With the 2016-17 NFL season right around the corner, there are players that fans will want to watch and keep an eye on. As with all things in sports—especially football, the NFL is an ever-changing beast of who’s the “it” player to watch. No other position in the NFL is gazed upon and scrutinized more so than quarterback.
With NFL training camps set to get underway and pre-season games set to start soon after, here are my top ten quarterbacks to watch in 2016-17 and why.
QB Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders: One year removed after having a breakout year in passing for 3,987 yards, 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, the former second-round pick out of Fresno State appears to be having a potential All-Pro type of career path.
One of the most underrated—yet talented—QB’s that no one seems to talk about Carr seems to be in prime position to formally announce his arrival to the entire NFL, let alone a weakened AFC West, that saw longtime-nemesis Peyton Manning ride off into the proverbial sunset, backup Brock Osweiler bolt to the Texans, various members of the Super Bowl-winning Broncos go on to greener pastures in free agency.
Let’s not also forget that besides the Broncos getting weaker, longtime foil in San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is another year older—who also lost a big re-zone target in Ladarius Green to the Pittsburgh Steelers—appear to be a team in transition.
While the Kansas City Chiefs have not made any big-time moves, they still have a capable game-manager in Alex Smith and a dynamic offense that has the likes of WR Jeremy Maclin, RB Jamaal Charles and TE Travis Kelce, Carr has a deadly offense that features a blossoming Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree at WR, Clive Walford and Mychal Rivera at TE and Latavius Murray at RB.
With such a talented offense another year older and more experienced, along with an already formidable defense led by Khalil Mack, don’t be shocked if the Raiders win the AFC West at 10-6, with Carr being the man behind it.
QB Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams: If not for the aforementioned Carr, then the top overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft out of Cal would have been my top QB to watch in 2016.
Blessed with Hollywood leading man looks and a golden arm, Goff has the name and personal brand to be the future face of the NFL—sorry Tom Brady! —let alone it’s second-largest media market in Los Angeles.
In what will likely be a steep learning curve in adjusting to the NFL’s speed, Goff will likely begin his rookie campaign behind the likes of Nick Foles and Case Keenum, before gradually gaining more first-time reps and eventually starting. When he does start, he will have last year’s Offensive Rookie of The Year in tailback Todd Gurley to hand off to in head coach Jeff Fisher’s run-first system, which will take a lot of pressure off of Goff.
Goff will also have quality targets in tight end Lance Kendricks and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Brian Quick and veteran Kenny Britt to throw to. Unfortunately for Goff, he will have to do in a division that features ball-hawking defenses headlined by Patrick Peterson and Tyronn Mathieu in Arizona and Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas in Seattle respectfully.
Look for Goff to struggle early and often, but by the end of the year, he will eventually begin to show flashes of why he was picked No.1 overall.
QB Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins: For newly-arrived QB Kirk Cousins, he is in a bit of a predicament.
He signed the Redskins’ $19.9 nonexclusive franchise tender, which basically makes 2016 a “prove it” year for the former 2012 fourth-round pick out of Michigan State. Now he will have to prove to not only the Redskins—and other potential suitors—that last year’s breakout year of passing for 4,166 yards, 29 touchdowns, 11 interceptions while completing 69.8 percent of his passes was no fluke.
In essence, Cousins current deal—and his on-field performance in 2016—will be the second-most scrutinized public figure in our nation’s capital not named Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
In losing tailback Alfred Morris to the hated Dallas Cowboys, Cousins loses a viable target out of the backfield and reliable runner.
While Cousins still has Matt Jones, the Redskins did give Cousins a tall and lanky downfield target in former TCU wideout Josh Doctson to pair up with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed.
If Cousins plays up to his 2015-16 level, he has earned the right to demand a contract on par with Andrew Luck, if not, then he will likely have to settle for a slightly-less contract that doesn’t fairly reflect his true worth.
QB Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: No Marvin Jones. No Mohammad Sanu. No Hue Jackson. No problem for Andy Dalton right?
Forgive me for not buying into the whole “Dalton is the next Peyton’ narrative based on comparable stats over his first few years in the league, because in all honesty, I’m not buying the hype, and honestly never will.
About to go into 2016-17 with his second, third wide receivers in Jones and Sanu and his former offensive coordinator in Jackson now the new head coach of the glorified dumpster fire—and eternally lost cause—that is the Cleveland Browns, Dalton needs to prove this his six-year, $115 million contract is worth it and exorcise his post-season demons once and for all.
