The NFL season is nearly upon us. For those who are more than the casual fan this will begin at the end of July as teams open their training camps, the pads go on and we get our first real look at the NFL teams for the 2018 season.
If last year’s Super Bowl taught us anything it’s that you must have a serviceable backup quarterback that can come in and play, and play well. Nick Foles did exactly this for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017 and out duelled Tom Brady to take home the Super Bowl MVP and help the Eagles lift their first Lombardi trophy. This got me thinking about the NFC North. Which team has the best-combined quarterback situation? I tried to rank them from worst to best.
So lets start with the one true superstar in the division, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Ben threw for an impressive 4,251 and 28 touchdown passes. He’s consistently been in the conversation as a top 5 quarterback for the Steelers. This year the folks over at Pro Football Focus have him ranked as the third best quarterback in 2017. His quarterback rating has only dropped below ninety twice since he entered the league in 2004. By comparison he’s been over 100 three times. Even as he gets into the latter year he’s still a guy that is extremely difficult to bring down, sees the field well and has a top-notch arm.
Behind him the Steelers invested a third round pick in their quarterback of the future, Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State. Rudolph won the 2017 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award and was Mike Mayock’s best deep-ball thrower in this year’s class. He’s nearly 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, and he offers prototypical size for a pocket passer. He should provide a good backup for Big Ben whilst he learns the offence.
Things don’t look quite as rosy further down the roster. Joshua Dobbs, selected last year in the fourth round, struggled in preseason action despite being a star at college in Tennessee. He’ll battle the always-underwhelming Landry Jones for the third quarterback role. Jones appeared in only 3 games in 2017, starting one, but he only threw 28 passes across those games (which included just on touchdown and one interception)!
The middle two teams here caused me to ponder more than I’d initially thought. Joe Flacco is a big name quarterback but he’s just not done as much as Tyrod Taylor last year in Buffalo. Despite constantly being asked about his future and the organisation’s desire to play Nathan Peterman (this lasted one game, he wasn’t even close to being ready) he led Buffalo to the playoffs, ending a drought that started in 1999. The Bills lacked a decent set of receivers but Taylor still put up 14 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions and was excellent passing under pressure but must improve his tendency to hold the ball for too long resulting in too many sacks. The former Bill gives the Browns the second best starting quarterback in the division and will be a huge upgrade over anything they have had in recent years. With a receiving core that potentially boasts Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry he could be in for a big year.
Behind him the Browns used the first overall pick on University of Oklahoma product and 2017 Heisman trophy winner, Baker Mayfield. I make no apologies for having him as my favourite quarterback in the draft and look forward to seeing him in the pre-season. Mayfield was consistently accurate in college. In 2017 he completed 70.5 percent of his passes (285-of-404). He has a lot in common with Taylor in that he didn’t turn the ball over, throwing 43 touchdowns against just six interceptions. He’s also a rushing threat as he showed by scrambling for 311 yards and five scores. The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 comes into an ideal situation where he wont be expected to start and can work on improving his footwork, diagnosing disguised blitzes and reducing the number of times he throws off his back foot.
Currently battling it out for third string quarterback position are former Arizona Cardinal, Drew Stanton and Brogan Roback, an undrafted rookie from Eastern Michigan. Stanton is an established backup in the NFL, who threw for 6 touchdown and 5 interceptions in relief of the injured Carson Palmer (before getting injured himself). Roback has good size at 6-3, 215lbs and started 34 games in college, setting school records for both passing touchdowns (57) and yards of total offense (8,876) but will have to play lights out to displace Stanton.
In third place I’ve chosen the Ravens. They have an established starter in Joe Flacco but he’s not exactly set the world on fire since guiding the Ravens to the Super Bowl 47. Flacco passed for just 18 touchdowns in 2017 whilst throwing 13 interceptions. His passer rating of 80.4 doesn’t exactly inspire confidence even if you bare in mind the injuries that the Ravens suffered on offence. In fact, Pro Football Focus found that only 8.4 percent of Flacco’s attempts were deep ball. Worrying for a quarterback whose main selling point is his arm strength. Eric Weddle, the Ravens safety said, “Now so with drafting Lamar and bringing Griffin in, it’s lit a fire under him. You can tell and he’s shown. He’s worked extremely hard.” Which is surely good news.
Whilst Flacco is the starter he’ll likely be on a relatively short leash. The reason? Ozzie Newsome provided a spark of hope in his last draft in charge of the Ravens when he picked the best quarterback in college football and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson. Jackson has a top calibre arm and reminds many of Michael Vick with his rare ability to make plays when a play breaks down. The Ravens have already started to install a package of plays to take advantage of Jackson’s ability. However, if the offence stutters too much how long before the Ravens make the switch to there presumed star of the future?
To round out their quarterback stable the Ravens signed another Heisman trophy winner, Robert Griffin III, who returns to the league after a year out of football. He’ll likely compete for the number two position with Jackson and serve as a mentor. A role he’s said to be embracing as he looks to make his own comeback. Griffin played in only 5 games in his last season in the league and whilst he often looked underwhelming in his last game of 2016 he completed 72.5 percent of his passes for 232 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Whoever is at quarterback I’m not sure that the additions of Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead and tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews will be enough, despite my liking of the Hurst pick.
At the bottom of the list is the poor Bengals. Anyone that watched the Bengals in London 2 years ago will understand why the Bengals are consistently struggling. And he was statistically worse last year! Dalton passed for 3,320 yards and collected 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Although he only fumbled 4 times, he lost every one. His quarterback rating declined for the second year in a row, dropping to 86.6. Dalton throws the ball well on seam routes but rarely seemed to utilise the playmaking ability of AJ Green.
‘The cupboard is bare’ is a metaphor that perfectly describes the quarterback situation behind Dalton. Gone is once presumed heir, AJ McCarron. Logan Woodside a seventh round pick replaces him. Woodside is an undersized quarterback who has a borderline NFL arm. He’s may make the team only because he’s an inexpensive rookie. There are conflicting reports about his ability to put the ball where he wants it on intermediate throws and he threw three interceptions in his bowl game and just average week of NFLPA practices (NFL.com)
Journeyman backup, Matt Barkley, is on his fourth team in six years after starring at USC and has marginal arm strength at best. He also has a penchant for throwing interceptions and this was evident in his only extended playing time. Then a Chicago Bear he played in 7 games, starting six but passed for only 8 touchdowns whilst throwing 14 interceptions. Jeff Driskel has been untested in the regular season so far who was hailed as the “next Tim Tebow” at Florida may be a better (or at least cheaper) option. Is there a team with a worse quarterback situation in the NFL than the Bengals?
As always, if you disagree or just want to discuss you can find me @Cumbleton on Twitter.
Tyrod Taylor from SportingNews.com
Lamar Jackson from SB Nation