It didn’t take long last year for it to become clear that the Eagles were, quite clearly, the best team in the NFC.
They dominated the best teams the conference had to offer, first in their divisional round laugher against the Giants and then their runaway NFC Championship Game victory against San Francisco. With an insanely deep roster and top level play at QB, only a slippery field and a boneheaded game plan by their former defensive coordinator prevented them from hoisting their second Lombardi Trophy in six seasons.
So much of that advantage was thanks to Jalen Hurts’ ridiculous play at quarterback, so thoroughly the best in the NFC last season. Entering 2023, Hurts remains at the top of everyone’s list, but how much better is Hurts than the second-best signal caller, and how do all of the conference’s QBs shake out?
What follows is my ranking of every quarterback of consequence in the NFC, looking ahead to what might happen in ‘23. Of course, this list will need to be updated if/when the Panthers pick their guy at No. 1 overall, with Seattle, Detroit and Atlanta all picking inside the top-8 and potentially looking for quarterbacks, too. The list below also assumes Aaron Rodgers will indeed be traded from the Green Bay Packers to the New York Jets and that, as of now, Lamar Jackson is still a Raven and not close to signing with an NFC team.
And just so you’re warned, it gets ugly here pretty quick.
1. Jalen Hurts
The unquestioned No. 1 QB in the conference, we’re all just wondering what he’s going to do next. Can he top a season in which he threw for 3,701 yards, 22 TDs and 6 interceptions and added another 760 yards on the ground with another 13 TDs? Can he do better than two very good performances in the playoffs and then an outing for the ages in the Super Bowl on the world’s biggest stage? Maybe not, but even if he doesn’t, he’ll likely come close and be better than anyone else listed below.
2. Jared Goff
Two years ago, Goff was being run out of L.A. by Sean McVay after a steady decline that saw the former No. 1 overall pick reach the Super Bowl in 2018 and then turn into a barely league average quarterback. It’s hard to argue with the Rams’ decision, as Matthew Stafford came aboard and immediately helped them win a Super Bowl. Last year, though, Goff thrived in Detroit, with his 99.3 QB rating the highest since that Super Bowl season. He saw his passing yards jump from 3,245 in 14 games in 2021 to 4,438, 6th-most in the NFL, with 29 TDs and 7 INTs. The Lions boast one of the league’s most dynamic offenses and Goff seems right at home in the Motor City. The gap between him and Hurts is sizeable, but he’s probably the second-best QB in the conference heading into 2023.
3. Dak Prescott
Prescott is a true enigma. He can absolutely take over games and, for long stretches of a season, will appear to be one of the very best quarterbacks going. But it’s hard to be an elite passer when you tie Davis Mills for the league lead in interceptions (15), and even harder when you did it in only 12 games. To be fair, Prescott is a winner in the regular season and generally, outside of one or two bad throws a game, is a net-positive for the Cowboys, but it’s fair to wonder if there’s a ceiling to what he can do. Repeated playoff disappointments aren’t helping, but in a weak conference, he’s probably the third-best guy right now.
4. Derek Carr
I have Carr ranked 4th and I’m not even the biggest Carr fan in the world. With Davante Adams and Darren Waller at his disposal, Carr threw for 3,522 yards in 15 games, just 14th-most in the NFL, with a 24/14 TD/INT ratio. He has a career 63-79 record and has just one playoff game on his resume, a 26-19 loss to the Bengals last year in which he went 29-for-54 for 310 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. In the AFC, he’s a borderline top-10, but in the NFC, I think you’d have to put him here, if only because I think there’s potential for more.
5. Geno Smith
Am I a true Geno Smith believer? I am not. But the guy finished with the 5th-best passer rating in the NFL last year (100.9) and threw for 4,282 yards, 30 TDs and 11 INTs in a career year that no one saw coming. He’ll have to do it again to truly convince people he should be higher on this list, but given the competition, it’s incredible we’re starting the 2023 season talking about Geno as a top-5 QB in the NFC.
6. Justin Fields
If you’re looking for a true breakout QB in the NFC this year, Fields is the guy most will mention. He didn’t do a ton throwing the ball last year (85.2 passer rating ranked 25th out of 33 qualified QBs) but also had virtually no one to throw to. The addition of DJ Moore at wideout will make a big difference, with D’Onta Foreman and TE Robert Tonyan contributing as well. They also have a wealth of draft picks and have strengthened the defense, which should also help. Like Hurts, Fields adds tremendous value with his legs, finishing 7th in rushing yards with 1,143, far and away the highest total among quarterbacks, with 8 TDs. His 16 fumbles need to be fixed, but Fields should make a big move up this season with Chicago looking to emerge from their multi-year rebuild.
7. Daniel Jones
It’s objectively hilarious when you realize the New York Giants are going to pay Jones $92 million in guaranteed money over the next four years, with an average annual value of $40 million. Jones is a fine quarterback, a perfectly average, reasonable, mid-tier starter who put up a 92.5 rating last season and ran for 708 yards, just 52 yards fewer than Hurts, with 7 scores on the ground. But he also threw just 15 touchdowns a year ago, although with Waller now in New York, he has a bona fide weapon at a receiving skill position. There’s still not enough there, and against good defenses, Jones will likely struggle, limiting his upside and ability to go on a deep playoff run.
8. Matthew Stafford
Stafford battled elbow injuries early last year that resulted in some rather pedestrian numbers: 2,087 yards with 10 TDs and 8 INTs in 9 games before he was lost for the season with a spinal contusion (back bruise for you and me). If he’s all healed up and playing at 100%, he’ll rocket up this list and be a top-three QB in the NFC again, but there are far too many question marks to have him any higher than this.
