Imagine it is 18 months ago and you’re attempting to predict which teams will draft a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Jacksonville Jaguars? You bet. The Nick Foles era was over before it started and Gardner Minshew’s heroics could only go so far.
The New York Jets? The fact that they have drafted a quarterback in the top-three in two of the last four years is surprising, but knowing that it is the Jets, it is less so.
The San Francisco 49ers? Eighteen months ago, Jimmy Garoppolo led them to the Super Bowl and while he still had his skeptics following that game — same as Jared Goff a year earlier — the 49ers moving multiple first round picks to draft a quarterback replacement for Garoppolo is somewhat surprising in the context of long-term predictions.
Of course, all three of those teams drafted a quarterback in the first round in 2021, and at a certain point last season, all 30 teams that weren’t the Jaguars or Jets knew that they would never get the opportunity to touch Trevor Lawrence or Zach Wilson ... unless it was on a sack during a game ... which we might see quite a bit during their rookie campaigns.
It was that pressure that forced San Francisco to trade its 2022 and 2023 first round picks to the Miami Dolphins for the number three choice in the draft. The 49ers were both terrified of having to choose between the fourth or fifth-best option in the 2021 NFL Draft quarterback class, and they also knew that they have a good chance to make the playoffs next season.
If the 49ers didn’t act to replace Garoppolo now, then they assumed they’d be stuck back in the same position one year from now.
The Los Angeles Rams must have felt that they were in the same boat when they traded their 2022 and 2023 first round picks to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford. The Rams didn’t have a first round pick in 2021, so a potential quarterback replacement for Jared Goff could not come through those means. However, LA also knew that they weren’t likely to be as bad as the Jaguars and Jets were a year ago and they also don’t want to be in a position to draft a quarterback first or second overall.
So the 2022 first round is also not a sensible option for teams like the Rams and 49ers to find quarterbacks of their future. Just because the NFL keeps forcing more and more quarterbacks into the first round, that does not create more good quarterback prospects. There were more Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the 1983 first round than there were in all of the first rounds of the nineties combined, and that situation did not improve in the aughts or tens, in spite of a record number of first round quarterbacks being drafted recently.
Take the cases of the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots, two teams that knew 18 months ago that they might need to draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft — but they also expected/hoped that they would have good seasons in 2020.
The Bears went 8-8, made the playoffs, then had to still sacrifice their 2022 first round pick just for the rights to the fourth-best quarterback prospect in the draft this year.
The Patriots went 7-9, missed the playoffs, and Bill Belichick had to bite the bullet by drafting a quarterback in the first round for the first time in his career, and Mac Jones was the fifth QB off the board.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 11-5, won the Super Bowl, and for now must pin long-term hopes on Kyle Trask, the 64th overall pick in the draft. If Trask becomes a legitimate starting quarterback, he’ll be one of the few in history to have gone on day two. It’s not a high-percentage shot.
Not even close as compared to Matthew Stafford.
The Rams could have held onto Goff, kept their 2022 and 2023 first round picks, then attempted to repeat with a 10-7 or 11-6 record next season and hope that they’ll be the next postseason surprise and Super Bowl home team like Tampa Bay was. But if Sean McVay had tired of Goff already, then we could assume that quarterback would definitely be in the plans for the 2022 first round, in which case Los Angeles would be asking themselves if they should use something like the 25th overall pick on a QB.
Not only that, but if they should be using that pick on a quarterback who isn’t only not the best of his peers, and not the second best of his peers. Perhaps Les Snead and McVay would be weighing whether they should be drafting the fourth-best quarterback prospect or the best center prospect with their 2022 first round pick. Split the fans again, this time pitting a prospect like Mac Jones or Justin Fields against an offensive lineman, cornerback, or linebacker, all while juggling the prospect of “handling” the veteran Goff while you groom his replacement, if indeed the choice is a quarterback.
It’s a fiasco that Snead decided to avoid almost 18 months ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft and I’ll say it again: The Matthew Stafford trade is by far the best move of any team this year.
Avoid a quarterback competition (like, say, Mac Jones vs Cam Newton or Justin Fields vs Andy Dalton or Trey Lance vs Jimmy Garoppolo), avoid having to eventually trade away multiple first round picks in the future anyway (like the Bears), and avoid picking up the prospect scraps after the teams who we know are probably going to be a) drafting a quarterback and b) will be in a better position than you.
It also helps the Rams avoid being in the same situations as the Washington Football Team, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, and Denver Broncos, five teams that certainly entered the draft with needs at quarterback and five teams that surveyed the options and said, “No, thank you.”
And next year’s quarterback class is not expected to be as good as this year’s — though that probably won’t stop at least four teams from picking one on day one.
Stafford helps solve LA’s quarterback position for 2021, but he also helps solve the impending problems that the Rams would have been facing had they tried to enter the 2022 NFL Draft with a need at quarterback. No, thank you. Not with these teams all potentially looking to draft a quarterback next year. I’ll add an asterisk to the teams that we can safely assume will have poor win-loss records next season:
- Detroit Lions* - Goff not expected to be long-term solution
- Houston Texans* - Where is Deshaun Watson going to be playing in a year? In a month?
