As a new feature in the 2021 Sharp Football Preview Book, the Sharp Football Analysis team ranked positional units across the league for the 2021 season. The ranking guidelines were up to the specific voter with the only requirement that the focus is on the upcoming season only, not the future outlook.
With a combination of numbers, film, and projections, the rankings were averaged for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers/tight ends, defensive front seven, defensive secondary, and head coach.
We’ll be running each position separately. Today, we start with quarterbacks. The full quarterback room was considered for these rankings, obviously, with the most weight given to the projected starter.
2021 NFL Quarterback Rankings, by Unit
32. Houston Texans
Due to everything surrounding Deshaun Watson, we ranked Houston’s QB room based on the assumption he’s not in it (early training camp practices appear to be treating the situation the same way). As a result, Tyrod Taylor, Davis Mills, and Jeff Driskel ranked 32nd on every ballot.
31. Denver Broncos
Drew Lock earned -1.0 EPA or worse on 20.5% of his throws 10+ yards downfield, the third-worst rate in the league. Unless he dramatically tones down that risk-taking, there’s no path to him emerging as a reliable starter. Teddy Bridgewater had the opposite problem. He averaged 0.37 EPA/attempt on throws over 10 air yards, but did so at a rate (29.7%) that was among the lowest in the league.
30. Carolina Panthers
The addition of Sam Darnold gives Carolina some hope at quarterback. Based on his lack of development in New York, this is our 30th ranked unit, but it’s reasonable to place much of the blame on Adam Gase and the Jets’ talentless roster. Perhaps OC Joe Brady can unlock the potential Darnold showed at USC.
29. New York Jets
Zach Wilson has the talent to succeed, but we’re not optimistic about his ability to immediately produce against NFL competition. Wilson was pressured on just 23.9% of his dropbacks last year at BYU. Jets quarterbacks were under pressure at a higher rate in all 16 games in 2020.
28. New York Giants
The Giants’ QB room ranks 28th overall and this is likely Daniel Jones’s final opportunity to prove he belongs. To survive, Jones needs to learn how to handle pressure. 21.2% of his dropbacks versus pressure resulted in sacks, the fifth-worst rate in the league last year.
27. Detroit Lions
Though we saw a respectable peak from Jared Goff in Los Angeles, his recent struggles led to Detroit’s QB situation landing 27th overall. A concerning trend has been Goff’s increasingly conservative average depth of throw, which sat at 8.8 yards downfield in 2018, dropped to 7.6 in 2019, and landed at 6.5 in 2020. There’s a low ceiling for anyone who isn’t challenging defenses downfield.
26. Philadelphia Eagles
As a rookie, Jalen Hurts excelled when the play broke down. To take the next step, he needs to make plays on script as well. When in the pocket with no pressure, Hurts’s on-target rate (75%) ranked 38th out of 41 qualified quarterbacks.
25. Indianapolis Colts
These rankings came in before reports of Carson Wentz’s foot injury.
When throwing from a clean pocket last season, Carson Wentz ranked dead last with an on-target rate of 74.9%. How do you go about fixing a quarterback who’s struggled even in a clean pocket? Without an obvious solution to Wentz’s struggles, Indy’s QB room ranked no higher than 23rd on any ballot.
24. New Orleans Saints
After sitting at the top of the league for over a decade with Drew Brees, there will be a new starting quarterback in New Orleans this season. The question now is who. We’ve seen enough of both Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill to know they won’t be the strength of this offense.
23. New England Patriots
The Patriots appear to have excellent depth at quarterback with two potential starters, Cam Newton and rookie Mac Jones. However, we don’t know what to expect from either in 2021. The issue for Newton appears to be a drop in arm strength, limiting his ability to throw downfield. When in the pocket with no pressure, Newton’s average depth of throw was just 6.7 yards last season.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers
After a long run as the AFC North’s best quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger checks in at 22nd, last in the division. The once strong-armed Roethlisberger now struggles to throw downfield一he ranked 22nd in catchable pass rate on throws 15+ yards downfield.
21. Chicago Bears
The Bears’ quarterback room probably has the most potential to dramatically out-perform our ranking. Though we have to keep modest expectations for rookies, Justin Fields’s elite athleticism gives him the potential to immediately change the direction of this franchise.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars
Quarterback is the Jaguars’ second-highest ranked unit, which says a little about our expectations for Trevor Lawrence. It’s an easy transition for rookie quarterbacks who start early, but Lawrence has the ability and a pro-ready game to potentially lift the Jacksonville offense.
19. Washington Football Team
There’s not much to say about Ryan Fitzpatrick at this stage of his career. He’s likely to offer Washington more consistency at the position, but the team remains below average at the most critical position on the roster.
18. San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco’s QB depth chart ranks in the bottom half of the league because we’re focusing solely on the 2021 season. Though Trey Lance’s potential is undeniable, even if he beats out Jimmy Garoppolo, we’re expecting his inexperience to limit his production as a rookie.
