Ranking the NFL's Top 10 Quarterbacks Under 25

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistOctober 12, 2018

Ranking the NFL's Top 10 Quarterbacks Under 25

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    Excluding 24-year-old San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard—who is filling in for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo—exactly 10 current NFL starting quarterbacks have yet to celebrate their 25th birthdays. 

    Interestingly, all 10 of those sub-25 starters were first-round picks.

    • Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota (both 24) were drafted first and second overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans, respectively, in 2015.
    • The 23-year-old Jared Goff was drafted first overall by the Los Angeles Rams in 2016.
    • Mitchell Trubisky (24) was selected second overall by the Chicago Bears in 2017, not long before Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson (both 23) were taken 10th and 12th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, respectively. 
    • And this past April, 23-year-old Baker Mayfield, 21-year-old Sam Darnold, 22-year-old Josh Allen and 21-year-old Josh Rosen were all Top 10 picks, going to the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals, respectively.  

    Beyond that, you've just got clear-cut backups below the age of 25. 

    • C.J. Beathard, 24
    • Tim Boyle, 24
    • Joshua Dobbs, 23
    • Chad Kelly, 24
    • DeShone Kizer, 22
    • Lamar Jackson, 21
    • Kyle Lauletta, 23
    • Nick Mullens, 23
    • Nathan Peterman, 24
    • Mason Rudolph, 23
    • Cooper Rush, 24
    • Kyle Sloter, 24
    • Mike White, 23

    So these rankings aren't likely to draw criticism for who's included and who's excluded, but there is bound to be a wide variety of opinions regarding the order. 

    In this case, we tried to weigh long-term potential, overall talent and NFL-level accomplishments. Some of the quarterbacks listed clearly have more potential than others, some clearly have better skill sets and others have already put up big numbers. Those who checked all of the boxes fared particularly well, but some received credit for excelling in one particular area. 

    In all cases, that breakdown is provided. 

    Here are the league's top 10 quarterbacks born after Oct. 12, 1993...

10. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (22)

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    On his side: A physical marvel in terms of his body, arm, athleticism and mobility 

    Working against him: Extremely raw, small sample, six turnovers in four NFL starts, completed just 56.2 percent of passes at Wyoming, completed just 53.3 percent of passes in first five games with Bills

    Josh Allen has a higher ceiling than most of the quarterbacks listed ahead of him. He's 6'5", 237 pounds with a rocket arm and tremendous mobility (he's already scored three rushing touchdowns this season). But that only gets you so far. 

    Allen still has to prove that he can make consistently accurate throws at the NFL level. And if you can't do that, you don't last long in this league. 

    To his credit, he's won two of his first four starts. But that completion rate remains far too low, he's turning it over too much and he's been sacked a league-high 19 times. 

    It's far too early to rank him ahead of any other regular starter in his age range. 

9. Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals (21)

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    On his side: Technically polished as a three-year starter in a pro-style offense, possesses all of the physical traits required of a franchise quarterback

    Working against him: Has started two NFL games, yet to take off with Cardinals, some durability concerns

    The reality is we get a feel for Josh Rosen's chances of succeeding faster than we do with Josh Allen simply because the UCLA product is supposed to be ready to perform at the NFL level, and he's got the support of Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson in that Arizona offense.

    The problem is he's thrown just 59 NFL passes. It's only mildly concerning that he's completed fewer than half of those throws, because the sample is far too small. 

    Also, those numbers sort of lie. In a performance that Pro Football Focus called "astonishing," Rosen made several killer throws late in his first start against the Seattle Seahawks. 

    That's enough to keep him ahead of Allen for now, but he remains a small step behind fellow blue-chip rookies Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. 

8. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (24)

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    On his side: Made Pro Bowl as a rookie, extremely developed passer, has recently shown signs of improvement

    Working against him: Hasn't made Pro Bowl since 2015 and has yet to take off through three seasons, poor decision-maker, off-field concerns

    Still a few months shy of his 25th birthday, Winston has three 3,500-yard passing seasons on his resume. So why does he rank below two rookies and four other quarterbacks who have never been to a Pro Bowl?

    Because despite the fact the Florida State product is in his fourth NFL season, he's yet to prove he's trustworthy. That applies to his on-field game (he committed 59 turnovers in his first three seasons), as well as his behavior off the field (he's coming off a three-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy). 

    On the bright side, Winston did quietly cut down on his interceptions while posting a strong completion percentage of 63.8 last season, and he looked fantastic this preseason and in his first action of the regular season against the Bears in Week 4. 

    But before Winston can be grouped with high-trajectory future stars like Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes, he'll have to avoid trouble for an extended stretch—on and off the field. 

7. Sam Darnold, New York Jets (21)

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    On his side: Leader who can make every throw, good rep on and off the field, relatively mobile, has already put together two huge games as a 21-year-old rookie 

    Working against him: Small sample at NFL level, six interceptions in five games, was prone to turnovers in college

    Sam Darnold was drafted ahead of Josh Allen and Josh Rosen, he started before either of them and he's accomplished more than them thus far. That has him firmly ahead of them in these rankings, and we'll give him an edge over Jameis Winston thanks to higher upside and more poise. 

    Frankly, he's right there with Baker Mayfield, who was the only quarterback selected before the USC product in the 2018 draft. That's because he's already led the Jets to two victories in which the offense produced more than 30 points, throwing a total of five touchdown passes against the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos in those victories. 

    Despite an early pick-six, his prime-time performance in Detroit in Week 1 was nearly perfect, and he threw two picturesque touchdown bombs to Robby Anderson in Week 5. 

    Still, how much credit can he get for two good games, especially considering he's thrown six interceptions? After all, the guy accounted for 22 turnovers during his final season in the Pac-12.  

6. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns (23)

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    On his side: Deadly accurate, strong improvisational skills, athletic, tore it up as a four-year starter in college

    Working against him: Lacks size, lacks experience in a pro offense, has yet to take off with Cleveland

    I know, it's not fair to expect Mayfield to "take off" just two-and-a-half games into his NFL career, but with the jury still out, it's hard to rank him ahead of slightly more established young starters like Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, Marcus Mariota and Mitchell Trubisky, even if he has more upside than some of them. 

    The No. 1 overall pick out of Oklahoma was lights-out in relief of Tyrod Taylor in his first career appearance, helping the Browns register their first victory in nearly two years with several big-boy throws in critical moments against the Jets in Week 3.

    But he turned the ball over four times in Week 4 against the Oakland Raiders, and he was sacked five times by the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5. 

    It certainly looks and feels as though Mayfield has "it," but we just don't have enough to work with right now. 

5. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears (24)

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    On his side: Has the makeup of a franchise quarterback, has improved immensely in his second season

    Working against him: Was babied as a rookie after starting just 13 games in college, still needs to prove he can read and diagnose defenses consistently

    There's a good chance Mitchell Trubisky wouldn't have ranked this high two weeks ago, but an off-the-charts Week 4 performance catapulted the North Carolina product into the top five. 

    In a 48-10 victory over the Buccaneers, Trubisky lit up the Tampa Bay defense with six touchdown passes to five different receivers. He accumulated 354 passing yards on just 26 attempts and added 53 yards on three rushes. He was sacked just once. 

    His passer rating that day was 154.6, and let's not pretend that was a fluke against a weak defense. Tom Brady hasn't posted a higher rating since 2010. Aaron Rodgers has done so just once in his career. Both of those quarterbacks have faced many weak defenses. 

    Now, Trubisky still has to reach a point at which he can consistently carry that offense. He's not there yet, partly because he remains raw after a limited college career and a rookie campaign with training wheels on. But his rate-based numbers have skyrocketed in new head coach Matt Nagy's system, and it appears he's becoming a star. 

4. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans (24)

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    James Kenney/Associated Press

    On his side: Has flashed play-making tendencies, tremendous athlete, decent numbers since 2015 

    Working against him: Has yet to take off in fourth season, concerns about durability, arm and decision-making loom

    Just weeks shy of his 25th birthday, Marcus Mariota has yet to emerge as a consistently productive NFL quarterback. Injuries have played a role—he's never started a full 16-game season and has already missed time this year—but he also regressed when many expected him to flourish in his third season. 

    At the very least, that leaves him with less upside than Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky and the four rookies on this list, but the Oregon product does deserve credit for time served. He has two seasons with a 90-plus passer rating under his belt, and he has more than 1,000 career rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. 

    Mariota also gets points for his tendency to come up big in the clutch. Since coming into the league, he's led eight fourth-quarter comebacks (only three quarterbacks have more) and 10 game-winning drives (ditto).

    He hasn't flashed like the guys ahead of him in these rankings, but he has a nice balance of potential, talent and accomplishments. 

3. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans (23)

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    On his side: Incredible athlete, tremendous potential, tore it up during six-start run as a rookie

    Working against him: Small sample at the NFL level, has already suffered two torn ACLs

    Before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in early November, Deshaun Watson was a legitimate MVP candidate. 

    The Clemson product had at that point led the Texans to 33 or more points in five consecutive games. Despite starting just six games in the first eight weeks of the season, he was tied for the league lead with 19 touchdown passes to go along with two rushing scores and more rushing yards (269) than all NFL quarterbacks. His 103.0 passer rating is the second-highest in NFL history among rookie quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts. 

    Even though Watson has returned from that torn ACL and performed well this season, the second major knee injury of his football life is a factor working against him, as is the fact he's got only 11 career starts on his resume.

    Still, he's the type of player who could win multiple MVPs.  

2. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams (23)

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    On his side: Has the makeup of a franchise quarterback, remarkably productive in 20 starts under Sean McVay

    Working against him: Lacks the physical ability of most of the quarterbacks surrounding him on this list

    It's amazing how far Jared Goff has come in two years. His rookie season was a disaster, but the former Cal star posted a triple-digit passer rating while leading the league with 12.9 yards per completion as a sophomore in 2017. 

    That was part of a loaded offense that led the NFL in scoring in McVay's first season, but Goff is proving in Year 3 that 2017 was no fluke. The league's second-highest-rated passer has completed 72.3 percent of his passes while leading the league with 1,727 passing yards through five weeks.

    The Rams have yet to lose and are averaging nearly 35 points per game. 

    It's easy to claim that Goff has benefited from McVay's system, but those eye-popping numbers don't lie. That he doesn't lead these rankings is more about the player in the top spot's ridiculous start and tantalizing skill set than any of Goff's perceived faults. 

1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs (23)

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    On his side: Sky-high potential, phenomenal physical attributes, impressive NFL statistics

    Working against him: Small sample at the NFL level, could be prone to mistakes

    Could be prone to mistakes, but Patrick Mahomes has made very few of them thus far, despite his gunslinger mentality.

    Although he essentially redshirted as a rookie with the Chiefs, the Texas Tech product was already causing mouths to water with his preseason/practice performances before becoming Kansas City's full-time starter this year. And five starts in, he's exceeded expectations with a league-best 14 touchdown passes to just two interceptions and a pair of rushing scores as the centerpiece of an offense that is averaging an AFC-high 35.0 points per game. 

    Oh, and the Chiefs are unbeaten. 

    With his missile-launching arm and elusive legs, Mahomes has already become one of the most difficult quarterbacks to defend in football. The sample remains small, but no other quarterback under 25 has a better combination of potential, athleticism and credentials.