Despite the best efforts of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, the old guard is clearly fading in the NFL right now.
With Peyton Manning retiring last year following his second career title, the league lost one of its greatest legends. Brady and Brees fall into the same category, and once they’re both gone there will be a huge vacuum in regards to legendary passers in the NFL.
As one generation starts to dwindle, inevitably a new one crops up. Already we can see Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers taking the steps toward such a distinction. As such, we’re not going to include them in this particular list.
Instead, we’ll be looking at the younger generation coming into the league. Some of these guys have already started establishing something that could develop into legendary status. But longevity hasn’t been attained, and we’ve all seen how quickly careers can become derailed.
So which young quarterbacks have the best chance of becoming the next legends?
Let’s count them down, shall we?
5. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have set things up perfectly for Carr to thrive for a long, long time.
He’s got the trusted veteran in Michael Crabtree, who appears to be getting his second wind. He’s got a young stud receiver in Amari Cooper, whose sweet feet, toughness and overall skill set make him one of the best young receivers in the game. He also has what appears to be the tight end of the future in Clive Walford.
On top of that, the Raiders have set up a strong offensive line and even made a pivotal investment towards that end this offseason. Bringing back offensive tackle Donald Penn and landing guard Kelechi Osemele, who signed a humongous deal to come to Oakland, showed the kind of commitment this franchise has to protect its young passer.
With all this support, the natural talent of Carr will shine through magnificently. He’s already proved himself one of the top young passers in the league with 7,257 yards, 53 touchdowns and 25 interceptions his first two seasons.
4. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Don’t scoff. I know many of you don’t see it yet, but you soon will. Bortles is quickly becoming one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL.
It helps that he has an outstanding supporting cast. The team’s two top receivers, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, combined to catch 144 passes for 2,431 yards and 24 touchdowns last year. They’re about to enter just their third season — a fact that should scare the league — and they both have developed outstanding chemistry with Bortles, who feeds them beautifully.
Don’t forget about tight end Julius Thomas, who is extremely dangerous in the red zone. Also the Jags acquired running back Chris Ivory this offseason to pair with T.J. Yeldon.
All the pieces are in place for this offense to shine, with Bortles as the very capable trigger man. In just his second season, he passed for 4,428 yards with 35 touchdowns. And now he has a defense behind him (on paper, at least), meaning the playoffs are a distinct possibility.
This franchise is geared up for a potential big window of postseason play. And as we all know the playoffs are where legends are born.
3. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts made it to the playoffs in each of Andrew Luck’s first three seasons, despite the fact that he had no running game and pretty much no offensive line. He also progressed further each year, making it to the AFC Championship Game in 2014.
Indianapolis finally invested in its offensive line via the draft this year after bringing in receivers up the wazoo the first few years of Luck’s career. It’s like general manager Ryan Grigson finally got the memo that protecting one’s franchise passer is advisable or something.
That Luck can sling it is unquestioned at this point. With 98 combined touchdowns in his first three years, he’s already a proven prolific scoring threat.
He’ll have to continue doing his work in the playoffs, but you have to believe Luck will continue to master every aspect of his game with each passing year. At some point, he’ll break through with a championship, just like the man he replaced in 2012. Combined with his big numbers on the stat sheet every year, he has all the makings of a league legend.
For Luck, the biggest thing will be staying healthy. His head coach made a public plea for him to stop playing the game like a linebacker this winter, but his offensive coaches do not want him to change too much. It’s going to be interesting to see how he strikes that balance.
2. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Super Bowl win? Check.
Supporting pieces in place to double his pleasure? Maybe.
Seattle’s Legion of Boom still has Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, so the defense should continue to dominate against the NFL’s pass-happy offenses.
It’s the offense that could be considered questionable at this time. Wilson’s offensive line was atrocious most of the season in 2015, allowing 45 sacks. Wilson still thrived for the most part, passing for over 4,000 yards with 34 touchdowns compared to just eight interceptions.
What we don’t know going forward is what Seattle’s running game will look like in the wake of Marshawn Lynch’s retirement. Thomas Rawls is coming back from a brutal knee injury, so we could see rookie C.J. Prosise get a chance to contribute early.
Still, Wilson has tight end Jimmy Graham to go along with firecracker second-year man Tyler Lockett, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. There is the potential this offense could still thrive.
If so, there’s no reason to think the Seahawks won’t still be major players in the postseason for years to come.
1. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
It really did all come together for Newton and the Panthers last year, barring the final gut-punch loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50. After years of wondering if Newton would finally get past the “potential” stage of his development, he did that and then some during the 2015 campaign.
And there’s really no reason to think the best isn’t yet to come.
One of the biggest things holding him back during his years of “potential” was a lack of receiving threats outside of Steve Smith Sr.
Now, he’s got quite a receiving corps. Kelvin Benjamin will be back after tearing his ACL last year. He joins second-year receiver Devin Funchess, Corey Brown, veteran Ted Ginn (who shocked us all with an outstanding campaign last year) and tight end stalwart Greg Olsen.
Newton is also a consistent runner who scores a lot on the ground. He’ll break Steve Young’s career rushing touchdowns by quarterback mark with his first of the 2016 NFL season.
Like Wilson, Newton also has the added benefit of playing with an outstanding defense that isn’t going away any time soon.
Nobody should be surprised if Newton and the Panthers win a title soon, though it’s always extremely tough the year after losing a Super Bowl.