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Power Ranking 2024 AFC North Quarterbacks: Where Do Fields, Wilson Fall in Pecking Order?

Steelers Now Power Rankings: Reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson unsurprisingly comes in first place among AFC North quarterbacks.

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There is optimism around nearly every NFL team at this time of year, and fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers are certainly not immune from the hope that springs eternal every summer.

This season, the Steelers seem to have good reason for that hope, with a second consecutive well-regarded draft by general manager Omar Khan and a free agency period that including snagging All-Pro linebacker Patrick Queen from the rival Baltimore Ravens.

But the cold hard truth of the matter is that the Steelers have the longest odds to win the AFC North of any team at +750 and their over/under win total according to FanDuel Sportsbook, is only 8.5.

There are many reasons for that, including what expects to be a significantly more difficult schedule in 2024. But the top one is remaining questions about the team’s play at the quarterback position. The Steelers finished 25th in passing yards, 21st in passer rating and 21st in adjusted net yards per attempt with Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph all getting turns in the starter’s seat last season.

There are reasons to be hopeful that the new duo of Russell Wilson and Justin Fields can produce better results, but whether the Steelers will get above-average quarterback play in 2024 certainly remains a question mark, and the largest single reason for those more analytically inclined evaluators to be hopeful about the team’s chances.

With that being said, we decided to take a look at just where the Steelers quarterbacks stack up against the rest of the AFC North in the renewal of our Power Rankings series for 2024, with Derrick Bell, Zachary Smith and myself contributing to a three-voter panel.

Our power rankings are 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 2024 power rankings of AFC North quarterbacks.

AFC NORTH 2024 QUARTERBACK POWER RANKINGS

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

After back to back seasons that were cut short due to injuries, Lamar Jackson bounced back by earning MVP honors for the second time. Among NFL quarterbacks in 2023, he finished fourth in success rate (50.8%) and eighth in EPA/play (0.135). Jackson is a one-man army of sorts on the offensive side of the ball due to his rarely before-seen athleticism. His quick twitch movements in the pocket allow him to navigate through chaos and he’s still dangerous as a scrambler, picking up 57 first downs last year with his legs while leading the position in explosive runs of 15 yards or more. Jackson’s arm talent is notable as he can throw off platform from various arm angles and excels between the numbers. 

Jackson’s not an overwhelmingly potent deep ball thrower and defensive coordinators can occasionally heat him up with six-man pressures. Aside from that, there really aren’t many flaws to his game and his dual threat capabilities open up a ton of possibilities for an offensive coordinator. He’s one of the few signal callers in the league that gives you a chance every single Sunday regardless of opponent. Assuming he remains healthy at his new, lighter playing weight, Jackson could look even more comfortable in his second season commanding Todd Monken’s offense. –-Bell

Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

I understand that Lamar Jackson was the best quarterback, and the best anything, not just in the AFC North, but the entire NFL last season, but if you asked me which one I’d want to build around for 2024, give me Joe Burrow. Burrow was never 100% for any significant stretch of time that he played last year, and it’s certainly reasonable to wonder if he will come back as the same player in 2024 that he was in 2022 and 2021.

But if he is, give me that guy, any day. He doesn’t have Jackson’s otherworldly athleticism, but even taking into account his lack of running. Burrow had a 0.13 EPA per play in 2022. Jackson was 0.11 in 2022 and 2023. And while Burrow is coming off the big injury, Jackson has played a full season just once over the last four years. So him being healthy for 17 is just as much of a gamble.

Acknowledging that Burrow and Jackson and tightly contesting the top two spots, the leap from No. 2 to No. 3 might be the biggest in our entire AFC North top 10. No one else even remotely belongs in the conversation here. — Saunders

Russell Wilson, Pittsburgh Steelers

As a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, Super Bowl Champion with 334 passing touchdowns, Russell Wilson’s career accolades could eventually punch his ticket to canton. The deep ball has always been his forte because of the touch he can generate to consistently give his receivers chances. The best utilization of his skill set consists of 5-7 step drops, half field reads designed to push the ball down the field.  In 2023, Wilson looked leaner which allowed him to display his creativity as a scrambler, further increasing his efficiency in the red zone, finishing fourth in touchdown tosses with 24.

