When the 2017 NFL playoffs begin, young quarterback talent will be center stage. Half of the 12 teams that would currently be in if the postseason began today feature quarterbacks who are 28 or under, while the current top seed in the NFC -- the Eagles -- were led for most of the season by a 24-year-old in his second season as a pro.
So as some teams get ready for playoff battle while others look ahead to the future, I thought I'd rank the young quarterbacks in the NFL according to who I'd build a franchise around. To keep the field truly young, I limited my scan to players who will be 26 or younger as of Sept. 1, 2018. I also wanted to focus on players who have provided a fair amount of game tape to evaluate this season, so I cut out anyone who didn't start at least three games in 2017. Thus, you won't see Cam Newton (28 years old) or rookie Patrick Mahomes (zero appearances) discussed here.
NOTE: I've evaluated all 14 QBs who fit my criteria, though the bottom four are listed in alphabetical order, as I don't currently expect any of them to turn into franchise quarterbacks.
This is a rare talent. Wentz, 24, has everything you need to be a successful quarterback in the NFL, and guys like that just don't come around very often. He's tough, athletic and strong. The thing that impressed me the most about his second pro season was how well he played on third down. There are usually more defensive backs on the field on third down, making it that much harder to complete a pass, but Wentz put together off-the-charts, third-down numbers: a 65.3 percent completion rate with a league-high passer rating of 123.7. I think his torn ACL was more of a freak injury than the result of something endemic to the way he plays, and I expect he'll recover fully and be the same aggressive player when he returns, as willing to take off and run as ever.
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 60.2 pct | 3,296 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 33 pass TD | 7 INT | 299 rush yds | 0 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
First-year coach Sean McVay has really unlocked the 23-year-old Goff's potential. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft has always been talented, and he has many of the inherent traits you look for in a potential franchise QB, including accuracy -- he can throw the ball in a peach basket from about 40 yards away. But when I watched Rams practice from the sideline ahead of their game in Dallas earlier this season, I was shocked by just how much Goff had improved since his rookie training camp, especially in the areas of footwork and quickness of delivery. Goff's success is not all due to coaching; you can't just throw anyone on the Rams and expect him to succeed at the level Goff has. But a good coach will put you in position to match your strengths against the opponent's weaknesses, and that's what McVay is doing with Goff, to stupendous effect.
**2017 stats:** 14 games | 62.4 pct | 3,503 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 24 pass TD | 7 INT </content:power-ranking>
Watson, 22, played less than half a season before suffering a torn ACL in practice in early November, but even in that relatively short time span, he answered every question I had about his ability. Dismissed by some as not being "ready to play," Watson took the league by storm after seizing the Texans' starting job, highlighted by his 402-yard, four touchdown effort against a Seahawks defense that, don't forget, still had the services of a healthy Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor. Watson has rare athletic ability and spins a tight spiral, and he's a great character guy with outstanding football IQ. He doesn't have the strongest arm, but if he's in the right system -- one that relies more on play-action passes than the QB's ability to make big-armed downfield throws -- he'll win you plenty of games.
**2017 stats:** 7 games | 61.8 pct | 1,699 pass yds | 8.3 ypa | 19 pass TD | 8 INT | 269 rush yds | 2 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
Mariota, 24, is not having a good season. But I honestly just love this guy. He's an athletic player with outstanding speed and accuracy. In my opinion, the Titans' run-oriented offense is not taking advantage of what Mariota can do best. Tennessee should be spreading the field and putting Mariota in position to win with his elusiveness and vision. Frankly, I think his struggles -- including a career high interception total -- can be blamed more on scheme than on Mariota's decision-making. If he were in an offense that maximized his mobility, I don't think he'd be turning the ball over at nearly the same level. Mariota is tough, mature and, in the right system, capable of taking a team to the Super Bowl.
