Stacking the NFC North Quarterbacks

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The NFC North could look a lot different in 2021. Ash Thompson ranks

the entire division’s quarterback rooms from top to bottom.

The NFC North will likely stack along the lines of the quality of play teams get from their QB spot. There is a reason that much of the football world looks at a quarterback’s win-loss record while not doing the same for running backs, wide receivers, or defensive players. There is no individual player in the ultimate team sport who has more of an effect on the outcome of a game. As much as the Lions fanbase galvanized around Matthew Stafford and the idea that QB wins are not a stat, the first thing Dan Campbell said about his new quarterback is that he’s a winner. There has been a lot of upheaval across the NFC North at the quarterback position. As many as three teams could be starting new players at the most important position in the game.

Unless Kellen Mond is much better than most people think he is, the Minnesota Vikings will spend at least one more season with Kirk Cousins at the helm of the offense. Nate Stanley looks like the QB3 in the twin cities. The Vikings receiver group is incredibly productive with two legitimate all-pro candidates on their roster. Even if Mond is forced into action, the Vikings are in a good spot to break in a rookie. well, other than their offensive line, which looks like it might be a bunch of traffic cones connected by dental floss despite adding rookie Christian Darrisaw. That is no change for the Vikings. Cousins has been working with a patchwork line for his entire tenure.

The Mitchell Trubisky era has definitely ended in Chicago. It is merely a matter of whether Bears rookie Justin Fields can overtake Andy Dalton for the job Nick Foles is still on the roster but he’s clearly the odd man out. That may be by merit or because the regime needs to sell hope and Foles did not deliver any last year. The Bears skill-position group is nowhere near as explosive as the Vikings, which will likely affect the quality of their QB play significantly. This would be the worst offensive skill position group in the division without question if they had not franchise tagged Allen Robinson. Dalton or Foles may get the nod over Fields as an act of mercy.

You may have heard that there are some contentions between Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers? I think the more interesting thing that happened this offseason was that Green Bay signed veteran backup Blake Bortles with Jordan Love just one year into his career. The Green Bay Packers have absolutely no idea what Love is, and they seem a little reluctant to show us. Bortles is the kind of streaky veteran that can absolutely derail the momentum a young QB is building with three consecutive games of good Blake. Lions fans should be hoping that is Rodgers is not playing, Bortles is. We know what Blake Bortles is. Of course, none of that matters when Rodgers shows up for training camp. The Packers had four solid receiving options returning, and they’ve added more this offseason.

Finally, the Lions moved on from the player attached to pretty much all of my positive memories of the franchise since 1999. Matthew Stafford is no longer a factor in the North, but frankly, Jared Goff is likely going to stack into a similar spot as I would have had Staford in the northern arms race. The Lions stole Tim Boyle from the Pack and brought back David Blough to compete for the backup spot. Clearly, they were trying to create a quarterback controversy. Did that sarcasm come across in text form? The Lions backup quarterbacks are not very good. The Lions have one shining hope for competent play. Their receivers complicate this ranking, however. A quarterback can only hit the receiver in stride every time without fail. He can’t make the guy at the other end catch it.¬†Four teams, 12 names, one list from worst to best quarterbacks in the NFC North. Enjoy:

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12. Nate Stanley, Minnesota Vikings

The first “People also ask” that shows up with a google search for Nate Stanley’s name is unsurprising. “Is Nate Stanley still with the Vikings” is a reasonable question. The Iowa product was a three-time team captain in college, but honestly, if the QB1 isn’t a team captain that’s a reason to run screaming, rather than this being an endorsement. He’s the “Big Guy with Good Arm” kind of quarterback and in college, he struggled to hit open targets on short throws. Stanley is a filler player, with no experience, and I only put him in the number three spot for the Vikings with a coin flip.

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11. David Blough, Detroit Lions

I do not understand the fascination Lions fans have with David Blough. He gets the nod over Stanley at the bottom of the North’s QB stack because he has game experience at the NFL level. However, that experience showed us that Blough is not good. The story is: 6 games, 4 TDs, and 7 INTs. His record was 0-5. He has a career rating of 62.2. His QBR in 2019 was 34, and that is the only significant playing time he has received.¬† He is going to make the team, he might even end up as the number two, but that’s because of where the Lions other backup quarterback lands on this list.

