The dog days of the NFL offseason are finally behind us. Teams are now in the midst of preseason play as they try to figure out their final 53-man rosters and starting lineups come Week 1.
As always, each team’s success – or lack thereof — in 2023 will largely come down to the quarterback play. With that said, let’s dive into our annual pre-Week 1 rankings of all eight NFL divisions based on their quarterbacks — from worst to first!
8. NFC South
With a wealth of playmakers at his disposal, Carr could very well have the best statistical season of his career. But this is also a 32-year-old veteran who’s, at best, a borderline top-15 quarterback.
The Atlanta Falcons are giving 2022 third-round pick Desmond Ridder first dibs as a starter. You know, the guy with four career starts under his belt. If Ridder isn’t the guy, Arthur Smith will turn to free agent signing Taylor Heinicke — whose ceiling is that of a quality backup or low-end starter…depending on how you want to look at it.
The Carolina Panthers are rolling with first overall pick Bryce Young. Will he be the rare rookie QB who knocks it out of the park right away, or will Young struggle early and often like most first-year signal-callers? Stay tuned.
And woof, we don’t pity the Bucs’ QB depth chart. With Brady gone, and with limited cap space, they had to take a flier on Baker Mayfield and have him compete with 2021 second-round pick Kyle Trask. What could go wrong?
7. AFC South
The next step is for the first overall pick of 2021 to put it together for a full year and show he belongs in the upper echelon of NFL QBs along with Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow et al.
With a QB whiz in Doug Pederson and a deep set of playmakers around him, we have no doubt Lawrence will once again be the classy of AFC South quarterbacks in 2023.
But if Tannehill gets injured or struggles out of the gate, Tennessee can give rookie Will Levis a shot. Widely projected to be a top-10 pick, the Kentucky product inexplicably fell down to the Titans at No. 33 overall.
The Houston Texans have second overall pick CJ Stroud and the incumbent Davis Mills. Considering the limited amount of talent on Houston’s offense, we’re not sure if Stroud or Mills will be able to do a whole lot this year. This is going to be a learning year for the ex-Buckeye, one way or another.
The Indianapolis Colts used the No. 4 pick on the ultimate boom-or-bust product in Anthony Richardson. If he doesn’t start, they’ll go with ex-Jaguars’ starter Gardner Minshew — who has proven to be one of the game’s more reliable backups.
6. NFC West
Geno Smith, the 2022 Comeback Player of the Year, is coming off a career season. The Seahawks used a first-round pick on Jaxon Smith-Njigba to complement the already-scary offensive arsenal of DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and running back Kenneth Walker. We aren’t worried about Smith and Seattle’s QB situation.
Kyle Shanahan can make it work with most quarterbacks. We’ve seen it. BUT — is Brock Purdy 100 percent after undergoing surgery on a torn UCL? And is he actually the real deal, or was it all beginner’s luck in 2022?
If Purdy isn’t it, can the San Francisco 49ers rely on Trey Lance? The No. 3 selection of 2021 only has four NFL starts on his resume. If Purdy AND Lance aren’t the solutions, the 49ers’ season comes down to Sam Darnold. Gulp.
But injuries limited him to nine games a year ago, and he had just 10 touchdowns against eight interceptions. So, how much does Stafford really have left entering his age-35 season? The cap-strapped Los Angeles Rams couldn’t upgrade the supporting cast around him, so that too is concerning.
Over in Arizona, the Cardinals will open the season without Kyler Murray as he continues to recover from surgery on a torn ACL he suffered late last year. Until then, the Cardinals are leaning on career journeyman and backup Colt McCoy.
5. NFC North
It’s good news for Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago….and to-be-determined news for the Green Bay Packers. What does 2020 first-rounder Jordan Love have to show? With only one NFL start under his belt, it’s too early to forecast. He’s the great unknown.
Were the Vikings a fluke last year in one-score games? Yes. But Cousins doesn’t have to apologize for leading the team to 13 wins. Maybe he won’t win a Super Bowl on this snake-bitten organization, but he’s not the problem there.
Jared Goff had a fantastic second season with the Lions. Now we see if he’s for real, or if it was a fluky year. Not having Jameson Williams for the first six games due to suspension is worrisome, but Goff also did well without the ex-Alabama star for most of last year. So he should be fine.
Justin Fields surpassed 1,000 yards rushing in Chicago last year but left a lot to be desired as a passer. But the arrival of DJ Moore and a full year of Chase Claypool, coupled with former 1,000-yard wideout Darnell Mooney, certainly give us reason for optimism.
Having prized rookie Darnell Wright on that o-line is a promising start, too. If Fields’ pass protection improves, he could very well be the ultimate breakout quarterback of 2023.
4. NFC East
Jalen Hurts would’ve likely won MVP honors if he played the full season. Despite outplaying MVP winner Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl 57, Hurts got no help from the Eagles D — as they dropped a heartbreaker 38-35.
Hurts is, at worst, the fifth-best QB in the game. We have no reason to think he’ll regress with the league’s best o-line, a dynamic rushing game plus the DeVonta Smith-AJ Brown duo at his disposal. He’s going to be a star for years to come.
Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys doesn’t need much of an introduction. His stats are Pro Bowl-caliber every year. But the question remains: Is he good enough to get this team to the Super Bowl? Or at least to their first Conference Championship appearance since 1995?
Daniel Jones had a breakout season in a make-or-break year under first-year head coach Brian Daboll. Jones turned that into a massive $160 million extension over four years.
With Darren Waller and Jalin Hyatt joining the offense, Jones has the pieces in place to improve as a passer. Having led the Giants to within a game of the NFC Championship last year, expectations are much higher entering 2023.
And then there’s Sam Howell. The Washington Commanders parted ways with Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke, having grown ultra-confident in Howell even though he’s got just one NFL appearance on his resume.
If Howell wasn’t such an unknown, we’d consider having this division higher. But overall, the NFC East has it good with QBs. Two top-10 signal-callers in Hurts and Prescott, a serviceable starter in Jones and then the one big unknown in Howell.
3. AFC North
We shouldn’t be shocked if the AFC North asserted itself as the king of quarterbacks across every division next year. Really, it’s almost a toss-up within the top-three here.
Joe Burrow is arguably the league’s next-best QB after Patrick Mahomes, having led the Cincinnati Bengals to consecutive AFC Championship Games. With 69 touchdowns and 9,086 passing yards over the last two seasons, Burrow has placed himself in the conversation for the league’s best player.
We could ramble on about the fancy stats of Baltimore Ravens’ QB Lamar Jackson. Or we could simply point out that Baltimore is 45-16-0 in games he’s started since 2018. Without Jackson? Well, yeah. It gets a lot uglier.
The Ravens have a new OC in Todd Monken, and they added Odell Beckham Jr., Nelson Agholor and rookie Zay Flowers to the pass-catching unit. We know Lamar can rush for 1,000, but does he take it a step further as a passer? If so, there’ll be no containing this offense.
Kenny Pickett’s stats as a rookie weren’t exactly promising, but the Pittsburgh Steelers won seven of his 12 starts. That’s a promising sign for the 2022 first-rounder, who really has nowhere to go but up with a year of experience out of the way.
We also have a hard time thinking Pickett can disappoint with a supporting cast led by Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, rising star George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth. And what if Allen Robinson turns back the clock and returns to his pre-2022 form?
Bottom line, we expect big things for Pickett.
Deshaun Watson had an ugly six-game stint as the Cleveland Browns’ starter after serving his 11-game suspension. He has nowhere to go but up, and the arrivals of Elijah Moore and Cedric Tillman give Watson better pass-catching depth to throw to.
Four legitimate playoff contenders — including two bonafide Super Bowl contenders — with three established young-ish QBs and a potential future star in Pickett. This is a wealthy division in terms of quarterback play.
2. AFC West
Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs is the best player in football. That’s not up for debate. Look at the two rings, pair of MVP awards and his 64-16-0 regular season record THEN come back to us.
Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers is arguably a top-five QB in the game, too. He has transformed the Bolts back into a consistent playoff contender. It only feels like a matter of time until he wins MVP honors…but will the Chargers stop CHARGERING and actually do something in the postseason? That’s the main concern here.
Wilson’s first year with the Denver Broncos was horrible. He had 16 touchdowns against 11 interceptions and took a league-high 55 sacks despite missing two games.
That said, he can’t possibly be worse. The Broncos signed Ben Powers and ex-49ers star Mike McGlinchey to improve the o-line, and the arrival of future Hall of Famer Sean Payton should do wonders for Dange-russ. At the very least, Payton is an upgrade over Nathaniel Hackett.
But will Wilson return to that all-world play and justify the $245 million extension the Broncos handed him last year? If he does, maybe the AFC West will be the premier division for NFL QBs again.
The Las Vegas Raiders curiously cut Derek Carr and replaced him with the oft-injured Jimmy Garoppolo. Yes, he went to one Super Bowl and two NFC title games as the 49ers’ main starting QB. But is Garoppolo actually above-average, or is he a product of Kyle Shanahan’s ultra-QB-friendly system?
Garoppolo has familiarity with Josh McDaniels dating back to their time together in New England. He’s got a deep set of playmakers at his disposal. But can Jimmy G stay healthy and actually flourish outside of San Fran? If not, the Raiders will be eyeing a new quarterback in the first round of next year’s draft.
1. AFC East
Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills is a top-five QB himself. The passing and rushing numbers are good, but it’s time to actually deliver a Lombardi Trophy to Orchard Park. That’s all Buffalo fans want now.
The New York Jets finally don’t have to worry about crappy quarterback play. Not after trading for four-time league MVP Aaron Rodgers, who will do wonders throwing to Garrett Wilson, Mecole Hardman and old pals Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb. Welcome to the AFC, A-Rod.
It was a true shame that three head-related injuries limited Tua Tagovailoa’s time on the field in 2022. He missed four games and the club’s close playoff loss to the Bills. Did you know he had the league’s best QB rating for 2022 at 105.5? And that he led the league in yards per completion at 13.7?
Mike McDaniel fully unlocked Tua Time and made him a superstar with Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill as Miami’s go-to playmakers. Tua is 21-13-0 as a starter in this league. If he can stay healthy — fingers crossed — the Dolphins are a Super Bowl contender. And he’ll be a darkhorse for MVP honors.
An ankle injury and Bill Belichick’s ridiculous decision to make Matt Patricia and Joe Judge the co-offensive play-callers in 2022 led to a dismal sophomore year for Mac Jones. The good news? Belichick brought back Bill O’Brien to serve as the OC. A pylon would’ve been better than Patricia and Judge in that position, but B.O.B. is actually well-suited for this role and should help Jones return to his Pro Bowl form we saw as a rookie.
Not sure if the Pats are true Super Bowl contenders, but Jones will be, at worst, a top-20 QB in the league next season. We think.
Which NFL division do you think has the best quarterbacks entering 2023?
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