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2019 NFL preview: Ranking the NFC North quarterbacks

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We know the best and the worst. But who gets the edge in the middle?

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NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, we started a series in which we rank the NFC North position-by-position. The idea, intuitively, was that sometimes it’s not important how you rank against the rest of the league, but simply your division. Divisional contests account for six of each team’s 16 games, and the winner of each division gets, at the very least, a home playoff game.

After ranking the North at every position, I came up with some roster rankings, and while the final results were almost the mirror opposite of what the 2018 standings were, there were some interesting things we found out that turned out to be fairly true. I argued that this division was a lot more competitive than people gave it credit for. Although I liked Minnesota a lot personally, the Vikings ended up third, giving me pause. Finally, there was the Bears. Mind you, these rankings were before the Khalil Mack trade. Still, I felt a great disturbance in the force.

The Bears predictably come in last, but look at how close they are to everyone else. In fact, per our methods, Chicago actually has the best roster outside of the quarterback position.

They are starting to get the offensive weapons to go with an excellent offensive line and a burgeoning defensive roster.

We joke about the Bears all of the time, but if everything comes together under new head coach Matt Nagy, Chicago won’t be the laughing stock of the division for long.

So because I had a lot of fun with this series last year, and because I think it can shine a lot of light on my own personal biases, we’re doing it again. And why not start with the quarterbacks?

Note: Depth is considered in these rankings, but starters are obviously more emphasized.

1. Green Bay Packers (Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle)

The Packers’ quarterback room remains unchanged from last year, with the exception of Brett Hundley, who was traded to the Seahawks before the 2018 season even started.

Although his arrow seems to be pointing downward, Aaron Rodgers is still at the top of the class in the division. As he continues to battle through injuries every year, he still is in a class of his own in the division. Just look at these career numbers:

Aaron Rodgers: 64.8% completion, 7.8 Y/A, 338 TDs, 80 INTs, 103.1 rating
Matthew Stafford: 62.4% completion, 7.1 Y/A, 237 TDs, 129 INTs, 88.4 rating
Kirk Cousins: 66.5% completion, 7.6 Y/A, 129 TDs, 65 INTs, 95.0 rating
Mitchell Trubisky: 63.5% completion, 7.1 Y/A, 31 TDS, 19 INTs, 87.7 rating

That being said, there are serious signs of decline. In his last four years, he’s averaging just 7.1 yards per attempt, well below his 7.8 average. Additionally, he just finished with a passer rating lower than 100 in back-to-back seasons for the first time in his career.

He’s still posting up top-10 numbers, however, so he’s easily atop the NFC North.

2. Minnesota Vikings (Kirk Cousins, Kyle Sloter, Sean Mannion, Jake Browning)

Lions fans aren’t going to like this, and I don’t particularly like it either. I went back and forth on putting the Lions and Matthew Stafford here, but I just couldn’t do it considering last season’s output from both players.

Typically, you’d be able to use the argument that Stafford had to throw the ball more and carry the offense, leading to some rough statistics. But last year, Cousins threw the ball 51 more times than Stafford, completed a much higher percentage of pass (70.1% to 66.1%), had a higher yards per attempt (7.1 vs. 6.8) and a much higher passer rating (99.7 vs. 89.9). He was also slightly better according to PFF.

Of course, receiving corps has a lot to do with that. The Vikings touted the best one-two punch in the league, while by the end of the year, Stafford only had Kenny Golladay and a bunch of tight ends no longer on the roster. Still, a lot Stafford’s struggles came before the Golden Tate trade and the Marvin Jones Jr. injuries.

Cousins gets a lot of hate because he earned a lucrative contract and for how the Vikings went from the NFC championship game to out of the playoffs under his watch. However, with a trash offensive line, he did just about as well as someone could realistically expect.

3. Detroit Lions (Matthew Stafford, Tom Savage, David Fales)

We all know the season that Matthew Stafford had. The question is simply will he rebound in 2019? In last year’s rankings, here’s why I said Stafford was clearly the No. 2 passer in the division:

Here’s where he ranks among NFL quarterbacks in the past three years (minimum: 30 starts):

Completion percentage: 6th
TDs: 6th
Passer rating: 8th
Yards per attempt: 12th
Interception percentage: 8th

Now here’s where he ranked in those stats last year:

Completion percentage: 15th
TDs: 18th
Passer rating: 25th
Yards per attempt: 27th
Interception percentage: 14th

Yeah, that’s a pretty big decline.

However, there’s hope for a bounce back. The Lions completely overhauled their tight end room, which was responsible for just 45 catches and 461 yards total last year. Additionally, he’s getting a completely healthy Marvin Jones back this year.

Still, there are questions to be had. Is Danny Amendola a sufficient replacement for Golden Tate? Does Detroit have good enough receiver depth to withstand an injury? And perhaps most importantly, can Matthew Stafford get rid of the back-breaking mistakes that cost his team a couple chances at comebacks last year?

With a brand-new offensive coordinator in town, there are just too many question marks for me to confidently place Stafford and the Lions in the top half of the division.

4. Chicago Bears (Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray)

Though Trubisky’s second year was statistically better than Stafford’s, there are a lot of caveats to his performance. Trubisky wasn’t asked to do much—he had 121 fewer attempts than Stafford. He graded out awfully according to Pro Football Focus. Check out this damning statement from PFF’s Eric Eager and George Chahrouri:

He ranked 32nd among passers in PFF grade from a clean pocket and 35th in percentage of dropbacks that earned a negative grade. The latter variable is the most stable we have when evaluating quarterbacks and is one from which a player usually does not rebound from one season to the next.

As I stated last year , the Bears have the best roster outside of quarterback, and a guy like Trubisky benefits from that. However, if Chicago wants to contend deep into the playoffs, they are going to need Trubisky to take some serious strides. Lucky for them, the kid is still very young.