Looking around the league, there seems to be a great division in age of the top QBs. They are either veterans in their late 30s (Brady, Brees and Rivers) or young and exciting. Only Russell Wilson seems to truly fill the void. This means that it is time to look ahead to our next Brady-Manning duel throughout the years. Currently, 3 QBs stand out: Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens), Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs) and Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans).
Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens)
This is the least proven of the 3. In his second year he is taking the league over and one of the favourites for MVP. The ultimate duel threat QB which has put defensive powerhouses in their place (most notably, the NO.1 defense in the rout of the New England Patriots). He may only rank 19 in passing yards (2258) but is 6th in yards/attempt (8.1). This shows incredible improvement over last year. He is using all weapons at his disposal, maily Willie Snead, the former New Orleans Saint who has been a repeated 3rd down target. Then there is Jackson’s use of Mark Andrews. Andrews is fast becoming a top tight end in the league. Against zone, he is always finding gaps of hitch or curl routes and is large enough to fend of defenders when running down the seam in man coverage. Jackson has used all these threats well, Coach Harbaugh (John) has completely rerworked this offense to suit and it has paid off with the team being Superbowl favourites.
The most impressive part of Jackson’s play is that he is a pocket passer most of the time. Jackson is always looking to pass first. Unlike Michael Vick, he has a pure understanding of all route-concepts and would rather have a 5 yard pass over a 5 yard run. This should help him survive in a league where QBs out of the pocket are going to get popped. Jackson, when he does run, is not a sitting duck however. He spun in and out of Bengal defenders like they were 7-year-olds and must have eluded at least 3 sure-fire sacks when playing the Patriots.
However, caution is always advised with only one great year on the resume. This team is first of all thriving on a strong rushing attack led by 29 year old Mark Ingram and Gus “The Bus” Edwards. Any running game can turn each year (see Patriots last year compared to this year) and even game to game depending of the defense’s strenghs. Jackson is a great passer but he will never have the touch of Brees, power of Farve or understanding of Brady. Therefore, it won’t be long until a defensive game plan is schemed and will slow him down. This is inevitable but what is the main question is will he improve past it or be stuck in neutral like Sean McVay’s Rams offense.
Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Cheifs)
The reigning MVP took the league by storm last year. No-look passes and left-handed throws filled up highlight boards. The only team that posed any issues for him were the Patriots but never more than a half (1st half twice and 2nd half week 14 this year). He was perhaps the closest in a long-run of challengers to the great Tom Brady and was a coin flip and 1 drive away from dethroning him. However, that did not happen. Instead, Mahomes has fire in him to get over that final hurdle this year and has even powered his way through a nasty ankle injury on his way to 3,266 yards and 21 TDs 3INTs in only 10 games. I loved Mahomes last year, but this year has been more impressive, even if it’s not MVP worthy.
In year 1 (excluding his rookie year sitting behind Alex Smith), teams have no tape on the guy, they don’t know how he’ll compete in the pros. Therefore he received coverages forcing him to pass in his early games. Then when defenses started to key in on him, Mahomes took advantage of personel groupings due to weapons of Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. This was exploited in the week 6 matchup against the Patriots when the Pats were able to hold him to 9 first hald points. Then Hill, Hunt and Kelce happerned. They started getting a few yards of seperation and after Mahomes connected a few times, built confidence and started frying the Patriots’ secondary. This year has been a different story.
Mahomes battled injury early this season. One injury is not enough to get classed as injury prone and therefore this should not be judged against him. Instead, it showed a QB that is willing to tough it out for the team despite obvious discomfort. Then, there was the injury to Tyreek Hill, the loss of Kareem Hunt and sub-par O-Line play. While the rest of the league has been drooling over Lamar Jackson (can’t blame them), meanwhile, Mahomes has been trying to reinviggor a Kansas City team that doesn’t seem to have that same energy as last year. The defense has only marginaly improved and the running game has turned to dust. This is why I find this season a more defining one for Mahomes because it gives me confidence that he will be able to continue at this level in future years. He can’t win MVP this year because an MVP can’t miss games and there’s the issue of Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Christian McCaffery and Michael Thomas but Mahomes has ceartainly shown he is a future star.
Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans)
Speaking of QB’s who push through pain barriers, teamates injuries and dismal O-Line play. Watson is the King of such categories. I truly believe that this is the guy who will become the best QB (along with Russell Wilson) for the next 10 years. Watson has a career rating 102.3 (above Jackson, 101, and behind Mahomes 109.3) and has achieved that rating playing behind perhaps the worst 3 years of O-Line play, a single franchise has seen since 2010. There is no doubt that coming out of Clemson, Watson was not the finished article. He kept the ball too long which made his O-Line look even worse and would every now and again throw a mind-boggling interception. He also relied too much on Deandre Hopkins but that was probably just the Texans game plan at that stage. Will Fuller was injured seemingly every other game and an O-Line filled with Giants level Erick Flowers. But then Watson improved. This is the year were he has finally come into the public eye. Watson has been one of the best young QBs in the game since he started and he has done it with less than other QBs. Then the Texans fired their GM and trade mayhem entered. The defense got worse on paper (actually almost as good without Clowney) a top 7 left tackle to protect his blind side. This means Watson is not on pace to be sacked the most times in the league this year (unlike last year). A rookie right tackle in Tytus Howard which could protect Watson for many years to come. A Will Fuller that isn’t always injured and suddenly, Watson looks to be leading a potential Superbowl team. Yes, the Texans just got blown out by Drew Lock and the Broncos but he battled to the end. Watson makes amaxing plays as well. Whether against New England in 2017 or after being kicked in the eye when playing the Raiders this year, Watson is a star and will continue to be like this for many years to come. If the defense improves and Tytus Howard comes on, this team could be Superbowl bound in the next 2 years.