It has long been established that in order to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, you need a quality signal caller. Even when teams have been an exception to that rule and won with lesser talent under center while relying on their defense, they quickly faded out and returned to irrelevancy thereafter. Take, for example, Trent Dilfer and the Baltimore Ravens. He stepped in for an injured Tony Banks and went 7-1 to “guide” the Ravens to their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. He then went 12 for 26 for 153 yards in the Super Bowl and proceeded to become the only quarterback in NFL history to “win” a Super Bowl and get immediately cut. It took the Ravens 12 years to get back to the Super Bowl, and those 12 years saw the likes of Elvis Grbac, Jeff Blake, Chris Redman, Anthony Wright, and Kyle Boller all stinking up the field and repeatedly undermining one of the best defenses in NFL history.
Year in and year out NFL team owners, GMs, coaches, and scouts scour the college ranks hoping to find their future quarterback. That elusive gem they can build their franchise around while watching him develop into a Super Bowl-caliber field general. It’s been said in recent years that the search is becoming more and more difficult, as if there’s a shortage of talent at the quarterback position. I think it has a lot more to do with the fact that we no longer develop quarterbacks on an NFL sideline, practice field, and film room, and rather choose to throw them directly into the frying pan and expect immediate results. It’s a win now league, so coaches don’t have the luxury of waiting for quarterbacks to develop anymore, otherwise they find themselves quickly unemployed.
With that being said, there are currently 8 relevant quarterbacks under the age of 25 in the NFL. This article takes a look at those 8 quarterbacks, youngest to oldest, and grades both their current progress, as well as their projected/potential progress.
Winston was drafted with the first overall pick of of the 2015 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has the distinction of being the youngest starting quarterback in the NFL, and the Buccaneers clearly think he has what it takes to eventually develop into a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.
The Good: Winston plays with a high level of confidence, passion, fire, and determination. As a result, he’s not afraid to take chances downfield and has that elusive “play making” ability. Even with limited speed and mobility, he’s still a threat to extend plays and/or take off and gain positive yardage at any time. (As shown by his numerous plays out of the pocket and 4 rushing TDs already this season.) Doug Martin has helped his development by providing a solid ground game to take the pressure off him, and pass-catching back Charles Sims has given him dump down options when his initial reads are covered. He’s had good weapons to work with in Mike Evans and Vince Jackson, who are both big 6’5 targets with reliable hands downfield. His knock coming out of college was his propensity to turn the ball over, but aside from a disastrous 4 pick game at the hands of the undefeated Carolina Panthers defense, he’s surprised many with his ability to protect the football. (Only 4 games out of 10 with a pick, and only 2 with multiple picks… both within his first 4 career starts.) His surrounding cast is arguably the best amongst this list, and has put him in a great position to succeed, but his skill set has taken full advantage of the opportunities presented to him as he’s managed to average an impressive 240 yards per game, 7.7 yards per attempt, and an 86.5 passer rating.
The Bad: Winston’s accuracy still needs development as his completion percentage sits at a less-than-desirable 58%. He also holds onto the ball too long, as evidenced by his 17 sacks in 10 games. (Albeit 7 in his first two starts, so he’s shown progress in that regard too.) He’s also fumbled 5 times in 10 games, so although the picks are down, he still needs to work on protecting the ball.
Current Grade: B+ For his current NFL resume, Winston is a solid B+. He’s developed a lot quicker than expected, his questionable maturity hasn’t been an issue, he’s kept the interceptions in reasonable check, and he’s provided the Bucs with a much needed competitive spark.
Projected/Potential Grade: A With his skill set and competitive fire, Winston projects to be an eventual Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. Whether or not the Bucs can turn things around and provide him enough surrounding support to get him there is still in question, but Winston shouldn’t be the reason if they never reach the promised land during his tenure.
Mariota, just 3 months older than Winston, was taken just behind him as the 2nd overall pick in the 2015 draft. Even with potential future-starter Zach Mettenberger on the roster, the Titans couldn’t pass on such a rare quarterback talent.
The Good: Mariota has the ultra-rare ability of being a pocket passer who is also very mobile and highly skilled at making plays out of the pocket, especially accurate throws on the run. With easily the worst surrounding cast on this list, Mariota has impressed with 253 yards per game, a list topping 7.8 yards per attempt, a list topping 65% completion percentage, and an impressive 96 passer rating. He’s also very good at protecting the football. In his senior season at Oregon, he tallied a remarkable 57 touchdowns (42 passing, 15 rushing) against only 4 interceptions. This was no fluke either, as in his previous two seasons he notched 40 combined tds to 4 picks, and 37 tds to 6 picks respectively. He’s got a cannon arm, pinpoint accuracy, and makes great decisions with the football, particularly when a play breaks down.
The Bad: Mariota played in a stretch offense throughout college, so he’s still adjusting to taking the ball under center as a drop back passer. This has actually resulted in more turnovers than usual in the early going, as he has 6 interceptions and 7 fumbles (4 lost). His quarterback IQ and long history of protecting the ball leans towards him picking up the speed of the NFL game and added pressure of a 3 and 5 step drop, and he’s already shown recent progress in protecting the ball better, but up until now there have been a few bumps in the road learning to be a drop back passer.
Current Grade: B+ Aside from the uncharacteristic ball control mishaps, which still aren’t all that bad for a rookie, Mariota has been superb on a VERY bad team. He’s done more with less than any quarterback on the short side of 25 in the league.
Projected/Potential Grade: A+ Mariota has the football intelligence and rare skill set to not only be a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback, but to also be one of the elite quarterbacks of his generation. Unfortunately, the Titans are a VERY bad football team, so his career may suffer a Marino-like fate… at least for the foreseeable future.
Boyziel (I refuse to call him a man) is a year older than Winston & Mariota and in his 2nd season after being drafted 22nd overall out of Texas A&M by the Cleveland Browns.
The Good: Boyziel has a strong arm, lively legs, and plays with a great deal of confidence, regardless of the results/outcome. Unfortunately, up until this point in his NFL career, there isn’t much more I can fill in the “good” section with.
The Bad: Well documented, Boyziel’s main Achilles’ heel is his lack of maturity and professionalism. Last year he looked completely lost under center as it was painfully obvious that he wasn’t paying much attention to the playbook or in the film room, if any at all. He repeatedly botched plays, even turning to the wrong side to hand off on simple running plays. Boyziel entered rehab and took on a more focused approach headed into this season, and even looked pretty good in spot duty filling in for McCown. One problem… he couldn’t stay away from the booze. He was let off the hook when they ruled an argument with his girlfriend didn’t violate the NFL Personal Conduct code, but he also admitted to police that he had been drinking before the altercation. Upon being named the starter so the Browns could see what they had in him during the bye week of a lost season, Boyziel was caught on tape drinking and partying, and was promptly demoted to third string. He couldn’t even lay off the drinking long enough to start 1 game after being named the starter. How many times opportunity will knock for this kid remains to be seen. With the recent demotion, the Browns could just be sending another message to their troubled investment, or this could easily be the beginning to the end of his career in Cleveland if they’ve finally grown tired of his antics. It’s worth mentioning that the Browns signed him to a 4-year 8.2 million dollar contract last year, in which 6.7 million of that was guaranteed. There’s not a lot of incentive to quit screwing around if you know your employer has to pay you no matter what… so the Browns deserve some of the blame in this ongoing circus. Even if Boyziel straightens out and the Browns give him yet another chance, Boyziel’s reliability will certainly be a concern moving forward, as will his lack of size. For every Doug Flutie and Russell Wilson, there are hundreds of undersized quarterbacks who aren’t capable of consistent NFL success.
Current Grade: I I’ll be generous and give him an incomplete grade, based on the fact that he hasn’t been on the field long enough to be given a fair playing grade. If I were to factor in that the main reason why he hasn’t seen the field is his own fault/immaturity, then obviously his grade would be an F. (And that’s only because there’s no such thing as a G, H, or I.)
Projected/Potential Grade: D- Boyziel has enough talent and confidence to become a serviceable quarterback, however, I doubt it will ever get to a point where his upside is worth the perpetual baggage that comes with it. We’re not talking about slam dunk talent here, so at some point the Browns and the rest of the league will realize that they’d be enduring an awful large and long lasting headache for a maybe. He’s already been given more chances than most maybes ever receive.
Bridgewater is only a month older than Boyziel, and yet the difference in maturity spans galaxies. Teddy is in his 2nd season after being drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings.
