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Before the start of the 2021 NFL season, fans in the AFC East were buzzing because they had the young gun quarterbacks, which meant the future was bright and everything was about to turn to gold.
So this space decided to compare those youngsters — Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones and Zach Wilson — and rank them best to worst.
And then holy hell ensued when Dolphins fans saw their guy ranked third and Jets fans saw their guy ranked last and both saw Jones ranked second because, they said, this space is stupid for being so wrong.
Yeah, um, so consider the 2021 regular season and now understand this space is smarter than you. Because Allen was indeed the best of the bunch, then Jones, then Tua, then Wilson. Just like this space ranked them.
So let’s do it again with more opportunity to unleash the wrath of disgruntled fans from all across the American Football Conference because that’s where the debate matters.
In the NFC, by the way, there’s no debate.
It’s Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Stafford in some order now.
But the AFC is something. It’s the cradle of quarterbacks because recent drafts and this offseason have seen the migration of generational talents enter the conference.
So let’s go 16 to 1:
16: Zach Wilson (Jets): His rookie year started off slow, with 7 interceptions his first three games, and he finished slow, completing only 35 percent of his passes in the finale. And in between there were a handful of bright moments, but a lot of rough spots that included terrible mechanics and footwork.
15: Tua Tagovailoa (Dolphins): Year 3 is coming, so the light has to come on under new coach Mike McDaniel. If it doesn’t, everyone will understand it wasn’t the system or the coaching or the offensive line or anything else his first two seasons. It was him. He does possess great accuracy and typically releases the ball quickly.
14: Davis Mills (Texans): His rookie year on a terrible team didn’t set the world ablaze, but neither did it suggest bad days are ahead. Mills delivered some clunkers (Bills, Colts), but he was excellent against the Titans and lit up the Patriots. He’s smart, he’s got prototype size and he’s mobile enough.
13. Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars): So if he’s ranked down here next year, there will be some side glances in Jacksonville because No. 1 overall picks are supposed to ball out fairly quickly. In Lawrence’s defense, he was basically the adult in the room on a team whose coach acted like a child at times, and now he gets Super Bowl winning coach and former quarterback Doug Pederson to help him change course.
12. Mitchell Trubisky (Steelers): If he’s going to be better, he’s got to do it by actually playing in 2022 because this rehabilitation of reputation while sitting the bench cannot extend past one year. Folks in the Bills organization were impressed with how he improved his processing and his ability to move safeties with his eyes during his year with them. We’ll see how that works when defenses are preparing for him.
11. Mac Jones (Patriots): The Patriots managed Jones very well as a rookie, which is the reason he was, well, solid. But after playing well much of the time during a big Patriots win streak, he kind of fell off at the end of the season and was overmatched by the Bills defense in a couple of games late in the season. The question here is not whether Jones will get better. He will. The question is whether his ceiling is high enough for it to matter in the AFC.
10. Ryan Tannehill (Titans): Great arm, great athlete. But his instincts are just a tad off. His processing is just a tad slow. His pocket awareness, while better than it was early in his career, is not anywhere close to great. He’s a solid player. But we know that’s his ceiling. And in the AFC, that’s not going to be good enough.
9. Matt Ryan (Colts): Welcome to the saloon, where every gunfighter is a quick draw, Matty Ice. He’s accomplished and smart and his arm is still quite lively and definitely strong enough. He can make all the throws. But is he mobile? Not really. Does he still do things that make people crazy? Sometimes. Is he good? Yes. Still.
8. Lamar Jackson (Ravens): Rough year in 2021 after a great start. He has to continue to improve his passing and finally figure out how to beat zero blitzes and other exotic pressures beyond simply running with the football.
7. Derek Carr (Raiders): Good arm, great leader. Very positive individual whom other players love to play with and for. He’s smart and once he gets hold of a system, he can own it. The problem is sometimes he gets desperate or impatient and that leads to more mistakes than he should be making.
6. Russell Wilson (Broncos): Does the tape look like it did in 2013-2020? No. He’s still smart and super accurate and throws a beautiful arching deep ball. And he can still escape pressure, even if not quite like he once did. Still outstanding.
5. Deshaun Watson (Browns): He had perhaps his best season amid the Texans’ drop off the map in 2020, which says he couldn’t raise the level of his team beyond a certain point. He did his job, but that didn’t make a difference in the standings. Assuming the year away from the game didn’t accumulate too much rust, he’s still accurate, cat quick and mobile and has wonderful instincts as a passer, in the pocket and as a runner in the open field.
4. Justin Herbert (Chargers): He and Josh Allen are probably the most other worldly physical freaks of the bunch. He can throw every pass, he is fearless, including on fourth down, and he’s rarely reckless. He works hard and studies hard and he’s smart. There’s nothing not to love now that he’s gotten some coaching that has refined his accuracy. He’s on the verge of something amazing.
3. Joe Burrow (Bengals): It’s not so much what he did in his second year but how he did it without much protection up front. Burrow has an innate ability to throw to the perfect spot with just the right velocity or touch. His passes don’t roar down the field, but they all get there. Guy’s exceedingly confident and simply a winner.
2. Josh Allen (Bills): You saw the playoffs last year right? He threw 9 TDs without an interception and played well enough to win it all, were it not for his team’s defensive lapses. He has the league’s strongest arm. He can run and does it without fear, and he loves the idea of putting the team on his shoulders and carrying them — which he’s proven he can do.
1. Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs): It took him a minute to figure out the two-deep zone because he wasn’t accustomed to having to show patience. And after that minute passed, he had 37 TD passes. He’s still frightfully gifted in his ability to throw the ball from any angle at just the right velocity, and he has plenty of velocity to spare. He’s also very wise in how he gets out of the pocket and churns first downs with his feet.
Agree or disagree in the comment section.
And keep your receipts — because I do.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero