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How confident are you in your team’s quarterback situation?
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Wait. Before you answer that, let’s get a couple of things straight.
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Should the Patriots, Steelers and Cowboys all expect to make the playoffs again? And which of 2016’s most disappointing teams look primed for a rebound? Here are early projections for every team.
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Trevor Siemian Jerseys Jerseys and Paxton Lynch Jerseys are competing in Denver. Rookies could start in Chicago and Houston. Here’s an early look at the QB battles that will occupy our attention throughout the summer.
We asked NFL Nation reporters to project the starting lineup for each team. A few teams, such as the San Francisco 49ers Jerseys and Los Angeles Rams Jerseys, will have very different looks next season.
Although this is the time of year for unbridled NFL optimism — post-draft, pre-minicamp, very few injuries so far — it’s important not to confuse optimism with confidence. If you are, say, a Bears fan, you can talk yourself into feeling very good about a situation that involves Mike Glennon Jerseys Jerseys’s latest shot to be a starter combined with the future of Mitchell Trubisky Jerseys. But that’s a hopeful feeling. Confidence has to wait for some evidence — real confidence does, at least.
Also, note the phrase above: “”quarterback situation.”” That means that although you might like your team’s starter better than some other teams’ starters, to answer our question, you must ask a few more questions. How confident are you that your starter can play all 16 games? How much longer can he play? How good do you feel about the backup if he has to play?
These are the factors that go into our occasional feature called the “”QB Confidence Index.”” Here, we examine each of the 32 NFL teams’ quarterback pictures, throw them into tiers and rank them based on how confident each team is right now. This list changes throughout the year, and again, it’s intended as something more than just a ranking of starting quarterbacks. Keep that in mind before you get mad about where your guy is sitting.
Let’s start with the top tier:
1. New England Patriots Jerseys
If there’s any cause for worry here, it’s that Tom Brady Jerseys Jerseys turns 40 in August and there isn’t a lot of history of quarterbacks who thrived after doing that. But Brady seems impervious to time cheap jerseys, having just thrown 28 touchdowns and two interceptions in 12 regular-season games and won a Super Bowl at age 39. Besides, the Patriots have covered their bases by holding on to backup Jimmy Garoppolo Jerseys Jerseys, who drew heavy interest on the trade market from teams that were told repeatedly that he wasn’t available. Patriots officials will tell you that they feel completely confident that they can win if Garoppolo has to play, and they also like third-stringer Jacoby Brissett Jerseys. This is the clear No. 1 quarterback situation in the league.
2. Green Bay Packers Jerseys
At halftime of the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta, I encountered a Falcons front-office official and asked how he was doing. “”I’ll be better in an hour and a half,”” he said. “”That No. 12, he’s not human.”” At the time, the Falcons led the Packers 24-0. “”That No. 12″” is Packers QB Aaron Rodgers Jerseys Jerseys, who didn’t have enough that day to bring Green Bay back but obviously strikes more fear in opponents’ hearts than anyone else on this list.
Rodgers hasn’t missed a game since 2013, which means backup Brett Hundley Jerseys Jerseys hasn’t seen any real action. But Hundley’s preseason work — combined with the high regard the rest of the teams around the league have for the Packers’ coaching staff’s work with quarterbacks — makes him a respected backup and possible 2018 offseason trade target.
3. Atlanta Falcons Jerseys
Matt Ryan Jerseys Jerseys is the reigning MVP. Backup Matt Schaub Jerseys Jerseys, who knows this Kyle Shanahan-designed offense as well as any quarterback in the league, stuck around instead of following Shanahan to San Francisco. There might be some concerns about the transition to Steve Sarkisian as coordinator and playcaller, but there’s nothing but confidence in the men taking the snaps wholeslae nfl jerseys. Ryan has missed a grand total of two games in his nine-year career, is coming off his best season and has Julio Jones Jerseys Jerseys, Devonta Freeman Jerseys Jerseys and an array of weapons around him to help keep things humming in Atlanta.
