NFL

Ranking the 10 NFL quarterbacks with most to prove in 2023, from Russell Wilson to Lamar Jackson

What can’t an NFL starting quarterback do?

Being an NFL quarterback is the hardest job in sports. You have to be a leader, a CEO, a student, a teacher, a marketing face, all while holding the hopes and dreams of millions of your team’s fans on your shoulders. That’s not easy work.

There are only 32 starting jobs in the NFL, so each and every passer is under immense amounts of pressure at any given moment. Some passers, though, have more to prove than others.

There will always be doubters, critics and skeptics (and haters, for the new generation), so some passers carry a little bit bigger of a chip on their shoulders than others entering the new league year. Even former league MVPs still have something to prove, which isn’t a surprise in the helter-skelter world of pro football.

From Lamar Jackson to Mac Jones, here are the 10 quarterbacks with the most to prove to fans, their teams and themselves entering the 2023 season.

MORE: Predicting the 2023 NFL season and Super Bowl 58 winner

10. Lamar Jackson

2022 stats: 12 games (12 starts), 62.3 percent completion rate, 2,242 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 85.2 PFF grade (72.3 passing grade); 86 rushing attempts, 765 yards, three touchdowns.

Since Lamar Jackson’s MVP-winning season in 2019, he hasn’t quite reached the same offensive highs as a passer. Depending where you opt to place the blame, a fair amount of that can be attributed to Greg Roman, whose run-heavy scheme accentuated Baltimore’s rushing offense. Roman’s offense, though, also nerfed the passing game, which was a seeming sticking point for Jackson and others in recent years.

With Roman out and Todd Monken in, Jackson will get his wish of “ownership” of the offense, and all that comes with. With a new scheme, new weapons and a fat, new contract, Jackson will have to rekindle that MVP form and leave no doubt that he’s The Man moving forward for Baltimore.

9. Josh Allen

2022 stats: 17 games (17 starts), 63.3 completion rate, 4,282 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 91.6 PFF grade (85.1 passing grade); 67 rushing attempts, 762 yards, seven touchdowns. 

Allen is great. No matter where or how you rank them, he’s among the league’s best quarterbacks, alongside Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow and whoever else you decide to throw into the “elite” territory. But, when the calendar flipped to  January, something flipped in Allen last season.

He couldn’t quite capitalize on his epic playoff run of the year prior, instead finishing out a promising Bills 2022 season with three interceptions and three touchdowns across two games, losing in a sloppy divisional game to the Bengals. Allen also had a pretty mediocre stretch through the year that set off alarm bells among analysts, talking heads and fans alike. 

This year’s Bills squad is among the best in a conference loaded with top-tier teams and even better quarterbacks. Allen is going to have to separate himself from the pack and prove he’s the best of the best of the best in the NFL.

Brock Purdy

8. The 49ers QB room

2022 stats: Purdy — Seven games (five starts), 67.1 completion rate, 1,374 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, four interceptions, 76.6 PFF grade (74.2 passing grade); 16 rushing attempts, 13 yards, one touchdown. Darnold — Six games (six starts), 1,143 passing yards, seven touchdowns, three interceptions, 62.2 PFF grade (65.5 passing grade); 17 rushing attempts, 106 yards, two touchdowns. 

It’s pretty clear that Kyle Shanahan has a type.

With Trey Lance gone, the brunt of the burden of the offense falls squarely on the shoulderpads of Brock Purdy. Mr. Irrelevant was anything but in 2022, helping guide the 49ers to the NFC championship game before an elbow injury doomed a potential magical finish to a surprising campaign.

Purdy is built in the same mold as Jimmy Garoppolo: Both operated Shanahan’s offense with great efficiency, but little pizazz. The numbers also paint a very similar picture between the two. *Insert “Corporate wants you to find the difference between this picture and this picture” meme here.*

NFL head coaches have a tendency of showcasing their ego a bit when it comes to personnel decisions, and jettisoning Lance, a quarterback who the 49ers traded two future first-round picks for, paints the coaching staff in a bit critical of a light.

To that end, all eyes will be on Purdy (and to a lesser extent Sam Darnold, who “beat out” Lance for the QB2 job) in 2023. If the 49ers falter in 2023 thanks to the QB play, then Purdy’s job might not be the only one on the line at the end of the season. Purdy will have to prove he’s more than just a less-handsome Garoppolo — and that Shanahan’s faith in him is warranted.

7. Sam Howell

2022 stats: One game (one start), 57.9 percent completion rate, 168 yards, one touchdown, one interception, 68.5 PFF grade (61.5 passing grade); two rushing attempts, 35 yards, one touchdown.

It might be more of a Ron Rivera issue than a Sam Howell issue, but it feels like quarterback play has always been secondary to Rivera-coached teams. Since he’s taken the job with the Commanders, the list of starters isn’t too impressive: Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Taylor Heinicke and Carson Wentz  have all started games for Washington. None have stuck for one reason or another.

The Commanders attempted to upgrade the position in a meaningful way with a young passer in Dwayne Haskins in 2019, but the organization and Haskins couldn’t quite make it work, leading to his release. Enter Sam Howell.

Howell was a mid-round pick of the Commanders in 2022, with organizational hopes that taking a flyer on a former potential first-round talent would work out. It’s pretty rare when non-first round QBs elevate themselves to franchise passers, so the pressure is on Howell to not only produce but leave no doubt as the team’s No. 1 quarterback in 2023 and beyond.

Justin Fields

6. Justin Fields

2022 stats: 15 games (15 starts), 60.4 completion rate, 2,242 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 70.2 PFF grade (54.4 passing grade); 89 rushing attempts, 1,143 rushing yards, eight touchdowns. 

Fields set Twitter (or X) on fire with a 3-for-3, 129-yard passing performance in the first Bears’ preseason game this offseason. Well, Fields had an average depth of target of -2.3 yards in that game, meaning he didn’t do anything overly impressive. 

There’s no denying that Fields is an electric athlete, and his running ability has buoyed his offensive production through the first two years of his career. That said, Fields hasn’t had the greatest skill position cast around him, but that’s something that GM Ryan Poles tried to rectify this offseason.

Now armed with No 1 receiver D.J. Moore out wide along with favorite target Darnell Mooney and a healthy heaping of Chase Claypool, Fields will have better (but still not great) weapons to work with. We should know a lot more of who he is as a passer after a second year in Luke Getsy’s system and with an improved skill position corps. If not, it may be back to the drawing board in 2024 for the Bears at quarterback. 

NFL RANKINGS 2023: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | Head coaches | Defense

5. Aaron Rodgers

2022 stats: 17 games (17 starts), 64.6 completion rate, 3,695 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 77.5 PFF grade (75.0 passing grade); 22 rushing attempts, 90 yards, one touchdown.

The three-year breakup between Aaron Rodgers and the Packers finally happened, and both sides look better off for it. The Packers are all in on finding out who Jordan Love is in a glorified one-year tryout, while Aaron Rodgers has quickly fallen in love with New York (and New Jersey).

A year removed from winning the second of two consecutive MVP awards (his fourth overall), Rodgers is trying to prove he’s still got something left in the tank after an un-Rodgers-like 2022 season. Some of that can be attributed to a thumb injury, some of it has to do with a young receiving corps that wasn’t exactly up to Rodgers’ standard.

But, the divorce has been finalized and it didn’t take Rodgers long to find a new beau. To his credit, he’s done and said all the right things since getting to New York. Any New Yorker will tell you, though, talk is cheap, and all that will matter is Rodgers playing well en route to a playoff appearance — and maybe helping the Jets along to a long-awaited second Lombardi.

Aaron Rodgers, Jets

4. Derek Carr

2022 stats: 15 games (15 starts), 60.8 percent completion rate, 3,622 yards, 24 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 66.6 PFF grade (65.4 passing grade); 10 rushing attempts, 102 yards, no touchdowns. 

Carr and the Raiders had a bit of an acrimonious split. Carr was benched in favor of Jarrett Stidham, who played well for the Raiders — but Las Vegas ultimately parted with Stidham, too, leading to questions about the move in the first place.

No one will knock Carr for signing a big-money contract; that’s his prerogative and his right as a player, after all. Still, plenty will have questions of what Derek Carr is as a quarterback: Is he a guy who’s just good enough to right the ship, or is he the captain of it?

