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NFL QB Index, Week 1: 2023 season begins with Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts on top

Gregg Rosenthal hired me to work for this website nearly a decade ago with one simple question: When can you start?

As fast as I can drive across the country, I replied, then promptly packed up my Nissan Frontier and set out for Los Angeles as a 22-year-old who didn't know better than to head west in pursuit of a dream.

Taking over this column from the likes of its creator (Gregg), Marc Sessler and the late, great Chris Wesseling is a realization of that occasionally amorphous dream. Each of them gave me something I'm convinced I'd have never found anywhere else in L.A.: friendship, wisdom, direction, support, encouragement. Most of all, they set an example I still strive to meet.

I'm honored to be the one to follow them in compiling the weekly QB Index.

We last examined the NFL's quarterbacks with a final ranking of all 68 players to start an NFL game in 2022 at the conclusion of Super Bowl LVII. I'm not leaving Marc's work in mothballs, but this won't perfectly match where we stood under center in mid-February.

Time has passed. Faces have changed. New narratives have risen to the surface -- while some still lurk beneath it.

Let's launch this season in the best way possible: by ranking the most important position in sports.

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · Year 7

2022 stats: 17 games | 67.1 pct | 5,250 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 41 pass TD | 12 INT | 358 rush yds | 4 rush TD | 5 fumbles

Let's keep it simple here: NFL MVP, Super Bowl LVII MVP, Super Bowl LVII champion, first-team All-Pro, Pro Bowler, leader in NFL passing yards and passing touchdowns. Mahomes ended the debate over the NFL's best QB with his sprint to his second Lombardi Trophy. He's a leading face of the NFL now and for the foreseeable future. And after a banner year in which he out-dueled his greatest competition for MVP in one of the best Super Bowls in recent memory -- in the first season following the departure of Tyreek Hill -- there's no questioning his standing.

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL UPDATE: While his stat line – 21-of-39, 226 yards, two touchdowns and one interception -- wasn't stellar, Mahomes was his usual excellent self. The problem in Kansas City's 21-20 loss to Detroit was his teammates, whose penchant for the untimeliest mistakes (drops, penalties) doomed the Chiefs' chances of pulling off a comeback win.

Jalen Hurts
Philadelphia Eagles · Year 4

2022 stats: 15 games | 66.5 pct | 3,701 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 22 pass TD | 6 INT | 760 rush yds | 13 rush TD | 9 fumbles

Hurts put together a spectacular season that was the stuff of Hollywood scripts, with the surprise 2020 second-round pick growing into a bona fide superstar. He missed out on earning NFL MVP honors, then fell to Mahomes' Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII by a narrow margin.

The good news for Hurts and the Eagles: They're primed to run it back in 2023, returning all of their key personnel to a team that ran roughshod through most of their opponents on their way to an NFC title. Their biggest challenges will come in replicating their third-ranked offense without coordinator Shane Steichen, who is now in charge in Indianapolis. Luckily, Philly promoted internally, moving Brian Johnson -- one of those responsible for Hurts' development at the professional level -- from quarterbacks coach to OC. Hurts received financial security, too, signing an extension in the offseason that confirmed his place in Philadelphia's future.

All that's left is to build on the great successes of 2022.

Joe Burrow
Cincinnati Bengals · Year 4

2022 stats: 16 games | 68.3 pct | 4,475 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 35 pass TD | 12 INT | 257 rush yds | 5 rush TD | 6 fumbles

There's a good reason why the Chiefs and Bengals occupied some of the offseason's dead space with a lively debate: Burrow has become that dude.

He might not yet be as good as Mahomes, but he's damn close. Burrow proved 2021 wasn't a fluke, nearly matching his stats in his first season as a defending AFC champion. His Bengals fell short in the playoffs, but they're primed to give it another go with Burrow (and his healing calf) leading the way. It seems like only a matter of time before he's locked up as Cincinnati's well-paid franchise quarterback, setting up for more showdowns with Mahomes -- and perhaps others eager to become AFC disruptors.

Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · Year 6

2022 stats: 16 games | 63.3 pct | 4,283 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 35 pass TD | 14 INT | 762 rush yds | 7 rush TD | 13 fumbles

Allen has solidified his place as one of the NFL's superstars, replete with adoration and major commercial deals. There are only two goals he has yet to accomplish: win NFL MVP and get the Bills to a Super Bowl.

