Clutch Performers

Offensive Player Rankings, Week 7: Dak Prescott among three QBs reaching new highs

Three NFL quarterbacks -- Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott -- stepped up in major ways in Week 6 and led their respective teams to important road victories. The thing is, this trio's success wasn't just a flash in the pan. They have played well collectively over the 2021 season.

In today's installment, I'm breaking down why Carr, Cousins and Prescott have experienced new highs in 2021, and as a bonus, I'm looking at why another quarterback is on the struggle bus.

Reaching new highs

Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders · QB

My brother is in a similar situation to Kirk Cousins, whom I'll get to in a minute. What's impressive about Derek's production in 2021 is that he's been great despite having the least amount of protection in his career, with the Raiders' O-linemen compiling their worst pass-blocking grade, per Pro Football Focus, since Derek entered the NFL in 2014. Still, he's thriving by getting the ball out of his hands and into those of his playmakers. It's common for quarterbacks to dink and dunk when they're pressured in the system the Raiders run, but Derek has done a great job of looking for the big play first when blitzed. He's really embraced the attacking mentality, and it shows. In Sunday's win over Denver, Derek was 4-of-5 for 152 yards and two touchdowns on deep passes (Kenyan Drake and Darren Waller each caught a deep pass, and Henry Ruggs III snagged two), and he was 7-of-10 for 178 yards and a TD vs. the blitz, per Next Gen Stats -- exactly the kind of performance this team needed after an exceptionally challenging week. Ruggs is making game-changing plays and coming into his own in Year 2, while Waller commands the respect of the entire defense. 


Offensive coordinator Greg Olson understands that Derek plays better when the play-caller is aggressive and pushing the ball down the field. Yes, Derek can steadily move the chains. But his ability to find and execute the deep play -- as illustrated by his pace to finish with a single-season record 5,513 passing yards -- is why the Raiders have the third-ranked passing attack in the league.

Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings · QB

Cousins is enjoying one of the best seasons of his 10-year career -- and I think it's safe to say the continuity of Minnesota's offensive scheme has a lot to do with this. He's been in this offense, which is predicated around a productive run game behind a zone-blocking scheme that ultimately sets up play-action, bootlegs and screens, since his days in Washington with Kyle Shanahan in 2012 and '13. I'm sure Cousins is comfortable running the offense and likely has more say this season than he has before, given that he's working with a first-year offensive coordinator in Klint Kubiak.


This offense simply makes life easier for quarterbacks, as I know from my days running it with Gary Kubiak (Klint's dad) in Houston. After my first season in the system, Gary told me he should've given me more freedom within the offense, that he should have added wrinkles or plays that catered to my strengths. We're seeing Cousins build off the foundation of this offense and thrive at the position with the help of a dynamic rushing duo (Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison) and a pair of receivers that demand defensive attention (Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson).


One indicator of Cousins' comfort level is the fact that he has thrown at least three pass TDs against zero INTs in five of his last eight games. He's also helped the Vikings win three of their last four after leading back-to-back game-winning drives. Though he's not yet widely seen as a potential MVP, Cousins has positioned himself right in the mix with other MVP candidates through six weeks this season:

Table inside Article
Kirk Cousins Tom Brady Aaron Rodgers Lamar Jackson
Comp. percentage 69.5 68.5 66.7 67.5
Pass yards 1,769 2,064 1,436 1,686
TD-INT 13-2 17-3 12-3 9-5
Passer rating 105.4 108.0 104.6 99.3
Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · QB

It's just like I said last week: What has Dak done -- other than make clutch plays and put the Cowboys in winning situations late in games? He did it again in Sunday's overtime victory in New England. Dak has been exceptional in his return to the field this season, logging 16 pass TDs against four picks and a 115.0 passer rating through six games. I believe he had his best performance as a pro on Sunday against myriad looks from Bill Belichick. The Patriots' coach normally makes opposing quarterbacks' heads spin, but Dak routinely dissected New England's defense and made the appropriate play. The thing is, this is consistent with what we've seen from Dak all season long, as his field vision and confidence in Kellen Moore's offense has Dallas sitting atop the offensive charts. With three-plus touchdown passes in four straight games (and in five of six games this season), Dak has been really efficient. He helps his receivers turn routine plays into explosive ones.

