- Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for ESPN.com.
Joe Burrow. Justin Herbert. Jalen Hurts. Tua Tagovailoa. With apologies to Jordan Love, the quarterback class of 2020 is woven throughout many of the key storylines in this NFL season. Three of the four passers are key figures in the MVP race. Two have broken out with spectacular junior seasons. All four are in line to get massive contract extensions this offseason, with a billion dollars likely to be sprinkled between a few of the league’s most promising young signal-callers.
Just one question: If the league was going to draft these quarterbacks again — knowing what it has learned over the past three seasons — in which order would they go?
What makes these quarterbacks even more fascinating is how they appeal to different arguments and elements of evaluation. Burrow is the winner who is undefeated against Patrick Mahomes and actually has made it to a Super Bowl. As a passer, Tagovailoa is having the best 2022 season of the bunch, leading the league in most efficiency metrics. Hurts is the most versatile of the four and the one who has made the most dramatic improvement since being drafted. And Herbert — whose Chargers team plays Tagovailoa’s Dolphins on Sunday night — might be the quarterback you would draw on paper if you wanted to construct the perfect passer with prototypical arm strength, accuracy and toughness.
You already know all that. I know you want me to order these quarterbacks, and I know you’ll probably get mad at my ranking. That’s fine. You could literally rank them in any possible order and defend it with some semblance of credibility (although it’s tough for me to see a universe in which Burrow is taken fourth). If you’re ranking these guys on who’d you want for one drive in 2022, you might have one answer. If you’re debating who you’d want for the next 10 years? It might be another.
Let’s lay out the pros and cons for all four before I make my choice. I’ll go in order of where each signal-caller was drafted in 2020, which means we’ll start with the guy who closed out the biggest game of Week 13.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals (No. 1 pick in 2020)
Pros: Accuracy, toughness, franchise-altering confidence, clutch performance
Cons: Propensity for sacks, lack of arm strength
The last two meaningful plays of Sunday’s dramatic win over the Chiefs were a microcosm of Burrow’s 2022 season. On second down with 2:05 remaining and a 3-point lead, the Bengals spread out the Chiefs and asked Burrow to pick a side. He started the play by looking right, where slot receiver Tyler Boyd had a leverage advantage on the slot corner. But he wisely saw that Chiefs outside corner Joshua Williams was looking to trap Boyd’s quick out and looked the other direction.
He was able to get backup tight end Mitchell Wilcox open at the sticks, but there wasn’t time to make a clean throw. He was scrambling amid pressure from George Karlaftis, and Chris Jones also began to close in, so Burrow slid down for a sack. It might be a reasonable play if the clock had been running, but since the play started at 2:05, it was going to stop immediately after the whistle for the two-minute warning. It was a bad sack to take on second-and-4 when a conversion wins the game, and while the protection wasn’t perfect, he had enough time to get rid of the football. Mahomes and Josh Allen probably make off-platform throws to Wilcox in that window.
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