With veteran quarterback Philip Rivers having recently retired, the Indianapolis Colts are in the market again for a starting quarterback ahead of a consecutive offseason.
While the longtime Chargers quarterback ultimately calling it a career wasn’t surprising, the early offseason timing of it was, which could actually work to the Colts benefit—as far as getting more time to get a lay of the available quarterback landscape and to more seriously pursue potential options—knowing full well now that Rivers isn’t returning anymore.
Still, it’s expected to be a seller’s market with more quarterback needy teams than available starting caliber quarterback options.
That being said, there are a handful of replacements out there that could theoretically be available for the Colts and pique their interest:
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Age: 32 years old
Size: 6’3”, 220 pounds
Draft Pick: 1st overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft
2020 Stats: Completed 339 of 528 passes (64.2%) for 4,084 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and a passer rating of 96.3 in all 16 starts.
The big armed former top overall pick continues to put up strong numbers in Detroit, despite not historically having a strong supporting cast around him.
Stafford is tough too, having played through torn rib cartilage, a broken thumb, a broken back, and a separated shoulder—among injuries that we actually know of. He’s consistently been a leader in the Lions locker room, as his teammates love playing with him.
On a Colts team that is built to win now, Stafford is the potential available veteran option who makes the most sense for Indianapolis—which is why he’s listed first here (but no, these aren’t necessarily listed in any order otherwise).
Stafford’s someone who could really benefit from a much needed change of scenery and passing behind the Colts’ strong pass protecting offensive line—assuming the team can shore up its vacant left tackle position.
While the Colts may lose some accuracy, Stafford would be a significant upgrade to his Colts starting quarterback predecessor in arm strength—featuring an absolute cannon, as well as mobility, with the ability to move a little bit and escape duress/extend plays outside the pocket.
Not to mention, he’d bring play-action back to play off of the Colts power running game to serve as a complement through the air and keep opposing defenses honest.
Stafford simply makes a lot of sense for Indianapolis—with at least a handful of highly productive seasons left, but the issue is whether the Detroit Lions actually make him available this offseason—whose new regime initially appears that it wants him to return.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Age: 28 years old
Size: 6’5”, 237 pounds
Draft Pick: 2nd overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft
2020 Stats: Completed 251 of 437 passes (57.4%) for 2,620 passing yards, 16 passing touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and a passer rating of 72.8 during 12 starts.
It wasn’t that long ago that Wentz was a former NFL MVP candidate, when he threw for 33 touchdowns to 7 interceptions during 2017 before suffering a season-ending torn ACL.
Of course, the Eagles would go on to win the Super Bowl during that improbable, yet magical run in Wentz’ absence—as backup Nick Foles got red hot down the stretch.
The Eagles offensive coordinator then was Frank Reich, who already has a great deal of familiarity and is presumably comfortable with Wentz.
It’s not clear whether the Eagles pending new coaching staff will want to keep Wentz, but having geared their search towards offensive minded head coaching candidates—including the Colts own offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, the front office may want whoever is calling the sideline shots to hopefully fix him—as a ‘quarterback whisperer’.
Should the Eagles elect to go with dual-threat Jalen Hurts going forward, who Wentz was ultimately benched for after a disappointing season, it’s possible that Reich and the Colts coaching staff could take a gamble on Wentz as a reclamation projects of sorts—hoping that they can help him regain his prior 2nd-Team NFL All-Pro form.
Reich perhaps knows what makes Wentz tick better than anyone—since the two shared so much success with one another previously in Philadelphia.
From purely a playing style perspective, Wentz—when he’s actually going right, might also arguably be the closest thing to retired Colts franchise quarterback Andrew Luck—with his ability to run and throw at a high level.
Still, he and his next coaching staff have some serious work to do to fully rebound.
While Wentz seemed entirely too risky before Rivers’ retirement, his acquisition becomes more reasonable—now that the Colts no longer have the 39 year old veteran available as a safe, comfortable fallback option.
The available options may be growing increasingly fewer for the Colts, and even though Wentz has a fairly low floor, he also has a very high ceiling.
Sam Darnold, New York Jets
Age: 23 year old
Size: 6’3”, 225 pounds
Draft Pick: 3rd overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft
2020 Stats: Completed 217 of 364 passes (59.6%) for 2,208 passing yards, 9 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a passer rating of 72.7 during 12 starts.
