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NFL QB Index, Week 1: Ranking all 32 starters entering 2022 season

Before we talk about quarterbacks, I'd like to talk about two friends. 

The QB Index is the brainchild of my colleague, Gregg Rosenthal. For many moons, he used this space to transmit his thoughts on the state of play under center. Gregg loves pro football more than anyone I know. His adoration never wanes; his enthusiasm is childlike (I'm certain he sleeps under one of those 1988 bedspreads with all 28 teams from the era). In our decade together on the job, Gregg has proven himself to be a tireless recorder and keen observer of the sport, unafraid to tackle the league's murkier issues. Rosey's a football lifer, and QB Index -- his baby -- wouldn't exist without all that zeal.

Other authors have had their turn. Our skilled team of editors produced the column for a stretch -- as did our dear friend and colleague Chris Wesseling, whom we lost to cancer in 2021

In the hands of "The Mailman," the QB Index became something entirely new all over again. An unrivaled "tape dog," Wess gifted readers with sparkling treasures of nuance. Deeply studied game film would morph into sea poems over the pocket awareness of Tom Brady. A Week 14 writeup of an Aaron Rodgers effort against the wandering Lions would transform into new literature on the state of modern football. His longforms were love poems to the NFL, his tweets were sonnets, but the very best experience was Wess in person. Every encounter was an adventure for those who knew and loved him. He allowed the reader to feel that, too.

The idea of penning this column gives me pause. The two people I've mentioned above will not be matched. Never ever. I'm just gonna start typing. The rest will sort itself out. 

Wess: I miss you, pal.

Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · Year 23

2021 stats: 17 games | 67.5 pct | 5,316 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 43 pass TD | 12 INT | 81 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 4 fumbles

Awake in the dead of night, I computed that I’ve lived in 14 apartments/homes since Tom Brady was chosen in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft. How many of us have seen our own children grow up during his unprecedented waltz through the wilds of pro football? At 45, Brady is coming off an ageism-busting campaign that saw him whip a league-high 719 passes and top everyone else on this list with 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns. Then he walked off into the sunset, before returning at sunrise to accept the challenge of a 23rd season. Tampa Bay's banged-up line is problematic, but there’s no more doubting Brady’s arm strength in an attack that plans to air it out from wire to wire. As for hints of off-the-field turbulence -- "I’m 45 years old, man. There’s a lot of [expletive] going on,” Brady recently said -- is there any human we trust more to drown out the noise when Sunday dawns?

Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · Year 18

2021 stats: 16 games | 68.9 pct | 4,115 pass yds | 7.7 ypa | 37 pass TD | 4 INT | 101 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 3 fumbles

His on-field technical greatness is post-debate. Rodgers is the closest offering we have to under-center perfection: precision lobs of the highest order mixed with pre-snap wonderment. His quartet of MVP nods reflect those gifts. The last time we saw him, though, frustration beamed outward against a Niners defense that stymied Green Bay’s quick-strike air attack and held the Packers to 10 points inside an ice-cold Lambeau Field in the NFC playoffs. It was Aa-Rod who later described himself as “numb” and openly pondered his playing future. A $150.8 million contract extension ended the drama, but Rodgers now approaches Sunday’s opener in Minnesota with his favorite wideout, Davante Adams, nestled in Las Vegas. One of the season's richer mysteries is whether the pieced-together combination of Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins and rookies Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson can cover the loss of a dominant star pass-catcher who accounted for a 238/2,927/29 line over the past two seasons. 

Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · Year 5

2021 stats: 17 games | 63.3 pct | 4,407 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 36 pass TD | 15 INT | 763 rush yds | 6 rush TD | 8 fumbles

A star-crossed overtime coin toss robbed fans of seeing Allen match Patrick Mahomes in Buffalo's psychologically gnarly postseason loss to the Chiefs. One simply assumes Buffalo’s do-everything signal-caller would have waltzed his squad down the field to cap a pair of thundering playoff performances that saw Allen unfurl nine touchdowns to zero picks. His season included a few rough days on the job, but Allen's premier moments somehow outshined his star-is-born 2020 campaign. Employing his 6-foot-5, 237-pound frame to blast the enemy with his legs -- when not scattering them with his titanic arm -- Allen vibes primeval danger for a Bills team seen as the class of the AFC. 

Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers · Year 3

2021 stats: 17 games | 65.9 pct | 5,014 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 38 pass TD | 15 INT | 302 rush yds | 3 rush TD | 1 fumble

Scary thought for the AFC West: We haven’t witnessed half of what Herbert can do. His second season would have told a different story had the defense not given up 34 points to Kansas City in a Week 15 overtime loss, 41 to the Texans (!) the following Sunday and 35 to Las Vegas in another killer fifth-frame defeat that ripped the Bolts from playoff contention. No passer has piled up more yards (9,350) over his first two campaigns or thrown more touchdowns (69). He looks the part, too, authoring some of last season’s most tantalizing deep shots and making the most of coach Brandon Staley’s derring-do on fourth down. If Herbert remains a stranger to football’s most casual observers, that will change in a hurry as he’s sucked through the portal to superstardom. 

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · Year 6

2021 stats: 17 games | 66.3 pct | 4,839 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 37 pass TD | 13 INT | 381 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 9 fumbles

Ranking aside, there’s plenty of evidence to label Mahomes as the greatest quarterback around. He’s coming off an eye-of-the-beholder campaign that lured pundits and bar patrons alike into weekly debate over what was going on with Kansas City’s otherwise godlike quarterback. The offense went sluggish for stretches, lacking the electric juice of days gone by. Still, Mahomes threw for 37 scores (fourth-most in the league) and put up a stout 17:3 TD-to-INT ratio from Week 10 on. He dazzled in playoff wins over the Steelers and Bills, but the attack’s own demons rose up in a mistake-prone crumble job against the Bengals in the AFC title game. With Tyreek Hill out of the building, Mahomes and the Chiefs enter a new phase under Andy Reid. I can’t drum up a coach/quarterback duo I trust more to figure it out.

Joe Burrow
Cincinnati Bengals · Year 3

2021 stats: 16 games | 70.4 pct | 4,611 pass yds | 8.9 ypa | 34 pass TD | 14 INT | 118 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 5 fumbles

Burrow shook off his concerning rookie-year knee injury to craft one of football’s juiciest Cinderella stories. Showing off improved arm strength, the Bengals’ frontman survived a league-high 51 sacks by attacking downfield with the AFC’s top trio of pass-catchers in Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. His final numbers (4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns against 14 picks) were helped by a two-game explosion at season’s end that saw him pile up 971 yards and eight scores against the Ravens and Chiefs. Stats don’t tell the full story, though, with Burrow blooming into a swaggy, on-field cowboy who never blinked during a four-game Super Bowl run in which he absorbed another 19 takedowns. An improved front five and one of the AFC’s gaudiest collections of weapons has Burrow stationed as one of the game’s most watchable young arms. 

Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · Year 5

2021 stats: 12 games | 64.4 pct | 2,882 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 16 pass TD | 13 INT | 767 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 6 fumbles

Jackson remains a central villain in the nightmares of defensive play-callers league-wide. He roamed as an MVP candidate a month into last season before riding the waves of erratic play and eventually bowing out for the year with an ankle injury. Environment played a part, with Jackson struggling behind a shattered line inside an injury-stripped backfield that featured Raggedy Ann and Andy by December. He didn't finish 2021 as the seventh-best quarterback, but Lamar enters September as a bounce-back figure who can still do more with his physical gifts than 98.5 percent of the earth’s population. Pay the man

Matthew Stafford
Los Angeles Rams · Year 14

2021 stats: 17 games | 67.2 pct | 4,886 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 41 pass TD | 17 INT | 43 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 5 fumbles

You have to live with the highs and lows. It worked for the Rams, as Stafford turned electric in January to guide Los Angeles to hallowed ground. His first season under Sean McVay included its share of bumps, though, with Stafford throwing a league-leading 17 interceptions, including four pick-sixes. Seven of those came over the final three weeks of the season. Football Outsiders noted in their brilliant annual almanac that a fair amount of those interceptions could be pinned on Stafford, including seven underthrown deep balls. When he burned bright, Stafford channeled his "dark place" and permanently altered the narrative around his career. After a decade-plus in the wilds of Detroit, the Rams star is now a pitch man with acting chops. A weight has been lifted, as long as the elbow holds up.

Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · Year 7

2021 stats: 16 games | 68.8 pct | 4,449 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 37 pass TD | 10 INT | 146 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 14 fumbles

Prescott's tale of two seasons came sandwiched around a nagging calf injury. The Cowboys’ passer boasted a 42.8 percent DVOA -- second only to Stafford -- through Week 6. Post-injury, that figure fell through the floor. In Big D’s playoff loss to the Niners, Prescott’s decision to scamper for yardage before failing to stop the clock as time expired only magnified his hot-and-cold campaign. Injuries have been at the core of Prescott’s problems the past two seasons. A healthy Dak is a top-10 passer with a chance to soar higher. Playing behind a messy offensive line won’t help. Neither will a depleted group of receivers. If you still believe in the Cowboys, though, it has everything to do with A) their defense and B) magic spun by Prescott.

Kyler Murray
Arizona Cardinals · Year 4

2021 stats: 14 games | 69.2 pct | 3,787 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 24 pass TD | 10 INT | 423 rush yds | 5 rush TD | 13 fumbles

Murray sat proud as Rosenthal's No. 2 guy in this space entering Week 8. After an ankle injury cost him three starts, Arizona’s 25-year-old uber-athlete lost four of his last five tilts, then imploded in an embarrassing playoff loss to the Rams. Weirdness ensued, with Kyler wiping his social media of all things Cardinals before his agent to tweeted demands for a contract extension amid whispers the team questioned Murray’s leadership and remained concerned over his avid gaming habits. When the extension finally arrived, it came packed with a soon-to-go-viral stipulation that Murray must spend four weekly hours on independent study -- a clause the club ultimately (and clumsily) removed. Murray has been on a journey and must now open the season with DeAndre Hopkins out of the mix until Week 7. The Cardinals are a strange brew, but Kyler owns a sky-high ceiling if his body cooperates. 

Russell Wilson
Denver Broncos · Year 11

2021 stats: 14 games | 64.8 pct | 3,113 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 25 pass TD | 6 INT | 183 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 6 fumbles

I struggle placing Wilson this low. He was sabotaged by last year’s thumb injury, which contributed to an awkward season that saw his Pro Football Focus offensive grade tumble to 73.9, placing him 20th among 39 eligible passers. I struggle with it because I believe in the bounce-back, in Denver’s weapons and in the concept of a much-needed new landscape for one of the NFL’s most driven performers. The Broncos believe, too, handing the 33-year-old Wilson a monster extension that ties him to Denver for the next seven years. Should we have patience with Russ, dipped into a new offense with new teammates -- in a bloodthirsty AFC West -- under a first-time head coach in Nathaniel Hackett? Or has Denver paid richly for this quarterback’s decline era? It’s one of the season’s more engrossing TBDs.

Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders · Year 9

2021 stats: 17 games | 68.4 pct | 4,804 pass yds | 7.7 ypa | 23 pass TD | 14 INT | 108 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 13 fumbles

Wherever you rank Carr, Raiders fans will be triggered. Coming off a season in which he blended high-octane play with unique leadership, Carr has all but shaken off the concept that he’s eternally stuck in the middle class. His arrow points up with the hiring of offensive-minded Josh McDaniels and the arrival of BFF Davante Adams. Carr is bound to surpass his 23 touchdown passes from a year ago, but it’s on him to temper the turnovers. His 14 interceptions -- tied for sixth most in the league -- came before his season-ending playoff pick against Cincinnati. To be fair, darlings Josh Allen and Justin Herbert each topped Carr with 15 interceptions. I’m not picking on him! I swear I’m not. He brings a lot to the table. He has room to grow -- don’t we all?

Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings · Year 11

2021 stats: 16 games | 66.3 pct | 4,221 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 33 pass TD | 7 INT | 115 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 12 fumbles

Our dear friend Chris Wesseling was the inventor of The Dalton Scale, which posited that Andy Dalton, during his Bengals run, represented the "prime meridian" of quarterbacks. The idea was that Dalton lacked the gifts to make his team markedly better, even if he couldn't make it worse. His results were based on the roster around him. If your club’s quarterback was better than Dalton, you had a starter. If he was worse, time to go shopping. On a summertime Around the NFL Podcast, we pitched our picks for The Dalton Scale successor. I tabbed the guy ranked one spot below from Tennessee, but Cousins received plenty of chatter. I’d argue he’s been too productive in Minnesota, sporting an admirable 124:36 TD-to-INT ratio. I’d also argue there’s something psychological about The Cousins Experience that completely fits The Dalton Scale. His numbers don’t match the frustrating nature of the journey. The hope for Vikings fans is that first-time coach Kevin O'Connell -- a polar opposite to reported Cousins antagonist Mike Zimmer -- will push the right buttons. 

Ryan Tannehill
Tennessee Titans · Year 11

2021 stats: 17 games | 67.2 pct | 3,734 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 21 pass TD | 14 INT | 270 rush yds | 7 rush TD | 10 fumbles

Carr wasn't the only signal-caller dumped into soul-searching mode after falling to the Bengals. Tannehill told reporters his three-interception meltdown in the Divisional Round left him in a "dark place," saying: “It’s a scar that I'll carry with me throughout the rest of my life." Tennessee then used a third-round pick on the utterly watchable Malik Willis. Still, I’ve long viewed Tannehill as an ideal fit for this Titans team. He operates as one of the game’s white-knuckle passers, winning over teammates with his choice to stand in the pocket and take brutal punishment as he unfurls the deep ball. His mobility is an asset, too, but he’s in a tough spot this season inside an A.J. Brown-free attack anchored by a troubled offensive line.

Jalen Hurts
Philadelphia Eagles · Year 3

2021 stats: 15 games | 61.3 pct | 3,144 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 16 pass TD | 9 INT | 784 rush yds | 10 rush TD | 9 fumbles

In his first season as head coach, Nick Sirianni employed creative flexibility to flip his offense into a run-heavy juggernaut following a 2-5 start. The shift made the most of Hurts on the ground, morphing the second-year starter into football's leading rusher (784 yards) from under center. What Hurts can do with his legs has Fantasy Heads salivating over his floor, but he also grew as a passer. More development is needed, but Hurts finds himself in a plus environment. The Eagles boast the NFL’s top offensive line and a mouth-watering gang of pass-catchers after acquiring Tannehill’s old pal, A.J. Brown, to pair alongside DeVonta Smith. Nobody saw this coming six months ago, but the concern for Hurts is helping Philly live up to the bubbling hype as a suddenly popular Super Bowl pick

Matt Ryan
Indianapolis Colts · Year 15

2021 stats: 17 games | 67.0 pct | 3,968 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 20 pass TD | 12 INT | 82 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 11 fumbles

Ryan’s MVP season with the Falcons was more than half a decade ago. He’ll never sniff those heights again, but he’s exactly what the doctor ordered in Indy. At 37, Ryan has been praised all offseason for the steady leadership he’s brought to the job, with coach Frank Reich saying: “You don’t have to dig too deep to find that out. But when you do dig, and you look in every crevice, you find the same thing and hear the same thing about the guy. It’s all true.’’ It feels like a subtle swipe at Carson Wentz, but the Colts just need Matt Ryan to be ... Matt Ryan. He can still play, especially in an offense that sits as a far better fit than last year’s mess in Atlanta. In an ideal world, Matty Ice oversees a run-rabid attack centered around Jonathan Taylor with just enough through the air.

