The AFC South was expected to be a one-horse race, with the Jacksonville Jaguars running away with the division behind Trevor Lawrence. The former No. 1 overall pick was viewed as a potential top-five quarterback and the class of the division following a sensational run at the end of 2022.
With three rookie quarterbacks entering the division, the hats and T-shirts were already printed and ready to ship to Duval County. To the football world’s surprise, Jacksonville’s QB1 has not met expectations, and the young collection of quarterbacks has produced surprising results.
As the AFC South race tightens, and with quarterbacks determining which teams climb to the top of the ladder, this is the perfect time to evaluate and rank the signal-callers in one of the most competitive divisions in the league.
At the season’s midpoint, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 draft is the runaway winner of the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The record-breaking passer leads the NFL in pass yards per game (291.8) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (15:2), while ranking sixth in passer rating (101.0).
Stroud plays with the poise, confidence and composure of a 10-year veteran, as evidenced by his remarkable efficiency and effectiveness within the pocket. He set the record for most pass attempts without an interception (192) to start a career and is the first rookie in NFL history to post four-plus touchdowns, 400-plus yards and zero interceptions in a single game.
Given his success with an unheralded collection of playmakers around him for a franchise undergoing a major rebuild, Stroud deserves credit for doing the most with the least in this division.
The “generational talent” who garnered rave reviews and lofty comparisons to Andrew Luck and John Elway within the scouting community during the 2021 pre-draft process has sparked the Jaguars’ transformation from cellar-dweller to playoff contender. Lawrence has flourished under Doug Pederson, a respected “player’s coach” with a quarterback-friendly system.
Despite an up-and-down 2023 campaign, Lawrence has completed 66.6% of his passes with a 34 to 14 touchdown-to-interception ratio since Pederson’s arrival. Though his passer rating has never topped the 100.0 mark, he has shown flashes of brilliance directing an offense loaded with explosive playmakers (Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk and Evan Engram) utilizing various concepts (RPOs, bubble screens and bootlegs) that suit his skills as a mobile, quick-rhythm passer.
If Lawrence smoothes out the rough patches in his game (red-zone efficiency and situational awareness), he has the tools to develop into a top-five quarterback in this league.
Don’t look now, but “Minshew Mania” has kept the Colts’ playoff hopes alive after rookie Anthony Richardson‘s season-ending injury. The veteran has guided the team to a .500 record in six starts, exhibiting enough poise and playmaking ability to keep the offense on schedule.
While it is never pretty when Minshew is on the field, the Colts have responded to his unique playing style from the pocket. Whether delivering quick-rhythm darts or wild scramble tosses, Minshew flashes enough magic to produce winning plays for the Colts.
Though he has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in two straight games, Minshew’s timely dimes have helped Indianapolis win back-to-back games and stay in the thick of the AFC playoff race.
However, the magic could evaporate as the Colts reach the stretch run. Minshew is prone to making critical errors when the game rests entirely on his shoulders. The veteran has enjoyed a Cinderella ride this season, but the clock could strike midnight during the playoff push.
The rookie gunslinger has sparked the Titans offense with his athleticism and arm talent. Measuring 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds, Levis is the new prototype at the position: a super-sized runner-passer with improvisational skills.
Against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 8, the Titans notched a win on the strength of Levis’ four-touchdown debut, but his performance and production have steadily declined in each start since. In his past two games, both Titans losses, Levis has completed just 52.5% of his passes for 461 yards with zero touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Moreover, his 5.9 average yards per pass attempt reflects a young passer who has become a “Check-down Charlie” against defenses better prepared for his game.
With limited weapons on the perimeter and a leaky offensive line in front of him, Levis’ struggles will continue until the Titans upgrade his supporting cast to mask some of his inexperience and deficiencies as a passer/playmaker.
Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.
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