QB Index, Week 16: Ranking QBs from last four drafts

Two years after former Browns executive Sashi Brown made the unpopular decision to pass on Carson Wentz, the Browns have a younger, potentially better quarterback in place. This is not an article defending the analytically driven tenure of Sashi, just one that recognizes that the process behind passing up on Wentz eventually resulted in the Browns finally finding their chosen one.

Mayfield is part of a blockbuster draft class selected by new Browns GM John Dorsey, while Sashi's underrated 2017 class (Myles Garrett/David Njoku/Jabrill Peppers/Larry Ogunjobi) adds to the stacked young core. Mayfield's arm strength is obvious. But I believe he's the most impressive rookie quarterback to enter the league since Andrew Luck because he displays the same type of anticipation, accuracy, pocket presence and feel for the game that helps make Luck special. There is nothing deferential in Mayfield's game, no concept that he has to bide his time learning as a pro before taking ownership of his team.

In honor of Mayfield's decisiveness, there's no point in waiting to say I'd take Mayfield over Wentz, Jared Goff, Deshaun Watson and Dak Prescott long-term.

NOTE: For this week's QB Index, I chose the impossible task of ranking the quarterbacks from the last four draft classes with a minimum of 100 pass attempts. They are ranked for the long haul, not how they've performed this season. Mayfield just narrowly misses coming out on top.

THE FUTURE OF THE LEAGUE

1
Patrick Mahomes
QB
Chiefs

2
Baker Mayfield
QB
Browns

3
Carson Wentz
QB
Eagles

4
Deshaun Watson
QB
Texans

5
Jared Goff
QB
Rams

6
Sam Darnold
QB
Jets

The closest historical comparison to what Mahomes is accomplishing at age 23 is probably Dan Marino's 1984 MVP campaign. There are echoes of Kurt Warner's 1999 season, when he emerged as a fresh leader of a cutting-edge offense, although Warner's path up to that point couldn't have been much more different from Mahomes'. While Mahomes possesses a level of athleticism that would have been difficult to imagine 34 years ago, he's keeping the company of Hall of Famers. It's amazing how quickly and how high he's raised the bar.

The rest of this tier was tougher to sort out, but Mayfield gets the edge over the rest of the pack because he's further advanced as a rookie than Wentz, Watson or Goff were. The ceiling is higher, which feels strange to write when a physical freak like Wentz is listed next.

It's unfair to call Wentz injury-prone, even though this could be his third season out of four, including his final college season, marred by injury. Back issues and a torn ACL are not trifling injuries to be dismissed, but Wentz has not had recurring issues. Matthew Stafford was called injury-prone early in his career and now he hasn't missed a start in eight seasons. Wentz's accuracy may be a bigger concern long-term, but the 25-year-old already has shown he's capable of leading a championship-level team.

Wentz has started 40 games in his short career, double that of Watson. Still just 23, the post-ACL surgery adjustment in playing style speaks well for Watson's ability to adapt in an ever-evolving sport. Watson wins true devotion from seemingly everyone he meets, inspiring the type of awestruck quotes Tom Brady once used to. Texans coach Bill O'Brien publicly thanks God that Watson is his quarterback. Perhaps Watson, like Brady, will have the type of career that someday makes too-early pro evaluations of him short-sighted.

Goff was quickly underestimated coming off his rocky rookie season under Jeff Fisher. Trying to separate how Goff would fare with another coach is an exercise in missing the point, though. Sean McVay is his coach and will be his coach, giving the two young blonde Californians every opportunity to build a legacy together in Los Angeles.

Sam Darnold is still looking for his forever coach. A lot of really smart people are happy to stake their reputation on Darnold's future, and he's shown enough at age 21 to justify whatever career you choose to project for him. Can't we just let the kid grow, however, before making some grand pronouncement about what lies ahead? Who came up with this assignment?

STARTERS

7
Dak Prescott
QB
Cowboys

8
Jameis Winston
QB
Buccaneers

9
Marcus Mariota
QB
Titans

Even if Prescott, a fourth-round pick in 2016, didn't improve for the rest of his career, he'd be among the draft's best quarterback values of the decade. Whether Prescott's career more closely mirrors Russell Wilson's, Kirk Cousins' or something lesser is a matter of much debate between lovers of football with opinions. Dak played like a top-10 quarterback as a rookie, then more like a league-average starter over the last two. Even a league-average starting quarterback is worth quite a bit, especially on a team where the owner often overpays his stars.

