Following on from the ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ / ‘Reasons to be Fearful’ previews of the teams of the AFC South over the last couple of weeks, it’s time to look in a bit more depth at the QBs for the four teams. Those that read the prior pieces will probably be able to make an educated guess to how these rankings pan out!
Whilst the previews tried to be a bit more objective, here is a more subjective view of the division (or, perhaps, realistic!) and the QB position.
The AFC South has been a den of mediocrity for the last few years. The Texans and Colts have traded blows since 2009 with the latter besting the former 4-3 on division titles since then. But really, it has been about the Colts led by Peyton Manning who dominated the landscape and Andrew Colt has carried that on. Until last year. Alongside the lost season for Luck, who we will talk MUCH more about below, the Jags and Titans found some long absent quality at the Qube position. Marcus Mariota is an intriguing prospect off the back of a really interesting season and Blake Bortles progressed, numerically at the least. Houston made the most of the situation in Indy and rode their defence and DeAndre Hopkins’ coattails all the way to the play-offs. But this off-season, they have a new Qube at the helm, he is presumably Bill O’Brian’s choice and, at a cost of $72m, could be realistically predicted to end up having the poorest statistical season of the four in this group.
So based on past performances, projected performances and no prejudice, we are going to list the Qubes of the AFC South. We need to quantify things, that’s why Buzzfeed exists, and we take that in isolation from the rest of the information. This isn’t statistically driving ratings, this is indulgent rankings. I know which I prefer.
Just to clear it up – watching the America’s Game for Super Bowl XLV, there is a point where Steelers HC Mike Tomlin is trying to motivate the guys near him by proclaiming ’92 is getting to the Qube’. Since then I’ve only ever really written or said Qube for QB. I’m not even a Steelers fan.
1) Andrew Luck
The highest paid player at the most important position of sports. And he wouldn’t even make a ripple in NBA free agency.
Whatever we think about that, and no doubt everyone reading this thinks a lot about that, we must simply talk about the magnitude of Luck’s deal in the structure it exists. I can’t recall seeing any negative reaction to his contract. None. It is a rare thing. Luck is considered an elite Qube with the potential to be one of the all-time greats. The world knows it, the fans in Indy know it and, fortunately for them, Jim Irsay knows it.
Transitioning from Peyton Manning to Luck is a phenomenal alignment of factors that must have every citizen of Indiana occasionally staring off into the middle distance, shaking their head slightly and offering a rueful smile.
Luck is a phenomenal athlete deserving of such reflection. He clearly understands the complexities of the game and relishes the intellectual aspect of the sport. His arm is a cannon. He can run. Luck is a prototype Qube.
In recent memes, I’ve seen Luck mocked up as a Ulysses S Grant type figure. Astride a horse, a sepia-tinged General, bearded and battle scarred. For me, though, the better comparison is to Teddy Roosevelt. Luck pushes his body, foolhardily, beyond what he should. He pushes passes where he probably shouldn’t. He risks it all and is not satisfied with failure. And he brings people with him, he leads, he rallies and dragoons. You could imagine him clipping out a ‘Dee-lightful’ as he arrows in a TD through traffic to Dwayne Allen or jumping up with a ‘Bully’ as Vontae Davis reels in an INT. His failures are minimised because you can see his intent. And he could be the best to ever do it. Roosevelt was imbued with a sense of destiny and purpose, throughout his life. Luck, deep in his bones, is the same. He is fearless, and bound by nothing.
Luck’s stats followed a very positive trajectory from his rookie season forward. He threw for 12,957 yards across his first three seasons, throwing 86 TDs. He played all 48 games in those three seasons. He led the Colts to 11 wins each season (and as noted above, he truly did lead this team). He has won 3 play-off games in three seasons. Stats like this perhaps don’t prove much and can be utilised how you want but, whichever way you cut it, his first three years stand with any Qube on paper.
2015 was lost for him. He came into the season not quite right and his play showed this. Luck himself admitted that he also played poorly and that was evident. Prior to getting injured and sidelined, he looked completely out of sorts. Forcing balls, not seeing coverage, holding the ball too long. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. By the time he was taken out through injury, it felt like a relief.