Taking a step back

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · QB

Mahomes' greatest strength is his ability to make so many plays off-schedule -- but his proclivity for making those plays can also get him into trouble. When you watch Mahomes, he doesn't have great footwork or mechanics. While his out-of-this-world talent has lifted the Chiefs to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, the downside of his game is starting to catch up to him, as evidenced by his eight interceptions (and one fumble lost) this season, including seven picks in his last four games. Two of those INTs are on Tyreek Hill, but Mahomes hasn't been completely in-sync with his playmakers early in the 2021 season. I feel like Andy Reid is hesitant to rein Mahomes in because, despite the recent struggles, the Chiefs' offense can be incredibly efficient and nearly unstoppable when Mahomes is in rhythm. It's similar to facing Brett Favre; defenses knew he was going to give them three or four real opportunities to make a play, but he'd also give his own weapons 20 opportunities of their own. It's part of the brilliance, and why the Chiefs are so fun to watch. So while Mahomes' poor output slides him into the middle of the pack when it comes to quarterback play, it's tough to say any specific thing needs to change.

Top 15 Offensive Players

Each week in the 2021 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. The Week 7 pecking order is below.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.

Rank
1
1
Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · QB

Rodgers yelling "I own you ... I still own you" at Bears fans after scoring the game-sealing touchdown, then proceeding to tell reporters (with a smirk) after the game that "sometimes you black out on the field," as if he didn't remember saying that -- it was just too good, wasn't it? I just pictured Benny's "She knows exactly what she's doing" reaction to Wendy Peffercorn in The Sandlot, because we know how calculated Rodgers has been all season. And the thing is, he's duplicating his MVP campaign from last season, making it hard to not agree with him. Plus, he is 22-5 against the Bears in his career (including playoffs).

Rank
2
1
Kyler Murray
Arizona Cardinals · QB

In the battle of Oklahoma QBs, Murray has Baker Mayfield's number after beating him in both of their career meetings. In Sunday's convincing win, Murray had a season-high 129.0 passer rating while throwing four TDs and zero picks. Murray and the Cardinals are on a hot streak, and they're not likely to cool off in Week 7 against Houston.

Rank
3
2
Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · QB

Despite struggling in the red zone early against the Titans, Allen put the Bills in prime position to leave Tennessee with a win, throwing for 353 yards, three TDs, one INT and a 107.8 passer rating and giving his team a chance to put the game away on a fourth-and-1 at the Tennessee 3-yard line with 22 seconds remaining. Converting on that fourth-down play (instead of settling for a game-tying field goal) would have given the Bills a win probability of 63.4 percent, per Next Gen Stats. I think everyone but the Titans' sideline thought Allen was going to convert on the QB sneak, but kudos to Mike Vrabel's crew. Allen and the Bills will be thinking about this loss for a while.

Rank
4
2
Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans · RB

Wow! Henry made the Bills' top-ranked defense look pedestrian Monday night as he scampered for 143 yards and three touchdowns, including a 76-yard sprint to the end zone in the second quarter, on 20 carries. The Titans would not have been able to keep the game close without Henry, who's making a sure-fire case for MVP six weeks in.

Rank
5
2
Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · QB

Prescott continues to be one of the main reasons for the Cowboys' success, as he recorded his seventh career game with at least 400 passing yards and three passing TDs on Sunday. As mentioned above, the Cowboys passer did it against one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, Bill Belichick. Dallas is 5-1 heading into the bye week, and its quarterback looks as good as ever (hopefully his calf strain heals over the week off). It's good to be a Cowboys fan right now.

