Joe Burrow. Justin Herbert. Jalen Hurts. Tua Tagovailoa. With apologies to Jordan Love, the quarterback class of 2020 is woven throughout many of the key storylines in this NFL season. Three of the four passers are key figures in the MVP race. Two have broken out with spectacular junior seasons. All four are in line to get massive contract extensions this offseason, with a billion dollars likely to be sprinkled between a few of the league’s most promising young signal-callers.

Just one question: If the league was going to draft these quarterbacks again — knowing what it has learned over the past three seasons — in which order would they go?

What makes these quarterbacks even more fascinating is how they appeal to different arguments and elements of evaluation. Burrow is the winner who is undefeated against Patrick Mahomes and actually has made it to a Super Bowl. As a passer, Tagovailoa is having the best 2022 season of the bunch, leading the league in most efficiency metrics. Hurts is the most versatile of the four and the one who has made the most dramatic improvement since being drafted. And Herbert — whose Chargers team plays Tagovailoa’s Dolphins on Sunday night — might be the quarterback you would draw on paper if you wanted to construct the perfect passer with prototypical arm strength, accuracy and toughness.

You already know all that. I know you want me to order these quarterbacks, and I know you’ll probably get mad at my ranking. That’s fine. You could literally rank them in any possible order and defend it with some semblance of credibility (although it’s tough for me to see a universe in which Burrow is taken fourth). If you’re ranking these guys on who’d you want for one drive in 2022, you might have one answer. If you’re debating who you’d want for the next 10 years? It might be another.

Let’s lay out the pros and cons for all four before I make my choice. I’ll go in order of where each signal-caller was drafted in 2020, which means we’ll start with the guy who closed out the biggest game of Week 13.

Jump to a section:
Burrow | Tagovailoa
Herbert | Hurts
How the QBs rank now

Pros: Accuracy, toughness, franchise-altering confidence, clutch performance
Cons: Propensity for sacks, lack of arm strength

The last two meaningful plays of Sunday’s dramatic win over the Chiefs were a microcosm of Burrow’s 2022 season. On second down with 2:05 remaining and a 3-point lead, the Bengals spread out the Chiefs and asked Burrow to pick a side. He started the play by looking right, where slot receiver Tyler Boyd had a leverage advantage on the slot corner. But he wisely saw that Chiefs outside corner Joshua Williams was looking to trap Boyd’s quick out and looked the other direction.

He was able to get backup tight end Mitchell Wilcox open at the sticks, but there wasn’t time to make a clean throw. He was scrambling amid pressure from George Karlaftis, and Chris Jones also began to close in, so Burrow slid down for a sack. It might be a reasonable play if the clock had been running, but since the play started at 2:05, it was going to stop immediately after the whistle for the two-minute warning. It was a bad sack to take on second-and-4 when a conversion wins the game, and while the protection wasn’t perfect, he had enough time to get rid of the football. Mahomes and Josh Allen probably make off-platform throws to Wilcox in that window.

On the next play, he erased any memory of that snap. Facing a third-and-11, the Chiefs briefly showed pressure and then sent four pass-rushers. The right side of the line failed to deal with a twist and let interior lineman Mike Danna through relatively cleanly. In a situation where nearly all of the league’s 32 quarterbacks — including some very good ones — would bail from the pocket, get happy feet or stare down that pressure, Burrow just threw a slant into a teacup for Tee Higgins on what was the game-winning conversion.

If it were up to him, he likely would line up on every snap out of the shotgun in empty formations. Nobody is better at seeing a spread field and picking teams apart than Burrow, who compensates for a lack of prototypical arm strength with excellent accuracy and decision-making. He has a preternatural ability to get the offense in the right play and pick the correct matchup at the moment of the snap. It has won Cincinnati games at times, with the Jaguars’ victory early in 2021 as the most obvious example.