It might feel like time is running out on these Bills, who have come painfully close to the game's greatest stage in the last few years, meeting heartbreaking defeats in each instance. But as long as Allen is on this team, they'll have more than a puncher's chance. 

He's incredibly talented and remarkably consistent statistically, posting 4,200-plus passing yards and 35-plus passing touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. His passer rating between 2020 and 2022 is 98.4. It's tough to be much better than that over three seasons. Buffalo just needs to find a way to get over the hump. Much of this roster looks the same as it did last year; perhaps a more effective running game would help. Allen is certainly doing enough on his own already.

Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers · Year 4

2022 stats: 17 games | 68.2 pct | 4,739 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 25 pass TD | 10 INT | 147 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 8 fumbles

The main question regarding the Chargers' chances entering 2023 boils down to one frustrating query: What more does Justin Herbert have to do?

Herbert has more offensive touchdowns (102) than any player in the first three seasons of their career in NFL history. He has the second-most passing touchdowns (94) of any quarterback in the first three seasons of their career, trailing only Dan Marino. But unlike Marino, Herbert doesn't have a single playoff win to his name in that span.

The injury bug has feasted on the Chargers relentlessly in recent years, with 2022 standing as the worst. And yet, Herbert was still able to lead Los Angeles to the postseason. Imagine if the Bolts could stay healthy for a season. A career year from Herbert might be just what the Chargers need to finally win a playoff game.

Aaron Rodgers
New York Jets · Year 19

2022 stats: 17 games | 64.6 pct | 3,695 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 26 pass TD | 12 INT | 94 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 8 fumbles

Count me in the group of Hard Knocks converts inching closer toward adopting the doctrine of A-Rod. Rodgers appears to have left the crankiness we'd been seeing from him lately behind in Green Bay, seeming refreshed and willing to lead by example in New York. The Jets are talented enough to capitalize on Rodgers' abilities, too, setting up for a must-watch season.

But with all of the good feelings floating around the Jets, are we ignoring what we saw from Rodgers in 2022? The veteran visibly struggled to get on the same page as his much younger teammates, and the Packers fell short of a playoff appearance. For the first time, Rodgers looked like he might finally be declining.

Are we so certain that won't carry over into 2023? Sure, Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard joined Rodgers in New York, but the rest of the key guys are new faces to the QB. If they hit the ground running, I expect Rodgers to move up in these rankings. But for now, I'm going to remain cautiously optimistic. The bright lights are going to shine on New York through at least the midway point of the regular season. We'll see if Rodgers can thrive in them.

Trevor Lawrence
Jacksonville Jaguars · Year 3

2022 stats: 17 games | 66.3 pct | 4,113 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 25 pass TD | 8 INT | 291 rush yds | 5 rush TD | 12 fumbles 

After the nightmare that was 2021, 2022 was essentially Lawrence's first real season in the NFL with competent support. Lawrence, in a word, thrived.

Lawrence's growth was measurable by the week, and he truly began to blossom down the back stretch of the regular season, leading the Jaguars to two comeback wins against quality opponents (Baltimore and Dallas) and setting the stage for his greatest NFL accomplishment: a thrilling, frantic come-from-behind win over the Chargers on Super Wild Card Weekend. What's next for Lawrence is anyone's guess, but it was incredibly satisfying to see the former No. 1 overall pick deliver on his potential in his first season playing under Doug Pederson. Year 2 with Pederson is all about building on that progress.

Tua Tagovailoa
Miami Dolphins · Year 4

2022 stats: 13 games | 64.8 pct | 3,548 pass yds | 8.9 ypa | 25 pass TD | 8 INT | 70 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 6 fumbles

Tagovailoa set the league on fire in the first portion of his first season under Mike McDaniel, putting up a league-high passer rating of 118.4 through Week 10, better than the next-best mark by 10 points. But the injury bug struck, with a second stint in the NFL's concussion protocol causing him to miss the last two regular-season games and Miami's wild-card loss to Buffalo. 

His biggest hurdle remains his health. If Tagovailoa can stay on the field for a full season, there's no telling how high the explosive Dolphins could soar.

Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · Year 6

2022 stats: 12 games | 62.3 pct | 2,242 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 17 pass TD | 7 INT | 764 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 5 fumbles

Jackson's story, of late, is much like Tagovailoa's: Injuries have prevented Jackson from finishing each of the last two campaigns, forcing the Ravens to rely on Tyler "Snoop" Huntley to keep them afloat. In 2022, Baltimore managed a playoff appearance (and narrow loss), but that simply isn't good enough going forward.

The Ravens ended the prolonged worry regarding Jackson's future by finally signing him to a long-term deal this offseason. With that out of the way, all Jackson has to do is stay healthy. The Ravens replaced offensive coordinator Greg Roman with Todd Monken, raising expectations for an offense that many hope will look different and might finally take advantage of Jackson's passing talents. He has to prove he can be a highly effective passer on a weekly basis, but one fact is certain: Jackson is one of the most dynamic and explosive players in the NFL. If the passing game takes on a bigger role in Baltimore in 2023, we might see Jackson and the Ravens reach new heights -- and a higher ranking in the QB Index.

Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · Year 8

2022 stats: 12 games | 66.2 pct | 2,860 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 23 pass TD | 15 INT | 182 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 4 fumbles

Prescott's 2022 seemingly boiled down to one statistic: Interceptions. He led the league with 15 last season, and this offseason, he guaranteed he wouldn't turn the ball over as much in 2023.

That's not the best place to be for a franchise quarterback. Prescott's passing talents give him plenty of upside. He's thrown for 4,400-plus yards and 30-plus touchdowns twice in his career (2019, 2021), and since he arrived in 2016, the Cowboys are 61-36 with Prescott in the starting lineup. But Prescott's also thrown 65 picks in his career, 10th-most in the NFL in that span, and he has yet to advance beyond the Divisional Round, providing grist for outside doubters. And now there's a former top draft pick (the recently acquired Trey Lance) potentially waiting in the wings.

At his best, Prescott remains a top-10 quarterback. That's why he's ranked 10th entering 2023. The Cowboys have more talent in their receiving corps in 2023 than they did a year ago, and the expectations remain high. It's up to Prescott to deliver on his potential, which will only happen if he takes better care of the ball. If he does that, concerns about him will likely disappear. If not, well, we might have ourselves an interesting 2024 offseason.

Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings · Year 12

2022 stats: 17 games | 65.9 pct | 4,547 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 29 pass TD | 14 INT | 97 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 7 fumbles

Cousins has long been unfairly maligned by some observers as a replacement-level-at-best quarterback, even when the statistics suggest otherwise. I didn't hear as much from Cousins' critics in 2022, when the Vikings won 13 games and the NFC North title. But with the veteran entering the final year of his existing contract and Minnesota clearly pivoting toward the future, such negativity is bound to resurface in 2023.

It will be up to Cousins to fight against it by winning games. The going likely won't be as easy, not after the departures of fellow veterans like Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen. The Vikings also can't bank on winning 11 one-score games, as they did a year ago. 

But Cousins is a productive and consistent quarterback, even if his play is not as scintillating as that of others ranked above him. I won't use this space to try to convince doubters of this; they've had enough time to figure it out for themselves. If Cousins compiles another productive year -- 4,500 passing yards and 29 touchdowns is nothing to scoff at, folks -- I can guarantee he'll justify this ranking, if not move up a little more. And with no clear successor to Cousins in place, his time with the team might not be nearing its twilight after all.

Russell Wilson
Denver Broncos · Year 12

2022 stats: 15 games | 60.5 pct | 3,524 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 16 pass TD | 11 INT | 277 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 6 fumbles

2022 was a complete disaster for Wilson. Everything with the QB and the Broncos was slow in his first year with the team: His movement, the relay of the play call and the time to snap. Denver stunk, plain and simple, and that can't happen again in 2023.

New coach Sean Payton has spoken with his chest out about how things will be different in the Mile High City in 2023. That starts with Wilson, who showed up to camp leaner. I expect he'll work better with Payton, a proven winner, than he did with Nathaniel Hackett, who was fired before last season even ended.

Until the results follow, though, all the football world will see in Wilson is a former MVP candidate who might never be that guy again.

Geno Smith
Seattle Seahawks · Year 11

2022 stats: 17 games | 69.8 pct | 4,282 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 30 pass TD | 11 INT | 366 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 8 fumbles

Much of this piece is written with the information gained from 2022, and blended with projection for 2023. Do I expect Smith to post a second consecutive career year, again breaking 4,000 passing yards and finishing with a 30:11 TD-to-INT ratio? No. That's why we call them career years -- they don't happen annually (for most players, at least).