Winston, who is younger than Prescott, has arrived at a similar playing level via a much different route. Winston's year-end rankings in the QB Index were No. 17 and No. 15 over the last two years. My friend and colleague Chris Wesseling would say that I've overrated Winston since he entered the league, and Wess would be right so far. Winston's suspension to start the season raises even larger questions about his long-term viability. For now, he seems likely to remain in Tampa on the fifth-year option under a new head coach because NFL teams just don't let young mid-tier starting quarterbacks walk away.

Tennessee will have a similarly complex decision to make regarding Mariota after 2019. After an uneven first season with new coordinator Matt LaFleur, the organization seems likely to want to see more passing success before investing a contract worthy of an established veteran starter.

I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING

10
Josh Rosen
QB
Cardinals

11
Lamar Jackson
QB
Ravens

12
Mitchell Trubisky
QB
Bears

13
Josh Allen
QB
Bills

14
Nick Mullens
QB
49ers

15
Jacoby Brissett
QB
Colts

If the preceding words or preceding columns didn't make it clear, I don't really know anything about how these young quarterbacks' careers will turn out. No one does, and that's some comfort.

I loved Rosen's game and profile coming out of UCLA. He's made just enough special throws in a dreary rookie season to make one believe he simply needs a different coach, like Goff (with McVay) and Trubisky (with first-year coach Matt Nagy) did. The Bears quarterback has shown significant progress in his second NFL season, and a lot of smart people fully expect him to be a quality starter. The opinions on Lamar Jackson are mixed, but I love how the Ravens are accentuating his remarkable strengths, and there's every reason to believe he can improve with more reps.

Allen is not quite like any rookie prospect in memory, which is not a bad thing. Even as a longstanding member of Team Tyrod, I find Bills games fascinating to watch lately. The team may have replaced the best pure runner at quarterback ... with a better running quarterback. I don't have a lot of confidence Allen can make sense long term, but it should at least be fun to watch.

Expectations for a top-10 pick, of course, should be higher than "fun to watch." Imagine how much more credit Nick Mullens would bathe in for the hot start to his career if he had been taken No. 7 overall instead of going undrafted. Mullens has already started more games than any active undrafted quarterback this decade except for Case Keenum and Brian Hoyer, who took years to break out. The sample size is incredibly small, but here are the five quarterbacks in NFL history with a higher yards-per-attempt average than Mullens during their first season, with a minimum of 100 attempts: Otto Graham, Greg Cook, Bob Waterfield, Ben Roethlisberger and Y.A. Tittle. At this rate, the 49ers will trade Jimmy G back to the Patriots.

(More likely: Mullens remains one of the most promising backups in football for a while, not unlike Brissett.)

THE BACKUPS

16
Trevor Siemian
QB
Vikings

17
Jeff Driskel
QB
Bengals

18
DeShone Kizer
QB
Packers

19
C.J. Beathard
QB
49ers

20
Cody Kessler
QB
Jaguars

21
Brett Hundley
QB
Seahawks

Of this group, Siemian is the one I believe has the best chance to still be in the league in 10 years. That's why he leads the tier, dummy.

ON THE EDGE

22
Nathan Peterman
QB
Raiders

23
Kevin Hogan
QB
Broncos

24
Bryce Petty
QB

25
Paxton Lynch
QB

These are the last four names that topped my 100-pass-attempts barrier for the previous four draft classes. Peterman is back in the league with Jon Gruden, but he will be fighting for his roster life in the offseason. That is typical of a league where most fifth-round picks don't make it to a third season. (Why Peterman started so many games in Buffalo in his first two years will be the subject of a great profile by Tim Graham of The Athletic someday, probably.) Lynch, the Broncos' 2016 first-rounder, figures to get another chance in someone's camp next year.

WAITING FOR A CHANCE

Nate Sudfeld, Eagles; Jake Rudock, Lions; Joshua Dobbs, Steelers; Mason Rudolph, Steelers; Sean Mannion, Rams; Kyle Lauletta, Giants; Connor Cook, Bengals; Davis Webb, Jets.

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Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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