do anything under the radar, much less play well without attracting much notice. The early signs of the Panthers' offense under new coordinator Norv Turner look very promising.

 **2018 stats:** 3 games | 67.4 pct | 646 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 5 pass TD | 1 INT | 136 rush yds | 3 rush TD 

This isn't the first slow start for Brady in recent years. He was ranked No. 17 after the first quarter of 2014 just behind Colin Kaepernick. Brady wound up finishing No. 2 that year on the way to perhaps the most satisfying championship of his career. It's hard to imagine Brady reaching those heights with his current supporting cast, but the return of Julian Edelman during the Patriots' win on Thursday night gave Brady a big boost.

 **2018 stats:** 5 games | 67.5 pct | 1,259 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 12 pass TD | 6 INT | -1 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

Flacco's resurgence is probably less about Lamar Jackson and more about Flacco looking healthy for the first time in four years. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has scrapped many of the painful dink-and-dunk elements of the Ravens' attack in favor of Flacco letting it fly outside the numbers.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 64.3 pct | 1,252 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 8 pass TD | 2 INT | 

Luck is adjusting to the new normal of life without a massive arm, but he now has a creative offensive mind supporting him. While Luck hadn't pushed the ball down the field too much until the Week 4 loss to Houston, his decision making and feel for the game remain sharp. If he can lead his team back from an 18-point deficit and throw for 464 yards with a band of cast-off receivers in Houston and keep the same group competitive into the fourth quarter in Foxborough, where could he go from here?

 **2018 stats:** 5 games | 66.5 pct | 1,491 pass yds | 6.1 ypa | 12 pass TD | 5 INT | 53 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

Smith has the same low interception percentage (1.0) that helped him tie for the league lead in the category a year ago. The Redskins' receivers have all but disappeared. Washington is winning. This is the Alex Smith experience, and it could easily lead to a playoff spot.

 **2018 stats:** 3 games | 68.8 pct | 767 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 4 pass TD | 1 INT | 58 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

Watson has improved every week, just like he tends to improve within games after starting slowly. He is right on schedule in his return from a torn ACL, with this steady progress looking a lot more sustainable than last season's wild ride.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 62.2 pct | 1,246 pass yds | 8.4 ypa | 7 pass TD | 4 INT | 161 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

Everything about the Steelers' offense and Big Ben's play this season has been sloppy and haphazard. Even the better performances, like against the Chiefs and Bucs, included many mistakes and streaks of cold play. The raw stats aren't terrible, but rankings of No. 15 by ESPN's QBR, No. 19 by Football Outsiders and No. 29 by Pro Football Focus show a great quarterback struggling to find his range.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 64.0 pct | 1,414 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 8 pass TD | 5 INT | 23 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

Everything has come the hard way for Carr this season. The drives are long, with an emphasis on short completions that require a precision the Raiders' offense is just missing. Carr broke a completion-percentage record in Week 2 and the Raiders nearly doubled the Dolphins' snap total in Week 3, but the team didn't score more than 20 points in either game. Carr's stirring touch throws against the Browns hopefully can unlock his explosive physical traits.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 71.0 pct | 1,373 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 6 pass TD | 7 INT 

Mariota has only started and completed one game, throwing more passes in Week 4 against the Eagles than his other two outings combined. That makes his ranking here difficult and mostly meaningless. Far more important: His electric performance against Philadelphia was the biggest eye opener of the season, a tease for all his believers and a hint that this Titans team could be a legitimate contender in the AFC. I can't wait to see more.

 **2018 stats:** 3 games | 66.2 pct | 547 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 2 pass TD | 3 INT | 112 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

The early returns on Wentz's comeback are terrific. His physical skills look intact, but his protection is not. Wentz has been hit 18 times in two starts, many of them brutal takedowns.

 **2018 stats:** 2 games | 66.7 pct | 603 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 3 pass TD | 1 INT | 18 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

I'm not used to watching Stafford just blend in. The Lions' short passing offense is tough to watch when it's not working, and Stafford missed too many deep throws in the first three weeks. His return to form against the Cowboys in Week 4 is hopefully a sign that Stafford's early slump is over.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 67.9 pct | 1,202 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 8 pass TD | 5 INT | 29 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

It's fair to say the adjustment to Brian Schottenheimer's scheme is going to take time. More sacks than usual have been Wilson's fault, as he holds the ball too long at times and is running way less than usual. He ranks no higher than 24th in PFF/QBR/DVOA. He's a better player than what he's shown, and the team's poor supporting cast is a big factor here, but at this rate, Seahawks fans might come to miss former coordinator Darrell Bevell.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 62.8 pct | 888 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 7 pass TD | 3 INT | 42 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

