Analysis

Ranking the eight NFL divisions by quarterback: AFC West stuffed with stars; AFC North rising

Quarterback is one of the highest-profile positions in all of sports -- and this offseason has been supercharged with movement by some gigantic names in the NFL.

It's been exciting for fans and observers, and it added plenty of spice to our annual ranking of all eight NFL divisions according to the quarterbacks. As always, we used history as a guide in compiling this ranking, but it's based largely upon what I project for the upcoming 2022 NFL season.

Let the fun begin!

1) AFC West

Denver Broncos: Russell Wilson
Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes
Las Vegas Raiders: Derek Carr
Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert

This is the greatest quarterback foursome in a division we've ever seen.

Wilson's addition to this group via his offseason trade from the Seahawks to the Broncos makes this hyperbolic statement feel more like fact than opinion. He's a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, a proven Super Bowl winner still in his prime at age 33. Wilson changes everything in Denver, raising expectations and bringing attitude, leadership and moxie. Mahomes is one of the most talented quarterbacks to have graced a football field. Averaging 4,677 yards and 38 TD passes in his first four seasons as a starter, with four division titles, four AFC Championship Game appearances, two Super Bowl trips and one Lombardi Trophy already to his name, he'd arguably be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame even if he never played another down.

Herbert has thrown for more yards (9,350) and TDs (69) than any player in the first two years of their career in NFL history. The 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year is about to take the league by storm. MVP? Offensive Player of the Year? Win the division and lead the Bolts to the AFC title game? It's all in play. My guy Carr has been criminally underrated and underappreciated for years. He's terrific, especially when it counts most -- Carr is tied for first in game-winning drives (30) and fourth-quarter comebacks (24) since entering the NFL in 2014. Don't forget about all the instability and change he's had to deal with lately, including the Antonio Brown saga in 2019, the Raiders' relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas and the sudden end to Jon Gruden's tenure last year. Now that Carr's got a new extension, close friend Davante Adams (who also happens to be the game's top receiver) to throw to and Josh McDaniels taking the reins at head coach? Look out.

2) AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson
Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow
Cleveland Browns: Deshaun Watson/Jacoby Brissett
Pittsburgh Steelers: Mitch Trubisky/Kenny Pickett

On the field, Watson is a great player, and his addition to the Browns this offseason cements this ranking. Even if Watson is suspended as a result of the disturbing allegations of sexual misconduct that have been levied against him, leaving the solid Brissett to start in his place, I'd still make the case this division is worthy of this spot on the list, because Burrow and Jackson are that special.

Burrow has everything you want in a quarterback, from the tangible to the intangible; he's a true stud who can easily win MVP in Year 3 and take the Bengals back to the Super Bowl, especially with the plethora of weapons (Ja'Marr Chase, Joe Mixon) at his disposal. Plus, after Burrow led the NFL with 51 sacks, the offensive line was vastly and brilliantly improved. Jackson is a fantastic player. Don't put too much stock in last season, which was waylaid by an unreal rash of Ravens injuries -- including to Jackson, who was seriously diminished by an ankle injury. The 2019 MVP, who has one year left on his rookie deal, will either be playing to boost the value of his next contract or show he's worthy of whatever deal he and Baltimore might agree to in the coming months. He's going to have a monster 2022 season.

And I like the Steelers' quarterback combo. Whoever starts (the veteran Trubisky or the rookie Pickett) will represent a serious upgrade over the version of Ben Roethlisberger we saw over the last two years. After Trubisky's rocky tenure with the Bears came to an end, he earned a Ph.D in quarterbacking as the backup last season in Buffalo, learning under then-coordinator Brian Daboll and behind Josh Allen. (Plus, as the dismal results in Chicago last season showed, the Bears' struggles during Trubisky's time there were hardly all his fault.) As for Pickett, I'm a big fan of the 20th overall pick. This will be a good battle between two legit players worthy of the gig.

3) NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray
Los Angeles Rams: Matthew Stafford
San Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance
Seattle Seahawks: Drew Lock/Geno Smith

Stafford is a future Hall of Famer in my opinion, a star with a golden arm -- now that he's also a Super Bowl champion, I wonder if he might breathe a little more in the regular season. I expect another great year from him with the Rams, working with Sean McVay, Cooper Kupp and Co. I like Murray more than I love Murray. His disappearing act at the end of consecutive seasons (Murray's passer rating over the past two seasons ranked seventh between September and November; in December, that ranking slipped to 24th) scares me. And as much as I was on board with the Cardinals' trade to acquire Hollywood Brown, the fact that Murray will have to play without suspended receiver DeAndre Hopkins to start the 2022 campaign is a concern, as is Murray's unsettled contract situation. The talent is real. I need more consistency and better performances in big games, especially coming off his 137-yard, zero-touchdown, two-pick showing in a Wild Card Round loss to the Rams.

I am tantalized by Lance's talent and Kyle Shanahan's ability to maximize him. The Niners gave up the farm to move up and select Lance third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. It's go time. It's time to let Lance dance -- I think he'll live up to the hype. As for Seattle, well, Smith vs. Lock is hardly Montana vs. Young. Barring another move, this will be arguably the worst and least-inspiring quarterback battle on record.