Perhaps things would come full-circle for the Colts and Darnold, if general manager Chris Ballard, who obtained a king’s ransom for the Jets to trade up for Sam Darnold in 2018—swapping picks, then selecting 3x NFL First-Team All-Pro offensive guard Quenton Nelson among others in what was an acquired draft haul—would eventually obtain the young quarterback regardless.
Darnold has lost some of his prospect shine as a young quarterback, having admittedly ‘seen ghosts’. However, he’s also been significantly hindered by the Jets’ lack of quality supporting cast, and the horrendous head coaching of fired head coach Adam Gase.
Just look at what happened to quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the Tennessee Titans once he left Gase’s career-damaging grasp.
Darnold has a big arm and can move, and a lot of the promise and potential that once made him such a high draft pick is still there. However, he also has to get rid of some of his acquired bad habits and the scarring from having played for such a dreadful franchise.
That won’t be easy.
He’s not a fresh ball of clay like an NFL rookie otherwise would be. Still, he’s only 24 years old and could be worth a roll of the dice for an interested trade suitor.
Nevertheless, at initial glance, it appears that the Jets and specifically new head coach Robert Saleh believe Darnold has ‘untapped potential’ and may elect to stick with him for at least one more season to see what the franchise truly has—before possibly moving on.
The Trade-Up Rookies
Zach Wilson, BYU
Size: 6’3”, 209 pounds
2020 Stats: Completed 247 of 336 passes (73.5%) for 3,692 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions during 12 starts.
Had 70 carries for 254 rushing yards (3.6 ypc. avg.) and 10 rushing touchdowns.
What they’re saying:
Last one, I promise. This play is why Zach Wilson is so dang fun to study. So loose and free. (Heck of a catch too) https://t.co/EBBsKI4GLk— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 21, 2021
This throw by Zach Wilson goes in the box score as an incomplete pass. This is why you don’t box score scout. This is a DIME! Thrown from other 46 yard line. https://t.co/r1bcwD943k— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 21, 2021
Zach Wilson makes so many impressive throws. You see hole shots like this one in every game. Ball jumps out of his hand. So easy & explosive. https://t.co/xrEOkurRTp— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 19, 2021
Had it in my mock draft this morning, but Zach Wilson is QB2 for me. He’s so much fun.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 23, 2020
Zach Wilson is no joke. Could bump this QB class up significantly the way he’s played.— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) November 7, 2020
Thread on #BYU QB Zach Wilson:— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) October 13, 2020
One trait that stands out about him is his ability to layer the ball outside, but he’s savvy with widening windows on his own.
The subtle pump fake here on the low route, catches the eyes of the CB and allows him to throw it outside. pic.twitter.com/2tm6UtkIdY
QB Zach Wilson @BYUfootball has got himself a live arm!— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) October 22, 2020
Opposite Hash Throws!
Opposite Hash Outs, Cover 2 Hole, Vertical Drop in Bucket - you see more impressive throws from Wilson in this BYU offense than from SEC QBs
Journey to the Draft: https://t.co/eBOY4Uch1Z pic.twitter.com/KWqCbuOoBr
Justin Fields, Ohio State
Size: 6”3”, 227 pounds
2020 Stats: Completed 158 of 225 passing attempts (70.2%) for 2,100 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions during 8 starts.
Had 81 carries for 383 rushing yards (4.7 ypc. avg.) and 5 rushing touchdowns.
What they’re saying:
Just finished studying Justin Fields vs Rutgers. I love his ability to avoid the free rusher and remain calm. Here are a few examples of his poise & elusiveness: pic.twitter.com/7Av9DMam48— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) November 10, 2020
Ohio St QB Justin Fields is an elusive runner. He makes a lot of defenders look bad. pic.twitter.com/lqkde7OH7c— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) May 24, 2020
Now that Justin Fields is officially in, let the speculation on QB2 begin.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 18, 2021
My rankings has him behind Zach Wilson. I know many NFL scouts who think Fields is the clear-cut QB2 in this class.
Opinions are very divided.
