Part 2 of a brief ranking and assessment of NFL QBs, this time the AFC. If you missed the NFC QB rankings, be sure to check it out.
As with Rodgers in the NFC North, the top AFC North QB is this man until further notice. The Steelers staved off the Le’Veon Bell situation and didn’t miss a beat. The Steelers and Roethlisberger agreed on a contract extension through 2021 this offseason, so the team clearly still believes he has a lot to offer. Roethlisberger has a penchant for making really, really dumb throws at times, but is also incredibly clutch.
Roethlisberger has an exciting stable of young weapons around him, and he is the type to elevate his teammates play. Coupled with an excellent offensive line, they should again be one of the more impressive offenses in the league. The Steelers are drawing closer to the end of an era. They are set up to win right now, and they will rely on Roethlisberger to be the main piece that carries them.
The Browns are currently the darling of the league. The move for Odell Beckham really juiced that hype up. They are an extremely exciting team, and Mayfiled is a huge reason why. Once he took over as the starter, and once Hue Jackson was canned, the Browns were a new team. Now they have a full offseason to gel and get into new head coach Freddie Kitchen’s system.
Mayfield has always beat the odds. From walking on to Texas Tech, to transferring to Oklahoma and winning a Heisman, to being the number one pick. He was so much fun to watch last year, and has a swagger about him that is contagious. This is the most exciting the Browns have been since their recreation in Cleveland. Going 9 and 7 would be a gigantic victory, and simply making the playoffs would be unbelievable for a franchise that went 1 and 31 the two years prior. Mayfield is the face of the new Browns.
Dalton has not returned to the heights of his 2015 season, when the Bengals (the Bengals!!) were seriously a legit contender, right to the moment he got hurt in week 14. But he has also been far from a disaster. Dalton is a completely competent starting QB, and honestly is slightly underrated. Yeah, he’s not gonna throw for 4500 yards and 40 TDs, but he offers consistency and a steady hand.
The Bengals have a really exciting set of offensive weapons. Did you know Joe Mixon led the AFC in rushing last season? You shouldn’t expect 30 points a game, but they could pop off for a 40 burger here and there. The Bengals have been a solid team under Dalton. With Marvin Lewis finally gone, a breath of fresh air in the form of Zac Taylor is much needed. Dalton will prevent the Bengals from looking as embarrassing as they did after he got hurt last year, when they were headed by Jeff Driskel.
Jackson was extremely exciting to watch last year, but still needs so much work as a passer. He physically cannot handle the running workload he had last year. The Ravens will now have a full offseason and camp to tailor their offense around what Jackson can do. They will likely still be run heavy, but hopefully can create a system where Jackson has easy throws to make.
They drafted Hollywood Brown with their first pick, who should be so much fun to watch with Jackson, who, for his accuracy issues, has a cannon for an arm. The Ravens will rely on their defense, and ball control on offense to be successful this year. Jackson will have to show a huge jump in his throwing ability for the Ravens to invest in him long term, but expecting that for this season may be a tall order.
Robert Griffin III
A mighty fall for the former Rookie of the Year. His primary role on the Baltimore Ravens this year is to serve as a mentor to Jackson. They also brought him in on weird gadget plays last season. The Ravens plan will be for Jackson to get every rep possible, and have Griffin serve as another coach. Obviously, his career has not panned out the way anyone would have expected after year one, but he seems to have embraced this new role.
Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs
The Steelers took Rudolph in round 3 last year, as a possible heir to Big Ben. He did not take a snap last year, but has had time to grow. He will only see time if Ben goes down, which hopefully does not happen. Dobbs was the Steelers’ main backup, he only appeared in one game last year, and was not great. He is on here because Big Ben is liable at any time to go down with injury. Hopefully that will not happen, but Dobbs is capable enough to step in for spot duty. More likely though is that Rudolph is the number two this year.
Tom Brady is the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth best QB in this division. What even is there to say really? They lose a crazy Super Bowl 52 to the Eagles, and just go back and get another one the next year. He may not necessarily put up the crazy stats he used to, but there is not a single other player as clutch. He is the most important piece of this roster.