Burrow has thrown for more yards out of empty backfield formations since the start of last December than anybody else, and it isn’t really close. He gets plenty of opportunities there, but his completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) out of empty since the beginning of last season is plus-6.8%, a figure topped only by Hurts. The only quarterback who has averaged more yards per attempt out of empty over that stretch is Tagovailoa, who doesn’t do it nearly as often.

While it gets lost in the wake of more dramatic improvements by Hurts and Tagovailoa, we’ve also seen Burrow take strides over the course of his professional career. Including the postseason, he has now made 42 starts. Owing both to his inexperience as a rookie and the time it took him to recover from a significant knee injury, we’ve seen him improve notably as a passer between the first half of his career and the second:

Improving by nearly a yard per attempt might not seem like much, but that would be the difference between Burrow ranking second and 13th in yards per attempt this season. He has also made those improvements count by getting much better in the red zone, where his QBR has jumped from 21st in the league last season to third in the NFL this season. Having Ja’Marr Chase and Higgins helps, but Burrow has kept his numbers up with Chase missing November due to a hip injury.

We’ve also seen him make strides with what had been his biggest weakness and the most obvious point of concern for his professional future. Burrow’s sack percentages keep his QBR down and eliminate drives for the Bengals. In 2021, the offensive line was blamed for his sack count — and understandably so, given the personnel. The Bengals swapped out most of their line for the 2022 season, but when the sacks continued to mount over the first two weeks of the season, he took some of the criticism. (In hindsight, he also played the Steelers with T.J. Watt and the Cowboys with Micah Parsons, which is going to heat up any passer.)

Sacks are a quarterback stat, even if the offensive line can be to blame for some or many of those takedowns. Burrow’s line last season wasn’t up to the rest of the offense’s standards, something we saw as the Bengals dissipated in the second half of the Super Bowl against the Rams. Both last season and this season, though, he deserved some of the blame for those sacks. His desire to extend plays and stand tall in the pocket was a problem on second down against the Chiefs and a virtue on third down. Quarterbacks have to toe a fine line between being skittish at the first sign of pressure and ignoring it and taking drive- and season-killing hits.

Burrow was pressured on 29.4% of his dropbacks last season. Since Week 3, that mark is down to 23.3%, which is the league’s fifth-best rate. He’s processing and getting rid of the ball faster; he has gone from taking 2.69 seconds before each pass a year ago to 2.58 seconds this season, with the latter standing as the third-fastest average. The only passers who get the ball out quicker are Tom Brady and Trevor Lawrence.

The last point in Burrow’s favor is how far he has gone. The other three quarterbacks on this list have combined for one playoff start, a Hurts’ loss against the Buccaneers in the 2021 season’s wild-card round. Burrow won three playoff games en route to the Super Bowl last season, including a furious comeback victory over the Chiefs at Arrowhead. He had the Bengals ahead of the Rams in the second half in Los Angeles during Super Bowl LVII, too, before the offensive line was overwhelmed.

Moribund franchises dream of landing a quarterback who can revitalize their organization as quickly as Burrow has in Cincinnati. Much like Allen changed the stories surrounding the Bills after his breakout, Burrow has turned the Bengals into appointment television. A team that hadn’t won a playoff game in 30 years now feels like it’s going to be in the mix to win one every season. And a coaching staff that looked to be a whiff turned into a success story. Yes, he has been blessed with great receivers, but they’ve also been blessed to play with him.

Pros: Accuracy, clutch performance
Cons: Lack of durability, shorter track record of elite play

Even acknowledging last week’s frustrating loss to the 49ers, what Tagovailoa has done this season is nothing short of astonishing. Adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) is a stat that aims to improve on passer rating by more accurately weighing touchdowns and interceptions and including sack yardage. ANY/A+ normalizes that metric versus the rest of the league so players can be compared across seasons and generations. A 100 ANY/A+ in any season is the league average.

By ANY/A+, Tagovailoa is having the best season any third-year quarterback has had since Roger Staubach in 1971. Staubach started 10 games and threw the ball 211 times that season, so Tagovailoa has been only microscopically less efficient with more volume, having thrown 311 passes. He is just ahead of Kurt Warner, Boomer Esiason, Peyton Manning and Mahomes in the top 10.