QB Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos: Mark Sanchez. Need I say more.
It is not a matter of IF the former Memphis Tiger quarterback will take the reins in post-Manning Denver, it will be WHEN.
While Sanchez is very serviceable—and at this point in his career, a glorified Band-Aid—it speaks volumes of a franchise fresh off its third Super Bowl win in trading up with the Seattle Seahawks five spots from No.31 to 26th to grab a prospect in the likes of the 6’7, 245-pound Lynch. Blessed with surprising mobility and a cannon arm, Lynch is has the size of the departed Brock Osweiler and untapped intangibles that align perfectly in head coach Gary Kubiak’s run-based bootleg-heavy West Coast offense.
Even this life-long Browns fan is loathe to admit when longtime nemesis in Broncos Executive Vice President of Operations–and eternal tormentor of Cleveland sports nightmares–in John Elway may have pilfered the best quarterback in the entire 2016 NFL Draft.
QB Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans: With a backfield that has more Heisman Trophy winners than Super Bowl titles, the Tennessee Titans may have put second-year QB Marcus Mariota in position to have a lights-out sophomore year.
With a backfield that features DeMarco Murray, rookie Derrick Henry and playmakers in the form of Kendall Wright, Dorial Green-Beckham, tight end Delanie Walker, Mariota has some playmakers to help him take the next step.
Mariota also has a quality offensive line to work with that features eighth overall pick in offensive tackle Jack Conklin and a speedy and lanky target in form UMass wideout Tajae Sharpe.
Thanks to these moves by the Titans, Mariota is ready to take the next step in 2016.
QB Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater just maybe the luckiest QB in the NFL*.
One year after leading the Vikings to the NFC North title sans Adrian Peterson, not only does the third-year signal-caller out of Louisville get back the NFL’s premier running back, but he also gets perhaps the best wide receiver in the 2016 NFL Draft in former Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell to throw to.
Throw in quality targets such as the emerging Stefon Diggs, Charles Johnson and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Bridgewater is ready to have a potentially monster year under center.
*Google “US Bank Stadium”, the Vikings’ new spaceship/Viking ship-like new 70,000-seat stadium, you’re welcome, SKOL!
In going to the Eagles, Wentz has all the physical attributes to be successful in being tall in the pocket, ability to move and having a workhorse in Ryan Matthews to hand the ball to and scat back Darren Sproles to use as an outlet out of the backfield.
Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor will also help make Wentz’s eventual transition—see Sam Bradford—a mild success.
QB Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans: Fresh after being Peyton Manning’s understudy and winning a Super Bowl for the Denver Broncos, is Brock ready to rock in the Space City?
Thanks to signing a four-year $72 million contract, the former 25-year-old 6’8 240-pounder out of Arizona State, is ready to spread his wings down in Houston and give the Texans its first legitimate franchise star quarterback in the franchise’s brief 14-year history.
In passing for 1,967 yards, ten touchdowns and six interceptions in eight games while filling in for Peyton Manning.
Thanks to adding former Ohio State playmaker in Braxton Miller opposite DeAndre Hopkins and a potential steal in running back Lamar Miller via free agency from the Miami Dolphins, Houston may finally have a star QB of its own to go toe-to-toe with long-time nemesis in Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck for division supremacy.
QB Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars: No other NFL quarterback has as much talent to work with, yet is in a seemingly unwinnable situation than Jacksonville Jaguars third-year QB in Blake Bortles.
Thanks to having the NFL’s most underrated WR duo that has Allen Robinson—and the best wide receiver that no one seems to talk about—in Allen Hurns, and tight end Julian Thomas, Bortles seems to have it all right?
Let’s not forget that he has a seemingly loaded backfield that features Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon and scat back Denard Robinson.
So why is it that Bortles—who threw for 4,428 yards, 35 touchdowns and 18 interceptions—seems to have quietly blossomed into one of the NFL’s most promising and talented young signal-callers today if not for the division he plays in.
In a seemingly stacked AFC South that has perhaps the NFL’s future face in Andrew Luck, a promising upstart in Marcus Mariota and a recent Super Bowl champion in Houston with QB Brock Osweiler under center and NFL Defensive Player of the Year and legit NFL MVP contender in J.J. Watt, Bortles’ ascent towards potential greatness will be a slow one.
Make no mistake, Bortles and the Jaguars will be a team and QB to watch in 2016, as they will be a team to be reckoned with for years to come.