The NFL’s best quarterbacks

We obsess year-round about the state of quarterbacking in the NFL because the league grows more aerial-centric every year.
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We obsess year-round about the state of quarterbacking in the NFL because the league grows more aerial-centric every year, and the supply of quality passers never remotely exceeds the demand. How else can you explain journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick being able to hold the Jets’ entire off-season hostage? The arms race will never end in the NFL because the pass-first mentality dominates the DNA of the league.

So what better way to help welcome the looming arrival of training camp than to cap our 2016 position rankings with the current crop of quarterbacks, at least in the upper third or high-rent district of the NFL’s glamour position? As each new blockbuster contract for a franchise-level passer proves to us, the best quarterbacks are more valuable than ever, and the teams lucky enough to have one usually find themselves playing at least a game or two every January. And the debate begins.

Just missed the cut

Matt Ryan, Falcons: So many choices. Eli Manning and Joe Flacco—the only two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks not in my top 10—came quickly to mind, but I settled on Ryan because he’s better than he gets credit for being and is hardly the primary reason the Falcons own just one playoff win since he arrived in 2008. For a guy who had just one real receiving target last season in Julio Jones, Ryan was pretty productive and reliable. He’s still mistake-prone at some inopportune moments, but he’s also capable of saving Atlanta’s bacon with one of his patented fourth-quarter comebacks. Ryan needs more talent surrounding him to vault himself into the league’s upper echelon of quarterbacks, but the reality is he’s part of the solution for the Falcons, not part of the problem.

The next big thing

Derek Carr, Raiders: No quarterback in the league matched the quantum leap forward Carr took in 2015, improving dramatically in year two after a decent rookie effort. His mostly steady performance earned him a top 10 grade among quarterbacks from Pro Football Focus, and a stronger set of receiving weapons in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree allowed his playmaking skills to flourish. Carr’s leadership, toughness and impressive throwing arm are already well-developed and solid components of his game, and if his play takes another sizable jump in 2016, Oakland likely will be playoff-bound with one of the game’s rising quarterback stars leading the way.