The 1983 quarterback draft class will forever be the gold standard, boasting three hall-of-famers who are among the top-25 quarterbacks of all time: Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly.
The next best quarterback class has to be 2004, which also had three passers that will almost definitely wind up in Canton someday: Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.
We’ve reached the point of this season where I’ve seen enough to make a way-too-early prediction that the 2020 quarterback class will someday be looked at in a similar way as the previous two historic classes. The top three quarterbacks chosen in this year’s NFL Draft back in April — Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert — appear to be the real deal, and as long as their respective teams can build around them, there could be significant success in all their careers.
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Burrow first overall, and everyone knew they planned to start him right away after they released longtime starter Andy Dalton. Cincinnati as it’s currently constructed is not the best place for a rookie quarterback to get thrown into the fire. There’s a reason the team secured the No. 1 overall pick with a 2-14 record. They have a bottom-10 defense in the league, a sub-par offensive line and are still developing in every area.
However, Burrow has found a way to look good even in that environment. Across eight games, he’s thrown for 2,272 yards (good for eighth in the league), 11 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He’s completed 67% of his throws and has shown surprising mobility, rushing for 130 yards and three touchdowns. The team is just 2-5-1, but we have to remember how bad the team was last year. It looks like Burrow may triple the Bengals’ win total this year, and that’s even with the defense allowing over 400 yards per game.
Burrow seems to be getting comfortable with the receivers around him, namely Tyler Boyd and fellow rookie Tee Higgins, who have both caught three touchdowns so far. Based on what I’ve seen in the early career of Burrow and knowing how much he can improve, I believe he will follow in the footsteps of Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason, Carson Palmer and Dalton to become the next franchise quarterback for the Bengals. And if they can shore up on the defensive side of the ball, he may go beyond what any of them ever did and win a Super Bowl.
The Miami Dolphins selected Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick. Despite his slightly alarming injury history, the Dolphins believed he could be their first true franchise quarterback since Marino retired back in 1999. He started the season as the backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick, and I thought they were going to give him the whole year to develop. But after Week 6, Miami announced Tagovailoa would be taking over.
He’s made two starts so far. In the first one, he didn’t have to do much, throwing for just 93 yards and a touchdown; the defense and special teams provided the bulk of the scoring in a 28-17 win over the LA Rams. But in his second start against the Arizona Cardinals, he was tremendous. He outdueled Kyler Murray in a 34-31 win, throwing for 248 yards and two touchdowns and running for another 35 yards.
The Dolphins are in position for a playoff spot right now at 5-3, and Tagovailoa seems like the guy who can get them there. I know it’s a really small sample size, but everything we’ve seen from him so far seems to replicate what we saw in his amazing college career at Alabama. If he can stay healthy and the Dolphins continue to improve as they have since Brian Flores took over, there’s no reason Tagovailoa can’t become one of the biggest stars in the league.
Although the Los Angeles Chargers got the third quarterback in the draft with Herbert at No. 6, they might have gotten the biggest prize. Herbert is the frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year so far, and he wasn’t even supposed to be the starter so soon. Tyrod Taylor started the season as the quarterback, but after Week 1, he went down with a chest injury. Herbert stepped up and played so well that they had to leave him in.
In seven games so far, Herbert has thrown for 2,146 yards, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s also rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating of 104.7 and QBR of 77.5 rank ninth and 10th in the league this year, respectively. Herbert has simply been incredible in his rookie campaign. He always looks poised and relaxed in the pocket and makes far more good decisions than bad ones, something you don’t often see from rookies.
The problem for Herbert so far has been the results. The team is just 1-6 in his starts, which is unbelievable given how well he has played. Every loss has been by one possession, and two have been in overtime. It appears the Chargers’ curse of not being able to win close games has continued even with the departure of Rivers, so that’s a problem the team is going to have to fix. But they definitely have the right guy at quarterback. If I had to venture a prediction, I would say Herbert will have the best overall career of any of these three star rookies.
However, I believe all of them have the potential to be amazing players in this league. They may not be Marino, Elway and Kelly, but Burrow, Tagovailoa and Herbert will definitely leave their legacy on the NFL in the next decade.