Geno Smith had a career renaissance in 2022 when he seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the Seattle Seahawks to the playoffs and have his best season (by far) statistically. He was selected as NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
But is Smith a one-hit wonder? The pressure is on him to repeat his stellar quarterback play, perhaps help the Seahawks overtake the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West and take the Seahawks further in the 2023 playoffs than last season’s one-and-done.
Smith is one of many quarterbacks who had their first excellent season in 2022 and are now expected to reinforce their image as top NFL QBs in the upcoming season. The 49ers’ Brock Purdy doesn’t quite qualify for inclusion in this list with only five regular season starts plus three playoff starts.
So here’s my list.
5 NFL Quarterbacks Under Pressure
Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks
Smith was a second-round pick by the New York Jets in 2013. He was 11-18 as the starting quarterback during his first two seasons with 25 touchdown passes, but his 34 interceptions gained him a reputation as turnover-prone. He lost his starting job to Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015 after a locker room fight resulted in a fractured jaw. Then an ACL injury derailed Smith’s 2016 season.
He was a backup quarterback with the New York Giants, Los Angeles Chargers and Seahawks during the next five years before taking over as Seattle’s starter when Russell Wilson was traded to the Denver Broncos in the 2022 offseason.
Surprisingly, Smith far outperformed Wilson in 2022. He posted career highs in completing a league-leading 69.8 percent of his passes for 4,282 yards and had 30 touchdowns with 11 interceptions for a 100.9 passer rating (sixth-ranked). Smith also ran for 366 yards and one score. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl after leading Seattle to the playoffs with a 9-8 record. They fell to the 49ers 41-23 in a wild-card game as Smith threw for 253 yards and two TDs with one interception against the NFL’s top defense.
Smith, 32, re-signed with the Seahawks in March on a three-year, $75 million contract with significant incentives to increase his compensation if he and the team perform well. But there is no fully guaranteed money beyond this year, which further ratchets up the pressure going forward.
Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Daniel Jones’ future as the Giants’ starter was in serious doubt entering last season. The sixth-overall pick in the 2019 draft had a 12-25 record during his first three seasons with 29 interceptions and a passer rating that never topped 90. Jones’ fifth-year option was declined by the Giants after the 2021 season, setting him up for free agency this offseason.
With the help of a new head coach and noted quarterback guru Brian Daboll, Jones had a career year in leading the G-Men to a wild card berth with a 9-6-1 record. He had career highs with a 67.2 completion percentage, 3,205 passing yards and a 92.5 passer rating with five interceptions. He also showed his underrated running ability with career bests of 708 rushing yards and seven rushing scores.
Best of all, Jones led a wild-card round road upset of the Minnesota Vikings with 301 passing yards, two touchdown tosses and 78 rushing yards.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ No. 2-ranked defense prevailed over Jones and the Giants the next week, but the 26-year-old showed enough last season to make the Giants regret not exercising his option. They signed him to a four-year, $160 million deal with $92 million guaranteed. The deal will give him at least two years to prove 2022 was no fluke, but the pressure for him to produce at a high level while competing in the rugged NFC East will be enormous.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
It was a rough rookie season for Trevor Lawrence as the No. 1 overall pick in 2021. He went 3-14 as the starter, completed only 59.6 percent of his passes and had a poor ratio of touchdown passes (12) to interceptions (17 — tied for the league high).
Last season under new coach Doug Pederson’s guidance, Lawrence improved greatly. He led the Jacksonville Jaguars to five consecutive wins to end the regular season and to their first division title and playoff win since 2017. Lawrence improved his passer rating by 23.3 points to 95.2 with 25 touchdown passes versus eight interceptions. He also ran for 291 yards and five scores and was a Pro Bowl pick.
Lawrence had a lousy first half in the wild-card game against the Chargers before throwing for 211 yards and three touchdowns in the second half as he led an amazing comeback from a 27-0 deficit to a 31-30 victory.
He’s only 23, and Jacksonville fans are bullish on his chances to be a top-five quarterback and lead the franchise to greater heights, but he must continue his upward trajectory.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
It’s all about staying healthy for Tua Tagovailoa. He had his best season in on-field performance, but concussions kept him out of five games, including the Miami Dolphins’ wild-card loss to the Buffalo Bills. The Dolphins were 8-5 in games Tagovailoa started in 2022 but 1-4 when he was out. He led the NFL in passer rating for quarterbacks who started at least 10 games (105.5 rating) to go with 25 touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
Tagovailoa was the fifth overall pick by Miami in the 2020 draft and was in and out of the lineup his first two seasons. He split time with Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2020 and missed four games due to fractured ribs in 2021. He was 13-8 as the starter in his first two seasons but his stats were so-so. Tagovailoa significantly elevated his performance in 2022 despite his concussion issues.
Miami exercised Tagovailoa’s fifth-year option for a guaranteed $23.2 million in 2024. However, the Dolphins are not likely to extend his contract at big bucks until they are confident he can avoid missing significant time due to injury.
The Dolphins are expected to challenge the Bills and possibly the Jets for AFC East supremacy this season. But they need Tagovailoa to stay healthy and continue the high-level play he demonstrated last season. TThe pressure is on Tagovailoa, 25, to lead the way for the Dolphins to first repeat as a playoff team and then win a postseason game for the first time since 2000.
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Last — but certainly not least — on this list is Jalen Hurts, who most NFL observers assume is a surefire elite quarterback already based on one big year. Yes, 2022 was a terrific season as he finished second to Patrick Mahomes in MVP voting after leading Philadelphia to a Super Bowl appearance.
The Eagles’ 2020 second-round pick played reasonably well in his first year as the starter in 2021. He had an 8-7 record, but his completion percentage was only 61.3, and he had a mediocre passer rating of 87.2. The Eagles got into the playoffs as the last seed, and Hurts committed three turnovers in a 31-15 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With a great supporting cast on offense, Hurts elevated his performance significantly last season. He passed for 3,701 yards (22 TDs, eight interceptions) and improved his completion percentage to 66.5 and his passer rating to 101.5 (fifth-best in the league). He also ran for 760 yards and 13 touchdowns, and his quarterback sneaks were unstoppable.
Hurts went 14-1 as the starter and led Philadelphia to the Super Bowl, where he threw for 304 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 70 yards and three more scores, which were both Super Bowl records for a quarterback. Hurts was selected Second-Team All-Pro and earned his first Pro Bowl berth and a massive new contract (five years, $255 million with $179 million in total guarantees).
He’s 25 with what appears to be a great future ahead. But Hurts faces huge expectations to lead the Eagles back to the Super Bowl and win it. He must again prove he belongs in the MVP conversation because he plays in a city with a very demanding fan base.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.