In terms of quarterback play, there isn’t much of a nature vs. nurture debate.
Sure, some guys, like Tom Brady, just have it. But for the mortals among NFL passers, most of their success is directly tied into what’s around them in terms of pass protection, a complementary running game, the weapons they have at their disposal, coaching and whether they have to overcome a terrible defense.
Everything is so varied from team to team in those areas that it makes it almost impossible to judge whether a quarterback is making the most of his opportunity, or if he has just been placed in a no-win situation. I mean, how can you judge 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick using the same measuring stick as you would use with Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers? One has Jeremy Kerley to throw to, the other has a variety of targets to choose from, including the best in the league at their positions (RB Le’Veon Bell, WR Antonio Brown).
So, in an attempt to provide some clarity on the matter, we’ve decided to give you a hand in leveling the playing field.
To help give you ammo for your next barstool argument, I’ve evaluated each of the quarterback situations around the league in various categories and then averaged out the results to give you a better picture of what kind of hand each quarterback has been dealt.
— Pass Pro: Level of pass protection for each passer, which relies heavily on PFF’s pass-block efficiency rating and takes into account hurries, hits and sacks.
— Run game: The efficiency of each running attack (not just raw yardage), which uses FO’s run game DVOA.
— Weapons: Evaluates all of the possible targets for each team. Aided somewhat by PFF’s receiving crop rankings but also film study, personal evaluations and it factors into injuries sustained during the course of the season.
— Coaching: Subjective opinion that focuses mostly on the construction of the passing game by the de facto offensive coordinator through extensive film study. Head coaches are a factor with how they manage the game and the offense, as is overall coaching stability.
— Defense: Relies mostly on FO’s defensive DVOA but some of those rankings are tweaked slightly based on how a team has improved or regressed.
As an added bonus at the very bottom of each blurb, we’ve included two extra categories to take the argument even further. ESPN’s QBR ranking is given, and that number is subtracted from the situation average to give an indication of a quarterback’s value relative to their situation. Each passer is then ranked from best to worst to yield an MV-QB ranking (most valuable quarterback) from most valuable to least. (1 is our most, 32 is the least).
Let the arguments and complaints begin …
Ranking all 32 situations for quarterbacks
32. Los Angeles Rams (25.6 situation average)
Pass Pro: 21; Run game: 30; Weapons: 31; Coaching: 32; Defense: 14.
31. Cleveland Browns (25.4 situation average)
Pass Pro: 20; Run game: 17; Weapons: 30; Coaching: 28; Defense: 32.
Injuries and suspensions, from the offensive line and Josh Gordon to the defense, have completely wrecked what appeared to be a decent situation on offense, especially once Terrelle Pryor established himself as one of the better receivers in the league. It has even limited Hue Jackson’s abilities to be creative on offense, because he’s still one of the league’s brighter minds, although he’s still learning to be a head coach.QBR ranking: 32. MV-QB ranking: 24. Just another indication of how bad the situation is in Cleveland.
30. San Francisco 49ers (24.8 situation average)
Pass Pro: 31; Run game: 3; Weapons: 32; Coaching: 31; Defense: 25.
This all starts with an offensive line that has a hard time pass blocking, and then you’re throwing to weapons where the best option available is Jeremy Kerley. Add in the fact that Chip Kelly’s scheme has a tough time out-flanking NFL defenses, and it’s tough to even judge what level Colin Kaepernick is at at this point. That might help him in free agency.QBR ranking: 23. MV-QB ranking: 14. With the lack of weapons and a poor defense, making the 49ers even competitive at all has been a job well done by Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick.
29. Minnesota Vikings (21.2 situation average)
Pass Pro: 22; Run game: 29; Weapons: 24; Coaching: 26; Defense: 5
Injury issues to members of offensive line and Adrian Peterson, plus the midseason departure of respected offensive coordinator Norv Turner have this situation heading downhill. And while the defense has been great most of the season, it’s starting to tail off as well. The Vikings need a hard reset on the offensive side of the ball that includes a revamped offensive line, more weapons and possibly a better offensive coordinator than Pat Shurmur.QBR ranking: 20. MV-QB ranking: 16. Sam Bradford should get combat pay for how he’s found a way to be productive with so little help.
