Who are the best quarterbacks in the AFC North?
That seemingly simple question proved difficult to answer, as our three-man panel of Alan Saunders, Chris Carter and Nick Farabaugh gave three different answers at the top in our attempt to power rank the division’s quarterbacks.
One thing is for sure: the best quarterback doesn’t play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as the highest ranked Steelers quarterback in any individual reposes was Mitch Trubisky, the fourth-best quarterback on Carter’s board.
The Steelers do unanimously have three of the top eight, but that might not matter much if they can’t get someone to march up toward the top of this board by mid-season.
Our power rankings were compiled with each first-place vote getting 10 points and so on and so forth. Here’s the final tally of Steelers Now’s consensus preseason 2022 power rankings of AFC North quarterbacks.
1. LAMAR JACKSON, BALTIMORE RAVENS
He is a former MVP, but it actually felt like Lamar Jackson took a step forward as a player last year. His downfield passing took the leap it needed to make, and he is a dynamic all-around player. His success rate as a passer jumped up all the way to 80.2% in 2021, second best in the league only behind Patrick Mahomes.
He was also second in the NFL with 6,996 air yards, the distance traveled from the line of scrimmage to where the receiver gets the ball. Jackson’s improving talent as a passer to all areas of the field combined with his elite athleticism makes him the best quarterback in the division. — Farabaugh
Contention: Watson is still #1
Watson may not, and should not, play this season. But if he does, he’s immediately the best quarterback of the division. Yes, Burrow just went to the Super Bowl and Jackson has been MVP. But Watson combines both their strengths and posted a winning record with less available to him with the Texans in a haphazard organization. He has a higher passer rating and averages more touchdowns per game than anyone in the division. He also has only four less rushing touchdowns than Jackson despite playing four less games. Give him Burrow’s weapons from last year and the Bengals probably beat the Rams. If it’s purely about on-field play, Watson is the best here. — Carter
2. JOE BURROW, CINCINNATI BENGALS
After helping lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl, Burrow deserves his respect. The moxie he has one and off the field is one thing, but the laser accuracy and exciting off-script ability makes Burrow a pain to defend.
The Bengals were one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, and part of that was Burrow’s ability to create when nothing was there. He may never have the strongest arm in the NFL, but when everything else in his game is as good as it is, the arm does not matter nearly as much. He lacks the dynamic athleticism of Jackson, but it is undeniable that Burrow took a huge leap in his second year to earn him this spot. — Farabaugh
He took the freaking Bengals to the Super Bowl and can’t win a power ranking in his own division? SMH. — Saunders
3. DESHAUN WATSON, CLEVELAND BROWNS
Putting aside the likelihood of him being available for the majority of the 2022 season, it’s still difficult to figure out exactly how good Deshaun Watson will be for the Cleveland Browns.
Watson’s 2020 numbers were MVP-caliber stuff, leading the NFL in yards, yards per attempt and yards per completion while maintaining a 112.4 passer rating and was responsible for 36 total touchdowns.
But he sat out the whole 2021 season, and it’s hard to project how that will impact his game, along with how much of a distraction his off-the-field issues have become to a new team. — Saunders
4. BAKER MAYFIELD, CLEVELAND BROWNS
Baker Mayfield had a disastrous 2021 season, putting up career lows in most significant statistics and prompting the Browns to attempt to replace him this offseason.
How much of that downturn can be ascribed to his shoulder injury probably determines his outlook going forward. At his best, Mayfield can help a run-first team with his mobility and toughness. But he’ll still always be limited by a lack of overall arm talent that probably makes him a mid-tier starter at his top potential.