The Good: Bridgewater is a solid game manager with excellent accuracy. Midway through his 2nd campaign he’s consistently matched his stellar 64% completion rate of his rookie season. With Adrian Peterson on the roster, he’s not asked to take a lot of chances, but when he does decide to put the ball in the air he makes good decisions. He averages a modest 210 yards per game, but it comes at a decent 7.2 yards per attempt. The emergence of rookie Stefon Diggs gives him a legitimate deep threat, but Bridgewater’s success lies in allowing Peterson to control the tempo of the game while using his heady play to keep the turnovers down. As a result he’s thrown only 8 tds in 10 games, but more importantly, he’s only thrown 6 picks over that span as well, resulting in a respectable 86 passer rating.
The Bad: Bridgewater holds the ball too long in the pocket. He’s been sacked a whopping 30 times in 10 games. The bright side is he doesn’t make ill-advised throws under pressure, but he still needs to learn to throw the ball away rather than taking the sack, as he’s lost over 200 yards in sacks in 10 games. (Three games of over 48 yards lost in sacks.)
Current Grade: B- Bridgewater gets a B- based on his ability to manage the game and team in front of him. He’s well aware that Peterson and the running game is the key to the Vikings success, so he doesn’t try to do too much and get himself into trouble. He extends plays with his decent footwork, but that also leads to far too many sacks as he needs to learn to throw the ball away more when there’s nothing there.
Projected/Potential Grade: B Bridgewater projects to be a capable quarterback. He’s not going to carry a team to a Super Bowl, but with the right surrounding cast, he’s not going to cost the Vikings a Super Bowl appearance either. If the Vikings are ever good enough on both sides of the ball to get them there, Bridgewater is a capable, albeit non-spectacular signal caller. The problem is, Peterson isn’t getting any younger and the Vikings D is anything but formidable, so the likelihood of the Vikings getting to the Super Bowl any time soon is a bit of a stretch.
Bortles comes in as the 5th youngest starting quarterback in the league after being drafted out of Central Florida with the 3rd overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014.
The Good: At 6’5 245, Bortles is built almost identically to Big Ben. Much like Ben, he’s also deceptively mobile for a quarterback of his size. The emergence of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns give him legit weapons downfield and he’s taken full advantage by topping this list with an average of 262 yards per game. He’s not afraid to take chances downfield, and he’s reaped the rewards by throwing 20 tds in 10 games.
The Bad: Accuracy and ball control leave a lot to be desired with Bortles. He’s currently sitting at a meager 56% completion percentage, and he has 18 combined picks/fumbles in 10 games. He’s only had 1 game all year where he didn’t throw the ball to the other team. He also suffers from the same Achilles’ heel as Bridgewater… he lacks an internal clock and holds the ball too long. Bortles has been sacked an astronomical 32 times in 10 games. Throw it away, Blake, throw it away. He’s fumbled in 5 of his 10 games, and only managed a 60% or higher completion percentage in 3 of 10.
Current Grade: C+ The yardage totals are nice, but Blake is living in Allentown (Hurns and Robinson), so yardage totals are to be expected. He’s thrown at least 1 TD in every game this year, but his lack of ball protection and propensity for getting sacked are drive killers.
Projected/Potential Grade: B- I’m going to give Blake a B- based on pure speculation. As a guy who has started only 24 NFL games, I’m going to assume that he develops into a quarterback who takes better care of the ball. With TJ Yeldon looking as though he’ll provide a nice complimentary rushing attack, Bortles might settle in and realize he doesn’t have to be spectacular on every play for the Jaguars to be successful. As a result, he may cut down on the turnovers and sacks, but even with that as a possibility, Blake and the Jaguars are still galaxies away from ever sniffing a Super Bowl.
At age 24, Derek Carr is midway through his 2nd season after being drafted out of Fresno State by the Oakland Raiders in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft.
The Good: For anyone reading this who still claims that it’s not his lack of talent, but his strong faith that keeps Tim Tebow out of a starting job in the NFL… meet devout Christian, Derek Carr. Carr arguably has the best weapons to work with of any quarterback on this list with Michael Crabtree, rookie phenom Amari Cooper, and physical freak Latavius Murray. However, Carr isn’t short on talent himself. Carr averages a robust 256 yards per game, and if not for an opening day 61-yard clunker, he’d easily top this list in average yards per game. Carr has quietly performed at an extremely high level with 7.5 yards per attempt, a 63% completion rate, a 99 passer rating, and a 21/6 TD/INT ratio. You rarely hear his name mentioned with the likes of Winston, Mariota, Bridgewater and Bortles, yet statistically he has blown the quarterbacks on this list away this year. He’s not very mobile, yet he makes great decisions with the football, as evidenced by only 11 sacks in 10 games despite a less than stellar offensive line. In 5 of his 10 games this year, he’s topped 300 yards passing. Quite simply put, he’s the most underrated quarterback in the league.
