This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Nov. 13 QB Crossroads Issue. Subscribe today!
Some NFL teams don’t know who their quarterback will be in three weeks, let alone three years. Lucky for them, NFL Insider Dan Graziano has seen the future of quarterbacks, and the quarterbacks of the future.
Here are his predictions on all 32 QBs in 2020 presented in tiers:
TEAMS WITH … NO PLAN
2020 QB: Blake Bortles
Primary QB from 2014-16: Carson Palmer
Total team QBR 2014: 50.7 | 2015: 75.5 | 2016: 53.1
Having signed with the Cardinals in 2018 after Palmer’s retirement, Bortles somehow beats out first-round pick Lamar Jackson in training camp to win the starting job — and maintains a tenuous hold on it through 2020.
2020 QB: Sam Bradford
Primary QB from 2014-16: Tyrod Taylor
Total team QBR 2014: 39.8 | 2015: 61.4 | 2016: 56.6
After jettisoning Taylor post-2017 and then muddling through 2018 as the likes of Brock Osweiler and AJ McCarron refuse to beat each other out for the job, the Bills scoop up Bradford in 2019 and are at least happy enough to bring him back for 2020.
2020 QB: Jake Fromm
Primary QB from 2014-16: Johnny Manziel/Brian Hoyer
Total team QBR 2014: 35.5 | 2015: 51.9 | 2016: 38.3
It’s 2020, and the list of failed Browns QBs has grown by five, including 2017 starters DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan. So the Browns take Georgia standout Fromm with the first pick in that year’s draft. Because of course they have the first pick.
2020 QB: Alex Smith
Primary QB from 2014-16: Peyton Manning
Total team QBR 2014: 72.1 | 2015: 49.0 | 2016: 46.0
When the Chiefs let Smith walk after 2019, the Broncos (still vainly attempting to replace Peyton Manning with Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and 2018 draft pick Luke Falk) snatch him up to see what he has left at age 36.
2020 QB: Jimmy Garoppolo
Primary QB from 2014-16: Blake Bortles
Total team QBR 2014: 28.2 | 2015: 51.2 | 2016: 43.1
His late-2017 audition with the 49ers didn’t work out the way they’d hoped, and San Francisco turned its attention elsewhere in the 2018 free-agent market. That allowed the QB-needy Jaguars to pounce and throw a pile of money at Jimmy G.
2020 QB: Tyrod Taylor
Primary QB from 2014-16: Philip Rivers
Total team QBR 2014: 64.9 | 2015: 57.7 | 2016: 58.4
In 2017, when Buffalo waives the ever-underrated Taylor, former Bills coach Anthony Lynn nabs him to back up Rivers in Los Angeles. Rivers, sick of the commute from San Diego, retires in 2018, and Taylor beats out Cardale Jones for the 2020 starting job
2020 QB: Jalen Hurts
Primary QB from 2014-16: Ryan Tannehill
Total team QBR 2014: 60.5 | 2015: 45.8 | 2016: 54.2
Tannehill is still around, but he’s hurt again to start the 2020 season — and his hurt begets Hurts, the college champ from Alabama and rookie who gets the shot to show what he can do.
TEAMS WITH A PLAN
2020 QB: Joe Flacco
Primary QB from 2014-16: Joe Flacco
Total team QBR 2014: 68.6 | 2015: 51.2 | 2016: 52.2
He has never lived up to how he performed in the 2012 Super Bowl run, and the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2014. But Baltimore is stuck with Flacco. Cutting him in 2019 would’ve saved $10.5 million in cap space — but also cost $16 million in dead money.
2020 QB: Andy Dalton
Primary QB from 2014-16: Andy Dalton
Total team QBR 2014: 48.9 | 2015: 69.2 | 2016: 52.3
Having staved off a 2017 challenge from backup AJ McCarron and one in 2019 from backup Baker Mayfield, Dalton remains the Bengals’ best hope. He’s back in 2020, having secured a midlevel extension after the 2019 season.
2020 QB: Patrick Mahomes II
Primary QB from 2014-16: Alex Smith
Total team QBR 2014: 50.1 | 2015: 60.8 | 2016: 58.0
The Chiefs keep Smith after he leads them to a Super Bowl LII win over Philly, but Mahomes takes over midway through 2018 when the Smith magic fades. Mahomes dazzles with big plays and frustrates with big INTs. As for Smith? Read on!
2020 QB: Josh Rosen
Primary QB from 2014-16: Eli Manning
Total team QBR 2014: 60.4 | 2015: 58.1 | 2016: 45.5
The Giants get lucky, as the one season they totally bottom out turns out to be the year to totally do that. They jump at Rosen in 2018; he sits for two years behind Manning, then beats Davis Webb for the backup job in 2019 and assumes the starter’s job in 2020.
2020 QB: Sam Darnold
Primary QB (2014-16) Ryan Fitzpatrick
Total team QBR 2014: 44.8 | 2015: 61.8 | 2016: 32.5
The Jets don’t finish 2017 as badly as fans who dreamt of Darnold might have wanted. But Darnold’s subpar sophomore season, and the extra second-rounder they get in the Sheldon Richardson trade, put them in position to get him anyway. Darnold’s reward? The crushing scrutiny of Jets Nation.
2020 QB: Joshua Dobbs
Primary QB from 2014-16: Ben Roethlisberger
Total team QBR 2014: 70.4 | 2015: 64.0 | 2016: 57.0
In 2018, Roethlisberger finally follows through on that retirement threat. Dobbs, a former student of rocket science at Tennessee who spent two years backing up Big Ben, grabs the controls in 2019. Headline writers fire up their rocket puns.
2020 QB: Josh Allen
Primary QB from 2014-16: Kirk Cousins
Total team QBR 2014: 38.9 | 2015: 67.3 | 2016: 66.3
In 2018, Washington drafts big ol’ Wyoming prospect Allen after Cousins bolts in free agency and the team makes the ill-fated call to sign Sam Bradford. Bradford is Bradford; Allen gets a start in November; the rest is the stuff of farmhand legend.
TEAMS WITH A GOOD PLAN
2020 QB: Matt Ryan
Primary QB from 2014-16: Matt Ryan
Total team QBR 2014: 66.8 | 2015: 63.5 | 2016: 79.5
Ryan scores a record extension in the summer of 2018, despite a disappointing follow-up to the Falcons’ Super Bowl season. By 2020, as he hits age 35, some observers begin to see 2016 as a missed opportunity. Among those observers: Matt Ryan.
2020 QB: Cam Newton
Primary QB from 2014-16: Cam Newton
Total team QBR 2014: 58.7 | 2015: 60.9 | 2016: 44.2
A season-ending ankle injury late in 2019 leads to a contract dispute that results in Newton entering the final year of his deal sans extension. Signed only through 2020, Newton knows he has to perform to hold off the calls for backup Jacoby Brissett.
2020 QB: Mitchell Trubisky
Primary QB from 2014-16: Jay Cutler
Total team QBR 2014: 50.6 | 2015: 55.4 | 2016: 39.7
Trubisky blooms in 2018, Jim Harbaugh’s first year as coach of the Bears, leading the team to the 2019 playoffs. And though Harbaugh still seems to lose that one game every year that costs him a title shot, iron-jawed Trubisky at least matches him scowl for scowl.
2020 QB: Dak Prescott
Primary QB from 2014-16: Dak Prescott/Tony Romo
Total team QBR 2014: 73.0 | 2015: 36.8 | 2016: 75.4
Having survived a contentious negotiation with owner Jerry Jones and beaten the July 15 franchise-tag deadline with a long-term deal to pay him more than any QB not named Aaron Rodgers, Prescott becomes the face of the Cowboys for years to come.
2020 QB: Matthew Stafford
Primary QB from 2014-16: Matthew Stafford
Total team QBR: 2014 44.7 | 2015: 58.3 | 2016: 65.2
Stafford’s 2020 season is year three of the extension he signed in 2017. And since no one has risen to challenge him by then, it has earned him all of two more offensive coordinators, a first-round playoff loss in 2018 and a second-round loss in ’19.
2020 QB: Aaron Rodgers
Primary QB from 2014-16: Aaron Rodgers
Total team QBR 2014: 76.9 | 2015: 59.8 | 2016: 72.0
Rodgers rebounds from a season-ending 2017 injury with a brilliant 2018 campaign that nets him a record extension in 2019. He leads the Pack to a Super Bowl LIII win that cements his spot among the greats. Also: His beard game remains strong.
2020 QB: Deshaun Watson
Primary QB from 2014-16: Brock Osweiler
Total team QBR 2014: 55.9 | 2015: 53.6 | 2016: 50.1
Watson, the MVP of the 2019 regular season, has by 2020 established himself as the game’s top all-around talent. Also: He owns the NFL’s top-selling jersey. A winner in high school and college, he’s a winner in the pros, too. Next step, Super Bowl?
2020 QB: Andrew Luck
Primary QB from 2014-16: Andrew Luck
Total team QBR 2014: 63.8 | 2015: 48.4 | 2016: 63.4
A 2018 surprise run to Super Bowl LIII rejuvenates Luck’s early-career hype and reminds observers why he was always so highly regarded (winning helps). After a strong 2019 follow-up, the Colts and head coach Josh McDaniels open the 2020 season as Super Bowl favorites.
2020 QB: Jared Goff
Primary QB from 2014-16: Nick Foles
Total team QBR 2014: 43.6 | 2015: 31.2 | 2016: 28.4
By 2020, grizzled 34-year-old coach Sean McVay continues to build a career on Goff, who succeeds despite the long forgotten mess that was his 2016 rookie season. Better yet: The Rams (and Chargers) finally open their new L.A. stadium.
2020 QB: Teddy Bridgewater
Primary QB from 2014-16: Teddy Bridgewater
Total team QBR 2014: 47.5 | 2015: 56.2 | 2016: 53.1
Bridgewater returns from a brutal knee injury and subs for an injured Case Keenum in 2017. When he plays well enough to get the Vikings to the NFC title game — which they lose to the Eagles — they sign him to be their QB of the future.
2020 QB: Tom Brady
Primary QB from 2014-16: Tom Brady
Total team QBR 2014: 75.0 | 2015: 68.1 | 2016: 76.7
Brady told everybody he’d play until 45. He even wrote books about it. Sure enough, by 2020, the threat of Jimmy Garoppolo is a distant memory and no one has risen to challenge Brady. And he’s still, improbably, slinging it at age 43.
2020 QB: Drew Brees
Primary QB from 2014-16: Drew Brees
Total team QBR 2014: 73.2 | 2015: 69.2 | 2016: 67.0
After signing one-year extensions after the 2017, ’18 and ’19 seasons, Brees, by 2020, is only 41, which means he’s not the oldest quarterback in the league. Determined to outlast Brady in every arena, Brees writes not one but two health-and-wellness books.
2020 QB: Derek Carr
Primary QB from 2014-16: Derek Carr
Total team QBR 2014: 40.5 | 2015: 43.0 | 2016: 54.0
They didn’t get that Super Bowl they wanted before they left Oakland, but the Raiders begin year two in Vegas with great expectations after Carr leads the NFL in passing in 2019. Free-agent pickup Odell Beckham Jr. has Carr and the “home” crowds fired up.
2020 QB: Carson Wentz
Primary QB from 2014-16: Carson Wentz
Total team QBR 2014: 59.6 | 2015: 37.8 | 2016: 46.7
A Super Bowl LII loss to the Chiefs stinks for Philly but works out well for Wentz, who blossoms at age 27. After three straight division titles, the team grants him an extension to avoid his having to play on his 2020 fifth-year option. Everybody’s happy.
2020 QB: Kirk Cousins
Primary QB from 2014-16: Colin Kaepernick
Total team QBR 2014: 57.4 | 2015: 40.4 | 2016: 50.6
Sometimes the obvious is the obvious for a reason. After Jimmy Garoppolo flops, Cousins gets $35 million a year to sign with the 49ers after 2017. He and former coordinator Kyle Shanahan hum along for the next three seasons, pacing the NFL’s top offense year after year.
2020 QB: Russell Wilson
Primary QB from 2014-16: Russell Wilson
Total team QBR 2014: 69.9 | 2015: 68.6 | 2016: 58.0
Wilson signs a fully guaranteed four-year extension with Seattle in 2019. And while the Seahawks haven’t won a Super Bowl since Wilson’s second year, he finally has an offensive line to protect him. Bummer note: Now the defense kind of stinks.
2020 QB: Jameis Winston
Primary QB from 2014-16: Jameis Winston
Total team QBR 2014: 39.8 | 2015: 57.2 | 2016: 59.8
Winston, still paired with top wideout Mike Evans, is coming off a second straight Pro Bowl in 2020 and peaking at age 26. Hopes are high for second-year Bucs coach Frank Reich and Winston, who has increased his QBR and passing TDs for six straight years.
2020 QB: Marcus Mariota
Primary QB from 2014-16: Marcus Mariota
Total team QBR 2014: 40.9 | 2015: 40.8 | 2016: 60.0