It's not guaranteed to happen every season, but it'd be a blast if it did. In consecutive seasons Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson made seismic jumps in their second years in the NFL, Mahomes went from starting the regular season finale as a rookie to throwing 50 touchdowns and running away with the MVP award in 2018. Jackson was an unbelievable runner in his debut NFL season but was limited as a passer, then made huge strides throwing the football in Year 2 while gliding to the most rushing yards by a quarterback in league history.
(Also, the year before Mahomes ascended to superstardom, Carson Wentz, in his second NFL season, had an MVP-type breakout before his season-ending injury in December.)
That got us thinking. What second-year quarterback can make a Mahomes or Jackson-esque ascension to superstardom? Instead of just listing one, I've listed the second-year passers set to start in order of likelihood to make that type of franchise-changing ascension, going from least likely to most likely.
5. Dwayne Haskins, Washington
There are many reasons why Haskins is in a difficult position entering his second year as Washington's starter. He was just mediocre at best as a rookie, which is by itself a concerning sign for the future. To add to that, his debut season has presumably been fully dissected by a brand new coaching staff in the nation's capitol, one with exactly zero ties to his selection in 2019. Those are the two components when a young quarterback ultimately gets a short leash.
In terms of what has around him, the Redskins only drafted two offensive linemen, both of whom are more project-y types than ready-to-go starter material, and traded former All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams to San Francisco. Woof.
Promising sixth-round wideout from a year ago Kelvin Harmon recently torn his ACL, which hurts the depth of the receiver group, but Terry McLaurin looked like a budding star in 2019 and fellow rookie Steven Sims was a fun, slippery slot target down the stretch with 23 catches for 259 yards and four scores in the final five outings. Running back/receiver hybrid Antonio Gibson was picked in Round 3 and the rebounding power forward Antonio Gandy-Golden was selected a round later.
Yes, there's some promise out wide for Haskins, yet the receiver group is just so young with so much uncertainty beyond the electric McLaurin.
Haskins' situation is far from ideal -- and situation is paramount for a young passer -- yet there were some positive flashes from him as a rookie by way of some in-the-bucket tosses down the field. But as I outlined in my deep dive on Haskins' first NFL season, he was generally inaccurate deep and struggled managing pressure as a rookie. Those were his two most glaring weaknesses at Ohio State.
I like his fit in young offensive coordinator Scott Turner's vertical-based scheme -- Turner did a marvelous job holding together Carolina's offense last season with Kyle Allen and Will Grier at quarterback -- it just won't be enough of a lift for Haskins to have a major breakout in his second year in the league.
Minshew mostly did not resemble a sixth-round rookie thrown onto the field in Week 1 last season. His on-field style was emblematic of the all-time quarterback in a carefree backyard game, and I dug that about him. Minshew didn't let his weak arm stop him from taking chances, and while he wasn't Patrick Mahomes throwing on the run, he routinely got hyper-creative eluding much bigger and more athletic defenders behind the line.
Jacksonville's offense line is very much a work in progress -- Cam Robinson isn't the answer at left tackle. The same goes for A.J. Cann at right guard. Andrew Norwell hasn't lived up to his market-setting deal at left guard. But Jawaan Taylor has the makings of being a quality right tackle, and Brandon Linder is one of the more underappreciated centers in football.
Out wide, the Jaguars have a low-key good group with serious upside. D.J. Chark went over 1,000 yards last season, and he and Chris Conley developed fantastic chemistry with Minshew, particularly on deep shots down the sideline. Dede Westbrook is a serviceable slot receiver, and second-round pick Laviska Shenault has Deebo Samuel-esque potential if he can stay healthy. Good luck tackling him with the ball in his hands.
I pegged Shenault as an instant impact rookie immediately after the draft.
Minshew's deep accuracy was surprisingly good for a rookie, yet just 11% of his throws went 20-plus yards down the field. That needs to change. And I think it will.
There'll be moments when it's easy to see why Minshew lasted until the sixth round in last year's draft. But I expect him to flash more so than he did in Year 1 -- that's typically what happens. However, the Jaguars' defense has recently been decimated and is super young, so I'm guessing Minshew's team will drag down most of the perception of a huge breakout.
Not out of the question
3. Daniel Jones, Giants
I did not see Jones' rookie year coming. Really didn't. He flashed toughness under duress at Duke, but I thought his issues with downfield touch and ball security would derail him. Well, actually, the latter almost did, as he "led" the league with 18 fumbles.
