As the season comes to a close it is fun to look back and assign letter grades to players who often contribute more than what is seen in the stat sheets. Today is one such day, one where we take a look at the NFC quarterbacks and figure out who excelled and who fell flat. So who scored well and who is in danger of repeating the year? Before we jump in, a set of ground rules for our journey are needed.
- There are no failing grades for the quarterbacks listed (partially because the failures were removed and don’t meet the next requirement)
- Only providing grades for quarterbacks who have started at least four games for their respective teams (Sorry Mr. Butt-fumble)
- Grades are based on a combination of factors including stats, weapons around the quarterback, and game film
- As always, these were done with the attempt to avoid any pre-existing biases, and honestly do feel that it was accomplished
Well, here we go! Players are listed by division in alphabetical order according to team.
Josh Rosen – Arizona Cardinals, D+ (2129 yds, 10 TD/ 14 INT)
Rookie quarterback playing behind a bad offensive line. Quick, name one current member of the starting line not named Mason Cole! Outside of Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, no other receiving options emerged for Rosen and the Cardinals offense. Throw in a few weeks of Mike McCoy calling plays then the inexperienced Byron Leftwich and we see the grade is more due to what’s around him then what he’s actually done. The interception numbers show a quarterback asked to play from behind who forces the football into tight spots. Additional weapons and a better offensive line should lead to a better 2019
Jared Goff – Los Angeles Rams, B (4489 yds, 28 TD/12 INT)
Goff started the season very well. He led the Rams to one of the best records in the league and an explosive offense. He outdueled Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on Monday Night. Maybe that game took out too much from Goff as he’s struggled during the final stretch of the season. The loss of Cooper Kupp has hurt but Goff now looks more Jeff Fisher inspired than Sean McVay. The end of the Philly game and the recent win in Arizona may be a sign that Goff’s struggles may be passing.
Nick Mullens – San Francisco 49ers, B- (1995 yds, 10 TD/7 INT)
The undrafted free agent out of Southern Mississippi started the season on the practice squad. He then became the backup and eventually starter after the struggles of C.J. Beathard. The 49ers have struggled to find consistency this season without Jimmy Garoppolo, but head coach Kyle Shanahan has worked wonders with the young quarterback. Mullens knows the system and uses it to mask his lack of a strong-arm. Having a tight end like George Kittle helps, but he is the only real option through the air. Mullens have given the 49ers a solid backup heading into the 2019 offseason.
C.J. Beathard – San Francisco 49ers, D- (1252 yds, 8 TD/7 INT
Beathard was drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He has a strong-arm and will take a hit, but has struggled with the speed of his progressions and seeing the field. He struggled for large portions since replacing the injured Garoppolo and eventually lost his job to Mullens. Beathard has many of the physical tools but needs to get better at understanding the system and anticipating throws. The biggest key will be getting better with protecting the football.
Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks, A- (3296 yds, 34 TD/6 INT)
The Seahawks were not expected to be a playoff team in 2018. There were major losses on the defense and the offense was reliant on Wilson’s brilliance and nothing else. Eventually Seattle discovered a ground game which has only enhanced Wilson’s ability. The blocking has improved and a healthy Doug Baldwin has allowed Wilson to show that he is now the unchallenged leader of the team and can carry his teammates to the playoffs. Throw in his ability to keep plays alive with his legs and Seattle becomes a terror to play against in the playoffs.
Mitchell Trubisky – Chicago Bears, B- (3060 yds, 24 TD/12 INT)
In his first year with Matt Nagy, Trubisky has flashed the talent which convinced the Bears to move one spot in the 2017 draft to select the quarterback. Trubisky doesn’t have the eye-popping numbers, but he has progressed excellently from his rookie season. The Bears have put playmakers around him and the second-year pro has already thrown for over 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. The fact that it is surprising to learn he has over 3,000 yards is enough to bump him up a grade.
Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions, B- (3511 yds, 19 TD/11 INT)
Stafford has had another season with nearly 4,000 yards but has struggled with his touchdown to interception ratio. The 19 scoring passes have been more an issue of losing his top target, Golden Tate, in a deadline deal than bad play. The veteran lacks sufficient receiving talent around him. However, Stafford has thrown 11 interceptions while trying to force the football downfield during multiple rally attempts.
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Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers, B (4416 yds, 25 TD/2 INT)
Rodgers has been great at protecting the football this season. Where he’s struggled is with his accuracy. It is odd to type that sentence as Rodgers has been one of the premiere quarterbacks for the better part of the last decade. Regardless, Rodgers has not been his normal self this season and has battled injuries once again. His passing numbers do not show it, but the veteran has missed multiple big plays and struggled compared to his expectations.
Kirk Cousins – Minnesota Vikings, B- (4166 yds, 29 TD/10 INT)
Cousins’ contract shouldn’t affect how anyone views his play this season. Shouldn’t is the key word. The quarterback has played about as well as his career has suggested he would, although his monstrous guaranteed contract has required a larger positive influence to the Minnesota win/loss record. A 29 to 10 touchdown to interception ratio would normally lead to a better grade, but struggling against the better teams in the conference does not.
Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons, B+ (4546 yds, 33 TD/6 INT)
For being on a team failing to meet expectations, Ryan has had a solid season. Ryan will end near 5,000 yards through the air with more than 30 touchdowns. The numbers are all the more surprising when factoring in the struggles in the red zone and injuries to his receiving targets. With a better defense it is likely the veteran would be preparing for the playoffs rather than for the offseason.
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Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers, C+ (3395 yds, 24 TD/13 INT)
Newton has once again played with a sub par offensive line and without many weapons on offense. It has been the prerogative of the Panthers to ride solely with Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey. Unfortunately Newton has battled injuries and tried one too many times to carry the offense. A second half slump by the quarterback torpedoed the season and the once assumed spot in the playoffs.
Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints, A+ (3992 yds, 32 TD/5 INT)
The class of the NFC, Brees has been amazing all season. While his passing yards are not as high as one would expect (he’s had a running game to help), Brees has been especially efficient with the football, resulting in 32 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions. The offense is clicking and Brees is leading the way with both his play and overall leadership. The Saints are a serious contender for another championship and none of that is possible without Brees under center.
Jameis Winston – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, D (2647 yds, 15 TD/13 INT)
Winston has talent around him in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have talented pass catchers and can hang with just about any offense. However, the offense has suffered from turnovers, primarily from the quarterback position. Winston is near 3,000 yards passing having started just half the season, but he also has a 15 to 13 touchdown to interception ratio. The turnovers are what have really hurt Tampa Bay as they have been in many contests late in the game.
Ryan Fitzpatrick – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, D+ (2366 yds, 17 TD/12 INT)
Perhaps it is just an issue with Tampa Bay quarterbacks, but Fitzpatrick has suffered from the same interception troubles as Winston. The veteran quarterback began the season on fire but quickly cooled off and eventually made it easy for head coach Dirk Koetter to make the switch to Winston once healthy. Fitzpatrick has thrown 17 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, but eight of those scores came in the season’s first two games. During that stretch, Fitzpatrick threw just one interception.
Dak Prescott – Dallas Cowboys, B (3498 yds, 18 TD/8 INT)
The Cowboys are winning the division and the defense is the main story. Offensively the ground game has gotten back to being near 2016 levels while Dak has cleaned up a lot of his mistakes. That said, he is still not the guy you want to be the focal point of the offense, especially down late in games without the run game to lean on. Having Amari Cooper in the building has greatly improved Prescott’s performance but it is still wise to avoid throwing the ball 35 times or more unless necessary. The entire division has suffered through significant quarterback struggles in 2018 but Prescott is the only one left standing.
Eli Manning – New York Giants, B- (3998 yds, 19 TD/10 INT)
Eli’s numbers don’t look bad. In fact, his passing yards are right around Pro Bowl caliber. However, the younger Manning has once again struggled with costly interceptions with just 19 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. If the Giants were magically contending for a Super Bowl then no one would bet against Eli, but the veteran hasn’t been able to translate his big game ability to the 2018 season. Pat Shurmur has shown his worth on offense but it is time to start searching for a new quarterback to replace his two-time Super Bowl winner.
Carson Wentz – Philadelphia Eagles, B (3074 yds, 21 TD/7 INT)
It is tough to really say just how important Wentz is to the success of the Eagles. Last season it was obvious just how explosive the offense was with him behind center. However, the postseason performance of Nick Foles in relief led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl victory. In 2018 Wentz has picked up where he left off prior to the injury but the fortunes of the team have switched. In a vacuum, Wentz has played well but has left big plays on the field with timely misses. His affinity for focusing on tight end Zach Ertz has prevented the rest of the offense to run smoother but so has offensive line woes. Unfortunately Wentz is again lost for the season due to injury and that ultimately hurts him here.
Nick Foles – Philadelphia Eagles, C+ (1192 yds, 5 TD/3 INT)
The former Arizona Wildcats quarterback is a beloved man in Philadelphia. Foles steadied himself in the playoffs and was a major factor in the city’s first Super Bowl victory parade. The journeyman quarterback again found himself stepping in for an injured Carson Wentz and has performed as well as he did last season. However, Foles does have his limitations and is not as careful with the football as his predecessor. Foles has thrown five touchdowns to three interceptions, half the interceptions as Wentz but in seven fewer games.
Alex Smith – Washington Redskins, C+ (2180 yds, 10 TD/5 INT)
Alex Smith is haunted by the success of those who have led his former teams following his departure. His injury in San Francisco opened the door to Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers run to the Super Bowl. He then played well in Kansas City but was replaced by Mahomes, who is likely the league’s Most Valuable Player. Smith found himself with Washington as the replacement to Kirk Cousins. In comparison to his predecessor, Smith has played well and has performed at least equal to what Cousins averaged in Washington. Smith would have likely led his team to the playoffs but a gruesome leg injury ended his season and possibly his career. The former Utah quarterback has never been flashing but has shown the ability to be a steady influence. It is telling to watch the struggles of his team after the injury occurred and the drastic fall in the standings.
What it All Means
Ultimately each quarterback must be viewed both in context and a vacuum. It is unfair to only base a player’s performance solely on what his predecessor has done or what his numbers during the season. Balance is always needed. The NFC has been a wild ride all season with many teams fighting for the playoffs. The better graded quarterbacks are typically leading teams still in the race. However, there are some outliers like Ryan and Rodgers. 2018 has shown quarterbacking remains the most important position for any NFL team to succeed, but their play must be weighted with what they are asked to do. At the end of the day the best teams win championships.