That pretty much sums up the state of the NFL quarterback position right now. Pure chaos. An unprecedented youth movement, injury, uncertainty and great entertainment.
Here’s 10 things that stand out to me entering Week 10:
The NFL is buzzing with QB injuries again. Daniel Jones suffered a season-ending ACL tear a week after Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles. Justin Fields was also ruled out on Thursday for a fourth straight game (thumb injury). On the plus side, Kyler Murray will make his return after tearing his ACL 11 months ago.
It all means another weekend of backup QBs. Nine of the 28 starting QBs in Week 10 did not start in Week 1.
Including Tommy DeVito, who will make his first career start in Week 10, there’s been 48 different starting QBs this year. Well on our way to around 60 this year, and they might even flirt with the NFL-record of 68 set last year.
There’s already been 12 teams with multiple starting QB in 2023. Those teams have combined to make 27 starting QB changes, led by the Raiders and Browns, who have had to shuffle their starting QB five times a piece already (see all the movement below).
The craziest run, though, belongs to the Cardinals, Giants and Vikings. Each of these teams will be starting a different QB for the third straight week!
|Team||Starting QB Sequence This Season|
Daniel Jones > Tyrod Taylor > Daniel Jones > Tommy DeVito
Kirk Cousins > Jaren Hall > Josh Dobbs
Josh Dobbs > Clayton Tune > Kyler Murray
Justin Fields > Tyson Bagent
2. Dobbs pulling off another Minneapolis Miracle
A backup QB bonanza usually produces a lot of duds, but every once in a while a hero like Josh Dobbs emerges. Cody Benjamin recently chronicled Dobbs’ career journey on seven different teams, culminating with Sunday’s win off the bench after zero practice reps in Minnesota. Amazingly, Dobbs has now been on five different teams since last December (Lions, Titans, Browns, Cardinals, Vikings), tied for the most of any player in the NFL in that time. No other QB has been on more than three teams in the last year.
Dobbs’ underdog story could get even better now that Minnesota has a realistic shot at the playoffs. The Vikings are currently the seventh seed in the NFC and have a 50 percent chance to make the postseason (source: SportsLine) after those chances sat at just 11 percent after their 0-3 start.
Only six teams since 1970 have made the playoffs after an 0-3 start, and none since the 2018 Texans. Minnesota winning four games without Justin Jefferson is crazy enough (SportsLine shared there was a 3.7 percent chance of that even happening), now you add the Dobbs story to the mix!
3. Rookie QB history
The QB youth movement has officially reached historic levels. Devito Tommy DeVito is the 10th different rookie starting QB this year, the most in a season in NFL history, breaking the record previously set in 2019.
The Giants play the Cowboys in Week 10, who beat them 40-0 in Week 1. There are no moral victories in the NFL, but I think we should make an exception if New York can put any points on the board in Dallas with DeVito making his first start. If you’re reading and still wondering who the heck Tommy DeVito is, Cody Benjamin has you covered.
4. Stroud’s ridiculous anticipation throws
Not every rookie is playing like one. By now you’ve heard C.J. Stroud rewrote the NFL record books in Week 9 by throwing for a rookie-record 470 yards against the Buccaneers.
Watching the game back, I continue to be floored by Stroud’s anticipation throws. He consistently throws his receivers open before they are out of their breaks, and on Sunday he did it in the biggest moments.
The Texans had to go for it on fourth-and-nine with their kicker hurt so Stroud calmly delivered a perfect ball to tight end Dalton Schultz. Schultz had yet to turn his head around or come out of his break when the ball was released:
It was a similar story on the game-winning touchdown pass to Nathaniel Dell. So far, four of Stroud’s 14 touchdown passes this season have come when the ball is released before his target is out of their break.
Stroud continues to play beyond his years and is on pace for an absurd 4,823 pass yards, 29 touchdown passes and two interceptions. The absurd pace is one reason Bryan DeArdo is already projecting Stroud to have one of the greatest rookie seasons ever. On the flip side, Stroud’s interception numbers are sure to regress (he has eight turnover-worthy plays, per Pro Football Focus), plus he’s not a threat with his legs and has been inaccurate at times, all reasons why Chris Trapasso provides a more sobering view of Stroud when compared to the best rookie QBs since 2010.
