There are so many different young quarterbacks in the NFL with an opportunity to take that next step in 2014. The interesting dynamic here is that each and every one of these signal callers are at different points in their careers.
For Russell Wilson, that next step might be to take on more of a role in the Seattle Seahawks offense. After all, he’s already reached the pinnacle as a quarterback in the NFL. For someone like Jake Locker, it’s all about staying healthy and proving what he can do over the course of a 16-game schedule.
With so many different starting-off points heading into the season, it is rather difficult to point to five quarterbacks who are set to progress in 2014. But that’s exactly what we attempt to do below.
1. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
2013 Statistics: 63.1 completion, 3,357 passing yards, 539 rushing yards, 27 total touchdowns and nine interceptions
Wilson is a Super Bowl winning quarterback. How in the world can he possibly progress from that? Well, the idea is rather simple. The all-everything signal caller attempted the least amount of passes as any regular starting quarterback a season ago. He put the ball up an average of just 25 times per game and attempted less than that amount of passes seven times during the year.
While Seattle is still going to utilize a run-first attack in 2014, there is no reason to believe that Wilson won’t be asked to do a tad more. There is also no indication that he will struggle when tasked with a larger role. After all, the idea that Wilson is nothing more than a game manager makes absolutely no sense. Give him a larger role and he’ll succeed. If Wilson’s preseason performance is any indication, he’s definitely improved as a quarterback heading into his third season. The Pro Bowler has completed 30-of-39 passes for 360 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions in three games.
Projected 2014 Statistics: 62.0 completion, 3,750 passing yards, 500 rushing yards, 35 total touchdowns and 11 interceptions
2. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
2013 Statistics: 58.4 completion, 3,197 passing yards, 524 rushing yards, 25 total touchdowns and eight interceptions
It might not have shown in the first three preseason games, at least from a statistical perspective, but Kaepernick has improved on two of the issues that have plagued him thus far in his impressive young career. He was consistently looking for his checkdown in limited action and seemed to show more touch on his intermediate passes. These are two big indicators Kaepernick is set to progress in 2014. While there are still issues with his release point, it appers that Kaepernick progressed during the offseason.
Equally as important, the 49ers have built a dynamic offense around the talented young signal caller. The additions of Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Bruce Ellington and Carlos Hyde will be huge for Kaepernick. As indicated by the fact that 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman plans to open up the offense, the team seems to be full of confidence in Kaepernick to take the next step. It’s now up to him to prove the team right and the long line of skeptics wrong. I wouldn’t bet against him at this point.
Projected 2014 Statistics: 60.0 completion, 3,650 passing yards, 450 rushing yards, 32 total touchdowns and 12 interceptions
3. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
2013 Statistics: 60.4 completion, 3,913 passing yards, 238 rushing yards, 25 total touchdowns and 17 interceptions
Some may conclude that Tannehill’s “lack of progression” last year might have been one of the primary reasons for the Dolphins’ struggles. That couldn’t be further from the truth. On tape, Tannehill was a much better quarterback than during his rookie campaign. The Dolphins also threw out some horrendous offensive linemen in front of the Texas A&M product, especially once Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito were “banned” from the team. Very few quarterbacks would succeed behind that monstrosity of an offensive line.
Fast forward to 2014, and it appears the Dolphins have fixed most of their glaring issues on the line. Pro Bowler Branden Albert takes over at left tackle, giving Miami its best blindside protector since Jake Long was in his prime. An impressive Ja’Wuan James takes over at right tackle and Dallas Thomas moves inside to guard. Despite the fact that Miami will miss All-Pro caliber center Mike Pouncey for substantial time, this unit is vastly improved.
In terms of Tannhehill, it’s really hard to question his talent level. The former college wide receiver had a tremendous learning curve when he entered the NFL and seems to have improved his mechanics a great deal in his first two seasons in the NFL. If Tannehill can continue to consistently find his secondary reads and utilize a higher point of release, the sky really is the limit here. It’s also important to note that Miami may in fact have a decent running game after signing Knowshon Moreno in free agency. That will help the young quarterback a great deal.
Projected 2014 Statistics: 62.0 completion, 3,550 passing yards, 200 rushing yards, 28 total touchdowns and 12 interceptions
4. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
2013 Statistics: 60.7 completion, 1,256 passing yards, 155 rushing yards, 10 t0tal touchdowns and four interceptions
Locker was surprisingly effective last year when he was healthy and on the football field. The former first-round pick accounted for 10 touchdowns and threw only four interceptions in seven starts. In fact, his 46-to-1 attempt-to-interception ratio was among the best in the game. Known for his strong arm and lack of accuracy on intermediate routes, Locker also completed nearly 61 percent of his pass attempts.
In addition to really not seeing the field all that much in his first three seasons, Locker hasn’t necessarily had top-tier talent around him. Sure Chris Johnson was a name, but his lack of consistency hurt the Titans offense big time. Outside of that, there really hasn’t been much to write home about from a skill-position standpoint.
That changes in 2014 with the influx of young talent on offense. Bishop Sankey will likely see his role on the Titans increase as the year goes on, while youngsters Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter seem to be a competent duo at wide receiver. Equally as important, Tennessee boasts one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. If he stays healthy (a big if), look for a breakout campaign from Locker.
Projected 2014 Statistics: 59.5 completion, 3,250 passing yards, 350 rushing yards, 25 total touchdowns and 12 interceptions
5. Geno Smith, New York Jets
2013 Statistics: 55.8 completion, 3,046 passing yards, 366 rushing yards, 18 total touchdowns and 21 interceptions
Smith was nowhere near as bad as his stats indicated last season. It’s unfortunate that the second-year quarterback simply didn’t have any sort of help as a rookie. In reality, the Jets dodged a bullet by not ruining the West Virgnia product forever by throwing him out that behind that sore excuse of an offense.
Towards the latter part of the season, Smith did improve a great deal. He tallied seven total touchdowns compared to two interceptions in the Jets final four games, leading them to wins in three of those contests. Smith became more decisive in the pocket, understood where his checkdown was going to be and didn’t struggle as much when pressure presented itself. All of these aspects of his game seem to be improved thus far in 2014.
Despite being a defensive-minded coach, Rex Ryan didn’t balk at the idea of general manager John Idzik going after skill-position talent. Enter into the equation the likes of Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and Jace Amaro. In a vacuum, none of these are tremendous additions. But when combined, they represent a solid upgrade on offense for Smith and Co. I am looking for a solid second-season from the talented youngster.
Projected 2014 Statistics: 58.0 completion, 3,350 passing yards, 350 rushing yards, 23 total touchdowns, 14 interceptions