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The Future of the NFL: Top 20 QBs of the 2020’s

The Future of the NFL: Top 20 QBs of the 2020's
Credit: Various / USA Today Sports

The NFL is currently in the midst of a historic changing of the guard. One generation of elite quarterbacks is on its way out: Tom Brady has left New England Patriots, the Mannings are gone, even the New Orleans Saints are eventually looking to split from Drew Brees. The familiar franchise quarterbacks that defined the NFL for years are slowly leaving — either their franchises, or the sport as a whole.

Luckily for the NFL, there’s a whole new generation of incredibly talented QBs ready to take up the mantle. Of the quarterbacks that started a majority of their teams games last year, a full 13 were 25 years old or younger.

Predicting which of these young signal-callers will reach their potential is a challenge, as team situation, coaching and even injury luck determine so much. But here (in no particular order) are the 20 quarterbacks who will rule the NFL for the next decade.

(Note: To be included on this list, a player must be likely to still be playing in 2029.)

20. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

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Don’t apply pressure: Goff’s biggest issue is his performance when under pressure. This became clear as the Rams offensive line, one of the best in the league in 2017 and 2018, struggled in 2019, and Goff had his worst year since his rookie campaign. On the plus side, 2019 was likely a down year for Goff and the Rams as whole, and he should return towards his previous trend of being a solid franchise quarterback. He’s already shown he can do the most important thing and lead his team to the Super Bowl. He could certainly do it again.

19. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

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Mostly good: Josh Allen is something of an enigma. He sometimes makes incredible plays and sometimes makes incredibly questionable decisions. He has a cannon for an arm, and impressive running talent that allowed him to rack up over 500 yards on the ground. But he also has accuracy issues and the aforementioned questionable decisions often bite him. Luckily, Allen has been improving. He cut bad throws by over 5% from his rookie season in 2019, and only threw two interceptions in his last ten games. If he continues on this trend, Allen’s physical gifts should help him rise towards the top rankings of NFL quarterbacks.  

18. Brock Purdy, Iowa State Cyclones

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He’s Purdy good: Compared to his incredible nine games as a freshman, Purdy’s sophomore season was a disappointment. Compared to just about any other measure, it was great. Perhaps the one true flaw to point to in Purdy’s season is a touchdown-to-interception ratio not quite as sparkling as some other college stars. This is a result of sometimes questionable decision-making when plays break down, but he’s young and talented enough that this one flaw should be easily overcome on his way to the NFL. 

17. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

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Beating the sophomore slump: Baker Mayfield’s first two years in the NFL have been a tale of two seasons. As a rookie, he was electric, breaking the touchdown record and bringing real hope to the Browns for the first time in decades. In 2019 however, he regressed on all levels, literally. Despite his much-hyped new offense, nearly the only stat he improved upon was passing yards, and it took him 50 more attempts. Luckily for Browns fans, Mayfield’s stellar rookie season and flashes of greatness last year are enough to give him the benefit of the doubt on one bad year. He should be able to turn it around and regain his status as one of the NFL’s rising stars.

16. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

Kyler Murray
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Good move not picking baseball: Murray is the highest-ranked 2019 rookie on this list, fitting given he was taken first overall by the Cardinals in last year’s draft. So far, that decision seems like a good one. While he certainly had his rookie moments Murray also showed scrambling and passing ability aplenty. The Cardinals seem committed to sticking with Murray and giving him the weapons to succeed. Assuming he continues to develop, he should do just that.

15. Sam Howell, North Carolina Tar Heels

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Teenage sensation: Sam Howell is only 19, but he already looks like a star. He broke just about every true freshman passing record there is in his first season at UNC, not exactly a perennial powerhouse. It’s hard to place someone so young among a list partially made of proven NFL starters, but that’s how good Howell is. With great deep-ball accuracy and incredible poise for a true freshman, Howell just needs to continue what he’s been doing to be set for a successful NFL career.

14. Sam Darnold, New York Jets

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Fighting off ghosts: Darnold had a rough second season for the Jets. He struggled with staying on the field thanks to injury and illness, then struggled again on it. Outside of the infamous “seeing ghosts” game against the Patriots, in which he threw four picks and gained a career-low 86 yards, Darnold showed potential to mature into a franchise quarterback. On the downside he struggled with ball security and accuracy, but his upside is still guaranteed thanks to his athleticism and arm talent.  

13. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes TD

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You had to know it was coming: This was by far the easiest decision to make. Patrick Mahomes isn’t going to become the NFL’s best quarterback over the next 10 years, he already is the NFL’s best quarterback. Mahomes followed up his insane MVP 2018 season by regressing slightly statistically during a season in which he struggled with injuries…and then led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl, picking up what is probably not going to be his last Super Bowl MVP. He does incredible things every time he touches a ball, and he’s not going to stop any time soon.

12. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama Crimson Tide

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Help, I’ve fallen in mock drafts and I can’t get up: His hip seems ready for the NFL after a dislocation cost him most of his final season at Alabama, and Tua is ready as well. Although Alabama quarterbacks don’t have the greatest track record in successfully transitioning to the pros, Tua should be able to. His mobility will be a handful for NFL defense just like it was for colleges, and he already has accuracy and timing to go with it. Wherever he goes in the upcoming draft, they’ll likely be happy with their choice.

11. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans 

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One-man offense: Deshaun Watson is awesome. The only quarterback to pass for as many yards per game as Watson last year (256.8) while also completing as high a percentage of passes (67.3%) was Drew Brees. He has averaged over five yards per rush, and added 14 touchdowns on the ground. And while wins aren’t a quarterback stat, Watson tends to win. Not counting the six games he played as a rookie, Watson is 21-10 as a starter. Last season, he led five game-winning drives, most in the NFL. He was a victim of bad coaching in the playoffs this year, but he’ll be back.

10. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

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Too-much action Jackson: Reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson looked so good in 2019 that he could easily be considered the top QB on this list. The reason I wouldn’t place him there is simple: running quarterbacks don’t last, and Jackson is a running quarterback. In his MVP effort Jackson threw for just 3,127 yards, the lowest amount by an MVP QB since 1978. His rushing production was amazing, but he rushed an unsustainable 176 times. That’s 40 more than the much-larger Cam Newton had in his MVP season, and Newton has started to break down after just nine years in the league, at age 30. Jackson is incredible, but he’ll need to change his playstyle to last to 2029, which would make him no longer a top-5 quarterback, “just” top 10. 

9. Justin Fields, Ohio State Buckeyes

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Field(s) of dreams: Fields’ college career got off to a slow start, as he spent his freshman season sidelined behind Jake Fromm at Georgia. However, since transferring to Ohio State Fields has shown he probably should’ve been starting all along. In his sophomore season he posted an absolutely absurd 41:3 touchdown to interception rate and finished third in Heisman voting. Although he’s unlikely to rise past Lawrence in the 2021 draft to be the first pick, whoever loses the tank race will certainly be happy with their consolation prize. Fields already looks like he will be a franchise quarterback wherever he ends up.

8. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

Carson Wentz leads one of the most explosive NFL offenses

Bill Streiche-USA Today Sports

Yes he’s better than Nick Foles: Wentz’s career so far has been a wild ride, with flashes of superstar potential marred by recurring injuries. From an ACL tear to back problems and concussions, Wentz has spent a good portion of his career on the sidelines. However, he has shown the talent to be an elite quarterback and there’s no reason to think his injuries are anything more than bad luck. If he can put together a run of full seasons without injury Wentz should remind the NFL why he was once an MVP favorite and voted third by other players in the NFL’s Top 100.

7. Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders

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The NFL’s most boring QB: Carr is perhaps the least talked about starting quarterback in the NFL. He’s not young enough to be considered a potential superstar on the rise, or productive enough to already be a star. What he is, however, is a good quarterback. It was just four years ago that he tied for third in MVP voting, and in 2019 he actually put up the best passer rating of his career, a sign of good things to come for him under Jon Gruden.

6. Joe Burrow, LSU Tigers

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Small hands, big future: Seeing Burrow on this list might be a surprise. He hasn’t even been drafted yet and just a year ago wasn’t even on most draft predictions. But that’s just how good his senior season at LSU was. He absolutely dominated on his way to earning a record number of Heisman votes, along with the National Championship. His mind-boggling season stats land him first all-time in touchdowns with 60, second in completion percentage at 76.3% and third in yards with 5,671. Burrow is the real deal and will be near the top of the NFL in no time. 

5. Daniel Jones, New York Giants

Daniel Jones fumble

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Danny drops dimes, and the ball: In Daniel Jones’ rookie season, he looked like a rookie. He fumbled a league-high 18 times and threw 12 interceptions despite only playing 13 games. He’s going to have to work on ball security and decision making to stick around in the NFL. On the other hand, Jones at times showcased good accuracy, especially throwing downfield and into tight windows. If he addresses his flaws, Jones should develop into a solid successor for Eli Manning in the Big Apple.

4. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

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Wait, how old is he?: Wilson is likely one of the more controversial picks on this list, but not for his talent. He’s already a Super Bowl champion and he finished last year as Pro Football Focus’ highest graded quarterback. What is controversial about Wilson is his inclusion on this list at all. At 31 years old, he’s the oldest player here by three whole years, and will be 41 in 2029— ancient by NFL standards. However, Wilson has stated his intent to play until 45, and he could easily do it. Wilson has never missed a game due to injury, and his accuracy and arm talent will last. I see no reason why Wilson won’t continue tearing up the league for the foreseeable future. 

3. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson Tigers

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An actually generational prospect: It’s hard to separate the hype from the reality with college players, especially quarterbacks. It seems every season there’s a new “once-in-a-lifetime” prospect everyone agrees should be the number one overall pick, destined for a spot in Canton before they even take an NFL snap. Usually, the hype is just that — hype. With Lawrence, it’s not. He really is that good. So good he could’ve been the first pick in last year’s draft even though he won’t be eligible until 2021. There will certainly be teams “tanking for Trevor,” next season, and whoever does land him will truly be receiving a generational prospect.

2. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers 

Jimmy Garoppolo Super Bowl

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Not just a system quarterback: Many dismiss Garoppolo’s success as due to the system Kyle Shanahan has put in place, or the 49er’s dominant defense. But Garoppolo himself deserves more credit, and is an elite quarterback in his own right. Despite having the third-highest average yards per attempt in the league in 2019, he still had the fourth-best completion percentage. He also led the league with four fourth quarter comebacks. Most importantly, having Jimmy on the field translates to wins. Since 2017, San Francisco is 19-5 in games started by Garoppolo. Without him? 4-20. 

1. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott injury

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Not just a game manager: Dak has proven he can put up great stats, and his career completion percentage of 65.8 is good for fourth all time. He’s drawn criticism for being a “game manager,” but in 2019 he averaged over 8.0 yards per pass and produced a league second-best 4,902 passing yards. However, Dak has had help, and some of his statistical success must be attributed to the offense around him. Dak is a quality NFL starter, and with the right cast he will continue to find success, but he does not single-handedly elevate a team to contender status.

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