28. New York Jets (21.0 situation average)
Pass Pro: 23; Run game: 9; Weapons: 23; Coaching: 21; Defense: 29
The injury to Eric Decker and the demise of the once strong defense has made this a tough situation. Even the late emergence of WR Quincy Enunwa, who comes and goes at times, hasn’t been able to offset it. QBR ranking: 29. MV-QB ranking: 25. There’s no disputing that Ryan Fitzpatrick has made a bad situation worse this season.
25. Buffalo Bills *tie* (20.4 situation average)
Pass Pro: 26; Run game: 1; Weapons: 25; Coaching: 29; Defense: 21
A possibly potent lineup has been hurt by injuries to No. 1 WR Sammy Watkins, LT Cordy Glenn, C Eric Wood, while the right tackle position has been a bit of a disaster. The Bills also changed coordinators from Greg Roman to Anthony Lynn (who is actually good) after Week 2 of the season. And the defense has been leaking.QBR ranking: 12. MV-QB ranking: 7. He has the most efficient run game to keep defenses honest, but Tyrod Taylor has done a good job considering leaky pass pro, not having Watkins and not getting much help at tight end.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers *tie* (20.4 situation average)
Pass Pro: 19; Run game: 31; Weapons: 21; Coaching: 23; Defense: 8
25. Detroit Lions *tie* (20.4 situation average)
Pass Pro: 17; Run game: 27; Weapons: 18; Coaching: 9; Defense: 31
You can’t overstate the impact that offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has had at tailoring the offense to accentuate Matthew Stafford’s strengths in the post-Calvin Johnson era. Stafford’s protection and targets are about average and while the defense has been playing well of late, a season is 16 games long.QBR ranking: 8. MV-QB ranking: 2. The Lions might not make the playoffs, but as of right now Stafford has been one of the most valuable QBs in the league.
24. San Diego Chargers (19.6 situation average)
Pass Pro: 32; Run game: 22; Weapons: 20; Coaching: 11; Defense: 13
Every time you look up, Philip Rivers is either on the ground or has a defender in his face because his pass protection has been a disaster this season. Who would have thought WR Tyrell Williams and TE Hunter Henry would do anything? The defense has turned into a respectable unit since Joey Bosa got into the mix, and Ken Whisenhunt does a great job at scheming an aggressive passing game.QBR ranking: 9. MV-QB ranking: 3. Considering Rivers’s considerable struggles in the fourth quarter lately, color me surprised that he’s in the top 10 in QBR, but that’s the way it came out.
23. Baltimore Ravens (19.2 situation average)
Pass Pro: 15; Run game: 26; Weapons: 22; Coaching: 30; Defense: 3
The Ravens’ continued struggles on the ground have been a huge problem because we now know that Joe Flacco is a complementary QB. And the coordinator change from Marc Trestman to Marty Mornhinweg hasn’t help things and in fact, considering the archaic scheme they’re running now, has probably been a downgrade. As far as weapons go, Steve Smith isn’t what he once was, and Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman aren’t consistent enough.QBR ranking: 18. MV-QB ranking: 15. He should be called Average Joe Flacco.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (19.0 situation average)
Pass Pro: 11; Run game: 32; Weapons: 13; Coaching: 27; Defense: 12
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20. Indianapolis Colts *tie* (18.8 situation average)
Pass Pro: 29; Run game: 10; Weapons: 11; Coaching: 14; Defense: 30
The Colts are a perfect example of how constructing a fantasy team, with a good QB, RB and WRs does little good for you if you don’t protect the QB and the defense can’t get enough stops. OC Rob Chudzinski is actually a solid coordinator, but it’s tough to gets your system going without enough time to pass.QBR ranking: 6. MV-QB ranking: 1. You have to wonder where the Colts (and coach Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson) would be without the heroics of Luck this season.
