Will This Be the Best Season of Carson Palmer's Career?

Carson Palmer, at age 35, has been great this season. But is it his best ever?

It's been nearly a decade since Carson Palmer has been considered a top-tier NFL quarterback.

After six years of inefficient play for various reasons, Palmer finds himself at the helm of a dangerous offense, and he isn't just managing things as they go by. In fact, Palmer is on pace for his best season ever, and it's not really even that close.

Sure, he's only played in four of the Arizona Cardinals' seven games this season, but he has been effective in each one, and the Cards are currently two games ahead in the NFC West.

But just how good has Palmer really been? Let's find out.

A Fiery Pace in Glendale

As with almost all numberFire analysis, we're going to focus on Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is how we quantify a player's productivity above or below expectation.

Entering his Week 8 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles, Palmer had a Passing NEP of 24.63, which ranked 13th among all quarterbacks. This means that he added over 24 points to the Cardinals that they wouldn't have had otherwise with an average quarterback.

That's not too great this far into the season, but of course Palmer had played only three games to that point. His 329 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Eagles boosted his Passing NEP by 9.51 points and brought his Passing NEP to 34.14. But with the great performances by other top-20 quarterbacks in Week 8, Palmer's rank dropped from 13th to 14th.

But not only did Palmer play in fewer games than the other top-20 quarterbacks, 7 of the top-20 passers entering the week had played 7 games to Palmer's 3. And 11 others played in 6 games to that point.

So while Palmer ranks just 14th in the cumulative stat, his per-game Passing NEP (8.54) ranks 8th in the league. Naturally, extrapolated over a 16-game season, Palmer is on pace to be the 8th-best quarterback in the NFL in terms of Passing NEP.

Palmer isn't quite on par with some of the top quarterbacks in the league, but he's not too far below some big-name passers. Here are the top 10 passers in terms of Projected Passing NEP (Passing NEP per game in terms of a 16-game season).

PlayerPassing NEPGames PlayedPassing NEP/GameProjected Passing NEP
Peyton Manning110.23715.75251.96
Andrew Luck106.38813.30212.75
Philip Rivers105.87813.23211.73
Tony Romo73.59710.51168.21
Drew Brees67.1079.59153.38
Aaron Rodgers76.6389.58153.27
Tom Brady69.0688.63138.12
Carson Palmer34.1448.54136.58
Ben Roethlisberger56.7987.10113.57
Alex Smith49.2877.04112.63

Palmer is clearly a notch below the top three, but he's pretty close to being clustered with four other quarterbacks who are, despite struggles at certain times in the year, are deserving of their top-seven spots.

Just as impressive, Palmer has some distance between the tier below him. There is quite a bit of assumption that he will continue this pace, of course, but as of now, he is currently playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the entire league.

But is this really his best year ever? It's debatable.

Palmer of the Past

Palmer used to be considered by many one of the best passers in the NFL, and our metrics support that claim. However, Palmer's ability to hang with the more voluminous and efficient passers of the current NFL may make this his most impressive season yet.

Here are Palmer's historic Passing NEP score and ranks, which include only passers with at least 140 drop back attempts, Palmer's lowest total in his career.

SeasonTeamPassesPass NEPRank

Palmer won't be able to secure that number-two spot in Passing NEP like he did in 2005, but his 16-game pace would trump his career high in Passing NEP.

That's not too surprising, considering that 2005 featured only three passers with Passing NEP scores of more than 100.00: Peyton Manning (187.33), Palmer (113.19), and Tom Brady (100.73).

Currently, three players have Passing NEP scores greater than 100.00 through Week 8: Manning (110.23), Andrew Luck (106.38), and Philip Rivers (105.87). In total, 11 quarterbacks are on pace to secure a Passing NEP greater than 100.00 this season.

So, comparatively (and unsurprisingly), Passing NEP scores have increased rather dramatically, but Palmer has been able to keep pace with some of the best in the NFL, something he hasn't done since 2007.

Is This His Best?

I realize that's the question I posed earlier, but really, it doesn't matter. It's probably not. His best year was likely in 2005, but Palmer is on pace to tie his touchdown total from that year (32). Then again, it's tough to compare passing performance from 5 years ago let alone 10.

No matter what, the Cardinals are playing well with or without Palmer. With him, though, they have one of the most effective passers in the entire NFL. Palmer is playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the entire league again, after a six-year hiatus from the top-12 in Passing NEP, and he and the Cards are on a three-game winning streak and two games ahead in the NFC West.

There have been some monstrous passing games so far in the season, especially in Week 8, but lost in the shuffle is Palmer's consistent production and his return to the ranks of being one of the best passers in the entire league.