9. Brock Purdy
San Francisco sure seems sold on their 7th-round rookie from a year ago and, hey, Purdy played well above his weight. No doubt the NFC Championship Game might have gone differently had he not gotten his elbow twisted around (although it’s unlikely he was beating the Eagles in Philadelphia on that day). A 107.3 rating in five starts, with a 5-0 regular season record and two postseason wins was impressive, as was his 13-4 TD-INT ratio. The team is hopeful he’ll be ready for Week 1, but he may not be cleared until Week 4. It’s still a very small sample size and this time around, teams won’t be caught off guard. We’ll see.
10. Kirk Cousins
Cousins threw for 4,547 yards last year with 29 TDs. That’s a lot of yards and a lot of TDs. And yet, I can’t put him higher than the two QBs ahead of him, both of whom won playoff games last year, with Jones taking him down in his home stadium. To be fair, Cousins played OK in that game, but the fact of the matter is he’s very much like Jones, just with less upside. I also think the downslope has arrived for Kirk, who will be 35 this year, playing on a team that is nowhere near as good as last year’s 13-4 record would indicate.
11. Kyler Murray
Do you know what to make of Kyler Murray? Because I sure don’t. Murray has the talent to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but without DeAndre Hopkins for the first six games due to a suspension for a violation of the league’s PED policy, Murray got off to a rough start in ‘22 and the Cardinals’ season went off the rails pretty quickly. He ultimately missed the last few games due to a torn ACL/meniscus, an injury that will force him to miss the beginning of 2023. Questions have surrounded Murray’s abilities as a team leader and dedication to the craft, and no one is sure precisely when he’ll be back. Despite that, Murray is talented enough to be in this spot. Good luck with all that, Jonathan Gannon!
12. Trey Lance
The dream scenario for the 49ers is for Lance to light up training camp the way one would expect a former first round pick to do. San Francisco has invested heavily in the soon-to-be 23-year-old, but only has four starts to show for it in his first two seasons, with 797 yards and 5 TDs combined. He played just two games last year before he fractured his lower right fibula and suffered ligament damage in his ankle. GM John Lynch has essentially said Purdy is their man when healthy, but the door is open for Lance to take that job away in the interim. The Niners would certainly like to get more from the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 draft, but it’s clear he’ll have to wow them to steal the job away from Purdy.
13. Jacoby Brissett
The long-time Colt and Brown is joining the Commanders this year and enters the summer as the back-up to second-year player Sam Howell. Of course, Howell only played one game last season, in Week 18 against the Cowboys, going 11-for-19 with 169 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT in Washington’s 26-6 win. Dallas started their best players for much of the game in the hopes the Eagles would lose to the Giants’ back-ups but pulled them at halftime when it became apparent the Birds would win the division. While Howell is the projected starter, Brissett is the better quarterback right now and if the goal is win games in 2023, he’d be the man for the job. He’s not flashy, with a rating of 88.9 last year, but he’s better than Carson Wentz.
14. Desmond Ridder
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has already named Ridder as the team’s starter next year, which makes sense. He showed enough promise as a rookie last year (2-2 in four starts, 63.5% completion percentage, 708 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) to earn that for an Atlanta team that is trying to build a winner. There’s upside there, although far from a sure thing.
15. Jordan Love
Playing behind a legendary quarterback like Aaron Rodgers will make people like Andy Reid forget your name, but Eagles fans got a small taste of Love’s abilities when he relieved Rodgers during the Birds’ victory over them last season. It was just 10 snaps, but it was enough to convince Green Bay to allow Rodgers to seek fame and fortune elsewhere and the hand the reigns of a perennial NFC powerhouse to a 25-year-old, third-year player with 83 pass attempts under his belt. Love has all the tools and will be given a chance to show them in 2023.
16. Taylor Heinicke
We’ve all seen Heinicke enough to know that he’s a guy who’s easy to root for, tries hard, and makes it look like he’s doing a lot when he’s really not doing much at all. Still, you can be a .500 team in this league with Heinicke back there, perfect for a back-up QB somewhere. That’s what he’ll be in Atlanta behind Desmond Ridder, although I’d rank Heinicke
17. Cooper Rush
If you wanted to argue Cooper Rush over Heinicke here, I couldn’t blame you. They’re essentially the same player, although Rush did win his first four games as the NFL media breathlessly fawned all over him and wondered if he would supplant Dak Prescott as the Cowboys QB of the future. A brutal loss to the Eagles ended that speculation, but Rush remains one of the best, if not the best, back-up QB in the conference, and he’s certainly better than the dudes below him.
18. Marcus Mariota
The Eagles got themselves a fine back-up QB who can do some of the things Hurts does in a way that is not at all as good. He’s a better fit than Gardner Minshew was, however, so that’s a start. Still, heaven help the Birds if Hurts misses more than a couple games in 2023.
19. Sam Howell
I’ll take the upside guy over the aging veterans, which is why Howell is here. Again, Howell looked good in the season finale against the Cowboys and they’re right to go with Howell as the starter because, let’s face it, the Commanders aren’t winning anything in 2023. Right now, though, Brissett is better.
20. Jameis Winston
21. Andy Dalton
Winston and Dalton are the same player and you can’t convince me otherwise.
22. Baker Mayfield
Yo, Tampa might be super bad this year. Mayfield stinks.
23. Tyrod Taylor
Career back-up QBs, man. What a life.
24. Colt McCoy/David Blough
See No. 23.
25. Nick Mullens
He’s a very, very poor man’s Brock Purdy in that he was totally undrafted and isn’t very good at all.
26. Drew Lock
Honestly folks, I didn’t spend much time wading through the stats or the game tape for these last few rankings.
27. Nate Sudfeld
If Jared Goff goes down, it’s Suds time in Detroit.
28. Kyle Trask
HA HA HA HA HA NO