Anticipation and escapability leading to new opportunities. Justin Fields has performed both at a high level so far this year. Two traits that carry over to the next level. pic.twitter.com/mASNXMctmM— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) November 16, 2020
Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State:— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) July 7, 2020
• Cashing in on deep opportunities
• Out of structure extraordinaire (+)
• Arm strength to all 3 levels (++)
• Extra armor to withstand traffic
• Composure in chaos (+)
• Scrambling to throw first pic.twitter.com/de3tCErO12
My '1-Play Takeaway' on Journey to the Draft this week with @EaglesXOs & @dpbrugler— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) November 8, 2020
QB Justin Fields
12p (2 TE) Undercenter, Play Action, Snaps head/eyes around after fake.. Rips an absolute SEED into Cover 2 hole! And look at the ball placement - away from the safety! pic.twitter.com/g9wHE75Pyp
Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Size: 6’3”, 221 pounds
*2019 Stats (Lance played in only one game during 2020 because of COVID-19): Completed 192 of 287 passes (66.9%) for 2,786 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions during 16 starts.
Had 169 carries for 1,100 rushing yards (6.5 ypc. avg.) and 14 rushing touchdowns.
What they’re saying:
Finished 3 games of NDST QB Trey Lance. He's outstanding. Crisp/clean footwork. He can make every throw & his decision-making is top shelf. He picks his spots to take shots but he will also show patience & take what's given underneath. He can extend plays & he's tough!— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) May 26, 2020
It was an up-and-down performance from Trey Lance on Saturday, but I thought this was one of his more impressive throws of the game.— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) October 6, 2020
Takes the deep out route to the field on a mesh concept over the middle. pic.twitter.com/mffCPxxpnO
1. Quick/Easy throwing motion— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) April 27, 2020
2. Deep accuracy
3. Play-action comfort
Those are the three traits that immediately jump off of the screen about North Dakota State QB Trey Lance (6-3, 224, R-So.) pic.twitter.com/WVVHUwMpbt
Lance only had 1 game of where he attempted 25+ passing attempts, but why he works so well in the NDSU offense is because of his comfort throwing/anticipating off of play-action.— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) May 28, 2020
I put the second clip on here to show off his deep accuracy. He placed it almost perfectly. pic.twitter.com/ZcW5qAUXO5
As expected, QB Trey Lance declares for the 2021 NFL Draft.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 6, 2020
One of the most intriguing and unprecedented evaluations we’ve seen in recent years. Big time talent who will be drafted high. https://t.co/N7MzN6aD3F
Look, the Trey Lance > Justin Fields take is abysmal BUT...— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) April 27, 2020
He is more talented than Joe Burrow
*slams smoke bomb* pic.twitter.com/7HrkAC9KQM
The Rookies Projected Available at #21
Mac Jones, Alabama
Size: 6’3”, 214 pounds
2020 Stats: Completed 275 of 357 passes (77.0%) for 4,036 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions during 12 starts.
What they’re saying:
If you watched Jones at the end of last year, you saw a player that was confident, decisive, and had lots of pocket savvy. He has arm strength limitations, but his timing and awareness help him overcome that.— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) October 11, 2020
Excited to see him next week.pic.twitter.com/jAVyklOlRg
The touch is really, really impressive.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 24, 2020
Mac Jones was already an NFL prospect entering the season, but he's clearly elevated his play in 2020. His pocket movements and confidence as a passer are outstanding. https://t.co/TDeLyFx9tE
Alabama QB Mac Jones is entering the 2021 NFL Draft.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 14, 2021
He has a Round 2 grade for me but is a likely first round pick.
I worry about Mac Jones overall talent. Arm Strength, Arm Angles, Off Platform Throws, Foot Qkness, Escapability— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 5, 2020
Dominant OL & ELITE WRs, sounds like another QB - Ken Dorsey
Dorsey (6'5 208) 10k pass yds, Won games, Minimal INTs, Bowl MVP, Leader, 2x Heisman finalist... 7th Rd
Kyle Trask, Florida
Size: 6’5”, 240 pounds
2020 Stats: Completed 301 of 437 passes (68.9%) for 4,283 passing yards, 43 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions during 8 starts.
What they’re saying:
Everything looks easy for Kyle Trask— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) November 15, 2020
Kyle Trask's best trait is his ball placement/accuracy but he understands how to use his eyes to create throwing windows— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 5, 2020
Each snap is TE Kyle Pitts vs Derek Stingley. Watch Trask eyes initially making sure to clear/hold backside LB - then the excellent location on in-breakers pic.twitter.com/epXGHExg3h
Kyle Trask has some Joe Burrow to him - lack of major arm strength won’t deter him from placing the ball anywhere due to confidence, accuracy and decision-making. Ton of intangibles as well.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) November 15, 2020