But Jones' ball placement on deep shots was much more impressive than what I expected. As mentioned in my season outlook of the Giants' passer, according to Pro Football Focus, Jones was a tick above average in "big-time throws" on passes to the intermediate (10-19 yards) and downfield (20-plus yards) range in 2019, reassuring facts for such a youthful quarterback.
The fumbles and the 18 adjusted interceptions -- as tracked by Football Outsiders, who take into consideration everything that is and isn't a quarterback's fault on those throws -- need to be curtailed in Year 2. No question. The high-end flashes were there, and it's vital to see those during a passer's rookie campaign.
And while the Giants' offensive skill-position group is mostly unchanged from a season ago, I actually like the depth and skill-diversity of it. Golden Tate is still one of the most dangerous yards-after-the-catch wideouts in football, even at 32. Sterling Shepard has established himself as solid underneath target or, if you prefer using number delineations for receivers, he's a fine No. 3. Darius Slayton made splash plays down the field as a rookie and has 4.39 speed. Saquon Barkley is Saquon Barkley, and Evan Engram is dynamic when healthy.
The offensive line will be better after picking Georgia monster left tackle Andrew Thomas at No. 4 overall and impossibly long and athletic Matthew Peart in Round 3 plus versatile interior blocker Shane Lemieux in the fifth round. Jason Garrett installed as the offensive coordinator will likely mean Jones will push the football deep more frequently, and I'm all about that for him.
The Giants defense is very much rebuilding, and the NFC is stacked once again. But Jones should take a step forward in Year 2, it just won't be a Mahomes or Jackson-sized leap.
Don't be shocked
We didn't get a large sample size of Lock's play in 2019, as he started just five games. And there weren't immense positives, but the negatives were few and far between, and the second-round selection looked comfortable operating Denver's offense.
He got it out quickly, flashed his scrambling skills, and at times flaunted his arm with rockets through tight windows.
But the main rationale for predicting a major breakout for Lock in 2020 is due to the supporting cast John Elway has assembled. Courtland Sutton went over 1,000 yards last season and has everything you'd want in a legitimate No. 1 receiver -- imposing size, springiness, YAC capabilities, and elite high-pointing skills. Jerry Jeudy is the best, most electric route runner to enter the league in at least five years, which will be integral to his acclimation process not being slowed by a modified offseason.
Noah Fant has serious seam-stretching speed at tight end, and this year's second-round pick, KJ Hamler, is remarkably fast too. Lock will have an abundance of young, explosive talent running routes this season.
The offensive line is average, yet the return of veteran Ju'Wuan James at right tackle should help to solidify things to a certain degree. And Lock displayed improvement through his long collegiate career at Missouri, which indicates he'll stay on that upward trend in Year 2 in an environment conducive to quarterback success, given this Broncos roster. Don't be surprised if he and the Broncos are much better than most think in 2020.
The most likely
The obvious choice, yes -- but I wasn't as blown away by Murray's rookie season as the masses. Yes, there were about two or three wow throws each game, but Kliff Kingsbury's offense was exceptionally catered to gaudy statistics for a quarterback given the amount of screens called.
Murray's 7.1 Intended Air Yards per Next Gen Stats were the eighth-lowest among qualifying passers a season ago. His athleticism shined on many improvisations, but oftentimes Murray ran into pressure or simply created it when it wasn't there by getting too antsy too quickly inside the pocket.
Now that the negatives are out of the way, Murray is in prime position to take the gigantic step we saw from Mahomes and Jackson in the past two seasons. Why? Many reasons. As hinted at above, Kingsbury's system is very quarterback friendly and stresses defensive backs in two key ways. It forces them to tackle in space and cover deep. Scary thoughts for corners. The offensive line is a bit scary, but the Air Raid placed very limited stress on blockers in the trenches.
Murray has phenomenal arm talent -- to me, that's a combination of arm strength, accuracy, and ability to throw from obscure platforms -- and he'll now be throwing passes to DeAndre Hopkins, arguably the best wideout in the NFL. That moves Larry Fitzgerald to a secondary role in the slot. Christian Kirk, Trent Sherfield, and KeeSean Jonson can be useful tertiary options.
I don't think Murray's chances to have a monster breakout are much better than Lock's, but given his familiarity with Kingsbury and the elite weapon added by Arizona this offseason, out of all the second-year quarterbacks, Murray should be the odds-on favorite to have an MVP-type season.