Entering the 2020 season, not many people expected to see Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen make such a dramatic leap. Allen struggled with consistency during the first two seasons of his career. In 2018 and 2019, he combined for 30 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in the 28 games he played (27 starts). He averaged a completion percentage of 55.8 in those seasons on 781 pass attempts, averaged less than 200 passing yards per game and had finished those seasons with QBRs below 50 (49.8, 49.4). Despite those inconsistencies, Allen exploded in 2020. He threw for 37 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions, significantly improved his QBR (81.7) and completion percentage (69.2). Some reasons for Allen’s success in 2020 include improved mechanics, the addition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and a third season in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s system. One thing was for certain: Allen’s improvement was impressive and was the key reason why the Bills became Super Bowl contenders.
Like Allen in 2020, three starting quarterbacks will be going into Year 3 of their careers in 2021: Kyler Murray, Drew Lock, Daniel Jones. So the question can be asked: Which of these third-year quarterbacks is in the best position to leap into the MVP conversation and pull their team into playoff consideration like Allen did in 2020?
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Murray is the most accomplished quarterback on this list. He’s started 32 games in his career so far, improved each season he’s played statistically and was given additional help offensively this offseason. The Cardinals added the following pieces to their offense this offseason:
- Wide Receiver A.J. Green
- Offensive linemen Rodney Hudson and Brian Winters
Additionally, Murray will be playing under the same offensive scheme for the third season in a row with head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Murray has the pieces around him offensively; defensively, the Cardinals should be at least a middle-of-the-road unit with additions like J.J. Watt, Zaven Collins, and the return of All-Pro EDGE rusher Chandler Jones. The NFC West might be the toughest division in football, but Murray has the pieces around him to make a significant leap in his game.
Daniel Jones, New York Giants
The New York Giants surrounded Jones with a plethora of weapons this offseason. They added the following pieces to their offense:
- Wide receivers Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and John Ross
- Tight end Kyle Rudolph
This doesn’t include their star running back Saquon Barkley, who will be returning from an ACL tear that cost him the majority of his 2020 season. With all this offensive firepower, Jones has the weapons to take a step forward in his game. Jones is entering his second season with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. However Jones, unlike Murray, arguably took a step backward in 2020. Jones started two more games in 2020 than 2019 but he had fewer touchdown passes, passing yards and yards per game. Despite his lower numbers, he still improved his QBR, having a 61.5 rating in 2020 (55.7 QBR in 2019). With a defense that ranked ninth in points allowed in 2020, a step forward in Jones’ play could be the last piece needed for this Giants team to find its way into the playoff picture in 2021.
Drew Lock, Denver Broncos
Lock’s 2020 season was disappointing considering his 2019 rookie season. He matched his win total in 2020 with only four wins despite starting eight more games, had a lower completion percentage and QBR. Entering 2021, Denver’s offense will include wide receiver Courtland Sutton–who missed most of 2020 with an ACL injury–and second-round running back Javonte Williams, who will look to be a solid complement for Melvin Gordon. With these additions, along with former first-rounders Noah Fant and Jerry Jeudy, another year in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s scheme, Denver’s offense has all the firepower needed for Lock to improve in 2021.
That said, Lock will have competition for the starting position entering the season, as Denver traded for former first-round quarterback Teddy Bridgewater this offseason. Lock will need to prove himself during training camp to earn the starting role. If he does win the job, he’ll likely be on a short leash with Bridgewater behind him — especially in a division that features three playoff contenders in the Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs. They added key pieces to their defense and have the offense in place to succeed; a competent quarterback is the last thing Denver needs to push themselves into the playoff picture.
Two other quarterbacks from the 2019 draft class — Dwayne Haskins and Gardner Minshew – were not included in the study because they are not projected to be starters entering the 2021 season. Minshew is likely to be the backup to Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville, while Haskins was cut by the Washington Football Team and signed with Pittsburgh, where he’ll back up Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph.
Sources: Football Reference