Nothing is much more gripping in sports than a late do-or-die drive with the game on the line. My eyes are usually glued to the screen when one play can be the difference between a win and loss.
Sometimes one throw can also be the difference in a legacy. Think of Eli Manning's near-impossible deep ball to Mario Manningham in the Giants' Super Bowl XLVI win over the Patriots, or Jimmy Garoppolo overthrowing Emmanuel Sanders late in the 49ers' Super Bowl LIV loss to the Chiefs.
We've seen a ton of clutch opportunities in 2022, a year where the NFL is collectively on pace to break single-season records for close games and game-winning drives.
There aren't a ton of numbers to support clutch debates, though. Game-winning drives is a fascinating stat, but has serious limitations. It's actually possible to be credited with a game-winning drive with nothing but a kneel down. And, of course, if your defense gets stops at the end of the game it's more likely to hold a lead, and therefore, increasing the likelihood of its quarterback recording a game-winning drive.
With that in mind, I introduce the Clutch QB Index. I'm not tackling the all-time clutch QB debate which often comes down to championships in people's minds. Instead I seek to answer who is the most clutch QB in the NFL right now based on what they've done in their careers, and what they've done lately.
Clutch QB Index criteria
1. QB conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in fourth quarter/OT. (How often does a QB successfully bring his team down the field to tie or take the lead?)
2. Passer rating in fourth quarter/OT of one-possession game. (How well does a QB play in crunch time?)
Both components are split by career, playoff and 2022 performance and weighted equally.
Again, one thing these rankings don't include is championships, so you can save your Tom Brady "seven rings" argument. More on that later.
The rankings are based on all current qualified starting QBs, which is why you'll only notice 30 QBs (sorry Sam Ehlinger and Kenny Pickett). It includes injured QBs who are still No. 1 on their team's depth chart when healthy.
- Tua Tagovailoa tops the initial rankings. This is definitely a surprise, but shouldn't be a shock. After all, he leads the NFL in ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) this season. His numbers are also shockingly good in late, close situations but we'll see how long he lasts at the top here with a small sample.
- It'll be tough to hold off Patrick Mahomes in the long run. No lead is safe against Mahomes, not even with 13 seconds left as he proved to the Bills last year. His career conversion rates on game-tying and go-ahead drives are off the charts. More below.
- Aaron Rodgers is ahead of Tom Brady in the rankings and has better career and playoff conversion rates (by the slimmest of margins) than TB12. He'll never beat out Brady in the all-time clutch debate due to the 7-1 ring disparity, but perhaps the gap is closer than people think. Rodgers' last two playoff losses to the Buccaneers and 49ers will leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth, but he would certainly have more championships with better defense based on the numbers you'll see below.
- Tom Brady is eighth in the rankings. He will go down as the most-clutch QB ever, or close to it, thanks in large part to seven Super Bowl titles. Right now, though, with a slow start in 2022, he is not the NFL's clutchest QB.
- Daniel Jones is a perfect example of why you can't accept the game-winning drives stat at face value. He leads the NFL with five game-winning drives this year, but his stats on those drives (and the film) suggest he's getting way too much credit. He comes in at No. 17 in these rankings.
Here are the full rankings ahead of Week 9:
Tua Tagovailoa Miami Dolphins QB
|He has converted on 11-of-14 game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in the fourth quarter/OT, and his career passer rating in the fourth quarter/OT of a one-score game is 129.8. Both are the best career numbers of any current starting QB. He's backed up the numbers with big plays late in victories over the Bills and Ravens this season.|
Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs QB
|Mahomes has converted on at least 60% of his game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in both the regular season and the playoffs. The NFL average is just below 40%. His playoff rate is best in the NFL. Two late picks against the Colts and Bills this season were the only negative, but among players with larger sample sizes Mahomes is in his own stratosphere.|
Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys QB
|He is among the bigger surprises here as he hasn't earned a positive reputation in big games yet. He ranks top seven across the board in career rankings here, including a career passer rating above 100 in late, close situations.|
Josh Allen Buffalo Bills QB
|Allen ranks sixth in conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives in his career (43%), and has helped his cause with clutch drives against the Ravens and Chiefs this year. So much for the "Bills can't win close games" narrative.|
Joe Burrow Cincinnati Bengals QB
|He lived up to the nickname "Joe Cool" with huge comebacks capped by game-winning drives in both wins against the Chiefs and "Mr. Clutch" Patrick Mahomes last season. Burrow ranks near or in the top 10 across the board. He padded his numbers recently with a go-ahead touchdown pass to Ja'Marr Chase vs. the Saints in Week 6.|
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers QB
|Rodgers doesn't get the clutch credit quite like Brady because of his one ring, but his career conversion rates in the regular season (42%) and playoffs (56%) are actually both nearly identical to Brady's. Look no further than late playoff drives against the Cardinals and Cowboys to see why. Like Brady, his slow start in 2022 cost him in these rankings.|
Kirk Cousins Minnesota Vikings QB
|Am I taking Kirk Cousins over Tom Brady late in a game last year, or any year prior? Not a chance. But these rankings consider who you would take right now based on their career and 2022 season. Cousins doesn't exactly have a clutch pedigree, thanks to his reputation in prime-time games, but is ahead of Brady here due to polar opposite starts in 2022. The Vikings are 5-0 in one-score games and Cousins has converted on four-of-five drives with a chance to tie or take the lead late. He also has the third-best passer rating in the fourth-quarter/OT of one-score games in 2022 (105.9).|
Tom Brady Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB
|TB12 is arguably the clutchest QB of all-time, besides maybe Joe Montana. He ranks behind only Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers in playoff conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances (56%). These rankings don't take Super Bowl rings into account and seek to answer the question who is the clutchest right now, and Brady's 2022 campaign isn't doing him any favors. The Buccaneers failed comebacks against the Packers, Steelers and Ravens cost him here.|
Russell Wilson Denver Broncos QB
|Wilson has among the most game-winning drives in the league since entering the NFL in 2012, but ranks middle of the pack in conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives and has a fair amount of missed chances in all of the Broncos' close games this season. A late interception into the end zone in a loss to the Colts is among his shortcomings. Things could be turning around, though, as Wilson's 47-yard deep ball to K.J. Hamler in Week 8 set up the Broncos' game-winning touchdown late.|
Derek Carr Las Vegas Raiders QB
|Carr's career is full of thrilling late comebacks. His career conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives (43%) is actually a hair better than Tom Brady's (42%). He hasn't done enough this year, however, during the Raiders' slow start, including a missed opportunity against the Chiefs.|
Marcus Mariota Atlanta Falcons QB
|Mariota's career conversion rate (41%) on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances ranks 11th among current starters just behind Tom Brady. Once upon a time he led a miraculous playoff comeback win in Kansas City. He's also converted on 6-of-10 clutch drives this year, including a timely play against the Panthers in Week 8 to vault Atlanta into first place in the NFC South.|
Zach Wilson New York Jets QB
|Zach Wilson ranking 12th here is frankly shocking after seeing him throw three awful interceptions against the Patriots in Week 8. None were in the fourth quarter of a one-score game, though, and he doesn't have enough chances to qualify in 2022. He posted strong numbers in a small sample in 2021, including a game-tying and go-ahead touchdown pass in the Jets' Week 4 win last season against the Titans. He won't last long in the top 20 here (or in New York for that matter) if he keeps playing like he did in Week 8.|
Lamar Jackson Baltimore Ravens QB
