Now more than ever, it's a young man's game at quarterback. At just over 23 years and four months, Patrick Mahomes in 2018 became the youngest player to win MVP honors since Dan Marino in 1984. Having just turned 23 when he picked up the award a year later, Lamar Jackson is the youngest MVP winner since Jim Brown in 1957. Leading talented offenses of their own, a coterie of quarterbacks capable of creative out-of-structure magic may be vying for the next MVP trophy. Houston's Deshaun Watson, Dallas' Dak Prescott, Philadelphia's Carson Wentz and Arizona's Kyler Murray represent a new wave, featuring arms strong enough for designed passes, legs quick enough for designed runs and quick-twitch athleticism necessary for second-reaction plays once the pass rush breaches the castle walls.
Assessing the recent 2020 draft class in light of the sport's evolution, one AFC executive concluded, via Bob McGinn of The Athletic, "The stationary guy in today's football, I don't know how he survives. At any position."
The stationary signal-callers seemed to stand dumbfounded in 2019, no longer possessed of the nimble feet and rocket arm necessary to escape trouble, bolster a diminished supporting cast and make jailbreak defenses pay for their sins of aggression.
Tom Brady suffered through the worst season of his legendary career. Drew Brees was outplayed by his backup's backup in the season-ending loss to the Vikings. Philip Rivers barely staved off a midseason benching for Tyrod Taylor. Eli Manning was finally tapped on the shoulder. Ben Roethlisberger lasted just two games before an elbow injury sent him to the operating table.
As I survey the landscape of NFL offenses this offseason, I see the Chiefs and Ravens pulling away from the pack. Can Brady and Rivers reclaim some of that turf with the help of new -- and plausibly superior -- supporting casts?
With the draft and the bulk of free agency in the books, let's examine the hierarchy of NFL offenses.
THE TOP FIVE
1) Kansas City Chiefs
Quarterback: A+ | Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Shea Patterson
What can a 24-year-old quarterback do for an encore when he just authored one of the most epic playoff runs in his sport's history? Even without a reliable backup plan, the Chiefs are the envy of the league at the game's most important position. We have to go back to Aaron Rodgers' prime years to find a quarterback with the arm talent, athleticism, improvisational skills and decision making Mahomes has displayed since he took the reins of Andy Reid's offense in 2018.
Backfield: A- | Damien Williams, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, DeAndre Washington, Darwin Thompson
AFC West defensive coordinators were already checking under their beds for Mahomes before they turn out their bedroom lights at night. Now they have to contend with Edwards-Helaire, a runner-receiver hybrid conjuring up images of a young Darren Sproles and Priest Holmes. Throw in Super Bowl hero Williams and former Raiders scat back Washington, and this backfield is deep and multi-faceted compared to last year's edition.
Receiving corps: A+ | Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce (TE), Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Ricky Seals-Jones (TE)
The quick-strike offense plays off Hill and Kelce, a pair of perennial Pro Bowlers and the focal points of opposing game plans. Against all odds, the Chiefs maintained their depth this offseason, agreeing to new deals with Watkins and Robinson -- a pair of secondary receivers capable of sailing past 100 yards when the coverage is slanted toward Hill and Kelce. The speedy Hardman is an intriguing wild card after amassing 1,426 all-purpose yards as a rookie.
Offensive line: B | Eric Fisher, Andrew Wylie, Austin Reiter, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Mitchell Schwartz, Mike Remmers, Martinas Rankin, Lucas Niang
While Schwartz may be the best right tackle in football, the rest of the line operates at a high enough level with little fanfare to show for it. With Remmers on hand as a utility lineman and Niang drafted in the third round, this unit is in a better position to withstand a major injury in 2020.
2) Baltimore Ravens
Quarterback: A+ | Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
Defensive coaches around the league are brainstorming new tactics to slow the reigning MVP, perhaps clinging to the Titans' game plan in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. That's easier said than done. Aided by an innovative coaching staff and an expanding arsenal of weapons at his disposal, Jackson is stating his case as the most electrifying dual-threat quarterback of all time.
Backfield: A+ | Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
The Ravens aren't resting on their laurels after boasting one of the most unstoppable rushing attacks the NFL has ever seen. As if their three-headed backfield hydra wasn't scary enough, they landed Ohio State star J.K. Dobbins, a dynamic back viewed by some draftniks as the top talent at the position in this year's class. It speaks to Baltimore's largesse that Edwards is rendered an afterthought on the heels of an impressive second season, which featured 711 rushing yards at 5.3 yards per attempt.
Receiving corps: B | Mark Andrews (TE), Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Willie Snead, Devin Duvernay, Chris Moore, James Proche, Nick Boyle (TE)
Andrews' emergence as a Pro Bowl tight end and Jackson's go-to target enabled the Ravens to deal former first-round pick Hayden Hurst to Atlanta for valuable draft capital. Brown streaked out of the gates as a DeSean Jackson clone, burning defenses with his deep speed, before disappearing in November and December. His 126-yard performance in the loss to Tennessee bodes well for a strong sophomore campaign. An athletic freak perfectly suited for the NFL's slot role, Duvernay is just the sort of chain-mover who should capitalize on Jackson's quick strikes between the hashes.
Offensive line: B+ | Ronnie Stanley, Bradley Bozeman, Matt Skura, D.J. Fluker, Orlando Brown, Patrick Mekari, Tyre Phillips, Ben Powers, Ben Bredeson
Stanley's emergence as a first-team All-Pro gives Baltimore a tackle tandem unrivaled by any outside of New Orleans. The interior is questionable, on the other hand, with the retirement of all-decade guard Marshal Yanda and the severe late-season knee injury sustained by center Skura.
3) New Orleans Saints
Quarterback: A- | Drew Brees, Taysom Hill, Jameis Winston
Still one of the league's most effective passers, Brees has left lingering doubts about his waning arm strength in each of the past two postseasons. In fact, jack-of-all-trades Hill was the best player on the field for the Saints in their upset loss to the Vikings, succeeding downfield where Brees failed. Fresh off laser eye surgery, Winston offers more upside than any backup in the league -- with the possible exception of the aforementioned enigmatic Hill.
Backfield: A- | Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, Tony Jones Jr.
Playing through high-ankle and knee injuries, Kamara struggled to break tackles and make the first man miss last season. When he's fully healthy, there may be no better mismatch in football than Kamara versus a safety or linebacker with open space to roam. Murray proved to be a fine fallback option, filling Mark Ingram's vacancy as the power-back complement.
Receiving Corps: A | Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook (TE), Tre'Quan Smith, Adam Trautman (TE), Deonte Harris, Josh Hill (TE)
Thomas is the most reliable first down in the league, armed with vice-grip hands and a power forward's physicality at the catch point. A trade deadline savior in San Francisco last year, Sanders will fill the sidekick role that has been a revolving door ever since Brandin Cooks was shipped out after an 1,173-yard season in 2016. Despite a few hiccups early, Cook came through as a big-time playmaker in the second half of the season. Drafted in the third round last month, the 6-foot-5 Trautman is an intriguing red-zone weapon.
Offensive line: A | Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Erik McCoy, Larry Warford, Ryan Ramczyk, Cesar Ruiz, Cameron Tom, Nick Easton
Having assembled a deep, balanced roster, the Saints could afford to approach the first round of last month's draft with the idea of cherry-picking the best player available. That happened to be Michigan center Cesar Ruiz, who is expected to push veteran Warford for the starting job at right guard. Center is already manned by McCoy, who exceeded expectations as a rookie starter in 2019. Bookend tackles Armstead and Ramczyk are primed to enter each of the next handful of seasons as legitimate Pro Bowl candidates.
4) Dallas Cowboys
Quarterback: A- | Dak Prescott, Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci
Leading the league's most efficient offense by Football Outsiders' metrics through the first half of the 2019 season, Prescott played well enough to keep his name on the periphery of the MVP discussion until the Thanksgiving debacle versus Buffalo. Should the franchise quarterback go down with an injury, the surrounding talent is strong enough to elevate newfound backup Dalton to the first postseason victory of his career.
Backfield: A- | Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Jamize Olawale, Sewo Olonilua
At first glance, Elliott's 2019 numbers don't look much different than his first three seasons. Look closer, though, and you'll see a back who struggled to make defenders miss at the second level. The big plays dried up, which helps explain why he lost more than 22 yards per game from his 2018 performance. Pollard proved to be a fine change of pace, averaging an efficient 5.6 yards on 101 touches.
Receiving corps: A- | Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, Blake Jarwin (TE), Devin Smith, Dalton Schultz (TE)
Although he tends to disappear for stretches, Cooper has been one of the finest route runners and boundary receivers since landing in Dallas as Prescott's No. 1 receiver. Would the Cowboys have shelled out $20 million per year for a new contract if they had an inkling that Lamb -- the sixth-rated player on their draft board -- would be free for the picking with the first round's No. 17 overall pick? It's an interesting thought. The suitably named Gallup is already one of the NFL's most promising second fiddles, recording 1,107 yards despite missing two games with a knee injury early in his second season. Prescott might miss future Hall of Famer Jason Witten's leadership, but Jarwin is a more athletic pass catcher with better run-after-catch skills.
Offensive line: B+ | Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Joe Looney, Zack Martin, La'el Collins, Connor McGovern, Tyler Biadasz
Between center Travis Frederick's retirement and left guard Connor Williams' November ACL injury, the interior will have a different look in 2020. Veteran Looney held up just fine as Frederick's 2018 stand-in, which bodes well for new coach Mike McCarthy. A third-round pick in 2019, McGovern could slide into Williams' guard spot after missing his entire rookie season with a pectoral injury.
