CBS Sports illustration (Keytron Jordan)

Quarterbacks make the NFL go 'round. Not always, of course; you still need a supporting cast to go the distance. But the cleanest path to competing for a championship is owning one of the league's select few elite signal-callers.

It's easier said than done. In fact, even if they wouldn't admit it, most NFL teams employ QBs they'd quickly discard if given a real opportunity to upgrade. It's why even mid-tier starters can command top dollar, and ascending young talents can easily reset the market at the position.

All that said, which QBs deserve top billing going into the 2023 season? And which ones are already candidates to be replaced? Here's our first ranking of all 32 projected starters, keeping in mind that these could look drastically different as the new schedule draws near and the games get underway:

2023 NFL Offseason QB Power Rankings
Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs QB
There is no debate here. The standard-setter for modern-day quarterbacking, Mahomes is fresh off his second Super Bowl title and the closest thing to an invincible playmaker at the position. Discount he and the Chiefs at your own peril.
Joe Burrow Cincinnati Bengals QB
It's a testament to his instant emergence as a precision pocket passer that, three years in, we're already a little surprised he doesn't have his own Super Bowl ring. The Bengals are in good hands as long as he's got even average protection.
Jalen Hurts Philadelphia Eagles QB
Wear and tear is something to monitor with Hurts because of his physical approach to the ground game, but you simply cannot question this man's will to win, and his seismic leap as a downfield passer in 2022 has him on an MVP course.
Josh Allen Buffalo Bills QB
He invites more contact than maybe any QB in the league, which is concerning when you pair it with a tendency to trust his arm more than his mind. Fortunately that arm and those bulldozing legs are as powerful as they come.
Justin Herbert Los Angeles Chargers QB
The naysayers point to the Chargers' middling record and conservative approach with him under center, but he's still been insanely productive through three seasons and boasts one of the smoothest, strongest arms in the game.
Aaron Rodgers New York Jets QB
Going on 40, Rodgers is getting the Tom Brady bump in anticipation of a revival after relocation. He's still one of the smartest, savviest, crispest throwers in the NFL, and now he's got a more well-rounded lineup than he had with the Packers.
Lamar Jackson Baltimore Ravens QB
The red flags are glaring: two straight years with lingering injuries, little consistency as a downfield and late-season passer. But try keeping this man contained on a crucial down, with the game on the line. The electricity is unteachable.
Trevor Lawrence Jacksonville Jaguars QB
The assumption here, of course, is that Lawrence will follow the trajectory set by new coach Doug Pederson in 2022. After a head-spinning rookie year, his laser arm and pocket awareness took a big leap, and now he's got even better weapons.
Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys QB
A steady hand for Dallas who went uncharacteristically streaky in 2022, Prescott is a good demarcation between the "elite" and "pretty good" QBs. He's reliable in the pocket, puts up good numbers, but the crunch-time results have yet to show.
Deshaun Watson Cleveland Browns QB
Cleveland is betting lots of money that Watson's dazed post-suspension Browns debut was an anomaly. It probably was. Off-field concerns aside, he's been a Pro Bowl-caliber pocket passer for four of his five active NFL seasons.
Kirk Cousins Minnesota Vikings QB
Cousins' prime-time and playoff resume are the butt of jokes, but he's still in the upper half of proven vets with good timing-based darts and underrated resilience. The issue, as Vikings fans know, is that under pressure, the "it" factor hasn't shown.
Brock Purdy San Francisco 49ers QB
Last year's "Mr. Irrelevant" was an improbably poised rookie, oozing veteran-level touch and elusiveness as a fill-in for Kyle Shanahan's offense. But now he's coming off a serious elbow injury with only eight completed starts under his belt.
Jared Goff Detroit Lions QB
Lions fans have gone from lamenting him as an afterthought of the 2021 Matthew Stafford trade to defending him like the second coming of Stafford. When all is well around him, he can still throw a beauty. But the off-script limitations remain.
Geno Smith Seattle Seahawks QB
Which Geno is here to stay: the 2022 breakout, who aired it out with ease? Or the turnover-friendly career backup, who may have popped back into play down the stretch as Seattle asked him to deliver too often? An improved setup should help.
Daniel Jones New York Giants QB
We learned in his debut under Brian Daboll that he has untapped franchise-QB upside, thriving as a scrambler and play-action distributor. The question now is whether he's got enough help to make a significant leap pushing the ball downfield.
Justin Fields Chicago Bears QB
If you only considered a QB's rushing ability, Fields would be a top-three pick at worst. He was MVP-level explosive despite a porous supporting cast in Year 2. But you've gotta be able to throw smartly in the NFL, and he's still working on that.
Tua Tagovailoa Miami Dolphins QB
There's a Brock Purdy-like element to Tua: he's young, he thrived early operating in a quick-strike Shanahan-style attack in 2022, but the sample size of dominance is so small, with a medical track record so concerning, that everything's in the air.
Matthew Stafford Los Angeles Rams QB
Talk about a whirlwind two-year ride in Los Angeles: first the Rams elevated him from good to great in 2021; then they both broke down physically in 2022. If he can stay upright, he's still serviceable, but what condition is he really in at 35?
Russell Wilson Denver Broncos QB
Perhaps no big name is better positioned to catapult up the ranks than Wilson, who looked erratic and out of place in his first post-Seahawks season, but now has Sean Payton and a beefed-up, possibly run-first Broncos offense on his side.
Kyler Murray Arizona Cardinals QB
Talent-wise, Murray belongs much higher; fully healthy, he's a nearly unstoppable scrambler with a ton of zip on his passes. But he's been hurt at least once in all four of his NFL seasons, and his freestyle tendencies need to be dialed down.
Bryce Young Carolina Panthers QB
The first rookie on the rundown, Young is the total package except for his smaller stature, entering with pocket presence and general wisdom beyond his years. Better yet, he's opening his career around veteran pieces and a sturdy coaching staff.
Derek Carr New Orleans Saints QB
When the Saints paid big bucks to sign Carr, they essentially bought themselves another wild card bid or three. Like a more rugged version of Kirk Cousins, he's gutsy and occasionally efficient but has almost always struggled when it counts.
Jimmy Garoppolo Las Vegas Raiders QB
Here's the definition of a short-term bet at QB; Garoppolo has played a full season just once in almost a decade in the NFL. When healthy and protected, however, he's proven he can be more than serviceable playing point guard for a playoff team.
Jordan Love Green Bay Packers QB
After three years watching and waiting behind Aaron Rodgers, it's finally his time to take over in Green Bay. His arm looked especially lively in limited relief last year, but it remains to be seen how he handles a full-time gig as "the guy."
Ryan Tannehill Tennessee Titans QB
Not entirely dissimilar to Jimmy Garoppolo, Tannehill is a fine but aging, increasingly battered figurehead for a team in transition. He's enjoyed some surprisingly high highs, but outside of a sturdy, run-first structure, his value is debatable.
Anthony Richardson Indianapolis Colts QB
The knock on Richardson coming out of Florida is that he's wholly unpolished as a passer. But his supersized athleticism should give him an instantly high floor; think 2022 Justin Fields, perhaps, but with an offensive-minded coach in Indy.
C.J. Stroud Houston Texans QB
While Stroud boasts a more pro-ready pocket-passing acumen than Anthony Richardson, he's not necessarily a game-changing threat on the ground, and his rebuilding Texans still have work to do in terms of giving him legit support.
Kenny Pickett Pittsburgh Steelers QB
How far does "grit" get you? Certainly few young QBs are better-suited to grow thanks to an improved Steelers front and pass-catching group, but Pickett thrived more as a late-game fighter than efficient full-timer as a rookie.
Mac Jones New England Patriots QB
Can new coordinator Bill O'Brien restore Jones' confidence and build around his strengths as a quick-strike thrower? Perhaps! But Jones has offered little outside of structure, and Bill Belichick has previously teased his dissatisfaction.
Baker Mayfield Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB
Mayfield has embraced his journeyman reality, still boasts some moxie and could enjoy a Bucs supporting cast that's better than what he had with the Panthers and Rams. But his reckless tendencies may not afford him the QB1 job for long.
Desmond Ridder Atlanta Falcons QB
He may be set up to succeed if Arthur Smith is dead set on building an old-fashioned offense that runs through the ground game, but what if they have to play from behind? He was OK as a rookie, but only in contrast to the erratic Marcus Mariota.
Sam Howell Washington Commanders QB
He flashed a big arm in a Week 18 start, and the Commanders seem to like the gutsy mentality they also sought with Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke. But the 2022 fifth-rounder is wholly unproven otherwise.