NFL Futures Picks: 5 Teams a Quarterback Away From Super Bowl Run
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Fields.
Four years in a row now we've seen a pattern in the NFL where a big leap at quarterback has vaulted a team all the way to the Super Bowl.
In 2020, the Bucs added Tom Brady to a deep, loaded roster and won a title. In 2021, the Matthew Stafford trade helped a talented Rams roster win it all. Last year, the Eagles saw an MVP-type leap from Jalen Hurts on the backs of one of the best rosters in football and rode it all the way to the Super Bowl. This year, the 49ers got a sophomore leap from Brock Purdy into MVP contention and will play for the title.
No position in team sports is more important than quarterback. Upgrading from a bad QB to a competent one can be enough for a playoff push, and the move from average to great can turn an NFL team into a bona fide Super Bowl contender.
So which NFL rosters are the most QB-ready heading into the 2024 season? What teams are ready to make a run at next year's Super Bowl if they can just find the right man under center? Could it be someone like Kirk Cousins, Justin Fields or Russell Wilson? A high rookie draft pick like Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels helping a team make an immediate push a la C.J. Stroud?
Last year when I did this exercise, the 49ers were the first team on my list. San Francisco was loaded with tons of offensive weapons and just needed a QB to lead the way. It turned out that quarterback was already on the roster.
Detroit also made last year's column at +3000 and got a leap from Jared Goff under Ben Johnson's guidance, coming within minutes of the Super Bowl. We also earmarked the Jets before they went out and got Aaron Rodgers, and there's no telling how good they might have been with a healthy Rodgers on top of the No. 1 defense.
So, who are next year's breakout teams that are just a QB away right now? I've got my eye on five teams, all currently outside the top 15 in Super Bowl odds at FanDuel.
I recently wrote that the Bears could be next year's Lions.
Chicago quietly finished the season on a great note, winning four of its final seven games with a top-five defense over the back half of the season after the addition of Montez Sweat. The Bears got improved play from Justin Fields and the run game, and the defense really dominated down the stretch.
Now the Bears have a chance to duplicate a major part of Detroit's success this season, and it starts with the draft.
Chicago owns the No. 1 pick in the draft despite its successful late-season push, thanks to last year's trade with the Panthers. That's Chicago's ticket for whoever it deems the best quarterback in the draft, with USC's Caleb Williams a heavy favorite at the moment.
Williams would step into a Bears offense with plenty of help. He's got a legitimate WR1 in D.J. Moore and a sure-handed TE target in Cole Kmet. The offensive line has improved significantly and is especially good at run blocking.
The next Chicago QB should also get a ton of help from the new coaches running the offense. Shane Waldron steps in as the new offensive coordinator, and he did an outstanding job rejuvenating Geno Smith's career and maximizing him in Seattle's offense the last couple seasons. Thomas Brown also joins as passing coordinator, a rising name in the coaching ranks who briefly called plays in Carolina this season.
The Bears could get some more help in the draft. Remember, Chicago has its own pick too, at No. 9. That could mean another top WR target next to Moore, perhaps someone like Biletnikoff Award finalist Rome Odunze out of Washington. Or maybe it's a high-end blocker like Notre Dame tackle Joe Alt.
Just another piece for a QB-ready roster.
Best QB fit: Caleb Williams
The Vikings might already have been a quarterback away from contending this season.
Minnesota's defense surprised under Brian Flores, enough to keep the Vikings in contention even as the offense sputtered without Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson. They made it to mid-November at 6-4 and controlled their destiny with as few as two games to go, but things just never came together.
The offense simply couldn't find any answers, whether it was Joshua Dobbs or Jaren Hall or Nick Mullens.
In another universe, Cousins and Jefferson stay healthy and combine with that Flores defense to make Minnesota the hot NFC sleeper, maybe even taking Detroit's spot in the NFC Championship Game.
Could that universe be next season?
Jefferson should be healthy, and he's in the early stages of a Hall of Fame career, averaging nearly 100 yards per game as perhaps the best wideout in the league. T.J. Hockenson went down, too, but he was on pace for a 100-catch season before a late injury. Jordan Addison showed huge flashes as a rookie, and now he can drop from lead target to third.
Minnesota's next quarterback will have plenty of weapons, and the offensive line was pretty good already. The running game was not good this past season, but that can be addressed, and the key is keeping that aggressive Flores defense playing well with a few of the youngsters emerging under a good, proven coaching staff.
Will there even be a "next" QB in Minnesota?
A franchise that seemed ready to move on from Cousins might find itself appreciating him a bit more now that it saw life without him look pretty shambolic at times.
Maybe the best answer was right there wearing purple all along.
Best QB fit: Kirk Cousins
The Falcons are probably the most intriguing team on the list.
Atlanta was everyone's chic sleeper heading into last fall, but the Falcons never woke up. Arthur Smith's offense disappointed wildly after a surprising top-10 DVOA season the previous year, and Atlanta never found any consistent or worthwhile quarterback play from Desmond Ridder or Taylor Heinicke.
Smith was fired after a third consecutive seven-win season, and now the Falcons get a fresh start.
But the pieces are all still there for what everyone liked heading into the 2023 season.
It starts with the highly touted weapons. Bijan Robinson had a terrific rookie season and flashed electric moves, with Tyler Allgeier the steady thunder as a great one-two running punch. Drake London had a good if understated sophomore season, producing when called upon despite an offense that didn't pass much. Kyle Pitts was not great but didn't look healthy and should be better with a full offseason.