4. Detroit Lions Jerseys
Matthew Stafford Jerseys Jerseys hasn’t missed a game since 2010. Although he doesn’t chuck it as much as he used to, people around the Lions rave about the way he and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter have connected. Stafford is enjoying his role at the helm of Cooter’s offense, which relies more on shorter, quicker throws than the offenses Stafford used to operate. It would be a big drop-off to backup Jake Rudock Jerseys, but sixth-round pick Brad Kaaya Jerseys offers interesting possibilities if he can develop quickly into the No. 2.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers Jerseys
When Ben Roethlisberger Jerseys is on the field with Antonio Brown Jerseys and Le’Veon Bell Jerseys, there’s no team more confident about the high-end potential of its offense. But Roethlisberger is 35, flirted openly with retirement this offseason and has played 16 regular-season games only three times in his 13-year career. This is not a player on whom Steelers fans can rely the way fans of teams in the first tier can rely on their starters.
Landry Jones Jerseys is what he is as a backup — a guy you hope doesn’t have to play more than a game or two. Fourth-round pick Joshua Dobbs Jerseys is an intriguing long-term prospect. If you’re going to have a young quarterback in a position where he needs to spend some time learning, it’s nice to have as qualified a student as Dobbs. The Steelers like their quarterback situation, but it comes with enough questions to keep it in the second tier.
6. New Orleans Saints Jerseys
Like the Patriots, Packers and Steelers, the Saints boast a surefire Hall of Famer at quarterback. Drew Brees Jerseys Jerseys just posted his fifth career 5,000-yard passing season (the rest of the known universe has combined for four — ever), and he has missed a grand total of two games in 11 years with the Saints. The Saints are here instead of higher because Brees is 38 years old and not signed beyond 2017.
Surprisingly, the Saints did not draft a quarterback this year, though they did bring in Chase Daniel Jerseys as a free-agent backup option they like a lot. Former third-round pick Garrett Grayson Jerseys Jerseys remains as a potential developmental prospect.
7. Los Angeles Chargers Jerseys
Sensing a theme here? Well, these are supposed to be tiers of similarly categorized players. Philip Rivers Jerseys is 35 and coming off his worst season of the past nine, having thrown a career-high 21 interceptions to go with a 60.4 completion percentage that’s four points south of his career average. Behind him are only Kellen Clemens Jerseys, Mike Bercovici and undrafted rookie Eli Jenkins. The only reason the alarming backup situation doesn’t knock the Chargers down further is that Rivers hasn’t missed a game since he became the Chargers’ starter in 2006 — way back when the team played in San Diego.
8. New York Giants Jerseys
Speaking of durable 2004 draft picks whose backups don’t matter … Eli Manning Jerseys Jerseys hasn’t missed a game since he became the Giants’ starter midway through his rookie season. His production dipped in 2016, but some in the Giants’ building believe a lack of non-Odell Beckham Jerseys weapons and poor pass protection had more to do with that than anything else. Manning did just turn 36, though, and the team is thinking about the future.
One member of the coaching staff said third-round pick Davis Webb Jerseys “”has a ways to go to be the No. 2,”” which means that the Giants likely will carry three quarterbacks and either Josh Johnson Jerseys or Geno Smith Jerseys sticks as the backup. Again, though, Manning’s backup exists to run the scout team.
Although the Giants went 11-5 in 2016, Eli Manning Jerseys Jerseys and the offense never clicked. The addition of Brandon Marshall Jerseys Jerseys should help in 2017.9. Indianapolis Colts Jerseys
The Colts believe strongly in Andrew Luck Jerseys Jerseys and are paying him a salary that reflects that. He is 27 years old, has a career record of 46-30 (including his six playoff games) and is coming off his best statistical season, which included career highs in completion percentage (63.5) and Total QBR (71.2). But he has never had enough protection from his offensive line, and the Colts have not assembled a sufficient array of skill-position helpers to keep Luck from having to do it all himself.