Mayfield’s struggles are well-noted, but his injury-ruined 2021 season was still better statistically than two of Mitch Trubisky’s four years as a starter in Chicago, giving Mayfield the edge. — Saunders
Despite playing for the Browns, Mayfield has been in a more favorable situation than Trubisky for most of his career. Trubisky managed a Pro Bowl season in 2018 despite playing for a Bears team whos best weapon was a young Allen Robinson. Mayfield had the benefit of Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Kareem Hunt, and still never achieved a 12-4 season like Trubisky pulled off in 2018. If you needed further evidence about how much Mayfield was holding back Beckham, look no further than what he did for the Rams in the playoffs. It’s not by much, but Trubisky is better than Mayfield right now. — Carter
5. MITCH TRUBISKY, PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Mitch Trubisky is getting a second chance to prove he can be an above-average NFL starter with the Steelers, and he’s getting it in a good situation. The Steelers have a great defense, and plenty of talent around him in the offseason at running back, tight end and wide receiver.
Kenny Pickett looms, so the pressure is on Trubisky to prove that the Bears got their evaluation right in making him the No. 2 overall pick, and it was only the development part that Matt Nagy and company got wrong. Trubisky’s statistical numbers from his time in Chicago are mediocre at best, with a 87 passing rating over four seasons and QBR totals of 32.4, 71, 41.5 and 53.8. Part of that can be explained away by an ineffective overall offense and a lack of talent around him, but for a player with so many NFL games under his belt, this ranking feels like more of a hopeful projection than something grounded in data.
The Steelers going with Trubisky solidly ahead of a third-team Pickett throughout OTAs and minicamp likely contributed to the confidence to his ranking. — Saunders
6. KENNY PICKETT, PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Kenny Pickett has the pedigree to be a franchise quarterback. That’s more than what you can say about the players beneath him on this list. But being a rookie, he’s still not above all the other first round quarterbacks who still have several NFL starts under their belt. He very well may end up ahead of them, but right now he has to work his way up the Steelers’ depth chart before he climbs any rankings. — Carter
7. JACOBY BRISSETT, CLEVELAND BROWNS
Jacoby Brissett may have a much worse record as a starter than Mason Rudolph below him, but that’s more about the teams he’s played for than his own play. Rudolph had the benefit of his 10 starts playing for the Steelers on teams that had playmakers on offense and a defense that forced turnovers. Brissett had two games with the Patriots, then 30 with the post-Andrew Luck-era Colts, and five with the Dolphins last season. During that time he threw 38 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions, a ratio any coach would take for a backup quarterback. Add his 13 rushing touchdowns and he’s the best of the rest of the backups on this list. — Carter
8. MASON RUDOLPH, PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Rudolph would be higher on this list if he was more of a catalyst of the Steelers’ wins in his 5-4-1 record. He averages slightly less than a touchdown per his 17 game appearances and if given a bigger sample size, could overtake Brissett with more consistent play. It’s difficult to account for Rudolph’s first few years with the misfortune of being on the wrong end of a knockout headshot from Earl Thomas, assault with a helmet and accusations of the use of racial slurs from Myles Garrett, as well as having his collar bone broken all in the same season. It’s reasonable to think Rudolph could climb this list with the opportunity for more playing time, but he’ll have to earn that either in training camp or on a new team if the Steelers move him.
9. TYLER HUNTLEY, BALTIMORE RAVENS
Tyler Huntley has had some impressive flashes in games that he started. He is only 24-years-old, so Huntley has plenty of upside still. However, his poise against pressure and inconsistent accuracy — something the Steelers showed in beating him in Week 18 last year — are what drop him down for now Huntley is dynamic and has a nice baseline to work with, but his footwork will need to be worked upon for him to truly breakout as a player. — Farabaugh
10. JOSH DOBBS, CLEVELAND BROWNS
Now heading into his sixth NFL season, Josh Dobbs has garnered a reputation for his high football IQ, and he pairs that with decent athleticism, but it is his veteran presence that can allow him to be a huge help to a team throughout a season. He is a strong-armed quarterback that has never fully grown into an accurate passer. That will hold him back, but with uncertainty in Cleveland, Dobbs could be a stabilizing force. — Farabaugh