20. Chicago Bears *tie* (18.8 situation average)
Pass Pro: 6; Run game: 20; Weapons: 27; Coaching: 25; Defense: 16
The offensive line has actually done a pretty good job according to the ProFootballFocus numbers but it’s hard to tell because Chicago has struggled with drops and the continued absence of WR Kevin White really hurts.QBR ranking: 31. MV-QB ranking: 32. Matt Barkley’s good performance proves that there are some things to work with here, but Jay Cutler did a lot of damage in his five games. Neither Barkley, Cutler nor Brian Hoyer has started more than five games, so a real evaluation is impossible.
19. Houston Texans (18.0 situation average)
Pass Pro: 25; Run game: 25; Weapons: 16; Coaching: 18; Defense: 6
The Texans really need to be a run-first team, and the struggles in that part of their game at times are probably related to the issues at QB and along the offensive line. Teams have not been afraid to stack the box against Brock Osweiler, and he hasn’t been able to make a good scheme with good weapons work for him (hence the benching for Tom Savage on Sunday).QBR ranking: 24. MV-QB ranking: 23. Don’t blame me, I just punch in the numbers. Yes, I’m surprised it came out like this. It shows the weakness of the offensive line, which missed Duane Brown for a large chunk.
18. Carolina Panthers (17.8 situation average)
Pass Pro: 18; Run game: 21; Weapons: 17; Coaching: 24; Defense: 9
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula did a great job coordinating a diversified run game last season, but his weaknesses with the pass (and adjusting to a poor line dealing with injuries) has hurt the team this season. QBR ranking: 22. MV-QB ranking: 19. Cam Newton was great last season with an awesome running game and great defense. But those units aren’t as good this year, and Newton hasn’t lifted his play.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (17.2 situation average)
Pass Pro: 13; Run game: 11; Weapons: 29; Coaching: 13; Defense: 20
The offensive line, which is usually one of the best in the league, has taken a huge step back, and that’s trickled down to everything else. The defense is getting older and is no longer capable of holding opponents down. And losing A.J. Green to injury in the middle of the season has been a big problem.QBR ranking: 17. MV-QB ranking: 17. Without a good supporting cast, Andy Dalton is average. Which is what most of us thought.
16. Tennessee Titans (16.8 Situation average)
Pass Pro: 4; Run game: 8; Weapons: 26; Coaching: 22; Defense: 24
The Titans (and the Cowboys) are the argument for getting a great offensive line in place to build a foundation (coach Mike Mularkey and assistant Russ Grimm are great instructors), even if you don’t have good weapons nor a complicated scheme. The Tennessee defense has turned it on as of late, which has led to the team’s surge.QBR ranking: 11. MV-QB ranking: 10. Marcus Mariota has done a nice job when he takes care of the ball.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (16.0 situation average)
Pass Pro: 8; Run game: 14; Weapons: 28; Coaching: 19; Defense: 11
I’ll admit that the Eagles’ defense probably broke a lot of analytical models—like our friends at FootballOutsiders.com—with its hot start against some good teams because it’s not really a borderline top-10 unit at this point. And Doug Pederson also got off to a great coaching start with the way he set things up for rookie Carson Wentz, but both of them have tailed off. Still, Philly has a decent situation overall with a solid offensive line.QBR ranking: 27. MV-QB ranking: 31. The excuse-making out of Philadelphia doesn’t measure up: Wentz simply needs to play better.
14. Seattle Seahawks (15.8 Situation average)
Pass Pro: 30; Run game: 18; Weapons: 12; Coaching: 17; Defense: 2
The Seahawks would really be something if they could ever put together an offensive line to consistently protect Russell Wilson and open up big rushing lanes. OC Darrell Bevell used to be further down the list, but he got Wilson to buy in last year.QBR ranking: 14. MV-QB ranking: 13. If the defense wasn't so good, this would look a lot better for Wilson. But, again, that line is holding everybody back.
