Cassel: Ranking Mac Jones, Herbert among top 10 QBs drafted since 2018 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Every young quarterback needs time to develop within a system. How their teams surround them with personnel also plays a major role in their success.
The ceiling for some of the quarterbacks drafted in the last four years is higher than where they’re ranked right now, just based on their circumstances and the consistency factor.
Mac Jones seems to have that consistency factor already. You know what you’re going to get each week, and that’s just going to grow his confidence in the Patriots’ system. So, he could definitely jump into the top five on this list.
But where does Jones rank right now among the top 10 quarterbacks taken in the NFL Draft since 2018? Let’s break it down.
1. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
If we did this exercise two years ago, Allen would be way down this list. He’s a great example of somebody who was raw and needed development, but they let him play through his ups and downs earlier in his career.
He was with the same offensive coordinator for a while, he was able to grow in that system and play to his strengths, and now he’s one of the top QBs in the league. He’s big, he’s physical, he can run, he can make every throw, and he can create.
He’s the scariest dual-threat quarterback in the game — maybe that the game has ever seen. We know what he can do with his legs, but now he’s pushing the ball downfield with such high success and efficiency.
He deserves a ton of credit, particularly given the injuries Baltimore sustained early in the year with their two starting running backs going down and injuries at wide receiver. A lot has been put on his plate, but the way he’s kept his team in games, I think he deserves to be second here.
Like Allen, Murray has made a ton of growth and development in Arizona’s system over the last two years. Given how he’s playing both inside and outside the pocket, the plays he’s creating with his legs and his success with off-schedule plays, he’s absolutely in the top three.
4. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
He’s consistent. That’s the thing about Burrow that I love. Not only can he make all of the throws, but he understands his personnel and his matchups. He’s a smart quarterback.
He’s consistently good week in and week out, and he’s taken that next step this year. It does help when you have a wide receiver like Ja’Marr Chase who can take a slant route for an 82-yard house call, but he’s thriving with a good supporting cast.
Herbert stepped onto the field as rookie against Kansas City in a very unorthodox situation when Tyrod Taylor punctured his lung, and he took the defending Super Bowl champions to overtime. He hasn’t taken his foot off the gas since and just continues to get better.
He can make every throw, he’s athletic, he’s big, he’s smart, and he processes well.
6. Mac Jones, New England Patriots
I’d take Jones ahead of Baker Mayfield right now, specifically from a system fit perspective. He’s the perfect fit for New England. He’s got a great coaching staff around him that knows how to bring the best out of individual players. I can use myself as an example: I hadn’t started a game since high school, and we went 11-5 in 2008.
Mac continues to get better. He’s smart and processes the game well, but he also has the accuracy, the anticipation and the leadership. Sometimes leadership gets overlooked when you’re evaluating talent, but it has to come into play, because how those guys respond to you matters.
This is a rookie who’s not playing like a rookie. He’s calm, he’s collected, and he’s playing at a really high level.
7. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
There’s part of me that wants to put Mayfield ahead of Jones because of his accomplishments: leading the Browns to an 11-5 record and winning a playoff game. But another part of me feels there are way too many inconsistencies with his up-and-down play.
The other factor is that he’s had a lot of coaching changes already, and that’s always a difficult situation. I’ve been in those circumstances where you have to learn a new system and new terminology every year. That can be taxing on a quarterback and really stunt their growth.
8. Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Jones is another guy in a difficult situation, but he’s getting better. He’s made vast improvements in his game, and he’s a versatile quarterback. He can run the ball, and he’s taken advantage of that. He’s been a victim of circumstance with a supporting cast that has suffered a lot of injuries.
9. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Lawrence has tremendous raw potential. It’s just a matter of whether the Jaguars can surround him, protect him and put him in a position to be successful. He has the ability to be higher on this list because of that raw athleticism that the guys at the top of the list have.
10. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Tua has tons of talent but has struggled with consistency. He’s also 1-6 right now, so is he really better than Sam Darnold, who’s 3-3 in Carolina? I think this is a toss-up between Tua and Darnold, because the other rookies in the 2021 class really haven’t played that much.
Editor’s Note: Matt Cassel played 14 years in the NFL as a quarterback, including four with the Patriots from 2005 to 2008. He serves as an analyst for NBC Sports Boston, appearing on Pre/Postgame Live, as a guest on Tom Curran’s Patriots Talk Podcast every Thursday, and as a columnist each week during the season.