With the amount of veteran quarterbacks going down with injuries or changes under center in general, I wanted to take a look at this group of young signal-callers and judge how confident their respective teams should by what they’ve shown so far. This list focuses quarterbacks, who have their first extended period of starts this season. So this obviously doesn’t include guys who might be full-time starters now, after taking over at some point last year, and neither is it about signal-callers who simply switched places or went back under center for their squad with the QB1 out of the picture. This is all about potential starters for the future. Because of that, I did not include the Jets Luke Falk either, even though I always liked his ability to throw on time and target, because he started out as third string and the Jets already have a young QB that they are very invested in. So here are these six quarterbacks and my level of confidence in them:
Daniel Jones – Fairly high
Wow, that was a thrilling game! I actually was one of the very few to call the Giants upset, but I didn’t see them doing it this way – falling behind by 18 points early on and losing Saquon Barkley for the contest. I had Daniel Jones as a late day two pick because I didn’t think he had NFL accuracy and was highly overrated in the draft process because of who he was coached by and his football character, which is definitely important but doesn’t compensate for his arm talent. That’s why I thought the G-Men reached for the Duke QB with the sixth overall pick, even though I was annoyed with general sports media for bashing the kid, even though nobody even really watched him play.
While Jones certainly had an impressive preseason, it almost felt like Pat Shurmur tried to drive the narrative by setting his rookie up with easy completions on crossers and layups to his receivers, Seeing them pull the trigger after a couple of weeks was surprising to me however, because nothing that we saw through the first two weeks showed us anything new about Eli Manning, who was cooked for a couple of years however, Watching Jones in a live game, I might have underrated his arm strength and his athleticism really showed out, He seemed so comfortable running the offense and spreading the ball around, Was in command all game long and made the right play, instead of trying to force the issue, Whether it was getting the ball out on time to quick-breaking routes, finding crossers off bootlegs with a defender staying home for him, beating the blitz with hot reads or taking the check-down if nothing is open downfield, Saquon actually dropped a walk-in touchdown in the second quarter, The only pass that should have been punished came on an 18-yard in-route against a quarters look, where Jones kind of stared down the receiver and allowed the safety to drive on the ball aggressively and almost pick it off
We have all heard by now how Daniel Jones came back from that 18-point hole, while Eli Manning had been 0-44 from that deficit throughout his career and no Giants quarterback had accomplished the feat in almost 50 years. However, he also also set several records for a debut in team history. What made that performance even more impressive is the fact Jones didn’t have his superstar running back for the entire second half and the Giants put a lot on his plate, throwing the ball 40 times. Making plays off script like the rookie did is something Eli hadn’t been able to do in years and maybe never to this degree, especially when you see him pull the ball on a zone read play and beat a cornerback to the sideline for a touchdown. He also found guys late when being forced to escape the pocket and showed how sturdy his base is, not being bothered by swiping hands of pass rushers around him, because the Bucs pass rush was all over him and stripped him twice. He was just standing in the face of pressure and taking shots downfield or shuffling inside the pocket to find a new platform and firing a 40-yard laser to Darius Slayton on a post route across the field. Of course throwing the ball 15 yards over the middle to Evan Engram and have him go the other 60 yards to start the second half helps, but Jones was close to hooking for a couple of other deep balls. Pat Shurmur could call a different game with the young man, getting Jones on the move off bootlegs and actually having him as a threat to pull the ball to keep the backside edge defender home. That ability to cash in with his legs on third and fourth downs combined with what he did through the air earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. I just want to see him do it again, especially since the Bucs should have won that game on a walk-off field goal.
Mason Rudolph – Fairly low
Rudolph went for almost 13000 yards and 86 touchdowns through three years at a starter at Oklahoma State, while averaging 9.4 yards per attempt. He was a Heisman candidate for most of his senior year and ended up being a third-round pick, who I didn’t think should have been in the conversation with the big five last year. Ironically enough Ben Roethlisberger commented on the selection shortly after being surprising to him since he thought the Steelers could have used some help other positions better, but now the second-year man will start the rest of the season with Ben on IR.
After T.J. Watt intercepted a pass off the hands of a 49ers running back to set the offense up in field goal range straight away, these were the first three plays for the offense – a checkdown to James Conner due to being hesitant to push the ball to an open Vance McDonald, a wrong decision on an RPO play, where Juju Smith-Schuster got the ball on a slip screen, even though there was a three-on-two situation for the defense in terms of blockers and then a designed screen to Juju. On the second possession Rudolph missed a wide open Diontae Johnson on a square-in on third-and-five after a couple of runs. After the following punt, it was newly acquired Minkah Fitzpatrick on a pick off the hands of Dante Pettis and took it inside the opposing 25. However, the only plays that resulted in any positive yardage came on screen and run plays and the Steelers had to settle for three once again. However, San Francisco did their best to throw the game away, as the fumbled inside the Steelers ten after a good drive. Pittsburgh’s offense stayed with the theme of not gaining any yardage on passes beyond the line of scrimmage, as Rudolph missed open throws to McDonald and Johnson. Yet another turnover inside the PIT ten gave the ball back to the offense, but they answered with one more three-and-out. After the 49ers got their first points of the game, Rudolph finally completed a couple of easy passes on a crossing and quick-out route, but remained erratic inside the pocket and ended up punting the ball again.
While Rudolph threw a couple of touchdowns in the second half, I was not excited about what I see from him whatsoever. He tossed a stupid interception, trying to hit Juju on the scramble drill with a defender right underneath it and he did not complete a pass that travelled more than ten yards through the air until hitting the rookie Johnson, who just absolutely burned his corner from the line. His first touchdown came on a fairly well-placed pass to Juju, who went 66 of the 76 yards after the catch. Outside of those two passes his yards almost exclusively came off screen passes and the Steelers could not capitalize on four turnovers by the Niners. That game could have easily been a blowout. I thought he was alright the week before when he took over for Ben, but once again almost all of his success came on wide open passes within five yards or behind the line of scrimmage, plus he threw a bad pick on what should have been the game-tying two-point conversion. His only big play came on an underthrown ball to Juju off a flea-flicker, which should have been a touchdown if the pass travelled further downfield. And the result only was that close because the defense returned a Seattle fumble to the opposing three-yard line. I didn’t think the Steelers could stay in playoff contention when I first heard the news on Ben and now I’m certain about that.
Kyle Allen – Still under observation
This young man had the most unusual journey towards a starting position among this group. Landing at Texas A&M as the number one quarterback recruit in the country ahead of guys like Deshaun Watson, Allen took over for the Aggies by mid-season of 2014 as a true freshman and really showed some promise with four-touchdown winning performances at Auburn and against West Virginia in their bowl game. With tough performances against some of the top SEC schools and a lack of accountability inside the program, Allen decide to transfer to Houston with comments on the Johnny Manziel-intoxicated culture being the main culprit. After sitting out a year, head coach Tom Herman left the program for the Texas job and Allen was squeezed into a system that relied around running their quarterback and not allowing him to show what he can do with his arm. He was benched due to tossing those interceptions in three games and decided to forego his final year of eligility. After working out with QB guru Jordan Palmer and really showing progress in the pre-drafted Allen hoped that same time would take a chance on him, but he ended up not being selectd and the Panthers picked him up as an undrafted free agent.
While Carolina invested a third-round pick in Will Grier back in April – a guy who I liked quite a bit – Allen had an excellent showing against a Saints team that sat some guys in week 17 last year and established himself as the number two guy behind Cam Newton. In his first meaningful regular season game in Arizona the second-year QB was off the charts against a defense that actually wasn’t that bad through the first two weeks, even though the offense was sputtering at times. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns. The second-year man was highly accurate on the short and intermediate level. As most young quarterbacks do, Allen was looking for his tight-end and running back a lot, but he also pushed the ball outside the numbers and made some nice throw on the run, including two balls in the red-zone to Curtis Samuel as he was rolling towards his right and a nice loft ball to Greg Olsen in the end-zone as he was backing up.
His most impressive throw of the game however came from within the pocket, when he had a three-by-one set with Olsen in a tight split as the single receiver running a drag route, while the three receivers on the left ran a vertical concept with D.J. Moore on a deep in route, Allen correctly diagnosed the cover-two man and let the ball go just as Moore got into his break. When you watch that play on the All-22 and pause it as the ball is midway, it looks like the defender carrying that seam of the number two guy would either have it hit him right in the back or turn around for an easy interception. Instead it was right their for the Panthers receiver to snag it just behind him and run across the field for the 52-yard score. I thought before the season started that this might be Cam’s last year because of all the hits he has taken throughout his career and not being able to really get into a consistent rhythm since his MVP campaign. Cam is already ruled out for week four and if Allen continues to keep this going, a decision will have to be made after what we saw in the Tampa Bay game where Newton badly missed some wide open targets.