New general manager Chris Ballard seems to understand the roster’s deficiencies and is at work trying to keep Luck upright and productive as he reaches his prime. But Luck has dealt with injury issues the past couple of seasons, and the backup options right now are Scott Tolzien Jerseys, Stephen Morris Jerseys and undrafted rookie Philip Walker. Confidence here would get a boost from an encouraging season by the offensive line.
10. Seattle Seahawks Jerseys
Russell Wilson Jerseys is 28 and has never missed a game in his five-year career. But man, did it look as if he might have benefited from missing one or two last season. Seattle’s persistent refusal to invest in the offensive line cost Wilson a fully healthy season and limited the offense throughout 2016. He showed in 2015 that he’s capable of carrying the team when things are OK in front of him. But until we’re sure they are, it’s tough to have confidence in Seattle’s ability to keep Wilson as healthy as he needs to be to perform at that ’15 level. Trevone Boykin is a backup with major question marks, which is why there’s so much Colin Kaepernick Jerseys-to-Seattle buzz right now.
11. Carolina Panthers Jerseys
There are so many questions around Cam Newton Jerseys Jerseys right now, not least of which is his timetable for recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. One season after he rampaged his way to a Super Bowl and a league MVP award, Newton saw his completion percentage dip to a Mark Sanchez Jerseys-ian 52.9. The worst season of Newton’s career coincided with fresh concerns about his ability to protect himself — and the ability of his team and the officials to protect him — on the field. The shoulder surgery this offseason kept those concerns front of mind.
Carolina’s backup situation is better than those of the other teams in this tier, given that Derek Anderson Jerseys Jerseys seems to know how to keep the ship afloat when Newton can’t play. But the Panthers sit behind Indy and Seattle in our rankings because the health concerns with Luck and Wilson are projected, while Newton’s are current.
12. Oakland Raiders Jerseys
Derek Carr Jerseys spent the bulk of the 2016 season as a swashbuckling, fourth-quarter-comeback-making MVP candidate, and we’re left to wonder what might have been of the Raiders’ season had he not broken his leg in late December. The late-game heroics and the 28:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio masked his middle-of-the-road completion percentage (63.8), yards per attempt (7.0) and Total QBR numbers (62.1), but Carr has shown improvement every season, and at 26 years old, he is in line for a confidence-boosting contract extension this offseason.
The Raiders added Ej Manuel Jerseys and bring back Connor Cook Jerseys to back up Carr, but the hope is that he continues to ascend and move into higher tiers.
Brady, Ryan and Dak Prescott Jerseys (who has played only one year) are the only quarterbacks with a higher Total QBR since the start of the 2015 season than Kirk Cousins Jerseys. Washington didn’t extend Cousins last year because it wanted to see another season like the one he had in 2015, and he gave them one. Washington still hasn’t extended him, and if it doesn’t by July 15, it’s almost sure to lose him next March.
Sources say there have been discussions about a long-term deal, and the team is interested up to a certain salary level. But due to the deadline and the lack of clarity in the Washington front office following the early March firing of general manager Scot McCloughan, there isn’t a lot of optimism from either side that something will get done in the next two months.
This is what keeps Washington in this part of the rankings. If it were truly confident about its situation, Cousins would have his long-term deal already. Instead, Washington backs him up with Colt McCoy Jerseys and Nate Sudfeld Jerseys and risks the possibility of starting from scratch in 2018.
When your performance declines in your age-36 season, that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Carson Palmer Jerseys Jerseys’s completion percentage last season was his lowest since 2011, when he was a Raider. (Remember Palmer as a Raider?) His yards per attempt were his lowest since 2010, when he was a Bengal. (Remember Palmer as a Bengal?) Touchdowns down, interceptions up, fumbles way up … it was alarming stuff all the way across the board for Palmer in 2016.