13. New York Giants (15.4 situation average)
Pass Pro: 16; Run game: 24; Weapons: 10; Coaching: 20; Defense: 7
About seven years ago, any branch of the Mike McCarthy offensive tree would be a lot higher on the coaching list, but Ben McAdoo, along with McCarthy, have been slow to adjust and stubborn to nearly a fault over the past few seasons. Meanwhile, LT Ereck Flowers and the RBs have been a problem.QBR ranking: 26. MV-QB ranking: 30. It’s amazing where the Giants are considering how Eli Manning has played, and McAdoo hasn’t found a way to help him be any better.
12. Miami Dolphins (14.6 situation average)
Pass Pro: 26; Run game: 13; Weapons: 14; Coaching: 3; Defense: 17
The offensive line has been an issue, but RB Jay Ajayi has been a revelation as a latter day Terrell Davis, and the trio of WRs Jarvis Landry, Devante Parker and Kenny Stills are pretty good, if inconsistent. And, yes, I’m fully on board with HC/OC Adam Gase. There aren’t many coaches better at scheming up their QBs for success.QBR ranking: 25. MV-QB ranking: 29. I’m on the record as not being the biggest Ryan Tannehill fan, but even I think this is unfair. Not sure why QBR hates him so much, but he should be around the middle of the pack. Tannehill’s not one of the least valuable QBs, although he’s not that valuable either.
11. denver broncos (14.4 situation average)
Pass Pro: 28; Run game: 28; Weapons: 7; Coaching: 8; Defense: 1
Denver’s offensive line has been woefully inadequate in the run blocking department (losing RB C.J. Anderson hasn’t helped), and just as bad pass blocking. Demaryius Thomas hasn’t been the same since Kam Chancellor nailed him in the Super Bowl, but he’s still an uber talent and should be wrecking teams along with Emmanuel Sanders. Gary Kubiak is time tested, but he’s too rigid and conservative to have a higher grade. Denver’s defense gives the offense countless cracks at scoring points.QBR ranking: 19. MV-QB ranking: 21. QB Trevor Siemian (and Paxton Lynch in his two starts) haven’t been great, but in that offense they need a lot more help from the line and the run game.
10. green bay packers (13.6 situation average)
Pass Pro: 1; Run game: 15; Weapons: 19; Coaching: 15; Defense: 18
Right now, the Packers are probably a bit higher in weaponry, but it took Davante Adams a while to get going, although Randall Cobb still disappears for stretches and the TE position barely helps. Their defense has gotten better as it has gotten healthier. Still, the Packers would be higher if coach Mike McCarthy schemed outside his box a little more often like he used to.QBR ranking: 4. MV-QB ranking: 6. Rodgers would be higher on the list if he didn’t struggle personally for a stretch, which he did.
9. kansas city chiefs (13.0 situation average)
Pass Pro: 7; Run game: 23; Weapons: 10; Coaching: 10; Defense: 13
With starting running back Jamaal Charles out for basically the season and assorted other injuries at the position, the Chiefs’ running game hasn’t been as potent as in years past. But with the emergence of Tyreek Hill (as a legit weapon, not just an element of surprise) and the decision to use TE Travis Kelce as a major focal point (instead of a sporadic playmaker), the Chiefs more than survived without WR Jeremy Maclin for a stretch.QBR ranking: 15. MV-QB ranking: 18. Alex Smith is a solid quarterback who will only be a good one if others can boost him to the next level.
8. Arizona cardinals (12.0 situation average)
Pass Pro: 24; Run game: 19; Weapons: 9; Coaching: 4; Defense: 4
Volume and the talent of David Johnson definitely make the running game look better than it is and the weapons as a whole haven’t held up their end of the bargain this season, but this is still a good situation. Bruce Arians has one of the more creative attacks but both the offensive line and an aging Carson Palmer have let Arians down, although he should have done more to help his QB.QBR ranking: 21. MV-QB ranking: 26. A year after being near the top in both categories, Palmer lands in the bottom and some of it has been his own fault.