Gardner Minshew – High
There aren’t a lot of guys in the league, who I enjoyed watching more than this guy right now. Just like he did at Washington State, Minshew brought that certain energy he provided the Cougar faithful with as the mustache-weaing Heisman candidate to Jacksonville. After starting his collegiate career at East Carolina and almost ending up as a graduate assistant with Alabama, he jumped in for Mike Leach at Wazzu and put up spectacular numbers, completing over 70 percent of his passes for 4779 yards and 38 touchdowns compared to nine picks. At around six feet with average arm talent, he fell to the sixth round, but quickly established himself as the backup in Jacksonville with a good training camp and some moments in the preseason, before taking over under center.
Less than a quarter into the season, Minshew was already asked to take over for newly signed Nick Foles who broke his clavicle and the rookie started off with 13 straight completions. Overall he went 22 of 25 for 275 yards and two touchdowns, with his one pick coming off Leonard Fournette’s hands on a pass that shouldn’t have even been close to landing in the defender’s hands. Already starting off down by ten points against the most explosive team in football, that was a pretty good debut. While the rookie did struggle to string together drives for most of his first start and set up Houston’s only touchdown by fumbling the ball inside their own 20, he did lead them back against the Texans on that final drive, where he converted a fourth-and-ten on a scramble and threw a touchdown on the run. Unfortunately the Jaguars decided to give Leonard Fournette the ball on the two-point conversion, when I thought Minshew had done enough to earn the opportunity to do it himself. Against the Titans on Thursday Night, Minshew piled on a lot of easy, short completions on square-ins and flat routes, but he also had some pin-point throws, to allow his receivers to gain some late separation. That includes a 22-yard touchdown to his favorite target D.J. Chark on a fade route and he should have had another one later on in the game to Dede Westbrook on a perfect rainbow throw right into the hands of the receiver perfectly in stride running an inside fade, which was dropped badly.
Confidence is a huge factor for this kid and he simply has that swagger that has me believing in him, after how I have seen him convert his play in college to early success in the pros. Minshew is patient inside the pocket and will stand in there for a route or pattern to develop. His pocket presence is excellent for a rookie and he finds seams to set up into, while having the ability to quickly re-set. He is a very rhythmic and anticipatory passer, which shows up on timing-based routes, where he releases the ball before his receivers even get into their breaks at times, and he has been outstanding with his ball-placement. Minshew is also surprisingly slippery when he escapes the pocket and he has picked up some crucial first downs with his legs despite not being a great athlete. He actually ripped off 56 yards on the six times he took off against Houston. While he is looking to push the ball down the field and give his receivers chances along the sidelines, Minshew also doesn’t mind checking the ball down if nothing is there. At this point the sixth-round pick is completing 74 percent of his passes for just under 700 yards and five touchdowns with that freak INT. His passer rating of 110.6 ranks eight among all quarterbacks with at least ten attempts and it’s not like Leonard Fournette has provided the Jags with a consistent rushing attack. The stats might look okay, but when you consider that in this last game he had a 69-yarder and still finished with 66 rushing yards only, meaning he was in negative column up until that point late in the fourth quarter, Jacksonville has needed Minshew’s passing ability.
Teddy Bridgewater – Mediocre
This is the one guy who might not fit the criteria I set in my introduction since he started 28 games through his first two years in the league, but after his horrific knee injury it had been almost three years since he finally started a game again in mop-up duty for week 17 last year. When Drew Brees injured his thumb in the Saints’ week two matchup in Los Angeles, Bridgewater was pressed into action and started his first meaningful game since 2015 on Sunday. I was never was a huge fan of Teddy and didn’t look at him as a first-round prospect back when he came out of Louisville. I thought his arm was never special and although he got that stigma for having some dual-threat abilities, his athleticism was mediocre at best. After the Vikings let him go in 2018, the Jets picked him up and a nice preseason, convinced New Orleans to trade a third-round pick for him and resigned him to a fully guaranteed one-year deal.