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10. Tim Boyle, Detroit Lions

Preseason games do not matter, and Tim Boyle is the shining example of how absolutely NFL teams believe that. Boyle has been the preseason superstar of the league at QB for the last few seasons, and the Packers were so impressed that they drafted Jordan Love, then a year later signed Blake Bortles and let Doyle walk. There have been no reports from Lions camp that Boyle looks like a competent NFL quarterback. Frankly, I put Boyle ahead of Blough only because we have positive game tape from Boyle even if it was the preseason, and Blough lacks that. The Lions season certainly does not rest on whether Boyle or Blough gets the nod at QB2. Which QB who can’t hit the broad side of a barn from 10 yards away gets the nod isn’t relevant to the Lions’ hopes and dreams.

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9. Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers

The last time we watched Jordan Love play football, he was bitterly disappointing as a college senior. I was actually higher on Love as a prospect than many, but early indications are that I was wrong. Reports from Packers OTAs tell of a quarterback who isn’t hitting receivers with token defense to overcome. He is getting his first pro reps because Rodgers is not there. He has not been doing much with those reps beyond showing the Packers precisely how badly they messed up in drafting Love, the only first-round offensive skill position player they took in the first round since… Aaron Rodgers.

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8. Kellen Mond

Mond impressed at the Senior Bowl, but round three quarterbacks almost never amount to anything. He has a solid set of tools but played in a wonky college offense with mixed results. He’s more likely to be a nameless and faceless footnote on Vikings history than the next Dak Prescott. However, there is no rookie QB with a softer landing spot if Mond is forced into action. The stellar receiving corp and loaded backfield have made up for some sketchy offensive line play for Cousins, and they would likely do the same for the more mobile Mond. He gets the nod over Love because I believe that if he were to get in, Mond would thrive, where I believe if Love were to get in, the Packers would collapse.

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7. Blake Bortles

This is where the group of players who have proven they actually belong in the NFL in some capacity begins. Bortles was a draft bust in Jacksonville and his play has been up and down, to say the least. But Bortles is the kind of guy that a good team should have as their backup. If the starter goes down in week 16, and you need someone to come in, play the four-game stretch of their lives, and get the great team to where they need to go, Bortles could be that player. Of course, Bortles could also be the player that throws 10 interceptions in three games to end off that year before leading a team that looked like it was getting a playoff bye to a wildcard exit. That low basement is what kept Bortles from getting the second chance that most first-round pick quarterbacks find somewhere in the league.

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6. Nick Foles

Nick Foles is a proven quality backup in the NFL. He’s not the guy you want to rely on as your starter, but if he has to come off the bench and give the team a few games of semi-competent quarterback play, a Superbowl win with Philadelphia in that role tells you he can definitely do that. Foles is a player whose highs are not as high as Bortles, but his lows are also not as low. In Chicago, he was not able to overcome a poor skill position group and lead the team out of the Trubisky era in 2020. Foles just is not that kind of player. However, he is a good team guy who has played for a few different franchises and is entering the part of his career where he needs to decide whether he wants to become a coach. He is probably done as a starter but he has value on the sideline.

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5. Justin Fields

In the kind of move Lions’ fans can all hope backfires predictably on the Bears, the front office and coaching combo have tried to lessen the heat of their seats by grabbing a first-round quarterback. Fields was my QB2 in this draft class. He has the arm, the legs, and the temperament to be great. It remains to be seen whether he has the mental toughness to make it through the coming coaching shake-up that the bears seem primed for if 2021 results in anything short of a playoff berth. He will make some heroic throws if he gets on the field, but the Bears staff remain adamant that Fields is not the starter in 2021. He is a tick slower than you’d like to come off his reads, but Ohio State’s receivers were going to get open more often than not, so waiting is understandable.

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4. Andy Dalton

Andy Dalton has served as the shorthand for being the worst quarterback in the league who should probably be a starter somewhere for a long time. He is the middle-of-the-road player in every aspect of the position. His arm is good enough, his legs are good enough to avoid pressure. He has a pretty good grasp of what defenses are doing when he’s not saddled with terrible coaching. However, I think he is probably saddled with terrible coaching again. There is little reason to believe anything else about the Bears head coach after watching his development plan for Trubisky. Dalton will not be the reason the Bears are terrible if they are, but he will also not be the reason they are great. He is like the Vanilla ice cream in a good strawberry milkshake that gets its strawberry flavor from actual strawberries.

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3. Jared Goff

Jared Goff has performed at a legitimate pro bowl level for multiple NFL seasons. However, those seasons were not the last two, and he clearly took a step back in LA. He may not have Matthew Stafford’s arm, but he isn’t Chad Pennington of Jeff Blake either. go ahead and google their highlights children I’ll wait. Every ball over 20 yards is coming straight down, that’s the TLDW (too lazy, didn’t watch). Goff’s physical tools are what got him to the first overall pick. His 4.8 speed and history of spread play made him an odd fit for the play-action rollout-based offense of Sean McVay, but the two co-mingled successfully for multiple seasons. If the Lions can find a better match for Goff’s physical abilities than McVay did in the last two seasons, Goff could reclaim the lofty heights he held as the QB who got the Rams to a Superbowl. Goff has not been that guy recently, but it’s in there. The Lions just need to bring it out. Whether the Lions have the skill position players to give Goff a chance is a matter for another day. The next guy on the list, however, is a shining example of why optimism regarding Goff is completely reasonable.

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2. Kirk Cousins

There is a lot of unreasonable love and hate out there for Kirk Cousins. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Cousins has never taken a team as far as Goff, and he’s never been the primary reason for a team’s success, like Goff. Honestly, the only reason Cousins ranks higher on this list than Goff, is that while Goff struggled in 2020, Cousins had his best season as a pro. The relative quality of their skill position players aside These two quarterbacks are very similar. At Jared Goff’s age, Cousins had started 8 games, thrown 18 TDs and 19 INTs. He has been a top ten QB in the NFL or close to it ever since. Cousins is no hall of farmer, but he is a high-level starter in the league at the top of his game mentally.

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1. Aaron Rodgers

The Green Bay Packers quarterback history has some great players in it. Aaron Rodgers is the best of them. His current relationship with the team is an indictment of the way the Packers do business. There are two partners in any relationship, and both bear fault when the relationship goes sour, but the Packer way has gone this route for many players. The Packers have always been one of those teams obsessed with being out on a player a year early rather than a year late, rather than finding roles for their declining veterans to be productive. As a result, they’ve had massive holes at important positions for Rodgers’ entire career. Their lack of willingness to ever go all-in is the reason that the Packers have only one Superbowl in the 15 years of the Rodgers era. They’ve had a 2 karat ring with a 10 karat rock for most of Rodgers’ career and he knows it. Rodgers likely has only a couple of seasons left in the tank, and he’s hunting rings. While the greatest quarterback in franchise history goes all-in, the Packers are looking for an out.

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Where Does That Leave the Lions?

So, the Lions have the worst QB room in the North, but the third-best starter. Obviously, barring injury, their room is fine, but I’d still like them to consider fixing that problem. Not because winning three games after a Goff injury is better than winning two, but because this Lions team with Tim Boyle starting likely wins 0 games in 2021. That, my friends, can not be how the Lions start a rebuild. There is a difference between a group of 53 guys giving it their all every week despite the fact they’ve been written off by the national media; and a group of 53 guys who know on Monday that they’re losing Sunday. Goff hurt means the Lions are the latter, and we’ve seen that before. Few franchises have seen it more often and more consistently than the Lions.

One best-case scenario for the Lions is that with Dalton and Fields in place, the Bears are willing to flip Foles for a conditional 2023 7th round pick swap (read-nothing) for the minor cap relief. They actually lose space by cutting Foles so they’ll have an expensive QB3 if they can’t find a trade. There are 9m in guarantees left on his deal and his cap hit is only $6.6m. Foles is not a good starting quarterback, but he would at least let the Lions run an NFL offense if Goff went down. His cap hit in 2021 under his current deal would be $4m, with an $8m hit in 2022, $5m of which is guaranteed. With the Salary cap being the complete farce that it is, none of that means anything, the Lions could make those numbers look however they wanted to fit their long and short-term plans. Foles is a proven good locker room guy, and the Lions absolutely need as many of those as they can get to set the table for whatever the team is in the near future when they’re legitimately looking to climb the standings. This year they’re shuffling the deck chairs around, but Foles is a potentially comfortable le deck chair.

Next up in this series, I’ll look at the receivers that these guys are competing for the right to throw to.

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About the Author

Ash Thompson
Ash Thompson is a fanatical football fan, and less fanatical hockey fan despite his Canadian heritage. He is sorry aboot that. His spirit animal is a beaver with a shark's head. He enjoys maple syrup and tacos, but never at the same time.