NFL QB Power Rankings Week 1: Which young QBs will leap into elite category this year?

We don't have enough heavily-debated lists floating around the Internet in the year 2018. The world needs more of them. Which is why we're going cutting edge on you guys and dropping a weekly breakdown of all 32 NFL starting quarterbacks. 

For this inaugural list, the basic rule is simple: who would I want for the 2018 season? I'm grouping them in chunks of quarterbacks based on my personal preference for these guys heading into the 2018 season. I'm not starting a franchise, I'm trying to win a Super Bowl this year. 

I'm also only listing starters, so there's no Carson Wentz here (yet) and no Baker Mayfield here (yet?). Don't get hot and bothered by it -- if someone is literally a placeholder, they're going to be very far down the list. 

We'll adjust this every week based on how guys are performing throughout the season. If Tom Brady stinks the joint up for three or four games, he's going to get knocked down a peg. That doesn't change where he sits historically in the pantheon of quarterbacks or how I view him from a career perspective, but it does change how he sits in these rankings. 

After Week 1, this will be a combo ranking of how guys have played blended with who I want moving forward. It would take a ton for Deshaun Watson to vault himself above Brady, Aaron Rodgers, etc., but it's not something that is totally impossible. 

Just lobbing out some very vague ground rules before we get started. Yell at me on Twitter @WillBrinson with your complaints, questions and (unlikely) compliments and make sure to check out my DAILY NFL PODCAST, the Pick Six Podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes here

Let's get to the groupings:

The Elite QBs
1
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers QB
The most physically gifted quarterback I have ever seen play, he is the best in the game when he's healthy.
2
Tom Brady New England Patriots QB
The greatest quarterback of all time, it's almost insulting to put him at No. 2 after he won an MVP at the age of 40.
3
Drew Brees New Orleans Saints QB
People think he had a down season last year. Please. The Saints weren't as pass happy -- he completed 72.5 percent of his passes. That's comical.

These are the BEST OF THE BEST. I don't mind if you put more guys in here in your personal rankings. These guys just transcend. Don't get caught up in the labeling semantics. 

Just Bit Outside/Also Mostly Elite
4
Philip Rivers Los Angeles Chargers QB
Underrated for his toughness, but also the tape he's putting out there year after year. Aging well -- somebody get this guy a freaking Super Bowl already. Stop screwing around, Chargers.
5
Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh Steelers QB
No Le'Veon Bell? No problem. Ben has never gotten the MVP buzz his play deserves but maybe this is the year.
6
Russell Wilson Seattle Seahawks QB
My preseason MVP pick because if the Seahawks make any kind of playoff run, Russell will get credit for throwing the offense on his back and making magic happen.
7
Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons QB
Bad red-zone stats from last year caused people to pooh-pooh Ryan's season, but he's due for some positive regression and is still a top-shelf passer.
8
Cam Newton Carolina Panthers QB
No one wants to love Cam but he's arguably the greatest running quarterback in NFL history at the age of 29. He's about to enter the season with a good OC for once and has his best set of weapons yet. 
9
Matthew Stafford Detroit Lions QB
Nine is also the round where you can draft Stafford in fantasy for some reason. No one wants to love this guy but he's in the middle of a more mature and efficient third phase of his career. 
10
Andrew Luck Indianapolis Colts QB
I feel like Chris Ballard here: blindly believing Capt. Andy is fine until someone tells me otherwise (or until he's able to throw deep passes in the regular season). Maybe the Colts are hiding him??? 

This second tier has plenty of guys who are "elite" and if you don't think Andrew Luck belongs with Ben Roethlisberger that's fine. But these guys are not "sure fire" Hall of Famers like the three at the top and all of these guys can lay some eggs on a semi-regular basis. There are question marks around each of them -- would you be surprised to see Ben or Philip Rivers just physically decline and fall off a cliff this year? I don't think it happens but it's not out of the question. 

Stable Veterans
11
Alex Smith Washington Redskins QB
Put up an MVP-caliber season in his final hurrah with the Chiefs before being traded to Washington. Smith gives the Redskins a nice floor heading into 2018 but I think his statistical ceiling is much higher than most expect.
12
Kirk Cousins Minnesota Vikings QB
Mr. Fully Guaranteed will have high expectations this year but there's no reason to think Cousins can't meet them with Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook around him.

I'm perfectly fine with any argument starting with "give me X player below instead of Alex Smith." But heading into the 2018 season, we're still projecting these quarterbacks below. Above are two guys with track records of MULTIPLE YEARS. Smith and Cousins aren't sexy options at the position, but you know you're getting above average play, even if it's expensive (and, of course, contracts don't count in this hypothetical world). Smith is about to throw 50 more times than he ever has in his career, don't be surprised if his numbers take a big jump. Cousins could be more of a game manager than ever before and it might fit him nicely. 