Tagovailoa’s propensity for avoiding sacks in 2022 has aided his value, but let’s use a more familiar metric. Pro Football Reference, which is the home of ANY/A+, also has an era-adjusted passer rating metric. By this similar measure, he’s having the fifth-best third-year campaign of all time. The guys who slip ahead of him (aside from Staubach) aren’t exactly Hall of Famers — Chad Pennington, Brian Griese and Trent Green — but they were each excellent in their respective Year 3s. Tagovailoa is having a special campaign.

I probably don’t need to get into the changes the Dolphins have made and what they’ve done for his offense. We just covered the combination of Chase and Higgins for Cincinnati, but just about any other team would prefer to have Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle at wide receiver. Miami coach Mike McDaniel has proven to be an imaginative playcaller and designer in his first season as the team’s primary offensive mind, with the Dolphins exploiting space at all levels and playing up to Tagovailoa’s strengths.

The key number in terms of the changes starts with Tagovailoa’s air yards per attempt:

  • 2020: 7.4, 22nd in the NFL

  • 2021: 6.9, 28th in the NFL

  • 2022: 9.1, first in the NFL

Incorrectly, his reticence to throw deep in past years was seen as evidence of a lack of arm strength. You only needed to see him throw at Alabama (and deliver rare deep shots a year ago) to see that his arm wasn’t the issue. Sure, Herbert (and others) have stronger arms, but quarterbacks just need to be able to threaten teams deep with their arm to have functional arm strength. Tagovailoa, as we’ve seen this season, has no issues there.

Instead, he was throwing short pass upon short pass a year ago for other reasons. Most notably, the offensive line couldn’t protect him, which caused the Dolphins to lead the league in run-pass option usage with him as their starter. Waddle can obviously catch passes downfield, but the other deep threats in Miami’s offense weren’t exactly overwhelming.

It’s tempting to paint some of his 2022 numbers as a product of yards after the catch, but Tagovailoa’s YAC rate is actually below-average at 4.8 yards per completion. He is 11th in YAC+, an NFL Next Gen Stats metric that measures how many yards after the catch the typical completion gains versus what an average receiver would project to do in the same situation. Jimmy Garoppolo is No. 1 in the NFL in the same category. You can’t realistically compare the two, even if they’re running similar offenses.

Tagovailoa’s best strength is his accuracy. He has feasted on throws over the middle of the field in the intermediate (10-20 yards downfield) range, with 22 more completions on those throws than any other passer. His CPOE on those throws is 6.3%, and his 141.9 passer rating there is the league’s best. The only player within 22 points of his passer rating in those spots is Lamar Jackson.

ESPN has a statistic called adjusted completion percentage, which accounts for drops/throwaways and weighs completions by air yards. Tagovailoa’s 74.4% adjusted completion percentage is the third-best mark, behind Geno Smith and Hurts. A year ago, in a season in which little went right, Tagovailoa ranked 12th. His touch on throws is legitimate, and it makes this offense significantly better.



Joe Fortenbaugh explains why he is going to lay the three with the Dolphins over the Chargers.

Tagovailoa has also been a clutch operator. When the game is on the line, he has been a difference-maker, and it isn’t just during this 2022 campaign. Over the past three seasons, when the game has been within seven points during the fourth quarter, his 88.2 QBR is the best in the league. He somehow gets more accurate in those situations, with the 79.4% adjusted completion percentage he has posted leading the league by more than three points. Tagovailoa is just ahead of Mahomes in each metric. The Dolphins have averaged 3.1 points per drive in those spots, the most of any team in football over the past three seasons.

Like Burrow, he is probably best when he gets to work out of shotgun and survey the field. Even during this breakout season, he is 16th in the league in QBR on play-action and 15th when he works from under center. And like Burrow, he has been incredible in the red zone; his 90.5 QBR inside the 20-yard line leads the league, as he has thrown 15 touchdown passes without a single interception this season. His 6.4% CPOE in the red zone also ranks No. 1.