Mac Jones
New England Patriots · Year 2

2021 stats: 17 games | 67.6 pct | 3,801 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 22 pass TD | 13 INT | 129 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 7 fumbles

Easily the most impressive rookie passer from a year ago, Mac enjoyed a hot start that tailed off down the stretch. Coached up by Josh McDaniels, the former Alabama star leaned on his strengths -- his accuracy and field awareness -- to offset a lack of top-tier arm power. In a vacuum, I want to ticket him for a step forward. I'm in wait-and-see mode after a summer flush with heavy critique over New England’s transition on offense. Replacing McDaniels with a committee of Matt Patricia, Joe Judge and fill-in-the-blank feels like ill business. ESPN's Mike Reiss recently noted the "results have been shaky, with Jones not appearing as comfortable as he was at this time last year.” Chaos ahead? Or Bill Belichick simply punking us nerdy typists all over again? Stay tuned.

Jameis Winston
New Orleans Saints · Year 8

2021 stats: 7 games | 59.0 pct | 1,170 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 14 pass TD | 3 INT | 166 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 2 fumbles

Sean Payton’s retirement came at the wrong time for Winston. The coaching savant had Jameis off to a steady-if-conservative campaign -- 14 touchdowns to just three picks, with notably improved footwork -- before Winston tore his ACL against the Bucs in Week 8. In the two games prior, Payton allowed Winston to throw the ball 65 times, a notable shift after he was largely hemmed in over the first month of the season. Will the Saints let Winston cook up his lovable brand of madness with wideout Michael Thomas back in the fold alongside rookie Chris Olave and the reliable Jarvis Landry? Can Winston stay healthy enough -- and banish mistakes of old -- to stave off The Glowing Red Ginger Man?

Tua Tagovailoa
Miami Dolphins · Year 3

2021 stats: 13 games | 67.8 pct | 2,653 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 16 pass TD | 10 INT | 128 rush yd | 3 rush TD | 9 fumbles

Tua has walked through the fire in his brief career. He caught shade from the jump for not being Justin Herbert. He was saddled in 2021 with two offensive coordinators while the Dolphins pondered avenues to acquire Deshaun Watson and had what the league found to be “impermissible communications” with Tom Brady. It's good to feel wanted, a dynamic that's evaded Tagovailoa as debates rage over his game. He offers accuracy in spades, but a deep ball primed to draw questions if he struggles to mesh with Tyreek Hill. I expect new coach Mike McDaniel to milk the best out of his quarterback in a yards-after-the-catch attack that will allow Tua to whip his share of downfield strikes behind a line that’s improved with the additions of Terron Armstead and Connor Williams

Carson Wentz
Washington Commanders · Year 7

2021 stats: 17 games | 62.4 pct | 3,563 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 27 pass TD | 7 INT | 215 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 8 fumbles

If you learned a year ago that Wentz would throw 27 touchdowns to just seven interceptions for Indianapolis, you’d imagine the Colts would approve. All team brass recalled was the ending, though, a two-game hard melt that saw Wentz struggle in a loss to the Raiders before handing the season away in a psyche-slashing 26-11 loss to the Jaguars in Week 18. It feels excessive to pile on what’s become such an easy target, but Wentz created many of his own on-field issues with the Eagles and Colts. That Washington sought him so desperately this past March is one of the NFL’s more puzzling offseason chapters.

Jared Goff
Detroit Lions · Year 7

2021 stats: 14 games | 67.2 pct | 3,245 pass yds | 6.6 ypa | 19 pass TD | 8 INT | 87 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 9 fumbles

I’m not pairing Wentz and Goff together for giggles. I suspect Goff has a chance to rise toward the middle of the pack if his camp and preseason work are indications of tomorrow. He sits inside an offense that plays to his strengths. Detroit’s punishing line will lower the number of scenarios where Goff is freaked out by pressure. A talented ground game will bring balance, while Goff does just enough with Amon-Ra St. Brown, T.J. Hockenson and (eventually) first-round wideout Jameson Williams. Goff’s best play last season came late. Over his final five starts, he completed nearly 70 percent of his throws and posted an 11:2 TD-to-INT ratio. Let that sweet wine keep flowing, Dan Campbell.  

