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NFL QB Index: Ranking all 32 teams' primary starting quarterbacks at the end of the 2021 regular season

The term "game manager" used to describe mediocre quarterbacks who didn't make mistakes. Now the two best quarterbacks of the season -- and the last decade -- are the ultimate game managers.

Back in September and October, Aaron Rodgers was trying to avoid mistakes. He navigated weekly challenges with a rookie center and without his All-Pro left tackle, while flanked by a rotating cast of weapons. When the reigning MVP dropped back to pass, you could almost see him calculating the risk in every throw relative to the game situation. He made sure the Packers' offense did just enough without taking too many chances, at least until December, when he cranked up the aerial fireshow.

Tom Brady has evolved into the bigger risk taker because that's what his offense requires. He led the NFL in Pro Football Focus' Big Time Throws metric for the first time in his career. Brady helped make Leonard Fournette the most productive pass-catching back in football; Brady helped Rob Gronkowski turn back the clock a decade; then, when injuries and Antonio Brown struck late in the year, Brady made Breshad Perriman and Cyril Grayson into heroes. That's managing the game, too, figuring out on the fly how best to maximize your surroundings.

For this week's QB Index, I'll take stock of each team's primary starter for the 2021 season. There will be a final, post-Super Bowl ranking of every quarterback who started a game this season -- including playoff results -- so the battle for No. 1 isn't done here yet. But barring Joe Burrow winning Super Bowl LVI, the first two slots on the board will be filled, in some order, by Brady and Rodgers. Same as it was in 2014 -- and 2020. For all the ridiculous young talent at the position, the guys at the top are the elders who see the whole picture the clearest.

NOTE: This week's rankings feature each team's primary starting quarterback, based solely on play from the 2021 regular season.

Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · Year 22

2021 stats: 17 games | 67.5 pct | 5,316 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 43 pass TD | 12 INT | 81 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 4 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 2 | 2019: 14 | 2018: 10 | 2017: 1 | 2016: 1 | 2015: 3 | 2014: 2 | 2013: T-4

Brady's impressive final three weeks edge him ahead of Rodgers for the regular season. Rodgers will probably win MVP (again), but recency bias is a factor there. Brady was considerably better in the season's first half. TD-to-INT ratio is an overrated stat to separate them because both quarterbacks are so careful, finishing second (Brady) and third (Rodgers) in Pro Football Focus' turnover-worthy play percentage. Brady dropped back to pass 173 more times than Rodgers without sacrificing much efficiency and didn't miss a game. Both are well below Rodgers' 2020 level and choosing between the two is splitting hairs with no wrong answer. Volume is a fine tiebreaker!

Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · Year 17

2021 stats: 16 games | 68.9 pct | 4,115 pass yds | 7.7 ypa | 37 pass TD | 4 INT | 101 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 3 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 1 | 2019: 7 | 2018: 5 | 2017: 11 | 2016: 3 | 2015: 9 | 2014: 1 | 2013: T-4

I never believed the Packers would let Rodgers go -- and I definitely don't believe it now. He's having too much fun and he must realize how well supported he is in Green Bay with a strong coach, scheme and supporting talent. (And great front office, including assistant GM Aaron Rodgers.) During the end of the Mike McCarthy era, Rodgers sometimes played as if he was bored. He'd try things for entertainment. Now he plays more locked in, dazzling when necessary, happier than ever to take the checkdown or change to a running play if it means he gets that postgame interview with Erin Andrews.

Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers · Year 2

2021 stats: 17 games | 65.9 pct | 5,014 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 38 pass TD | 15 INT | 302 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 1 fumble

2020 final ranking: 9

He hit his fifth read for a two-point conversion. He hit a fourth-and-21 through a window the size of a keyhole to keep the season alive. He squeezed a ball into double coverage on the final play of regulation to send the Chargers season to overtime, after converting three fourth-and-10s on the drive. He did this. This week's QB Index is supposed to be about the season as a whole, but Herbert's closing argument in Las Vegas said everything you need to know about his second campaign. He makes any coaching staff, scheme and offensive line look better. Divorce each quarterback from his surroundings, evaluate Herbert's responsibilities over the whole season and that's just enough to edge out Joe Burrow for the third spot here.

Joe Burrow
Cincinnati Bengals · Year 2

2021 stats: 16 games | 70.4 pct | 4,611 pass yds | 8.9 ypa | 34 pass TD | 14 INT | 118 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 5 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 18

Arm strength matters. Teammates, writers and Burrow himself talked about his bigger arm heading into Year 2, but I was overly skeptical about the storyline. It felt like offseason hype, especially for a guy coming off a torn ACL. Instead, it made all the difference in Burrow skipping a few steps on the development ladder. He pushed the ball down the field more to his excellent outside receivers. More importantly, he zipped the ball into tight windows that most quarterbacks couldn't see. Burrow's understanding of how defenses were attacking him locked in around Thanksgiving and made him a top-10 quarterback. But his physical traits -- including his pocket movement and scrambling ability -- grew even faster, vaulting him this high.

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · Year 5

2021 stats: 17 games | 66.3 pct | 4,839 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 37 pass TD | 13 INT | 381 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 9 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 3 | 2019: 2 | 2018: 1 | 2017: N/A

The season finale against the Broncos told the story of this Chiefs season. It took Mahomes 44 throws to get to 270 yards and seven slow drives averaging 10 plays to score 20 points, but he got the job done in the end. It was almost like NFL coordinators, overwhelmed by the brilliance of Mahomes' first three seasons, were determined to make him play more like everyone else. He learned to be patient this season, even if it wasn't as much fun.

Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · Year 4

2021 stats: 17 games | 63.3 pct | 4,407 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 36 pass TD | 15 INT | 763 rush yds | 6 rush TD | 8 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 5 | 2019: 18 | 2018: 32

Allen's progression would make more sense on paper if you flipped his 2021 and 2020 seasons. But even if he wasn't an MVP candidate this time, Allen solidified himself as a top-10 quarterback, a man who changes a franchise. The highs are ridiculously high, like his second half against the Bucs and the win over the Pats. It just took a sluggish start to the season and a few landmines like the Jaguars game to get there. Those John Elway comps don't seem so crazy now.

Kyler Murray
Arizona Cardinals · Year 3

2021 stats: 14 games | 69.2 pct | 3,787 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 24 pass TD | 10 INT | 423 rush yds | 5 rush TD | 13 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 10 | 2019: 13

The second-half decline wasn't as dramatic this season, but it was there. Murray was an MVP favorite when he hurt his ankle on the final play of a season-altering loss to the Packers. He missed three games and the Cardinals weren't the same upon his return. It's hard to say why, because Murray was moving well. His rushing numbers tumbled, his fumbles skyrocketed and it took increasingly spectacular plays to move the ball. Murray still made enough of those plays to be effective, but the offensive rhythm the Cardinals built in the first half never returned.

Matthew Stafford
Los Angeles Rams · Year 13

2021 stats: 17 games | 67.2 pct | 4,886 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 41 pass TD | 17 INT | 43 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 5 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 13 | 2019: 9 | 2018: 16 | 2017: 8 | 2016: 8 | 2015: 19 | 2014: 17 | 2013: 13

Stafford turned it over eight times in the last three weeks of the season and had two three-game streaks this season with multiple turnovers. He tied for the league lead in interceptions and finished fifth in turnover-worthy plays, according to PFF. Yet when Stafford was good, he was exceptional, including most of the Week 18 finale. It annoys me more than it should that Sean McVay didn't trust Stafford to throw the ball once to win the division. Isn't that why they brought him to town?

Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · Year 6

2021 stats: 16 games | 68.8 pct | 4,449 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 37 pass TD | 10 INT | 146 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 14 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 16 | 2019: 11 | 2018: 18 | 2017: 20 | 2016: 7

You needed to watch every game to get a feel of Prescott's season. The numbers didn't change that drastically after the calf injury in Week 6, but his accuracy, rhythm and decision-making went from MVP-level to erratic within games. Two 50-burgers in the last three weeks ended the slump, with Prescott's dazzling footwork and ability to make throws under pressure back to peak form. Add it all up and it was a highly successful return from a devastating injury to the top of the NFC East and top-10 quarterback status, where Dak belongs.

Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders · Year 8

2021 stats: 17 games | 68.4 pct | 4,804 pass yds | 7.7 ypa | 23 pass TD | 14 INT | 108 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 13 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 12 | 2019: 16 | 2018: 22 | 2017: 21 | 2016: 5 | 2015: 10 | 2014: N/A

Football is weird. Carr played the best ball of his career for much of this season without much fanfare, with his leadership off the field getting more notice. Then Carr went through his worst stretch of play, full of turnovers and odd decisions, just as the Raiders started winning games again on the way to the playoffs -- and he got a ton of credit. His third-and-8 dime to set up an overtime field goal Sunday night helped save what may have been his least accurate game of the season. He was due some luck after carrying his team most of the year, rather than the other way around. No matter how the playoffs go, it's been the most meaningful season of Carr's career.

Ryan Tannehill
Tennessee Titans · Year 10

2021 stats: 17 games | 67.2 pct | 3,734 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 21 pass TD | 14 INT | 270 rush yds | 7 rush TD | 10 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 8 | 2019: 7 | 2018: 30 | 2017: N/A | 2016: 24 | 2015: 26 | 2014: 13 | 2013: 14

I'm glad Tannehill threw four touchdown passes in Week 18, and not just because my daughter drafted him in our weekly family fantasy league. The day helped make Tannehill's numbers look better during a season where I swear he played only slightly worse than his first two flashier campaigns in Tennessee. He couldn't throw deep as much in 2021 because the pass protection was brutal and the already-thin receiver group was usually hurt. In a league full of ups and downs, Tannehill was as steady as his haircut.

Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks · Year 10

2021 stats: 14 games | 64.8 pct | 3,113 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 25 pass TD | 6 INT | 183 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 6 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 6 | 2019: 3 | 2018: 6 | 2017: 5 | 2016: 9 | 2015: 4 | 2014: 8 | 2013: 6

Something was missing. Even in his first five starts before the thumb injury, the tape didn't back up Wilson's numbers. The athleticism and ability to create was not the same. He missed three starts and his first month back from thumb surgery was a mess, a big enough chunk of time to knock him out of the top 10. It was a hard year to grade. His rate stats wound up looking incredible, but his PFF grade fell off a cliff. (He was 20th this year, sixth in 2020.) The most confusing part was the last two weeks, when he and the Seahawks looked sensational. It was nice to see.

Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings · Year 10

2021 stats: 16 games | 66.3 pct | 4,221 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 33 pass TD | 7 INT | 115 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 12 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 15 | 2019: 8 | 2018: 13 | 2017: 10 | 2016: 13 | 2015: 11 | 2014: N/A | 2013: N/A

There's this idea that Kirk Cousins is frustratingly, consistently stuck in the middle. And while that's true on the macro level, the opposite is also true. Like Cam Newton once upon a time, Cousins is consistently streaky. He's either great or terrible, and this season was no different. He played like a top-seven quarterback for a long stretch, spinning the ball downfield with incredible accuracy. Mike Zimmer, knowing his defense was also erratic, finally asked Cousins to be more aggressive down the stretch. The team put more on Cousins' plate, which folks like me had asked for. Then he fell apart. (Sorry about that.) I think we know what Kirk Cousins is: just good enough to be better than average. He'll fool you one way or another for months at a time. Is that good enough for the Vikings?

Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · Year 4

2021 stats: 12 games | 64.4 pct | 2,882 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 16 pass TD | 13 INT | 767 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 6 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 7 | 2019: 1 | 2018: 23

Lamar was all over the place. He looked like the MVP through five games, slumped like never before after that, then missed the final four games with an ankle injury. His vertical passing was fantastic early and his running numbers were outrageous as always, but he took a ton of sacks and forced the issue too much playing behind a ravaged offensive line and mediocre running game. Jackson's contract negotiation looms over this offseason.

Jalen Hurts
Philadelphia Eagles · Year 2

2021 stats: 15 games | 61.3 pct | 3,144 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 16 pass TD | 9 INT | 784 rush yds | 10 rush TD | 9 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 23

It wasn't a shock that Hurts led all quarterbacks with 786 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. His development as a pure passer was the bigger story. Once the Eagles built the offense out of their offensive line and Hurts' running ability, the passing game opened up. Hurts needs work on his decision making -- like a lot of young quarterbacks -- but his accuracy and ability to make all the throws took a major leap in Year 2. The Eagles found a starting quarterback with a late second-round pick, one that was roundly criticized at the time.