One more reason I’m appreciating Stroud’s efforts so far: His average pass travels 8.5 yards downfield this year (and it was 11.0 in Week 9), the fifth-longest rate in the NFL. Combine that with the lowest interception percentage in the league (0.4%) and he’s the only player ranking top five in both categories this year. Simply put, nobody is stretching the field without making mistakes like Stroud.
5. Star QBs dealing with injuries
We’ll see if Stroud’s historic play continues against Joe Burrow and the Bengals on Sunday. Burrow is one of several star QBs who has played through injuries early in the year, and one of the few now thriving.
Burrow is finally in midseason form after injuring his calf in training camp. It shows as he leads the NFL in passer rating during the Bengals’ four-game win streak after ranking last in Cincinnati’s first four games. His performance against pressure has been a day and night difference, too, as he’s been shrugging off sacks and making plays. He is 26 of 35 passing with an NFL-high five touchdown passes vs. pressure during the win streak (14 of 37, one TD vs. pressure prior).
Josh Allen hasn’t found success airing it out this year, and he’s been especially stifled since hurting his shoulder in Week 7 against the Giants. He’s 3 of 20 passing 20-plus air yards in that span (h/t @Benjamin Solak) and has one TD and six interceptions on those deep balls this year. That’s one reason Buffalo is struggling, writes Tyler Sullivan.
Justin Herbert has not played like himself since fracturing the middle finger on his non-throwing hand in Week 4 against the Raiders. He’s 16th among qualified passers in EPA per play since then vs. third through three games. The dropoff in performance has more to do with his supporting cast, though.
Mike Williams and Corey Linsley both played in the first three games, but haven’t played since. Herbert’s deep ball has been noticeably absent lately and he is the third-most pressured QB since Linsley got hurt. There was nothing sexy about his performance on “Monday Night Football” against the Jets, but he actually deserves praise for not turning the ball over despite being pressured on 60 percent of his dropbacks. It was the highest pressure rate faced without an interception thrown by any QB in a game this year.
6. Is Herbert in danger of becoming Stafford with Lions?
When the Chargers inevitably underperform against the Lions this Sunday, let the Lions’ career of Matthew Stafford be a cautionary tale (or warning) to Los Angeles fans. While we all keep waiting for Justin Herbert and the Chargers to ride his arm to glory, it may take a while.
At this point, Herbert has far too many striking similarities to Stafford.
- Both are heralded for arm talent. Stafford had the third-most passing yards per game (284.6) through four seasons in NFL history, while Herbert currently ranks fourth (282.7). Both had 5,000-yard seasons at age 23, two of four players to ever do that.
- Both with terrible defenses. The Chargers defense is what is mostly holding Herbert back, just like Stafford. Detroit allowed 26.6 points per game in Stafford’s first four seasons, the worst support any QB has ever gotten. Herbert is sixth on that list, thanks to the Chargers defense (25.1 points per game allowed since 2020)
- Both played little brother to all-time great QB. Herbert may always be looking up at Patrick Mahomes in the AFC West just like Stafford played second fiddle to Aaron Rodgers in the NFC North.
- Justin Herbert had zero playoff wins and lost his playoff debut in his third season. Stafford had zero playoff wins with Detroit and lost his playoff debut in his third season.
Silver lining for this comparison: At least Stafford won a Super Bowl with the Rams. I personally hope Herbert is on the Peyton Manning track. Manning put up historic numbers from the get-go but didn’t win a playoff game until his sixth season.
7. 2020 class can doing something 1983 and 2004 classes never did
Herbert is one of several star QBs from the 2020 class producing this year, and at this rate they will be in the company of the famed 1983 and 2004 draft classes.
Between Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jordan Love and Jalen Hurts, the 2020 class is on pace to have five players with 20 touchdown passes this year. No QB class has ever done that. Not even 1983, which famously featured six QBs in the first round (John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien, Dan Marino).
8. The Commanders are letting Howell cook
The Commanders appeared to mail in their season at the trade deadline when they shipped off edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat, and while that may be true, there’s still one big reason fans should stay engaged. Sam Howell. The 2022 fifth-round QB is getting ample opportunity to flash his skills.
The Commanders are dropping back to pass on 71.6 percent of their plays, the highest rate of any team since at least 2000. He leads the NFL in completions, attempts, interceptions and times sacked this year, while ranking second in pass yards. Let Sam cook!
