The NFL’s father time never loses. One man questioned its perfection, and for longer than any other quarterback in NFL history, he actually seeded doubt. Father time’s latest victory, Tom Brady, officially signed his retirement papers, marking an end of an era and the beginning of another. With two under-30 quarterbacks battling it out in an enthralling Super Bowl, the shift of the NFL from an experienced QB’s league to a young QB’s league, has officially taken place.
Here’s what could be ahead for the current crop of young quarterbacks.
How The NFL’s Younger QBs Stack Up
Let’s assume for now that “younger QB” applies to anyone who was in their seventh year this year or younger (i.e., Jared Goff’s draft or later). There are 20 that started significant portions of this past season, already showing the magnitude of the NFL’s shift towards youth.
The Already Dominant: Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson
There’s no question that Mahomes tops this list, he’s the NFL’s MVP, has now made five straight conference championship games and three superbowls to start his career – winning two, and is able to get it done season after season. The rest, though, are not far behind and are players who can beat Patrick on their best level.
For Hurts, there’s the question of whether he can replicate this level next year and beyond. For Burrow, it’s just a matter of continuing on his current trajectory but just going that little bit further in the biggest moments. And for Allen and Jackson, a duo of electric, dynamic quarterbacks who put up gaudy numbers and win lots of games, it’s a matter of finding a higher level in the playoffs. There five could very well constitute the future of conference championships in the NFL for the next ten years or more.
The Precipice: Daniel Jones, Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, Trevor Lawrence
All four of these names featured in the playoffs, three of them in the divisional. In the cases of Jones and Lawrence, there has been a huge evolution. They are at this precipice of elite status partially because the coaching and talent situation around them has improved tremendously and much more of their latent potential has been brought to the forefront, and with more time to work in those situations, they can both be perennial playoff contenders.
In the case of Herbert, he is finishing only his third season and his arm, mechanics, and raw ability are incredible, and he’s knocking on the door of the highest level of NFL quarterbacks. In his case, improved offensive coaching may be needed to elevate his game in the bigger moments, something he has failed to do at times, most recently in the wild-card collapse against Jacksonville. Prescott has shown some signs of stagnation, and while performances like the one he had against Tampa show how special he can be, performances like his against San Francisco show how much of a limiting factor his turnovers can be.
Rising Towards Franchise QB Status: Mac Jones, Justin Fields, Tua Tagovailoa, Kenny Pickett
Before starting to break down this level, I’ll give an honorary invite here to Brock Purdy, whose consistency, grit, and mistake-free play gave the 49ers a fighting chance for a Super Bowl in tough conditions. The former Mr. Irrelevant can be a starting quarterback at this level, but has his own QB carousel to navigate, and it’s unclear if he can carry an NFL offensive system lesser than San Francisco’s.
Tua showed flashes of evolution this year early in the season, as well as his ability to elevate his level with the right weapons, but needs to stay healthy and avoid letting his recent concussion trend start to take over what could be a promising career. In the case of Fields, he’s got the athleticism, he knows how to use his legs and turn it into wins. However, he needs to improve through the air and to do that he needs better surroundings, both in terms of playmakers and coaches.
Mac has promise. He’s cerebral, accurate, distributes the ball well, and genuinely wants to get better. His rookie year showed exactly what he could be, yet his sophomore year left fans wanting more. He finally has the offensive coordinator he needs – another playmaker and an offensive tackle later, and we can finally see what his limit is. If he can evolve, so will New England, and year three will be crucial for him.
Pickett has to be in this category given how well he navigated a tough QB carousel, and how he ended the season. He has the tools in terms of his arm, mechanics, etc… and the mentality needed for success, but he needs to be more explosive to climb the NFL QB ladder.
Trending In The Wrong Direction: Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, Zach Wilson
Deshaun had so much promise, and as far as football ability is concerned, he still does. He has a great arm, both in terms of power and mechanics, is fairly mobile and agile, and at his best, can keep defenses on their toes and take control of games. Whether he can get out of his own way, though, whether it’s the poor relations with teams like in Houston, or the allegations and misconduct that cost him 11 games this year, remains to be seen. If he can’t, he’ll go the way of a number of players whose extracurricular activity interfered with his football.
Murray has loads of latent potential, both in terms of his explosive arm and unreal mobility. However, his maturity, or lack thereof, as well as his struggles with decision-making and clutch play, have led to his team progressing in the wrong direction, despite having access to excellent weapons. To turn his tide, he will need to change his approach, which will likely require better mentorship than what he got with Kingsbury. We’ll see if their new coach, Justin Gannon, can get him there.
It’s too early to give up on Wilson, and his high draft pick, latent talent, and the fact that he’s only two years in is what keeps him away from my lowest tier. However, continues to have injury struggles, and despite his explosive arm that served him so well in college, seems unable to deal with pressure, and it’s leading to errant throws and turnovers. In today’s NFL, he’s simply not cutting it, and will likely not have much longer to prove what he can do as a starter.
Possibly Stuck Where They Are: Davis Mills, Taylor Heinecke, Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold
They’re certainly young enough to turn the tide, but it will be a struggle. Heinecke and Wentz competed for the Commanders job this year, but it’s possible that neither of them are seen as the future. Mills is serviceable at times, but it is seeming that that’s as much as he can be and will likely be a good career NFL backup once the Texans pursue other options in the draft.
Darnold has had flashes here and there, but his inability to separate himself from a rather weak group of QBs in Carolina doesn’t bode well. His best chance of success would include leaving for a better situation, but the NFL doesn’t have much in the intersection of “good QB destinations” and “willing to let Darnold start”
Follow StadiumRantHQ on Twitter. Check out our other articles @Stadium Rant. Are you an NFL fan? Have some takes you want to get out into the world? This is the place because we have plenty of opportunities at Stadium Rant spanning the whole NFL and more!