Which new NFL team QBs are poised to make the leap in 2023? Aaron Rodgers stands out, but there are others

Editor’s Note: This is part 5 of a five part deep dive series NFL Quarterbacks make sudden, massive strides that we call “QB Leap Week.” The following has been released so far:

Trading in veteran QBs was the obvious strategy for NFL teams in 2022 after the Buccaneers and Rams won Super Bowls in their first seasons with Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford, respectively.

Of course, for the teams that took over Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson, last year completely backfired. All five QBs ranked 28th or worse in the EPA per game among 38 QBs with more than 200 action games last season.

There are a handful of QBs hoping to reverse that trend in 2023 and follow in the footsteps of some of the biggest leaps made by veteran QBs in their first season with a new team.

Drew Bledsoe overcame his infamous injury with the Patriots in 2001 and joined the Bills in 2002. Drew Brees took the stage with New Orleans in 2006. Brett Favre almost reached the Super Bowl with Minnesota in 2009. Ryan Fitzpatrick nearly led the Jets to the playoffs in 2015. “Fitzmagic” remains the only player in Jets history with 30 touchdown passes in a season. Case Keenum seemingly out of nowhere led the Vikings to a 13-3 record in 2017. Ryan Tannehill led the NFL in passer scoring and took the Titans to an AFC championship game in 2019.

Aaron Rodgers is the obvious choice to break into new spots among veteran QBs this year, but the list below shows there could be a surprise or two as well. Here’s a look at which veteran QBs have made the leap in the past, followed by a breakdown of who’s most likely to make it this season (with our predictions in parentheses).

QBs make the jump in first year with new team since 2000

  • 2021 Matthew Stafford (Rams): Won the Super Bowl (4,886 pass yards and 41 pass TD in the regular season)
  • 2020 Tom Brady (Buccaneers): Won the Super Bowl (40 pass TD after 24 last season with the Patriots)
  • 2019 Ryan Tannehill (Titans): Earned the AFC title in the game and led the NFL in yards per attempt and passer rating
  • 2017 Case Keenum (Vikings): 11-3 record, 22 pass TD and 7 int with the Vikings
  • 2015 Tyrod Taylor (bills): 20 pass TD, 6 ints and 568 rush yards in 13 starts
  • 2015 Ryan Fitzpatrick (Jets): 10-6 record and franchise record 31 pass TD
  • 2009 Brett Favre (Vikings): Achieve NFC Championship and earn MVP vote at age 40 (33 Pass TD and 7 Int)
  • 2008 Chad Pennington (Dolphins): Led the NFL in competition and won the AFC East title
  • 2006 Drew Brees (Saints): Led the NFL in pass yards and won the playoff game
  • 2003 Jake Plummer (Broncos): 9-2 record, 15 pass TD and 7 int
  • 2002 Drew Bledsoe (Bills): Franchise record 4,359 passing yards (then)

Aaron Rodgers (Yes)

What happens when you have a ticked four-time MVP QB with a better support cast, including a top-five defense? They have the recipe for another potential MVP and Super Bowl year even as Rodgers nears 40.

Rodgers is arguably coming off the worst season of his career, so there’s plenty of room for improvement. There’s definitely reason to believe he will. He was better last year when Christian Watson showed up and now he’ll have a supporting cast with the Jets that includes promising young stars like Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall. He also reunites with former OC Nathaniel Hackett.

The Jets’ defense should help Rodgers win many more games, and while the offensive line could potentially keep them out of the Super Bowl, it shouldn’t stop him from at least improving his numbers significantly from last year.

Sam Darnold (Yes, if he gets a chance)

Sam Darnold and the 49ers seem like a perfect match on paper. The former No. 3 overall is still just 26 and is now paired with QB whisperer Kyle Shanahan and one of football’s best squads.

Darnold was actually in the league’s top 10 per game in the EPA in his six starts from Weeks 12-18 last year. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, his third-place graduation rate beat expectations for the entire season. That might actually be a QB finding out.

Based on the 49ers’ QB injury woes over the past year and the question marks surrounding Brock Purdy and Trey Lance, I’d say Darnold will get a chance sometime this year. If it comes early, he’ll be sure to take a dip with San Francisco.

The Saints are betting that Derek Carr will make them into the playoffs this year. He’s still looking for his first playoff win of his career and there’s a good chance he’ll get there. After a poor year in his first season under Josh McDaniels, he’s in a more familiar system with former Raiders head coach Dennis Allen. He’s moving up from a difficult division to the easiest in the league. He’s going from being one of the worst defenses to a potential top 10 unit. In Chris Olave and Alvin Kamara he has guns around him.

The Stars seemed to be pointing towards a playoff entry, but I think that will be the result of an easy division and improved defense and not a leap from Carr. He was an average quarterback in his nine-year career. His average EPA season finish per game over that period is 17th. That’s not quite Matthew Stafford’s move from the Lions to the Rams. That’s when a better QB goes to a better team. Carr didn’t make much of a leap last year when Josh Jacobs won a towering title and Davante Adams joined. So I’m not convinced he’ll play like a top 5 or top 10 QB in 2023.

Jacoby Brissett is a sleeper jump contender if he wins the quarterback starting spot ahead of Sam Howell with the Commanders, but for now it seems Howell is going to lose the job.

However, here’s what I like about Brissett. He consistently handles the ball well and deals damage with his legs, two reasons he was sixth per play in the EPA in 2022, behind Patrick Mahomes, Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen and Jared Goff. Since joining the league in 2016, he has had the same interception rate (1.5 percent) as Tom Brady and Drew Brees. He also has the chance to work with Eric Bieniemy.

Baker Mayfield (unlikely)

Baker Mayfield signed a one-year deal worth up to $8.5 million to compete with Kyle Trask for the Buccaneers’ starting QB spot. Even if he wins the job, he still faces an uphill battle, having been one of the worst quarterbacks in the league for the past two years.

Tampa Bay has below average offensive line and weapons at RB and TE. The Buccaneers’ strength lies with WR with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but both were down last year. Mayfield also has more interceptions than touchdowns in his career as a WR player and was never able to develop much chemistry with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in Cleveland.

The NFC South is the worst division in the NFL, but Mayfield also struggled with Carolina last season.

I would be most surprised if Garoppolo made the jump to the Raiders. Compared to his time in San Francisco, he’s moving to a tougher division, playing with worse talent, a worse head coach and a much worse defense. There are also questions as to whether he will be healthy in 2023 after his broken foot from the 2022 regular season necessitated another operation in March.

Garoppolo was efficient with a very good support line-up in the 49ers but was far too injury-prone and prone to turnovers due to his inability to stretch the field.

This concludes QB Leap Week. The rich tradition of QB jumps should continue in 2023, providing numerous candidates with opportunities to advance or improve with new coaches, teammates or even primaries.

If you’ve been reading “QB Leap Week” all week, I’m picking eight QBs who will make a big step forward in 2023 for a variety of reasons. Aaron Rodgers (new team), Justin Fields (new #1 WR), Trevor Lawrence (new #1 WR), Justin Herbert (new OC), Lamar Jackson (new OC), Anthony Richardson (young QB moving on can) , Kenny Pickett (young QB who can develop further) and Jordan Love (young QB who can develop further).

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