But I place Smith here because I respect what he did for a Seattle team most everyone (including myself) picked to finish last in the NFC West last season. This time around, the Seahawks won't surprise anyone. They'll be expected to compete from the start. Smith will have to live up to that expectation. If he puts up numbers similar to what he accomplished in 2022, he could move up this ranking. We just can't project him to do that so easily -- especially if Seattle leans more on the run game, with its deeper backfield.

Jared Goff
Detroit Lions · Year 8

2022 stats: 17 games | 65.1 pct | 4,438 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 29 pass TD | 7 INT | 73 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 7 fumbles

Much of what I just wrote about Geno Smith above applies to Goff, too. He had a fantastic second season in Detroit, where everything seemed to go right for the Lions down the stretch. Instead of seeking an immediate replacement this offseason, the Lions drafted a player who will need time to develop (Tennessee's Hendon Hooker), effectively giving Goff another chance to prove he can be the guy in Detroit.

But can he be the guy? Or was 2022 a pleasant fluke? 

Goff and the Lions ranked in the top five in scoring and total offense last season, thanks in large part to a white-hot streak from Week 10 to Week 18, in which Goff posted a perfect 15:0 TD-to-INT ratio, right when the Lions hit their stride. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson unlocked Detroit's offense with Goff at the controls, leaning on play-action passes, in which Goff ranked first in yards per attempt, passing touchdowns and passer rating.

Detroit has since remade its backfield, replacing D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams with David Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs. Expecting the Lions to replicate their 2022 production with multiple new faces in the mix might be unfair, especially given the coming six-game absence of the suspended Jameson Williams at receiver, where there is not a ton of talent beyond Amon-Ra St. Brown. It's very fun to hope the Lions will take a big next step; it just might not be as easy as many expect.

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL UPDATE: Despite what some might suggest #online, Goff put together a very solid outing, ripping a number of throws downfield for impressive (and oftentimes clutch) completions, including while under duress. He didn't make any major mistakes and executed when needed most, completing 22 of 35 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown in the 21-20 win. If anything, Goff played well enough to warrant moving up a spot or two next week.

Brock Purdy
San Francisco 49ers · Year 2

2022 stats: 9 games | 67.1 pct | 1,374 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 13 pass TD | 4 INT | 13 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 0 fumbles

Purdy was the talk of the league by the end of the regular season. The 2022 NFL Draft’s Mr. Irrelevant quickly became relevant when called upon, helping the 49ers reach the NFC title game. San Francisco doubled down on Purdy this offseason once he cleared his health hurdle, sending former No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance to Dallas and effectively making it Purdy’s team.

All that’s left to prove is that 2022 wasn’t a fluke. 

Purdy is a rare example of how a player’s style can match a coach’s approach so perfectly it can detonate a franchise’s long-term plans. Call it a stroke of luck or good scouting. Whatever it is, it worked for San Francisco last year.

Purdy has to prove his elbow problem is behind him. But thanks to San Francisco’s decision to trade Lance, Purdy won’t have to worry he might be replaced by the other young talent on the roster. This is his job. And if he plays like he did in 2022, he’ll move up these rankings.

Derek Carr
New Orleans Saints · Year 10

2022 stats: 15 games | 60.8 pct | 3,522 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 24 pass TD | 14 INT | 102 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 4 fumbles

Carr's tenure as the Raiders’ franchise quarterback ended with a thud. 2023 presents him with a chance to resurrect his career.

He had a rough season in 2022, finishing with his lowest completion percentage and passer rating since his rookie year (2014). But his track record suggests last year was an outlier. Carr had the fourth-most passing yards in the NFL from 2018 to 2021 (17,010) and set the Raiders' single-season passing yards record in 2021 (4,804).

The ability is there, but it's about the fit. Carr might have found a good one with Saints coach Dennis Allen, who was Carr’s head coach with the Raiders when the QB first entered the league. But what will be more important is limiting his mistakes, which means reducing his total giveaways from the second-most in the NFL since 2020 to a more tolerable number.

Luckily, New Orleans is stocked with playmakers, including 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Chris Olave. They've just needed a quarterback. Perhaps Carr can be the answer, creating a happy marriage almost no one saw coming a year ago.

Daniel Jones
New York Giants · Year 5

2022 stats: 16 games | 67.2 pct | 3,205 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 15 pass TD | 5 INT | 708 rush yds | 7 rush TD | 6 fumbles

2022 was a make-or-break season for Jones and the Giants. The result was a surprise playoff appearance and an even more shocking postseason victory. But when the dust settled, it wasn't guaranteed the Giants would proceed forward with Jones -- at least, not until they signed him to a four-year, $160 million deal.

$40 million per season is a lot to give a player who hasn't yet proven he's a franchise quarterback. Sure, he set career-high marks in passing yards and rushing yards, but he still finished shy of 3,500 yards through the air. He didn't exactly stuff the stat sheet, but the Giants won with him, and that was apparently enough to sell the team and fan base on keeping Jones.

In the first three years of his career, Jones' greatest flaws existed in two crucial categories: availability and ball security. He improved in both areas in 2023, playing in all but one game and reducing his fumbles from a career-worst 19 in 2019 to just six last season.

Head coach Brian Daboll might have figured out a way to make it work with Jones for the long haul. But will he ever be good enough to live up to that contract? A lot of projection came with that deal, and Jones still has something to prove.

Deshaun Watson
Cleveland Browns · Year 7

2022 stats: 6 games | 58.2 pct | 1,102 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 7 pass TD | 5 INT | 175 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 1 fumble

Watson's time on the field in 2022 barely qualifies as enough of a sample size for evaluation. Following an 11-game suspension, Watson took the field in Week 13 with more than a year's worth of visible rust, demonstrating almost zero rapport with his Browns teammates. The results weren't great, certainly failing to match his salary (or the endless attention paid to him).

All of this can change in 2023. If Browns fans are looking for inspiration, they can find it in Cleveland's Week 16 win over Washington, in which Watson led three straight touchdown drives in the second half to propel the Browns past the Commanders -- but that's about it. Even that game wasn't remarkable statistically: Watson completed 9 of 18 passes for 169 yards and three scores.

Potential oozes from these Browns on paper, but none of that matters if Watson can't rediscover the abilities that made him an elite talent in Houston. His ability to attain that status with the Texans is why he ranks here, and it's what gives me reason to think he could climb this ladder drastically this season. But he must answer these questions in 2023; the alternative is the stuff of nightmares.

Justin Fields
Chicago Bears · Year 3

2022 stats: 15 games | 60.4 pct | 2,242 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 17 pass TD | 11 INT | 1,143 rush yds | 8 rush TD | 16 fumbles

Fields has been unfairly pigeonholed by some observers as a runner who happens to be playing quarterback in the NFL. Let 2023 be the year in which Fields permanently puts that notion on ice.

The Bears don't need to make the playoffs for 2023 to be a success. Taking a large step forward with Fields -- and, thus, as an offense -- is crucial, though. Fields has proven he's a rare talent on the ground, but those who followed Fields' rise at Ohio State can confirm he's a fantastic passer, too. Now that GM Ryan Poles has had an offseason to surround Fields with better talent at receiver and up front, 2023 is the time to use Fields' full range of talent. 

We've seen glimpses -- as in Chicago's narrow Monday Night Football loss to Pittsburgh in 2021 -- of Fields' potential. If Chicago can truly help Fields blossom, we should all expect him to rocket up these rankings. 

Matthew Stafford
Los Angeles Rams · Year 15

2022 stats: 9 games | 68.0 pct | 2,087 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 10 pass TD | 8 INT | 9 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 5 fumbles

Stafford won a Super Bowl two seasons ago, and now he finds himself sandwiched on this list between a third-year pro and Jimmy Garoppolo. Time moves quickly in this league. 

Though he was far from the only one to suffer an injury in 2022, the timing of Stafford's health struggles -- his initial stint in the concussion protocol kept him out of a Week 10 loss that dropped L.A.'s record to 3-6 -- helped undercut the team's title defense in the early going. Stafford's last appearance was in Week 11, on Nov. 20. By the time he landed on injured reserve with a spinal cord contusion a few weeks later, it felt like little more than a formality. 

How Stafford resumes his career will go a long way toward determining his standing among the rest of the NFL's signal-callers, and much of that will depend on his health. Cooper Kupp's lingering hamstring issue could only make a climb into the top 15 more challenging.