- Denver Broncos* - They didn’t fill QB need and didn’t want Fields or Jones
- New Orleans Saints - Don’t know if they’ll be good or bad, but they’ll need a QB eventually
- Washington Football Team - They need a QB now
- Pittsburgh Steelers - Probably Ben Roethlisberger’s final season
- Carolina Panthers - I think they’ll probably be bad but I’m getting a strange feeling that they’ll surprise this year. I don’t know that Sam Darnold will stop the need for a QB though.
- Atlanta Falcons - Matt Ryan turns 37 next May
Right away, I can identify eight teams that not only could have a quarterback need in 2022, but all eight of them could have justifiably drafted a quarterback with their first picks in 2021. That’s how desperate one-quarter of the league could be right now at the position, with exceptions for the Steelers and Falcons that they aren’t necessarily in dire straights with their veterans this season.
And also out of those eight teams, six finished with losing records in 2020, and the two that didn’t — the Saints, Steelers — might experience pains next season that they haven’t felt for a very long time; nobody knows what New Orleans is going to be like, and Pittsburgh has to battle out a division with the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns both going 11-5 a year ago.
It is entirely possible that the Rams — even with Jared Goff instead of Matthew Stafford — could have done better in 2021 than all eight of those teams and therefore would have been stuck behind that many teams who also had a need at quarterback. In that scenario, Los Angeles would have been in as bad of a situation for drafting a quarterback as the Saints were this year.
New Orleans used its first round pick on defensive end Payton Turner.
Of course, we might also find out that Jameis Winston is serviceable, Matt Ryan isn’t that old, Sam Darnold just needed a change of scenery, and that Deshaun Watson has been traded to the Broncos. “Then the Rams wouldn’t be that far out of it!”
Except that other teams probably will eventually find out — like the 49ers did — that they aren’t as set at quarterback as they thought they were. What other teams could reasonably be drafting a quarterback in 2022?
- Indianapolis Colts - Carson Wentz has a lot of errors he must undo (but Colts won’t have a first rounder if Wentz plays in more than 75% of the snaps)
- Miami Dolphins - I could have made a case for them being on the first list — Miami traded its first round pick to the Eagles, but then acquired one from San Francisco
- Las Vegas Raiders - Do they buy their own Derek Carr hype?
- Green Bay Packers - We know that Aaron Rodgers could be gone by 2022 and we don’t know if Jordan Love is even half-decent
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Tom Brady says he wants to play at least two more years, and neither that nor Trask guarantees that they won’t draft a QB on day one in 2022
- Minnesota Vikings - Picking Kellen Mond this year shouldn’t stop them from trying again next year
- New York Giants - Is Daniel Jones the next Sam Darnold?
- Philadelphia Eagles - They could have also been on the first list
That’s another eight teams. That’s half of the NFL.
It’s not about if half of the NFL will actually have a need at quarterback entering the 2022 NFL Draft, it’s about the fact that even after you assume and account for which of those teams will figure it out prior to then — you’ll still probably be left with at least 10 teams being viable threats to draft a quarterback on day one. And most of them will likely have better draft picks than the Rams.
I’ll add a few more potential ‘surprise’ teams too:
- Baltimore Ravens - I’ll believe the Lamar Jackson contract extension when it’s signed
- Patriots - I personally think Mac Jones was a great pick but it doesn’t matter what I believe; drafting a QB in back-to-back first rounds is not that strange
- Seattle Seahawks - Rumors about Russell Wilson’s impending departure won’t go away any time soon, but keep in mind that Seattle does not have its 2022 first round pick anymore
- Cleveland Browns - I’m not betting against Baker Mayfield like a lot of people do, but I will acknowledge that he hasn’t earned the long-term job yet
That’s another four teams! That’s 20 out of 32 NFL teams.
Now, which teams do I think won’t be drafting a QB in 2022?
- LA Rams - Because of the Stafford deal, this should keep them set for a while
- Arizona Cardinals - I think of him more as a Mayfield than a Darnold; very hard for me to see Arizona not giving Murray at least four seasons at this point
- Dallas Cowboys - Dak Prescott signed an extension
- 49ers - They don’t even have a first round pick and Lance is going to be the guy for now
- Bears - I think there’s a non-zero chance that Chicago will be the worst team in the NFL in 2021, but that would be great news for the Giants as they hold that pick now.
There are only four teams in the NFC that I think are definitely set at quarterback for 2022 (I don’t put Chicago in there) - and yes, I understand that anything could happen. I could be wrong on one of these! But let’s keep this shit semi-real.
- LA Chargers - No doubts from me.
- Kansas City Chiefs - No comments.
- New York Jets - Give it two years, at least.
- Jacksonville Jaguars - Give it two years, at least.
- Buffalo Bills - Things are in motion with Josh Allen.
- Cincinnati Bengals - I think Joe Burrow will be fine.
- Tennessee Titans - It’s a consideration, but I think I’ve crossed over the line into full-blown Ryan Tannehill belief.
We are headed for an interesting reckoning with regards to the quarterbacks in the NFC. Well, “we” as in NFL fans in general. The LA Rams aren’t headed for a reckoning. They took care of that 18 months ahead of time.