- After years of a shallow pool of talent at the position, it appears every team in the NFL has something close to a capable quarterback.
- The influx of talent at the position is due to two factors – a new generation of young players progressing to an elite level earlier than expected, and older players who haven’t seen their skills deteriorate.
- While every team is always just one injury away from losing their star, heading into the 2018 season the talent at quarterback looks better than it has in years.
In 2016, the NFL had a problem.
After a year that saw Blaine Gabbert, Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer, and other less-than-compelling quarterbacks take the lead for their teams under center, many were left to wonder if there just weren’t enough talented quarterbacks on the planet for each team to have a reliable starter.
This sentiment grew for two more seasons as the advent of Thursday Night Football forced lesser teams into the national spotlight and quarterback injuries introduced fans to less-than-capable backups.
But examining the current landscape of the NFL, things look entirely different heading into the 2018 season. While ranking the quarterback situations of every team in the league, it became apparent that no teams seemed utterly lost when it came to the talent at the position.
For the first time in a long time, it felt like every team had at least one quarterback worth putting in an NFL game.
There are several reasons for the NFL’s sudden depth at the most critical position, not the least of which is the fact that everyone appears to be relatively healthy, for now. Andrew Luck is finally back throwing the ball after almost two years, and high-profile quarterbacks that missed time in 2017 – Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz – are all hoping to play in Week 1.
But the two most significant factors that have contributed to what appears to be a new normal of relatively solid quarterback talent is two-fold: young quarterbacks have come into the league better prepared, and the stable of established reliable starters has hung around longer than expected.
The Young Guns
While every draft still has its busts, for the past to years, quarterbacks drafted in the first round have done pretty well for themselves.
Jared Goff and Carson Wentz both are looking to lead teams near the top of the NFC this year after going one-two in 2016, and Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson will head into their sophomore campaigns as starters. While the latter group has much to prove, there’s no doubt any NFL fan would have them leading his or her favourite team over the likes of draft busts from the years that came before them – Johnny Manziel, EJ Manuel, or Geno Smith.
In the most recent draft, a whopping five quarterbacks were selected in the first round, and two of them – Sam Darnold and Josh Allen – look likely to start Week 1.
Should the newest batch of QBs prove capable, that’s almost a quarter of the league whose quarterback woes were solved through the draft in just three years, with the potential for even more when Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, and Lamar Jackson finally get their chance.
The Old Guard
The other, possibly even more important aspect to the increased quality of quarterback play, is the fact that the old guard still hasn’t lost a step.
Tom Brady, 41, headlines the group as the reigning MVP who just led the Patriots to the eighth Super Bowl appearance of his career, but he’s not alone. Across the league, more and more quarterbacks are proving that age is just a number. Four of the top five passers of 2017 – Brady, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger – are now 36 or older.
Peyton Manning retired at 39, and while he did walk off on top with a Super Bowl win, he finished the year with a QB rating of 67.9, good for 34th in the league among quarterbacks that started at least seven games that year. After watching one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game deteriorate so swiftly, it’s understandable that football fans would brace for similar falls from those ageing out soon, but so far, it hasn’t happened.
In between the youngsters and the old guard, there’s another slew of talented quarterbacks – the generation of signal callers that one would have expected to be running the league by 2018. Russell Wilson (29), Cam Newton (29), Matt Ryan (33), and Aaron Rodgers (34), have all proven they can lead their team to a Super Bowl and still have plenty of great years still ahead of them. And just below them, you have another younger group that’s coming into their own, such as Marcus Mariota, Derek Carr, and Jimmy Garoppolo.
How’d this happen?
Though the league does feel suddenly and surprisingly stacked with desirable quarterbacks, it’s not merely that we’re in a boom-time for the position – there are multiple reasons that older and younger quarterbacks have become more viable.
First, new rules implemented to make the game safer – most notably the priority is given to defenseless receivers over the middle, ticky-tack pass interference calls, and the over-protection of every quarterback not named Cam Newton – have made the job easier.
Additionally, the advent of the run-pass option or “RPO” last season took some quarterbacks that would have had possibly been dismissed in a traditional offence and turned them into studs. At 34, Alex Smith had a career year thanks to the versatile attack, and the Eagles rode an RPO-heavy playbook and a backup quarterback to a Super Bowl win.
Beyond changes in the game, the training and offseason habits of players for quarterbacks young and old have also improved. Among the younger group, many players are receiving elite training earlier and earlier in their careers, and as both college offenses and opposing defences continue to develop, it should come as no surprise that rookies come into the league a bit more prepared for the pace of the game. For those that would traditionally be ageing out of the league at this point, healthier habits and more focus on recovery has made the idea of continuing to play 16 games a year more viable.
Despite the seeming widespread talent across the position, there’s no certainty that this year will give us a significant leap forward in quality – teams are always just one injury away from trotting out the likes of Cody Kessler or C.J. Beathard. But as things stand, with everyone relatively healthy heading into the 2018 season, pretty much every team has a quarterback they can trust, or at least a bit of hope for the future.
Quarterback is likely the most daunting position in professional sports, but this year it looks like most teams will have someone up to the task.
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