Ever since we unveiled our early list of 2020 NFL draft prospects, we’ve been thinking about which teams potentially could be quarterback buyers next April in what might be a better crop of prospects at the position than the 2019 draft gave us.
We had four QBs drafted in the first 42 selections this past April, though, which still shows you how valued a commodity the position is viewed as. The 2017 NFL draft featured five taken in the first 32 picks.
But even with nine teams making heavy investments at QB over the past two seasons, there remains a host of franchise that might be interested in taking one next year. If Oregon’s Justin Herbert has a big senior season and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa matches his early career brilliance, it wouldn’t be shocking to see quarterbacks go 1-2 either.
Consider, too, that Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray in no way were considered strong possibilities to be top-pick candidates at this time two years and one year ago, respectively. There are always surprise candidates who emerge, which only adds to the intrigue.
These NFL teams are ranked somewhat by the perceived strength of their 2020 QB draft needs, even with a million factors to figure out between now and then. We certainly could see several from this list drop out of need, as well as other teams joining the list.
But for now, here’s how we handicap it:
Who they have: Andy Dalton, Ryan Finley, Jeff Driskel, Jacob Dolegala
The Bengals passed on Dwayne Haskins last year to draft an offensive lineman in Round 1 for the second straight year. We believe that says more about how the Bengals felt about Haskins than it does in their confidence in Dalton. New head coach Zac Taylor attended a slew of pro days and was said to be involved in a lot of the team’s QB draft scouting.
The Bengals ended up drafting Finley near the top of Round 4, but we believe he profiles more as a career backup and spot starter. Maybe Finley gets a shot down the stretch this season if Dalton struggles, and with no more dead money attached to Dalton’s contract there’s ample opportunity to move on after 2019.
I don’t know if they’re the favorites to land, say, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. But it might be fun to bring back another lefty to a franchise that had one of the best southpaws a few generations ago in Boomer Esiason.
2020 QB draft likelihood: Moderately high
Who they have: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen, Jake Rudock
The feeling in Miami is that the team must find out whether Rosen can be that guy. Whether Rosen can beat out Fitzpatrick to start the season remains an unknown, but the sense as the Dolphins wrapped up their offseason program prior to training camp was that Fitzpatrick left with the early (but surmountable) lead in that race.
Rosen has time to win it. In fact, he doesn’t even have to win the job prior to Week 1 to prove he’s the man long term. All he needs is to make it a close race, have Fitzpatrick’s gunslinging backfire at some point and earn ample starts this season to showcase his ability. If Rosen does that, Miami can enter next offseason in a really interesting spot where QB isn’t on the frontburner. Offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea and quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell are considered strong teachers who can maximize his talent and construct a system that fits Rosen’s skills.
But the Dolphins also bought low on Rosen and are not tethered to him completely. They sent a low second-round pick and a 2020 fifth-rounder to Arizona to get him, and Rosen’s salary would be easy to walk away from without much hindrance. The Dolphins also might be picking in the top 10 next year, making a QB pick a strong temptation regardless, depending on who is available. They’ll also have two second-rounders (theirs and New Orleans’), plus two fourth-rounders and compensatory picks to be named later, to use as ammo to move up if needed.
2020 QB draft likelihood: Relatively high, but Rosen can change that
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Who they have: Jameis Winston, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin, Nick Fitzgerald
The addition of Bruce Arians gives Winston a chance to resurrect his career, which has gotten off course via inconsistencies on the field and off-field worries. That pretty much makes 2019 a make-or-break season as Winston plays on his fifth-year option contract. He could be set free if things don’t improve, but Arians might be able to coax some great play again from Winston, who showed more promise in his first two seasons than he did the past two.
It’s pretty much as cut and dry as that. None of the other quarterbacks on the roster can realistically be considered strong successors at this point. So if Winston fails to impress and the Bucs struggle this season, they’ll be picking high enough to be in quarterback range to consider them one of the favorites to go after Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert or another highly rated prospect at the position.
And even if Winston plays well enough, let’s say, to earn a franchise tag in 2020, it would behoove the Bucs to dip into the QB draft pool. You can be sure that Arians will be personally scouting a few of them almost no matter how this season plays out.
2020 QB draft likelihood: Moderately high
Who they have: Marcus Mariota, Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
There’s a growing sense that Mariota might never put it all together in what is a flashpoint season in Tennessee. The acquisition of Tannehill provides some subtle but immediate pressure on Mariota to perform, but even that won’t take them out of the mix for the 2020 NFL draft, we don’t believe.
Mariota hasn’t improved enough as a passer, but injuries are a part of his lack of development. He has yet to play a full 16-game season in his four years, but Tannehill actually has missed more time. He’s missed a combined 24 games the past three seasons, so it’s tough to say if they’re stable enough to hold down the fort for a season. Skill-wise, both quarterbacks have enough to thrive, but we’re getting a bit anxious here with a roster that appears close to being playoff-caliber in some respects.
Neither QB has played much higher than as a replacement-level starter in the league for sustained periods, although this season certainly could change that. But even if one of them figures it out, the Titans still could theoretically franchise Mariota or Tannehill — a long shot, sure — and draft a quarterback to compete with them next season.
2020 QB draft likelihood: Relatively high
Who they have: Matthew Stafford, Tom Savage, David Fales
The Lions were one of the busier teams this past winter in terms of doing homework on the 2019 draft quarterbacks, and yet they did not end up selecting one or signing an undrafted free agent. In what was considered a less-than-stellar class at the position, that shouldn’t be stunning, and Stafford’s contract ($26M in dead money this year) was such that they weren’t in any panic or pressing mood to move on.
But that doesn’t mean the Lions won’t be taking the same approach next year with the 2020 QB lot, and next spring just might be the time to strike. There’s no young QB on the roster as a natural heir to Stafford, and yet his contract encumbrance eases up considerably next year. The team would only take a $10 million hit by cutting him loose. This is clearly a big season for the former No. 1 overall pick after his effectiveness leveled off last year.
Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia might be in a similar situation to what Bill Belichick faced early in his New England tenure where the Patriots’ high-priced QB (Drew Bledsoe) clearly was good enough to start for someone but that things had run their course once Tom Brady thrived. That said, there’s no Brady on the roster now, so the situation in Detroit might unfold in a slightly different order if that’s the thinking.
2020 QB draft likelihood: Moderately high
Green Bay Packers
Who they have: Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle, Manny Wilkins
Depending on what you think about Kizer (or Boyle or Wilkins, we suppose), it would not be stunning to see the Packers dip their toes into the QB waters next year. For the record, we don’t think we’ve heard the last from Rodgers as an elite quarterback. In fact, the change from Mike McCarthy to Matt LaFleur might actually inject some life and some creative, productive tension into the Packers’ passing game.
The Packers signed Rodgers to an extension that realistically makes him (an elite) boat anchor until the 2022 offseason at the soonest. He’d be entering his age-38 season that year, but it’s not at all unreasonable to think that we still could see great quarterbacking from him between now and then.
Still, there’s a case for the Packers grooming a LeFleur-picked understudy next year, and Yahoo’s Charles Robinson laid out a pretty decent case for that scenario this year when the Packers were sniffing around Missouri’s Drew Lock. Ultimately, the Packers passed on Lock twice and watched him go off the board two picks before them in Round 2 to Denver. (Had Lock still been on the board at No. 44, I think the Packers would have nabbed him.)
And if a similar situation presents itself in 2020, the Packers might not let the next QB slide by.
2020 QB draft likelihood: Medium
Who they have: Kirk Cousins, Kyle Sloter, Sean Mannion, Jake Browning
Year 1 of the Cousins deal didn’t net the desired results the Vikings thought they were paying for, and he’s now facing the prospect of delivering now or facing fans’ wrath to an even greater level before long. Cousins enters this season needing to prove the Vikings didn’t make a major mistake with his fully guaranteed contract that ends in 2021. It’s certainly not too late for that to happen, of course.
But there’s also some tension around the situation for that ever fully happening, so the time to find a potential successor could be nigh next April. Sloter might carry some mild intrigue, and Mannion has always had his share of defenders on Twitter, but there’s a solid case for the Vikings being on the lookout starting next year for a draft QB.
The team has used first-round picks on QBs Christian Ponder and Teddy Bridgewater in relatively recent history but last used a lower pick on a passer on John David Booty all the way back in 2008. We could see them ending that streak in 2020, perhaps passing on a QB in Round 1 but seeking one thereafter who could use a year or more of grooming as Cousins’ potential replacement.
2020 QB draft likelihood: Medium
New England Patriots
Who they have: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling, Jarrett Stidham
This comes down to a few factors:
How well does Brady play in his age-42 season?
Can Stidham (or Etling, we suppose) show enough in camp and preseason to convince them he’s their guy?
How much longer are Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels going to be around?
