2016 NFL Rookie Quarterback Rankings

I’ve watched all of the preseason games thus far and have written about them in my Preseason Recap page. In my write-ups, I’ve discussed fantasy football implications and broken down how most of the rookies have looked. While doing so, it dawned on me that it might be interesting to rank the rookie quarterbacks (those chosen in the first five rounds) and assign grades to how they’ve performed and handled themselves this offseason.

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Updated Sept. 3

  1. Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys. Grade: A+
    I said it already, but I’d like to repeat it: I’ve been covering the NFL for 17 years on this site, and I’ve watched every exhibition contest in the past dozen years. Dak Prescott had the best preseason debut of any quarterback I’ve ever seen. I’m not exaggerating. Prescott was unbelievable in his first start, going 10-of-12 for 139 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 13 rushing yards. Both of his incompletions were drops. Prescott was in full command of the offense and was extremely accurate on all of his passes. For more on Prescott, check out Charlie Campbell’s Dak Prescott Scouting Report, where he compared Prescott to Donovan McNabb. That comparison looks great right now!

    PRESEASON WEEK 2: Prescott definitely didn’t disappoint in his encore. Once again, he was the best rookie quarterback the entire week. Prescott finished 12-of-15 for 199 yards, two passing touchdowns, three scrambles, 28 rushing yards and two scores on the ground. He made one glaring mistake – an interception that was called back because of a penalty – but he did so many brilliant things to make up for it, including completing a 58-yard bomb to Brice Butler. Prescott appears to be the real deal, and I’d have to think the Rams are secretly regretting not staying put at No. 15 and selecting him with one of their second-round picks.

    PRESEASON WEEK 3: Prescott had his worst start yet in Week 3 – and yet he was still very good. Prescott went 17-of-23 for 116 yards and a touchdown, battling Seattle’s top-tier defense without Dez Bryant at his disposal. Prescott’s ability to perform well under such circumstances is more important than ever in the wake of Tony Romo’s back injury. Prescott will be Dallas’ starter in Week 1.

    PRESEASON WEEK 4: Prescott was the only healthy rookie quarterback of significance to not play in Week 4. That just goes to show how impressive he was. Prescott will start against the Giants next Sunday.

  2. Paxton Lynch, QB, Broncos. Grade: B
    Paxton Lynch was solid in his debut. He went 6-of-7 for 74 yards, and he also had a 21-yard pass negated by an unnecessary roughness penalty. He did take a couple of sacks because he held on to the ball too long, but he played well otherwise. Of the first-round rookie quarterbacks, he was the best one in the first week of the preseason.

    PRESEASON WEEK 2: While both Trevor Siemian and Mark Sanchez began hot and struggled as the game progressed, Lynch was the opposite. He lofted a poor pass right away, but then caught fire. He went 15-of-26 for 113 yards, two touchdowns an interception that was just a desperate heave at the end of the game. Afterward, Gary Kubiak said that Lynch could start the opener. He certainly appears to be the favorite right now.

    PRESEASON WEEK 3: Lynch took a major step backward in the third week of the preseason. He was very shaky versus the Rams, despite battling their backups. He missed multiple receivers while going 6-of-13 for only 57 yards. Had he put together a great performance, Gary Kubiak at least would’ve thought about naming him the starter against the Panthers in the regular-season opener. Instead, Kubiak gave Trevor Siemian the nod.

    PRESEASON WEEK 4: Lynch had a mixed showing in the preseason finale. He displayed impressive arm strength, particularly on one throw where he hurled a ball off his back foot and still connected with a receiver downfield. He made some poor mistakes, including a pick-six in which the linebacker read his eyes. However, Lynch seems close to being ready to start, unlike some rookie quarterbacks, cough, Jared Goff, cough. Lynch finishes with a solid “B” for his preseason.

  3. Connor Cook, QB, Raiders. Grade: B
    Connor Cook performed well in his first game, going 7-of-11 for 71 yards. He really should’ve been 8-of-11 for 91 yards, but a 20-yard completion of his was wiped out by a bogus offensive pass interference call. Despite this and Matt McGloin’s struggles, the Raiders have announced that McGloin will be the No. 2 quarterback, which really doesn’t make sense. I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as Derek Carr stays healthy and doesn’t suck, but it’s a curious decision to completely ignore Cook’s superior play.

    PRESEASON WEEK 2: Cook had a solid showing in his second preseason game, allowing him to maintain a B+ grade. Cook went 6-of-9 for 104 yards and an interception on an underthrow. His highlight play as a back-shoulder pass of 20 yards. Cook should be Oakland’s No. 2 quarterback.

    PRESEASON WEEK 3: Cook didn’t see much action in the third week of the preseason. He went 3-of-6 for 51 yards and an interception, which came off a deflection. He was once again much better than McGloin, and I’d have to think that if Derek Carr went down with an injury, Jack Del Rio would name Cook as his starting quarterback.

    PRESEASON WEEK 4: Like his new divisional rival Paxton Lynch, Cook had a middling showing in Week 4. He went through progressions well and had some solid throws. However, also like Lynch, he tossed a pick-six. He nearly had a second interception, but the ball was dropped.

  4. Jacoby Brissett, QB, Patriots. Grade: B
    Jacoby Brissett struggled in his preseason debut, going 7-of-13 for only 63 yards. Brissett failed to go through his progressions on most of his attempts, and he should’ve thrown an interception that was dropped. I was perplexed when the Patriots used a third-round pick on him, and I’m even more puzzled now.

    PRESEASON WEEK 2: Of all the rookie quarterbacks, Brissett had the greatest improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. Brissett was awful in his debut, but was much better against the Bears, going 9-of-13 for 87 yards. Not included in that was a potential 39-yard touchdown that was dropped. Brissett had a couple of sloppy sideline incompletions, but was otherwise much improved.

    PRESEASON WEEK 3: Like fine wine, Brissett has gotten better with each preseason game. He completed all nine of his attempts for 85 yards and a touchdown versus the Panthers. It’s remarkable how much better he has performed in just a span of two weeks. In his preseason debut, he didn’t look like he could play football whatsoever. And this past weekend, he didn’t throw a single incompletion!

    PRESEASON WEEK 4: Brissett wasn’t as good as last week, but how could he be when he completed all nine of his passes? Brissett went 13-of-21 for 152 yards in the preseason finale, with one of his attempts being dropped. Brissett has made great strides since his stink bomb in the initial preseason contest.

  5. Cardale Jones, QB, Bills. Grade: B-
    Cardale Jones had a mixed preseason debut, but based on how much he struggled last year for Ohio State, it has to be considered a positive. Jones fired some perfectly placed balls, going 11-of-21 for 162 yards and a touchdown, and he also scrambled four times for 34 rushing yards. He managed to lead the Bills to what would’ve been a game-tying drive had they not opted to go for two to avoid overtime. Unfortunately, some of Jones’ passes were way off the mark, and he was lucky that one late pass of his wasn’t intercepted.

    PRESEASON WEEK 2: Jones had a mixed performance against the Giants. He finished 6-of-12 for 83 yards and an interception that occurred because he didn’t step into his throw. Jones definitely made some nice passes, but failed to complete a couple of throws he definitely should’ve made. Still, Jones appears to be better than his fourth-round status.

    PRESEASON WEEK 3: Jones missed the third week of the preseason with a sore shoulder.

    PRESEASON WEEK 4: Jones failed to complete half of his passes in the finale – he was 12-of-26 for 117 yards and one interceptions – but he endured some drops and made numerous great throws. One drop was a perfect touch pass downfield. Jones also had a 30-yard reception nullified by offensive pass interference that was a questionable call. Jones definitely had some misfires that looked bad, but overall, he had a decent night.

  6. Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles. Grade: C+
    Carson Wentz sustained a hairline fracture to his ribs in his preseason debut, so we may not see him again until he relieves an injured Sam Bradford and a struggling Chase Daniel at some point in the regular season. Wentz was solid in his one start, despite what the numbers say. His stat line was 12-of-24 for 89 yards and an interception, but he endured four drops and couldn’t step up in the pocket because Philadelphia’s reserve offensive line is horrific. Wentz has an issue with some of his passes sailing high, however, so that’s something he’ll have to work on once he returns to the practice field.

    PRESEASON WEEK 2: Wentz did not play because of his rib injury.

    PRESEASON WEEK 3: Wentz missed another game, but it sounds like he may play in the preseason finale.

    PRESEASON WEEK 4: There was speculation that Wentz would suit up for the finale, but he did not.

  7. Jared Goff, QB, Rams. Grade: C-
    I wonder if the Rams are regretting not staying at No. 15 in the 2016 NFL Draft, selecting the best player at that spot, and then taking Dak Prescott in the second round. They’d never say it publicly, but they have to be wondering about that scenario, as they’d have the superior quarterback and all of the resources they squandered to trade up for Jared Goff. The Cal product didn’t have a bad debut; he went 4-of-9 for 38 yards and an interception, but endured two drops, including a deep one by Pharoh Cooper. The concern, however, is that Goff got banged up and was able to play only two drives. Teams were concerned about Goff’s durability heading into the 2016 NFL Draft, so this could be a persistent issue for the Rams going forward.

    PRESEASON WEEK 2: Goff did not look very good for the most part against the Chiefs. He was strip-sacked twice, as the game appeared to be moving too quickly for him. He also should’ve been pick-sixed. Goff completed some passes at the end, but only against practice squad-caliber scrubs. Goff went 8-of-12 for 82 yards and a touchdown, but those numbers are very misleading. He doesn’t appear to be ready to play in the regular season.

    PRESEASON WEEK 3: The Rams gave up all of those draft picks for this? Goff was atrocious in the third week of the preseason, going 4-of-12 for 45 yards. He made a couple of nice throws for gains of 14 and 19, doing so versus Von Miller and the rest of Denver’s starting unit. However, he should’ve also thrown a pick-six, but Darian Stewart dropped one of the easiest interceptions he’ll ever see. Making matters worse, Goff was yanked early for the second time in three games because he was hit hard. Every team we spoke to prior to the draft had concerns about Goff’s durability, and it seems as those worries are completely legitimate.

    PRESEASON WEEK 4: Jared Goff was so bad in the preseason finale that he was demoted to the No. 3 quarterback. It’s too early to call him a bust, but he’s clearly heading in that direction. Goff has proven to be injury-prone, and I’d say he has the worst awareness of any No. 1 overall quarterback I’ve ever seen, but there was once a guy named JaMarcus Russell, and he was somehow even worse in that regard. Goff finished 6-of-16 for only 67 yards, one touchdown and an interception in the finale. The score was a nice back-shoulder throw, but it wasn’t nearly enough to make up for his poor passes and even worse decision-making.

  8. Cody Kessler, QB, Browns. Grade: C-
    There’s not much of a sample size to grade Cody Kessler fairly, as he made just two attempts in his debut. He made one nice pass, which was an accurate, back-shoulder touchdown. However, he also ran out of the back of the end zone for a safety. I’ll give him a C+ for now.

    PRESEASON WEEK 2: Kessler didn’t get a chance to do much in the second exhibition game, but he did have enough time to sail a pass out of bounds and throw short of the first-down marker on a third-and-6. He finished 2-of-3 for only 10 yards.

    PRESEASON WEEK 3: Kessler dinked and dunked the entire time he was on the field in Week 3. He went 5-of-6 for only 27 yards. None of his passes had any zip, which is exactly what everyone expected from him coming out of USC.

    PRESEASON WEEK 4: The good news is that Kessler went 10-of-17 in the finale. The bad news is that he generated only 40 yards. Kessler dinked and dunked the whole time, and he was nearly picked twice. Kessler does not look like a starting quarterback.

  9. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Jets. Grade: D
    Christian Hackenberg didn’t play in the preseason opener. It’s unclear if Todd Bowles forgot Hackenberg was on the team or not.

    PRESEASON WEEK 2: Hey, uhh, Coach Bowles? You do know you have a second-round rookie quarterback on your roster, right? It’d be nice if you played him one of these weeks.

    PRESEASON WEEK 3: Some publications looked at Christian Hackenberg’s 6-of-16 stat line and guessed that he performed poorly. That, however, was not the case. Two incompletions were dropped, while another was thrown away. A 6-of-13 showing isn’t great either, but Hackenberg made some terrific throws, including precise darts of 26 and 27 yards, leading the Jets down the field on an impressive scoring drive. When this happened, the Jets’ color analyst exclaimed, “Dare I say a star is born!?” The rest of Hackenberg’s night wasn’t as good, as he gave away the game by throwing an interception when he didn’t see a defensive lineman dropping into coverge. Still, this was a solid debut for Hackenberg.

    PRESEASON WEEK 4: Wow, what a regression. Hackenberg was solid in his debut last week, but was atrocious in the preseason finale. He fired behind and over receivers all evening, and he was also indecisive. He tossed one of the worst pick-sixes you’ll ever see, as he carelessly hurled a pass while he was getting sacked. Hackenberg went 11-of-31 for 54 yards and an interception.

  10. Kevin Hogan, QB, Chiefs. Grade: F
    Kevin Hogan does not look like a professional quarterback. He was 2-of-6 for 21 yards and an interception in his debut, with the pick being way behind his intended target. Hogan may have a tough time making the final roster.

    PRESEASON WEEK 2: Hogan did not make an appearance in Week 2, which was probably for the best.

    PRESEASON WEEK 3: Hogan barely saw action in Week 3, completing two passes for four yards. I barely noticed he was playing. I’m sure he’ll see a ton of action this Thursday.

    PRESEASON WEEK 4: Hogan went 3-of-7 for only 11 yards in the finale. I have no idea why anyone thinks he can play in the NFL.

As a reference, here were my final preseason grades for the 2014 rookie quarterbacks (did not do this last year):

Blake Bortles – A+
Teddy Bridgewater – B+
Jimmy Garoppolo – B+
Zach Mettenberger – B
Derek Carr – B-
Tom Savage – C+
Logan Thomas – C
Johnny Manziel – C-

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