The 2016 season will be intriguing for Luck. His supporting cast is still strong, though questions at RB remain and his WR corps need to hold on to the ball but he could elevate others the way he has TY Hilton. Indy need Andrew Luck this year and I think he will deliver a top 3 season among all Qubes this year. His pedigree, command of the offence and simply the state of the roster all around him will need him to reclaim his place as a top-tier, elite Qube.
I believe that Luck’s volume goes way up this year as a result of his contract, the weapons and the running game. To complete more than 400 passes would put him in the top 26 in history for completions in a season. However, 15 of the top 20 completions per season are since 2010 and of the highest seven completion totals in a season, five belong to Drew Brees. The other two? Both Peyton Manning, once in Indy (2010) and once in Denver (2013) when he completed 450 passes.
Luck could hit 420 completions. At a completion rate of 63% and average yards per attempt of 7.5, the former would be a career high, the latter matching his 2014 rate, then he would be pushing 5,000 yards. That’s high but not impossible given the system and his quality.
But from the full body of evidence in front of us, it’s impossible not to rate him as the cream of the AFC South crop.
2) Marcus Mariota
Everything is a matter of perception. Not to get in the fundamentals of epistemology and it could just be me but when I see a player in the College game, they look smaller than when I see that same player in the NFL. And it is not just bulk and growth. Marcus Mariota, to me, looked slight at Oregon. I saw a College Qube – wants to run, plays in the spread, throws from the shotgun and doesn’t drop. I saw him pre-season for the Titans and he looked like a big, hulking, pro-ready Qube in his physique.
Prior to drafting Mariota, the Titans weren’t just mediocre; they were without identity, they were beyond irrelevant outside of being a trade partner for their high draft picks. Picking second behind the then tyre-fire Bucs, the question was in what order the two brightest Qube prospects would go. Winston was pretty much a lock for the Bucs we were told. With the Titans, all sorts of rumours flew. They didn’t like Mariota; he wasn’t pro-ready. They would trade the picks for Philip Rivers so that the Chargers could take Mariota. Chip Kelly and the Eagles were going to bet the farm on him. Wait – the Bucs might want him!
As ever, it was all stolen breath and the Titans took the ‘project’ from Oregon.
His first season, to these eyes, greatly exceeded expectations. The Titans still sucked but at Qube they had hope. When you have hope at that position, you have hope in the NFL. In 2015 Mariota flashed brilliance, truly, and in other games he played like that which he was; a rookie. He had two games with 4 TDs (admittedly one against the Saints D…), two with 3TD and he ran for an 84 yard TD. He also had five games without a TD.
He proved he could move the chains as well as sling the ball like a dart. We all know he could run and he showed his wheels, though not enough for many. He got injured and he was at the helm of a 3-13 team. However, their O-line can come together and they have a potentially bruising tandem in the backfield to utilise that improved line. They also have the underrated (for me) TE Delanie Walker as a safety-blanket with explosive capabilities which should all aid his growth.
Mariota is probably least likely among the four guys here to sling for 4,500 yards. But he can offer a running threat in the option that none of the others can. In 2015 he only rushed 34 times but in those snapshots he showed his wheels. As he becomes more comfortable in the offence, we should expect to see his opportunities increase. There will be a mix of designed plays and a couple of ‘panic button’ options if plays break down. That fail-safe in an offence can be crucial and I get the feeling the Titans will need it.
I’d expect his numbers to look like 3,000 yards passing, maybe 20-25 TD, single digit INTs and then rushing around 500 yards and anywhere from 4-8 TDs.
Mariota is poised to have a good season but on a bad team. I can’t for the life of me see them getting to more than five wins. Really, I see them with less. Mariota would have to exceed expectations outrageously to get them to a .500 record. Yet he can still lead, grow and get this team primed for better things.
