By Steve Silverman
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The 2017 season will kick off in a little more than two months, but all 32 teams in Roger Goodell’s world have come up with their basic plans for how they will attack the season.
While the effectiveness of the current setup of OTAs and other offseason events can be argued, it does give coaches the opportunity to map out the upcoming season. I still prefer the old-school style training camp that included two-a-day practices, but those days are long gone.
Nearly every team knows what it needs to do at the quarterback position, and while Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, and Russell Wilson are known commodities, there are a number of quarterbacks that appear to be on the verge of breaking through to the elite level.
In this piece, we look at five quarterbacks who have a chance to take a big jump up the ladder this season in terms of overall effectiveness. We’re not talking solely about statistical performance, but the ability to lead their teams on key drives in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winston has shown steady improvement in his first two season. The first part of his rookie year was a struggle when it came to accuracy and turning the ball over, but there has been a steady march in the right direction since.
Winston is a middle of the pack quarterback in terms of his 86.1 passer rating, but he completed 60.8 percent of his passes and had a 28-to-18 TD-to-interception ratio, and that’s a solid jumping off point for the upcoming season.
Winston’s steady climb and the addition of free agent wideout DeSean Jackson and the drafting of tight end O.J. Howard should give the quarterback a full cupboard of targets this season.
Winston is a high-energy performer with infectious enthusiasm. He has good pocket presence and knows where the rush is coming from, and that is essential because he is just a slightly better than average athlete.
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
When Carr was in the lineup for the Raiders, they were in first place in the AFC West and in the driver’s seat for homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs. When he went down with his season-ending leg injury, the Raiders suffered a dramatic fall.
It is clear the Raiders believe in him as evidenced by the five-year, $125 million contract they gave him last week. He had a 96.7 passer rating, completed 63.8 percent of his passes and had a remarkable 28-6 TD-interception ratio.
Carr has all but made the jump to elite quarterback. He needs to stay healthy and produce playoff wins. If he achieves the former, that means a playoff confrontation with Brady is likely in the very near future. His ability to execute in the fourth quarter against the Patriots will define his career
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Mariota got educated during his first two NFL seasons, and while he suffered a season-ending broken leg last year, he appears to be good to go with training camp approaching.
Mariota understands how opposing defenses are going to come after him, and he excels at finding the weak spots and attacking. Mariota completed 61.2 percent of his passes and had a 26-9 TD-interception ratio last season.
The X-factor with Mariota is his ability to escape pressure and make big plays with his legs. Opponents must respect this, and the addition of rookie wideout Corey Davis should give him a skilled player who is not going to drop the ball.
If Mariota stays healthy and Davis fulfills expectations, the Titans’ QB should have a brilliant year.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
After a wonderful rookie season, Prescott comes into 2017 with the burden of extreme expectations.
He ran Tony Romo out of town and into the CBS broadcast booth, and he comes into the new season after completing 67.8 percent of his throws, recording a 23-4 TD-interception ratio and a spectacular 104.9 rating.
Prescott has excellent support from his offensive line and from Ezekiel Elliott in the running game, but he has not had to face adversity yet. How will he react to a bad game and what happens when he must play through injuries?
If he has a three-interception game, will he start to shrink and lose confidence, or can he shake it off? All of these questions must be answered before he can rise to the level of elite signal-caller.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
There has been little doubt about Tannehill’s physical skills throughout his career. He had flashed his talent for years. But he rarely displayed the consistency that coaches and general managers are looking for from their quarterback.
However, when Adam Gase became the Dolphins’ head coach, Tannehill appeared to turn the corner. He completed 67.1 percent of his passes and had a 93.5 rating. He needs to improve his 19-12 TD-interception ratio, but if he can do that, Miami will have the best chance of challenging New England in the AFC East.
Something was blocking Tannehill from reaching a consistent level earlier in his career, and now he appears to be on track. He should be able to come back from the knee injury that kept him out of the final three games and continue his ascension.
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