By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — In theory, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to move on from a quarterback in his 40s. They typically have never really worked out in the history of sport.

Alas, Tom Brady defies most theories, and his ranking near the top of a couple of notable quarterback rankings this week is merely the latest evidence of that.

ESPN polled 50 people — NFL executives, coaches, scouts and players — and asked them to rank players at various positions. In that poll, despite the looming 44th birthday party next month, Brady came in as the No. 3 quarterback in the NFL.

(That poll had a caveat to note that Deshaun Watson had been removed from consideration, given his uncertain status in 2021 amid the numerous lawsuits he’s facing.)

Here’s the complete ranking from those 50 people polled by ESPN:

1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
3. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
5. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
6. Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
7. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
8. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
9. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
10. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

Another ranking of NFL quarterbacks dropped this week, this one from Mark Schofield of Touchdown Wire for USA Today. Here’s how his top 15 looked:

1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
3. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
6. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
7. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
8. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
9. Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
10. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
11. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
12. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
13. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
14. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
15. Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders

On Brady, Schofield wrote, “What is even scarier? Brady could be even better in 2021. Why? Because even he admitted that the struggles that he and the offense endured during the regular season were due in some part to his unfamiliarity with the offense. And yet? Brady still played at an elite level, thanks to his combination of pocket management, accuracy, decision-making and of course, manipulation. Could Brady truly be better in 2021? As someone who saw this most recent Super Bowl run coming, I would not bet against it.”

Pro Football Focus also ranked quarterbacks for all 32 teams this week. Brady ranked No. 2.

“He ranked second in passing yards on 20-plus-yard throws during the regular season while taking care of the ball better than any Bruce Arians quarterback since 2006,” the PFF ranking said. “Not to mention, Tampa Bay has re-signed every significant player from last year. Brady will be more familiar and comfortable in the Arians passing attack with even more supporting cast continuity from last year.”

While numerous analysts, executives, and coaches believed Brady’s days as an elite quarterback ended before the 2020 season, it seems as though a 40-touchdown season followed by a Super Bowl MVP Award has a way of changing perspectives.

From a New England perspective, it is of course notable that the Patriots don’t have a representative on either ranking.

On PFF’s ranking, Cam Newton came in at … No. 27.


“Newton’s inconsistency as a passer ultimately held the offense back, as he posted sub-60.0 passing grades in eight of his 14 starts,” PFF said. “The additions the Patriots made this offseason through free agency and the draft, coupled with another year in the system, offer Newton a good opportunity to prove he can still play. Rookie Mac Jones will be waiting in the wings for his opportunity if things sputter.”

The only (presumed) starters ranking behind Newton were Sam Darnold (Carolina), Tua Tagovailoa (Miami), Zach Wilson (NY Jets), Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia), and Drew Lock (Denver).

Obviously, with just eight passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season, Newton was always going to be entering the 2021 season with extremely low expectations from the outside. In what is likely his last chance to prove he’s still an NFL starting quarterback, he’ll have the benefit of being surrounded by NFL-caliber players at tight end and wide receiver. There’s reason to believe he can take large strides forward, given the improvements to the surrounding cast. Add in his successful (and healthy) season as a rusher last year in New England, and he could surprise a lot of people. The key word, of course, being “could.”

Meanwhile, down in Tampa, the soon-to-be-44-year-old Brady will seemingly just continue to sling touchdowns and win football games as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Ultimately, what happens on the field will tell the larger story of the Patriots’ plan — or lack thereof — in a post-Brady world. The early results at the most important position in sports in 2020 were not good, and the outlook from a number of professionals for 2021 doesn’t appear to be much better.