The Cardinals didn’t draft a quarterback, but they added Blaine Gabbert Jerseys and undrafted rookie Trevor Knight to a backup corps that already included Drew Stanton Jerseys and Zac Dysert. The only other teams with five quarterbacks right now are the Vikings (if you count injured Teddy Bridgewater Jerseys Jerseys) and the Bills (we’ll get to them in a second).
If Palmer is healthy and throwing it the way he was in 2015, the Cardinals are as confident as anyone. But there isn’t a real solid feel to the quarterback situation in the desert right now.
15. Kansas City Chiefs Jerseys
Sources close to the situation say the Chiefs’ coaching staff hasn’t lost faith in Alex Smith Jerseys Jerseys, who is expected to be the starter all season while first-round pick Patrick Mahomes II Jerseys learns the NFL game. Tyler Bray Jerseys or Joel Stave would be in line to fill in if Smith were to get hurt early in the season. But Smith is signed for only two more years, and the Chiefs can get out of his contract very easily next offseason.
Smith is fine for what the Chiefs are doing right now, and it appears that they believe they can win with him. But in today’s AFC West, winning isn’t easy. At some point, the Chiefs are going to look to Mahomes to elevate their ceiling at the most important position.
16. Cincinnati Bengals Jerseys
One of a few teams (including Carolina and Tampa Bay) whose draft seemed to be aimed at making its quarterback’s life easier, Cincinnati used a top-10 pick on speedy wide receiver John Ross Jerseys and a second-rounder on controversial but talented running back Joe Mixon Jerseys. You can draft like that when you’re confident in your quarterback situation, and the Bengals are. Andy Dalton Jerseys Jerseys’s performance ticked downward a bit in 2016 from its excellent 2015 levels, but he still completed 64.7 percent of his passes and averaged 7.47 yards per attempt in spite of major injuries to — and free-agent defections from — his skill-position group.
Backup AJ McCarron Jerseys Jerseys has some experience and is valuable enough that the Bengals turned down trade offers this offseason. This is one place where the Bengals have no worries.
17. Minnesota Vikings Jerseys
As long as he’s paired with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Sam Bradford Jerseys knows how to do what the team asks him to do. The Vikings are quite confident that Bradford, who set the NFL’s single-season completion percentage record last season (71.6), can deliver, and they hope that their new tackles, running backs and receiver Michael Floyd Jerseys Jerseys can help him flourish to a greater extent than he did in his first season in Minnesota.
They still don’t know what to expect health-wise in the long term from Teddy Bridgewater Jerseys Jerseys, but in the meantime, Case Keenum Jerseys is there as a veteran backup in case something happens to Bradford. The team is also high on Taylor Heinicke Jerseys, a 2015 undrafted free agent who struggled with his own health issues last season.
18. Baltimore Ravens Jerseys
Yes, there are a lot of guys who have already been discussed here who don’t have a Super Bowl ring like Joe Flacco Jerseys Jerseys does. Flacco’s 2012-13 postseason run was a delirious romp no Baltimore fan will ever forget. But the Ravens have played four whole NFL seasons since then, and over that time, Flacco ranks 21st in Total QBR, behind the likes of Colin Kaepernick Jerseys, Jay Cutler Jerseys Jerseys and Ryan Fitzpatrick Jerseys. His 2016 season was his best yet in terms of completion percentage (64.9) and passing yards (4,317). But still, 20 touchdowns against 15 interceptions? Yawn. Given how painfully thin the Ravens are at receiver, it’s hard to think backup Ryan Mallett Jerseys would offer much if he had to play. This might be the league’s dullest decent quarterback situation.
19. Dallas Cowboys Jerseys
There is nothing about Dak Prescott Jerseys’s first season to discourage confidence, other than the size of the sample. There is no reason to fear a Prescott tail-off, other than the history that tells us to pump the brakes. After 16 games, Robert Griffin III Jerseys looked like a sure thing. After 13 games with Chip Kelly, Nick Foles Jerseys Jerseys Jerseys looked like the quarterback of Eagles fans’ dreams. I think Prescott should be fine as long as his offensive line stays together, but a 16-game sample (no matter how brilliant) isn’t enough to erase all doubt.