|Jackson has the fourth-best conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in his career (49%). Last year's comeback against the Colts is a reminder that he can absolutely beat you with his arm late in games. He just hasn't gotten it going this year yet, throwing critical interceptions late in losses to the Bills and Giants.|
Matthew Stafford Los Angeles Rams QB
|Similar to Russell Wilson, Stafford is always on the top of the game-winning drive lists, and his career conversion rates are near league average. We saw what he could do last postseason, though, which has him flirting with the top 10 here.|
Justin Herbert Los Angeles Chargers QB
|I expected him to be higher here, but he got bumped due to below-average numbers this year. Remember his pick-six late against the Chiefs? It may have been Gerald Everett's fault, but it cost just the same. His career conversion rate (46%) late in games is fifth in the NFL and he made a ton of big throws late last season. He should move up the rankings here, especially if he gets healthier after the Chargers' bye week.|
Andy Dalton New Orleans Saints QB
|His career numbers are below average, but he ranks middle of the pack here after successfully converting on 3-of-5 game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in the fourth-quarter/OT this year.|
Daniel Jones New York Giants QB
|Jones is the reason you can't use GW drives alone to determine a player's clutchness. He has the most GW drives (five) through seven games of a season in NFL history, but his passer rating is 59.1 in the fourth quarter of one-score games this year. He hasn't made challenging throws in the clutch this season. His 10 completions on five GW drives have traveled a grand total of 25 air yards.|
Ryan Tannehill Tennessee Titans QB
|His career ranks are near league average, but he's 0-5 in the playoffs with a chance to tie or take the lead late, including last year's playoff loss to the Bengals.|
Justin Fields Chicago Bears QB
|He hasn't put up gaudy numbers by any means, but ranks in the top of the league in passer rating in late, close games. His best moment this year might be the game-winning drive to open the season against San Francisco.|
Jimmy Garoppolo San Francisco 49ers QB
|Garoppolo's career passer rating in late, close games ranks third behind Tua Tagovailoa and Patrick Mahomes. The numbers look nice but he hasn't marched his team down the field when it matters most, like falling short in the postseason as the 49ers blew double-digit, fourth-quarter leads to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV and Rams in the 2021 NFC Championship game.|
Baker Mayfield Carolina Panthers QB
|He's fourth-worst in career conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives (32%). He led a couple clutch drives late in Week 1 and 2 this season, but not enough to move the needle here.|
Geno Smith Seattle Seahawks QB
|Geno Smith's career revival hasn't translated into many clutch opportunities this year, but if he keeps performing like he did late in a Week 8 win vs. the Giants, he'll be moving up the rankings.|
Carson Wentz Washington Commanders QB
|Wentz's season has been similar to his career. He's made some positive plays, but also his fair share of negative ones, like a last-second interception into the end zone against the Titans.|
Mac Jones New England Patriots QB
|Jones' career numbers are league average, but he's fallen short in his only two chances to tie or take the lead late this season. He threw an ill-advised pick into the end zone against the Ravens in Week 3 off his back foot, one reason he finds himself in the bottom 10.|
Jared Goff Detroit Lions QB
|Goff's career ranks are near the bottom of the league and he's 0 for 5 with a chance to tie or take the lead late for the Lions this year, contributing to their league-worst 1-6 record.|
Jalen Hurts Philadelphia Eagles QB
|Hurts only has one game-tying/go-ahead drive opportunity late in games this season, so his 2022 numbers haven't qualified and his numbers prior to 2021 left much to be desired. Expect him to move up the rankings given more chances this year, he already provided steady play late in wins against the Cardinals and Cowboys.|
Kyler Murray Arizona Cardinals QB
|Murray ranks near the bottom in most of the criteria, and our last memory of him in clutch time is his slide and spike gaffe against the unbeaten Eagles.|
Jacoby Brissett Cleveland Browns QB
|Brissett may have had a game-winning drive vs. the Ravens in Week 6 had Amari Cooper not got called for offensive pass interference on a late touchdown. Still, Brissett's numbers fall short across the board here.|
Davis Mills Houston Texans QB
|Mills has converted on just 1-of-17 game-tying/go-ahead chances late for the Texans in his career. His passer rating late in games is above 80, which is the only reason he's not in last place here. Trevor Lawrence's is 54.5 is easily last in that category.|
Trevor Lawrence Jacksonville Jaguars QB
|Lawrence has yet to find his footing late in games. He's led the Jaguars down the field to tie or take the lead on just 25% of his career opportunities, second-worst in the league.|
Best Career Game-Tying/Go-Ahead Conversion Rates
Ahhhh, but we aren't done yet. Perhaps the most compelling criteria in these rankings are how a QB converts on game-tying/go-ahead drives in their career. Here's the data: