As much as the NFL changes, one thing seems to stay the same — quarterback remains the most important position. After all there's a reason that 13 of the past 14 league MVPs have been quarterbacks.
Included in this run is Aaron Rodgers, who last season became the sixth player in NFL history to be named league MVP at least three times (he also won in 2011, 2014). Also in this club is Tom Brady, who at 43 years old continues to defy Father Time as he won his seventh Super Bowl title (and fifth Super Bowl MVP trophy) in his first season as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
So it should come as no surprise that these two elder statesmen lead the list of the top quarterbacks entering the 2021 season. That doesn't mean that youth isn't being served, however. Patrick Mahomes, who already has a league and Super Bowl MVP on his resume and is looking to lead the Chiefs to a third straight Super Sunday appearance, lines up right behind Rogers and Brady followed by Russell Wilson and Josh Allen, who vaulted himself into the top five after last season's breakthrough performance.
Other young signal-callers that appear in the top 15 include Baker Mayfield, Justin Herbert, and Kyler Murray while plenty of attention will be paid to see how last year's No. 1 overall pick, Joe Burrow, bounces back from a serious knee injury, how Tua Tagovailoa fares in his second season with Miami, and if Sam Darnold can turn things around after being traded from the Jets to the Panthers.
And of course, all eyes will be on this year's No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, who is expected to start right away for Jacksonville. That may not be the case for fellow draft classmates Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones, but it's also entirely possible that one more of these names will join Lawrence on this list next year.
And not to be forgotten, there are other veterans who will either be on new teams in 2021 (including Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff), or trying to come back from serious injury (Dak Prescott), or in need of a big bounce-back performance after a disappointing 2020 campaign (Carson Wentz, Cam Newton).
In short, once again there will be no lack of storylines to follow this season when it comes to the most important position in the game.
Athlon's player rankings are just one of the features that appear in the 2021 Pro Football magazine.
2021 NFL Quarterback Rankings
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers put up the third NFL MVP campaign of his estimable career, a resounding response to anybody who thought he was close to done. Rodgers had the NFL’s highest TD percentage (9.1 percent) and lowest interception rate (1.0 percent). At 37, he might be playing his best football. But can Green Bay keep him?
2. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
t took about half a season for Brady to fully get with Bruce Arians’ “grip it and rip it” philosophy. But once everything locked in, Brady was reborn as a deep passer on his way to yet another Super Bowl MVP award. No quarterback in 2020 had more deep attempts (119), completions (45), yards (1,515) and touchdowns (15).
3. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Are we right to be a bit concerned about Mahomes’ two TDs and four interceptions in his two Super Bowls? Yes, we’re picking nits here, as we’re dealing with a generational talent, but one has to wonder. Now that his Chiefs need to rebuild their offensive line after the release of tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, 2021 could be very interesting for Mahomes.
4. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Since his 2012 rookie season, Wilson ranks fourth in TD passes (267), sixth in passing yards (33,946), first in yards per attempt (7.83) — and only eighth in attempts (4,335). Perhaps the “Let Russ Cook” crowd was right all along, and Wilson should be the epicenter of the offense, despite a constant quest for balance.
5. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
In 2019, Allen completed 58.8 percent of his passes with 20 TDs and nine interceptions. In 2020, Allen was a completely different player, completing 69.2 percent of his passes with 37 TDs, 10 interceptions and a vastly improved sense of how to deal with advanced coverages. The sky could be the limit in 2021 and beyond.
6. Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
Stafford certainly qualifies in two areas Sean McVay deems important — play-action and deep passing (Stafford completed 41.8 percent of passes of 20 or more air yards, with seven touchdowns and no interceptions). Expect to see the full McVay playbook in 2021.
7. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
By Week 5, when he was lost to an ankle injury, Prescott had the NFL’s most passing attempts (222), completions (151), and passing yards (1,856), with nine touchdown passes. Prescott’s new four-year, $160 million contract seems to indicate that he’ll be the main man going forward, especially if he can get the ball in the end zone at a slightly higher rate.
8. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
It’s impossible to know what effect Watson’s current legal issues will have on his 2021 season. So, we’ll just deal with the on-field stuff we actually know. In 2020, Watson completed 70.2 percent of his passes for a league-high 4,823 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions despite an offense that had been hampered by bad personnel moves over the years.
9. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
While he did become the first quarterback in pro football history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in two straight seasons, Jackson’s primary passing statistics all dropped in 2020, except for his interceptions, which went from six to nine. Questions abound heading into 2021.
10. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
New offensive coordinator Todd Downing will likely keep a heavily structured, play-action-heavy, bootleg-centric passing game. With a 67.3 percent completion rate, 55 TD passes and just 13 interceptions in two years with the Titans, Tannehill is scheme-transcendent — to a point.
11. Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
12. Baker Mayfield Cleveland Browns
13. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
14. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
15. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
16. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
17. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
18. Daniel Jones, New York Giants
19. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
20. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
21. Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
22. Cam Newton, New England Patriots
23. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
24. Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers
25. Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts
26. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
27. Andy Dalton, Chicago Bears
28. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington Football Team
29. Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos
30. Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints