For nearly two decades, the AFC East was led by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, with the other three teams in the division having nothing to show but a few Wild Card games and failed experiments at the quarterback position.
2020, however, marks the first season that the AFC East bears an empty throne with Tom Brady officially a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
The division is wide open. Of the four (projected) starting quarterbacks, nobody has more than two years of NFL experience. With all four signal-callers still developing, we’ll try to determine the most talented of the four.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Buffalo selected Allen with the seventh overall pick back in 2018. Allen gave Bills fans a small taste of what he’s capable of last season to the tune of a surprise playoff appearance. Though they were ultimately defeated in overtime by the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round, Buffalo was not on the radar of many at the start of the season.
The 6-foot-5, 237-pound quarterback often uses his size to his advantage, with his surprising mobility and nimbleness keeping defenses on their toes. Allen can sling the ball as far as the rest of them, too, but the problem lies in his accuracy. This is evident when looking at his Next Gen Stats.
In 2019, Allen averaged 9.4 intended air yards per pass, tied for fourth among all qualifying passers, but only managed a 58.9 completion percentage, which placed 37th. That level of inaccuracy was only matched by the likes of Dwayne Haskins and David Blough.
Buffalo did add Stefon Diggs this offseason, easily supplying Allen with the best weapons in the division, so it is likely that he could have the best season of any passer on this list. To be the top dog in years to come, though, he will need to iron out some kinks.
Sam Darnold, New York Jets
Like Allen, the Jets selected Darnold in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, using the third overall pick on the USC product. While Darnold has not enjoyed as much success in the win column as Allen, he’s had to overcome some serious battles in his short time in New York.
However, it is worth noting that the Jets were 7-6 with Darnold last season and 0-3 without him. Darnold’s two fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives had a lot to do with that.
The 23-year-old’s stats last season weren’t the prettiest, as he recorded 3,049 passing yards, an 84.3 passer-rating, and a touchdown to interception ratio of 19 to 13. However, Darnold’s offensive line was one of the worst in football, allowing 33 sacks in the 13 games that he played alone. One of those 13 games was an extreme outlier for Darnold.
That outlier was Darnold’s disastrous Monday Night Football performance in a 33-0 loss at the hands of the Patriots in Week 3 as he only recorded 86 passing yards and threw four interceptions.
If you remove this outlier and place his remaining 12 games on a 16-game pace, the numbers tell a much different story. In such a scenario, he would have thrown for 3,917 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions while boasting a 64 percent completion percentage and 91.5 passer rating. He would have been sacked 43 times, too.
Obviously, these numbers are only hypothetical and not a reality, but it’s as good of a glance as possible that fans have into Darnold’s true potential beyond one ugly game on national television and a mono diagnosis. One can only imagine how successful he could be with supple weapons and a reliable offensive line.
Jarrett Stidham, New England Patriots
Whether Jarrett Stidham is the answer for the Patriots at the quarterback position remains to be seen. The 2019 fourth-round pick has yet to see much NFL playing time of value, if any at all.
The closest to this was last year’s preseason when Stidham enjoyed relative success. The 23-year-old completed 61 of 90 passes (67.8 percent) for 731 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. He also flashed some mobility with 17 rushing attempts for 88 yards.
Stidham will be groomed by offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels (at least in 2020), as well as Bill Belichick. That puts him in a situation as good as any for a promising development.
However, it cannot be overlooked that he is a fourth-round pick rather than a first-rounder, which differentiates him from everyone else on this list. The Auburn product is a complete unknown at the NFL landscape, leaving him out of the picture in this discussion before the season’s start.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
On the topic of unknowns, it will likely be Tua Tagovailoa, the 22-year-old rookie from Alabama, who will get the nod at the quarterback position for the Miami Dolphins.
There’s no questioning Tagovaila’s talent, as he was the fifth overall draft choice in April’s draft for a reason. His impressive accuracy, ahead-of-schedule pre-snap intelligence, and ability to manipulate defenders are just some of his many strengths.
The knock on him, for starters, is his health. Tagovailoa suffered a major hip injury that ended his college career, leaving many fans wondering how talented he will still be upon his return. Additonally, some scouts have doubts about his ability to throw the deep ball.
In 2018, which was his last full season at college, the 6-foot, 217-pound quarterback played in 15 games, finishing with 3,966 passing yards, 43 touchdowns, six interceptions, a 69 percent completion percentage, and a passing efficiency rating of 199.4. This earned him runner-up honors in Heisman Trophy voting.
That 2018 season flashed the true potential Tagovailoa holds; he may even have a higher ceiling than anyone else on this list. However, he is still a rookie. For that reason, he’s at least a few years away from earning top honors on this list.
Verdict: Sam Darnold
While Allen has a better supporting cast, Darnold is more talented and holds more value to his team’s success. Even if Allen records better stats in 2020, it won’t matter if Darnold is even able to repeat (and slightly build off of) his 2019 campaign. As for Stidham and Tagovailoa, they are relative mysteries at the moment and at the very least will wait a few years before leading the way.