In week three at the vaunted CenturyLink Field in Seattle, the Saints got the early lead on a punt return touchdown by undrafted free agent Deonte Harris and after the Seahawks tied the game, it was a fumble returned for another score that put New Orleans ahead once again. Five of Teddy’s first six completions went to Alvin Kamara at or behind the line of scrimmage and he almost threw a horrible pick, trying to side-arm the ball to his tight-end Josh Hill well short of the sticks on third-and-21. A fourth down stop by their defense set up the first offensive touchdown by the Saints. Bridgewater had a nice third-down conversion to Michael Thomas on a slant route, but once again it was Kamara off a screen passes, who went the final 34 yards. On Next drive Bridgewater connected with an open Thomas twice and finished with one of those Sean Payton staples, where they get their number one receiver the ball on a screen pass behind a stack or bunch set. However, he was close to another INT when he didn’t drive the ball enough to the outside to Thomas in the slot and K.J. Wright jumped in front of the pass to almost put them back in the game. The final touchdown for New Orleans came off a short field with Seattle failing to convert on fourth down and the only pass Teddy needed to complete was yet another one of those quick screens off a short motion to Taysom Hill and Kamara did the rest. So those 33 points at the end are kind of deceiving and I don’t want this narrative about how Teddy just took right over.
As it was in their week one victory, the Saints running back was the star of the show, breaking tackles, bouncing off guys and somehow escaping for big gains. Teddy had a few nice, quick passes to Michael Thomas when he first jumped into the action, who also saved from an interception by knocking the ball out of the defender’s hands, but overall he could not really move the offense at all. I think the game manager label is appropriate here, since Bridgewater won’t lose you games and with a genius play-designer like Sean Payton, the Saints can create enough explosive plays without Drew Brees, but when you put the game on his shoulders, I don’t see him taking those over. Looking at their matchup with the Rams is a little unfair, since he was just thrown in the fire, had no run game to support him and played from behind early on, after the refs wrongly whistled the play down where Cam Jordan took a fumble back to the house. Yet, if the Saints are going to continue to win it will be with their rushing attack and an opportunistic defense. I still believe Taysom Hill might be the Saints’ future under center.
Kyler Murray – High
While I disagreed with the selection first overall of a quarterback, after investing a top ten pick in the position just a year ago, Murray was my number one prospect at the position and a perfect fit with Kliff Kingsbury, I just thought taking an elite talent like Quinnen Williams and sticking with Josh Rosen, who was never close to being set up for success behind a workshop O-line and with a lack of weapons or gameplan around him, would be the right choice, However, Murray’s talent to sling the ball all over the field and make fast guys look slow once he takes off was apparent, He actually broke a lot of the records Baker Mayfield put up as a Heisman trophy winner and brought a second straight trophy back to Oklahoma. In his first NFL start against Detroit, Murray could not really get anything going for through the first three quarters, but led his team from down 15 points to an eventual tie in overtime. He made some pin-point throws to defeat tight coverage and rallied his troops before dueling it with Lamar Jackson in Baltimore until the final few moments.
As bad as a 18-point loss to a Panthers team without Cam Newton may look like, watching the tape didn’t leave me thinking Murray really struggled in that game. After his defense just gave up a 76-yard touchdown run to Christian McCaffrey, the Cardinals were down 28-20 with less than two minutes left in the third quarter and that’s when the game got a little out of hand. Kyler’s two picks however came on two freakish plays by Donte Jackson. On the first one the Panthers were in cover-three and the Arizona ran a comeback on the outside combined with kind of a sluggo by Larry Fitzgerald. The ball was placed a little too far outside, but you rarely see a guy jump that kind of a route, when he is responsible for somebody on the sideline. And on the second one Carolina was in cover-two and there was space to hit that honey hole with the outside fade, but Jackson leaped about ten feet into the air for his second pick. In the fourth quarter Murray also had a rusher in his face in less than two seconds every time he dropped back and had to find a crease to run through
He was also the victim of several drops against the Panthers, including a perfect deep ball to Christian Kirk down the seam, which travelled about 45 yards through the air, right into the hands of his receiver, There was another one later to Trent Sherfield, where Murray made the corner give up his deep third responsibility to come up for an out-route and got the ball behind him for what should have been a walk-in touchdown. The pass was a little high since he tried to almost no-look it, but it hit both his hands and should have resulted in a 25-yard gain at the very least. Until that point I thought Murray was outstanding at avoiding pressure despite shaky protection and it wasn’t until Sunday that I thought he really got happy feet inside the pocket and his feet got stuck a couple of times, leading to some inaccurate throws. He was just automatic on those hook and stick routes underneath, where the ball seems to hit his man right in the belly to protect him for any hits every single time, leading up to his 12th quarter as a starter. What he showed in this last game really for the first time is his ability to improvise and how quickly he accelerates once he leaves the pocket. Defensive coordinators watching him run past corners and gain ten to fifteen yards in a heartbeat will force them to gameplan for that aspect of his game and allow more opportunities in the passing game. I still believe in this offense and Kyler as a dual-threat nightmare.
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