The Next Generation
13
Deshaun Watson Houston Texans QB
Watson rolled through the NFL like a comet for less than half a season last year, lighting the league up so much that no one in Houston even blinked about giving up a top-five pick for him.
14
Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs QB
Mahomes oozes potential and is in a perfect setup with Andy Reid as his coach and a ton of weapons. His highs will be very high -- his placement here will be about managing his lows. 
15
Jared Goff Los Angeles Rams QB
Goff gets unfairly treated as some Westworld-like host created by Sean McVay. He was the No. 1 overall pick, guys. He just got smothered as a rookie by Jeff Fisher's caveman offense. 
16
Jimmy Garoppolo San Francisco 49ers QB
A brilliant five-game stretch to close out 2017 has 49ers fans expecting big things in 2018. Jimmy G has never lost a game he's started. Maybe he won't ever lose one. Who knows?
17
Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys QB
Prescott took some lumps last year, but the Cowboys offense as a whole just stalled out. No Ezekiel Elliott suspension and a healthy-ish offensive line should equate to a bounceback, even with a questionable receiving corps.
18
Marcus Mariota Tennessee Titans QB
I'm MUCH higher than most on Mariota. He's been held back by a terrible offensive scheme -- or at least a scheme that cuts against the grain of his skillset. Build around your quarterback, people. The Titans are doing that now (we think). 
19
Mitchell Trubisky Chicago Bears QB
Again: build around your quarterback. There's a very high ceiling here for Trubisky in my opinion. If Matt Nagy puts him in the pistol and shotgun and get him comfortable the Bears offense can take off this season. 
20
Derek Carr Oakland Raiders QB
I'm sort of begrudgingly adding him here because it's not fair to put a three-time Pro Bowl QB in the next tier, even if I don't believe. And he was in the MVP chatter in 2016 before last year's nightmare with the Raiders. It's hard to be optimistic about Oakland right now but maybe Jon Gruden will help him.

Definitely can see some anger at Mariota and Trubisky being in this group, but I trust those guys to take a leap this season because of the changes in scheme and system around them. They're talented quarterbacks -- both guys went No. 2 overall for a reason in their respective drafts. Mariota has a lot more pressure on him because that's how we treat young quarterbacks these days. But there's no reason he can't break out with Matt LaFleur as his offensive coordinator. Trubisky will benefit from having "not John Fox" as his head coach. Prescott is a question mark too, but he won OROY two years ago. We are so quick to bury guys in this league it's absurd. 

If you're picking someone to make a leap into the elite or the near-elite category, it should come from this list. Projections vary wildly in terms of who might jump up and post a big season: people love Mahomes, are down on Mariota (except for me) and everyone wants to question Dak. Someone is going to explode from this group and maybe it will be multiple guys. 

QB Limbo
21
Tyrod Taylor Cleveland Browns QB
High floor, low ceiling -- Tyrod is a huge upgrade for the Browns as a poor man's Alex Smith. He could easily vault himself higher with a strong performance and a couple of wins in Cleveland. Heck, steal a W against Pittsburgh in Week 1 and force my hand, Tyrod. 
22
Andy Dalton Cincinnati Bengals QB
I think Dalton will be higher than this when the season ends and wouldn't be surprised if he had his best season to date thanks to the improvements on the offensive line and the weapons around him.  
23
Sam Bradford Arizona Cardinals QB
A healthy Bradford would be much higher, but, well, that's sort of the problem. 
24
Case Keenum Denver Broncos QB
Keenum was a nice consolation pickup on John Elway's part, but it's not unreasonable to want to see what he did in 2017 a second time (and with a different team) before believing it's reality. 
25
Ryan Tannehill Miami Dolphins QB
Tannehill was quietly putting together a nice stretch with Adam Gase (who has only been coaching the Dolphins for two years and is somehow on the hot seat??) before suffering a torn ACL. A lost 2017 was a dagger -- he still has upside here.
26
Joe Flacco Baltimore Ravens QB
Take away that magical Super Bowl run and Joe Flacco's resume is not that great. But he had his back to the wall then, and it's not hard to imagine him responding in similar fashion after the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson.
27
Eli Manning New York Giants QB
Given everything around him and the addition of Pat Shurmur, Eli could easily make this ranking look dumb, but until further notice he has to be pretty far down the list based on the last two years of tape.
28
Blake Bortles Jacksonville Jaguars QB
The Jaguars love what they're seeing from Blake Bortles for the third offseason in a row. He did do some really nice things for stretches last year, we'll see if results in them cutting him loose at all to start the year. 

The disbursement of these guys could go ANY direction. Eli, with a good offensive line, a healthy Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley behind him, could end up pushing himself into that second tier with a big season. We've seen him bounce back before. Nothing is off the table for a motivated, healthy Flacco this season; I think he has an Alex Smith-like year from last year because he's insulted. Bortles is still young! Seriously: it's unfair to write him off and we joke about him way too much. I still want to buy stock in Keenum and Tannehill even though there are so many questions. Tyrod is too good to be a placeholder, even if he might be just that if the Browns struggle. 

Rookie QBs
29
Sam Darnold New York Jets QB
Missing a ton of weapons and the offensive line might not be great -- Darnold is gonna make his debut on Monday Night Football. Fascinating to see what he can do with/for the Jets this year. 

Somehow Sam Darnold is the only rookie quarterback starting this year! 

Placeholders
30
Nick Foles Philadelphia Eagles QB
The reigning Super Bowl MVP hasn't looked great this preseason, but that's fine. He turns it on when the lights come up and will get a chance on Thursday night to make this placement look stupid.
31
Ryan Fitzpatrick Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB
Three games of Fitz Magic with Jameis out are going to be a BIG swing in terms of what the Buccaneers end up doing this year. 2-1 (which is unlikely) and all of a sudden they have playoff potential and we have quarterback drama.
32
Nathan Peterman Buffalo Bills QB
His only regular season action was against the Chargers last year and it did not go ... well. I bet he gets four games against tough defenses before giving way to Josh Allen.

Foles and Fitz could be higher but they and we and everyone know they will not be under center once their respective starters return from injury and/or suspension. It's hard to push someone up the ranks when there aren't games being played yet and they're a stopgap anyway. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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