When it comes to the quarterback position, there are different tiers of players. There are the elite, the above-average, the guys you can win with and the ones who are simply not great. Every year, a handful of players jump up a tier thanks to a breakout season.
The same will be true in 2017 with these six players leading the pack as players who could have solid seasons. Now, there are multiple levels of “breaking out” – some go from great to elite, while others go from backups to average starters – which is what makes quarterbacks so much fun to watch as they develop throughout their careers.
Cody Kessler, Browns
There are different levels of breaking out, and while Kessler is on a lower tier, he’s going to prove a lot of doubters wrong in 2017. He quietly had a solid season on an absolutely terrible team behind an offensive line that nearly got him killed. In eight starts, he had six touchdown passes with two interceptions and a completion rate of 65.6 percent.
Sure, his touchdown total was low, but he didn’t turn the ball over much on a team with very few reliable targets offensively. It was essentially Terrelle Pryor, Gary Barnidge and a cast of average running backs catching passes for the Browns.
They lost Pryor, but Kenny Britt, Corey Coleman and David Njoku will help Kessler significantly, as will the much-improved offensive line. Granted, there’s no guarantee he’ll even be the starting quarterback with Brock Osweiler and DeShone Kizer competing for the job, but I fully expect Kessler to win out in camp and earn the job. He could be in for a 20-touchdown, 3,000-yard season for the Browns, which I would consider a breakout year for a player of his caliber.
Paxton Lynch, Broncos
Lynch and Trevor Siemian will be one of the most competitive position battles of training camp this offseason with both players getting a fair shot to win the job. Siemian was the starter last season, but his play was underwhelming and didn’t provide enough of a spark to retain the gig for 2017.
Now, Lynch has a year of NFL experience under his belt and an entire offseason to showcase his ability. That gives him a slight edge over Siemian, as does the fact that he was a first-round pick in 2016. Head coach Vance Joseph should give Lynch a small advantage because of his raw ability and athleticism.
Lynch has good potential as an NFL quarterback, he just needs to improve in his decision making and accuracy. His arm strength will never be an issue, but sailing passes over receivers’ heads is not something he can do. If Lynch can hone his skills and put them all together this season, he could be on track for a 25-touchdown, 12-interception season.
Tyrod Taylor, Bills
Taylor has spent the past two years as the Bills’ starting quarterback, and for the most part, he’s been solid. He’s thrown 37 touchdown passes and just 12 interceptions in that span, which are obviously solid numbers. However, they aren’t a direct representation of his game.
He’s a conservative quarterback who rarely throws over the middle or down the field. Taylor sticks to out-breaking routes and half-field reads, simplifying the game for him. That’s the way the coaching staff has catered the offense to his skill set, but that should change this season with a new regime in place.
Rick Dennison is going to institute his offense in Buffalo, which should open up the field for Taylor to do more things. He’s going to utilize Taylor’s mobility and the Bills’ running game to get the most out of play-action. He’ll have Taylor under center and rolling out more often, both of which are good signs for Taylor.
He needs to put up big numbers in order to land a lucrative deal next year, too, so don’t be surprised to see him have a career year.
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Carson Wentz, Eagles
Wentz showed flashes of greatness last season, but there were more lows than highs for him as a rookie. He airmailed throws, got stuck on his primary read at times and his mechanics got out of whack late in the season.
He’s spent all offseason working on his throwing motion and footwork, which should lead to an increase in accuracy and overall better statistics. He has the potential to be a franchise quarterback, and probably will one day. There were just too many flaws in his game last season, which were to be expected coming from a non-FBS program. A lack of help offensively didn’t help, either.
Now, he has a bevy of weapons at his disposal with Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Jordan Matthews. Wentz will take a huge step forward and have himself a breakout season where he’ll contend for a spot in the Pro Bowl.
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Marcus Mariota, Titans
The Titans are on the rise in a big way, and the primary reason for that is the play of Mariota. He had a great 2016 season before getting injured, but he still hasn’t broken through as a top-tier quarterback. That should happen this year now that he has Corey Davis and a strong cast of wide receivers.
Mariota improved in just about every department last season, but his statistics don’t tell the whole story. Yes, he had seven more touchdowns and one fewer interception than he had in 2015, but that was also in three more games. His completion percentage dropped by one percentage point, and he still fumbled it nine times.
While the fumbles might always be an issue, Mariota will continue to get better in the other areas. Look for him to have 30-plus touchdowns and fewer than 10 interceptions yet again, while also increasing his completion rate. If he can do those three things, it’ll truly be a breakout year for him.
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Jameis Winston, Buccaneers
Winston has pretty much been what everyone expected him to be in the NFL: a gunslinger who takes too many chances, but makes plays that will make your jaw drop. In order to take the next step, Winston needs to do less of the former, which will in turn reduce the number of eye-popping plays he makes. That’s OK.
Winston needs to take fewer risks and allow his playmakers to, well, make plays. Now that he has O.J. Howard and DeSean Jackson at his disposal with Mike Evans still in the mix, Winston has more weapons than ever before. That should lead to an increase in big plays – an area where the Bucs struggled last season – and more touchdown passes for Winston.
He’ll have at least 30 touchdown passes and fewer than 15 interceptions in 2017 as long as he learns to pull back on some of the risky throws he tends to make. There’s no need to throw into triple coverage when Jackson or Howard are breaking open on the other side in one-on-one coverage. He’ll learn that early in the year.