He has in the last two games. I watched all 106 of Howell’s dropbacks against the Eagles and Patriots and came away impressed with his upside. He flashed big arm strength, made throws under pressure and on the run. This throw to Terry McLaurin on third-and-long to set up the eventual game-winning field goal was marvelous. Under pressure, perfect placement and thrown as his receiver starts making his break.
These are the types of big-time throws Chris Trapasso raved about this week as he suggested Howell has the upside to be the best late-round QB since Tom Brady. Howell leads the NFL in touchdown passes on throws 20-plus air yards (four) and in pass yards when pressured (262) in the last two weeks. Howell drifted beautifully to buy time against pressure on this deep ball against the Eagles.
His performance has been efficient at times, too. I loved how Eric Bieniemy scripted easy completions to start the game against Philadelphia in Week 8. 20 of Howell’s first 22 dropbacks came with either some form of motion, play action or a screen. Howell was able to land plenty of jabs before dropping some haymakers.
It was that combination in the last two games that helped Howell surpass Patrick Mahomes as the youngest QB in NFL history with a 70 percent completion rate, 700 pass yards and five touchdown passes in a two-game span. Both had Bieniemy as their offensive coordinator.
Of course, there were bouts of inaccuracy and poor decision-making that you would expect from a QB with 10 career starts under his belt. There was a mini-meltdown toward the end of the Eagles game that included an interception into tight coverage and two inaccurate throws to a wide-open Terry McLaurin in a one-score game. His interception into the end zone to end the first half against the Patriots was also a really bad decision.
Those are the growing pains you can expect from a young QB, and so far the good outweighs the bad. The outlook is promising in Washington as Howell has taken the surprise leap that many of us probably expected from Justin Fields or Kenny Pickett (among others) this year.
9. Lamar Jackson eyeing feat only accomplished by Steve Young
Lamar Jackson took over the NFL’s completion percentage lead with an efficient day (21 of 26 passing) in Sunday’s blowout win over the Seahawks. Can you imagine if the most electrifying QB on planet Earth also is one of the most efficient, leading the league in completion rate?
I wrote on Sunday about how Jackson can join Steve Young (1994) as the only players to lead all qualified QBs in both completion rate and rush yards in a season. It’d be a crazy feat when you consider the statues (exception Steve Young) who usually lead the league in completion percentage.
Cody Benjamin says Jackson is the midseason MVP, thanks to this dual-threat ability. It’ll be interesting to see if Jackson can sustain the improvement as Baltimore has the second-toughest remaining schedule in the NFL. The last two seasons are also a cautionary tale as Jackson was hurt in December in each season.
10. Hat tip to Daniel Jones and Ryan Tannehill
Two teams who have had the same quarterback for the last five years or so are making changes this week, for different reasons.
Daniel Jones tore his ACL last Sunday, meaning his first season of a four-year deal worth $160 million is cut short. It’s possible, but unlikely, he has played his last game in a Giants uniform. It would cost the Giants $69 million in dead money to cut Jones this offseason. It could be spread out over two years with a post-June 1 designation. It would be cheaper to trade Jones, and anything is on the table, especially if the Giants get a high draft pick and are in position to draft a quarterback (which I’m sure their fans would love). Still, there’s a good chance Jones is back in New York, and Bryan DeArdo laid out how the Giants can improve the situation around Jones. No matter how it shakes out, here’s a hat tip to Jones, who had a surprise career year and led the Giants to a playoff win last year. Heal up!
It remains to be seen if the Daniel Jones era, which began in 2019, is over in New York. But it’s pretty clear, barring injury, the Ryan Tannehill era is over in Nashville. Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota as the Titans’ starting QB in 2019, eventually leading the Titans to the AFC Championship. On Tuesday, Tennessee announced rookie Will Levis would be the starting QB going forward. It was a no-brainer after his strong debut, coupled with Tannehill’s injury and overall decline. That doesn’t make it any easier for Tannehill, who acknowledged “It hits hard”. Credit to Tannehill for being a class act and already taking Levis under his wing amid the demotion. As for Tennessee, Bryan DeArdo broke down what the move means for them.
It all comes full circle as the QB carousel keeps spinning. Now the Titans will find out if Levis has what it takes to be a franchise QB.