I'm not sure what to think of Tannehill, although he deserves some leeway coming off a torn ACL. He was mostly hitting the deep throws available to him in the first three weeks, although all his numbers were inflated by a lot of the one-foot jet-sweep "passes" that have resulted in big gains. The Patriots took away Tannehill's rushing attack and the rest of his game caved, as he was often too willing to throw short of the sticks on third downs.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 69.1 pct | 787 pass yds | 8.4 ypa | 7 pass TD | 3 INT | 74 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

One great game against New England. One good game against the Jets. Two poor games against the Giants and Titans, in which Bortles actively hurt his team's chances of winning. That is probably the ratio we can expect from Bortles every quarter of the season.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 64.7 pct | 1,095 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 7 pass TD | 3 INT | 132 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

You can almost see Keenum overthinking. He's a quarterback who is at his best when he's playing free, and some early interception problems this season already appear to be messing with his flow. He hasn't thrown a touchdown since Week 1 and his miss to Demaryius Thomas for the would-be go-ahead score in the final seconds on Monday night was the type of throw he would have made in Minnesota.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 61.7 pct | 988 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 3 pass TD | 6 INT | 16 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

Jimmy G's rocky three-game stretch to open the season will probably be forgotten in the wake of the torn ACL he suffered in the fourth quarter of a Week 3 loss to the Chiefs. The counting stats weren't terrible, but the tape showed a young quarterback who wasn't as confident in what he was seeing as he was in 2017. This is no cause for alarm, but it's a reminder of how frustrating it is that the injury will press pause on Garoppolo's needed development. I was wondering if my grading was too harsh, but PFF has him 27th and ESPN's QBR has him ranked second to last among qualifiers.

 **2018 stats:** 3 games | 59.6 pct | 718 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 5 pass TD | 3 INT | 33 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

It's been hard to separate Prescott from the stale Cowboys offense around him, but it's fair to say he hasn't transcended the situation. Cowboys fans should take solace that his performance against Detroit in Week 4 will be a sign of better days ahead.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 61.7 pct | 753 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 4 pass TD | 2 INT |87 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

" Risks are not what you want to take" could be the motto of the 2018 Giants. A quarterback without mobility or the ability to throw the ball vertically has condensed the Giants' offense to a small box.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 74.2 pct | 1,055 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 4 pass TD | 1 INT 

I'm not that surprised Trubisky can hit open receivers against a dreadful defense like Tampa or that he can mix in a few dimes, too. He's flashed his talent in nearly all of his 16 career starts; he's just rarely maintained that play for four quarters or back-to-back weeks. The first three Bears games included way too many unforced errors and struggles versus pressure, but the schedule of upcoming opposing defenses is rather forgiving.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 73.5 pct | 945 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 8 pass TD | 3 INT | 117 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

Hue Jackson gave Taylor every chance to keep his job before benching him in favor of Baker Mayfield. Taylor was ultimately undone by one of the worst three-game stretches of a career spent moving from one new offense to another.

 **2018 stats:** 3 games | 48.8 pct | 462 pass yds | 5.5 ypa | 2 pass TD | 2 INT | 125 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

It's going to take time for Darnold to figure out the balance between extending plays and being more decisive with the ball. The Browns and Jaguars coaching staffs both threw the kitchen sink at him defensively, and Darnold looked frazzled, as rookies are wont to do.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 61.0 pct | 868 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 4 pass TD | 5 INT 

The Bills are the fourth-worst offense since 1986 through four games, according to Football Outsiders, and not much of that can be attributed to Week 1 starter Nathan Peterman. Allen is fascinating to watch because he's so toolsy and still so far away from possessing the recognition skills and accuracy to succeed as an NFL starter.

 **2018 stats:** 4 games | 53.4 pct | 666 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 2 pass TD | 4 INT | 116 rush yds | 2 rush TD 

Sitting on the bench as the Cardinals' No. 3 quarterback behind Josh Rosen and Mike Glennon so that the Cardinals can avoid paying Bradford his weekly active roster bonus is a sad yet somehow fitting end to Bradford's career as a starter. His draft pedigree and contract status have always hung like an anvil around his neck.

 **2018 stats:** 3 games | 62.5 pct | 400 pass yds | 5.0 ypa | 2 pass TD | 4 INT 

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

The Air Index delivered by FedEx ranks NFL quarterback performances all season long. Check out the FedEx Air NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content