Cowboys coaches are working in the film room with Prescott, studying the second games he played against division opponents for clues on how teams will attack him with a year’s worth of NFL tape to study. Complacency is among Prescott’s biggest enemies, and it’s encouraging that he doesn’t seem the type to cave to it. Kellen Moore Jerseys is a backup whom offensive coordinator Scott Linehan likes, but Moore hasn’t played enough to inspire any confidence.
20. Tennessee Titans Jerseys
Neck and neck with the next team on this list, Tennessee gets the slight edge because of how much more careful Marcus Mariota Jerseys is with the ball than Jameis Winston Jerseys is. Like Prescott, Mariota is in a good situation behind a strong, young line and with an excellent supporting run game. He has shown strides as a leader and as an operator of the offense in his two seasons. He threw 26 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions in his second season and looks the part when he’s on the field.
There’s some concern about health, as he was unable to finish either of his first two seasons, but at age 23, he seems to be coming along at least as well as the Titans could have hoped. Backup Matt Cassel surely could do fine handing the ball off to DeMarco Murray Jerseys and Derrick Henry Jerseys, if need be.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jerseys
Winston is a couple months younger than Mariota and so far has a higher Total QBR and a better win-loss record. The Buccaneers’ brain trust believes that he’s a tough player who commands the huddle and has his teammates’ loyalty and that the new weapons they got for him this offseason (including DeSean Jackson Jerseys and O.J. Howard) will help him elevate his game to the next level.
The interceptions remain a concern, as only Philip Rivers Jerseys and Blake Bortles Jerseys Jerseys have thrown more than the 33 Winston has thrown since the start of 2015. And there’s almost nothing behind him, as the backup right now is either Sean Renfree Jerseys or Ryan Griffin Jerseys Jerseys. Winston is the Bucs’ guy, and they’d love for him to justify and keep building up the confidence they have in him.
22. Buffalo Bills Jerseys
It’s difficult to figure out how to write about Tyrod Taylor Jerseys Jerseys. Did you know that, among quarterbacks who’ve played at least 20 games the past two seasons, he ranks fourth in touchdown/interception ratio, seventh in Total QBR and 11th in yards per attempt and has the third-fewest interceptions? No, I’ll bet you didn’t know that.
Taylor is clearly a better player than a lot of people want to believe he is, yet he hasn’t risen to the point where he inspires any level of confidence that he’s a franchise guy. Add an all-new coaching staff and front office in Buffalo, and the team itself probably doesn’t yet know how it’s supposed to feel about its quarterback situation.
New general manager Brandon Beane wasn’t exactly blowing kisses to Taylor in his introductory news conference, and though Taylor is surely the starter right now, it isn’t difficult to imagine them trying out Cardale Jones Jerseys, T.J. Yates or even fifth-round rookie Nathan Peterman Jerseys if Taylor isn’t doing what they want him to do.
23. Philadelphia Eagles Jerseys
It was exciting that Carson Wentz Jerseys was ready to play and play as well as he did out of the gate as a rookie. But in the end, Wentz didn’t have anything beyond a somewhat encouraging rookie season. He had 16 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and ranked 29th among qualifying quarterbacks with a paltry 6.23 yards per pass attempt. Was the experience valuable? Absolutely. Are Eagles fans justified in being optimistic? Without a doubt. Is it reasonable to expect things to get better with Alshon Jeffery Jerseys Jerseys Jerseys and a bunch of new helpers around him? Completely reasonable, yes.
But this gets back to what we said at the beginning about optimism versus confidence. Wentz offers a ton of the former but has a ways to go before he offers reason for the latter. Old friend Nick Foles Jerseys Jerseys Jerseys returns as the backup, and Matt McGloin Jerseys is there as well.
