Every year in the NFL, a quarterback goes from good to great. It typically happens in a player’s second or third year as a pro, but as Matt Ryan showed this past season, it can come years down the road.
So who will be the Matt Ryan of 2017, taking his game to new heights? There are several key candidates to make the jump next season. Dak Prescott isn’t one of them, considering he was already an MVP candidate in 2016. Cam Newton and Philip Rivers had down years, but they’ve already been to the top.
The players in this category are regarded as good quarterbacks, but not necessarily top-tier ones. The jump will be bigger for some than others, but expect all of these six players to improve greatly in the upcoming season.
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Tyrod Taylor just completed his second season as a starter in the pros, but it wasn’t any better than his first. His numbers actually dropped a bit, but that shouldn’t make you believe he can’t improve next season.
Taylor, whether he’s playing for the Bills or another team, will make a leap forward in 2017. Anthony Lynn did a good job catering to Taylor’s strengths, but his next coordinator will likely expand the boundaries in which he operates. By that I mean he’ll encourage Taylor to attack the middle of the field, an area where he struggled in his first two seasons as the starter.
By doing that, Taylor will allow his receivers to gain more yardage after the catch, rather than frequently leading them towards the sidelines. Taylor should be a Pro Bowler next year and the Bills would be foolish to let him go after he played relatively well the past two seasons.
Stay with me here. You may say it’s impossible for a backup quarterback with two starts under his belt to take the next step, but Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t your typical second-stringer. This hinges on the possibility that he’ll be traded in the offseason, which I believe will happen.
After seeing Tom Brady dominate in Super Bowl LI and prove he can play for at least a few more years, the Patriots have to feel confident dealing Garoppolo to get draft picks in return. A team like the 49ers, Browns or Bears could set their sights on the man they call Jimmy G and make a push to trade for him.
If that happens, he’ll be poised to go from backup to NFL star fairly quickly. Garoppolo showed why the Patriots think so highly of him in his two starts this season, throwing four touchdown passes and no picks. His decision-making was strong, his accuracy was great and his arm strength is more than good enough to succeed in the pros.
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After the first four games of the season, it looked like Carson Wentz was on the fast track towards winning Rookie of the Year. He had seven touchdown passes and one interception with a passer rating of 103.5.
That’s when things got ugly. He went on to throw nine touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in his final 12 games, playing like one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Some of that had to do with the lack of help he received from his wide receivers, but most of it was Wentz’s mechanics getting out of whack and his inaccuracy showing up on nearly every throw.
Wentz is going to work with a quarterback coach this offseason to improve in those areas which will only make him better going forward. The Eagles, on the other hand, are going to do their part to surround him with more talent and playmakers on the outside. A combination of the two will allow Wentz to take the next step towards becoming a top quarterback. He won’t be an MVP candidate or anything, but a Pro Bowl should be well within his reach in Year 2.
It’s a yearly debate in Miami: Is this the year Ryan Tannehill makes the jump? That debate will end in 2017 when he takes the next step towards becoming a top quarterback. He showed glimpses of that in this past season only to suffer a crushing injury late in the year.
Assuming he returns from his knee injury and is fully healthy come August, Tannehill will take his game to new heights. The Dolphins are building a solid offensive line around him, he has Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker at wide receiver and Adam Gase is showing why he’s considered a quarterback guru around the NFL.
Tannehill has all the tools to be an elite quarterback, from mobility to arm strength. He just needs to put it all together, which Gase is helping him do. Look for around 30 touchdowns and fewer than 10 interceptions from Tannehill in 2017.
Jameis Winston has one Pro Bowl nod under his belt already in what’s been a solid start to his NFL career. He’s still not a top-tier quarterback, but that will change next season.
Winston has struggled to protect the ball in his first two seasons. He’s turned it over 41 times in 32 career games, including 33 interceptions and eight lost fumbles. The fumbling issue was an even bigger problem this past season, losing six of his 10 fumbles.
Mistakes like that simply can’t happen if you want to be an elite quarterback in the NFL, and it’s certainly something Winston will work on this offseason. If he can correct those issues, his 50 career touchdown passes will look a whole lot better. Expect Winston to have around 28 touchdowns and fewer than 13 interceptions next season, which would certainly be deemed a massive improvement.
Marcus Mariota had what was a great season end earlier than he had hoped when he suffered a broken leg on Christmas Eve in Week 16. Before the injury, Mariota had 26 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions, posting an impressive 95.6 passer rating. As good as his numbers were, they weren’t substantially better than those from his rookie year.
The big jump will happen in 2017 when he takes his play to another level. Mariota already improved a great deal last season, proving to be one of the best deep-ball passers in the NFL. He was accurate, made good decisions and orchestrated the Titans’ offense perfectly, but there are still areas in which he can improve.
Ball security and consistency are two aspects of his game that he can work on. In his last three games of the season, Mariota completed just 45.2 percent of his passes with one touchdown and one interception. Streaks like that can’t happen in 2017, especially after seeing him throw eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in the previous three games.
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