If Tagovailoa had been this player over the entirety of his first three seasons, we wouldn’t need to have this debate. He has been the best quarterback, pass for pass, of anybody this season. The question is how to weigh the new Tagovailoa against the guy we saw in his first two seasons and what that means about his performance moving forward.

While he missed three-and-a-half games with a concussion earlier this season, the starting playmakers in the offense have all been available outside of one missed game apiece from Raheem Mostert and Durham Smythe. The offensive line, unfortunately, hasn’t been quite as healthy. Austin Jackson has been on injured reserve for most of the year, while 2021 second-rounder Liam Eichenberg joined him in November. Terron Armstead, the team’s most significant addition in free agency, went out with a pectoral injury during the blowout win over the Texans and wasn’t able to play in the game against the 49ers.

While the Niners’ pass rush doesn’t need any injuries to shine, the Dolphins and Tagovailoa looked more like the 2021 offense without him in the fold last week. After he threw a 75-yard touchdown pass on the opening snap from scrimmage, his subsequent 35 dropbacks produced 200 net yards. His third sack taken resulted in a touchdown for the 49ers and an ankle injury for Tagovailoa, although the issue is not expected to keep the 24-year-old out of the lineup in Week 14.

The 49ers are one thing, but even after Armstead went out in Week 12, the Dolphins slowed down against a Texans team that isn’t exactly known for its dominant defense. Tagovailoa was sacked five times across the three drives he played without Armstead, although one of those sacks was wiped off for a facemask call on the player taking down the Dolphins’ standout. McDaniel wisely pulled Tagovailoa from what was a blowout in the third quarter, but it’s clear that the issues protecting him aren’t just a product of the 49ers game.

Everyone gets worse without their best offensive lineman. In Tagovailoa’s case, though, his QBR falls from 84.6 with Armstead on the field to 13.0 without him (admittedly in a small sample). His CPOE without Armstead is 11.7% below expectation. We’ve seen him struggle in an awful situation and thrive in an ideal one. When everything’s right around a quarterback, good players can post numbers like great ones, with Andy Dalton‘s 2015 season as a classic example.

His breakout goes beyond the additions around him, but when your MVP case consists of 286 dropbacks with Armstead at left tackle and a 55-dropback sample where you fall apart without him, it’s something to worry about. The ceiling for Tagovailoa is higher than anybody anticipated coming into the season, and his chances of realizing that ceiling are better than most other passers — but the floor we saw in 2020 and 2021 is still present, too.

Part of that is tied up in durability concerns. Leaving Tagovailoa’s concussion aside, he has now dealt with ankle issues and a serious hip injury at Alabama and finger, rib, back and now ankle ailments as a pro. It’s impossible to predict injuries, but players with significant, varied injury histories early in their careers rarely age as well as players who stay healthy and on the field. Nobody’s going to pass up a quarterback with his talent altogether, but in races as close as the one between these signal-callers, durability concerns would certainly lead some teams away from the Dolphins’ starter.

Pros: Arm strength, size, mobility, floor
Cons: Less year-on-year improvement

Let’s start with that “improvement” issue because it might not ring true to everyone. Let’s consider each of these quarterbacks and their year-to-year jumps in ANY/A+ to start:

Tagovailoa and Hurts have made enormous, historic Year 3 leaps. Burrow is down three points, but he made a 24-point jump in Year 2. Herbert came into the league and was immediately much better than any of his counterparts from the 2020 class, but he’s having the worst season of the bunch — and not by a small margin — two years later.

Herbert is right around league average in most efficiency metrics this season. He’s above average in completion percentage (66.7%), sack rate (4.7%) and interception rate (1.4%), which is in line with his low average depth of target. His average pass has traveled just 6.2 yards in the air this season, which ranks 32nd out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks. Only Matt Ryan has thrown his average pass shorter.