The Bad: There isn’t a lot of bad to mention with Carr. In his rookie season he threw 12 picks and fumbled 10 times, losing 4 of them. However, he’s completely turned that deficiency around this year and protected the ball as well as most of the elite quarterbacks in the league. (Only 6 picks and 2 lost fumbles to date.) As mentioned, he’s not the most mobile guy, but that’s hard to label a bad thing when he’s producing the way he is out of the pocket while also not taking many sacks.
Current Grade: A Statistically, Carr’s sophomore season in the NFL ranks right up there with some of the best 2nd year stats of any quarterback the league has ever seen, and surpasses the 2nd year statistics of most of the all time greats. He’s quietly putting together one hell of a season and has the Raiders suddenly more relevant than they’ve been in 13 years since they lost Super Bowl XXXVII. Again, he has the luxury of the best weapons a young quarterback could ever hope for, but he still has to get them the ball, and he’s done a superb job of it.
Projected/Potential Grade: A With his ball protection, ability to throw it accurately downfield, and calmness in the pocket, it’s almost impossible not to take him seriously. If the Raiders can actually put an adequate defense on the field during his, Cooper, Crabtree and Murray’s tenure together… it’s not out of the realm that they’ll actually be making a run at the Lombardi some time within the next 5 years.
Osweiler, who just turned 25, was chosen in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft shortly after the Peyton Manning signing. Despite rumors that Elway tried to trade him in the offseason, Elway adamantly refutes those rumors and sticks to his story that the plan all along was for him to become the heir apparent to the Peyton throne.
The Good: Well, we don’t exactly have much to go on here. In his junior year at Arizona State, the only year he started, Osweiler put up a ridiculous 4 thousand yards, 26 tds, 63% completion rate, and outstanding 140 passer rating. However, as the saying goes, that was on Saturdays. Upon replacing Peyton in spot duty, he’s performed admirably, but they also (wisely) dumbed down the offense for him. He hasn’t been asked to do much, and his appearances have mostly consisted of safe passes and dump offs, while allowing the Denver defense to control the game. With such a limited sample size, the jury is still out on his strengths and weaknesses.
The Bad: He’s listed anywhere between 6’7 and 6’8, and there’s a reason there haven’t been many tall quarterbacks in the league who have had any kind of sustained success. Long body = larger exposed rib cage area. Historically, tall quarterbacks don’t last very long because at that height it’s difficult to protect their bodies. One solid hit to the midsection and suddenly you’re laying in a hospital bed with cracked ribs. He’s also very inexperienced, yet he’s had plenty of time to compensate for that by developing on the sidelines, so again, the jury is still out on his strengths and weaknesses.
Current Grade: I Incomplete is a no-brainer here. We just haven’t seen enough of him at the NFL level to even know his strengths and weaknesses, no less grade his play fairly.
Projected/Potential Grade: ? If I were to try to make an accurate prediction on Osweiler, I might as well bend over (a la Jim Carrey) and move my butt cheeks while I’m talking. There just isn’t enough to go on, so what the future holds for Osweiler is nothing short of a crap shoot at this point. (Horrible pun intended.)
Geno makes this list by default, considering he’s 25 and the Jets might be forced to let him try his hand again in 2016. He was drafted in the 2nd round out of West Virginia in 2013, and it’s already been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for him, to say the least.
The Good: This section is a little difficult with Geno, because there’s not really one thing he does particularly well. I mean, he has an arm and two legs, so that’s a plus… he just hasn’t done much with them up until this point. He has above average mobility, and somehow seems to maintain confidence in himself, but he’s yet to show any area of significant strength.
The Bad: He’s Geno Smith.
Current Grade: D He’s shown the occasional flashes of brilliance, but that’d be like saying a hurricane showed signs of usefulness because it blew all the unraked leaves out of your yard.
Projected/Potential Grade: F The Jets have a better chance of signing Tom Brady when his current contract expires than ever making it to the Super Bowl with Geno under center.
Edit: It was brought to my attention that RG3 is a few months shy of his 26th birthday, however, he’s not included in this list because there are no signs that he’ll have any chance at starting in the near future, if ever again at all. Sadly, Geno Smith has a better chance of starting for the Jets in 2016 than RG3 has of starting anywhere, especially not in Washington where Jay Gruden would rather start a cardboard cutout than give in to RG3.