7. atlanta falcons (11.2 situation average)
Pass Pro: 14; Run game: 6; Weapons: 5; Coaching: 5; Defense: 26
The Falcons have made big upgrades along the offensive line, WR Mohamed Sanu has been better than advertised and they’ve even gotten something out of the tight end position. Combine that with OC Kyle Shanahan keeping a tighter leash on Matt Ryan and the Falcons have overcome their terrible defense.QBR ranking: 1. MV-QB ranking: 5. He’s made a few late-game mistakes (again), but Matt Ryan has rebounded thanks to Shanahan’s deft stage managing.
6. washington redskins (10.4 situation average)
Pass Pro: 11; Run game: 4; Weapons: 2; Coaching: 12; Defense: 23
Another team that has seen investments into the offensive line pay off (including the past hiring of Bill Callahan as line coach). It’s hard to match a group of weapons like DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis. But the defense isn’t helping matters.QBR ranking: 5. MV-QB ranking: 11. Considering all the good things around him, Kirk Cousins has been good but should be a little better.
5. Oakland Raiders (10.2 situation average)
Pass Pro: 2; Run game: 7; Weapons: 4; Coaching: 16; Defense: 22
Sensing a theme about offensive lines yet? Derek Carr gets great protection and a productive running game, which sets up his vast weapons that start with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. OC Bill Musgrave isn’t the most creative mind, and head coach Jack Del Rio is a bit of a wild card in terms of giving the team a mental edge.QBR ranking: 16. MV-QB ranking: 22. Thought Derek Carr would be a little higher on this list but he is just 12th in passer rating and his yards per attempt are 19th. He came up short in both meetings with the Chiefs.
3. New orleans saints *tie* (10.0 situation average)
Pass Pro: 3; Run game: 12; Weapons: 8; Coaching: 2; Defense: 25
Just a few years after the offensive line was a borderline disaster, the unit is now one of the team’s strengths in both the pass and run. The emergence of Michael Thomas and Willie Snead, reliability of TE Coby Fleener and big-play ability of Brandin Cooks gives Drew Brees a ton to work with, although the defense does not. And the Sean Payton/Pete Carmichael pairing is still on the cutting edge of scheming.QBR ranking: 7. MV-QB ranking: 12. Brees would be a lot higher if he just cut back a little on his 14 interceptions.
3. Dallas Cowboys *TIE* (9.6 situation average)
Pass Pro: 9; Run game: 2; Weapons: 3; Coaching: 6; Defense: 28
2. New England Patriots (9.4 situation average)
Pass Pro: 10; Run game: 16; Weapons: 1; Coaching: 1; Defense: 19
The offensive line has vastly improved from over a year ago, but the run game hasn’t been as efficient as it could be (a lot of volume) although Dion Lewis’s return as a sub runner should help. Losing Rob Gronkowski has killed some Patriots teams of the past, but those didn’t have Martellus Bennett hanging around nor impressive rookie Malcolm Mitchell. Julian Edelman is the league’s best slot receiver, and Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola (when healthy) provide functional depth. Plus, nobody does it better than Bill Belichick and OC Josh McDaniels. QBR ranking: 3. MV-QB ranking: 9. Brady provides a lot more hidden value than what shows up in statistics, but this is almost an embarrassment of riches now that the defense is getting some stops.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pass Pro: 5; Run game: 5; Weapons: 6; Coaching: 7; Defense: 15
Martavis Bryant’s suspension and the injury woes of TE Ladarius Green have kept these weapons from being the best in the league, but no one is feeling sorry for the Steelers since they have transcendent talents in both RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown. Plus, the line is very good, and OC Todd Haley makes it work.QBR ranking: 13. MV-QB ranking: 21. Some of it has to do with the defense because of the need to press, but QB Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been as good as in the past.