Let’s make one thing clear right off the top: Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. That’s not up for debate.
But where does Brady, who’s seeking his seventh Super Bowl title in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rank in the league’s current-day QB hierarchy? Or, in simpler terms, who is the best quarterback in the NFL right now?
With the divisional round of the NFL playoffs set to kick off this Saturday, here’s how we would rank the eight remaining signal-callers:
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
NFL MVP in 2018. Super Bowl MVP in 2019. Ten-year, $450 million contract in 2020. It’s been one heck of a run for Mahomes, who’s firmly established himself as the present and future of the quarterback position. The 25-year-old didn’t have the absolute best season by any QB in 2020, but he’s still the best player at the position — and should remain that way for years to come. His Chiefs went 14-2 (with one loss coming while Mahomes and many other starters sat out in Week 17) to lock down the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Call it the Jimmy Garoppolo effect. Just as Brady experienced a statistical resurgence after the Patriots drafted Garoppolo in the second round in 2014, Rodgers did the same after Green Bay controversially used a first-round pick on Jordan Love last spring. Rodgers is one of the best QBs of all time, but his numbers as a 37-year-old this season were downright preposterous. He ranked first in (*deep breath*) completion percentage, touchdown passes, touchdown rate, interception rate, passer rating, QBR, expected points added per play, completion percentage over expectation and Pro Football Focus grade, to name a few. Green Bay won its final six games to secure the top seed in the NFC. Rodgers threw 19 touchdowns with just one interception in those games.
3. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Ranking Allen over Brady might sound like blasphemy to Patriots fans, but the young Bills star truly (and surprisingly) became one of the best quarterbacks in football this season. Buoyed by the offseason addition of elite wideout Stefon Diggs, Allen improved his completion percentage by more than 10 points (to 69.8 percent), boosted his yards-per-attempt average by more than a yard (to 7.9), threw 17 more touchdown passes (37) than he did in 2019 and ranked in the top five in nearly every passing category, including advanced metrics like EPA/play and CPOE. Add in Allen’s rushing ability (421 yards, eight touchdowns) and the first-time Pro Bowler gets the edge.
4. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After enduring one of the worst statistical seasons of his career in 2019, Brady jumped ship to Tampa and proved he was not, in fact, washed up. Only Rodgers threw more touchdown passes (48) than Brady’s 40 this season as the former Patriots icon took full advantage of his newly discovered treasure trove of offensive weapons. Brady also finished as PFF’s second-highest graded QB in his first year as a Buc. The transition to Bruce Arians’ deep-ball-heavy offense wasn’t seamless — Brady made several high-profile mistakes in primetime losses to the Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams — but the 43-year-old has been in vintage form since mid-December, averaging 380 passing yards and three touchdowns per game over the last four weeks. (As an aside, if Tampa Bay keeps winning and the No. 1 seeds aren’t upset, Brady’s next three games could be against Drew Brees, Rodgers and Mahomes. Talk about some marquee matchups.)
5. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
We definitely saw some expected regression this season from Jackson, who was more productive as a rusher and as a passer during his 2019 MVP campaign. He’d rank below Houston’s Deshaun Watson, certainly, and perhaps one or two others if we included non-playoff QBs. But while he lacked the same consistency in 2020, Jackson remains one of the NFL’s most dangerous playmakers, as the Tennessee Titans found out last week.
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
No qualified quarterback attempted fewer deep passes (20-plus air yards) than Brees this season, and only Alex Smith averaged fewer air yards per pass attempt. At 41 (42 on Friday) and almost certainly in his final playoff run, Brees’ arm strength and physical tools have deteriorated, but the surefire Hall of Famer remains an expert game manager, completing 70 percent of his passes or higher in each of the last five seasons.
7. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
The strength of the Browns’ offense is its rushing attack, but Mayfield — one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL in 2019 — has rebounded nicely under first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski. The 2018 first overall pick still ranks near the bottom of the league in completion percentage (62.8 percent) but cut his interceptions way down (eight, down from 21 in 2019) and posted the 10th-best QBR during the regular season.
8. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Goff deserves praise for his gutsy performance, just 12 days removed from thumb surgery, against the Seattle Seahawks this past Saturday. But he threw more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (eight) over the second half of the season. Against the Patriots in Week 14, the Rams’ offensive game plan revolved around having Goff throw downfield as infrequently as possible. If Sean McVay’s club makes it back to the Super Bowl, it’ll be because of its defense and run game, not its quarterback.