NASHVILLE, Tenn. — This year’s postseason has shown the importance of having an elite quarterback. That’s especially the case in the AFC where the Kansas City Chiefs‘ Patrick Mahomes, Buffalo Bills‘ Josh Allen and Cincinnati Bengals‘ Joe Burrow each had outstanding performances.
This year’s class of quarterbacks at Saturday’s Senior Bowl (2:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network) hope to become the next wave of elite signal-callers who will impact the playoffs in years to come.
That said, the Tennessee Titans would be wise to take a close look at them this week during Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Alabama, considering they were the only team in the AFC divisional round with a quarterback over the age of 30.
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Tennessee was the top seed but fell to the Bengals 19-16 as quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who will be 34 before the start of next season, threw three interceptions — including one with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter that set up the game-winning field goal. Burrow’s 348 passing yards showed how critical it is to have a top-level quarterback.
The past two seasons have ended with Tannehill throwing an interception. Tennessee has scored only a combined 29 points in its two most recent playoff losses.
Tannehill isn’t the sole reason the Titans have failed to advance to the Super Bowl. But, after three consecutive playoff appearances including back-to-back AFC South championships, the Titans have to decide if they can win it all with Tannehill.
Regardless, coach Mike Vrabel believes that Tannehill should be the Titans’ quarterback next season.
“He has elite toughness,” Vrabel said. “We have to be great around him. He has shown signs of accuracy, of decision-making, the ability to extend plays and to scramble and leadership. Those are all things that you look for in a quarterback, and Ryan has shown us that.”
Tannehill has proven that he can be productive and lead the Titans to the playoffs, but his $38.6 million cap hit next season makes him the fifth-highest-paid quarterback in the NFL.
Moving Tannehill won’t be impossible. But it’s unlikely. If the Titans decide to move forward with Tannehill, it’s about time they start looking for the quarterback of the future.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson has selected only two quarterbacks since taking over in 2016. Robinson selected Luke Falk in the sixth round of the 2018 draft and Cole McDonald in the seventh in 2020. Falk is currently not on a roster, and McDonald is a quarterback for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.
For a look at the quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl with breakdowns from ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay: Click here.
Pittsburgh | 6-foot-3, 216 pounds
Stats: 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns, 7 interceptions
Kiper: Fifth-year senior Pickett has been incredibly impressive this season, throwing 42 touchdown passes with seven interceptions. He ranks seventh in the country in QBR (81.5). Pickett was up and down the past two seasons, with 18 picks and an average of 6.9 yards per attempt. He’s up to 8.7 this season. He is accurate to all three levels of the field, has shown patience in taking the checkdown throws when necessary and has good zip on his throws.
Cincinnati | 6-3, 207 pounds
Stats: 3,334 yards, 30 touchdowns, 8 interceptions
Kiper: Ridder has taken the next step, throwing 30 touchdown passes and eight picks while completing 65.9% of his throws. His counting stats won’t totally wow you, but he has the arm talent and mobility that put him in the first-round conversation. Like Pickett, Ridder has started more than 45 college games, and so I’d like to see him have better ball placement on tight-window throws at this point. He’s not the perfect prospect, but he does have upside. NFL teams will bet on upside.
Nevada | 6-3, 226 pounds
Stats: 4,186 yards, 36 touchdowns, 8 interceptions
McShay: Strong looks the part with a 6-foot-4 and 215-pound frame, and he flashes high-end ability as a pocket passer. This will be my first time seeing him live, and I’ll be focusing on two main areas: how the ball comes out and what he does under pressure. Strong has plus arm strength and can drive it vertically, but I want to see how much energy is on the ball and how his big arm compares to the other QBs in Mobile. Does he need his whole body to get the ball there, or is it a snap of the wrist? Most importantly, I want to see how he performs when he gets some defenders in his face. Strong hits his spots for the most part with a clean pocket, but pressure forces accuracy woes, and he can’t afford to be inaccurate given his marginal escapability.
North Carolina | 6-0, 220 pounds
Stats: 3,056 yards, 24 touchdowns, 9 interceptions
McShay: Can Howell calm his feet down a bit at the top of his throws? He can be frenzied at the top of his drop, and his feet aren’t always married to his eyes when he’s going through his progressions. Has he been working on the footwork, and is there an improvement? And then I’ll be watching the anticipation throws, where his accuracy dips. At UNC, Howell saw a lot of run-pass options, underneath routes and shot plays. He excelled there, and the touch and trajectory on deep rail and seam shots was excellent. But I want to see him hit targets in between defenders and locate the safety over the top — the more complex reads that he’ll see in the NFL. Those timing routes are key, and I want to see some consistency there this week.
Liberty | 6-0, 220 pounds
Stats: 2,857 yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
McShay: Willis is terrific at extending plays and keeping his eyes downfield outside the pocket. His off-platform throws have plenty of wow factor, as he gets the ball out from various release points with velocity and hits tight windows. An Auburn transfer, Willis threw for 2,857 yards this season with 27 passing touchdowns. On the ground, Willis had 878 yards and another 13 touchdowns. But there are some red flags on the stat sheet, too. His 12 interceptions — including three in three different games this year — are tied for the nation’s eighth most, while 51 sacks taken were the most.
Western Kentucky | 6-0, 213 pounds
Stats: 5,967 yards, 62 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
McShay: Zappe gets through his progressions quickly and is accurate in the short-to-intermediate range, but his ball velocity is a pretty big concern. The arm strength is just not there. His accuracy drops on the deep shots due to a lack of zip and poor trajectory. There are some floating throws on the deep outs on tape, so we should get a sense this week of how it lines up with other QBs in the class. I’m interested to see what happens on those throws 25-plus yards downfield.