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 62.8 pct | 2,823 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 12 pass TD | 14 INT | 228 rush yds | 5 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
Prescott's second season has not gone as swimmingly as his dazzling debut campaign, but I think that can be blamed more on a lack of support in the receiver corps and the absence of running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games. The 24-year-old Prescott is very smart and accurate, and he's got great work habits. If Elliott had been available for a full season, Prescott would likely have helped push Dallas into the same competitive neighborhood as Minnesota and Philadelphia. He's someone who can be a Super Bowl-winning QB in the future.
**2017 stats:** 14 games | 63.4 pct | 2,964 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 21 pass TD | 11 INT | 320 rush yds | 6 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
What Garoppolo -- who will turn 27 next November -- has accomplished in the last three weeks leads me to believe he's the kind of quarterback who can take you to the Super Bowl. To win three games in a row while posting nearly 9 yards per attempt on a team that is average at best is very, very good. He doesn't have any demonstrable weaknesses, really. He's not as athletic as most of the quarterbacks ranked ahead of him here, and the body of work he's put forth so far is relatively limited. But he's the best quarterback of the 2014 class and should keep San Francisco on the right track.
**2017 stats:** 4 games | 68.7 pct | 1,026 pass yds | 8.9 ypa | 3 pass TD | 2 INT </content:power-ranking>
Bortles, 25, has played well lately, but he still has moments that make you shake your head. He has the ideal size, athletic ability and arm strength to develop into a franchise QB -- but he's not there yet. Having Nathaniel Hackett, who is very good at teaching the fundamentals of the West Coast offense, as his offensive coordinator has benefitted Bortles greatly. The Jaguars' stellar defense, which provides Bortles with advantageous field position, also helps. Bortles doesn't throw a tight spiral -- but then, neither did Peyton Manning.
**2017 stats:** 14 games | 61.0 pct | 3,147 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 19 pass TD | 8 INT | 282 rush yds | 2 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
Winston, 23, has been hampered some by injury issues this season. He has the skill set necessary for success, but he also has a long release and gets involved in too many bad plays. I'm concerned about his ability to accept coaching, given that he hasn't performed well this season despite the presence of Dirk Koetter, who's good at working with QBs, on the sideline. Winston has plenty of potential, but will he make the changes needed to become a championship-caliber player?
**2017 stats:** 11 games | 64.0 pct | 2,774 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 17 pass TD | 8 INT </content:power-ranking>
Trubisky, 23, is athletic and has a quick release. I don't think he'll be the kind of quarterback who can carry a team to the Super Bowl by himself, but he should be able to get you to the playoffs. I have some concern about his field presence, but he throws with good velocity and has above-average speed. The bottom line is, he's won three games with a Bears team that basically has no pass-catchers to speak of. Trubisky is an ascending player whose best football is ahead of him.
**2017 stats:** 10 games | 59.8 pct | 1,822 pass yds | 6.7 ypa | 7 pass TD | 7 INT | 202 rush yds | 1 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
Brissett, 24, is a pretty good passer and a good athlete with the physical tools to develop into a quarterback who can help take a team to the playoffs -- though not by himself, and certainly not with the supporting cast he has on a bad team in Indy. Brissett is not exceptionally fast, but he's a long strider, which helps him pick up yards and run away from people.
**2017 stats:** 14 games | 59.6 pct | 2,769 pass yds | 6.7 ypa | 11 pass TD | 7 INT | 234 rush yds | 4 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
DON'T EXPECT MUCH
**2017 stats:** 7 games | 54.9 pct | 1,430 pass yds | 6.4 ypa | 4 pass TD | 6 INT </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 9 games | 63.9 pct | 1,534 pass yds | 6.1 ypa | 8 pass TD | 8 INT | 207 rush yds | 2 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 53.9 pct | 2,398 pass yds | 5.8 ypa | 9 pass TD | 19 INT | 350 rush yds | 5 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 11 games | 59.0 pct | 2,285 pass yds | 6.5 ypa | 12 pass TD | 14 INT </content:power-ranking>
Each of the players listed above -- listed IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER -- lacks something. Beathard (24) is a strong passer but not a great runner. Hundley (24) is a good runner but not a great passer. Kizer (21) has some talent but might have benefited from staying in school one more year. Siemian (25) has stumbled after a promising 2016 season.