NFL Notebook: Ranking the NFL starting quarterbacks heading into the 2020 season

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Breaking news: the quarterback position is important in football (although it's not the end-all, be-all to playing winning football that talkers make it out to be).

Might as well see where everyone stands, especially the Patriots' former and current quarterbacks.

This isn't simply a measure of a quarterback's talent level. The environment that surrounds a quarterback — talent and, especially, coaching — is vital to a player's success.

Here are our rankings, largely based off of 2019 with some projection involved, heading into the 2020 season:

1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs

Not sure the NFL has ever seen such a perfect blend of natural athletic talent, competitiveness and smarts in one package — very similar to Aaron Rodgers but Mahomes' total skillset is just a little bit better. When his game is on, no defense can stop him for an entire game (ask the Texans, Titans and Patriots). He'll need to be a little more cautious with his body as he advances. One advantage he has over Rodgers: Andy Reid's offense is cutting edge and a seemingly never-ending supply of talent around him.

2. Russell Wilson, Seahawks

He's one of those players who has been hindered by a conservative offense and a weak surrounding cast, especially a chronically terrible offensive line. There are times he's just a one-man band and that's unfair at times.

3. Aaron Rodgers, Packers

Nearly Mahomes' equal in terms of total package, Rodgers has been let down over the years by a Mike McCarthy offense that was basically the West Coast Offense 2.0 (Reid is operating WCO 5.0). Matt LaFleur is trying to be Kyle Shanahan, but he's not even close to Sean McVay. Rodgers has lacked talent around him as well.

4. Lamar Jackson, Ravens

The perfect marriage between talent and scheme with Greg Roman in charge of the offense in Baltimore. Jackson may not have the same success without Roman, and it will be interesting to see how defenses catch up to the scheme with an entire offseason to study up. One of the fastest athletes ever at the position, Jackson will need to improve his accuracy to have scheme-proof success.

5. Deshaun Watson, Texans

Now that Houston seems to have finally addressed their Seahawks-like struggles on the offensive line, Watson could really take off if some of the players around him (Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks) can stay on the field. Bill O'Brien has shown the Texans/Patriots scheme can mold to the talent, and it's been a surprisingly productive relationship to this point.

6. Dak Prescott, Cowboys

If you buy in heavily to advanced analytics, Prescott could be near the top of this list. Our eyes tell us Prescott still has a ways to go as far as consistently passing at a high level. In his defense, that was at least partially the fault of Jason Garrett's predictable offense. Will McCarthy be more of a help to Prescott?

7. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

He missed most of last season and will be 38 this season, but Roethlisberger is still among the best at his position and has played some of the best ball of his career as he's gotten older. He should be helped out by an improved Steelers defense.

8. Drew Brees, Saints

He runs one of the league's most sophisticated passing offenses and has very good talent around him, but the Saints chronically underachieve and some of that has to fall on him.

9. Tom Brady, Buccaneers

Still has a good and accurate arm, and his smarts and compete level are off the charts. But he's largely going solo in an entirely new environment and that almost always takes time to work (Peyton Manning had a one and done his first season in Denver). Brady may enjoy himself more on a day to day basis, but there's a reason why Bill Belichick has gone 31-12 in the playoffs over 24 years, and Bruce Arians is 1-2 in six years.

10. Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers

San Francisco wisely stuck with Garoppolo, who has a plus arm, legs and smarts, after he limped to the finish in the Super Bowl. What we said then: "Garoppolo will improve with experience, and he’ll take some hard lessons from this. Garoppolo is very smart, and he knows enough to know he doesn’t know everything. I think he’ll be much better from this experience, and it will propel his game to another level. But he has to find a way to get better with his decision-making."

11. Carson Wentz, Eagles

Wentz has suffered from the departure of Frank Reich (it exposed Doug Pederson a bit) and just a terrible set of weapons around him. If the Eagles can make strides there, and Wentz can be less reckless with his body, he should be a Top 10 QB.

12. Matt Ryan, Falcons

Dan Quinn finally fired OC Steve Sarkisian and brought back Dirk Koetter, but is it too late to salvage the final act of Ryan's career? There's certainly enough talent there, and Ryan has great accuracy, but he still has late-game issues.

13. Cam Newton, Free agent

As we've laid out previously, Newton was actually playing the best ball of his career before shoulder and ankle injuries short-circuited him in 2018: "If they can get their quarterback healthy and keep him that way, last season provides compelling evidence that the results could be spectacular. As mentioned above, before the shoulder injury sapped him of his arm strength, Newton’s 13.2% passing DVOA would have been comfortably the best of his career. His previous best, 7.6%, was enough for him to win the league MVP as the Panthers reached the Super Bowl. The four games from Weeks 6-9, in which he averaged 51.2% DVOA, was the third-best passing stretch of Newton’s professional career, comparable to any four-game slice from that MVP campaign."

14. Matthew Stafford, Lions

Has a rare combination of great arm strength and accuracy, but the Lions have chronically been such a mess it's hard to tell how really good he is. Bet he would have been a superstar on the Patriots.

15. Kyler Murray, Cardinals

I'll admit I didn't watch much of the Cardinals last season, but when I studied up on Damiere Byrd, Murray jumped off the film. He has the agility of a Barry Sanders running with the ball, and a rocket arm. He only lacks height. He could take a huge leap in his second season.

16. Derek Carr, Raiders

If he had a better sense of when to push the gas or let his foot off it — and a little better on-field demeanor — Carr could be one of the better all-round QBs in the league. And with the Raiders finally adding some outside talent, this is basically a boom or bust season for him.

17. Philip Rivers, Colts

He'll be in a much more controlled offense and atmosphere in Indianapolis, but can he lose the gunslinger persona he seemed to revel in with the Chargers? The Colts need a QB to guide them, not be the show.

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 20: Tennessee Titans Quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) throws a pass to Wide Receiver Adam Humphries (10) during a game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans on October 20, 2019, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

18. Ryan Tannehill, Titans
19. Kirk Cousins, Vikings
20. Jared Goff, Rams

21. Teddy Bridgewater, Panthers

These QBs are all the same, so I grouped them together. When everything is perfect around them — especially a running game and good protection — they look really good. Outside of that, they're incapable of carrying a team.

22. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dolphins

The Harvard grad is among the smartest at the position and his arm strength is still good. He can even win games by himself when he's in the zone. But too often he goes bust. Just holding the spot for Tua.

23. Sam Darnold, Jets

Has played behind a bad line without many weapons and for a coach who would be much better if he was just the offensive coordinator. Until those things change, the naturally gifted Darnold has zero chance.

24. Baker Mayfield, Browns

Rare instincts for the position and plus athletic ability and arm strength, but he's not the right kind of leader for an NFL locker room. Maybe he's been humbled.

25. Gardner Minshew, Jaguars

Has next to nothing around him, but Minshew had a really good rookie season considering. Shows some rare traits for the position and needs to play within the scheme more, but he's an ascending diamond in the rough.

26. Tyrod Taylor/Justin Herbert, Chargers

Has good enough all-around skills and teammates seem to love playing for him. There's a reason why he's over .500 (23-21-1) as a starter on some bad teams ... he's a good, solid player who could very sell surprise.

27. Joe Burrow, Bengals

One of the best college quarterbacks in years, Burrow could very well be the second coming of Tom Brady ... if the Bengals can provide him good coaching and a supporting cast. Good luck with that.

28. Josh Allen, Bills

Almost a carbon copy of Tannehill 1.0 with the Dolphins, Allen is only a viable starting quarterback because of his athletic ability. Terribly inconsistent as a passer and has been aided by a good all-round supporting cast, including his coaches. If Allen doesn't win the AFC East this season, it will be damning for him.

