You can make a strong argument that no other position in sports is as important as quarterback. They’re the only players that have their hands on the ball every play, and while you can win a Super Bowl without an elite player at the position (see: Dilfer, Trent), you’ll need a once in a lifetime defense with multiple future Hall of Fame players to do so. The NFC West has a combination of established pass throwers and young arms and in this article we’ll take a look at the starting quarterbacks for each team, including a highly touted rookie, and see which team is in the best position at the position.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Since being drafted in the third round out of Wisconsin, Wilson has taken the reins of the Seattle offense and hasn’t looked back. Wilson has taken the Seahawks to the playoffs in five of his first six seasons in the league, failing to make the playoffs only in 2017.
Over the last two seasons Wilson has 8,202 yards passing and 55 touchdown passes to go along with 845 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Just taking into account his 2017 season, Wilson accounted for 86% of Seattle’s yards, out gaining the team as an individual against the Houston Texans (482 yards vs. 479 yards). Wilson also led the league in touchdown passes last year with 34, becoming the first Seahawks quarterback to do so. But the most impressive statistic from Wilson’s 2017 season may be that he accounted for 37 of 38 offensive touchdowns, a staggering 97%. But somehow Wilson didn’t receive a single vote for Offensive Player of the Year; but made a strong case to win the award.
Wilson is so dangerous because he can beat you with either his arm or his feet. He has the rare “clutch” quality you want in your quarterback. Last year, Wilson threw 19 fourth quarter touchdowns, which set an NFL record. His calm under pressure gives the Seattle offense the feeling that they’re never out of a game. Wilson finished 2017 as Pro Football Focus’s sixth-rated quarterback with a score of 87.2, and he was in their top ten as both a runner (1st) and passer (8th), with scores of 90.5 and 83.1 respectively.
Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
By now we all know it, committed it to memory so that we can tell the stories to our grandchildren. How the 49ers, led by general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, turned a once proud franchise around by landing Garoppolo in a trade with the New England Patriots on October 31st 2017. Garoppolo quickly turned a previously 1-9 49ers team into world beaters, finishing the season on a five game winning streak while knocking off three eventual playoff teams.
Garoppolo stepped in and was an immediate upgrade over Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard. His quick release and decision making were enough to mask an anemic running game and porous offensive line. With Garoppolo under center every major offensive statistic improved. In the 10 weeks before his first start the 49ers offense was averaging 26.6 yards per drive, which ranked 26th in the NFL; with Garoppolo that number jumped to 42.1 yards per drive, 1st in the NFL, giving them a season average of 30.5 and finishing 13th. Another important statistic, points per drive, showed the same dramatic improvement. Pre-Garoppolo the 49ers were averaging 1.4 points per drive, 29th in the league. With Garoppolo that number jumped to 2.9 points per drive, also best in the NFL.
Garoppolo’s greatest assets are his leadership, poise, and accuracy. This offseason he’s been organizing off-day throwing sessions with wide receivers, tight ends and running backs, making sure everyone is up to speed and jelling as an offensive group. In an interview with the media following an open OTA Garoppolo said “Last year, not that I was handcuffed, I just didn’t know some of the reasons why we were doing things. It was just ‘get this by Sunday and we’ll tell you everything in the off season.” Now that he’s going to have an offseason to learn the “why” the offense is poised to even bigger improvements.
The Number 1 pick
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff’s rookie season in 2016 was difficult, and that’s putting it nicely. Then-head coach Jeff Fisher gave Goff his first career start Week 11 against the Miami Dolphins. Goff finished the season 0-7 as a starter with only five touchdowns to seven interceptions. Fisher was fired at the end of the season and the Rams hired Sean McVay, former offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins, respected around the league for his play calling and offensive innovations.
The Rams as a whole, especially Goff, showed major improvements in their first year under McVay. Goff finished the season with 3,804 yards, 28 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. Serving as the Rams’ head coach and offensive coordinator, McVay handles the play calling, giving him a direct link to Goff through the helmet mic. This assistance proved invaluable to the second-year quarterback as his new coach was able to communicate directly with what the defense was doing and where his eyes should be tracking on each play.
Goff also benefited significantly from the resurgence of running back Todd Gurley, who would go on to win Offensive Player of the Year. The Rams also added to the supporting cast with free agent addition Andrew Whitworth at left tackle, and added wide receivers Sammy Watkins in a trade with the Buffalo Bills and Cooper Kupp with a third-round pick.
The Rams finished the season 11-5, good enough to finish first in the NFC West. Goff’s improved play was a major catalyst for the team’s success, he finished the season as PFF’s 15th ranked quarterback with a score of 81.3. Will Goff continue his improvement? That’s the major question for the Rams heading into next season
The Veteran and the Rookie
Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals
After two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, veteran quarterback Sam Bradford signed a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals. The Cards were looking for a bridge quarterback until their first round draft pick, Josh Rosen, is ready to start. The only flaw in Arizona’s plan is that Bradford hasn’t played a full season since 2012, when he was with the then-St. Louis Rams.
It’s hard to gauge what Arizona is going to have under center this year. While Bradford has an extensive injury history and will turn 31 in November, when he is healthy he’s one of the more accurate passers in the league. Over his last three seasons he’s had a 70.3 completion percentage. Bradford has been a serviceable but not great quarterback throughout his career. But his experience in the league, if he’s willing to share it, will prove valuable to Rosen.
Arizona traded up with the Oakland Raiders to draft Rosen at number 10. Rosen was seen earlier in the draft evaluation process as a potential top pick. But concerns by some teams that he “had interests outside of football” caused his stock to drop, although most analysts considered him the most NFL ready quarterback in the draft. At UCLA Rosen won The Sporting News Freshman of the year, Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, and Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year. Whenever Rosen takes the field, having a running back like David Johnson will be a monumental advantage, but he’ll also have to contend with an aging wide receiver core that’s seeing the last days of Larry Fitzgerald’s Hall of Fame career.
Looking at the NFC West as a whole, I believe the 49ers are in a good position at quarterback. It’s tough to argue against Wilson, he’s been to the summit and has shown that he’s an elite quarterback. But Garoppolo is poised for a breakout season in Shanahan’s offense. Goff is a wildcard and while the Rams are clearly in a win-now mentality, are they mortgaging the future? Possibly. Bradford’s injury history and Rosen’s rookie status aren’t something I would want to contend with if I were Arizona. So if it comes down to Wilson or Garoppolo, give me Jimmy at 26 years old in an offensive system that has already produced an MVP quarterback and Super Bowl appearance.
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