With the 2022 NFL Draft and rookie minicamps in the rear-view mirror, it is time to look ahead. OTAs begin in less than a week (May 24th) and with those offseason activities, we will begin to get a clearer picture of what this team can be in the 2022 season.
Perhaps the most important step forward this team can make in 2022 is finally wrestling control of the AFC South back from the Tennessee Titans. The Colts haven’t won the division title since 2014. Frank Reich and company have a solid coaching staff, but the divisional title will ultimately come down to who has the best players on the field on game days. Let’s take a look around the division and attempt to rank each position group. I’ll do my best to take off my blue-tinted glasses for this exercise. Today we are tackling quarterback.
Indianapolis Colts - Matt Ryan
The Colts will start yet another quarterback under center in their quest to fill the void left by Andrew Luck’s early retirement, and this year it is veteran Matt Ryan. Unlike last year with Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan is not a project and he isn’t a mystery. He is a known quantity who has been playing good to great football all of his career. After his 2021 season, it is fair to ask some questions about his game, but there are some pretty good answers to his struggles.
As bad as last season was, there was still good football played by Ryan in it. His supporting cast was abysmal, save for Kyle Pitts, and Jonathan Taylor by himself outrushed the entire Falcons roster by almost 400 yards; it is safe to say they didn’t run a particularly balanced offense. With no running backs and one receiving weapon, 2021 asked a lot of Matt Ryan.
At 37 years old (happy birthday, by the way), he’ll join a Colts team that will ask a lot less of him. Ryan will benefit from one of the best running attacks he’s played with in the NFL, and be protected behind a far better offensive line than he’s had in recent years. This is an opportunity for a very good quarterback to use his abilities to do what the Colts needed from their QB last season: make the layups. If Ryan can do that and some of the Colts receiving weapons can step up, this could be a very good year for him.
Matt Ryan 2021 Stats
Tennessee Titans - Ryan Tannehill
Since coming to the Titans from Miami, Ryan Tannehill has done really well for himself. His success is likely a large part of what got Arthur Smith a head coaching job, and Smith’s rough first season may have led to the Colts acquiring Matt Ryan in a trade this offseason. The circle of NFL life in action.
Given how similarly Tannehill and Ryan compared in 2021 it would be fair to ask why I’ve ranked Ryan over Tannehill for this exercise. The easiest answer is simply that Ryan’s established ceiling in the NFL is one of league MVP. He has sustained a far higher level of play for longer than Tannehill has. As good a coach as Mike Vrabel is, OC Todd Downing has more to prove after last year. The Titans entered the playoffs as a good but not great team that had wrung out the absolute best from their roster with good coaching, and they traded away Tannehill’s best offensive weapon this offseason in A.J. Brown.
Like Ryan, Tannehill will have the protection of a relatively good offensive line, and Derrick Henry’s return should provide them with a solid running attack, although given his age and mileage it would be unwise to count on him being the dominant force he was a couple of seasons ago. The question comes down to whether you believe that Tannehill can elevate a receiver room. I don’t, and so I have him falling below Matt Ryan on this list.
Ryan Tannehill 2021 Stats
Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence
The most heralded QB prospect since Andrew Luck, Trevor Lawrence entered 2021 with a whimper that was buried under the avalanche of garbage that was the Urban Meyer era in Jacksonville. Lawrence really never stood a chance of making anything of his rookie season given what a disaster Meyer was, but now the team has a new coach and that should be a world of difference for the young signal caller. Doug Pederson is a good offensive mind and one who should be able to help out his young QB. Let’s be honest, even if he just stayed out of the way it would have to be more helpful than whatever he got from his head coach as a rookie, right?
I am not willing to draw almost any conclusions about Lawrence based on his first year in the league. I expect with a competent coaching staff and another year under his belt, we will see a vastly improved player. He certainly has all the tools to be a great player at the NFL level. If he can’t put a dramatically better season on film in 2022, it will be time for Jags fans to panic.
Trevor Lawrence 2021 Stats
Houston Texans – Davis Mills
Not nearly as much fanfare was made of the drafting of Davis Mills at 67th overall in the 2021 draft, but they seem content to move forward with him for another year in a weak draft class at the position. Mills entered the league as a raw prospect with the tools to play the position, albeit not in the vein of some of the mobile QBs we’ve seen taking the league by storm in recent years.
Considering the team he joined, a roster in chaos and his targets were Brandin Cooks, rookie Nico Collins, and a bunch of also-rans, he did well. Pep Hamilton doesn’t have a great reputation around Colts fans because he was part of the staff tasked with not letting Andrew Luck get pummeled into early retirement, but he is not a bad coach necessarily. It is certainly possible that with their addition of John Metchie III with their 2nd round pick Marlon Mack taking the bulk of their carries, they could have a good enough offense around Mills to help him take a step forward.
Unfortunately, based on what we saw of him last season, my projection for Mills is something like a high level backup role. He has some skill and perhaps he’ll make a leap that surprises everyone in year two, but he gets my vote for most likely player to stick around in the NFL and quietly make a ton of money holding clipboards for a decade, then coming in to make some solid starts when injury strikes. You can certainly do worse, but for a team that is still fully in rebuild mode, Mills is not a long-term answer.
Davis Mills 2021 Stats
So what is your ranking for the quarterbacks in the AFC South? Let us know in the comments.