Like Ryan’s list, these evaluations take into account multiple factors: the numbers, the film, the personnel around the quarterback. This will also only consider quarterbacks who played in at least four games, so Derek Anderson can rest easy. Unlike Ryan’s grading, however, there were a myriad of failing quarterbacks in the 2018 AFC.
There is no grading curve here; expectations will have no bearing on their final analysis. So while Baker Mayfield may be an A-plus relative to rookies, and Tom Brady may be a C-plus relative to his own standards, their grades are a product of an even baseline of quarterback play. Without further ado…
Lamar Jackson: B-
For every flaw Jackson has as a passer, for all the rawness that still has to be ironed out, there is no question a switch flipped in Baltimore when he took over. The Ravens were a middle of the pack team, hovering around .500. They finished the season 6-1 in Jackson’s seven starts. And despite his attempts per game hovering around 23, his usage was as high as any quarterback’s, as he also carried the ball at least 10 times in each of his starts. His passing remains a work in progress, hence the lower grade. But what he provides for the running game, plus the fact he is just fun to watch, earns Jackson the second-best grade among rookie quarterbacks.
Joe Flacco: C-
It would seem Flacco’s decade-long tenure in Baltimore is all but over. It will be a run defined by mostly average, sometimes good play, and one insane hot streak that got the Ravens their second title. But this year, Jackson has clearly been the better fit. The offense was inconsistent at best under Flacco, and he had just two games in nine starts with a rating over 100. Five times, he finished under 90. His two-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio was solid, but his inaccuracy and the general malaise of Baltimore’s offense will be his mark on the 2018 season. That becomes especially damning when you look at how the Ravens have performed since giving the reins to Jackson. Maybe Flacco goes elsewhere and gets a second wind, but this season would not exactly be his greatest argument for another sizable contract in 2020.
Yes, Roethlisberger gets a B in a season in which he threw for over 5,000 yards for the first time. Overall, his stats are pretty good. His touchdown and interception percentages are around his career norm. He set career highs in leading the league in both completions and attempts. He was the ultimate volume passer this year. And yet.
Roethlisberger was also the ultimate in terms of back-breaking interceptions. The Steelers as a whole made a habit of playing down to weaker opponents while taking it to stronger ones. And Roethlisberger personified that. Look no further than the Jacksonville game, one in which he threw an awful interception in the end zone after throwing three earlier. He was bailed out by a tough holding call on that last pick, and ultimately ran in the go-ahead touchdown. That was Big Ben this year: feast or famine. When he feasted, the Steelers were unbeatable. But he also led the league in “what are you thinking” throws by a wide margin.
Baker Mayfield: B+
Few rookies have captured a fanbase like Mayfield. Other rookie quarterbacks have played better, put up bigger numbers or won more games. But keep in mind what the Browns were going through before drafting Mayfield with the number one pick. They had one win in two seasons. Their coach was the butt of jokes around football. Every drafted quarterback since the franchise reboot in 1999 had failed, and failed spectacularly. Mayfield changed all of that.
He will finish his likely Rookie of the Year season 6-7, plus the win he led the Browns to in week three when he took over late in the second quarter. His numbers are excellent, his energy is contagious and he has made some of the best throws in football this season. Simply put, the Browns are in great shape now, largely because of their star rookie.
Tyrod Taylor: D
Those who watched Hard Knocks over the summer saw that Hue Jackson was adamant about Taylor as starter. But while he snapped the Browns year and a half losing streak with a week one tie, Taylor’s play was lackluster. And over the next two weeks, everything pointed to the inevitable. Mayfield took over in week three, leading Cleveland to their first win in over a year. From there, the team has been on a different trajectory. Cleveland is Baker Mayfield country now, and unfortunately, Taylor is no more than an also-ran.
Andy Dalton: C+
Dalton got off to a good start to the season, putting up strong performances in winning four of the first five. From there, however, he fell back to his mean, that is to say, a solid, but largely unreliable quarterback. After holding the top spot in the AFC North for the first quarter of the season, the Bengals are ultimately going to end up dead least. Now obviously, not all of that falls on Dalton. In fact, Dalton’s play is a minute recipient of blame for their downfall, as the Bengals are dead last in points and yards allowed. That said, Dalton will finish this season with 11 games played. In four of those, he had a rating over 100. Three of those came in the first four games. Six of the remaining seven games, he had a rating under 90. In other words, Dalton was extremely up and down this year, and when all was said and done, the downs outweighed the ups.
