Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Ranking 2022 NFL divisions by QBs: AFC West, AFC North boast the most star power under center

No position influences the game of football like quarterback, and we saw plenty of big-name movement there this offseason. Now that almost all of the dominoes have fallen (waiting on you, Jimmy Garoppolo), it’s time to assess which teams are best positioned under center. Better yet, which divisions have the most combined firepower at the position?

We ranked all eight according to collective QB talent, considering past performance as well as present and future outlook. The best way to look at this pecking order: which division will be most fun to watch because of its QBs? More talent tends to mean more excitement on the football field, so here’s how we’d sort them:

8. NFC South: The G.O.A.T. and his sheep

Tom Brady (Buccaneers), Baker Mayfield (Panthers), Jameis Winston (Saints), Marcus Mariota (Falcons)

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Tom Brady USATSI

Talk about a disparity inside a division. Any big game with Brady is appointment TV. The Bucs captain still owns a live arm approaching 45, and his poise and vision remain unmatched, to the point another Super Bowl run seems very plausible. But two of his three counterparts here probably belong in backup jobs. Winston took care of the ball in his brief 2021 action, but he hasn’t stayed healthy or consistent in years. Mariota’s had similar issues and might be a placeholder for Desmond Ridder on a barren Falcons roster. Mayfield, meanwhile, is trying to regain confidence after arriving to replace Sam Darnold; he’s at least got an underrated setup in Carolina, which has playmakers on both sides of the ball.

7. AFC South: The mid-tier mob

Ryan Tannehill (Titans), Matt Ryan (Colts), Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars), Davis Mills (Texans)

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Ryan Tannehill USATSI

Alternate nickname: The Serviceables. Tannehill and Ryan have had much different careers, but they’re at similar junctures now as high-floor, low-ceiling figureheads for playoff-aspiring teams that lean on the run game and defense. Tanny’s thrived when working in tandem with Derrick Henry, but only up until the postseason. Ryan, at 37, is far more steady than spectacular, but the change of scenery might give him extra juice in Indy. Lawrence is a real wild card, just one year removed from going No. 1 overall and now under the fatherly tutelage of Doug Pederson. Mills at least stood tall in 2021 despite a porous setup, but can he really elevate a rebuilding lineup?

6. NFC East: The prove-it posse

Dak Prescott (Cowboys), Jalen Hurts (Eagles), Carson Wentz (Commanders), Daniel Jones (Giants)

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Dak Prescott USATSI

Everyone in the NFL‘s most unpredictable division is out to earn something. Dak wants to go from good to great by translating borderline top-10 pocket passing into a big-game delivery. Hurts wants to secure permanent QB1 duties by growing not only as a running back-like scrambler but confident thrower. Wentz wants to seize maybe his last shot at an unchallenged job. Jones wants to redeem himself under new management in New York. Prescott is the most reliable here, while Hurts offers a high floor. Wentz still has the tools to lead a playoff team, so long as the decision-making falls in line. Jones, meanwhile, gives Brian Daboll athleticism, but is that enough?

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5. NFC West: The boom-or-bust bunch

Matthew Stafford (Rams), Kyler Murray (Cardinals), Trey Lance (49ers), Geno Smith (Seahawks)

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Matthew Stafford USATSI

If the top three here reach their potential, you’re talking about three MVP candidates. The question is, who can be trusted to sustain success? Stafford has the clearest path to continued stardom, having seamlessly paired his cannon of an arm with Sean McVay’s loaded lineup. If he trusts the offense more than his own throwing power, he’s poised for another run. Murray has top-10 dual-threat skills — a rocket on his shoulder and a running back’s legs — but has yet to finish a year strong and/or healthy. Lance could be a lethal runner in Kyle Shanahan’s system but is unpolished as a passer. And Smith, while familiar with Seattle’s setup, is interchangeable with just about any backup.

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4. AFC East: The dawg and the pups

Josh Allen (Bills), Mac Jones (Patriots), Tua Tagovailoa (Dolphins), Zach Wilson (Jets)

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins

Josh Allen USATSI

Allen is doing a lot of the heavy lifting here, but considering he might be the NFL’s top all-around weapon this side of Patrick Mahomes, his presence is worth a lot. There’s always an injury or turnover risk with his big-play style, but few QBs are better built to dominate on both the ground and through the air. Jones flashed veteran-level accuracy as a rookie but was also streaky, and he’s in an old-school offense. Tua’s had a very conservative approach so far, but it’s hard not to envision a step forward with Mike McDaniel in charge and a new cast of toys around him. Wilson, meanwhile, has the tools (and now the help) to be a playmaker, but can he be smart with the ball?

3. NFC North: The big-win hunters

Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Kirk Cousins (Vikings), Justin Fields (Bears), Jared Goff (Lions)

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Aaron Rodgers USATSI

Rodgers and Cousins couldn’t be more different in terms of career heights, but both vets are eager (desperate?) to get over their respective humps. A-Rod, still one of the most accurate and confident throwers in the NFL, is 0-4 in NFC title games since winning it all in 2010. Cousins, who’s far more efficient and big-play-oriented than he gets credit for, has a single playoff win in 10 years. Still, any team would take Rodgers for a championship run, and most would trust Cousins for top-12 production. Fields has the makeup of a thrilling dual threat, but his lowly supporting cast may not help him grow as a decision-maker. Goff, meanwhile, has proven to be almost exclusively as effective as his surroundings.

2. AFC North: The dynamic duo

Joe Burrow (Bengals), Lamar Jackson (Ravens), Mitchell Trubisky (Steelers), Jacoby Brissett (Browns)

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Joe Burrow USATSI

Few current QBs were as poised and prolific as Burrow when they were his age; “Joe Cool” is a perfect nickname not only because Burrow oozes confidence, but because he’s one of the best pure point guards at the position, dishing the ball around to Cincy’s stacked skill group. In Baltimore, for whatever questions remain about Jackson’s big-game passing or rushing durability, No. 8 is still one of the most electrifying players with the ball in his hands, which counts for a lot. Trubisky at least brings mobility to a physical offense in Pittsburgh, if not a steady long-term arm. Brissett is better served coming off the bench, but he’s due for extended action as Deshaun Watson faces NFL discipline.

1. AFC West: The all-star array

Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs), Justin Herbert (Chargers), Russell Wilson (Broncos), Derek Carr (Raiders)

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Patrick Mahomes USATSI

There’s no contest with this crop. Mahomes gets knocked when he isn’t perfect because he’s set the bar so high for effortless, backyard-style playmaking, and even with Tyreek Hill gone, he’s got the touch and improvisational skills to make another run. Herbert does everything well in a prototypical frame, emerging as maybe his generation’s model pocket passer. Wilson is at a crossroads coming off an affecting injury and removed from the familiar confines of Seattle, but his poise, elusiveness and deep-ball touch remain top-level. Carr, meanwhile, is like the Cousins of Vegas: productive, efficient and gutsy for the big play, only without any big-time wins to show for it.

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