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Four Verts: 2022 QB Class Is What We Thought It Was, While The Time Is Now For Lamar Jackson To Get A Ring | TheSportsDay Four Verts: 2022 QB Class Is What We Thought It Was, While The Time Is Now For Lamar Jackson To Get A Ring | TheSportsDay

Four Verts: 2022 QB class is what we thought it was, while the time is now for Lamar Jackson to get a ring

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One more week until the postseason is officially here. The NFL is about to go through some changes over the next few weeks as the offseason begins for most of the league, but before the coaching carousel begins and franchises futures are addressed, there’s business still left this season.

Everyone was right about the 2022 quarterback class

Sometimes, prognostications are right. Almost everyone who scouted or forecasted the 2022 draft class was low on the quarterback prospects, and it appears that was the correct assessment. One quarterback went in the first round, three went in the third round and there was a litter of QBs on Day 3 that were eventually drafted. Funnily enough, the one quarterback that had no buzz coming in, 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, has become by far the best of a bad group. This group just doesn’t have the juice and it’s apparent based on the fact that most of these teams that took a quarterback are already done with them.

Remember when jokes about “quiet quitting” were all over social media as people were detailing experiences of fading into the background at a job before moving on? That’s kind of what’s happening with Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett, but in the opposite direction. Pickett’s injury slowly phased him toward being benched as the Steelers chose to ride the hot hand with Mason Rudolph for the remainder of the season. That is a clear signal to everyone that the Steelers are, at the very least, pondering what their post-Pickett life looks like already. Pickett hasn’t shown much by way of dynamic ability that would have the Steelers excited about him being the quarterback long-term.

Kenny Pickett's injury has opened the door for Mason Rudolph to start for the Steelers during this season's most important stretch. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)Kenny Pickett's injury has opened the door for Mason Rudolph to start for the Steelers during this season's most important stretch. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Kenny Pickett’s injury has opened the door for Mason Rudolph to start for the Steelers during this season’s most important stretch. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Desmond Ridder and Sam Howell occupy a similar space in Atlanta and Washington, respectively. They were both given the reins to play this year, showed some high-level ability, but far too many negative plays and turnovers for a team to tolerate over the course of an entire season. Ridder has been in and out of the lineup as the Falcons play musical chairs with him and Taylor Heinecke. Howell was benched for Jacoby Brissett with two weeks left in the season, but an injury to Brissett has given Howell one last chance to prove himself before the Commanders likely clean house. At least they were later-round picks, so keeping them around as backups in 2024 is a fine financial decision. It just didn’t work out for either of them as starters at this point in time. The Patriots’ Bailey Zappe is in a similar spot as these two where he’ll at least be able to stick around as a cheap backup for a bit.

Then there’s the guys who never really got a chance. The Panthers traded up for Matt Corral in the third round of the draft, who never threw a pass for the team after an injury and poor preseason play essentially ended his career. Malik Willis had a chance as a rookie, but the Titans eventually called Josh Dobbs to try and get them to the playoffs instead of giving Willis the full leash. Will Levis’ arrival in the 2023 draft closed the door on any chance of Willis being the Titans’ long-term starter.

Outside of Purdy, this quarterback class appears to have had an extremely short shelf life as starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Better luck next year to the franchises that need a quarterback moving forward after taking a dip into one of the most least effective classes in a long time.

Never been a better time for Lamar Jackson to get a ring

Lamar Jackson is set to win his second MVP award since 2019, but he’s always going to be stuck dealing with naysayers who criticize his game. Jackson has earned his stripes and is widely considered an elite quarterback in the NFL, but winning in the postseason is something that’s eluded him. That doesn’t take away from his prowess on the field, but a real postseason run is something that Jackson would like to get off his back moving forward. For Ravens and the Jackson, no year is better than this year to find some postseason success.

The Ravens should be the overwhelming favorite to win the AFC right now. Based on their regular season résumé, they’re easily the best team in the league. They have the top seed in the AFC locked up and are the only team in the NFL with a point differential over +200 with a mark of +210. They’re demolishing their opposition in a way that is unusual for the NFL and the rest of the AFC isn’t up to par with what the Ravens have put together.

A 56-19 win over the Dolphins was the Ravens’ most recent feat of destruction. The Dolphins are currently the second seed in the AFC! The Ravens also beat the Lions 38-6, the Seahawks 37-3, the Texans 25-9 and the 49ers 33-19. They’ve vanquished some of the toughest teams in the NFL and have the talent and coaching required to make things happen in the playoffs. However, there are two wild cards in the AFC playoff race that might give the Ravens a run for their money if they meet in the postseason.

The Chiefs can never be counted out of any playoffs given their track record over the past five years, but their offense undoubtedly has not been as clean as it was in year’s past. Still, the combination of Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid should always be feared in games that have real stakes. Mahomes has the capability to catch fire against any team, even a defense as good as the Ravens.