Those are fair questions to ask, even if Carr never had the supporting cast he needed to thrive in Vegas. It’ll be especially sweet for Carr to prove he’s the goods while Josh McDaniels runs it back with old friend Jimmy Garoppolo in Sin City. Vegas’ gamble may pay off, but it’s hard to see a ceiling where it’s higher with Jimmy G than it was with Derek Carr.

3. Daniel Jones

2022 stats: 16 games (16 starts), 67.2 percent completion rate, 3,206 yards, 15 touchdowns, five interceptions, 76.0 PFF grade (71.1 passing grade); 65 rushing attempts, 703 yards, seven touchdowns.

Daniel Jones threw a whopping *checks notes* 15 touchdowns to five interceptions in a totally *flips page* OK 2022 season. Giants fans will be quick to tell you that Jones did that with a makeshift receiver room, which is fair. Jones was throwing to waiver wire pickups by the end of the season, with Isaiah Hodgins grabbing four TDs for Big Blue.

But was his performance good enough to prove that Jones is the next franchise passing great? Well, the Giants seem to potentially think so, giving him a sizable contract extension following the season that will pay him around $40 million per year on its face. 

This year, Jones has more options out wide — Parris Campbell and Jalin Hyatt the two “marquee” additions — with a low-cost, high-ceiling trade for tight end Darren Waller adding to a potentially very good skill position group. That means Jones will have to take a big leap forward from top half of the NFL to top-10 guy. He’s already outplayed his draft expectations, but he’ll have to do more — a lot more — to earn the faith of football fans who still have questions over his viability as a true franchise quarterback.

Mac Jones

2. Mac Jones

2022 stats: 14 games (14 starts), 65.2 percent completion rate, 2,997 yards, 14 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 67.5 PFF grade (68.7 passing grade); 27 rushing attempts, 102 yards, one touchdown.

Historically, Bill Belichick has marched to the beat of his own drummer at quarterback. You’d have to go back to the early 2000s when he chose sixth-round pick Tom Brady over his highly paid, former No. 1 overall QB Drew Bledsoe as the team’s passer.

For two decades after that, Belichick didn’t have to worry about handing the keys to a different quarterback. Then, there was the ill-fated Cam Newton season, and the arrival of Mac Jones.

While Belichick deserves credit for being one of the greatest head coaches of all time, the bizarre Patriots quarterback carousel of 2022 stole headlines, which is pretty unbecoming for Belichick squads. While Belichick can do things in his own Belichick-ian way, Jones deserves some heat — and doubt — for what transpired in 2022, as well.

This year, Jones has Bill O’Brien as his OC and not a “braintrust” (a term used very loosely) of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge running the offense. That should work in his favor. He also is dealing with a totally reworked quarterback room; surprisingly, Bailey Zappe, who was the team’s stand-in while Jones was injured in 2022, was waived and sent to the practice squad. Zappe and a recently claimed Matt Corral will compete for the QB2 job behind Jones.

This year, Jones will have to put the turmoil of 2022 firmly behind him and try and recapture a little bit of that 2021 efficiency. If not, Belichick probably won’t be afraid to pull the plug and figure out QB once again entering 2024 — or sooner.

1. Russell Wilson

2022 stats: 15 games (15 starts), 60.5 completion rate, 3,540 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 66.2 PFF grade (64.5 passing grade); 27 rushing attempts, 276 yards, three touchdowns.

There’s no quarterback in football with more pressure to perform in 2022 than Russell Wilson. 

Yes, Nathaniel Hackett set the NFL world ablaze with some bozo clock management and a poor offense, leading to his dismissal. Yes, Hackett was good for a soundbite a week. Through it all, though, Wilson was the constant.

Hackett’s short-pass focused west-coast offense seemed like a misfit for Wilson and his bombs-away mentality and skillset. Through the year, though, there were plenty of headlines that made Wilson the butt of jokes and had people questioning if he was 

Now, Wilson has no more personal office. He probably won’t be doing anymore high knees on a plane while his teammates try and sleep. He has one of the NFL’s best offensive minds behind him, with a skill position group that should fit him.

If Wilson doesn’t show signs of rekindling his career in the early stages of the season, then expect the Broncos locker room to continue to splinter, even with a new bench boss.

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