Hope springs eternal before the games are actually played. Each person thinks that their team is this season’s turnaround story or that their QB will take the leap to elite status. But obviously everyone can’t be right. So let’s inject a little reality into the situation. I’ve already discussed how I think teams’ rookies will do; here, I am going to list five QBs who I think will make the leap in 2022, as well as five who will not. Stepping up is a bit subjective and is based on the player’s current standing. For some, making the leap means becoming the franchise QB they were drafted to be. For others, it means producing more team success, even though they put up solid or better numbers before. Let’s get to the lists…
The Five QBs Who Will Step Up
Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins: I am absolutely bullish on Tua’s prospects in year 3. He is being knocked by the media and evaluators for reasons beyond his control. In his rookie season, he was recovering from a brutal hip injury and had to make his debut against Aaron Donald. In year 2, his offensive line got him repeatedly battered, and he had a coach who was actively sabotaging him. Yet he still posted a winning record and nearly made the playoffs both years. He should improve greatly this year. New coach Mike McDaniel is an offensive mind who will actually be rooting for him to succeed, and he’s added crucial weapons such as Tyreek Hill and especially Terron Armstead. Hill has been preaching that Tua throws a great ball. This is his time to shine.
Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars: It’s not a stretch to say that Lawrence was drafted into an awful situation as a rookie. Urban Meyer was banished after a mere 13 games, he had little protection up front, and he had few offensive weapons. Not all of that can be fixed overnight, but the head coaching upgrade is critical. Doug Pederson comes with an offensive pedigree, and as a former QB himself, he can help Lawrence develop for the pro game. Lawrence was a unanimous generation prospect last year; that ability hasn’t vanished after 1 forgettable season. The Jaguars are still rebuilding, but I’m expecting nice growth out of Lawrence.
Carson Wentz, Commanders: In this case, “making the leap” corresponds to becoming a functional, above-average quarterback. Wentz’s MVP-caliber season in 2017 has proven itself to be the outlier year, but he still has the physical tools and arm talent to be a quality starter. He actually improved a lot with the Colts, greatly cutting down on his turnovers. The problem there seemed to be off the field, which I expect Ron Rivera to handle. At the very least, Wentz will at least be better than Taylor Heinicke; with a bounce-back year from the defense, the Commanders can make some noise in the weak NFC East.
Sam Darnold, Panthers: Darnold almost appeared doomed from the start. He got drafted by the Adam Gase Jets, which derailed his development from day 1. At one point, he was even caught on camera saying that he saw “ghosts” in the pocket. While it’s possible that Darnold might have been ruined (Matt Rhule didn’t help matters), it’s equally likely that he could be a late bloomer like Ryan Tannehill. As with Tannehill, the chances of Darnold blossoming into an elite player are gone, but he could easily improve to an average QB this year or maybe slightly better. This would be the best play under center for the Panthers since peak Cam Newton.
Justin Herbert, Chargers: I know. Herbert has already established himself as a franchise QB with top-tier traits. That said, the Bolts have not made the playoffs in his two seasons. Part of that can be attributed to residing in the same division as the Chiefs, and this year’s AFC West could be one of the most brutal divisions in recent memory. Regardless, Herbert is ready, and his team has improved. They added a first-round guard (Zion Johnson), an elite edge rusher (Khalil Mack), and a good run stuffer (Sebastian Joseph-Day). If coach Brandon Staley doesn’t do too many boneheaded things, this team could be the one that breaks the franchise’s curse.
The Five QBs Who Will NOT Step Up
Daniel Jones, Giants: The Giants have been commendably patient with their QB. First-round QBs are expected to win right away and aren’t given the same leash as they would’ve been given 10 years ago. NYG realizes that some players develop more slowly and require time to grow. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re spending that patience on the right guy. Jones was a comical reach at #6 overall (I had him graded in round 6 back in 2019), and he hasn’t been able to elevate his offense. His supporting cast, particularly at offensive line, has been suspect, but that excuse ends this year. This is his chance to prove the doubters wrong, and I don’t think he will.
Jalen Hurts, Eagles: Hurts was a terrible pick, and he’s blameless for that. Taking him in the second round was a major reach, and it ruined Carson Wentz’s Eagles career. The knock on hurts was that he wasn’t polished as a passer and didn’t play well from the pocket outside of Oklahoma’s video game offense. That trend has not been fixed in his two years as a pro. He runs well and makes athletic plays to move the ball, but whenever the team falls behind, Hurts falters. He’s a great team leader and a guy you really root for, but I don’t think things will come together for him in year 3.
Justin Fields, Bears: Fields did not play well in 2021 to put it lightly. He fumbled constantly, failed to read defenses, and did not seem to exhibit much growth in successive starts. To fix this, the Bears have…put him in a worse situation? Matt Nagy may not have been the answer, but the team should not have hired a defensive coach when QB development was their top priority. Allen Robinson, a legit #1 receiver, was allowed to walk and was not adequately replace. Quality linemen like James Daniels were also lost, meaning that Fields will have to greatly improve his issues (including accuracy, which was the reason I did not have a first-round grade on him in the first place) with a worse situation around him. Good luck with that.
Mac Jones, Patriots: Mac Jones and Justin Fields are in similar situations as they enter year two: both saw their teams hemorrhage surrounding talent. In Jones’ case, the primary loss was Shaq Mason, a high-quality guard that QBs love. Where Fields and Jones differ, however, is their talent level. Fields is a high-upside, low-floor guy, while Jones has already shown his high floor but lacks elite upside. He doesn’t have great arm strength (a problem in the cold) or mobility. His football IQ, accuracy, and decision-making are not in question, which is why he’s a quality bet to become a solid starter, as he showed last year. Expecting him to jump and become the QB he resembled at Alabama though is simply asking too much.
Kyler Murray, Cardinals: Murray’s agent will hate me if he reads this during contract negotiations. I am of the opinion that the Cardinals would be foolish to hand him $30M a year or more. It’s no secret that I wasn’t fond of the 2019 QB class. As usual though, weaker prospects got pushed up draft boards until Arizona hired a college coach that was in love with Murray. Not a good idea. While there’s no denying his running talent, Murray leaves a lot to be desired as a pure passer. Despite great arm strength, he misses quite a few throws, demonstrating poor accuracy and touch. His height (he’s listed at 5’10”, but even 5’8″ might be generous) causes him to get blinded by his offensive line, forcing him to play almost exclusively in the shotgun. His inability to play under center hurts his chances to improve his football instincts. There are several reasons the Cardinals implode during the second half of each season. Murray is most certainly one of them. I expect the same to happen this year, assuming they have a hot start in the first place.