The Bills are also catching fire at the right time and may get to host a home game in the first round if they can get past the Dolphins in Week 18. They’re not playing the cleanest football either, but Josh Allen is on the level of Mahomes and Jackson where he’s a terrifying opponent each and every week. There’s also a small chance that the Bills don’t make the playoffs if they lose and a few other results don’t fall their way. Regardless, those teams are capable of ruining what has been a dominant season for the Ravens.

If the Ravens can just survive a potential matchup with those two teams, they’re in a great spot to get to the Super Bowl because they’re that far ahead of their competition within the conference. They also have a huge win over the top NFC team, beating the 49ers handily on Christmas. The stars and paths are aligned for Jackson to get his first Lombardi trophy — now he just need to help the Ravens do it.

Denver is about to hit a massive detonate button

The Denver Broncos are about to take some time off, go home for a semester or two and come back to school when they have their act together. After officially being eliminated from the playoffs and slugging through Russell Wilson’s contract drama, the Broncos are fully prepared to move on from Wilson after the season — which will have its consequences. Getting rid of Wilson is probably the right move for this franchise at this point, ushering in a new era for Sean Payton to mold the team as he sees fit. However, this will undoubtedly leave the Broncos in dire straits for the 2024 season.

Beyond the situation where the Broncos reportedly asked Wilson to change his contract lest he be benched, Wilson’s play hasn’t really left a whole lot of reason to be excited for next season. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Wilson ranks 23rd in expected points added per dropback (-0.12) and 24th in success rate (42.4%) among the quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks this season. Wilson’s 6.9 yards per attempt mark is the lowest of his career, and it’s fair to have the belief that he’s not likely to get much better considering he just turned 35 years old. The best of Wilson is behind him and it’s logical for the Broncos to want to move on even though he still has a ton of money left on his contract.

Moving on from Wilson isn’t going to be cheap. Whether it’s a release or trade, the Broncos are going to have to deal with roughly $80 million in dead cap over the next two seasons. That’s a tough number to deal with by itself, but even more so when factoring in their current cap situation. According to Spotrac, the Broncos are projected to be $20 million over the 2024 cap. Getting rid of Wilson will only add to that burden, which means the top of the Broncos’ roster is likely going to undergo some snipping unless they want to push money into future years with restructures. A move like cutting or trading Wilson suggests that the Broncos are ready to rip the Band-Aid off of this era of football and move on.

That’s going to create a very interesting dynamic for Payton. He’s mainly been coaching competitive teams or teams that had a plan to compete for the majority of his career. The 2024 Broncos will not be a team that has a real chance to compete. It’s hard to move on from veterans and deal with a quarterback dead cap hit unless a team already has a guy on the roster like the Packers did with Jordan Love. Jarrett Stidham ain’t that if he remains the starting quarterback for this team.

The Broncos blew the last couple years going by in on Russell Wilson and not making a real dent in the AFC West, but maybe a clean slate is what they need to get closer to making the playoffs for the first time since 2015. At the very least, Payton with near full control will be interesting.

The NFC is set up perfectly for the 49ers to go on a run

Like the Ravens on the AFC side, the 49ers have a clean path to the Super Bowl, perhaps even cleaner than the Ravens. Despite getting stomped out by Baltimore at home, the 49ers are still the class of the NFC and should feel good about playing against the rest of the conference. The NFC is clearly weaker than the AFC this year and the 49ers have already smashed two of their biggest opponents in the conference.

The 49ers beat the Cowboys and Eagles by a combined score of 84-29, two teams that have the roster talent in the NFC to go on a Super Bowl run. They haven’t played the Lions yet, but they just appear to be in a different tier than the rest of the good teams in the NFC. Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey are an overwhelming skill group on offense, especially with a play-caller like Kyle Shanahan and Brock Purdy delivering stabilizing play under center. That doesn’t even include the defense, which has its own host of Pro Bowl and All-Pro talent. Even with that loss to Baltimore, they still have a strong claim toward boasting the most talented roster in football.

San Francisco shouldn’t even dwell too much on where it sits after that loss. The Ravens absolutely look like the better team right now, but in a Super Bowl rematch it’s unlikely that Purdy will throw four interceptions in a single game — that’s something that is so bad it’s difficult to repeat. McCaffrey still ran well against the Ravens’ rugged defense and the turnovers created short fields for the Ravens. It’s not unreasonable to think a rematch might not be as lopsided against the 49ers.

The rest of the NFC field they’re competing with is not anywhere near to their level. The Buccaneers, Falcons or Saints don’t stand a chance in a playoff game against the 49ers. The Seahawks aren’t on the same playing field and it seems unlikely that a matchup with the Packers or Vikings would give this team a lot of trouble in the playoffs. They’re too talented, they’re too well-coached and they’re a team that has already had success in the postseason.

Shanahan is still looking for a Super Bowl trophy and luckily he won’t have to face a team as good as the Ravens in his own playoff bracket. This team is too talented and too well-coached to not be favored heavily over their opposition in the NFC. Just need a chance to get to the Super Bowl, and the odds are in their favor.

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