Everyone understands positional value in the NFL, and although it's often discussed during the pre-draft process, it's not considered enough by teams and those analyzing the draft.
And while it's just one example, the 2020 season is reminding us that however important you feel the quarterback position is, in actuality, it's even more important.
The Los Angeles Chargers are 2-7, but have gotten tremendous production from rookie quarterback and No. 6 overall pick Justin Herbert. Before the loss to the Dolphins in Week 10, Los Angeles' passing offense ranked sixth in Football Outsiders DVOA, and the offense altogether ranked 11th. Having that record with an offense that efficient is rather difficult, but the Chargers are capable of strange accomplishments. While Los Angeles fans are agonizing over the preposterous ways the team has lost games this year, there's a vital solace embedded in their minds because of how effective Herbert has been. Over time, having a stable franchise quarterback will move the needle more than one bad game, or one unlucky season.
As for the Dolphins, they've won five straight, and their rookie passer and No. 5 overall pick Tua Tagovailoa is 3-0 as a starter. No, wins aren't a quarterback stat, but Tagovailoa was sensational in the victory over the Cardinals in Week 9 and is moving the offense decently well as the team has mostly ridden its defense during the streak.
Meanwhile, No. 4 overall selection Andrew Thomas has experienced a rookie season to forget at offensive tackle for the Giants. He's allowed 44 pressures, the most of any blocker in the entire league. How about No. 3 overall pick Jeffrey Okudah? Well, he has two pass breakups and one interception for the Lions, but has allowed 32 catches on 44 targets for 500 yards. For a man-coverage specialist, those are bad numbers. And the No. 2 overall pick, the immensely hyped Chase Young, started his NFL career with eight quarterback pressures on 63 pass-rush snaps in his first two games but has mustered just 10 pressures on his last 139 pass-rush snaps. To be fair, he suffered a groin strain in Week 3, so it's possible lingering effects from that injury are hampering him. Either way, Young has the third-highest pressure-creation rate (8.9%) on the team among those who've rushed the quarterback at least 100 times. He hasn't exactly met the future Hall of Famer expectations.
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There were small rumblings of the Washington Football Team being interested in Tagovailoa, hot speculation that faded closer to the draft, but there was really never much of anything or anyone linking the Giants or the Lions to either Herbert or Tagovailoa. There should have been. And Washington should've taken Herbert more seriously too.
Not because Young, Okudah, or Thomas were clearly inferior prospects in a vacuum, but because they play positions far less valuable than the quarterback spot. Washington benched Dwayne Haskins, its 2019 first-round quarterback, after four games this season. Daniel Jones has a 69.7 passer rating in the five games against non-NFC East teams this season. Even against the NFC Least, his rating is just 89.4.
Of course, you have to give your young quarterback time to prove himself in the NFL. But everything's expedited today. GrubHub. Uber. Two-day shipping. GMs and head coaches can't wait three years for development to occur, and if there aren't at least some flashes from a quarterback in Year 1, the chances of those materializing later significantly decrease. Front offices willing to admit mistakes and cut losses quickly instead of slipping into the sunk cost fallacy are the new, brazen examples of team-building shrewdness. Ask the Cardinals. Even the Bills decided to release Tyrod Taylor after starting for Buffalo during the year the team ended a 17-season playoff drought. The Bears waited too long on Mitchell Trubisky.
This is not insinuating a bust label is warranted for Young, Okudah, or Thomas after just one half of their rookie campaigns. It's a process-over-results example. The play of Herbert and Tagovailoa should provide a newsflash for those -- both analysts and teams -- who grade prospects at different positions without factoring the value of each position in those grades. Essentially, all teams picking in the top five should spend ample time intently considering the top quarterback prospects in that draft class. Those clubs aren't an edge rusher, cornerback, or offensive tackle away from contention. In the modern NFL, a great season or seasons from a quarterback far outweigh a great season or seasons from any other position on the field.
And how do Herbert and Tagovailoa stack up to others in the young quarterback wave hitting the NFL?
These are the names I'll throw in the young QB bucket. All besides Carson Wentz are 26 or younger: Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones, Drew Lock, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert.
1. Patrick Mahomes
For as much as I believe Andy Reid and Kansas City's supporting cast aids in the ridiculousness of Mahomes, I still view him in a class by himself based on what he can do with his arm from any platform to any level of the field in any situation. Right now, his passer rating (115.9) is higher than it was during his MVP season in 2018.
2. Deshaun Watson
3. Josh Allen
4. Kyler Murray
5. Lamar Jackson
These quarterbacks can all float into Tier 1 on given weeks but have proven to mostly hover in the tier just below Mahomes among young passers. Watson is quietly having a career year -- without DeAndre Hopkins, which is crazy and a testament to the idea that spreading the football around might actually be more effective than forcing it to a No. 1. He's currently second in overall yards per attempt (8.44). He finished at 7.8 in that efficiency metric a season ago.
Allen has taken a sizable step in 2020 from the improvement he displayed in 2019. His deep ball is more locked in, he's winning more frequently from inside the pocket and has maintained his high-end play while improvising. Allen has a top 10 passer rating inside and outside the pocket.
Murray is having a similar year to what we saw from Jackson a year ago when he won MVP. Above-average passing with scintillating rushing abilities. Heading into Week 11, Murray leads the league with a 6.94 yards-per-carry average.
6. Justin Herbert
7. Jared Goff
8. Baker Mayfield
9. Joe Burrow
10. Tua Tagovailoa
Herbert had been spectacular until Week 10 against the Dolphins. Even after the first outing in which he truly looked like a typical rookie, Herbert still has the second-highest passer rating while under pressure (98.8). Goff is decidedly up and down and is aided by Sean McVay's brilliant play designing -- Goff has 10 more rolls right or left than any other quarterback in the league -- but usually runs the Rams system to a T. But, he's probably already reached his ceiling.
Much of what applies to Goff applies to Mayfield, particularly when it comes to a rollercoaster style play, and Burrow has performed admirably behind a shoddy offensive line.
Then there's Tagovailoa. In three starts, he's had one stellar outing and two well-managed, low-volume contests. Individually, he hasn't been as good as Herbert, but the flashes have already appeared. Important.
11. Carson Wentz
12. Daniel Jones
13. Drew Lock
14. Sam Darnold
The lowest tier has either seen the bottom fall out of their game -- Wentz -- or managed tiny blips of positive play that have been mired in concerning turnover tendencies.
Herbert's elite physical traits make him so damn alluring. Tagovailoa's NFL sample size is small, and while not in possession of as much arm talent as the player picked one spot after him, his mental processing, accuracy, and natural ad-libbing talent make him alluring in his own right.
And they're both the foundational elements of their rebuilding teams, clubs fortunate to be able to pick such (potentially) valuable franchise pieces despite holding the fifth and sixth overall picks in the 2020 draft.
(All advanced stats courtesy of TruMedia unless otherwise noted)