Quarterback is the most important position in the modern NFL. It is nearly impossible for a team to win the Super Bowl these days unless they get quality play at the quarterback position.
Every year, teams do their best to select the next great franchise quarterback in the NFL Draft. Teams that find the right player are often set for a decade or more. Teams that fail end up on a treadmill of losing and can be set back for five years or more as they try to draft another player who can get the job done.
But there’s a catch in all this: very few quarterbacks shine right away. Even most Hall of Fame quarterbacks struggle as rookies and even in their first two or three seasons.
Teams are always waiting for their potential franchise quarterback to take that leap into greatness. Some start the process by their second year. Some take a little longer and some never reach their potential.
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Here is a look at the top five second-year quarterbacks in the NFL who are most likely to shine this coming season. Quarterbacks are rated on how likely they are to play and when they are likely to make that eagerly awaited step up to the next level.
- Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers
Love is the player on this list who is least likely to see significant playing time because he is playing behind the reigning league MVP in Aaron Rodgers.
The former Utah State star was looked at as a project who would need a few years of coaching to work on his mechanics and ability to read pro defenses before he was ready to start in the NFL.
Love has all the tools you look for in a good pro quarterback. He has the arm strength to make all the throws in your playbook and enough mobility to avoid the rush. He also demonstrated good leadership qualities at Utah State.
Because the Covid-19 pandemic canceled all NFL preseason games last year and Rodgers remained healthy all season, Love did not see any action with the Packers during his rookie campaign.
With last year’s backup Tim Boyle now in Detroit, look for Love to get the chance to be the backup in Green Bay. He will only see a lot of action in 2021 if something happens to Rodgers.
- Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Hurts is the man in Philadelphia after the Eagles traded veteran Carson Wentz this offseason. Hurts took over for Wentz late last season and started the final four games for the Eagles while going 1-3-0.
The former Oklahoma star showed some moxie in his rookie year. He gave his team a spark after the Eagles struggled under Wentz, but he clearly has more work that needs to be done to reach his full potential. Hurts completed only 52 percent of his passes last season which is well below what NFL teams expect. He also needs to improve his ability to read defences as well.
The biggest obstacle facing Hurts is the Eagles porous offensive line. He was sacked 13 times in his four starts. While Hurts is mobile and can avoid the rush well, being constantly harassed is not good for any young quarterback.
The Eagles receiving corps is also not highly regarded so often, Hurts had to throw to teammates who were not open downfield.
Hurts has a lot of potential but it may take some time to realize it because of the situation he is in in Philadelphia.
- Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Tua had a lot of injury questions to answer entering his rookie season but he started nine games for the Dolphins and proved he was ready to compete in the NFL.
The Alabama alum was used to being in pressure situations in college and came through for the Dolphins in his rookie season, winning six of his nine starts including two late comeback victories. Tagovailoa completed 64.1 percent of his passes while tossing 11 touchdowns against just five interceptions.
The Dolphins offense was conservative as they brought their rookie quarterback around slowly. They have a solid offensive line to help protect their new franchise quarterback. As Tua gains confidence, expect head coach Brian Flores to begin to open things up and give Tua more chances to throw downfield.
If Tagovailoa stays healthy, he is the most likely quarterback on this list to lead his team to the playoffs this season.
- Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Burrow was the first overall pick in last year’s draft and his talent and raw ability are easy to recognize. The former LSU star started 10 games for Cincinnati and showed accuracy, poise and moxie. Unfortunately, an injury ended his rookie season after just 10 contests.
Burrow completed 65.3 percent of his passes and threw for 13 touchdowns while tossing just five interceptions.
His 89.8 quarterback rating was outstanding for a rookie and he threw for 300 or more yards in five of his 10 starts including a 406-yard effort against Cleveland.
Tyler Body and Tee Higgins give Burrow two reliable targets to throw to and his offensive line is improving.
As the Bengals get better around him, Burrow should play better as well.
- Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Herbert was the most dynamic of all the rookies in the class of 2020 and figures to be the player who will develop the quickest.
The Oregon alum started 15 games for the Los Angeles Chargers last season and threw for 4,336 yards and 31 touchdowns, both by far the highest numbers for a rookie quarterback.
Herbert showed poise in the pocket and confidence was infectious and helped his team win some high-scoring games that many experts thought they had no chance of winning.
The Chargers ranked sixth in the NFL in passing yards last season in part because of Herbert’s fearlessness and ability to sling the ball all over the field.
He has the brightest short-term future of any second-year quarterback in the NFL.