He will turn 42 just before the season, and maybe could show signs of age, but that has also been said every year for like six years now. This could be when that actually happens, but who would want to bet on that?
In totality, the rest of the division after this is still an “incomplete.” These other teams are (seemingly perpetually) in a state of disarray. The Dolphins took advantage of the Cardinals’ unorthodoxy, and nabbed Josh Rosen for a third rounder. However, it does not seem he will be the Day One starter. No, not with this man in the house.
The Rule of Fitzmagic is that he will find a way to start, and then put up 400 and 4 for a couple of games. And then it all comes crashing down, and you wonder how you let yourself get fooled again for the umpteenth time. That all said, Fitzpatrick is a perfectly suitable bridge guy. He is not an all pro, but he has had a very solid journeyman’s career. That past experience gives him the edge over the three sophomores.
Allen has the most tantalizing skill set of the three second year signal callers. He possesses an arm that rivals Patrick Mahomes and displayed a running ability that somehow had gone unnoticed in the draft process. His biggest deficiency is accuracy, and that’s uhhhh, pretty important as being a QB goes. But, the Bills overhauled their skill positions this offseason, so that should help. The offensive line is also a concern.
There is a lot to work with here in Allen, but his accuracy issues coupled with the lack of top flight talent around him, could lead to another middling season for Buffalo. It will be up to growth from Allen, and a solid defensive squad, to hold down the fort.
As with Allen, Darnold had a rough first year. He faced a dearth of talent around him, coupled with a lame duck coach. So the Jets decided to grab the coach their divisional rival just fired, who they could not wait to get rid of, and then he went and forced out the GM. It is never not interesting with this team.
They made some splashy free agency grabs, managing to win the Le’Veon Bell sweepstakes. The Jets added Jamison Crowder as well, but really did not make any other real moves to bolster the offense. The offensive line looks extremely shaky, and top tight end Chris Herndon is suspended the first four games of the season. Darnold will have to show major improvement over last year for the Jets to be competitive this season.
A disastrous rookie season led to the Cardinals shipping out someone they took 10th overall just one year earlier. But the entire team was a disaster around him. Rosen’s first action of the year was replacing Scam Bradford, at the end of a game, against the Bears. Yikes. Rosen straight up did not look good, but nothing around him was working, so how is it possible to completely assess that? Miami realized this, and took advantage, as mentioned.
Rosen should not start right away. Fitzpatrick is perfectly capable. Rosen should be given time to recover from last year, and the weirdness of the pre-draft circus this year. He should be allowed to learn Miami’s system, and get reps where he can. There is still a lot of potential here, and Miami cannot squander it by forcing him into bad situations and making him look worse than he actually (hopefully) could be.
Luck returned as an absolute force last season. The Colts were a new team under Frank Reich. The offensive line, which had long been a disaster, put up a streak of 5 games without allowing a sack. The year he took off seemed to do him incredibly well. He looked completely healthy, and immediately was back to the level he was pre-injury.
With another year to learn Reich’s system, Luck should be just as good, if not a little better than last year. The Colts should be the favorite to win the AFC South this year, and Luck will be the main reason why.
Watson has been an electrifying player for Houston since taking over midway into his rookie season. He looked absolutely fantastic, and then a crushing injury struck midweek. He returned last year, and while he was not at that level, he was still very good. Watson also has a lot of space to grow.
However, a theme here is offensive lines. The Texans had one of the worst lines in the league last year. That is not a good thing to have with any QB, let alone one who has injury concerns and isn’t the biggest dude. He was sacked a staggering 62 times last year, worst in the league. That cannot happen again, because the physical toll was apparent in their wild card game.
The Jaguars threw a lot of money at Foles to come stabilize a position they have been inept at figuring out. Personally, I do not know what to make of Foles. He has not looked great anywhere outside of Philadelphia. But then he came back, took over for an injured Wentz for two straight season, won a Super Bowl, and won another playoff game for the Eagles last season (if you listen closely, you can hear the screams of millions of Bears fans).
Foles got paid as if he was a Super Bowl winning QB….which he is. But to win that, all he had to do was win three games…which he did, and absolutely balled out in the NFC championship and Super Bowl. Foles has one of the absolute oddest career trajectories of any NFL player ever. He will certainly be better than Blake Bortles, which is what Jacksonville is paying him for, but he likely will not live up to the contract he was given. And yet, he will also likely not be an embarrassment, which could be good enough for a team constructed as the Jags are.
Surprise! The Titans swung a trade for the former number 7 overall pick from Miami. Tannehill has oft been hurt, but has still frankly showed more than Mariota. Mariota is still currently slated as the starter, but Tannehill is going to be breathing down his neck.
The Titans went from winning a wild card game to barely missing the playoffs last year. The organization has to think it can be a playoff competitor. If Mike Vrabel thinks that means benching Mariota to put in Tannehill, he will do it.
This is Mariota’s last shot. He has absolutely not lived up to his number two draft billing, quite akin to Jameis Winston, the number one pick in 2014. As said with Tannehill, that trade was made to acquire a solid backup to someone who has been injury prone and inconsistent, but it would not be shocking at all to see Tannehill actually take the starting job.
There is still time to turn it around, but it may not be with Tennessee. This is the final year of Mariota’s rookie contract, and he will have to both stay healthy and show great improvement from the last couple of years.
No quarterback in NFL history has had the kind of first season (as a 16-game starter; he started one game his rookie year) that Patrick Mahomes just had. He joined only Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as QBs to throw for 50 TDs in a season. He has one of the eleven 5000 yard passing seasons in NFL history (fun fact, Drew Brees has five of those). Chances are, he will not hit those highs again, which is okay! Following up that year would be an unprecedented feat. If he “regresses” to about, say, 4500 and 40, those are still elite numbers.
He has another year in head coach Andy Reid’s system under his belt and more reps with his full stable of weapons. Mahomes burst onto the scene in a way that no one could have expected. Mahomes showed he has moxie in the AFC title game, never wavering in the face of a titan. Expectations are sky high. While he may not hit the same video game level numbers as last year, he will be heading up what should be one of the best offenses in the league this year.
The Chargers returned to the playoffs last year for the first time since 2013 and won double digit games for the first time since 2009. That culminated in a thrashing by the Patriots. Rivers was absolutely awful in that game, but late stat padding somewhat masked that. Hunter Henry will return this year after missing all of last season. Top two wideouts Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are back. Melvin Gordon has demanded to be paid, or traded. That is concerning.
Rivers has the stats of a Hall of Fame QB, but he is not that. He has benefited from incredible talent around him his entire career, and has five playoff wins to show for it. Rivers will lead a team this year with very high expectations, and will probably lead a top offense, but there should not be much more expected.
Carr and the Raiders have trended down the last three years since their surprise 12 and 4 2016 season. The first year with Jon Gruden back was not the best. The Raiders made some huge moves this offseason. They traded for Antonio Brown for negligible draft compensation. They spent a lot of draft capital to improve their secondary, and added some more weapons on offense, in Hunter Renfrow and Josh Jacobs.
Expecting Gruden to have completely righted the ship in one year would be silly. Khalil Mack trade nonwithstanding, none of the moves they made were insane. The top concern, is the fact they employ Tom Cable. Cable is possibly the worst offensive line coach in the league. Carr was sacked 51 times last season, by far the most of his career. You cannot be successful if that happens to your QB. Carr is totally steady as a starter, and has pieces around him.
Out with case Keenum, in with Joe Flacco! The Broncos’ plans at QB post Peyton Manning have been…interesting. Flacco is serviceable as a bridge player at this stage of his career, but really does not move the needle much. John Elway seems to completely believe in him, which is neat. It was a weird move for the Broncos to bail on Keenum after one season, for someone who is well past their prime. Maybe Elway knows something everyone else doesn’t. Flacco should be “fine” as the starter, but don’t expect much else.
The Broncos selected Lock in round 2. It appears as though Flacco will be the starter, but it seems likely that Lock will be playing in games at some point in the season. Whether this is due to the health or performance of Flacco is yet to be seen. Lock has all of the tools to be successful, but needs refinement. He went through different offensive systems in three straight years at Mizzou, so perhaps he really just needs some consistency around him.
AFC rankings 1 to 21
And a composite NFC/AFC rank:
- RG3 (all rookies after)