4) NFC North

Chicago Bears: Justin Fields
Detroit Lions: Jared Goff
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers
Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins

Coming off back-to-back MVP awards (giving him four in his already legendary career), Rodgers finally put the question of his long-term future to rest, inking a four-year extension in Green Bay that will pay him $150.8 million over the next three years. He remains the best in the business at 38 years old, capable of carrying this (Davante Adams-less) Packers squad on his back. Cousins is a really good player who will bounce between, say, eighth and 16th in a ranking of the best QBs over the course of a season; he's in the neighborhood of performing like a franchise quarterback, albeit on the bottom of the scale. That said, I think new coach and play-caller Kevin O'Connell, who knows him from their time together in Washington, will help Cousins greatly. Goff is solid (19:8 TD-to-INT ratio and 91.5 passer rating last season) and seems to be respected in Detroit heading into his second season with the franchise. And I love Fields' talent and savvy. I'm just worried about the impact of the bumpy nature of Matt Nagy's final season in Chicago on Fields, as well as the dearth of reliable talent around Fields on the roster heading into Year 2 of his NFL career.

5) AFC East

Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen
Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa
New England Patriots: Mac Jones
New York Jets: Zach Wilson

Color me obsessed with Allen, a rock star who was one of the top quarterbacks down the stretch last season. He was perhaps the best in the league in the playoffs, when he posted an otherworldly passer rating of 149.0, with a completion rate of 77 percent, 637 passing yards, 134 rushing yards and a TD-to-INT ratio of 9:0 in two games. One could easily make the case that he is the top QB again heading into this season. His career has gotten off to a phenomenal start, and I think he'll reach a new level of greatness in Year 5. He lifts this division up into the top five.

I like Tagovailoa more than most others seem to; I think with a new coach and play-caller (Mike McDaniel) and upgrades to his supporting cast (including the addition of Tyreek Hill, the best deep threat in the game), the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft will take his game up a notch. Jones, who ranked 15th in the NFL in passer rating (92.5), 13th in passing yards (3,801) and 17th in TD-to-INT ratio (22:13), had a very good rookie year. Wilson, who posted a passer rating of 80 or better in six starts and 73.3 or worse in seven last season, is a legit variable in terms of what to expect going forward. But let's not forget he was the No. 2 overall pick in 2021, and that Jets general manager Joe Douglas had a superb offseason. Wilson should take a jump.

6) AFC South

Houston Texans: Davis Mills
Indianapolis Colts: Matt Ryan
Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence
Tennessee Titans: Ryan Tannehill

Frankly, this is the toughest division to rank, requiring a bit of guesswork with all four QBs -- but I think it's ultimately going to be a solid group from top to bottom. I love Ryan, and I truly think his first year in Indy is going to be special. He had a great 14 seasons in Atlanta, and he still can play at a high level at age 37 -- he will maximize the talent (Jonathan Taylor, Michael Pittman Jr.) and coaching around him. I'm not a big Tannehill fan, and his three-pick loss to the Bengals in the playoffs illustrated why. But even if he's not in my upper tier or QBs, he's solid, and has done a good job with the Titans overall these past three seasons. I don't remotely hold the mess that developed in Jacksonville last season against Lawrence -- I still think the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft is going to be special. And don't sleep on Mills, the second-best rookie QB of '21, behind the Pats' Jones, in terms of passer rating (88.8) and passing TDs (16).

7) NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: Marcus Mariota/Desmond Ridder
Carolina Panthers: Sam Darnold/Matt Corral
New Orleans Saints: Jameis Winston
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tom Brady

Brady is the G.O.A.T. and still at the top of his game. He would've been my No. 2 choice for MVP last year. We know Father Time is undefeated, but the soon-to-be-45-year-old seems to have him on the ropes, at least, after reversing his decision to retire ahead of the 2022 season. I like Winston and love the elements in his offense, and I have the Saints as division winners. Thus, I believe -- but there is still a trust issue with the 2015 No. 1 overall pick, who is coming off a torn ACL, and who did throw 30 picks the last time he started double-digit games, back with the Bucs in 2019. Losing the play-calling of Sean Payton, who stepped down as New Orleans' coach in January, is a thing.

This division gets dragged down by the Panthers and Falcons. Carolina's quarterback situation is a flat-out, muddled mess. There are multiple quarterbacks on the roster, but probably not one that would currently rank among the top 40 in the NFL. Darnold's first season with the Panthers was a serious disappointment (9:13 TD-to-INT ratio, 71.9 passer rating). P.J. Walker is P.J. Walker, a backup with a 51.6 career passer rating. Corral is a third-round pick whose placement at No. 40 among Daniel Jeremiah's top 150 prospects of 2022 does not exactly suggest he's a Day 1 difference-maker. As for the Falcons, while I like Mariota and Ridder more than most, we can't sugarcoat what the drop-off will look like from Ryan, a former All-Pro and MVP, to Mariota, who carries a 29-32 career record as starter, or Ridder, a rookie third-round pick slotted by Jeremiah at No. 51.

8) NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott
New York Giants: Daniel Jones
Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Hurts
Washington Commanders: Carson Wentz

Apologies to my guy Prescott, who is a tremendous player and leader in Dallas, but I had to put this division, which includes three teams that could be changing quarterbacks this offseason, at the bottom. I like Hurts a lot, and the Eagles are ready for prime time, but he's got to improve his completion percentage (61.3 in 2021, his first full season as a starter). The man Hurts displaced in Philadelphia, Wentz, had a forgettable season with the Colts; there's little reason to believe Wentz is capable of recapturing his old 2017 magic with the Commanders after Indianapolis coach Frank Reich, who helped Wentz look like an MVP candidate in Philadelphia, couldn't make it happen last year. Jones' career passer rating (84.3) ranks 33rd in the NFL since he entered the league as the sixth overall pick in 2019. The Giants' decision not to pick up Jones' fifth-year option for 2023 is not a good sign; heck, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw Tyrod Taylor play at some point this season.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter.

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