Rank
6
1
Davante Adams
Green Bay Packers · WR

With 89 receiving yards on four catches in Green Bay's fifth win of the season, Adams has now had at least 50 receiving yards in all six games in 2021 -- which helps explain why he's leading the NFL with 668 receiving yards. 

Rank
7
3
Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · QB

Lamar now holds the record for the most wins by a starting quarterback (35) before his 25th birthday after passing Dan Marino's mark of 34. And though the Ravens are 9-0 in the month of October with Jackson as the starter, the young QB didn't look as sharp as he has in previous weeks, getting picked off twice by Kyzir White in Sunday's win. The first was RIGHT TO WHITE, the kind of throw I'd expect from Lamar a few years ago. He can't revert to his old ways; he's a much better passer than that.

Rank
8
Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · QB

Brady and the Bucs cruised to a win over the Eagles, and though Brady threw a pick -- and got away with another near-pick -- his numbers are on pace to be as good or better than the ones he had through six games in each of his three MVP campaigns.


2021: 2,064 pass yards, 17:3 TD-to-INT ratio

2017: 1,959 pass yards, 13:2 TD-to-INT ratio

2010: 1,362 pass yards, 11:4 TD-to-INT ratio

2007: 1,771 pass yards, 21:2 TD-to-INT ratio


He's been able to thrive as a passer by leaning on quick throws and play-action. Against the Eagles, Brady completed 24 of 25 quick passes for 179 yards (completed first 21 attempts), while going 10-of-12 for 116 yards and two TDs on play-action passes.

Rank
9
DeAndre Hopkins
Arizona Cardinals · WR

Hopkins has yet to have a 100-yard receiving game this season, but he has six receiving TDs after hauling in two against the Browns. It doesn't matter who's covering the Cardinals' WR1, he finds a way to get open and make plays when it counts.

Rank
10
4
Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders · QB

After an incredibly challenging week, the Raiders responded with a road win against the Broncos. The offense terrorized Vic Fangio's unit as Derek threw the ball at will for 341 yards and two TDs, and running backs Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake each ran one in. Derek's elevated play in Week 6 helped the Raiders snap a two-game skid and improve to 4-2.

Rank
11
8
Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers · QB

The high of Week 5's win over Cleveland came to a screeching halt Sunday in Baltimore. Herbert, who didn't adjust well to the Ravens' defensive pressure, recorded season lows in completion percentage, passing yards, passing yards per attempt and passer rating. Best to quickly forget about that one, enjoy the bye week and turn the focus to the upcoming slate (vs. New England, at Philadelphia, vs. Minnesota -- all winnable games for these Chargers).

Rank
12
1
Travis Kelce
Kansas City Chiefs · TE

Kelce stays in the mix as the league's most consistent tight end right now, helping the Chiefs defeat Washington on the road with eight catches for 99 yards. 

Rank
13
Cooper Kupp
Los Angeles Rams · WR

Kupp doesn't get enough credit for what he brings to the table week in and week out. He's been a key reason why Matthew Stafford is enjoying a successful first season in L.A. thus far, as Kupp ranks second in the league in receiving yards (653). One of the best route runners with equally great hands, Kupp really is the engine that accelerates Sean McVay's offense.

Rank
14
2
Tyreek Hill
Kansas City Chiefs · WR

When the Chiefs get Hill involved, things usually end well. In Kansas City's three wins this season, he averages 153 receiving yards and has five receiving touchdowns. He averages 44.3 receiving yards and has no TDs in the team's three losses. Another note: He has to STOP having butterfingers that lead to INTs. Brutal.

Rank
15
NR
Ja'Marr Chase
Cincinnati Bengals · WR

Chase is having himself one heck of a rookie season. He deserves some credit for the Bengals' offensive success this season, having caught five receiving touchdowns from his former LSU teammate, Joe Burrow. Six games into the season, he's on pace for 1,567 receiving yards, which would eclipse Justin Jefferson's Super Bowl-era rookie record.

DROPPED OUT: Darren Waller, TE, Raiders (Previously No. 15).

Follow David Carr on Twitter.

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