Mac Jones
New England Patriots · Year 3

2022 stats: 14 games | 65.2 pct | 2,997 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 14 pass TD | 11 INT | 102 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 5 fumbles

Jones has experienced plenty of highs and lows in his first two NFL seasons. He began his NFL career posting the most wins among rookie quarterbacks (10) in 2021, completing 67.6 percent of his passes and posting a 22:13 TD-to-INT ratio. New England looked very smart in its decision to choose him in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Then, Bill Belichick handed the offensive keys over to assistants who weren't capable of driving the car. Jones suffered accordingly, watching his TD-to-INT ratio drop to 14:11 and his win-loss record fall to 6-8. The visible frustration was arguably even worse to witness than the statistics.

All could be right in 2023, thanks to the return of Bill O'Brien as offensive coordinator. If this proves to be true, Jones will rise up these rankings. He's better than 21st right now. But he needs to show 2022 was only an aberration.

Jimmy Garoppolo
Las Vegas Raiders · Year 10

2022 stats: 11 games | 67.2 pct | 2,437 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 16 pass TD | 4 INT | 33 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 3 fumbles

At this point, we know enough about Garoppolo to feel pretty confident about this placement, right? He's good enough to win you some games, he won't lose you a bunch of games, but he's never been good enough to win most of your games.

He's also a walking health concern, missing 30 games over the last five seasons. But a change of scenery and a reunion with Josh McDaniels might be just what the doctor ordered.

We can't guarantee Garoppolo will be any better than Derek Carr. But because he's been good enough to help excellent teams reach conference championship games and a Super Bowl, he's deserving of this place. A career year under McDaniels would elevate him, but we pretty much know this is where Garoppolo will exist for most of 2023 -- provided he completes the season.

Still, it's better than going with an unknown. At least there's familiarity between coach and quarterback. Oh, and at least Garoppolo knows he's wanted in Las Vegas, unlike how he felt in San Francisco last season.

Kenny Pickett
Pittsburgh Steelers · Year 2

2022 stats: 13 games | 63.0 pct | 2,404 pass yds | 6.2 ypa | 7 pass TD | 9 INT | 237 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 4 fumbles

If the preseason -- I know, be sure to bring your salt shaker -- is any indication, I believe Pickett will climb in Year 2. The general sentiment coming from Western Pennsylvania is that he is a different guy in 2023, and his on-field production in the preseason matched it. But the regular season is a different animal.

There's plenty of reason for encouragement. Coordinator Matt Canada could escape the scrutiny of frustrated Steelers fans by getting aggressive with Pickett, George Pickens and a retooled Steelers offense that should be better in 2023. After spending the last three seasons rarely pushing the ball downfield, the Steelers have done more of it with their starters in the preseason. Pickett has looked good -- really good -- to this point, inspiring visions of spectacular touchdown strikes.

Pittsburgh has the talent to improve rather drastically in 2023. The offensive line finally has some depth, the same is true for the receiving corps, and Najee Harris has a quality running mate in Jaylen Warren. All signs are pointing toward improvement. 

Pickett will receive quite a test in Week 1 against San Francisco. As my colleague Kevin Patra wrote in late August, if Pickett dices up the 49ers, then we can talk. And we'll be discussing why he's rocketing up the QB Index.

Ryan Tannehill
Tennessee Titans · Year 12

2022 stats: 12 games | 65.2 pct | 2,536 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 13 pass TD | 6 INT | 98 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 3 fumbles

Through most of the offseason, it sure felt like 2023 was building up to be a swan song for Tannehill. I used the past tense, though, because the anticipated usurping of Tannehill doesn’t appear to be materializing -- at least, not yet. Neither Malik Willis nor Will Levis has done much to make the Titans reconsider the order of their depth chart for 2023; In fact, Mike Vrabel didn’t name an official backup as of Tuesday of Week 1.

So, Tannehill seems pretty safe as the Titans’ starter. He has Derrick Henry to lean on, and DeAndre Hopkins joined a receiving corps that desperately needed help. But on paper, this team doesn’t inspire a ton of hope, and we know who Tannehill is at this point in his career. His chance to permanently elevate his reputation appears to have come and gone with Tennessee’s upset loss to Cincinnati in the Divisional Round two seasons ago. All that’s left is the passage of time -- unless, of course, Tannehill leads the Titans to a Seahawks-like resurgence in 2023, stunning most everyone in the process. As of now, I don’t anticipate such a future. But crazier things have happened.

Baker Mayfield
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · Year 6

2022 stats: 12 games | 60.0 pct | 2,163 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 10 pass TD | 8 INT | 89 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 9 fumbles

In the last 14 months, Mayfield has been on as many teams as there are seasons in a year. Team No. 4 took a swing on Mayfield because there wasn’t a better option available that wouldn’t cost the Buccaneers assets. It was a low-risk buy on a player who is scrappy enough to win a handful of games on will and grit.

But that’s Mayfield’s ceiling. Ever since he was forced to battle through multiple injuries in the 2021 season, he hasn’t been the same quarterback who once inspired dreams of a championship in Cleveland. There’s nothing suggesting he’ll be any better in Tampa.

Sure, Mayfield produced a few highlights in preseason action. He won the job over Kyle Trask -- not exactly the stiffest competition -- and has talented teammates to help put some points on the board. But Mayfield isn’t Tom Brady. He isn’t trying to be Brady, and even if he was Brady, well, he’d be worth about nine wins. Tampa Bay’s offensive line is in a better state than it was at this time last year, but the difference in quarterback essentially negates that change. He can move up the list with a career year, but it will take a lot, and after watching Mayfield struggle to find any semblance of consistency in Carolina, then do his best in a bad situation in Los Angeles, I just don’t have much reason to think he’ll suddenly become a game-changing quarterback for the Buccaneers.

Jordan Love
Green Bay Packers · Year 4

2022 stats: 4 games | 66.7 pct | 194 pass yds | 9.3 ypa | 1 pass TD | 0 INT | -1 rush yd | 0 rush TD | 0 fumbles

We move from a low-ceiling quarterback to one whose ceiling is entirely unknown. And that is exciting in September!

That’s the vibe around these Packers entering 2023: Who knows what they might be?! The shift in energy was palpable in the preseason for this youthful bunch, a group freed from the stress of expectation with Aaron Rodgers. It’s the kids’ team now, which will include some growing pains but also carries the tantalizing potential of the unknown.

Love has expressed how happy he is now that the Packers are his team, and it’s time to own his role. He’s shown flashes of a rapport with his fellow young playmakers, and with Matt LaFleur overseeing this group, it could be the year in which Love finally proves the Packers were right to spend a first-round pick on him.

Bryce Young
Carolina Panthers · Rookie

Carolina confidently moved up to the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft to have its choice of the quarterbacks, landing Young as the franchise’s selection for its future under center. 

As is the case with almost every rookie quarterback, there will be highs and lows. But so far, the Panthers are satisfied with Young, who took control of the starting job rather quickly and will embark on his inaugural campaign with a relatively long leash, thanks to the arrival of a new regime in Charlotte.

The 6-foot, 194-pound passer isn’t large in stature, and he’ll have to adjust to the speed of the pro game. It won’t be without occasional error, but the Panthers know what they’ve signed up for. Now is the time for Young to find his footing. The possibilities are endless.

C.J. Stroud
Houston Texans · Rookie

Stroud’s growth was already evident from one week to the next in the preseason. He went from a quarterback who looked slightly overmatched by the speed of the pro game to one who was improving in real time. He threw an ugly interception in a brief outing against New England, then came back and compiled a positive performance against Miami that included a handful of remarkably accurate completions and likely should have produced at least one touchdown.

Stroud appears to have built a rapport with Nico Collins -- someone to keep an eye on, fantasy players -- and connected with him for Stroud’s first touchdown pass of his career in the Week 3 preseason tilt against New Orleans. The rookie is stacking positive performances in an admittedly small sample size. Soon, he’ll get a much larger opportunity as the face of the future for the Texans, who are in a better position than they have been in in recent years. Settle in, Houston fans: This transformation won’t happen overnight, but Stroud has the tools to become a quality quarterback as long as he’s afforded patience.

Desmond Ridder
Atlanta Falcons · Year 2

2022 stats: 4 games | 63.5 pct | 708 pass yds | 6.2 ypa | 2 pass TD | 0 INT | 64 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 3 fumbles

I’m placing Ridder below Young and Stroud for two reasons: I don’t see his ceiling being as high, and as Atlanta demonstrated in 2022, the Falcons might not lean on Ridder as much as Carolina and Houston could with Young and Stroud.

