February 17, 2021

Ranking the 10 Best NFL Quarterbacks 25 and Younger in 2021

Despite the fact that a 43-year-old quarterback just won the Super Bowl, the NFL is still a league that’s all about young quarterbacks.

Every organization's goal is to find the right quarterback and build around him while he blossoms into a championship-level passer. Of course, it helps that more and more quarterbacks are leaving college ready to play in the NFL right away.

In fact, outside of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, young quarterbacks have started to take over the league in recent years. With some of the best QBs in NFL history growing long in the tooth, we ranked the 10 best signal-callers who will be 25 or younger at the start of the 2021 NFL season (Sept. 9). 

10. Jalen Hurts

Apologies to Drew Lock and Daniel Jones, but Jalen Hurts deserves the final spot on our ranking because of the promise he showed as the Eagles' starter at the end of the 2020 campaign. 

The former Alabama and Oklahoma passer clearly showed that he can add a rushing dynamic to Philly's offense, but he proved to be a better passer than expected in his short sample size. 

While the numbers aren't eye-popping, Hurts gave the Eagles offense a jolt. And with more weapons next year, Hurts could avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. 

With Carson Wentz reportedly on his way out of town, we should be able to see what Hurts can do with a full offseason as the starter... unless the Eagles decide to take a QB at No. 6. 

9. Tua Tagovailoa

Tua Tagovailoa did just enough as a rookie to beat out Jalen Hurts for the ninth spot in our ranking. That being said, the jury is still very much out on the former Alabama quarterback.

At times, Tagovailoa showed that he has the accuracy, mobility and intelligence to be a solid NFL quarterback, the kind who can win games with a strong defense and good skill players around him.

Other times, he looked like a rookie who was a little overwhelmed. The No. 5 overall pick in last year’s draft will be interesting to watch moving forward. But we’re unconvinced that he’s anything close to a sure thing right now.

8. Sam Darnold

With 38 games under his belt over three seasons, Sam Darnold still hasn’t outgrown the turnover issues that plagued him in college and made him a risky bet for the Jets. He’s obviously not done enough to solidify himself as the long-term starter for Gang Green.

The Jets haven’t done a lot to help Darnold during the early part of his career, either. He’s far from the only person to blame for the team’s poor record. He’s had more than a few quality performances, which is why there are reportedly some teams interested in trading for him this offseason if the Jets make him available.

Darnold is far from a sure thing at this point, but he’s flashed enough potential to make a team with limited quarterback options to want him.

7. Joe Burrow

It’s a shame that Joe Burrow’s rookie season ended early due to injury because he showed plenty of promise in his 10 games, throwing 13 touchdown passes to just five interceptions despite working with a faulty offensive line and a lackluster rushing attack.

Outside of a supporting cast that still needs work, Burrow’s problem is that he doesn’t have elite arm talent or mobility compared to the young quarterbacks ahead of him on our list. But he looks the part of a long-term starter.

The caveat is that we’re still not convinced he can rise to the level of a top-flight NFL quarterback, even if the Bengals put a better supporting cast around him in the years to come.

6. Justin Herbert

Justin Herbert may have been the biggest surprise of any young quarterback in 2020. Despite not winning the starting job coming out of training camp, Herbert still threw 31 touchdown passes to just 10 interceptions while racking up over 4,300 yards. That’s not to say that there weren’t growing pains at times, but he also had six games with at least three touchdown passes.

He also led the Chargers to four straight wins to close out the regular season, creating a lot of positive momentum heading into 2021. It was a great opening act from Herbert, leaving us intrigued at how much better the 22-year-old can get in the years to come.

5. Kyler Murray

There was considerable growth in Kyler Murray from his rookie year in 2019 to his sophomore season in 2020. His completion percentage, total passing yards, and passing touchdowns all increased from Year One to Year Two. Somehow, he also became a far more explosive and dangerous runner in 2020, perhaps becoming a little smarter about when to take off and run.

For what it’s worth, he threw just as many interceptions in 2020, which is a problem. Murray also had a better supporting cast in 2020, which accounts for some of his progress. However, he’s moved into that second tier of quarterbacks and clearly has the talent to keep moving his way up the quarterback hierarchy in the NFL.

4. Lamar Jackson

Obviously, Lamar Jackson owns one MVP award, but that isn't enough to push him past Deshaun Watson, a clearly superior player.

Jackson took a step back in 2020 in several ways. His completion percentage was down and he threw 10 fewer touchdown passes. He also had a career-high nine interceptions and had a few more fumbles in 2020 than he did during his MVP season. Despite those struggles, Jackson was still pretty incredible, running for over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, which makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses to face.

While Baltimore’s lackluster set of wide receivers didn’t help him much in 2020, there are still some lingering questions about him as a downfield passer. Those are the types of questions that other elite quarterbacks don’t have, even if Jackson’s athleticism and running ability help to make up for that. 

3. Deshaun Watson

Don’t let Houston’s terrible season or the fact that he’s desperate to leave the Texans fool you, Watson had an outstanding season in 2020.

Also, he won’t turn 26 until the middle of September, giving him three and a half seasons of starting experience under his belt at 25. Despite the Texans trading DeAndre Hopkins and giving Watson a dreadful offensive line, he posted career-highs in virtually every major category in 2020, including passing yards, completion percentage, yards per pass and touchdown passes. He also threw a career-low seven interceptions.

Watson is also a more than capable runner when he wants to be. While he hasn’t been able to elevate the Texans to one of the AFC’s elite teams, Watson belongs among the NFL’s upper-echelon of quarterbacks.

2. Josh Allen

Are we jumping the gun a little by putting Josh Allen at No. 2 on our list? Maybe, but the Bills passer did finish second behind Aaron Rodgers in the MVP voting, albeit a distant second.

Allen carried the Bills, who had a mediocre running game and an average defense, to the AFC Championship Game. Allen always had the arm talent to be an elite quarterback, and in 2020, he showed incredible improvements in both accuracy and decision-making. The result was over 4,500 passing yards and 37 touchdown passes.

He’s also one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the NFL outside of Jackson and Murray, allowing him to frustrate defenses with his ability to pick up yards on the ground when things break down. In his third season, Allen figured everything out, and since he won’t turn 25 until May, the sky is the limit for him moving forward.

1. Patrick Mahomes

The former MVP and Super Bowl MVP won’t turn 26 until September, so he remains eligible for our list and is unquestionably at the top of it.

Patrick Mahomes' performance in Super Bowl 55 aside, the Chiefs passer is still the class of the league. He may never be able to match the bar he set in 2018 with over 5,000 passing yards and 50 touchdowns, but he was far better during the 2020 regular season than he was in 2019 when the Chiefs won the Super Bowl.

Mahomes is everything you could want in a quarterback. He’s accurate, he’s athletic, he limits his mistakes and he can make something out of nothing. Frankly, there aren't enough superlatives to describe Mahomes. All you have to know is that for the foreseeable future, he’s likely to be the preseason favorite for MVP and he’s likely to make the Chiefs the preseason favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration