Editor's Note: This is Part 5 of a five-part series that dives deep into NFL quarterbacks making sudden, massive improvement, which we've dubbed "QB Leap Week." Here's what's been published so far:
- History of the QB leap and 2022 leaps
- Young QBs most likely to make 2023 leap
- New coaches likely to be the catalyst for a 2023 leap
- QBs with new teammates who could spur a 2023 leap
So of course it completely backfired last year for the teams who acquired Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson. All five QBs ranked 28th or worse in EPA per play among 38 QBs with 200+ action plays last season.
There are a handful of QBs hoping to reverse that trend in 2023 and follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest leaps by veteran QBs in their first season with a new team.
Drew Bledsoe shook off his infamous injury with the Patriots in 2001 to produce with the Bills in 2002. Drew Brees burst onto the scene with New Orleans in 2006. Brett Favre nearly reached the Super Bowl with Minnesota in 2009. Ryan Fitzpatrick nearly led the Jets to the playoffs in 2015. "Fitzmagic" is still the only player in Jets history with 30 touchdown passes in a season. Case Keenum led the Vikings to a 13-3 record in 2017 out of seemingly nowhere. Ryan Tannehill led the NFL in passer rating and brought the Titans to an AFC Championship Game in 2019.
Aaron Rodgers is the obvious choice to make a leap among veteran QBs in new places this year, but the list below shows that there could be a surprise or two as well. Here's a look at which veteran QBs have made the leap in the past, followed by a breakdown of who's most likely to do it this season (with our predictions in parentheses).
QBs to make leap in first year with new team since 2000
- 2021 Matthew Stafford (Rams): Won Super Bowl (4,886 Pass yards & 41 Pass TD in regular season)
- 2020 Tom Brady (Buccaneers): Won Super Bowl (40 Pass TD after 24 in final season with Patriots)
- 2019 Ryan Tannehill (Titans): Reached AFC title game and led NFL in yards per attempt and passer rating
- 2017 Case Keenum (Vikings): 11-3 record, 22 Pass TD and 7 Int with Vikings
- 2015 Tyrod Taylor (Bills): 20 Pass TD, 6 Int and 568 Rush yards in 13 starts
- 2015 Ryan Fitzpatrick (Jets): 10-6 record and franchise-record 31 Pass TD
- 2009 Brett Favre (Vikings): Reached NFC Championship and received MVP vote at age 40 (33 Pass TD and 7 Int)
- 2008 Chad Pennington (Dolphins): Led NFL in Comp pct and won AFC East title
- 2006 Drew Brees (Saints): Led NFL in Pass yards and won playoff game
- 2003 Jake Plummer (Broncos): 9-2 record, 15 Pass TD and 7 Int
- 2002 Drew Bledsoe (Bills): Franchise-record 4,359 Pass yards (at the time)
Aaron Rodgers (Yes)
What happens when you have a ticked off four-time MVP QB with a better supporting cast, including a top-5 defense? You have the recipe for another potential MVP and Super Bowl year, even as Rodgers approaches 40.
Rodgers is coming off arguably the worst season of his career, so there's plenty of opportunity for improvement. There's definitely reason to believe he will. He was better last year once Christian Watson emerged, and now he'll have a supporting cast with the Jets that includes promising young stars in Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall. He also reunites with former OC Nathaniel Hackett.
The Jets defense should help Rodgers win a lot more games, and while the offensive line might prevent them from Super Bowl contention, it shouldn't stop him from at least significantly improving his numbers from last year.
Sam Darnold (Yes, if he gets a shot)
Sam Darnold and the 49ers look like a perfect match on paper. The former No. 3 overall pick is still just 26, and is now paired with the QB whisperer, Kyle Shanahan, plus one of the best rosters in football.
Darnold actually was top 10 in the league in EPA per play in his six starts from Week 12-18 last year. He was third in completion percentage over expected for the entire season, per NFL Next Gen Stats. This could actually be a QB who is figuring it out.
Based on the 49ers' QB injury problems last year, and question marks surrounding Brock Purdy and Trey Lance, I'd say Darnold is pretty likely to get a shot at some point in the year. If it comes early, he will absolutely take a leap with San Francisco.
Derek Carr (Maybe)
The Saints are betting on Derek Carr getting them to the playoffs this year. He's still in search of his first career playoff win and there's a decent chance that happens. He's in a more familiar system with former Raiders head coach Dennis Allen after a down year in his first season under Josh McDaniels. He goes from a tough division to the easiest in the league. He goes from one of the worst defenses to a potential top-10 unit. He has weapons around him in Chris Olave and Alvin Kamara.
The stars seemed aligned for a playoff run, but I think it'll be a product of an easy division and improved defense, not a leap from Carr. He has been an average quarterback over his nine-year career. His average season ranking in EPA per play over that span is 17th. This isn't quite Matthew Stafford going from the Lions to the Rams. That's the case of a better QB going to a better team. Carr didn't make a leap last year with Josh Jacobs winning a rushing title and the addition of Davante Adams, so I'm not convinced he'll play like a top 5 or 10 QB in 2023.
Jacoby Brissett (Probably not)
Here's what I like about Brissett though. He consistently takes care of the ball well and does damage with his legs, two reasons he was sixth in EPA per play in 2022 behind Patrick Mahomes, Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen and Jared Goff. He has the same interception rate (1.5 percent) as Tom Brady and Drew Brees since he entered the league in 2016. He also has the chance to work with Eric Bieniemy.
Baker Mayfield (Unlikely)
Baker Mayfield signed a one-year deal worth up to $8.5 million to compete with Kyle Trask for the Buccaneers starting QB job. Even if he does win the job, he faces an uphill battle as he's been one of the league's worst QBs in the last two years.
Tampa Bay has a below average offensive line and below average weapons at RB and TE. The Buccaneers' strength is at WR with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but both were on the decline last year. Mayfield also has more interceptions than touchdowns in his career targeting WR, and was never able to develop much chemistry with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in Cleveland.
The NFC South is the worst division in the NFL, but Mayfield also struggled with Carolina last season.
Jimmy Garoppolo (Unlikely)
I would be most surprised if Garoppolo took a leap with the Raiders. Compared with his time in San Francisco, he's going to a tougher division, playing with worse talent, a worse head coach, with a much worse defense. There's also the question if he will be healthy in 2023 after his broken foot from the 2022 regular season required another surgery in March.
Garoppolo was efficient with a very good supporting cast on the 49ers, but was far too injury-prone and turnover-prone without the ability to stretch the field.
That's a wrap on 'QB Leap Week.' The rich tradition of QB leaps should continue in 2023, featuring plenty of candidates with opportunities to develop, or improve with new coaches, teammates or even area codes.
If you were reading 'QB Leap Week' all week, I'm picking eight QBs to take a big step forward in 2023 for a variety of reasons. Aaron Rodgers (new team), Justin Fields (new No. 1 WR), Trevor Lawrence (new No. 1 WR), Justin Herbert (new OC), Lamar Jackson (new OC), Anthony Richardson (young QB who can develop), Kenny Pickett (young QB who can develop) and Jordan Love (young QB who can develop).