Top 100 NFL Quarterbacks of the 21st Century: Part II (86-72)

Including the playoffs, there are 100 NFL quarterbacks who have started at least 30 games in the last 20 seasons (2001-20). In part I, I began to rank these quarterbacks from No. 100 to No. 87.

Why stop at 87? I am viewing this list in tiers, and those 14 quarterbacks were the worst of the bunch. Here in part II, I will be looking at more serviceable players who never sustained success but may have had that one special season. The fact that half of this top 100 list is comprised of players who either sucked or were nothing special should serve as a reminder of how difficult it is to find a good quarterback.

86. Gus Frerotte

He peaked with Washington back in 1996, but most people will remember him for headbutting a wall and injuring his neck. Frerotte actually had winning seasons as a starter with the 2005 Dolphins (9-6) and 2008 Vikings (8-3), but he was not good in either of those seasons. For a Randy Moss appreciation stat, consider that Frerotte only started two games with Moss as his receiver in 2003, and he threw five touchdowns to him in those two games.

85. Tarvaris Jackson

Remember when the Vikings tried to replace Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss with Tarvaris Jackson and Troy Williamson? That didn’t quite work as the two connected on one touchdown together. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead here as Jackson unfortunately passed away last year at the age of 36. He was the bridge quarterback between Matt Hasselbeck and Russell Wilson in Seattle, and he won a Super Bowl as Wilson’s backup.

84. Brian Hoyer

The number of times the Patriots have signed, cut, and brought Brian Hoyer back since 2009 is pretty incredible. They just did it again, cutting him before expecting to bring him back prior to Week 1. There was a time in 2013-15 with the Browns and Texans where Hoyer was 15-10 as a starter with 36 TD, 23 INT, 7.3 YPA, and 83.2 passer rating. Not bad for an undrafted QB with poor college stats. He also looked solid for the Bears in 2016, but since that time he is 1-12 as a starter with stats that are not that far off from the line I just posted.

83. Jacoby Brissett

Brissett started 15 games in two different seasons for the Colts due to Andrew Luck’s season-long injury in 2017 and surprise retirement before 2019. He ranked 26th and 21st in QBR in those seasons, but at least he kept the interceptions low and showed he could take fewer sacks under Frank Reich’s offense in 2019. I would not rule out the days of him starting being completely over, but with the way teams draft high picks to play quarterback now, a career backup is the most likely outcome for Jacoby.

82. Sam Bradford

If I was writing this one in true Sam Bradford form, I would require you to pay to read something where even the best parts barely pass for mediocre. I was never on board with Bradford in the NFL. He got praise as a rookie just because he had a high volume of attempts and the team finished 7-9 in one of the worst divisions ever (2010 NFC West won by 7-9 Seattle) a year after going 1-15. Of course, most of the wins were powered by the defense. Bradford regressed in 2011, went through an injury period, had a bump in play in 2012-13, got injured again, then had a misleading stat line in Chip Kelly’s system in Philadelphia before setting an NFL record with a 71.6 completion rate in Minnesota in 2016. But that offense was not good and he still finished with a losing record.

Maybe 2017 would have been the magical year where he finally put it together, but his knee failed him again and Case Keenum stole the spotlight. Bradford joined the Cardinals in 2018 and was abysmal in three starts and cut before the season ended. He still got $15 million guaranteed for that season.

Bradford’s career felt like a Ponzi scheme. Get drafted No. 1 overall, convince people you’re the real deal, then just fleece multiple teams for a decade. Bradford’s rookie contract had a maximum value of $86 million, an absurd amount for someone who had yet to play a down in the NFL. Fortunately, the 2010 draft was the end of that CBA and teams got wiser on rookie deals starting in 2011.

But Bradford was still able to make $130 million in his career. It is practically impossible to name another player who did less and earned more.

81. Shaun Hill

I am still president of the Shaun Hill fan club. #ThatsMyQB.

In all seriousness, Hill was one of the best backups in the league. What made him so interesting to me is the way he outperformed No. 1 overall picks that I never was sold on like Alex Smith and Sam Bradford. He did this while being their teammate too, so you could compare their performance with the same coaches and players around them. He even had a better season with the Lions in 2010 than Matthew Stafford had in his first two injury-plagued seasons.

No team ever really chose Hill to be their intended starter. It was always an injury situation or benching that got him on the field, but for a backup, he was more than solid.

80. Matt Moore

He was no Tony Romo, but as far as undrafted quarterback success stories go, Moore is one of the better ones this century. He had some decent games with the Panthers and Dolphins, even starting a playoff game in place of an injured Ryan Tannehill in the 2016 season. Moore also went 1-1 as a starter for the 2019 Chiefs when Patrick Mahomes dislocated his kneecap. That close win over Minnesota was crucial in keeping the Chiefs in line for the No. 2 seed and a bye, which helped them win a Super Bowl.

Moore averaged 7.13 YPA and a 87.4 passer rating for his career, which makes him the only QB on my list ranked 100 to 64 that broke 7.0 YPA and the second to break 85.0 in passer rating.