3) Blake Bortles
The Jags feel fun these days. To me, in the past, I’ve not warmed to them. The owner that has dabbled in owning an English football team to not much success, a minor market, a mess at Qube and just generally not much to cheer during their London residency. But last season, they decided to air it out. Bortles has issues with technique and with his decision-making. They are issues. But then he is a big man. He can throw and he has dynamic, exciting WRs who can make big plays. The Ben Roethlisberger comparisons, to me, are way too soon and way too simple. Bortles has traits and they worked well last year. But this was still a 5-11 team.
Bortles has faced criticism for padding his stats but, whatever we think of that (and it is a little unjust), he threw for 35 TDs last season. 35! That’s impressive!
With the D looking poised to improve (as noted in the ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ piece) then this improvement should be mirrored in the situational play the offence find themselves in.
Hurns and Robinson are a fantastic duo with massive upside. Julius Thomas should be more adapted to the scheme and fitter and could be a top 5 TE this year, Chris Ivory, whatever you think of his injury history, adds some power to the backfield with TJ Yeldon.
A more balanced offence may bring Bortles stats back down to earth which would be no bad thing. It’s easier to protect the ball when you’re not heaving it about. However, Bortles by his very nature and by the construct of this passing game will be making big plays. So I think he could be pushing 4,000 yards (down on last year), 26-30 TDs (rather than 35) and 12-14 INTs (a reduction from 18 last year).
If Bortles can continue his trajectory, keep slinging it around but showing slightly better decision-making, the Jags could be fun. Still not play-off bound but fun nonetheless.
4) Brock Osweiler
$72m, coming from the Super Bowl champs and he is fourth in a recently weak division? Am I blinded by my love of Peyton Manning? (look, I love him. I know his failings; I know the conversation about the GOAT but he is mine. Always…. weird, huh? I don’t mind #PM18 for life.) Am I not thinking about the surrounding cast, the excellent coaching of OB (going to refer to him ever thus after last year’s Hard Knocks)?
I am, but I’m not convinced. The body of evidence to date doesn’t fill me with confidence given that his record as a starter wasn’t amazing. Yes, he was at the helm of a team to win against New England but he also played poorly in losing, he had a very strong set of guys around him and he didn’t perform as well as he could. I know he came in mid-season, it’s hard to come in relief and you have the massive shadow of PM18 behind you but in the tape I saw, I wasn’t impressed.
Houston has invested a lot in the offence this off-season. Nuk Hopkins is lights out. Lamar Miller could be a top 5 back. And that D…JJ Watt is all I need to say (pending his health!). Houston could be favourites for the division. But at Qube, they have the biggest unknown. It’s an expensive unknown and I could be massively wrong on him…
Predicting stats, or highlighting certain stats, is hard with so little to work with. I think the Texans will be looking for a savvy guy who can protect the ball but, unlike last year, can uncork it and make things happen. In 2016, Osweiler will likely need to be pushing 3,600-4,000 yards if the Texans are to repeat winning the dicision. The TDs and INT numbers could both be high because I think he will make bad choices under pressure.
This division should be much more interesting than last year and, if everything breaks right, two play-off teams could emerge. The Qube play should be at a high level and the top three, at least, could provide some fun to this formerly moribund division.
With Luck, I’m picking him to have a very, very good season that might not be quite good enough to propel the Colts to the division title.
Mariota and Bortles will be fun to watch on improving team but could ultimately helm 8-8 teams. Osweiler, fourth in this list, could be on his second consecutive division winning team and lead a Texans team that appears to be built (strong D, improved ground game) to go deep in the play-offs.
So what do these rankings mean? They mean we all love the Qube position. It is the most divisive in football, opinions formed and changed by our own internal prejudices, how we view the game, what we like, what we don’t, what we value, what we don’t. I think the Texans have the best roster in the division and the weakest Qube. The Colts could now be the most unbalanced roster, weakest on D and yet Andrew Luck could drive them to the play-offs.
The AFC South should at least see some really fun Qube play this year.
Most Passing Yards: Andrew Luck
Most TDs: Andrew Luck
Most INTS: Brock Osweiler
Most Rushing Yards: Marcus Mariota
Most Rushing TDs: Marcus Mariota