5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Quarterback: B | Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin
If Brady goes down, the suddenly swank Bucs can kiss their ballyhooed coming-out party goodbye. If Brady stays healthy, we'll have a better idea how much his skills have eroded after languishing last season in a broken offense with precious little playmaking ability at his disposal. I don't buy the trendy notion that the 42-year-old has seen no noticeable drop off in arm strength and mobility. His passes outside the numbers tend to dive at the catch point, and he's too often a sitting duck in the face of pressure. That said, he has mastered situational football and maintains a preternatural feel for attacking the right area of the field at just the right moment. As the roster stands now, this is among the most talented pass-catching groups of his storied career.
Backfield: B- | Ronald Jones, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Dare Ogunbowale, Raymond Calais
Jones was one of the most improved runners in the league last season, exploding through holes and breaking a slew of tackles. The problem is pass protection, a task he wasn't trusted to perform with aplomb while Jameis Winston was under center. Now that Brady is running the show, that role takes on added responsibility for a quarterback with a long line of expert chip-blockers from Kevin Faulk to Danny Woodhead to James White. Vaughn is an interesting flier as a third-down pick, but don't be surprised if a savvy veteran is brought in to round out this group.
Receiving corps: A+ | Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski (TE), O.J. Howard (TE), Cameron Brate (TE), Tyler Johnson, Scott Miller, Justin Watson
There were weeks last season when Evans made a run at Saints record-breaker Michael Thomas as the most dangerous big receiver in football. There were other weeks when Godwin made a run at Evans as the best all-around receiver on the roster. There may not be a better one-two punch out there. What can we expect from Gronkowski, fresh out of the WWE's squared circle? For the bulk of the 2018 season, he was outplayed by new teammate Howard, who was well on his way to a Pro Bowl berth of his own before a foot injury ended the younger tight end's season in November. With yet another Lombardi Trophy on the line, though, Gronkowski came through with game-changing plays against the Chiefs and Rams in the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIII.
Offensive line: B- | Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, Tristan Wirfs, Joe Haeg, Josh Wells
This will be an interesting experiment, watching Brady behind an offensive line that too often had Winston scrambling into and out of trouble. Although Marpet is a top-tier guard and Wirfs is loaded with potential at right tackle, the other three positions tend to be hit-or-miss depending on the competition level.
THE NEXT FIVE
6) San Francisco 49ers
Quarterback: B | Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
Backfield: A- | Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Kyle Juszczyk, Jerick McKinnon, Jeff Wilson Jr.
Receiving corps: B+ | George Kittle (TE), Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Kendrick Bourne, Jalen Hurd, Travis Benjamin, Richie James Jr., Trent Taylor, Dante Pettis, Jauan Jennings
Offensive line: A- | Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Daniel Brunskill, Mike McGlinchey, Justin Skule, Ben Garland, Tom Compton, Colton McKivitz
7) Cleveland Browns
Quarterback: B- | Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum, Garrett Gilbert
Backfield: A | Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson, Andy Janovich, Dontrell Hilliard
Receiving corps: A | Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper (TE), David Njoku (TE), Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Harrison Bryant (TE)
Offensive line: B- | Jedrick Wills Jr., Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter, Wyatt Teller, Jack Conklin, Chris Hubbard, Kendall Lamm, Nick Harris
8) Indianapolis Colts
Quarterback: B | Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Jacob Eason
Backfield: A | Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins
Receiving corps: B | T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell, Zach Pascal, Jack Doyle (TE), Trey Burton (TE), Mo Alie-Cox (TE)
Offensive line: A | Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski, Braden Smith, Le'Raven Clark, Danny Pinter
9) Green Bay Packers
Quarterback: A- | Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love, Tim Boyle
Running back: A | Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, Jamaal Williams, Tyler Ervin
Receiving corps: B- | Davante Adams, Devin Funchess, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jace Sternberger (TE), Josiah Deguara (TE), Equanimeous St. Brown, Jake Kumerow
Offensive line: B+ | David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Corey Linsley, Billy Turner, Rick Wagner, Jon Runyan, Jake Hanson, Simon Stepaniak
10) Atlanta Falcons
Quarterback: A- | Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert
Backfield: B- | Todd Gurley, Ito Smith, Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison
Receiving Corps: A | Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Hayden Hurst (TE), Laquon Treadwell, Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Jaeden Graham (TE)
Offensive line: B- | Jake Matthews, James Carpenter, Alex Mack, Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary, Justin McCray, Matt Hennessy
* * * **
OFFENSES KNOCKING ON THE DOOR: Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers.
Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling