New Faces in Different Places
3 AFC teams drafted a quarterback in the first round; will any of them make it to the playoffs?
It is known that rookie quarterbacks tend to struggle. In their first season in the NFL, there is a lot to learn (a new offense, a new team, new players, everything). It is rare to see a rookie quarterback take off and take over the league by storm. In fact the last time three rookie quarterbacks guided their teams to the playoffs was in 2012 with the trio of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson. This draft class saw an unusual confidence in the top quarterback prospects, with three teams drafting a quarterback in the top 10 selections. Each of these quarterbacks are destined to turn their team around, whether it be this year or at some point in the future, the question is which of these quarterbacks can have an instant impact? Which of these quarterbacks can take a team that looked terrible last year and bring them to the playoffs? Let’s start with the number one overall pick in the draft, from Louisiana State University, Joe Burrow.
Joe Burrow: Cincinnati Bengals
Will the team make the playoffs? Likely
Many people remember that the Bengals were the worst team in the NFL last season, but few people consider why the Bengals were terrible. There are a few things that stand out in the downfall of the Bengals that occurred last season. While the roster looked worse in every key position and the defense was a mix of aging veterans and undeveloped younger players, many can look to the quarterback play as the biggest factor.
Andy Dalton had an immediate impact on the Bengals, leading the team to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. Unfortunately, that was the ceiling for Dalton. Andy Dalton was a rather stale quarterback in the sense that you knew what you were going to get but it didn’t improve. In a league that is constantly changing and improving Dalton failed to adjust and gave the Bengals a lower ceiling every season. Joe Burrow can be the ultimate quarterback, his ability to read defenses, his arm strength, his mobility, everything about Burrow can give Bengals fans hope. Joe Burrow will likely open up an offense that was rather poor over the past few seasons.
While Joe Burrow can’t play defense, the team as a whole will look better. Last season the offense was bad and the defense was worse, the overall impression that was portrayed was of a team that checked out of the season. Burrow will once again bring that spark and if the offense starts rolling again, the team as a whole will look better. The Bengals may not win the division with Lamar Jackson being one of the best players in the NFL and leading the Ravens as one of the best teams in the AFC. However, the Cincinnati Bengals can be a wild card team and surprise many this season.
Tua Tagovailoa; Miami Dolphins
Will the team make the playoffs? Possibly
Like the Bengals, the Dolphins have been affected by either poor or average quarterback play. Unlike the Bengals, the Dolphins made a lot of free agent signings and have overhauled their roster. The Dolphins also had a superfluous number of draft picks and have brought in a lot of stars from the College game. The first selection of the draft was Tua Tagovailoa and his ability to play will likely determine the Dolphins success.
Tua Tagovailoa was regarded as the top quarterback prospect for most of last year, then he suffered a brutal injury. Tua was one of the biggest question marks entering the NFL Draft, if he is healthy he will be great in the NFL but if he isn’t he may never play well. The Dolphins took a chance on him when they drafted him with the fifth pick in the draft. It’s possible that Tua can sit behind Ryan Fitzpatrick for the entire season so he can be ready and fully healthy for 2021. If Tua starts, like Burrow in Cincinnati, he can instantly transform the offense.
The Dolphins can have a large turnaround in part because of their roster but also in part with the intricacies of the AFC East. For the first time in almost 20 years, the Patriots aren’t the guaranteed team to win the division, New England lost Tom Brady in the off-season and many of their star players have opted out for the season. The Jets just traded away their best defensive player in Jamal Adams for draft picks (indicating that they might not be competitive this year) and have many question marks entering this season (is Adam Gase a good coach? Is Sam Darnold able to take the next step?). The Bills look to improve on last season but they have their flaws and an easy schedule last season made them look better and they can be exposed this season. With every team in the AFC East having their question marks, the Dolphins can be a surprise team and make the playoffs this year.
Justin Herbert; Los Angeles Chargers
Will the team make the playoffs? Doubtful
The Chargers were a mess last season. Unlike the Bengals and the Dolphins, the Chargers underachieving can’t be completely pinned on their quarterback play. While Philip Rivers did have an awful year, the entire roster looked bad and specifically the offensive line. Also unlike the Bengals and Dolphins, the Chargers didn’t appear to address any of their needs this off-season and specifically their offensive line.
For me, the offensive line might be the most important unit in football. An unprotected quarterback is going to be terrible by default and the offense will also look terrible. The Chargers did not help Philip Rivers last season and they didn’t appear to address the need. For Justin Herbert, he won’t have a great start unless the protection improves.
Justin Herbert looks like he will have a great career in the NFL. Unfortunately, Herbert might need an offense that suits him. Herbert played in a great system that allowed him to succeed and even though Anthony Lynn is an offensive minded coach, he might not be the right coach for Herbert.
The Chargers appear to be preparing for the long-term future. They still have some star players but the overall roster isn’t deep and the team doesn’t look ready to make a run yet. Justin Herbert may have great stats, he also might show promise in his first season but it doesn’t look like the Chargers will win many games. If the Chargers have a great draft class and give Justin Herbert a great supporting cast, they will once again be contenders.