AFC Future Is Illuminated by the QB Position
Pendulum swinging back to the AFC with its influx of talented young quarterbacks
The two best quarterbacks in the NFC are Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
Over the previous 22 seasons, they combined for eight Lombardi Trophies, 25 Pro Bowls and seven NFL MVP awards. So the past clearly belongs to Brady and Rodgers. But Brady is now 44 and Rodgers 38.
The present and future just as clearly belong to the AFC, which has done a better job of scouting, drafting, developing and managing the quarterback position.
The two best quarterbacks in the AFC are Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. And if it isn’t Allen, it’s Lamar Jackson. And if it isn’t Jackson, it’s Joe Burrow. And if it isn’t Burrow, it’s Justin Herbert. Anyway, you get the picture — the best young quarterbacks are all in the AFC. Mahomes is 27, Allen 26, Burrow and Jackson 25 each and Herbert 24.
And then there’s Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence…DeShaun Watson, and potentially Zach Wilson, Mac Jones and Kenny Pickett. That’s six more quarterbacks starting for AFC teams under the age of 28.
Twelve of the starting quarterbacks in the AFC are home-grown draft picks. Eleven of them were first-rounders. Burrow and Lawrence were selected with the first overall picks, Wilson went second overall, Tagovailoa fifth, Herbert sixth, Allen seventh, Mahomes 10th, Jones 15th, Pickett 20th and Jackson at 32. In addition, Derek Carr was a second-round pick of the Las Vegas Raiders and Davis Mills a third-round pick of the Houston Texans. Carr is 31 and Mills 23.
The average age of starting quarterbacks in the AFC is 27. The average age in the NFC is 29.
Only eight of the 16 starting quarterbacks in the NFC are home-grown draft picks – and only five of those were first-rounders. Kyler Murray was a first-overall selection, Trey Lance a third, Daniel Jones sixth, Justin Fields 11th and Rodgers, of course, a 25th overall choice. The other eight starting quarterbacks in the NFC are making their second or even third (Carson Wentz) career stop.
Mahomes and Jackson have already been NFL MVPs. Mahomes and Burrow have already taken their teams to Super Bowls. Only nine quarterbacks in NFL history have passed for 5,000 yards in a single season and Mahomes and Herbert are already in that fraternity.
There was a three-year window of NFL drafts from 1982-84 that produced five impact quarterbacks. Jim McMahon was a first-round pick in 1982, John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino all first-rounders in 1983 and Boomer Esiason a second-rounder in 1984. Those five took their teams to a combined 11 Super Bowls. Elway, Marino and Esiason all became NFL MVPs and Elway, Kelly and Marino now have busts in Canton.
There was another two-year window of NFL drafts from 2004-05 that produced four impact quarterbacks. Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger were first-rounders in 2004 and Rodgers a first-rounder in 2005. All rank in the Top 10 all-time in passing yards and all but Rivers won a Super Bowl. Rodgers has been an NFL MVP – four times, in fact.
But there has never been a series of consecutive drafts that has produced so many quality quarterbacks as we have seen from 2017 through 2021. Eighteen of the quarterbacks currently starting in the NFL were drafted during that five-year stretch – and it’s top heavy in favor of the AFC with its collection of NFL MVPs, Super Bowl champions, passing champions and Pro Bowlers.
The conclusion? The future belongs to the AFC just as it did back in the late 1960s when Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Namath, Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Ken Stabler and Terry Bradshaw combined to deliver nine Lombardi Trophies over a span of 11 seasons.
Today’s NFL is all about the quarterback position and the AFC has them. In abundance.