Robinson, London and Pitts were consecutive top-10 draft picks and give Atlanta a ton of firepower. The Falcons also have one of the better offensive lines in the league, though the line disappointed this season. Still, so much of that is tied to the quarterback and Atlanta just didn't get good QB play.
The defense was actually much better than expected and should continue to add some pieces, and the NFC South is certainly winnable — probably the worst division in football.
The Falcons are the very definition of a quarterback away, and Atlanta has some options. Ridder surely isn't one of them. He'll probably be on the roster as a backup, but the Falcons will certainly start the season with a new starting quarterback.
They'll also have a new coaching staff. Raheem Morris is the head coach, but offensive coordinator Zac Robinson is the name you need to know. Robinson was a dual-threat QB at Oklahoma State, playing with Dez Bryant under the offensive leadership of Dana Holgorsen, who worked with legendary offensive minds like Hal Mumme, Mike Leach and Kevin Sumlin. Robinson coached under Sean McVay with the Rams the last five seasons.
Suffice to say that Robinson brings a heck of a resume as one of the bright, young offensive minds in football, and he should renovate this offense and find ways to maximize all those weapons.
Could Justin Fields be the right quarterback? Remember, Robinson ran and threw at Oklahoma State, so he'll have an idea how to use Fields as a dual-threat guy. Fields was also born and raised in Georgia and started his college career there, so this could be a homecoming and fresh start for him.
Atlanta has options in the draft as well. The Falcons have the No. 8 pick, which probably puts them in range of a potential trade up. Jayden Daniels is another dual-threat option, or maybe Drake Maye or Caleb Williams would be the target.
The Falcons were a quarterback away from competing this year. They never got one but were still in the division until the final game anyway. The right answer next year could make them a hot sleeper once again.
Best QB fit: Justin Fields
The Super Bowl was in Las Vegas, but the Raiders were nowhere close.
The Raiders started 3-5 under Josh McDaniels, but won their first two games under interim coach Antonio Pierce and made him the permanent coach after after a 4-5 finish.
The Raiders defense played surprisingly great ball down the stretch, especially the pass defense. Maxx Crosby is a superstar, and several young defenders stepped up. The offensive line also had a very strong season and looks headed in the right direction. But Jimmy Garoppolo wasn't the answer, and it's hard to see Aidan O'Connell as the long-term answer either.
A new quarterback inherits the improving Vegas trenches and a couple of great weapons. Davante Adams had an up-and-down season but is still as good as any receiver, and Josh Jacobs — if he returns — won last season's rushing crown.
But who's the right QB fit?
It's probably not Justin Fields, considering the Raiders just hired Luke Getsy to run the offense and that partnership didn't exactly go well in Chicago. And Kirk Cousins feels a bit too Derek Carr-y.
Could the Raiders take a chance on Russell Wilson? Wilson impressed in his only game against Las Vegas this season, completing 79% of his passes for two scores. Could he stay right there in the AFC West?
Best QB fit: Russell Wilson
The Steelers have the longest odds of any of these five teams but might actually be the most QB-ready team on the list.
If I zero out the quarterback rating on my positional rankings rosters matrix, the Steelers rank sixth among all NFL teams in a QB-less world.
It starts with the defense, of course. Pittsburgh's defense remains loaded. T.J. Watt is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and Minkah Fitzpatrick and others under Mike Tomlin's leadership have this unit top 10 and better just about every season.
The offense struggled through three quarterbacks and an offensive coordinator change, but did quietly start to find a few answers. A bad offensive line showed signs of life once rookie Broderick Jones moved into the starting lineup, and the rushing attack took off over the middle and back part of the season with Jaylen Warren taking on a bigger role.
George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth also had breakout campaigns alongside Diontae Johnson, giving a new Pittsburgh quarterback a trio of solid, if unspectacular, weapons.
So what's next for Pittsburgh at QB? Kenny Pickett was hurt, then remained on the bench for ineffectiveness late, and it's tough to see the Steelers running things back with just him. Mason Rudolph was the choice late, but he may not be the long-term answer.
Justin Fields will be a popular pick here, just for the unknown upside potential, and Kirk Cousins makes sense on the surface. But Pittsburgh doesn't have a great cap situation, and I actually like another name better.
The Steelers have a new offensive coordinator in town, and it's Arthur Smith. That may not sound encouraging after the disaster in Atlanta, but the truth is that Smith has consistently led terrific offenses that outperformed the sum of their parts up until this season.
The Falcons a year ago had one of the most surprising offenses in the league, with a great rushing attack and a dangerous play-action pass under Marcus Mariota. Before that, Smith led great offenses in Tennessee and helped turn Ryan Tannehill into one of the best quarterbacks in the league for a few seasons, by many advanced metrics.
Could Tannehill be the right bridge QB in Pittsburgh?
We already know Tannehill works well in Smith's system, thriving in a play-action setting and using his mobility to his advantage. And to that end, could Pickett be worth another look? He's surprisingly mobile and has very good play-action numbers, but wasn't given much opportunity to showcase that in this offense.
It's not spectacular, but it's very Pittsburgh: elite defense, a steady run game and just enough passing. Pittsburgh won 10 games this past season and made the playoffs. What could the Steelers do with a better quarterback to lead the way?
Best QB fit: Ryan Tannehill