17. Miami Dolphins
Despite the obvious talent, we’re not quite sold on Tua Tagovailoa just yet. The Dolphins’ QB room earned only one vote in the upper half (15th overall). Unfortunately, Tagovailoa still doesn’t have a ton of support around him, despite an obvious effort to upgrade his weapons this offseason.
16. Cincinnati Bengals
Led by Joe Burrow, the Bengals’ quarterback situation lands in the middle of the pack at 16th overall. Burrow will likely look better with an improved receiving corps. As a rookie, Burrow ranked 28th out of 29 qualified quarterbacks in completion percentage on throws 15+ yards downfield (34.2%). However, his catchable pass rate on those throws ranked 10th (71.8 %).
15. Las Vegas Raiders
Though Derek Carr often draws heat from fans, his consistency may be the best thing the Raiders have going for them. Based on ESPN’s QBR metric, Carr’s 71.0 mark was the highest of his career and represented his second consecutive season taking a big step forward. Though he barely cracks the top half of our rankings, it’s fair to wonder if a better supporting cast might significantly alter our opinion of him.
14. Minnesota Vikings
Kirk Cousins ranked in the top half of the league on every ballot, but no higher than 12th. That seems like a fair representation of his career: always decent, never great.
13. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan remains productive at age 36, and gives Atlanta the 13th ranked QB room. However, Ryan better stay healthy, as few teams have worse depth than A.J. McCarron and rookie Feleipe Franks.
12. Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield might lack elite talent in some areas, but he’s developed into an extremely smart quarterback. When opposing defenses brought five or more pass-rushers, Mayfield was pressured at the fifth-lowest rate and was the only quarterback under the age of 30 in the top seven. Young quarterbacks often struggle in this area because to avoid pressure on the blitz, they need to anticipate it and react quickly.
t-10. Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray has yet to ascend to an elite level, but his combination of accuracy and mobility makes him the ideal quarterback for today’s game. On scrambles (non-designed runs), Murray averaged 0.61 EPA/attempt, tops in the league.
t-10. Tennessee Titans
When Ryan Tannehill left Miami at the age of 30 it would have been impossible to imagine we’d be talking about him as a top-10 quarterback a few years later. Although we’ll have to see how much the loss of former OC Arthur Smith hurts, as Smith’s heavy play-action strategy greatly benefitted Tannehill. With play-action, Tannehill averaged 9.5 yards per attempt (ranked third), but only 7.1 without it (ranked 14th).
9. Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert’s rookie year was special and it won over everyone on our panel. The Chargers’ QB room ranked no worse than 11th on any ballot. If Herbert gets better protection一he was pressured on 47% of his 3+ step dropbacks一he could be capable of elite production in 2021.
8. Los Angeles Rams
In a reversal of recent years, quarterback is now the highest-ranked unit on the Rams’ offense. The most significant upgrade Matthew Stafford provides is his ability to throw downfield. On throws of 10 yards or more, Stafford generated an on-target rate of 69.7% (sixth overall), compared to 60.0% for Jared Goff (26th overall).
7. Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen’s unprecedented improvement as a downfield passer led to a rise into the top-10 of the QB ranks. Allen generated 48.6 EPA on throws 15+ yards downfield, a truly incredible turnaround from his -2.6 EPA over the course of his first two seasons.
6. Baltimore Ravens
Not much needs to be said about our ranking of Lamar Jackson. Votes ranged from fifth to eighth, and he’s solidly among the upper tier of quarterbacks.
5. Dallas Cowboys
The only thing that could hold Dak Prescott back is health. Despite playing in only five games last season, Prescott still finished 21st in total passing EPA and ranked fourth in positive play rate among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts in 2020. With a healthy season, we expect Prescott to easily belong in the top tier of quarterbacks.
4. Seattle Seahawks
2020 was the season of two halves for Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense, but it was great at its peak. The hope is new OC Shane Waldron will help open up some of the passing game and Seattle can continue to look like the passing offense it did in the first half of last season.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
En route to another Super Bowl victory, Tom Brady turned back time with his deep ball. Brady threw 15 or more yards past the line of scrimmage on 24% of his passes in 2020, one of the highest rates in the league, after the figure was among the lowest at just 18.2% in 2019 with the Patriots.
2. Green Bay Packers
The reigning MVP will officially return for the 2021 season. Last year Aaron Rodgers easily led the league in passing EPA and even if there is regression coming for stats like passing touchdowns, the Packers should still have one of the league’s best passing offenses as long as Rodgers is at the helm.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
They have Patrick Mahomes.
Ranking each NFL Unit for 2021:
For all of the team-by-team unit rankings and full team chapters, including a dozen more visuals & info-graphics, defensive breakdown, and detailed Fantasy football implication — plus the other 31 team chapters — pick up a copy of Warren Sharp’s new ‘2021 Football Preview’ book