Brady is a free agent after this year — that’s a little wild, right? There have been some murmurs about a contract extension this summer; we’ll see if that’s the course they take. But there also have been some strange signs on whether this actually happens soon. It would be hard to imagine Brady playing for another team at this point, especially having seen the way the Jimmy Garoppolo trade went down.
The Patriots are a tough team to pin down, strategy-wise. There are no absolutes with them, especially in terms of team building. They’ve coldly dropped beloved veterans like bad habits, and they’ve traded a potential franchise QB in his prime for less than market value. They’ve created draft patterns and them broken them, such as taking a running back and wide receiver the past two first rounds. They’ve hit the snooze bar time and time again in free agency, and they’ve also signed players such as Stephon Gilmore to huge deals. They’re an enigma willing to shift with the tide.
If Stidham flashes some promise, we could see the Patriots punting on a QB high in next year’s draft. But who really knows?
2020 QB draft likelihood: Medium to low
Los Angeles Chargers
Who they have: Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor, Cardale Jones, Easton Stick
The immediate need is really low. Rivers is a top-shelf starter, even as he turns 38 in December. Taylor has 46 career starts and is entering the prime-backup phase of his career, it appears. The Chargers might have some interesting plans for Stick, who might be able to flash his intriguing skills and athleticism in other ways. Only Jones feels like he’s on the outside looking in right now.
But that doesn’t mean that the Chargers couldn’t use another developmental QB at some point. They’ve been a terrific drafting team for the most part under GM Tom Telesco and a strong scouting staff, and the remainder of the roster is in terrific shape.
Yes, they certainly could spend the next year or two drafting for immediate need, knowing that Rivers’ window isn’t going to be open forever. Look at how the Saints have treated the past few offseasons with a slightly older Drew Brees as an example of that kind of approach.
That said, it’s not as if the Chargers haven’t done plenty of work on QBs the past few drafts just in case, and they could go that route again. We’re not thinking first-round pick here. But Taylor has only one more year left on his deal, who knows how long Rivers will remain at this level and Stick could turn out to be a failed experiment. They’re in the 2020 QB mix, we think, but perhaps not in deep.
2020 QB draft likelihood: Low to medium
New Orleans Saints
Who they have: Drew Brees, Taysom Hill, Teddy Bridgewater
Brees turns 41 next January, and though he appears to have a welcome mat to stay as long as he’d like, that’s just not a realistic long-term plan. And it’s not like the Saints haven’t explored the draft for his potential replacement recently. They used the 75th overall pick on Garrett Garyson in 2015 and reportedly were poised to take Patrick Mahomes with the 11th pick in 2017 before the Chiefs swooped up and grabbed him a spot earlier.
Bridgewater is a tricky call here. Yes, the Saints like him, they traded a third-round pick for him and reupped this year for $7.2 million. Is he willing to take another one-year deal if Brees decides to stick around another season after this one? That’s a tough ask for a QB who turns 28 during the 2020 season and who will have gone four full seasons without being a primary starter (assuming Brees isn’t hurt this year). Bridgewater will want to weigh his options carefully, even if they were seemingly limited this past offseason.
Hill might be an X-factor, and he’s listed as a QB even if his role is so much bigger than that. But for now, we’re not considering him as a prime option to succeed Brees for much more than as a spot replacement.
And then there’s the Sean Payton factor: What if the coach leaves after this season for, say, the Dallas Cowboys? That has been heavily rumored before, and that chatter could be reignited depending on how this season goes for Dallas and New Orleans. If Payton leaves, all bets are off … for Brees, Bridgewater and Hill.
The Saints are short two 2020 draft picks, including a second-rounder that’s headed to Miami, and they aren’t scheduled to receive a compensatory pick. That’s two years in a row where they will be short on draft capital. How Brees performs this season will go a long way toward determining how this team tacks against the wind.
2020 QB draft likelihood: Low to medium
Three other teams worth mentioning:
Atlanta Falcons (Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert) — They’ve invested less in draft QBs than any team in football the past decade. That will have to change eventually.
Oakland Raiders (Derek Carr, Mike Glennon, Nathan Peterman) — They can get out from under Carr’s contract next year quite easily, and they have two first-rounders in 2020: theirs and the Bears’. If Carr and Antonio Brown don’t connect well, this team easily could rise up our need list fast.
Jacksonville Jaguars (Nick Foles, Tanner Lee, Gardner Minshew II, Alex McGough) — Ever since the Bortles pick, they’ve taken late-round fliers, poked around the waiver wire and went big on Foles. Eventually, they’ll have to look harder in the draft.
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