Unsurprisingly, his yards per attempt have dropped from above-average to well below-average. He has lost a full yard per attempt this season and is generating just 6.5 yards per pass, which ranks 26th in the NFL. Only 15.3% of Herbert’s passes have traveled 15 or more yards in the air, which ranks 29th.

We have enough evidence from Years 1 and 2 to say that this isn’t a product of Herbert’s skill set. Even among the howitzers possessed by top-level NFL quarterbacks, his arm is legendary. Every receiver and every spot on the field is eligible when he has time to throw, which creates opportunities for easier completions underneath when defenses are forced to honor deep routes. There’s nothing wrong with taking those easy throws, but they should be generating first downs, and his 32.2% first-down rate ranks 22nd.

Here’s where we mention the context. The Chargers are without star left tackle Rashawn Slater and have seen center Corey Linsley come in and out of the lineup with injuries. Herbert’s QBR is 23 points better with Linsley on the field than it is without him. Wideouts Mike Williams and Keenan Allen have been on the field for just 30 combined snaps this season. He has an 85.7 QBR across those 30 dropbacks, which would be No. 1 in the NFL over a full season. Joe Lombardi’s playcalling has come in for criticism, too. There’s the feeling Herbert is being held back by his surroundings.

Some of that is fair. Some of it is a product of Herbert’s own injury, a rib cartilage ailment that clearly bothered the 24-year-old for stretches in September and October. The injury likely encouraged the Chargers to keep things simpler and protect Herbert on offense, which has reduced his air yards and opportunities for big plays. Rookie Jamaree Salyer has impressed in Slater’s absence, but the line issues have given Lombardi more of a reason to lean on shorter passes for his quarterback.

And yet, given the rarified air Chargers fans undoubtedly want Herbert to be considered with, is that enough? I watched Mahomes lead an offensive line shedding pieces like a spaceship all the way to Super Bowl LV before the wheels fell off. Burrow made it to the Super Bowl with a worse line than any of the ones Herbert has played behind this season. The missing receivers have been a problem, but I can recall stretches in which Philip Rivers was down multiple top receivers and throwing to Seyi Ajirotutu and Patrick Crayton as his primary wideouts. Great quarterbacks turn into good quarterbacks when they don’t have the right infrastructure around them, but Herbert was a good quarterback who has turned into an average passer this season.

All of this is not to doubt both Herbert’s floor and ceiling. He’s the only guy in this group with three (well, two and two-thirds) above-average campaigns to his name. He has the best physical traits of anyone in this class and the upside that comes with those traits. There’s the perpetual sense that the Chargers could unleash an MVP if he ever has healthy receivers, an offensive line and a coaching staff that plays to his strengths.

And yet, three seasons into Herbert’s career, that breakout hasn’t really happened. QBR was more optimistic about his 2021 season when he finished third in a down year for quarterbacks, but he is back down to 13th this season, nestled between Justin Fields and Marcus Mariota. The explosive games we saw from him a year ago haven’t really been there this season, as the Chargers have topped 27 points twice. One was a 34-24 victory over the Texans. The other, a 30-28 defeat of the Browns, came on a rare day where the ground game took over and racked up 238 yards on 34 carries. That same rushing attack has 238 carries for just 778 yards over the rest of the season, an average of just 3.3 yards per rush.

Herbert’s cumulative totals, which are positively gaudy, are also inflated by the 17-game schedule and the pass-happy nature of his offense. The Chargers threw the ball 674 times last season, the third-highest total in the league. This season, the offense is on pace for 725 attempts, which would be the second-most of any team behind the Buccaneers. Both the Chargers and Bucs have quarterbacks they love, but the reason they’re so pass-first is because neither of them can run the ball.

I wouldn’t be prepared to give up on Herbert, of course. Even if he’s just this player for the rest of his career, an above-average quarterback with great physical traits can be a really valuable passer. Both the Chargers’ fans and the organization know their third-year quarterback is capable of more, though, and they’ve been frustrated by a season where that leap hasn’t come. As Herbert becomes eligible for an extension, Los Angeles has to face the same issue the Cardinals did with Kyler Murray: Are they prepared to pay a superstar extension for a quarterback who hasn’t yet produced at that level for a full season? And whether they are or are not prepared for that deal, can they deal with the consequences?

Pros: Added dimension as runner, decision-making, dramatic year-over-year improvement
Cons: Pocket presence

Burrow, Herbert and Tagovailoa all came into the league as franchise quarterback prospects. Hurts was different. There were plenty of observers who thought the Eagles were foolish to even draft a quarterback in the second round, given the presence of Carson Wentz on the roster. Hurts wasn’t widely regarded as that caliber of player. There were comparisons made between him and Taysom Hill, with Hurts expected to play some sort of hybrid passing/running/receiving role.

Less than three years later, Hurts does not need any qualifiers. He has gone from being a gimmick or gadget prospect to emerging as a superstar. The people left arguing he is anything less than a quarterback because of what he offers as a runner are beyond missing the point. He is the system in Philadelphia.

Let’s leave aside what he does for a runner and just consider Hurts as a passer. His 79.4 QBR ranks third in the NFL, and that’s just if we include what he does when he throws the ball. A quarterback who completed 52.4% of his passes as a rookie — whose era-adjusted completion percentage index was 46 — is up to 68.1% this season. His adjusted completion percentage has jumped from 44th to 23rd to second.

To put that 46 number in context, Hurts’ 2020 season was the 10th-worst completion percentage ever for any quarterback with 100 passes or more in a given season after adjusting for era. With Michael Vick and Doug Williams as notable exceptions, just about every other quarterback with a sub-55 completion percentage index either failed to develop as a pro or were on their way out of football. Hurts has turned into one of the league’s most accurate passers.

Along the way, Hurts has also drastically improved his yards per attempt, interception rate and first down rate. He ranks fifth in QBR in the red zone and fifth on third downs. He’s third in QBR on throws from inside the pocket. He has turned into a quarterback who can pick teams apart with time; he’s fourth in QBR when teams send four rushers or less. The only players ahead of him are Josh Allen, Mahomes and Tagovailoa.

While Hurts did toss up a 50/50 ball to A.J. Brown for a touchdown in Sunday’s blowout win over the Titans, he isn’t reliant on those passes. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, just 14% of his passes are into tight windows, below the league average of 14.8%. It’s a small sample, but he has actually posted a 95.4 QBR with Brown off the field and a 67 QBR with Brown on it. I’m not trying to argue that the Eagles aren’t getting a ton out of Brown, who was acquired via trade in April, but Hurts isn’t solely a creation of his new star wide receiver.

Much was made of Hurts’ struggles throwing over the middle last season, where he threw less often than every other full-season starter. Whether it’s the arrival of Brown or Hurts’ development, that issue is gone. He has thrown more passes over the middle of the field (79) than he did over the entirety of 2021 (71). His 111.2 passer rating on those throws is the NFL’s sixth-best mark.

Owing to his ability as a runner and desire to extend plays, sacks are a legitimate concern. If we again leave aside running plays and just include the combination of passes and sacks to evaluate Hurts, he drops from third to fifth in QBR. He has been sacked on nearly 8% of his dropbacks this season, which is a significant rate given the quality of his offensive line and the sack rates for other star quarterbacks around the NFL. Hurts has only thrown three interceptions, but he has fumbled nine times. The Eagles have been lucky to recover seven of those, but QBR treats them as equally damaging, regardless of who ends up recovering.

Now, let’s add rushing to the mix. Hurts is an excellent scrambler, averaging nearly 9.0 yards per attempt when he’s chosen to abandon the pass. As a designed runner, he is different than many of his peers. He doesn’t generate many big plays in the designed run game in the way that Lamar Jackson or Justin Fields might; his 3.8 yards per carry mark on designed run is well below that of other quarterbacks who figure in the designed run game this often.



Joe Fortenbaugh suggests pairing the Eagles with the Bengals on a 6-point teaser.