79. Derek Anderson

Before he came out as a right-wing meathead on Twitter, Anderson was a one-year wonder in the 2007 season for Cleveland. He really came out of nowhere to throw 29 touchdowns, make the Pro Bowl, and lead the Browns to 10 wins, the team’s best offense and season from 1995-2019.

But I always warned people that his one-year wonder season was closer to a half-season wonder. In the last eight games, Anderson completed 55.6% of his passes with 12 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 6.22 YPA, and a 73.7 passer rating. That’s the kind of stat line that looks painfully familiar to Browns fans as it is not good enough to win in this league. Cleveland scored 30 points just once in those final eight games after doing so three times in the first half of the season when Anderson’s YPA was a strong 8.20.

Predictably, Anderson turned into a pumpkin in 2008, completing 50.2% of his passes with 5.71 YPA and a 66.5 passer rating. His only highlight with the 2010 Cardinals was this “Nothing is funny to me!” meltdown.

78. Tim Couch

While people often defend No. 1 quarterbacks for underperforming, I usually find myself not buying those defenses. I think David Carr and Sam Bradford were just never going to be good in this league. I think Alex Smith needed an incredible amount of time and talent around him before he finally showed he could be adequate under Jim Harbaugh.

But a No. 1 pick labeled a bust who I always defend is Tim Couch. I think the Browns did a horrible job of building a team around him and hiring good coaches. Yet I always pointed out how the Browns were doing better with Couch as their starter than anyone else.

That was through 2012 but given the way the Browns performed prior to Baker Mayfield’s arrival, I am confident it would show the same results that the Browns won more games and got better QB play with Couch. He was sneaky good with the game on the line, leading the Browns to 10 fourth-quarter comebacks and 11 game-winning drives, including four in that 2002 playoff season where Kelly Holcomb got the playoff start. Before Aaron Rodgers became the ultimate Hail Mary QB, Couch won two games with a Hail Mary touchdown against the 1999 Saints and 2002 Jaguars.

People want to talk about the Texans breaking Carr with the sacks, but let’s look at Couch. He took a league-high 56 sacks as a rookie in 1999 and had a horrific sack rate of 12.3%. He cut that down to 4.4% in his second season. In all five of his seasons, his passer rating ranged from 73.1 to 77.6. Not good, not much progress, but at least there was some consistency there. I truly believe with a better team and better health luck that he could have been a decent starter.

77. Josh McCown

Even before he was a Zoom quarterback and the oldest practice squad player ever in 2020, McCown had one of the strangest careers in NFL history. Perhaps his most memorable moment is when he threw a 28-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-25 to knock the 2003 Vikings out of the playoffs in Week 17. That was a thrilling moment, and yet, McCown went on to compile one of the worst records in NFL history in crunch time. He was 6-37 (.140) at 4QC opportunities and 7-40 (.149) at game-winning drive opportunities.

The 2017 season with the Jets is McCown’s most prolific year with 2,926 yards and 18 touchdown passes. Otherwise, he never had more than 13 touchdowns in any year. But the best he ever played was in 2013 with the Bears. He threw 13 touchdowns to one interception for a 109.0 passer rating. He finished that season with a positive DVOA under pressure, which almost never happens as all quarterbacks play worse when pressured.

McCown’s only playoff action came at the age of 40 after Carson Wentz was injured in the 2019 wild card against Seattle. It made him the oldest quarterback to ever make his playoff debut. McCown finished the game despite tearing his hamstring off the bone in the second quarter. He was no doubt a competitor, but he was like the RC Cola version of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Speaking of the Jets…

76. Mark Sanchez

The first quarterback on the list with playoff wins in multiple seasons. But will Sanchez be better remembered for going to two AFC Championship Games or The Butt Fumble? Yeah, I think the answer to that is obvious. It is quite arguably the funniest play in NFL history. And to think Sanchez (94.3) still has a higher career playoff passer rating than Tom Brady (90.4), topped off by his best playoff game coming against one of Brady’s best teams in that 2010 season.

Sanchez had seven game-winning drives in those first two seasons, and a few were really impressive ones in the final minute of the game. He was so erratic, and the run game and defense really carried him at times, but it would still be hard to call him a bust. A disappointment for sure, but much like Brock Osweiler, Sanchez’s existence in this NFL timeline served a few purposes for me that I will always appreciate.

75. Vinny Testaverde

Such a Jets thing to talk about a quarterback with a so-so season who still snuck into the playoffs. Old man Vinny got the Jets there in 2001 after leading five comebacks on the way to a 10-6 finish. They lost in the first round to the Raiders. But that was the end of Testaverde’s success in New York. He started 15 games for the Cowboys in 2004 at the age of 41, which was very unusual at the time. He even started six games at 44 for the Panthers in 2007, the end of his career.

Testaverde (six), Warren Moon (one), and Steve DeBerg (one) are the only quarterbacks to start a game in their age-44 season. None of them were still playing at 45. That would be great if this remained the case…

74. Blake Bortles

On the one hand, Blake Bortles is one of 15 quarterbacks in NFL history who can show their resume has a season with 35 touchdown passes AND that they won a championship or led by double digits in a championship game.

