By Alex Strouf for Cream City Central
Life is subjective, and so are these rankings. Before we begin, let’s set some ground rules, shall we? These rankings take some past performance into consideration, of course, but this list is for the (we assume) upcoming 2020 season and how these quarterbacks will fill their role on their respective squads. With new coaches, systems, and QB1s throughout the league, some of these may be seen as ‘hot takes,’ by the readers who know as much or as little as me.
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Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina Panthers
Dwayne Haskins, Washington
Cam Newton, Free Agent
Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
All of these guys have something to prove in 2020. Bridgewater earned a starting role after the showing he had during Drew Brees’ absence last year. Remaining in the division will benefit him in terms of the defensive schemes he will face, but there’s still a lot of question marks with Ron Rivera taking the reigns. Haskins heads into year two in one of the questionable divisions in the NFL and could be due for a breakout sophomore campaign, though I don’t know what kind of leap is in store for him. We saw the peak of Ryan Tannehill, who posted the league’s best QBR (min. 10 GP) in the regular season, during the Titans’ improbable run to the AFC Championship Game in the beginning of the calendar year, but question marks still surround whether that was a fluke or not. Finally, Cam Newton is still without a home, but he is without a doubt a certified stud that you want in your QB room. Wherever he lands, that team is getting a seasoned veteran and a former MVP, which are accolades you cannot teach and speak volumes to the player he was and potentially could once again become.
#20: Sam Darnold, New York Jets
Sam Darnold turned 23 years old three weeks ago. Entering his third year as the guy in the Big Apple, this is the best chance the Jets have had to make some noise since selecting Darnold third in 2018. Despite missing the front end of the 2019 season with mononucleosis, Darnold posted a 7-6 record and finished 25th in passing yards. With the second round pick of Denzel Mims and the signing of Breshaud Perriman, the Jets look to make up the loss of Robbie Anderson and have some insurance for Darnold in 2020. This could be the year he makes the jump from competent to star.
#19: Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
Despite the Super Bowl run that San Francisco rattled off last year, it had very little to do with anything Garoppolo did great. Despite throwing 27 touchdowns in the regular season, the 49ers defense and rushing attack is what carried them to Miami. This is by no means a dig at Garoppolo, but his ceiling in 2020 is not nearly as high as the 18 names that fall ahead of him. Kyle Shanahan inked an extension on Monday, therefore linking the pair until
#18: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
In what was an incredibly strange 2019 season for Cleveland, the page couldn’t turn quickly enough to 2020. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr. are both still under contract and Mayfield will be operating in a new system under first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski. While it seems like Baltimore runs the AFC North, Cleveland could easily make a run for one of three wild card spots in the AFC. It will all depend how the former rookie of the year performs in year three, while the expectations have tuned down from last year.
#17: Drew Lock, Denver Broncos
It’s hard to gauge what sort of growth Drew Lock will experience heading into his second year with the Broncos. The addition of Jerry Jeudy is certainly an important one, and with Melvin Gordon adding to an already solid attack, Lock should certainly see his productivity skyrocket from his rookie year.
#16: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
In what is a make-or-break year for Dan Quinn, the Falcons went out and acquired Hayden Hurst from Baltimore and signed Todd Gurley to help bolster a generally solid offense. The trickiest quarterback to rank is the 12-year veteran. Ryan, now 35, is running out of time to win the ring that escaped his grasp in 2016-17. Atlanta also has what may be the best 1-2 wide receiver punch in the league in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, so Ryan’s results could be top-five if all things go right. Worst case scenario is a consistent veteran who will easily win a minimum of six games.
#15: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Allen eclipsed the 3,000 yard mark and threw 20 touchdowns in his sophomore run last year, all while punching a ticket to the playoffs for the first time in his career. Plus, this was an offense that featured a rushing attack comprised of 36-year-old Frank Gore and rookie Devin Singletary. John Brown had a huge year as the top target and will look to repeat in 2020. With Tom Brady out of the division, it’s incredibly intriguing to see what Allen and company will do with the AFC East in their favor.
#14: Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Captain Kirk has had a stellar first two seasons statistically as the quarterback of the Vikings. While his overall record doesn’t necessarily indicate that, an offense that features Cousins, Dalvin Cook, and Adam Thielen is sure to make some noise. Assuming Cook gets a deal done before the season, Cousins’ role will presumably be unchanged in comparison to the past two years. If Cook doesn’t sign and continues his holdout, Cousins role will increase, but as we’ve seen during Cook’s recoveries, it’s not entirely make or break with or without him. I imagine Cousins will have a similar year as last: a very competent one, but nothing to awe at.
#13: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Roethlishberger recently went on an unblocking spree on Twitter. If his offensive line can do the exact opposite in the regular season, we can expect Roethlisberger to be his normal self. JuJu Smith-Schuster is still the featured wideout in that offense, alongside James Washington, Ryan Switzer, and draft pick Chase Claypool. The options are plentiful, and the Steelers are always near the top of the always-competitive AFC North.
#12: Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The GOAT faces something we’ve never seen: a team that doesn’t have Bill Belichick. With new surroundings, teammates, and a brand new logo on the side of his helmet, there’s a lot of question marks. Brady is generally the quarterback with the least to prove, but this year, the exact opposite is the case. While there’s no questions Bruce Arians knows how to run an effective offense, there is still questions on the transition from Jameis Winston to Brady. Regardless, let’s enjoy the last few years of Brady while we can.
#11: Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Murray is a top-three dual-threat quarterback in the National Football League and now he has a season under his belt as a pro, in which he won rookie of the year. Add DeAndre Hopkins, who gets my vote as the top wideout in the league, to that offense, and we’re going to see some really fun flashes from those two and Larry Fitzgerald. While Arizona competes in one of, if not the most competitive division in football, their record may not showcase Murray’s growth in year two with Kliff Kingsbury.