Jeff Driskel: D-
Driskel has held the fort down since Dalton went out in week 12, but nothing more. The Bengals’ passing game has suffered immensely since he took over, with Driskel exceeding 200 yards only once. In Cincinnati’s one strong offensive performance under Driskel (week 15 vs. Oakland), he completed 42.4 percent of his passes for only 130 yards a touchdown. At times, it looks as if Driskel has what it takes to stick as a backup; he can play well enough for stretches. But like most career backups, he was not able to maintain a high enough level of play.
Deshaun Watson: A-
The Texans have to be pleased with the rapid development of their young quarterback. Watson set the league on fire last year with his play-making ability, but his season was cut short by an ACL injury. This year, he was back with a vengeance. Every dropback has fans holding their breath, both in anticipation and fear, as Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times this year. But even with a porous line and a weak-ish receiving corps, Watson put up big numbers, made jaw-dropping plays, helped establish DeAndre Hopkins as the league’s top receiver and led Houston to a division title. Cannot ask for much more than that from a second-year quarterback.
Andrew Luck: A
So much for “he will never throw again.” Maybe Luck needed a week or two to get his sea legs, but the rust of the repaired shoulder shook off in no time. The Luck of old was back this year, and playing some of his best football. With a dearth of offensive weapons and a hit-or-miss defense, Luck led the Colts to a playoff spot against all odds while setting career highs along the way in completion percentage and passer rating. The Colts once again look to be on the right path with Luck under center.
Mariota is turning into little more than a coattail-rider on a talented Tennessee roster. Once the hot quarterback in football, he has faded into an exceedingly average quarterback, one who completes a high percentage of his passes, but also turns it over too much. One who has athletic ability to burn, yet takes a number of bad sacks. Tennessee’s running game was solid, so it makes sense that his numbers would be down a little. But his usage is very low for today’s NFL. And while his injury will likely get the blame for the Titans missing the postseason, the fact is that there was discussion at one point this year about whether or not Blaine Gabbert would be better for the Titans’ offense. Speaking of which…
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Blaine Gabbert: D
Gabbert got a lot of run for a backup quarterback without ever officially taking over for Mariota. He threw at least 10 passes five times this season, never going over 165 yards and ultimately finishing with a one-to-one touchdown to interception ratio. While he was relatively functional as a backup, going 2-3 in those 10-plus pass games, his moment as a starter this year, week 17 against Indianapolis, proved too big for him. He missed multiple throws badly, and never got the Titan offense rolling adequately in a do-or-die game.
Cody Kessler: F
What an awful season for the Jaguars. Their whole quarterback situation was nothing short of disastrous: benching Bortles, bringing him back, benching him again before letting him close out the season in week 17 with another loss. Both quarterbacks picked up a signature win. Bortles beat the Patriots in week two, Kessler the Colts in week 13. And yet, no duo of quarterbacks in all of football who started multiple games looked worse than Bortles and Kessler. For the complete tanking of a playoff team, for the clear disdain the Jaguars teammates had for their play, Jacksonville’s quarterback room gets a failing grade this year.
New England Patriots
Tom Brady: A-
By all accounts, this was somewhat of a down year for Brady. Not down by most standards, but down by his standards. Brady started to look his age for the first time, as his throws were off a bit more than typical. That being said, he was still a really good quarterback this season. Aside from the still-good numbers, he deserves most of the credit for getting the Patriots where they are right now. With a lot of injuries around him, a declining Rob Gronkowski and a roster that seems a hair less talented than most Patriots rosters, Brady led the team to 11 wins and first round bye. Because of that, there is no way to grade him anything less than an A-minus.
Brock Osweiler: C-
Tannehill is owed a lot of money next year, and his play in 2018 hardly justifies it. He threw over 25 times just thrice this year, and failed to post a rating over 90 all three times. Adam Gase was fired this week, so it is possible the play-calling simply did Tannehill no favors. That said, the dropoff from Tannehill to his backup Osweiler was not all that substantial. Osweiler completed a higher percentage of his passes than Tannehill, averaged more pass attempts and completions per start and had more games of at least 200 yards. Osweiler went 2-3 as a starter, Tannehill 5-6. Both struggled mightily with accuracy on passes over 10 yards and against pressure. When all was said and done, their 2018 performances were close.