Some of that is a product of sneaks, though, and Hurts has been great at moving the chains. He has generated 39 first downs on designed runs when an average player in the same situations would have generated just 28; the resulting difference is the second-highest in the league, behind only Jackson. Hurts’ 60.8% success rate on designed runs is ahead of players like Fields, Allen and Kyler Murray.

Owing in part to volume, nobody has generated more rushing EPA on designed runs than Hurts. If we include scrambles, he is second behind Fields. He has been a much better passer than any of his peers who derive a significant portion of their value from running, with Allen as the only exception there.

At this point, the only holes you can poke in Hurts are the sacks and, as The Ringer’s Benjamin Solak noted after the Colts game, how the Eagles handle late-game situations with him in the mix. It’s clear coach Nick Sirianni and his staff do not want to place Hurts into situations where the other team is entirely certain he’ll throw. In the final four minutes of the game while trailing, offenses unsurprisingly throw the ball quite often. The league as a whole has thrown the ball about 82% of the time in those situations.

In an extremely small sample (13 plays), the Eagles have thrown the ball just three times. Of course, they haven’t needed to throw down multiple scores because Hurts has done a great job of keeping them in games. This isn’t a criticism of him as much as it is an acknowledgement of what we don’t know yet. They don’t want the chips to be down — and the Eagles have played well enough to not have to deal with that — but does the staff have faith in Hurts to carry the team as a passer when they have no choice but to throw?

How a re-draft would play out now

All of these passers have their positives and negatives. As I said earlier, every organization and front office has their own perspective on which qualities they want from their young quarterback. Here, I’m assuming these are average organizations without any sort of dramatic lean in one direction or another. Average weather, average staff, average line, average receivers. The only thing these teams care about is getting the best possible signal-caller.

The first quarterback off the board is the same guy who came off first in 2020: Burrow. His accuracy, decision-making and ability to process quickly is extraordinary for a player this early into his career. He has recovered from the serious knee injury he suffered as a rookie, and we’ve seen him make major strides. He has been playing at a superstar level longer than any of the other passers on this list. Burrow is the oldest, which hurts him a little bit, but the only thing he lacks is elite arm strength.

The first pick was chalk, but the second sees Hurts fly up the board and pass the three other first-round picks from the Class of 2020. (Jordan Love was taken by the Packers at No. 26.) Hurts’ steady-yet-spectacular development over the course of his career speaks to both his work ethic and his talent. He has proven the concerns about his mechanics or passing ability from before the draft to be non-issues. I would be a little concerned about him taking so many hits as a runner and passer, but he has a cleaner injury history than Tagovailoa and Herbert.

The third quarterback off the board is Tagovailoa. None of these four has played at a higher level for an extended period of time than Tagovailoa has during this 2022 season. Before the 49ers game, he had clearly been the most effective passer in football on a play-by-play basis. That race is more muddled now, but he still leads in the league in yards per attempt and passer rating and is just behind Mahomes in QBR.

It has taken major upgrades to coax this career season out of Tagovailoa, but I’m inclined to look at those first two seasons and write them off (mostly) as a product of his hip injury and a unplayably bad offensive line. He’s probably more sensitive to being in ideal situations than the other quarterbacks on this list, but he has shown that his ceiling can be an MVP-caliber passer. I’m not sure anybody else is quite at that level yet.

I’ll finish with Herbert, who might be the No. 1 pick for some teams if they were conducting this same exercise. Herbert looks like a franchise quarterback, and he has put together series and games and weeks where he plays like one, but we’re still waiting for that year where he puts all doubt aside and plays like a week-in, week-out superstar. He has it in him, but it’s tough to pick him ahead of the other guys on this list when they’ve each actually exhibited that star ceiling for longer stretches of time.

Herbert has gotten the least help from his team this season, and that’s costing him opportunities. There have been moments in which he has been down his top three receivers, his starting left tackle and his franchise center. Get all those guys on the field and he’s capable of playing like the best quarterback in the league. Until he does, though, he has to be fourth in this group.

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