Matt Ryan
Atlanta Falcons · Year 14

2021 stats: 17 games | 67.0 pct | 3,968 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 20 pass TD | 12 INT | 82 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 11 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 14 | 2019: 12 | 2018: 8 | 2017: 9 | 2016: 2 | 2015: 15 | 2014: 9 | 2013: 11

He beat up on the bad teams and struggled against any defense that had a decent pass rush. More dependent on his surroundings than ever before because of his diminished arm strength, Ryan still makes good decisions, moves well in the pocket and hits targets. Put him on the 49ers, for instance, and he'd probably contend for the Pro Bowl again. Put him on the 2021 Falcons, and it's fine. Totally fine.

Mac Jones
New England Patriots · Rookie

2021 stats: 17 games | 67.6 pct | 3,801 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 22 pass TD | 13 INT | 129 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 7 fumbles

From Weeks 1-10, PFF graded him fifth(!) among all quarterbacks. From Weeks 11-18, he was 24th. Basically any efficiency number has him better than average among starters, which is terrific for a rookie. Still, the underdog tale I've seen peddled is a bit much. He was the fifth quarterback taken, but he was also the 15th overall pick and a national champion. He should be good! At times, his touch, timing and accuracy can look like a young Philip Rivers. At other times, his arm strength and physical traits look limiting. No matter how the playoffs go, he's both ahead of schedule and has a lot of work to do.

Jimmy Garoppolo
San Francisco 49ers · Year 8

2021 stats: 15 games | 68.3 pct | 3,810 pass yds | 8.6 ypa | 20 pass TD | 12 INT | 51 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 8 fumbles

2020 final ranking: T-30 | 2019: 15 | 2018: N/A | 2017: 12 | 2016: N/A | 2015: N/A | 2014: N/A

The season finale against the Rams was Jimmy G's season writ small. He fumbled and threw a bad interception to get into a hole. He made some nice throws under pressure, allowing his bionic playmakers to run free. He made another killer interception, then pulled off a game-tying and game-winning drive. He got too much credit for the win, just like he often gets too much blame for the losses. He is just enough, personified.

Teddy Bridgewater
Denver Broncos · Year 8

2021 stats: 14 games | 66.9 pct | 3,052 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 18 pass TD | 7 INT | 106 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 1 fumble

2020 final ranking: 29 | 2019: 19 | 2018: N/A | 2017: N/A | 2016: N/A | 2015: 24 | 2014: N/A

He's probably the new median for the Dalton Scale. That was my friend Chris Wesseling's creation to explain mid-2010s Andy Dalton's place in the QB firmament. If you had a QB better than Dalton, he was a franchise guy. If you had a QB below Dalton, you needed to find a new one. That now feels true for Teddy, who rises and falls based on his surroundings. Despite a raft of injuries and a rough offensive line, Bridgewater was quietly efficient in 2021. He finished seventh in EPA/CPOE composite, ahead of players like Kyler Murray, Justin Herbert and Josh Allen. That indicates Teddy was accurate and kept his team on the field, while pushing the ball downfield more. But much like Dalton back in the day, Teddy was opponent dependent, struggling against good teams. He's not a long-term answer, yet he was better than plenty of starters out there.

Carson Wentz
Indianapolis Colts · Year 6

2021 stats: 17 games | 62.4 pct | 3,563 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 27 pass TD | 7 INT | 215 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 8 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 35 | 2019: 10 | 2018: 14 | 2017: 3 | 2016: 25

Planted in an ideal situation behind a great offensive line with his dream play caller, Wentz was steady until he wasn't. He closed with three of his worst four games of the season, a primary reason the Colts stumbled out of the playoff field. With the season on the line after halftime in Jacksonville, Wentz short-circuited. The counting stats look solid, but Wentz suffers when you watch every snap. He finished 23rd in PFF's grading among qualifiers, and 26th in Next Gen Stats' completion percentage over expected. In short: Wentz doesn't compensate with enough wow plays for what he lacks in accuracy or decision making.

Jameis Winston
New Orleans Saints · Year 7

2021 stats: 7 games | 59.0 pct | 1,170 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 14 pass TD | 3 INT | 166 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 2 fumbles

2020 final ranking: N/A | 2019: 22 | 2018: 20 | 2017: 17 | 2016: 15 | 2015: 20

The Jameis era in New Orleans feels like a century ago. He makes this list because his seven capable starts at quarterback led the team. Taysom Hill started five, Trevor Siemian four, and then there was that Ian Book prime-time game that makes me tired just thinking about it. It was a shame to see Winston hurt because his too-careful style under Sean Payton was just starting to loosen up. A full season of Jameis would have likely meant a playoff berth for the Saints.