That said, Tannehill gets the slight edge in grade because he helped put the Dolphins in playoff position. Miami was 7-6 entering week 15, and had a realistic shot to win out and make the postseason. Alas, Tannehill played poorly, the Dolphins scored a combined 31 points and they lost all three. Had Tannehill finished the season strong and kept the Dolphins in playoff contention, his grade would be higher and his future would be clearer. As it stands, it is tough to imagine a scenario where Miami invests $26.6 million of their cap into him.
Josh Allen: C-
Take everything I said about Lamar Jackson, take it down a notch and take away most of the wins, that was somewhat the season Allen had. For all the arm talent, his real asset to Buffalo was his athleticism and running ability. He had back-to-back 100-yard rushing games towards the end of the season, ultimately running for over 600 yards and eight touchdowns in only 12 games. As a passer, Allen has a lot of work to do. His completion percentage hovered around 50 all year and he was the only AFC full-time starting quarterback to finish with more interceptions than touchdowns. Still, Allen at least brings some excitement moving forward.
I mean, what is there to say? Peterman’s reign in Buffalo will go down as arguably the worst in league history. This season, in four games, he yielded just 296 total yards, one touchdown and SEVEN interceptions. He threw interceptions on 8.6 percent of passes. That is a level of ineptitude at the position that may never be matched.
New York Jets
Here is where the grades get a little tricky. Darnold’s numbers are not great: sub-60 percent completion, 3.6 interception percentage, only 17 touchdowns against 15 picks, all while his team won just four games. The performance in a vacuum was mediocre at best for the rookie, and there is no curve of expectations. Hence, the C grade. That said, the optics of Darnold are enticing. There were a number of plays this season that should have Jets fans excited about where Darnold could end up. His improvisation skills are excellent, his athleticism is top-notch and he can make game-breaking plays. Outside of Mayfield, he clearly has the most upside as a passer of the rookie quarterbacks. That said, his 2018 performance cannot earn higher than a C, even if his ceiling seems quite high.
Josh McCown: D-
It is clear at this point that McCown will be a backup quarterback in the NFL until he takes his final breath. This year was not his finest with regards to relief duty, however. McCown started three games when Darnold was out with injury, losing all three while completing under 60 percent and throwing four interceptions against just one touchdown. McCown may be around forever, but his days of unexpected stretches of dominance appear to be behind him.
Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes: A+
Bar none, the best quarterback in the AFC this season, and probably the MVP of the league. Not since Dan Marino have we seen a player jump like this in year two. Not even Carson Wentz of last year reached the heights Mahomes reached in 2018. The list of quarterbacks who have thrown for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns was one name long, Peyton Manning. Now it is two. Mahomes’ season was historic, and he should be rewarded with hardware to match.
Los Angeles Chargers
Somewhat quietly, Rivers’ MVP case was strong this season. He had one of the best years of his Hall of Fame-caliber career, and he did it in his age-37 season. The Chargers were consistently one of the two best teams in the AFC this season, and their passing offense was a big reason for that. His three-game slide to close out the season probably dropped him out of the top-five in the final MVP vote, and it came when the Chargers were vying for that coveted first round bye. But even so, Rivers showed this year that he is not slowing down anytime soon. He will continue to put up gaudy numbers, even as he pushes 40.
Case Keenum: D
Keenum was always meant to be a stopgap, even if the Broncos tried to convince themselves that 2017 Keenum was the real Keenum. Well, the guy they got was more reminiscent of the back of his card than the guy who led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game. Keenum is a gunslinger without the requisite arm strength. So what his team ends up with is a guy who goes through spells of inaccuracy and poor decision-making, and does not compensate with consistent big plays. Hence, the 62.1 percent completion and the 15 interceptions against 18 touchdowns. To the Broncos’ credit, the rest of the roster looks playoff caliber, once they find the signal caller of the future.
Derek Carr: C+
Carr set career-highs in several passing categories, including eclipsing 4,000 yards for the first time. And yet, it still feels like the Raiders have yet to find their franchise quarterback. Maybe the fit is bad, maybe the coaching is doing him no favors. But Carr has the numbers of a good NFL starting quarterback without the wins or fan confidence to match. Plus, of course some of those numbers are obviously inflated by his team consistently coming from behind. Overall, as far as blame for Oakland’s season goes, Carr is pretty far down the list, especially considering he lost his best weapon midway through the season. That said, as long as the wins stay few and far between, it will be tough to justify his massive contract.
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–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.