When Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and other older, elite quarterbacks move on from the NFL, the position will remain in good hands.
The Young Guns are already taking over.
Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz headline a crop of talented signal callers who quickly developed into rising stars. And, they’re only getting better.
“There’s always room to improve,” said Carr , who led the Raiders to 12 wins last year and their first playoff berth since 2002.
Carr finished tied for third in the MVP voting after completing a career-best 63.8 percent of his passes with 28 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He also led seven fourth-quarter comebacks before breaking his leg in Week 16, basically ruining Oakland’s Super Bowl chances.
Oakland gave Carr the richest contract in the league, $125 million over five years, only to see Detroit’s Matthew Stafford get even more money a couple months later.
“The best thing about Derek, and I mean this sincerely, is that he wants to be great,” Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “He understands that to be great, it’s always a learning process. It’s always a growing process.”
While Carr took three years to bust out, Mariota, Winston, Prescott and Wentz have progressed even faster.
Mariota threw for 3,426 yards with 26 TDs and nine interceptions, helping the Tennessee Titans improve from 3-13 to 9-7 in his second season. The fact his success has come in a vertical offense that doesn’t fit his skill set as much as the intermediate passing game is even more impressive.
“I feel a lot more comfortable,” Mariota said about entering his second year in coach Mike Mularkey’s offense. “You kind of know what to expect. You’re in a situation where you’re familiar with everything.”
Winston, drafted No. 1 overall in 2015, with Mariota going second, has outstanding ability to manage the pocket and extend plays. His arm strength allows him to wait until the last second before zipping the ball to his receiver. He also plays with a ton of enthusiasm, which invigorates his teammates.
Winston has started every game in two seasons with Tampa Bay, leading the Bucs from six wins as a rookie to nine last year. He’s thrown for 4,000-plus yards each season, but also has 33 interceptions.
“When we’re talking about the stuff Jameis is working on, it’s microscopic,” Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said. “Knowing when to take the check down, when to go for the big play, when to scramble.”
Prescott had one of the best rookie seasons for a quarterback in league history after replacing an injured Tony Romo. Prescott tied Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie record of 13 wins, led the Cowboys to a division title and set rookie marks in passer rating (104.9) and fewest interceptions (four, to go with 23 touchdowns).
“I’m only one year in so, there’s a lot that I can get better at,” Prescott said. “There’s more reps that I’ll encounter. There’s a lot more defensive looks that will come my way. So it’s a lot that I can get better at knowledge-wise, I can get my feet (set) better, I can get better from dropping back from under the center. Better accuracy. I just need to get better all together at the quarterback position.”
Prescott won far more games as a rookie, but the best young quarterback in the NFC East could wind up being Wentz.
The Philadelphia Eagles traded a slew of draft picks to move up and select Wentz No. 2 overall in 2016. He was promoted from No. 3 on the depth chart just eight days before the season opener and started 16 games, going 7-9.
Wentz threw for 3,782 yards, but only threw for 16 touchdowns and tossed 14 picks. He also set a rookie record with 379 completions. Wentz has the talent and leadership skills to be one of the game’s elite. The Eagles added receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to give him more weapons.
“With his competitive fire, his intangible skill set, his physical skill set, we couldn’t be more excited about the things that he brings to the table and see what he’s going to do with a full offseason and opportunity to grow here in Year 2,” personnel boss Howie Roseman said.
Stability at quarterback is critical to a team’s success in the NFL. Eight teams — Patriots, Saints, Packers, Steelers, Giants, Ravens, Falcons and Chargers — have had the same starting quarterback going on the 10th straight season. Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers have combined to win seven of the last nine Super Bowls.
Carr, Mariota, Winston, Prescott and Wentz have the potential to also achieve such greatness. Their time might be coming, sooner than you think.
AP Pro Football Writers Teresa M. Walker, Josh Dubow and Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.