In the NFL, it’s all about the franchise quarterbacks. You either have one or you don’t. And teams that don’t typically remain mired in mediocrity. Looking ahead to the 2020 NFL season, there is a handful of young passers who are on the brink of proving they belong in that category.
Depending on how these quarterbacks perform, each of their teams has a shot at postseason contention. If they should prove unworthy of the expectations on their shoulders, their teams will retreat to the basement.
Drew Lock, Denver Broncos
Five starts. That’s the full extent of Lock’s NFL experience. A second-round pick out of Missouri last year, he certainly showed promise with strong performances in limited. Lock’s stats were impressive: He completed 64.1% of his passes for 1,020 yards with seven touchdowns and just three interceptions. Better yet, the Broncos went 4-1 in games Lock started.
Then this offseason, Denver upgraded its offensive line, backfield and receiving corps in major ways through free agency and the draft. The additions of Melvin Gordon, Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler give Lock an incredibly loaded skill-position group to work with. Denver’s defense is also outstanding.
So if Lock continues to prove he’s the guy in Denver, the Broncos will have a shot at making the playoffs in the ultra-competitive AFC West. But if he has a bad sophomore slump, this team will probably be looking for a new head coach, and potentially a quarterback.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
The Bills have done an outstanding job of building the entire roster. Buffalo’s defense is one of the most formidable in the NFL. The Bills made a big play this offseason to bolster their receiving corps by trading for Stefon Diggs. Adding running back Zack Moss to a group that already featured Devin Singletary and T.J. Yeldon supercharged the position.
Buffalo went 10-6 last year, earning the No. 5 seed in the AFC. With New England looking less than threatening in the post-Brady era, the Bills have a chance to establish themselves as the preeminent power in the AFC East. Should Allen continue to develop as a passer, improves his accuracy and mesh well with Diggs, Buffalo should do just that.
But if he regresses and the interceptions pile up, the Bills will miss the playoffs altogether.
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
After saying goodbye to so much talent this offseason, the Rams are now counting on Jared Goff more than ever before. The fate of this franchise rests on his shoulders.
During his 2018 season, leading the Rams to the Super Bowl, Goff completed 64.9% of his passes for 4,688 yards with 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Last year, he regressed in all four categories: Goff completed 62.9% of his passes for 4,638 yards with 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. In particular, the significant decrease in touchdowns, coupled with the spike in turnovers, negatively impacted the Rams.
If Goff can rebound after a difficult slog of a 2019 campaign, Los Angeles can get back to the playoffs. If he struggles once again, the Rams will not only miss the playoffs but will also be forced to consider other quarterback options in 2021.
Sam Darnold, New York Jets
Like the Bills, the New York Jets are in position to potentially claim the AFC East title now that Tom Brady is in Tampa. Set to begin his third season as a pro, it’s time for this former third overall pick out of USC to prove he’s the real deal.
So far, Darnold has shown enough pure talent to lead the Jets to the playoffs. Some of his throws are just incredible, and it’s not hard to see why the franchise has been sold on him since Day 1. But last year’s “seeing ghosts” episode was brutal, and it’s clear Darnold is still very raw.
It’s also worth pointing out, though, that Darnold is still just 23 years old. If he takes to Adam Gase’s tutelage and the Jets take flight, this young quarterback has the franchise set up to contend for the next decade. Things get a lot less clear if Darnold and Gase both struggle and the team has to hit the reset button at the top heading into the 2021 campaign.
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
Mayfield is in a similar position as Darnold. They were both first-rounders three years ago, and Mayfield was the first overall selection during the 2018 NFL Draft. The biggest difference between Mayfield and Darnold is that the Browns have enough talent on both sides of the ball to actually challenge for a Super Bowl.
That is, they can challenge for the title if — and it’s a big “if” — Mayfield lives up to the hype.
The Browns have a dominant run game, led by a very good offensive line and constant home-run threat Nick Chubb. They feature one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, led by Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Cleveland paid big money to bring tight end Austin Hooper over from Atlanta, and David Njoku is very dangerous as well.
Denzel Ward and Myles Garrett lead an extremely talented defense, too. In short, this team has a roster that — on paper — looks ready to compete for a championship. If Mayfield plays like a No. 1 overall pick should, they can shock the world.