You need one pass to win a football game — which quarterback do you pick? What if you needed that quarterback for a whole drive? Or a game? Or a season? We asked our staffers to pick one for each, with one rule: You can’t pick the same player twice.
Patrick Mahomes II, Kansas City Chiefs
Danny Kelly: This dude can chuck the ball 80 yards flat-footed. Running to the right, he can torque his body and throw a frozen rope; to the left, he can turn and release on a hop with perfect touch. He can change his throwing angle, dropping into side-arm mode if the pass rush is coming. He’s accurate. He throws with elite velocity. He throws with touch. If I need a guy who I can trust to make a throw to anywhere on the field, it’s Mahomes.
Rodger Sherman: It doesn’t matter how far the throw is, or how many defenders are near the receiver, or whether he’s on the run, or whether he has to throw left-handed. Mahomes could win the NFL’s passing trick shot competition—yes, even over the guy who is in the NFL because he made a viral trick-shot video.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Riley McAtee: Rodgers still has the best arm in the NFL and may also be the most successful Hail Mary thrower in the history of the sport. I still think Hail Marys are random, but I know Rodgers has the tools to make any throw I need him to. It would be tempting to pick Mahomes—whose arm is just as good—but Rodgers has been doing this for a hell of a lot longer, which is why he has my trust here.
Danny Heifetz: I waffled on this for an embarrassing amount of time before coming to the obvious conclusion. Some quarterbacks may get lucky with a Hail Mary, but Rodgers already has a Hail Mary compilation. The distance between him and everyone else in this category is bigger than the distance between the leader and everyone else in any other category.
Megan Schuster: Mahomes has been a machine this season. He combines all the accuracy you could ever hope to see from a second-year quarterback with the arm strength that Josh Allen was supposed to have. I mean, look at this freaking cannon:
Mahomes to Tyreek Hill as Chiefs warm up in Denver pic.twitter.com/9zD7jUtDGe— Vahe Gregorian (@vgregorian) October 1, 2018
And that was just in warm-ups! Mahomes’s longest throw this year came on a 75-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill against the Patriots, but he’s on record saying he’s thrown a ball 83 yards at least once, and believes one day he’ll hit 85. Yeah, give me this guy for one throw.
Jackson Safon: The framing of this question is important. If it’s “you need one randomly selected throw for anything from a bubble screen to a Hail Mary,” give me Patrick Mahomes. The guy is basically the football version of Steph Curry in that on any given play he can do any given thing with the ball and have you say, “Holy crap that was the best thing I’ve ever seen.”
But if the question is, “Who would make you smile the most when watching a single, random throw?” I think Nathan Peterman would give Mahomes a run for his money.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Kelly: It’s a cliché to say that Brady’s clutch … but he really is just clutch. Put another way: He’s fearless and confident; he’s a virtuoso at the line of scrimmage who can identify and exploit the weak link in a defense; he’s aggressive and smart with the football. No one has engineered more postseason game-winning drives (11). With the game on the line, there’s no one I’d trust more than Brady.
Sherman: The game’s already over if Rodgers gets the ball trailing by one to six points. The opposition’s only hope is that Ty Montgomery will fumble the ball before Rodgers can touch it.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
McAtee: Stafford wouldn’t be my top overall pick in this category (or in any category), but by picking him here, it leaves me better options elsewhere. And Stafford is great with the game on the line! He doesn’t have the sparkling accolades or team success that most of the other QBs in this piece have, but he lives in the two-minute drill. As the quarterback of the Lions, he has to — his team is always losing. Stafford has 32 game-winning drives since he entered the league, which is 15th all time. He might not be the best quarterback, but he can a run hurry-up offense as well as anyone.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Heifetz: He’s been gone so long it’s easy to forget how good he is at this. He led the league in game-winning drives as a rookie, and led one of the biggest comebacks in NFL history in his first playoff win over Kansas City. He’s still got his mojo.
Schuster: There may be some debate as to whether Rodgers is really the king of the comeback drive, but as a Packers fan who has watched him work his magic over the past 11 seasons, I would take him in this situation 10 times out of 10. He’s already orchestrated two comebacks this season -- against the Bears in Week 1 and the 49ers in Week 6 -- and had Montgomery not coughed up a fourth-quarter kick return on Sunday, he might have recorded his third against the league-leading Rams. There’s a sense of calm that washes over Green Bay fans when Rodgers has the ball in his hands with a chance to get a win, and there’s no QB I’d trust more to get the job done.
