The NFL season is fast approaching. Some clubs have rookies reporting to training camp as early as July 19th, and all teams will open camp by the 29th. The looming camp dates mean a couple things. Firstly, football is almost back, baby! Secondly, your team’s quarterback situation is set – for better or worse. Certain fans may dream of Tony Romo descending from the booth to save their 2017 season, but it’s not happening.
How happy should you be when it comes to the most important position in the NFL? The following grades take a combination of starting talent, depth, the future, and front office confidence into consideration.
New England Patriots: A+
Depth Chart – Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
The Patriots have one the best quarterback situations in the league. Tom Brady turns 40 before the season starts, but he’s also coming off a season in which he threw 28 touchdowns, two interceptions, and won his fifth Super Bowl. If his body deteriorates or he suffers an injury, the Patriots went 3-1 to start the 2016 season without him. Many see backup Jimmy Garoppolo as a surefire franchise quarterback of the future. Things could get awkward if Bill Belichick moves onto Garoppolo before Brady retires. That’s fine. Most people would take awkward over a rebuild in a heartbeat.
Miami Dolphins: B
Depth Chart – Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, David Fales, Brandon Doughty
Ryan Tannehill has thrown for 11,248 yards, 70 touchdowns, and 36 interceptions since 2014. He’s known to struggle through rough patches, as he did to begin last season, and he turns the ball over too much, but Tannehill has provided consistency to the Dolphins’ quarterback situation. With that said, the front office does not seem entirely convinced of rolling with Tannehill far into the future. Matt Moore is by no means a long-term starter, but he filled in admirably after Tannehill’s injury last year. Moore threw eight touchdowns to three interceptions in the last three regular season games. He completed 29 of 36 passes (80.6%) against the Steelers in a lopsided wildcard loss. Miami is standing pat right now, and Tannehill gets far less credit than he deserves.
Buffalo Bills: B-
Depth Chart – Tyrod Taylor, Cardale Jones, Nathan Peterman, T.J. Yates
Tyrod Taylor is another quarterback whose performance seems disproportionate to ownership’s confidence in his abilities. The dual threat quarterback has 37 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in two years as a starter while adding 10 touchdowns on the ground. He’s also rushed for over 500 yards in both seasons. His ball security through the air is immaculate, and he hasn’t exactly been blessed with stud wideouts. After firing Rex Ryan, Buffalo sat Tyrod for week 17 to give EJ Manuel a final tryout and simultaneously avoid committing guaranteed money to Taylor in case of injury. The Bills restructured his contract during the offseason. Buffalo will be in trouble if they have to turn to Cardale Jones at any point in the season. Expect rookie Nathan Peterman to push Jones for the backup role. He could also be the Bills’ long-term answer.
New York Jets: F
Depth Chart – Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
What’s there to say about the Jets? 38-year-old Josh McCown is on what feels like his 38th NFL team. He is supposedly the front runner to start for the Jets, who have masterfully surpassed the Cleveland Browns as the mostly likely to go 0-16 in 2017. New York doesn’t want Bryce Petty to win the job because they have more invested in Christian Hackenberg. A safe prediction is that McCown starts the season and Hackenberg takes over by their week 11 bye. Don’t expect the Jets’ quarterback in three seasons to be anyone from this trio.
Pittsburgh Steelers: A-
Depth Chart – Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Joshua Dobbs, Bart Houston
Whenever Big Ben leads the offense, Pittsburgh’s QB grade is at least an A. The problem is that Roethlisberger rarely stays upright for a whole season. He has accomplished that feat only three times in 13 seasons. That’s not even counting the games he guts through banged up. Roethlisberger also appears poised to retire sooner rather than later. Landry Jones is a complete non-factor whenever he’s forced to take the field . Joshua Dobbs, the Steelers’ fourth round pick, is an exciting prospect to be groomed for the future, but the championship window is quickly closing on the current era.
Cincinnati Bengals: B
Depth Chart – Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel
Andy Dalton showed his floor in 2014 (19 TDs, 17 INTs, 53.1 QBR) and his ceiling in 2015 (25 TDs, 7 INTs, 75.3 QBR). He landed somewhere in the middle last season with 18 touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a 58.3 QBR. The drop off from a supposed breakout year was compounded by the fact that Cincinnati missed the postseason for the first time in Dalton’s career. The Dalton conundrum is defined by competing highs and lows. It’s true he has guided Cincinnati to their longest sustained success in franchise history, but his 0-4 playoff record with one touchdown and six interceptions is an unsightly blemish. Another failure might be the straw that breaks the Bengals’ back. AJ McCarron is one of the NFL’s most intriguing backups. Although he struggled in the 2015 Wildcard round, McCarron was a Jeremy Hill fumble and two boneheaded defensive penalties away from giving the Bengals their first playoff victory since January 1991. Either QB option would provide serviceable play while Cincinatti attempts to start a new postseason streak.
Baltimore Ravens: C+
Depth Chart – Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan
Is Andy Dalton a better quarterback than Joe Flacco? No, but the Bengals are more prepared and more willing to move on from Dalton if necessary. Flacco is part of the problem in Baltimore. He isn’t good enough to make players around him better, and the team consistently refuses to upgrade his supporting cast. The Ravens also lack a backup option with any punch. Dustin Vaughan is an 26-year-old unknown who has more experience on practice squads than an NFL roster. Ryan Mallett flamed out in Houston and did nothing to quiet doubters in the wake of Flacco’s 2015 ACL injury. Their defense is good now. They need a quarterback who can win now too.
Cleveland Browns: D-
Depth Chart – Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer, Brock Osweiler, Kevin Hogan
The Browns pulled off a savvy move by taking Brock Osweiler off the Houston Texans’ hands. They inherited the dead weight of his contract but got a 6th and 2nd rounder in the process. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything in terms of their quarterback situation. Osweiler isn’t even a lock to make the roster. Kevin Hogan will battle him for third string. Cody Kessler should start week one but is little more than a stopgap. DeShone Kizer, the newest potential hero for the Dawg Pound, isn’t NFL-ready and shouldn’t be thrown into the fire. Knowing the Browns, it is likely they end up starting their 28th quarterback since 1999 – and possibly 29th if Osweiler earns a roster spot.
Indianapolis Colts: B+
Depth Chart – Andrew Luck, Scott Tolzien, Stephen Morris, Phillip Walker
The Colts haven’t made the playoffs in two seasons, which wrongly casts a cloud over Andrew Luck’s play at quarterback. Although he spent most of 2015 injured, he played tremendously in 2016. Luck led four game-winning drives. He nearly matched his quarterback rating from his 40-touchdown year in 2014 (96.4 vs. 96.5). He also set a career high in QBR. The B+ stems from the unknown timetable for Luck’s return from offseason shoulder surgery. If he can’t throw throughout most of camp or even misses a few weeks of the regular season, the Colts have no answers. Scott Tolzien performed poorly in his one game against Pittsburgh last season, and he was abysmal for Green Bay over the course of a slightly larger sample size in 2013. It might be a third disappointing year in a row if Luck doesn’t reach 100% or falls prey to another injury behind his suspect offensive line. If he makes a full, timely recovery, bump this up to an A.
Tennessee Titans: B+
Depth Chart – Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Alex Tanney, Tyler Ferguson
Marcus Mariota’s continued growth is a major reason why the Titans have a chance to steal the weak AFC South. The only stage left in his recovery from a broken leg last season is to overcome the mental obstacle of playing with it again. His red zone numbers since coming into the league are the best in the business – 33 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He should also benefit from the added skill at wide receiver. Backup Matt Cassel underwent thumb surgery and will need to recover to hold off Alex Tanney. Neither Cassel nor Tanney give reason for total confidence if Mariota goes down once again, but Tennessee has an exciting franchise quarterback for as long as he stays standing.
Houston Texans: C
Depth Chart – Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden
It’s difficult to make the case that Tom Savage provided a spark compared to Osweiler last year. He only compiled 461 yards and didn’t throw a touchdown in two games. Still, the frustratingly stagnant offense truly did look better. That doesn’t change the fact that the Texans are currently running a competition between a player with two career starts and a rookie. Despite Dabo Swinney’s comparison of Deshaun Watson to Michael Jordan, it’s not a guarantee that Watson’s skill set translates to the NFL. The Texans are venturing into the unknown. Luckily, utilizing a placeholder at quarterback doesn’t seem to prevent the Texans from making the playoffs. If Savage or Watson prove to be more than that, the team could be lethal.