Tua Tagovailoa
Miami Dolphins · Year 2

2021 stats: 13 games | 67.8 pct | 2,653 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 16 pass TD | 10 INT | 128 rush yd | 3 rush TD | 9 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 28

There's no one quite like Tua. He lacks arm strength and special throws, but his timing and accuracy on quick-game concepts are major assets. No one threw more on RPO plays, a style that helped compensate for the worst offensive line in football. He won't work in every system and he finished the season poorly, mixing in too many head-scratching decisions after the bye week. Still, he was on a roll before that and his career ceiling is higher than consensus. His Brees-like skill set was always going to take time to develop because he'll need to dominate mentally at the margins. He took a step forward and I think he has a chance to be the next Ryan Tannehill, a top 8-12 quarterback who flourishes when he leaves Miami.

Jared Goff
Detroit Lions · Year 6

2021 stats: 14 games | 67.2 pct | 3,245 pass yds | 6.6 ypa | 19 pass TD | 8 INT | 87 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 9 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 22 | 2019: 20 | 2018: 7 | 2017: 15 | 2016: 32

His top receivers were a fourth-round rookie (Amon-Ra St. Brown), a former return specialist (Kalif Raymond) and a midseason pickup (Josh Reynolds), yet the Lions provided Goff a fine spot to revive his career. The offensive line protected him. The coaching staff believed in Goff enough to break a fourth-down conversion record. He closed the season playing clean football in his last five starts, showing the gulf between him and his backups. He should be back, possibly paired with a rookie.

Baker Mayfield
Cleveland Browns · Year 4

2021 stats: 14 games | 60.5 pct | 3,010 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 17 pass TD | 13 INT | 134 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 6 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 11 | 2019: 24 | 2018: 12

I'm tired of trying to tease out the impact of Mayfield's shoulder injury on his 2021 play, which took a gigantic step back. He was medically cleared to play each week. Quarterbacks play through injuries often and are evaluated with that in mind. Some excel. Some manage the injury enough to be average. Mayfield, a little better than average when healthy, became a liability. I worry that Baker doesn't have any major plus traits to compensate when his surroundings or his body aren't 100 percent. His biggest shortcomings -- holding the ball too long, converting pressure into sacks and not seeing the field -- have remained consistent throughout his career.

Daniel Jones
New York Giants · Year 3

2021 stats: 11 games | 64.3 pct | 2,428 pass yds | 6.7 ypa | 10 pass TD | 7 INT | 298 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 7 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 24 | 2019: 23

Jones had the poor man's version of Lamar Jackson's season. He played way better than his numbers showed in a difficult situation for five weeks. Then he succumbed to his surroundings, the apparent progress boomeranged and he ended the season hurt. Jones' neck injury is a concern, but he's under contract for cheap in 2022. The Giants' moribund offense after his departure helped show his worth. The team has much bigger problems, although Jones would have trade value if a new regime wanted to get creative.

Ben Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh Steelers · Year 18

2021 stats: 16 games | 64.5 pct | 3,740 pass yds | 6.2 ypa | 22 pass TD | 10 INT | 5 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 11 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 20 | 2019: 37 | 2018: 9 | 2017: 2 | 2016: 10 | 2015: 5 | 2014: 3 | 2013: 5

Roethlisberger closed his AFC North career with wins to knock the Browns and Ravens out of the playoffs. Needing a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter in Baltimore, Roethlisberger got a score. Facing a "got to have it" fourth-and-8 in overtime to make the playoffs, Roethlisberger got it. This capped the worst individual regular season of Roethlisberger's Hall of Fame career. He took more sacks than he had since 2013 and fumbled the ball more than in any year since 2008. The final four games were also the worst stretch of this worst season, yet the Steelers still won three of those games. He came into the league not getting much credit for his team's success and left the same way -- but in between, he was a top-five quarterback a whole lot more than you think.

