The National Football League is an ever-changing landscape. One year, a quarterback can be an afterthought, the next year he can be a superstar. While breakout unanimous MVP Lamar Jackson is the most obvious example, there’s also the quarterback that bested him in the playoffs, Ryan Tannehill. Though their stories are totally different, they are proof positive that a year of experience or a change of scenery can transform a player’s career.
It’s early, as the 2019 NFL season is still winding down. But it’s never too early to look ahead at who might be the next breakout QB to take the NFL by storm. Fantasy drafters, awards season gamblers, and trading card investors alike will want to read ahead.
1. Kyler Murray
The first overall pick from 2019 isn’t exactly a “sleeper” candidate, but he still may level up before the 2020 season. He had a quiet but respectable first season in the desert with the Arizona Cardinals, and he should be capable of posting big numbers in the coming year.
The parallels between Jackson and Murray are obvious. Both are former Heisman Trophy winners with high draft pedigrees, and both are capable of using their feet in a pinch. Of course, Jackson put up legendary and historic rushing numbers this season, but Murray trailed him at second, with 544 yards from scrimmage. If head coach Kliff Kingsbury lets Murray loose next season, he could run even more.
But the bigger reason for optimism with Murray is his arm. The 5-foot-10 signal-caller once drafted 9th overall in the MLB draft by the Oakland Athletics has a cannon, whether throwing from the pocket or from the outfield. His 3,722 passing yards not only dwarfed Jackson’s numbers as a freshman but actually surpassed his 3,127 this season as MVP. Murray also beat Jackson in rookie passer rating, 87.4 to 84.5
On top of all that, Murray just got spectacular news. Future first-ballot Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald will be returning to Arizona for his 17th season in 2020. The notoriously soft-handed Fitzgerald is the ideal safety net for any young quarterback and caught 75 passes for 804 yards during Murray’s rookie year. Throwing to Larry Fitzgerald has made a lot of quarterbacks look very good over the years, and in 2020, Murray will be no exception.
2. Drew Lock
There were doubters galore when the Denver Broncos selected Drew Lock 42nd overall out of Missouri in the 2019 Draft. And when he missed much of his rookie season with an injury, those doubts compounded. But many of those doubts came crashing to the floor on Dec. 8, when Lock powered his team to a 31-3 first-half lead over the Houston Texans, throwing three touchdown passes in the process. He finished the day with his first 300-yard passing game in the NFL, and a remarkable 136.0 passer rating as well.
The measurables are all there with Lock. The Lee’s Summit, MO native stands 6-foot-4, weighs 228 pounds, and has a cannon for an arm, allowing him to pass the ball distances that his peers simply cannot. But inconsistent performances at the university that most recently produced first-round bust Blaine Gabbart left some concerned about his NFL projection.
Now, those questions are answered, and Lock is poised to enter 2020 as the Broncos’ everyday starter. In 2019, Denver saw Courtland Sutton emerge into a superstar receiver and Noah Fant, whom the Broncos selected one round before Lock, matured into a stalwart receiving option as well. The trio will now enter 2020 ready to rock, and if John Elway and the front office can add another weapon and solidify their offensive line, nothing should stop the Broncos from stampeding back into the playoff picture.
3. Joe Burrow
Sure, it’s a bit cheesy to put the presumptive number one pick in an article like this. But take it as a vote of confidence in just how good Burrow should be when he arrives on the scene with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Yes, it’s that time of year where we read mountains of articles arguing why the Bengals might take someone else with the first overall pick. Writers are writers and they need clicks. That’s fine. The reality is, Joe Burrow may well be the most exciting quarterback draft prospect since Andrew Luck. The Louisiana State University Tigers’ senior had better get used to wearing stripes.
The 6-foot-4, 23-year-old gunslinger for the Bayou Bengals just finished an immaculate performance in the National Championship Game, capping off an explosive season. With over 5,600 yards and a completion percentage of 76.3, Burrow took 841 of 891 first-place votes for the Heisman Trophy. He has everything an NFL coach could want, including an incredible amount of swagger and confidence.
The Bengals are a disaster on paper. But there are worse receiving corps in the league, especially if A.J. Green returns from injury and stays with the team. Burrow has the ability to make a mundane roster extraordinary and should be able to make an abysmal roster mundane. He might not blow the doors off the NFL, but they’d better make sure to reinforce the hinges just to be sure.