24. Miami Dolphins Jerseys
There’s no one ostensibly pushing Ryan Tannehill Jerseys Jerseys for the Dolphins’ starting quarterback job. Perpetual backup Matt Moore Jerseys is of course still there, as is David Fales Jerseys. Tannehill would have to get hurt or become totally incompetent to lose the job. But the Dolphins played fine with Moore in there last season after Tannehill got hurt.
Although Tannehill is technically signed through 2020, the only remaining guarantee after this season is an injury-only guaranteed $5.525 million of his $17.475 million 2018 salary. The Dolphins can escape the Tannehill contract next offseason. He set a new career high in completion percentage (67.1) in his first season under coach Adam Gase, but he has yet to elevate his game to a point that justifies a $20 million-per-year cap charge.
The Dolphins didn’t draft Tannehill’s eventual replacement, but that doesn’t mean they’re 100 percent confident with what they have for the long term.
25. Denver Broncos Jerseys
It’s probably still Trevor Siemian Jerseys Jerseys to start the offseason, but the new coaching staff offers a clean slate, and it isn’t crazy to imagine a scenario in which 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch Jerseys plays well enough this summer (or, if not, this fall) to win the job. The Broncos like Siemian more than everyone else seems to, and they can afford to roll with a caretaker type while Lynch develops, especially with the way they lean on their defense and run game. Their confidence in their quarterback situation is rooted in the fact that they don’t ask their quarterback to do as much as other teams do.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars Jerseys
A new coach (Doug Marrone) and new VP of football operations (Tom Coughlin) mean the heat is on 2014 first-round pick Blake Bortles Jerseys Jerseys. He had an absolutely rotten 2016 season and has thrown more interceptions (51) than anyone in the league the past three years other than Philip Rivers Jerseys (52). Like the Dolphins, the Jaguars didn’t draft anyone to compete with or pressure Bortles. Like the Dolphins, they have an eternal backup option in Chad Henne Jerseys Jerseys if things don’t work out.
They picked up Bortles’ 2018 contract option, but until next March, that is guaranteed only against injury, which means they can cut Bortles loose next spring if they don’t feel that he is worth $19 million in 2018. It’s a prove-it year for Bortles in Jacksonville, and the organization is looking for reasons to feel confident.
27. Houston Texans Jerseys
It’s another tough call here between this team and the next one, but I’m going with Houston because I like their first-round pick better than I like Chicago’s. Tom Savage Jerseys Jerseys opens as the starter, but he’ll face immediate pressure from Deshaun Watson Jerseys, the collegiate champion the Texans moved up to take in the first round of the draft.
People who have worked with Watson believe he’ll win over the locker room and the coaching staff sooner rather than later, and of the rookie quarterbacks, he’s the one most likely to start a significant chunk of 2017 games. Savage can hold him off if he plays well, but Houston coach Bill O’Brien changes quarterbacks all the time, and it’s entirely possible that he goes back and forth between those two (with maybe a little Brandon Weeden thrown in) a few times this season.
28. Chicago Bears Jerseys
They signed Mike Glennon Jerseys Jerseys as a free agent and then traded up to draft Mitchell Trubisky Jerseys No. 2 overall. If they really want to replicate the Eagles’ 2016 quarterback offseason, they need Trubisky to make Wentz-level progress this summer and for someone else’s starter to get hurt a week before the season and trade them a first-round pick for Glennon. That seems farfetched, but hey, you never know.
Mark Sanchez Jerseys and Connor Shaw Jerseys Jerseys are even there to compete for the Chase Daniel Jerseys role. Assuming the current depth chart holds, one Bears source said “”Mike would have to really mess up”” to lose the job to Trubisky this year. All bets are off in 2018, when the remaining guarantee on Glennon’s deal drops to $2.5 million. How confident will the Bears be in Trubisky — and in Glennon — when it’s time to make next year’s plan?