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The Brandt Report

QB stock watch: Patrick Mahomes up, Aaron Rodgers down

Before the offseason gets going in earnest, let's pause a minute and look back at some quarterbacks who either far exceeded or fell drastically short of expectations in 2018. Below are three quarterbacks whose stock is pointing up after strong seasons -- and three quarterbacks whose stock is pointing down after disappointing campaigns.

Quarterbacks are supposed to struggle in their first full seasons as NFL starters. Mahomes, to put it simply, did not. He threw 14 touchdown passes before finally tossing his first interception of the year in Week 5. He blazed through the season at a blistering pace, leading an offense that scored at least 26 points in every game and finishing with the third 50-touchdown campaign in NFL history, joining Peyton Manning (55 in 2013) and Tom Brady (50 in 2007). Unlike Philip Rivers and Jared Goff, he did not lay an egg against the eventual-champion Patriots in the playoffs. The only thing New England -- or anyone -- could do to stop him was keep him off the field by controlling the ball against Kansas City's 31st-ranked defense.

Mahomes will only get better from here. As well as he played in 2018, don't forget that he's still only 23 years old and actually does not have a lot of experience, given that he sat on the bench for most of 2017 and only started two full years at Texas Tech. History tells us that the 30-start mark is when NFL quarterbacks really start to get a feel for the game and know what they're doing. So, yes -- it's likely that we haven't even seen yet just how good Mahomes can be.

 **2018 stats:** 16 starts | 66.0 pct | 5,097 pass yds | 8.8 ypa | 50 pass TD | 12 INT | 113.8 passer rating 

Nobody was sure what to expect from Luck after he missed all of 2017 with shoulder issues. Well, his 2018 campaign couldn't have gone any better. Luck flourished in the offensive system installed by new coach Frank Reich, setting career highs in completions (430), attempts (639), completion percentage (67.3) and passer rating (98.7), while his yardage (4,593) and passing-touchdown totals (39) were the second-highest of his career. He finished in the top five in the NFL in touchdowns, completions and passing yards. Luck also threw three or more TD passes in eight consecutive games (Week 4 through Week 12), which was the longest streak in the league this season and tied for the second longest in history. He rallied Indy to become the second team since the merger to win a playoff game after starting 1-5.

And he did all of that without much in the way of proven weapons by his side, beyond T.Y. Hilton. Just wait until the Colts upgrade his supporting cast. Between Reich and the vastly improved offensive line, I think we'll see Luck continue to live up to his pedigree as a former No. 1 overall pick in the years to come.

 **2018 stats:** 16 starts | 67.3 pct | 4,593 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 39 pass TD | 15 INT | 98.7 passer rating 

Expectations are automatically sky high for any No. 1 overall draft pick, let alone a quarterback heading to the success-starved Browns. Mayfield couldn't have handled the pressure any better. He came off the bench in Week 3, snapped Cleveland's 19-game winless streak and, really, never looked back, setting a new record for touchdown passes by a rookie (27) despite only starting 13 games. Mayfield became the first Browns quarterback since Frank Ryan in 1966 to throw at least one touchdown pass in 13 consecutive starts in the same season, and he kept the Browns in the playoff discussion deep into December. It's no accident that Mayfield started playing especially well when Freddie Kitchens became the team's offensive coordinator in October; in eight games under Kitchens, Mayfield compiled a passer rating of 106.2, a 68.4 percent completion rate, a 19:8 TD-to-INT ratio and a 5-3 record. I've known Kitchens -- who has since been promoted to head coach -- a long time, and I think he has the right mix of scheme, teaching ability and personality to be helpful to Mayfield going forward.

Mayfield has IT. He showed it at Oklahoma and he showed it in Cleveland, bringing swagger to an organization in desperate need of some. He'll have to contend with opponents in 2019 who now have 13 games of pro tape on him, but I think he'll continue to succeed and prove he belongs in the upper echelon of quarterbacks long term.

 **2018 stats:** 14 games (13 starts) | 63.8 pct | 3,725 pass yds | 7.7 ypa | 27 pass TD | 14 INT | 93.7 passer rating 


Cousins was not horrible in 2018. He just wasn't able to live up to the (perhaps unfair) expectations that followed him into the season. He was handed $84 million guaranteed last March to push a Super Bowl contender over the hump. Instead, Minnesota (8-7-1) barely finished with a winning record. He was right around his career averages as a full-season starter entering the season (4,392 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 picks per year, with a passer rating of 97.5), and his completion percentage (70.1) was actually the second-best in the NFL. But the fact remains the Vikings went 1-6 against playoff teams and ended up watching the postseason from home one year after reaching the NFC title game.

I don't think the Vikings' offensive scheme in 2018 helped Cousins, with the tragic passing of O-line coach Tony Sparano in July further hindering the offense's performance. I think the Vikings are hoping new offensive adviser Gary Kubiak, working with coordinator Kevin Stefanski (who took over as OC after John DeFilippo was fired last season), can help Cousins by introducing elements of the West Coast offense, returning Cousins to a system that resembles the one he operated in under Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden in Washington.

 **2018 stats:** 16 starts | 70.1 pct | 4,298 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 30 pass TD | 10 INT | 99.7 passer rating 

The Jaguars took a leap of faith with Bortles following a solid 2017 season, signing him to a three-year, $54 million deal last offseason and electing not to draft a high-profile quarterback prospect. That decision failed to pay dividends. Whatever growth Bortles experienced in 2017 came to an abrupt halt in '18. A 3-1 start proved to be a mirage, with Bortles compiling a TD-to-INT ratio of 6:8 the rest of the way. His play was bad enough that he ended up being benched for Cody Kessler, and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett lost his job.

I was kind of surprised when Jacksonville drafted Bortles third overall in 2014; I expected him to be a first-rounder, but I did not think he'd go nearly that high. Coming out of 2017, the Jags looked to be in fairly good shape, with a dominant defense driving them to the AFC title game. Now, they're looking to find a new answer under center before the window of opportunity that opened two years ago becomes completely closed for this group of players. As for Bortles, he'll almost certainly be elsewhere in 2019, likely as a backup.

 **2018 stats:** 13 games (12 starts) | 60.3 pct | 2,718 pass yds | 6.7 ypa | 13 pass TD | 11 INT | 79.8 passer rating 

Ten dazzling years as a starter in Green Bay helped Rodgers earn a four-year extension worth $134 million in August. And then, for a variety of reasons, he suffered one of the worst full-season performances of his NFL tenure, posting a sub-100 passer rating while making 15-plus starts for just the third time in his career. The difference in performance is best encapsulated in his touchdown rate. In his first 10 seasons as the Packers' starter, Rodgers threw 2.20 touchdown passes per game. In 2018, that number plummeted to 1.56 per game. He only threw two picks this season, but his completion rate of 62.3 percent suggests he was throwing the ball away far more quickly than usual to avoid sacks.

Of course, Rodgers also dealt with a lingering knee injury, as well as a less-experienced receiver group, with 37 percent of his targets going to players who were 24 or younger. And after working with coach Mike McCarthy for the entirety of his time as Green Bay's starter, Rodgers probably needed a fresh voice in his ear. I think new coach Matt LaFleur will play a key role in getting Rodgers back on track in 2019. Can the blossoming group of young receiver talent also help the two-time MVP return to form? 

 **2018 stats:** 16 starts | 62.3 pct | 4,442 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 25 pass TD | 2 INT | 97.6 passer rating 

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter _@GilBrandt_.

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