This season, the quarterback field is the most chaotic it’s been in a long time. For the last four years, we’ve seen quarterbacks perform better than ever before. The league average for passer rating has surpassed 90.0 six times in league history, with five coming in the last five years. This year it’s barely hanging above that mark, a testament to how interesting this season has been for signal-callers around the league. With so much to dissect about the start of the season, here are the most significant quarterbacks that have either surprised (positive) or disappointed (negative).
Geno Smith: Surprise
There have been so many comebacks to note this season, but the most interesting to follow so far has been with Geno Smith. Drafted in the second round by the Jets in 2013, he failed to make an impression in the four years in New York, two of which he was a starter. He bounced around a couple more teams before finding his way to Seattle as Russell Wilson’s backup. Smith performed surprisingly well in 2021 when Wilson was out, passing for five touchdowns and throwing only one interception in his three starts. He’s continued that solid play into this season as the primary starter, boasting an impressive 81% completion percentage. The team is 1-1 so far, and it will be interesting to see if he can keep this level of play up.
Tua Tagovailoa: Surprise
Year three is typically when we start to see a quarterback begin securing his place in the league, whether it’s as a star, starter or reserve. Tagovailoa has slowly been improving through his first two seasons, and following the addition of Tyreek Hill, he has finally arrived. Second-year receiver Jaylen Waddle has stepped up as well, forming a very pass-happy offense that has scored the fourth most points in the league so far. While some question Tagovailoa’s abilities, his production demonstrated it’s more than likely that this is just the beginning for the trio and this unit as a whole.
Matthew Stafford: Disappointment
The first of three disappointments highlighted on this list is Matthew Stafford. The Rams as a whole have been poor, clearly slumping following the Super Bowl victory from the year prior. Injuries haven’t helped Stafford, with the offensive line battered and bruised, along with receiver Van Jefferson struggling to stay healthy. Trading away Robert Woods has turned out to be another hit on the team’s stability, and free agency addition Allen Robinson has yet to return to his former play. Darrell Henderson’s slow start as the lead running back hasn’t helped either, and Akers has been invisible. But if Henderson can pick back up, and if Jefferson can get back into the flow of things quick enough, Stafford has a chance to bounce back as the season progresses.
Daniel Jones: Surprise
This was a development that few saw coming, but regardless, here we are. The Giants are 2-0, already halfway towards their win total from last season. This is the first time they’ve started this well since 2016, which also happens to be the last winning season they’ve had. Saquon Barkley is back and better than ever, Sterling Shepherd remains a solid receiving option, and the under-the-radar signing of Richie James from the 49ers has proved impactful. It’s also worth mentioning that his 99.4 passer rating is so far better than any season Eli Manning had in his career. Maybe Jones is a late bloomer, or maybe it’s just been the competition. Only time will tell. But it’s been a significant change from how poor he was under Joe Judge last season.
Trevor Lawrence: Surprise
Urban Meyer is finally out of Jacksonville after a terrible one year stint, and now we can see if Lawrence can live up to his first overall selection. He still has time to get comfortable, as the Jaguars are in no rush to win. Marvin Jones and Dan Arnold, his two primary targets the year prior, haven’t performed well to start the year. But the offseason signings of Zay Jones and Christian Kirk have worked wonders, and Lawrence has proved he can keep up in the big leagues. This should only be the start for the former Clemson standout, especially if general manager Trent Baalke can give him some more weapons in the coming years.
Lamar Jackson: Surprise
It may seem bizarre to have a former MVP on a list like this, especially one as young as Jackson. But he had a poor 2021 campaign, recording almost as many interceptions as he did passing touchdowns. Jackson was injured for four games, and his team missed the playoffs. Losing Marquise Brown was difficult to see, but Rashod Bateman has seamlessly replaced him as WR1. Jackson is just as dominant as he’s ever been on the ground, while his passing has corrected itself. He has six touchdowns already this season, almost half of his total from last year. We will almost surely be seeing Jackson’s name next to Mahomes and Allen as the MVP debate heats up.
Kirk Cousins: Disappointment
We’ve had enough surprises on this list, now let’s get to another disappointment. I’ve been a huge defender of his over the years, and his first four seasons in Minnesota made all that feel worthwhile. But the second game of the season left a horrible taste in the mouth of everyone watching. His key targets have remained relatively intact, although it is worth noting that time seems to have caught up to Adam Thielen. But the offense has performed among the worst in the league, and Cousins’ mistakes have been a huge reason why. Unlike Stafford and Joe Burrow, who we’ll discuss next, this inconsistency will likely continue throughout the season.
Joe Burrow: Disappointment
To the surprise of many, following the Super Bowl loss, the Bengals have not been the same. This all starts with Burrow, who, like Cousins, has struggled with a multitude of mistakes. It’s not like throwing an interception is uncommon for Burrow, but to have four already is pretty shocking. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd haven’t been at their best either, but the shoulder of blame can be placed on Burrow for the time being. To be the second-best quarterback last year, behind MVP Aaron Rodgers and have two of the worst games of his career to start the season is not a good look. I expect them to turn things around, but so far, Burrow more than earns a spot on this list.