Safon: Many of my colleagues picked Rodgers, but I wonder whether they know that Brady has more-game winning drives in Super Bowls than Rodgers has Super Bowl appearances.
Kelly: Rodgers can pick apart a defense in so many ways: He’s got the best hard count in the game, has a cannon for an arm, throws with pinpoint accuracy, is a master of improvisational playmaking outside the pocket, and can kill you with his legs.
Sherman: You don’t get to the Super Bowl eight times by losing single-elimination games.
McAtee: If there’s one QB I trust to just figure things out on the fly, it’s Brady. The Patriots’ wide receiver corps has been ugly this year, Rob Gronkowski looks slow, and they’re leaning heavily on a rookie running back who is now injured. But Brady always makes the machine hum. Give him a halftime to adjust, and he’ll pick any defense apart.
Heifetz: I’m not proud of this, but my editors told me Super Bowl Eli Manning died three years ago.
Schuster: I didn’t want to do this. I went down the list of every passer in the league that I could write down here instead of Brady and debated whether or not I could make the case for them. Stafford? Maybe Ben Roethlisberger? Philip Rivers? What about Ryan Fitzpatrick?? But Brady’s record speaks (read: screams) for itself, and if I need a quarterback to put any roster in the league on his back and eek out an important victory, there’s nobody more reliable.
Safon: Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time. The best for the longest. The most accomplished. All that jazz. But Rodgers is the most talented quarterback I’ve ever seen. He has a higher touchdown percentage and lower interception rate than both Brady and Peyton Manning, and has rushed for 25 touchdowns in his regular-season career. Plus, in this magical, hypothetical world I get to guarantee he plays an entire season, right? RIGHT?
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Kelly: Brees is unbelievably consistent, he’s durable, he’s calm under pressure, he’s shrewd both pre- and post-snap, and he’s one of the most efficient passers ever. He makes everyone on the offense better. Plug him into a scheme and that’s the last you’ve got to think about it.
Sherman: Brees is the most consistent quarterback in the history of the sport. He’s never been significantly injured and hasn’t had a bad year in his decade-plus in New Orleans, while recording five of the nine 5,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history. He’s more likely to break a single-season passing record than he is to appear on the SportsCenter Top 10. He doesn’t have the highest upside here, but he’s never short of excellent.
McAtee: It doesn’t matter who you surround him with, Brees has shown he will put up mind-boggling numbers. That hasn’t always translated to wins for the Saints, but that’s because a lot of those Saints teams have been downright miserable outside of Brees. Put a decent squad around him and there’s no one I feel better about for a full 16 games.
Heifetz: Brees has led the league in passing yards seven times, including five of the past seven seasons. The top 8 seasons by passing yards in NFL history belong to Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Drew Brees, Drew Brees, Dan Marino, and Drew Brees. Every season the Saints have had a losing record under Brees has featured a bottom-three defense by DVOA. Set and forget.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Schuster: This pick may be controversial, but the numbers Ryan has put up over the past few seasons have been impossible to ignore. This year, he’s near the pace needed to break Peyton Manning’s single-season passing yards record, and just two years ago he was the freaking NFL MVP. Sure, the Falcons have been abnormally bad this season, and maybe his teams don’t have the most successful playoff runs, but neither of those things can be placed squarely on Ryan’s shoulders. Give me a quarterback who can put up massive numbers, and I’ll figure out the rest.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Safon: Can I just pick Sean McVay and have you randomly assign me a quarterback?
If not, Russell Wilson is my guy. I also considered Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and Cam Newton, but ultimately I think Wilson can do the most things of any quarterback remaining, and would be the best dropping him into a random offense.
Wilson has the highest touchdown percentage, lowest interception rate, and highest adjusted yards per attempt of that group of four quarterbacks and has arguably had the worst group of pass catchers over their collective careers to boot. With some incredibly talented and accomplished quarterbacks to choose from, it’s hard to go wrong. But Wilson has done the most with the least since entering the league, and that’s the guy I want for a whole season.