Baker Mayfield
Carolina Panthers · Year 5

2021 stats: 14 games | 60.5 pct | 3,010 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 17 pass TD | 13 INT | 134 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 6 fumbles

I worry about Mayfield behind Carolina’s wait-and-see offensive line. In Cleveland, Baker did plenty of good for a long-suffering Browns club, but his on-stage performance was all over the map when the pocket crumbled. Mayfield’s desire to create -- a positive attribute, in theory -- leads to him holding the ball too long. His occasional inability to see the field remains a lingering tic. His competitive fire -- another theoretical plus -- triggered last season’s shoulder injury after he tried to make a tackle following an ugly pick in Week 2. Mayfield spent the rest of the season in pain, but his overall body of work convinced the Browns that a long-term deal wasn’t the play. 

Trevor Lawrence
Jacksonville Jaguars · Year 2

2021 stats: 17 games | 59.6 pct | 3,641 pass yds | 6.0 ypa | 12 pass TD | 17 INT | 334 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 9 fumbles

Real talk: This is a projection. Lawrence was in a terrible situation as a rookie inside a locker room actively burning to the ground under the watch of an asleep-at-the-wheel Urban Meyer. It’s tough to undersell the steady hand Doug Pederson will bring to last year’s first overall pick. Lawrence was hot and cold in the preseason -- a few too many off-target lobs -- but also boasted the expected arm strength and athleticism Jaguars fans are hoping to see on Sundays.  

Trey Lance
San Francisco 49ers · Year 2

2021 stats: 6 games | 57.7 pct | 603 pass yds | 8.5 ypa | 5 pass TD | 2 INT | 168 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 0 fumbles

Projection No. 2: I don’t know. You don’t know. I don’t think Kyle Shanahan knows. I’d prefer to have the promise of Lance on my team over a handful of the dudes above -- and everyone below. On a win-now roster, though, it’s clear Shanahan sleeps better at night with safety blanket Jimmy Garoppolo in reach. Lance’s August laser beams stirred the imagination, but he also struggled with accuracy in spurts behind shaky line play. Any internal pressure to start the 22-year-old will fade fast if he struggles inside a Super Bowl-ready lineup. Would the Niners wade through this drama if they’re convinced a player with a mere 389 live passes since high school is about to morph into Patrick Mahomes 2.0? Absolutely not.

Justin Fields
Chicago Bears · Year 2

2021 stats: 12 games | 58.9 pct | 1,870 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 7 pass TD | 10 INT | 420 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 12 fumbles

Concerns around Fields begin with an O-line that appears a tick below competent. The Bears did little to surround their second-year quarterback with the brand of weaponry gifted to the Joe Burrows and Josh Allens of the world. Beyond Darnell Mooney, Chicago is crossing its fingers that Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown and Velus Jones can make it happen out wide. Now let’s spin positive: Fields made quicker decisions this preseason, looked far more comfortable and showed chemistry with evolving tight end Cole Kmet. The Bears have taken a lot of heat for burning down the house around their young QB, but this is also a team projected to wield about $100 million in cap space next offseason.

Daniel Jones
New York Giants · Year 4

2021 stats: 11 games | 64.3 pct | 2,428 pass yds | 6.7 ypa | 10 pass TD | 7 INT | 298 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 7 fumbles

Remember when Jones operated behind a reliable offensive line with a full complement of weapons and someone other than Jason Garrett calling plays? Me neither. The quarterback’s own tricky durability issues (including last season’s neck injury) render him a tough evaluation. It makes sense for quarterback-whispering Brian Daboll to give this one more try as Jones plays out the final year of his rookie deal. He likely needs to stun the coaching staff to stick around into 2023. 

Geno Smith
Seattle Seahawks · Year 10

2021 stats: 5 games | 68.4 pct | 702 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 5 pass TD | 1 INT | 42 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 1 fumble

Smith didn’t have to put up much of a fight to win Seattle’s starting job. Drew Lock missed the second preseason game after testing positive for COVID-19 and fell to pieces upon his return to the field. That’s not to take away from Smith’s summer play, though, as he proved more comfortable in the offense. The Seahawks wish to be viewed as a scrappy, team-first operation prepared to play around the Force ghost of Russell Wilson. It’s the type of rah-rah offseason fable that turns bone-black dark by middle autumn. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are certainly feeling their oats this time around. 

Joe Flacco
New York Jets · Year 15

2021 stats: 2 games | 64.3 pct | 338 pass yds | 8 ypa | 3 pass TD | 0 INT | 3 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 1 fumble

Constant as the sun: Jets fans being yanked through the ringer come September. They deserve joy. To feel that tingle in the loins as a green-clad passer rips through a Belichick defense for 422 yards and five touchdowns. That figure won’t be Zach Wilson -- out until at least Week 4, per coach Robert Saleh -- as the second-year starter heals from August knee surgery. You can’t help but wonder if the Jets simply feel more comfortable with Flacco. The 37-year-old Super Bowl winner offers the mobility of a Stone Age pony, but first-round wideout Garrett Wilson didn’t shy away from comparing Flacco’s delivery to Zach’s, saying last month: “It is definitely a difference. It is a lot of experience there with Flacco. I feel like he takes some paces off and puts some pace on the ball and he does a good job of making passes receiver friendly as they’re pretty easy to catch.“ Flacco might not stir the imagination -- "I come home and my kids are like, 'Dad, you stink!' " -- but he’s something Wilson isn’t: He’s available. 

Marcus Mariota
Atlanta Falcons · Year 8

2021 stats: 8 games | 50 pct | 4 pass yds | 2 ypa | 0 pass TD | 0 INT | 87 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 1 fumble

Mariota is Atlanta’s starter, but it certainly appears coach Arthur Smith wants to see rookie Desmond Ridder at some stage. I thought Mariota boiled down to an intriguing watch in the preseason. I also trust Smith to dial up an ample amount of creativity to employ the veteran’s legs. It would serve as fertile Comeback Player of the Year soil if Atlanta offered more support around Mariota, who must also prove he can stay healthy. 

Mitchell Trubisky
Pittsburgh Steelers · Year 6

2021 stats: 6 games | 75 pct | 43 pass yds | 5.4 ypa | 0 pass TD | 1 INT | 24 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 0 fumbles

Trubisky has looked the part for Pittsburgh leading up to Week 1. He toiled behind a Steelers offensive line that somehow looked more lost than last year’s. Mitch made the most of it, tossing crisp passes and dragging the offense out of dark corners with his legs. He’s your Week 1 starter and a team captain. I don’t think he’ll be a longtime featured member of this column, though, after rookie hometown sensation Kenny Pickett torched the field all August. 

Davis Mills
Houston Texans · Year 2

2021 stats: 13 games | 66.8 pct | 2,664 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 16 pass TD | 10 INT | 44 rush yds | 0 rush TD | 5 fumbles

He’s arguably being disrespected on this list. Mills grew in esteem on a rough roster while Mariota and Trubisky held clipboards and chewed sunflower seeds last season. He outshone Lawrence and Lance. He’s a work in progress, but Mills proved to NFL watchers he could sling it with power while looking the part. Inside the building, Houston’s front office thought enough of his development to ignore quarterbacks in the draft and abstain from chasing Jimmy Garoppolo.

Jacoby Brissett
Cleveland Browns · Year 7

2021 stats: 10 games | 62.7 pct | 1,283 pass yds | 5.7 ypa | 5 pass TD | 4 INT | 70 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 6 fumbles

Brissett has been lauded for years as a quality teammate. “I mean, he’s the guy that we look to for that elder wisdom," Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah said last month. "He’s like one of the, what do they call ... the shaman. He has the … he has the wisdom that we’re all trying to get." It says something that Cleveland chose to ride out Deshaun Watson’s 11-game ban with Brissett over making a push to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo. I don’t love Brissett’s chances inside a Browns offense that is paper thin at wideout, but he brings the experience of 37 NFL starts. Cleveland’s ground game can do the heavy lifting if Jacoby can hit the brakes on his 12 career fumbles. Guide this club to 6-5 by Watson’s return, and Brissett has done his job.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter.

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