Less than a week out from the season, I thought it would be a fun activity to rank the position groups around the AFC South. This will help give us a gauge on the overall talent level around the division and projections for the 2020 season.
While I try to use statistics and film to make these rankings, keep in mind that there will always be a level of subjectivity. If you strongly disagree with anything, let me know why down in the comments.
Now, let’s start off this series ranking the AFC South quarterbacks…
1. Deshaun Watson
In 2019, Deshaun Watson played at an elite level, just a tier below the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson. He looks primed to take that next step this upcoming season.
Although he is losing his safety-net receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, he is gaining another deep threat in Brandin Cooks. As a result, this could lead to a potentially less efficient, but more explosive Texans’ offense in 2020. The Texans now have three sub-4.4 wide receivers that can stretch the field and stress defenses deep. This blends perfectly with Watson’s aggressive style of play. In 2019, Watson ranked 3rd in adjusted deep passing percentage and 5th in total deep passing yards. He also lead the NFL in dropped deep throws in 2019 with Will Fuller leading the NFL in those dropped deep balls. However, Cooks was not much better in Los Angeles, ranking 4th in dropped deep balls. If Fuller and Cooks can just slightly improve those drop numbers, we could see a huge improvement in the Texans’ already great deep passing game.
Watson is not immune to the occasional mediocre outing, such as his Week 2 performance last year against the Jaguars, Week 4 against the Panthers, Week 11 against the Ravens, and Week 16 against the Buccaneers. Watson can sustain elite play for large stretches of the season, but the difference between him and Mahomes or Wilson are these few subpar performances. If Watson really wants to jump into that elite tier, he will have to be more consistent over the course of a 16-game season.
2. Ryan Tannehill
After an injury-riddled, Adam Gase-cursed career in Miami, Tannehill transformed into a new player for the Titans. Tannehill lead the Titans to a 7-3 record during the regular season and then all the way to the AFC championship game—a feat the franchise has not reached since 2002.
After starting 2-4 with Mariota, Tannehill completely rejuvenated the stale Titans offense into the NFL’s most explosive overall and passing offense. For reference for how drastically the offense improved, the Titans were the 20th most explosive passing and 17th most explosive offense overall with Mariota at the helm. Watching his film, Tannehill’s confidence, anticipation, and accuracy sparked this mid-season revival.
His 2019 performance seems like a massive outlier from all of the mediocre years in Miami, and for that reason, many NFL analyst are expecting massive regression from both him and the Titans offense as a whole. While I agree some regression is probable, I think this Tennessee-version of Tannehill is simply a glimpse of his future as a quarterback, now beyond the Miami-version who had to deal with Adam Gase (I mean, just ask the Jets and Sam Darnold how that’s going for them). With a full offseason as the starter under (now) second-year play caller Art Smith, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw another big season from Tannehill.
3. Gardner Minshew
This may seem like a hot take to rank a young Gardner Minshew over the potential Hall of Fame quarterback in Philip Rivers, but it is absolutely the correct take. While the defense for Rivers’ poor 2019 is that he played behind a terrible offensive line, Minshew not only played behind an equally terrible offensive line, but he did it with significantly worse wide receivers.
I think we are all sleeping on just how good Minshew played as a rookie. He led a lousy Jaguars roster to a 6-6 record while throwing for 3271 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. Although Minshew isn’t the most physically impressive quarterback, he wins with great timing, accuracy and pocket mobility. Similar to Deshaun Watson, Minshew showed the ability to evade the pass rush and create plays out of structure — something that all of the quarterbacks on this list can do except Rivers.
4. Philip Rivers
As quarterbacks begin to age and their physical traits begin to wither, they need to improve their decision-making and overall processing in order to compensate for the physical decline.
In 2019, Philip Rivers did the opposite. We not only saw his arm strength deteriorate, but we also saw erratic decision-making from the veteran. Rivers ranked 2nd to just Jameis Winston in adjusted interceptions in the league last season. “Adjusted interceptions” is a statistics that adds dropped interceptions and subtracts interceptions caused by wide receiver drops or on Hail Mary throws. Essentially, it’s a more accurate representation of interceptions that are directly caused by the quarterback’s play. Even during his fantastic 2018 season, Rivers still ranked 11th in this same statistic.
While I do think Rivers will perform better with the elite offensive line in Indianapolis, he will also see a downgrade in the receivers he throws to compared to the Chargers. Turning 39 years old this season, I just don’t see Rivers being better than any of the other quarterbacks on this list due to his dwindling arm strength and turnover-prone play.
That’ll do it for AFC South quarterback rankings. Check back soon for the next position…
Agree? Think Josh is crazy? Let him hear it in the comments below!