Taylor Heinicke
Washington Football Team · Year 6

2021 stats: 16 games | 65.0 pct | 3,419 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 20 pass TD | 15 INT | 313 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 7 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 37 | 2019: N/A | 2018: N/A | 2017: N/A | 2016: N/A | 2015: N/A

The more Heinicke played, the more that his unwavering self-belief cut both ways. He created big plays out of throws he shouldn't make. He often made mistakes with those throws, especially when trailing. Out of 30 quarterbacks who took half of their teams' snaps, Heinicke had the fourth-highest percentage of turnover-worthy plays, per PFF. Then again, starting 15 games is an accomplishment for someone who was out of the league as recently as November 2020. He'll have a long career as a backup and will be better used in short stints as a starter, like his spiritual antecedent, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Justin Fields
Chicago Bears · Rookie

2021 stats: 12 games | 58.9 pct | 1,870 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 7 pass TD | 10 INT | 420 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 12 fumbles

After some rough early starts, Fields showed more tangible promise than the three quarterbacks taken ahead of him. That made it even more disappointing when Fields missed five starts down the stretch; two for a rib injury, two for an ankle injury and Week 18 for COVID-19. Fields is an exceptional runner and an accurate passer, especially deep. He holds the ball, and the Russell Wilson comparisons still make sense. It's rare this happens, but consensus draft takes about Fields' strengths, weaknesses and promise look dead on. The No. 11 overall pick would have ranked higher if he'd been able to play more.

Davis Mills
Houston Texans · Rookie

2021 stats: 13 games | 66.8 pct | 2,664 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 16 pass TD | 10 INT | 44 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 5 fumbles

Davis Mills had a better season than the top three picks in the draft. Predict that in August and it's a hot-take fireable offense. Say it in January and no one will argue. Mills put the ball in harm's way a lot, especially in his first run as a starter. But he showed the ability to get hot and stay hot for stretches that exceeded his hyped classmates. His improvement by January was obvious and there were special throws. He clearly has a big arm and can throw on the move. There's no guarantee he's a franchise guy, but he's absolutely an NFL quarterback, and that's hard to find in the third round.

Trevor Lawrence
Jacksonville Jaguars · Rookie

2021 stats: 17 games | 59.6 pct | 3,641 pass yds | 6.0 ypa | 12 pass TD | 17 INT | 334 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 9 fumbles

All hail the 17-game season. Without it, we wouldn't have seen Lawrence's best game by far, knocking the Colts out of the playoffs. Lawrence was uncanny and precise on third downs early. He hit receivers in stride. His third-quarter touchdown to Marvin Jones showed off his creativity and he cranked through reads earlier in the game like a dealer shuffling cards. It was a deeply disappointing year overall for the No. 1 pick, with too-rare glimmers of hope like the finale. Still, he didn't look out of place. He looked like a talented player unable to overcome a disastrous situation, throwing to other teams' failed draft picks, trying to protect his TD-to-INT ratio rather than playing free. Don't blow this, Jaguars. (Again.)

Sam Darnold
Carolina Panthers · Year 4

2021 stats: 12 games | 59.9 pct | 2,527 pass yds | 6.2 ypa | 9 pass TD | 13 INT | 222 rush yds | 5 rush TD | 9 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 36 | 2019: 26 | 2018: 24

Panthers coach Matt Rhule was tongue tied when talking about Darnold's season, seemingly out of explanations. GM Scott Fitterer says Darnold looks like "a good NFL quarterback" when protected. While the Panthers' awful offensive line was part of the problem, it's a bad sign that Darnold looked like the NFL's worst veteran starter when not protected. His eyes were on the pass rush, not the receivers. There's no question that his draft status and the terms of Carolina's trade for him gave Darnold more chances than most quarterbacks would get. I doubt he'll get another in 2022.

Zach Wilson
New York Jets · Rookie

2021 stats: 13 games | 55.6 pct | 2,334 pass yds | 6.1 ypa | 9 pass TD | 11 INT | 185 rush yds | 4 rush TD | 5 fumbles

It's too bad the season didn't end after the Bucs game, Wilson's best start of the year. Instead, Wilson's parting shot was the worst offensive performance in Jets history. Wilson's athleticism showed up down the stretch, but the speed of the NFL game was too fast for the rookie. You could almost see him thinking, hitching until he knew for sure his receiver was open. There's no need to panic, but there's also no need to pretend this wasn't on the lowest possible range of outcomes for a rookie season.

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