He’s always been a very unique quarterback but his flaws have become more noticeable as his athleticism has faded with age. Wilson has never been one to target the middle of the field much, partially due to his height and he’s always among the league leaders in sacks taken. However, he took a small step forward in Sean Payton’s offense in terms of working quick game concepts and he was more willing to check the ball down, even if the returns on those plays weren’t great. Arthur Smith’s run-first offense will relegate him into a low volume role but one that could help boost his efficiency number provided they lean into the things he does at a high level. — Bell

Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns

Deshaun Watson was playing hurt through his six games in 2023, when he posted an 84.3 passer rating and an even-worse 42.9 QBR with the Cleveland Browns. And in 2022, when he came back after being suspended the entirety of the 2021 season and the first 11 games of the following season, he was clearly shaking some rust off when he posted a 79.1 passer rating and a 40.4 QBR.

Watson, if finally fully healthy, will likely be better in 2024 than he was in 2023. But just simply better than one of the worst numbers for a starting quarterback in the league in 2023 isn’t going to be good enough. The Browns made him one of the highest-paid players in the entire NFL because they wanted the guy that threw for over 4,800 yards and was the straw that stirred the drink in Houston. He hasn’t been anywhere near that so far in Cleveland and it’s starting to look more and more like he might never be. — Saunders

Justin Fields, Pittsburgh Steelers

Justin Fields is probably the hardest player to rank in this 10-man list. He has the tools to be the best player on it. Through three seasons with the Chicago Bears, he hasn’t even come close. It’s not even clear if he’ll get the chance to show improvement this year with the Steelers, as it’s probably less than likely that he’ll be able to beat out Russell Wilson for the starting job. At worst, though, if you have to turn to a backup quarterback, the one that might be the best athlete in the entire league at his position is a pretty decent place to be. — Saunders

Jake Browning, Cincinnati Bengals

Jake Browning didn’t play well against the Steelers defense last year but he reeled off an impressive three game stretch in weeks 13-15 to help keep the Cincinnati Bengals playoff hopes alive. Backups are rarely consistent but he proved enough down the stretch last season to warrant comfort in the event that he was forced into playing time again. Browning is tough in the pocket, willing to throw over the middle of the field and plays with an admirable level confidence. Perhaps his greatest achievement last year was giving everyone, including Joe Burrow himself, some proof of concept of what happens if their offense goes under center a little bit more. Browning isn’t a starter but in a league desperate for qualified backups, you can do much worse. — Bell

Jameis Winston, Cleveland Browns

Jameis Winston doesn’t fit the mold of your typical high-end backup. Those guys are typically much lower-ceiling, higher-floor guys that don’t have the variance in play that you get from Winston. Winston’s career EPA per play is 0.138. That puts him ahead of Russell Wilson and just slightly behind Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan since 2015. At $4 million, I think the Browns got a low-end starter on a cheap backup contract. Should Watson miss time, the highly skilled Winston should slide in fine in Kevin Stefanski’s offense and be able to keep it afloat. — Smith

Tyler Huntley, Baltimore Ravens

After spending the first four years of his career with the Baltimore Ravens, Tyler Huntley signed a contract with the rival Cleveland Browns this off-season. This pairing makes some sense on the surface because of Huntley’s chaotic play style matching that of Deshaun Watson. Huntley can hurt you with his legs, as a runner and scrambler and likes to feed the ball to the tight ends through the air. Given Watson’s struggles to stay on the field, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get some snaps at some point this upcoming season. He’s a limited quarterback without starting caliber traits but Kevin Stefanski has gotten quality play out of several different styles of quarterback during his time as the Browns coach. — Bell

Kyle Allen, Pittsburgh Steelers

Kyle Allen had a 3.2 QBR in 2023, which is a score so low that I wasn’t even aware the scale went down that far. He’s not that bad, but he’s not a difference-maker at the position. He’s had some decent stretches, including four games with Washington in 2020 when he posted a 99.9 quarethack rating and respectable 68.2 QBR. The bottom line here appears to be that he might be able to get you through a stretch, but he shouldn’t be counted on for much more than that. — Saunders

Josh Johnson, Baltimore Ravens

Josh Johnson is 38 years old, so he’ll take over for Joe Flacco as the elder statesman of the AFC North quarterback club. He can still move, but not quite as well as he once did. For Baltimore, the idea is that they get a quarterback that can run an offensive designed for Lamar Jackson and also get a veteran player that can almost be another coach in the quarterback room. But despite his age, a career 70.6 passer rating doesn’t provide a lot of hope for strong play if he’s called upon. — Saunders

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