#10: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Stafford was on pace to have some of the best numbers of his career last season before being sidelined. Tight end T.J. Hockenson is entering his second year, while Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, and Danny Amendola are still there. The Lions went out and drafted D’Andre Swift as their feature back, running alongside Kerryon Johnson. Don’t be surprised if the Lions make a playoff run in 2020 behind a healthy Stafford.
#9: Philip Rivers, Indianapolis Colts
Rivers enters an ideal situation in Indianapolis: a short contract, a stacked offensive line, and several key weapons at his disposal. While the abrupt retirement of Andrew Luck last August shocked the entire organization, 2020 will serve as a crucial year under Frank Reich. Rivers will turn 39 before the end of the regular season, and it is no secret the window is closing. Jonathan Taylor adds some much needed speed to that offensive backfield, while T.Y. Hilton and Michael Pittman, Jr. will serve as the vertical threats they are. The Colts are a team that often depend on rookies, and this is another year where their role on the offense will severely impact the results in the box score. Unlike years past, a 16-year veteran will start at quarterback.
#8: Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
As long as Wentz stays healthy, he’s consistently been a top ten quarterback in the league since he’s entered. His weapons still consist of Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz, as well as the addition of Jalen Raegor from this past year’s draft. The Eagles sights haven’t changed since their Super Bowl win two years ago, and rightfully so. However, we have yet to see Wentz lead the charge in the playoffs outside of the four passes he threw against Seattle in the wild card round. This is the year Wentz needs to stay healthy and prove his worth, even though we already know how darn good he can be.
#7: Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
Despite Bill O’Brien being a completely incompetent GM, Watson is a bonafide star in his offense. While the departure of DeAndre Hopkins is a blow, Brandin Cooks is at the least a decent replacement. Will Fuller and Kenny Stills are both solid targets, while the addition of David Johnson could be a really nice piece to that offensive puzzle. Houston is still the top dog in the AFC South, and that’s largely because of Watson’s dual-threat capabilities.
#6: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers falls just short of our top five given the common complaint from cheeseheads around the world: his lack of targets may hurt his chances. However, as we’ve seen on many lists by national ‘experts’, Rodgers isn’t even in many top tens. However, we know Rodgers is the most gifted quarterback we may have ever seen, excepting the new king, Patrick Mahomes. Rodgers’ window may be closing, but the addition of Jordan Love in strange circumstances puts quite the chip on the shoulder of the two-time league MVP. This is a year Rodgers probably goes bananas and solidifies his case as a top-10, maybe top-eight quarterback in the history of the game.
#5: Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
I know it sounds insane, but it really isn’t. Prescott was second in passing yards last season and will likely be playing for a contract elsewhere or will already be locked up in Dallas by the start of the season. Mike McCarthy has a history of understanding the quarterback and maximizing their potential (see the #6 quarterback for reference). If all goes well, Prescott could easily skyrocket to a star in this league. The addition of CeeDee Lamb to complement an already stacked offensive featuring Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper only leads to the ideal season for Prescott, who’s looking to prove his worth.
#4: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
As long as Brees stays healthy, there’s absolutely no way his productivity slows down. In my mind, New Orleans still runs the NFC South and it’s not close. Brees still consistently rakes in all the statistics and accolades he deserves and has shown very little signs of aging. Michael Thomas has clearly emerged as a top wide receiver in the game and still has plenty of mileage left in him to the benefit of Brees. Alvin Kamara is one of the league’s premier pass-catching running backs, being targeted 97 times last season, ranking fifth in the league. Emmanuel Sanders, though aging, is still a solid second option at receiving and should play a much more increased role for the Saints than he did for San Francisco in 2019. Overall, we should expect Brees to be a top-five quarterback, as he has been for much of the past almost-two decades.
#3: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
The fact that Wilson has never received a first-place MVP vote just about has to change in 2020. Seattle is coming off of a solid run from 2019 and Wilson is the biggest reason. Although Wilson’s rushing game isn’t off the charts, he’s still a solid dual-threat quarterback. His poise and experience has leveraged the Seahawks into a consistent contender. We can assume DK Metcalf is ready to take the next step in year two, while the addition of Phillip Dorsett adds a nice third option to the aforementioned Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Seattle’s offense is always efficient, and there’s no sign of slowing down for the former Badger.
#2: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
While the reigning MVP and Madden 21 cover athlete doesn’t get the nod for the top spot, he’s certainly capable of repeating the unmatched marks he notched in 2019. Jackson is undoubtedly the top ‘dual-threat’ quarterback I’ve referenced throughout, as he is the only quarterback to ever rush for over 1,100 yards in a season. Jackson also topped the league with 36 passing touchdowns in 2019. Jackson has already achieved a ton in his first two seasons as an NFL starter, but the next challenges are hanging onto the AFC North throne and winning a playoff game, where he currently stands at 0-2.
#1: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
What do I have to say that you already don’t know about Mahomes? He’s probably the most physically gifted quarterback we’ve ever seen. In his first two seasons as a starter, he’s tied the second-most passing touchdowns ever in a regular season, won the league’s MVP in his first season as a starter, came back from an early 24-0 deficit in a divisional round playoff game, and won a Super Bowl ring and MVP a few weeks after that deficit. Essentially, Mahomes has put together a Hall of Fame-like resumé in a phenomenal first three seasons, in which he barely played in the first. The Chiefs fast-paced, elusive, and innovative offensive style reigns supreme in the current age of the National Football League. While several quarterbacks behind Mahomes could top him statistically in 2020, it’s not going to change who the top dog is in the NFL.