Top 10 QBs in NFL: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers battle for second behind unanimous No. 1

With a wonderful blend of both young and old, the state of quarterbacking in the NFL has never been better. 

At the top of the table, there's 23-year-old Patrick Mahomes, who just won MVP in his first season as a starter. Lagging not far behind are the likes of 41-year-old Tom Brady, 35-year-old Aaron Rodgers, 40-year-old Drew Brees, 23-year-old Deshaun Watson, and so on. The NFL's best quarterbacks are both young and old, well-established and up-and-coming, near the end of the journeys and just beginning to pave their paths toward Canton.

All of this is just a long-winded way of saying, it wasn't easy figuring out who the top-10 quarterbacks in football are right now. It wasn't easy, but it's what the NFL writing team here at CBS Sports tried to do. In the days and weeks to come, we'll be releasing our collective top-10 rankings at every single position group. Today, we begin with the quarterbacks.

Below, you'll find CBS Sports' list of the 10 best quarterbacks in the NFL right now. On that note, it's worth reiterating that the quarterbacks were ranked collectively by a group involving more than 10 writers and editors. All of us ranked our top 10 quarterbacks. Our individual ballots were then turned into one list using a point system. This is not my own personal list. This is the list for the entire NFL team here at CBS Sports.

Before we move onto the list itself, it's worth noting that only one quarterback barely missed the cut: Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. In addition to Wentz, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton both received at least one top-10 vote, but neither were close to sneaking their way onto the list. That's it. Those were the only three quarterbacks to receive at least one top-10 vote without making the final list. So in all, 13 quarterbacks garnered at least one vote. 

OK, onto the actual list. We begin in Houston.

10. Deshaun Watson, Texans

Watson has been in the league for only two seasons and he played in only seven games during one of those two seasons, but he's already established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. If you were starting a franchise right now and all the players in the NFL were placed in a draft, Watson would either be the second or third pick -- definitely behind Mahomes and possibly behind Mayfield. 

In 2018, despite playing behind the league's worst offensive line, Watson took the Texans to the playoffs by throwing for 4,165 yards, 26 touchdowns, only nine interceptions, and a 103.1 passer rating. Imagine how great he'll be when the Texans finally supply him with adequate protection.

9. Matt Ryan, Falcons

It still feels like Ryan is underappreciated, so it was relief to see him find a way onto this list, even if he slots in at No. 9. Even though the Falcons were not a good team in 2018, Ryan experienced one of the best seasons of his career, completing 69.4 percent of his passes for 4,924 yards, 35 touchdowns, seven picks, and a 108.1 passer rating. And of course, it was only just three years ago that Ryan pieced together one of the best MVP seasons in recent memory.

It turns out, Ryan's been playing like one of the league's top quarterbacks for a while now. Since beginning his career in 2008, he ranks third in passing yards, fifth in touchdown passes, and fourth in quarterback wins. How much different would his reputation be if the Falcons hadn't blown that 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl?

8. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

The upcoming season will be a big test for Big Ben considering it'll be his first season without superstar Antonio Brown since 2010, when Brown barely contributed during his rookie season. But for now, let's give Roethlisberger credit for everything he's accomplished. In his 15-year career, he's averaging 3,746.3 yards and 24.2 touchdowns per season. Since he entered the league in 2004, he ranks third in passing yards, fifth in touchdown passes, and third in wins. Like Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Philip Rivers, he's managed to age gracefully. Over the past five years, he's averaging 4417.8 yards and 28.8 touchdowns per season. 

7. Philip Rivers, Chargers

Due in large part to Brady's success, it seems like we've underappreciated just how gracefully Rivers has aged. He's 37 years old. But he managed to throw for 4,308 yards, 32 touchdowns, and a 105.5 passer rating while leading the Chargers to a 12-4 record last season. Those are MVP type of numbers. 

At this point, Rivers' resume is only lacking a Super Bowl. The Chargers do have one of the most talented rosters in football. So, Rivers might get a chance to complete his resume during the upcoming season.

6. Andrew Luck, Colts

Remember when we were all so concerned about Luck's ability to simply pick up and throw a football? After missing the entire 2017 season as he worked his way back from a shoulder injury, Luck wasn't able to throw a football until last June. That's what makes his 2018 season especially impressive. He looked like the Luck of old. 

In Frank Reich's offense, Luck completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns. By DYAR, he ranked seventh -- one spot ahead of Brady. By DVOA, he ranked ninth -- one spot ahead of Russell Wilson. And by QBR, he ranked fifth -- one spot ahead of Brady, again. 

That'll do. 

5. Drew Brees, Saints

It's a little surprising to see Brees fall all the way to the middle of the list after he spent most of the season in a battle with Mahomes for MVP. It's likely that Brees' underwhelming final stretch of the season played a role in his placement on this list. Over the final four games of his regular season, Brees averaged only 6.4 yards per pass attempt, threw three touchdowns and three picks, and posted an 84.7 passer rating, allowing Mahomes to run away with MVP. 

That all said, Brees managed to throw for 3,992 yards, 32 touchdowns, and five interceptions in a 15-game season. And if not for a missed pass-interference penalty, he likely would've taken the Saints to the Super Bowl. He's one of the best quarterbacks of all time and he's still playing at an elite level as he enters the upcoming season at age 40.

4. Russell Wilson, Seahawks

Wilson has firmly established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in football. He's deadly as both a runner and a passer. He can survive behind bad offensive lines. He's remarkably durable. And he's almost always in the playoffs. In 2018, Wilson completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,448 yards, 35 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions. Over the past two seasons, he's thrown for 7,431 yards, 69 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. In his career, he's posted an insane 75-36-1 record as a starting quarterback. Only Brady has won more games since 2012.

3. Tom Brady, Patriots

Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, but he's not the best quarterback in football right now, which is understandable really given he's about to turn 42 years old. It's incredible that he's still one of the three best quarterbacks at his age, even if he's taken a slight step back. In 2018, Brady threw for 4,355 yards, 29 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a 97.7 passer rating. He also helped the Patriots win their second championship in three seasons. So yeah, he's still great.

There's bound to be a few criticisms of Brady's placement on this list. While it's widely accepted that Brady isn't as good as Mahomes right now, there's an argument to be made that he's as good as Aaron Rodgers, who ranks one spot ahead of Brady. Neither Brady nor Rodgers are playing the best football of their careers right now. But Brady has gone to three straight Super Bowls. In that span, Rodgers has been to the playoffs only once.

So, it's worth noting then that Brady and Rodgers were separated by one total point in our cumulative ranking. That's how close it was.

2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers

It's telling that in a so-called down season involving a serious injury and Mike McCarthy's stale offense, Rodgers managed to throw for 4,442 yards, 25 touchdowns, and only two interceptions. There's no doubt that Rodgers hasn't hit the peaks he once hit a few years ago, but there's also no doubt he's still one of the league's best quarterbacks. 

The question is, how will Rodgers mesh with new coach Matt LaFleur? For years now, so many of us have been complaining about McCarthy's antiquated offensive system and how it wasn't putting Rodgers in a position to succeed. Well, the Packers have finally given Rodgers a coach who is supposed to be an offensive innovator. So, we'll find out in 2019 if McCarthy was responsible for Rodgers' slight decline or if Rodgers himself deserves some blame. 

With that in mind, it wouldn't be surprising if Rodgers takes the top spot away from Mahomes a year from now. But it also wouldn't be surprising if he slides down the list. Either way, 2019 should be a very revealing season.

1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs

No surprise here. In his first season as a starting quarterback, Mahomes became the second quarterback in NFL history (joining Peyton Manning) to throw for at least 5,000 yards and at least 50 touchdowns in a single season. Despite being saddled with one of the league's worst defenses, Mahomes led the Chiefs to a 12-win season. He's the best quarterback in football right now -- and it's not particularly close. Every voter at CBS Sports ranked Mahomes first on their individual ballots.

Danny Kanell joined Will Brinson to discuss his Top 10 quarterbacks on Tuesday's Pick Six Podcast episode. 

Listen to the full episode, and subscribe on Stitcher, Spotify and iTunes.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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