In just two years’ time, the AFC North went from being among the most veteran divisions in the league with at the quarterback position to one of the youngest. Helmed by Ben Roethlisberger for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the division also had long-standing starters with the Baltimore Ravens’ Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton with the Cincinnati Bengals—and the quarterback du jure for the Cleveland Browns.
Entering the 2020 season, however, three of the division’s starting quarterbacks will have a combined four years of accrued NFL experience—or one quarter of that of Roethlisberger, who has 16 seasons under his belt.
And all of them are first-round picks, including to first-overall selections in Baker Mayfield for the Browns and, most recently, Joe Burrow, the top pick this year, in Cincinnati. In Baltimore, Lamar Jackson was the 32nd pick in Mayfield’s draft of 2018, but has already claimed a league MVP title and has a 19-3 regular season record.
This youthful success and predictions of better in the future, mixed with Roethlisberger’s history, but also his age and injury, lead Adam Schein to rank the AFC North fourth in the NFL in terms of divisional quarterback talent, behind the NFC South, the NFC West, and the AFC West.
Jackson was the unanimous NFL MVP because he was unstoppable, leading the league with 36 touchdown passes and shattering Michael Vick’s QB record with 1,206 rushing yards. And he’s still just 23 years old. I expect Jackson to be even more dominant on the deep ball in 2020. Meanwhile, I’m on record saying Mayfield will get right back on the track to greatness with a new, real, buttoned-up coach calling the shots, as opposed to the Freddie Kitchens buffoonery from last year. Kevin Stefanski will make a big difference. So will the improvements on the offensive line. And a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. It’s not like we didn’t see enticing play from the former No. 1 overall pick as a rookie. He has it. So does the No. 1 overall pick from this year. Burrow really has it — and I expect him to show it right away, especially with all the fine weaponry at his disposal (receivers A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, as well as running back Joe Mixon). Roethlisberger is back from elbow surgery. I’m skeptical on him staying healthy for a full year at age 38. But he is a Hall of Famer — and a healthy Big Ben dominates. So I’m conflicted. If/when he isn’t healthy? We saw the Mason Rudolph/Duck Hodges movie last year. We know how that ends.
The NFC South now contains both Drew Brees and Tom Brady, who are first and second in a lot of passing categories, in addition to Matt Ryan and now Teddy Bridgewater. For the NFC West, you have Russell Wilson and Jimmy Garoppolo leading the way, along with Kyler Murray and Jared Goff, a pair of former first-overall picks. Patrick Mahomes does a lot of the heavy lifting for the AFC West, rounded out by Derek Carr, Drew Lock, and Tyrod Taylor (or rookie Justin Herbert).