That doesn’t mean Ridder isn’t capable. He went 2-2 as a starter in 2022, completing 63.5 percent of his passes without throwing a single interception. But it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll be a quarterback who can elevate this offense, or if he'll simply take care of it while teammates like Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier carry the bulk of the workload.

Ridder can help his standing (and the Falcons can help Ridder) by finally involving Kyle Pitts in a significant way. It’s a shame to see such talent wasted in an offense that preferred to run the ball more than target a first-round talent through the air. But in order to do that, Ridder has to earn the trust of Arthur Smith’s staff, which has found a way to win seven games in each of the last two seasons despite a notable talent disparity. Perhaps this is the year things start to change on the offensive side of the ball, with Ridder playing an important part.

Anthony Richardson
Indianapolis Colts · Rookie

When we use the phrase “boom or bust,” we should include a photo of Richardson next to the definition. He has elite traits. He also hasn’t produced much proof that he can consistently succeed at quarterback.

Richardson only started 13 games in his career at Florida, where he went 6-7 as a starter. His film is a combination of tantalizing athletic feats and frustrating missed throws. Much of the latter has to do with fundamentals, which can get sloppy (especially in his footwork), but the ability is obviously there.

Richardson’s preseason followed this theme: He extended plays and picked up extra yards with his feet and launched a few beautiful passes downfield, but he also missed mid-level attempts, firing rockets beyond the reach of his intended targets.

Richardson is going to attract attention because of his potential, and if he becomes more consistent in his delivery, he can be the quarterback the Colts have sought since the retirement of Andrew Luck. But he’s far from a sure thing.

Sam Howell
Washington Commanders · Year 2

2022 stats: 1 game | 57.9 pct | 169 pass yds | 8.9 ypa | 1 pass TD | 1 INT | 35 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 0 fumbles

Ron Rivera recently said he didn’t realize Howell was his guy until finally giving the rookie a chance to play in Week 18 last season. Howell responded, completing 11 of 19 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown and one interception in Washington’s season-ending win over Dallas.

Choosing a starting quarterback on one game’s worth of work isn’t exactly a sound decision, though. There’s plenty of unknown to be discovered over the course of a full season (or a month, even), and Washington gave itself an escape pod when signing veteran Jacoby Brissett.

Still, Howell will get the first crack at the job. He’ll be equipped with quality pass catchers in Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson. And Washington’s defense should keep games close enough to give Howell a chance to earn wins on his own merit. Whether that ends up happening, though, remains to be seen, and with new ownership now in charge, the pressure will be on from the opening kickoff of the 2023 season.

Joshua Dobbs
Arizona Cardinals · Year 6

2022 stats: 2 games | 58.8 pct | 411 pass yds | 6.0 ypa | 2 pass TD | 2 INT | 44 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 4 fumbles

(EDITOR’S UPDATE: NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that the Cardinals are expected to start Dobbs in Week 1 against the Commanders. Rookie Clayton Tune will be the backup.)

At the time of writing, we still don’t know who Arizona is going to choose as its starter. The Cardinals cut the only veteran with substantial playing experience in Colt McCoy, leaving them with a choice between Dobbs (two career starts) and Tune.

This is, of course, a temporary fix until Kyler Murray returns from injury. But neither option is exactly encouraging. If Cardinals fans need to find a reason for hope, Dobbs is at least familiar with OC Drew Petzing’s offense from their time in Cleveland. But Dobbs has only been with the team for two weeks, making for a rather brief acclimation period.

Dobbs has been here before: Last season, he was tossed into the starting lineup for the Titans just eight days after joining the team. The short window might be the only thing that keeps him from starting for Arizona, but if coach Jonathan Gannon wants a player with at least some NFL experience, he’ll likely turn to Dobbs.

There aren’t great expectations for a Cardinals team under new leadership and stockpiling picks ahead of the 2024 NFL Draft. Dobbs won’t be expected to lead them to a Super Bowl. If he finds some success, he might move up in this list, but he’s not exactly operating with a stocked cupboard.

The Air Index presented by FedEx ranks NFL quarterback performances all season long. Check out the weekly FedEx Air NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote after Sunday Night Football.

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