The NFL is at the start of another quarterback boom.
There was a time, not that long ago, when the football intelligentsia (read: ex-NFL GMs) was concerned about the future of the quarterback position.
Gimmicky – the word of choice – college offenses had robbed young quarterback prospects of the tools needed to succeed at the professional level, the theory went. What was to become of the position and the sport itself once the era of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers came to a close? Could the unthinkable happen? Could ratings fall because of a decline in quarterback play and thus the quality of the league’s product?
No. The league adapted. College stylings have now well and truly invaded the professional game. It took some time – too long – but competent organizations figured out that it made more sense to build some of the plays and concepts that their young quarterbacks had run well in college into their own systems, rather than forcing them to adapt instantly to a new style and vernacular.
Instead, it would be best for them to develop over time – to blend the best of the college game and their own idiosyncrasies with the sophistication of the pros. All of the NFL’s 32 offenses, to varying degrees, now feature what were previously considered college staples.
Jackson and Mahomes are set-ups to serve as the 2020s Brady-Manning with perhaps more entertainment value thanks to their ability to create off-script – if you’re that way inclined.
The future is bright at quarterback across the league. If anything, recent draft classes have raised the level of what it means to be a “league average starter”. It is too early to form opinions on the 2020 class (start Tua!) but the picture is clearer for those selected in 2018 and 2019. Now is a good time to deliver a confidence report.
Entering the league, Mayfield was supposed to be a paradigm-shifting, ego-dripping, culture-breaking creator who had the rhythm and precision to play from the pocket and the out-of-structure brilliance to create all by himself when the offensive system broke down. We were teased with half a season of such brilliance during his rookie year but things broke down in 2019. It’s been an up-and-down start to 2020, with the Browns offense undergoing an identity shift to more of a run-oriented attack. Mayfield has been OK, but the expectations were and are so much higher than that.
Verdict Oh no, not again – please.
Darnold is who he was a college: A gifted thrower and athlete capable of moments of brilliance who struggles with some of the nuances of the position. And like in college, those elements of his game that need developing have been doomed by organizational incompetence: Poor coaching, the lack of a long-term plan, and a roster lacking talent and depth.
Darnold is exceptionally talented but he has little to no support structure around him – his two-and-a-bit seasons in the league have been a wash.
Verdict Same old Jets.
It was easy to scoff at the goofy nature of Allen coming into the draft. He was a bad college quarterback, he hit all of the old-school scouting erogenous zones and his style was haphazard at best. But the argument for selecting him early in the first round was always based around his potential, that his height, weight, speed, arm strength, and attitude could not be taught. If a smart organization could channel those gifts, they would land a game-changer.
In year three, Allen is still just scratching the surface but his progression has been remarkable and undeniable. Does he still make goofy plays? Sure. But does he make up for them with what-in-the-how moments of brilliance that few if any other quarterbacks can replicate? Absolutely.
Allen is not flawless, but he has raised his floor from unplayable to fine, a leap that could turn the Bills from outsiders into genuine contenders.
Verdict Going as well as possible.
Josh Rosen, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
That Rosen is already on his third team despite being selected in the top-10 in 2018 tells you pretty much all you need to know about his career to date. There was a time, as noted on these pages, when Rosen felt like a player that a good organization could steal away from the Cardinals on the cheap and could turn into something. The fact that the Cardinals were in a position to land Kyler Murray the year after they selected Rosen should not have been an initial knock on Rosen himself. He had played poorly in limited time as a rookie but he did so under a historically incompetent staff. And a team did view it that way. Miami swooped in, not with a ton of conviction, but under the understanding that Rosen represented a market inefficiency.
But Rosen was awful. And while it would be easy to give him a pass there too -- Miami was trying to lose! – as soon as he was removed from the line-up and Ryan Fitzpatrick was inserted things clicked for the Dolphins offense. Miami started to play with rhythm and it moved the ball efficiently; by the end of the season, they were downright competitive. It was a damning indictment of Rosen.
The prospect sheen is still just about there, but it’s starting to look more and more that Rosen is not a casualty of a funky start to his career but that he is just plain bad.
Verdict Not great, Bob.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Along with Patrick Mahomes, he will be the defining quarterback of a generation.
Verdict The new standard.
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Murray is slap-bang in the middle of making the proverbial leap. He walked into the league as a day one difference-maker and has been waiting for the talent around him to catch up ever since.
The Cardinals added all sorts of talent in the offseason and that has allowed Murray to step up to another level; he was oddly cautious in year one but has been more aggressive with DeAndre Hopkins now in the lineup alongside Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella.
Through two weeks, he ranks third in the league in PFFs ‘big-time throws’ and ranks fifth in QBR. And nobody, not even Jackson, has turned more should-be bad plays into positive yards.
Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Jones was hit with all the similar pre-draft fluff as Josh Allen. Yet while Allen has started to break out of that pre-draft bias, Jones has yet to ignite. Hampered by the personnel around him and changes to the Giants’ staff, Jones remains a bag of tools more so than a settled, defined player. He is rock bottom in all of the nerdiest advanced metrics through two complete weeks of the season (DVOA, CPOE, DYAR), has tossed three interceptions to two touchdowns, and ranks 29th in expected completion percentage. Still: It’s unfair to write off Jones before he’s able to get settled in the Giants new scheme or until he’s surrounded by a modicum of talent.
Verdict Needs help and time.
Dwayne Haskins, Washington
Haskins has had an iffy start to his career. His main flaw: He is too cautious, bordering on timid. It’s a trait that was consistently highlighted back in his Ohio State days and has carried over into the NFL. If a quarterback is unwilling or unable to push the ball downfield, they must be the model of efficiency. So far, Haskins has failed to be either. He currently ranks 32nd in DVOA (a measure of a player’s down-to-down efficiency) a year after finishing 34th among 34 qualified quarterbacks in passing efficiency. It’s not all on Haskins -- his offensive line has taken a hit; there aren’t a ton of weapons -- but there’s a spark lacking.
Gardner Minshew, Jacksonville Jaguars
The only non-first-rounder on this list, but how could Minshew not be included?
Minshew is who we thought Baker Mayfield would be: A culture-shifter who has shown the ability to play on and off-script, throwing comfortably from the pocket or creating on the move. He is, in an odd way, the epitome of this new age: A dual-threat (moving to throw rather than running) who makes any game he is playing in watchable.
Verdict A steal.