[caption id="attachment_561976" align="aligncenter" width="1600"] (Adam Richins for BSJ)[/caption]

29. Jarrett Stidham/Brian Hoyer, Patriots

No one knows anything about how this will look (including people employed by the Patriots), but the Patriots, with a very good defense and offensive line, and the best coaching in the league, only need winning play out of the quarterback position to win the division again. If they get that, their QB ranking could take a big jump to the middle of the pack.

30. Drew Lock, Broncos

Showed some promise as a rookie without much talent around him, but I don't think that's really going to improve all that much in the short term. Average arm strength and decision-making.

31. Daniel Jones, Giants

Could join the Tannehill working group of QBs who need everything right around them, but it's tough to tell since Saquon Barkley is really the only top-level talent around him. Now Garrett comes to town as OC. Could be another rough go.

32. Mitch Trubisky/Nick Foles, Bears

When Foles gets his shot — it's only a matter of time — then Chicago will take a leap to the middle tier, but it just can't quit Mitch. Has legs like Josh Allen, but worse accuracy.

33. Dwayne Haskins/Kyle Allen, Redskins

Don't be shocked to see Allen grab the starting spot — the Patriots had interest — and to keep this team competitive while Haskins continues to be a project.

NICKEL PACKAGE: Extension talks for Joe Thuney not expected until at least July 15th

1. Very smart NFL finance analyst Corry Joel made a great observation when he analyzed the contract talks for Joe Thuney:

Mike McCartney, Thuney's agent, has demonstrated a willingness to embrace the franchise tag through his representation of Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. .... A long-term deal must be attractive enough for Thuney to forego the possibility of hitting the open market next year since a second franchise tag might be too cost prohibitive.

I didn't realize McCartney, who has a great reputation around the league, was Cousins' agent. They basically took the Scott Boras approach, not being afraid of free agency.

You have wonder if anything will come of extension talks for Thuney when you consider the starting point for McCartney will be $32.5 million in the first two years (the price of the two tags). If they don't come off that (there's no reason for them not to), I could see Bill Belichick moving toward a trade during training camp.

I've been told the two sides are not expected to speak about a new contract until July 15 at the earliest.

The Browns, Redskins, Lions, Colts and Dolphins would make the most sense as trade partners.

2. Jason McCourty told reporters this week that he relishes being a leader to the young defensive backs.

"I’m always talking to – I call him gerbil – but J.C. (Jackson) I’m always giving him a hard time. I’m always on him. I feel like that’s just a part of the game," McCourty said. "When I first came into the league, I was in Tennessee and I had guys like Courtland Finnegan, Chris Hope, Michael Griffin – a ton of guys that were willing to pour into me and help me figure out how to be a pro, whether it was the defense, whether it was life off the field. So, for me, getting a chance to be around J.C. – Jonathan Jones is a young vet himself – but Joejuan [Williams], all of those guys, being able to help them, whether it’s questions about finance, questions about agents or any of those different things, to be able to be just a sounding board.

"So, I love that aspect. And I think that’s the part that sucks right now is we don’t get a chance to – obviously, we have our virtual meetings – but you don’t get a chance to be in the building, really get to know the new guys and catch up on what’s gone on in the offseason and really kind of build that chemistry right now."

3. If the Ravens are really interested in Antonio Brown, then they should look at what happened to the Raiders and Patriots in his wake last year. Just don't even think about it.

4. He's become a bit of a blowhard like all analysts, but thought Rodney Harrison made a lot of sense on his disappointment with the Patriots not signing Cam Newton (yet):

“I thought that would have been a really, really ideal situation for him. He could have came in, competed,” Harrison continued. “Could have helped the young guy, the young guy could have helped to push him. I thought it would have been a perfect situation. I’m just a little disappointed that the Patriots weren’t a little bit more aggressive, you know, just recruiting Cam.”

5. Thoughts and prayers to Devin McCourty and family, who announced their daughter was stillborn. What a terrible loss.