Jacksonville Jaguars: C
Depth Chart – Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen
It’s physically painful to watch Blake Bortles play like a lethargic wannabe for three quarters before turning it on when the game is already out of reach. He played that way when he set a franchise record with 35 touchdowns in 2015 (he still led the league with 18 interceptions). He played that way when he regressed to 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last season. His garbage time renaissance routine isn’t good for anyone but fantasy owners. Even those owners usually chuck their phones across the room thanks to a -1 score at halftime, only to stare perplexedly at a cracked screen while Bortles’ meaningless numbers pile up. End rant. Bortles may someday work out his kinks and assert himself as the quarterback Jacksonville needs. He’s done so in spurts. The Jaguars apparently believe in him. They didn’t bring in anyone new to push Bortles out of his comfort zone. Perhaps second-year player Brandon Allen can supplant Henne as backup and receive a chance if Bortles stumbles out of the gates.
Oakland Raiders: B+
Depth Chart – Derek Carr, Connor Cook, EJ Manuel
Derek Carr has all the appearances of a budding superstar. The Raiders rewarded him with a massive $125 million contract. It’s their first major gamble since deciding to relocate to Las Vegas. If they hit, it means they have one of the game’s newest stars under center for the foreseeable future. The numbers are there to support the decision. Carr has thrown 60 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in the last two seasons. Several advanced passing statistics, such as sack percentage index, interception percentage index, and adjusted net yards per attempt index, were all well above 100 (which indicates average) in 2016. There are also reasons for concern. Carr benefits from having a cast of highly skilled behemoths on his offensive line. He also has an excellent wide receiver tandem. What happens when Carr’s massive contract squeezes a few of these players out? He’s still developing of course, but Carr does throw too many errant, often interceptable passes due to lazy footwork. The team also needs Connor Cook to grow between year one and year two. The Connor Cook 2016 edition spells doom for the Raiders if Carr suffers another injury.
Los Angeles Chargers: A-
Depth Chart – Philip Rivers, Kellen Clemens, Mike Bercovici, Eli Jenkins
Fun Fact: Philip Rivers has the same number of kids as he has 4,000+ yard seasons – eight. He’s a trash talking, gunslinging quarterback who will finish his career by introducing Los Angeles to Chargers football. If it’s anything like the last two seasons, new fans need to prepare themselves for a tidal waves of injuries and a knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. That’s not on Rivers, though. He hasn’t missed a start since taking over in 2006. Rivers tosses a lot of interceptions, but he also throws a ton of touchdowns and has recently kept an offense of walking wounded afloat. The 35-year-old vocal leader is heading into the twilight of his career. Unlike the Steelers and Giants, who both drafted heir apparents for their 2004 quarterback selections, the Chargers have done little to prepare for life after Philip. Kellen Clemens has played in the NFL for 11 years and has 16 touchdowns to show for it. The two men behind him are undrafted free agents.
Kansas City Chiefs: B
Depth Chart – Alex Smith, Patrick Mahomes, Tyler Bray, Joel Stave
Remember the awkward versus rebuilding situation mentioned in the Patriots’ evaluation? The Chiefs created the potential for both. Alex Smith has helped Kansas City to the postseason in three of his four years as a starter. He’s done in it in typical Smith fashion with nonexistent flash and a penchant for game management. He once went an entire season without throwing a touchdown to a wide receiver. No, that’s not the introduction to a “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercial. It’s just an alarming statistic. Smith is a smart, dependable quarterback. He’s just not the player who will push the Chiefs over the hump. It remains to be seen if Kansas City overcorrected, but the team traded up for Patrick Mahomes, a risk-taking Texas Tech product with an overpowered cannon. Smith has at least one more year while Mahomes learns the pro game, but the Chiefs currently exist in a strange limbo. They are undoubtedly good enough for another postseason run, but an early exit seems a forgone conclusion while Mahomes waits in the wings.
Denver Broncos: C-
Depth Chart – Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly, Kyle Sloter
The Broncos have an open quarterback competition brewing between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. While the team would probably like its first round selection from 2016 to win the starting job, Siemian enters camp with more polish. Siemian also has better chemistry with the offense for now, but he doesn’t pose a huge threat as a thrower on the field. Lynch can overtake Siemian if he takes a big enough leap in his second year. This would include a massive improvement in reading defenses and working through progressions. It doesn’t bode well for either quarterback that Chad Kelly, Mr. Irrelevant no less, has already been mentioned as a threat next year once he recovers from injury. It’s time for one of the quarterbacks to step up. If Denver’s quarterback position remains a weakness, the organization runs the risk of wasting its dominant defense another season.
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