Former league MVP Rich Gannon breaks down the quarterback situations of every NFL team. This is the sixth of eight divisional breakdowns.
In the NFL, the search for that elite quarterback never ends. If you have one, life is great. And if you don’t, you quickly better find one — or soon enough you will be a coaching volunteer at the local high school.
That is the reality of our profession. Teams are not getting rid of coaches when the quarterback play is stellar.
The process of finding the right quarterback includes: identifying the player; recruiting and/or drafting the player; and once the player is in the program, developing the player. Few organizations do that well, and that is why we have this coaching carousel each year.
Here’s a look at the AFC North, with three tiers for the quarterback situation: top level, middle and bottom level. Within those tiers, some quarterbacks will be trending up or down or will be neutral.
Gannon’s Other QB Rankings
Cincinnati Bengals (Joe Burrow)
Ranking: Top of Upper Tier
Burrow’s 2022 Stats: 16 starts, 4,475, 35 TDs, 12 INTs
Joe Burrow – a modern-day version of Joe Namath. I love everything about him.
Burrow has toughness, juice and confidence, but not arrogance. He’s made a habit of beating good teams. You have to look at how this season started with all the sacks, maybe a Super Bowl hangover for the team, and then they figured out the protection. When they give him time to set his feet, Burrow will hurt you. He is sneaky with his legs, too. He can make those plays when you don’t expect them.
Burrow’s qualities and intangibles are off the charts. With that toughness, intelligence, passion and competitiveness, this is a guy who makes the whole football team better. There are not a lot of players who can do that.
He’s in the top group of the top tier and trending up.
Baltimore Ravens (Lamar Jackson)
Ranking: Bottom of Upper Tier, Trending Down
Jackson’s 2022 Stats: 12 starts, 2,242 yards, 17 TDs, 7 INTs
There have to be injury concerns with Lamar Jackson. Jackson missed the final five games of the regular season and Baltimore’s playoff game against the Bengals because of a PCL injury in his knee.
This season, his completion percentage (62.3) was his lowest since his rookie season. He has not played like a league MVP since he won it in 2019. Of course, he didn’t have Marquise Brown (traded to the Cardinals) this season, and Baltimore lost guys to injuries.
Although offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the Ravens parted ways last week, he did a masterful job of covering up some of Jackson’s deficiencies in the passing game. Jackson is an ultra-talented player and athlete. He can make guys miss and run for 40 yards on any play. Improvisation is a big part of his game, and Roman has recognized it.
But throwing outside the numbers and his passing accuracy, when the team is falling behind, are big issues. If I was coaching Jackson, I would not let him scramble during spring practices. He has to get better in the pocket. When he gets in a jam, he either looks to tight end Mark Andrews or to run.
He’s at the bottom of the upper tier, but the arrow is pointing down. Still, look at how they can’t win without him.
One more thing. I think there are some real reservations about his next contract and how sustainable would it be. Jackson, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent, has missed a lot of games and a lot of practices, too, and that affects everything.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Kenny Pickett)
Ranking: Bottom Tier, Trending Up
Pickett’s 2022 Stats: 12 starts, 2,404 yards, 7 TDs, 9 INTs
Kenny Pickett, a first-year starter who missed some games with concussions, is in the lower tier. It was kind of an up-and-down year for him, but he finished 7-5 as the starter.
You appreciate what happened in the second half of the season as the Steelers finished 9-8 and had a shot at making the playoffs. Pickett also had some late-game heroics to put them in position. That’s always a good sign.
The only quarterback taken in the first round of last year’s draft, Pickett can make plays physically with his feet. We definitely need to see more from him next season. Can he play a full 17-game schedule and put his team in a position to win games and win a tough division?
Still, the Steelers have got to feel good about what they saw late in the season. Let’s give the guy a chance to develop, with the arrow pointing up.
>> Read: Ranking 2022 Rookie Quarterbacks
Cleveland Browns (Deshaun Watson)
Ranking: Middle Tier
Watson’s 2022 Stats: 6 starts, 1,102 yards, 7 TDs, 5 INTs
Deshaun Watson and the Browns land in the middle tier. I like Watson as a quarterback, and if you go back to the 2020 season — and I called a number of his games — they were a weak team at 4-12. Yet, he had an MVP-type season. Houston had a bad offensive line and couldn’t run the ball, was signing wide receivers in the middle of the week, and Watson put them in a position to compete.
After missing all of 2021 and being suspended 11 games for violating the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy after the NFL investigated the claims of 24 massage therapists who accused Watson of sexual assault, there was going to be rust. You could see the game was going too fast for him.
He gets an incomplete grade, of course, but I think his career can be resurrected. A lot of damage was done off the field, to his reputation and even to his presence as a leader in his locker room, and he’s got to earn back the trust and respect of coaches and teammates in Cleveland.
Physically, he has the tools to be effective. He has to be on point in preparation. Third downs have always been a problem for him.
This is an important offseason to rebuild himself, and it will take a while.
Rich Gannon played 18 seasons in the NFL and won the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2002 when he led the Oakland Raiders to Super Bowl XXXVII. Follow him on Twitter at @RichGannon12.