Those things really happened. On the other hand, there is a statistical argument that 2015 Bortles is the worst season with 35 touchdown passes in history as he was a Garbage Time God who led the league in interceptions (18) and sacks (51). As for the 2017 playoff run that nearly gave us a Bortles-Foles Super Bowl, that was Jacksonville taking full advantage of season-ending injuries to Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson in the division. They then took advantage of a Buffalo team that had no business being in the tournament, but silly tie-breaker rules made it happen, and Bortles won that game 10-3. Of course, his crowning moment was that 45-42 win in Pittsburgh in the divisional round, a game I only wish I could blame Dick LeBeau for since it was the most embarrassing thing since Tebow 316.

But after blowing the lead to the Patriots in the championship game, it was all downhill from there for Bortles. He lost his last eight starts for the Jaguars and was already off the team by 2019. He has not started a game since, but with his mobility and experience, I would not rule out that we’ve seen the last of him in this league.

In a better world where #MylesJackWasntDown, Bortles would have been an unlikely Super Bowl starter.

73. Tommy Maddox

What does Maddox have that the other 27 quarterbacks really could not claim since 2001? He had a good individual season that led his team to the playoffs where he continued to play well. He was not carried by the Pittsburgh defense in 2002 because the defense was poor that year. The offense was too to start the season after Kordell Stewart failed to sustain his success. Maddox replaced Stewart and led a comeback win against the rival Browns in a rare year where they were a winning team.

Maddox kept the job, the offense shifted to a quick passing game that was successful, and he overcame an injury scare to return in December. His first game back against expansion Houston is one of the most infamous shitshows in NFL history. Maddox had three turnovers that were returned for touchdowns in the 24-6 loss. Pittsburgh was a 14-point favorite and lost the game at home despite outgaining Houston 422 to 47 in yards. Proof that you can rush a quarterback too early from injury.

But Maddox regained his composure, and he even went into Tampa Bay and finished 17-of-23 for 236 yards and a touchdown in a 17-7 win. That was against one of the best defenses in NFL history and a team that went on to win the Super Bowl. In the playoffs, the Steelers were down 17 points at home to Cleveland before Maddox led one of the all-time great comeback wins. He passed for 367 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-33 win. A week later in Tennessee, the Steelers were again in a high-scoring game and lost 34-31 in overtime after kicker Joe Nedney flopped to draw a running into the kicker penalty. Maddox played admirably in the loss.

A decade after he was a first-round bust, Maddox came out of nowhere that season to finish third in TD%, fourth in YPA, and 13th in pass DVOA. He failed to repeat this success in 2003 as a 6-10 finish led to the Steelers drafting Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Maddox started two games in 2005 as the third-string quarterback and played horrifically in two overtime losses that had so much to do with the team only being a sixth seed on their way to winning a Super Bowl.

But as a Steelers fan, you really have to say thanks to Maddox, who changed the course of football forever in Pittsburgh. Thank you for an entertaining 2002 season that put an end to the Kordell era. Thank you for a subpar 2003 that led to drafting Roethlisberger. Thank you for getting injured – relax, it wasn’t serious – in 2004 and letting Roethlisberger take over early. Thank you for playing like ass in 2005 so that the team had proper motivation as a sixth-seed underdog to win Bill Cowher a Super Bowl.

Thank you, Tommy.

72. Jon Kitna

As a Pittsburgh fan, I probably have more respect for Kitna than the average NFL fan. He was clearly never a great quarterback, but his three biggest moments all arguably came against the Steelers. In 2001, he threw the ball 68 times in a 26-23 overtime win against a Pittsburgh team that finished 13-3. It is the only loss in Bill Cowher’s career where the Steelers led by more than 10 points as Cincinnati trailed 14-0 early.

In 2003, Kitna had his finest season right after the Bengals drafted Carson Palmer No. 1 overall. He was down 20-17 in the final minute in Pittsburgh, but after getting the ball at midfield, he only needed two throws to get in the end zone for a game-winning touchdown. Kitna finished that season with 26 touchdowns and the Bengals finished 8-8, a big deal for a team that had been so bad for so long. This paved the way for the Palmer era. But when Palmer was injured on the first drive against Pittsburgh in the 2005 wild card game, Kitna had to step in. He played well early, and the Bengals twice led by 10 points, but the defense faltered and Cincinnati lost. It was Kitna’s final game with the team.

Kitna had back-to-back 4,000-yard passing seasons for Detroit, but under Mike Martz’s scheme, he took a beating in the pocket. Detroit finished 7-9 in 2007, the team’s best record since 2000. But Kitna started four games during the 0-16 campaign in 2008. He later had some decent games with the Cowboys in 2010 after Tony Romo was injured. He may have had a better career if he played for franchises that were not so dysfunctional.

6 thoughts on “Top 100 NFL Quarterbacks of the 21st Century: Part II (86-72)

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