Patrick Mahomes did it again.
The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback orchestrated a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in overtime of Super Bowl LVIII to lead his team to a 25-22 win over the San Francisco 49ers, the team’s second title in as many years and third since the 2019-20 season.
Mahomes’ performance — 333 passing yards, 66 rushing yards, and two touchdowns — was more of what we’ve come to expect from the now three-time Super Bowl MVP, and caps off a season for Black quarterbacks that further signals the future of the position.
The 2023 kicked off with a record-breaking 14 Black quarterbacks starting Week 1: Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Jalen Hurts, Justin Fields, Jordan Love, Desmond Ridder, Bryce Young, Joshua Dobbs (in place of the injured Kyler Murray), and Geno Smith.
While some of those players will surely end up on the bench next season, possibly replaced by one of three exciting Black quarterbacks coming in April’s draft, the NFL clearly is still trending to something that could not have been imagined in 1968, when the first Black quarterback ever started a game: Over half of the starting quarterbacks in the league being Black.
But much like Black people, Black quarterbacks are not a monolith. Each has his different strengths and weaknesses, and each player’s status as his team’s starting quarterback is not the same.
Below we look at the five classes of Black NFL quarterbacks headed into the offseason, ranging from those with ultimate job security (it’s one person and you know who he is), to those who still can stand to improve, to those likely to be changing teams in the near future. We also take a look at that exciting crop of players on the horizon.
He’s likely on the clock
Russell Wilson: He gone. While that’s not a certainty, the Broncos benched Wilson for the final two games of the season, not because he was playing badly (29 total touchdowns in 2023 vs. 19 total touchdowns in 2022), but because the team — which is owned by the family who owns Walmart — wanted to save some money. Regardless, the Wilson-Sean Payton relationship never seemed to fit, as evidenced by Payton being seen yelling into Wilson’s face during a Week 15 loss to the Detroit Lions. Don’t get it twisted: Wilson is no longer the quarterback he used to be, but there are at least 10 teams that could use him as a starter for next season, including the team that currently employs …
Desmond Ridder: The Falcons decided to ride with Ridder over kicking the tires on Lamar Jackson last offseason for whatever reason and were rewarded with a quarterback who threw as many interceptions as touchdowns (12) this season, and who was benched as many times as the New York Jets’ Zach Wilson. Ridder had some magical moments against the Texans and Packers this season, but let’s call a spade a spade: Ridder’s days as a starter are likely over. The Falcons own the eighth pick in April’s draft, though none of ESPN’s draft experts predict Atlanta to use that pick on a quarterback. Russell Wilson’s wife, musician Ciara, is from Atlanta, so that would make for a pretty feel-good homecoming of sorts.
Geno Smith: Smith’s resurgence as a starter for the Seahawks has been nothing short of amazing. Smith was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft, started two seasons, lost his job to Ryan Fitzpatrick, served as a backup for four different teams over the next six years, and then got his chance in 2022 with the Seahawks after the departure of Wilson. Smith only set franchise records in yards and competition percentage and led the team to the playoffs in his first season. But his productivity slipped a bit this season, he missed two games, and his head coach was replaced. The Seahawks will have to make a decision on Smith by Friday, when his $12.7 million base salary becomes guaranteed. With a new regime, it’s probably the final days of Smith in Seattle, but he’d be one of the best free-agent options at stopgap or backup quarterback.
Justin Fields: Fields is the best running quarterback in the league. Over the past two seasons he’s had the most rushing yards (1,800) and best rushing rate (6.3 yards per carry, minimum 50 carries) among quarterbacks, and in 2023 he had carries that went for 39, 39, 41, 53 and 58 yards. But Fields’ passing has always been his weakness. He’s started 38 games in his Chicago career, and in that time he’s never completed more than 62% of his passes, never thrown for more than 2,600 yards, and has just 40 passing touchdowns against 30 interceptions (and 16 fumbles). The Bears ended the season winning four of their final six games, but this upcoming draft has a Patrick Mahomes clone in Caleb Williams, and the Bears have the No. 1 overall pick. Whatever direction the Bears go in, they’ll more than likely have a Black quarterback starting for them in 2024.
Kyler Murray: Murray seemed to have his bags packed at the end of the 2022 season. His production took a step back from his first three seasons, the Cardinals finished with a 4-13 record, he tore his ACL during a mid-December loss to the New England Patriots, and before the season even got started it was uncovered that his recent contract extension with the team required four hours of video game-free study time per week.
After missing the first nine games of the 2023 season, in which the team went 1-8, Murray went 3-5 as a starter upon his return in Week 10, conveniently moving the Cardinals further and further away from the No. 1. overall pick — and USC’s Williams — in April’s draft. (The Cardinals will select fourth.) Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon has said on multiple occasions that he wants Murray to return next year, and Murray said he was happy being in Arizona at the end of the 2023 season. Either way, the Cardinals have two choices for 2024: run it back with the guy who hung 256 total yards and three passing touchdowns on the Philadelphia Eagles last year … or Dobbs and Clayton Tune. The choice is theirs.
He’s not going anywhere anytime soon
Jalen Hurts: If the 2023 season ended after Week 12, Hurts would likely be in the category below rather than this one. The Eagles, fresh off an appearance in the Super Bowl, were 10-1 and seemed to be destined to take the top spot in the NFC. But then the team went off the rails, winning just one game over the final six weeks of the season. Hurts, rewarded with a $255 million contract extension last offseason, committed over three times as many turnovers in 2023 (19) than he did in 2022 (6), and even his infamous “Tush Push” was stuffed during the wild-card round loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That being said, Hurts still accounted for 38 total touchdowns this season and is the only quarterback on this list other than Patrick Mahomes and Wilson to have appeared in a Super Bowl.
Deshaun Watson: Watson is a “He Ain’t Going Nowhere” All-Star. After the Cleveland Browns for some reason agreed to sign Watson to a fully guaranteed $230 million contract after trading for him in 2022, they’re stuck with him for the foreseeable future. Even if Watson didn’t have all that guaranteed cash, how many teams would want to sign a quarterback who in his 12 games as a Browns starter has completed under 60% of his passes with 16 total touchdowns against 10 turnovers, and who was outplayed by 39-year-old Joe Flacco this season? Watson showed a flash of his former self against the Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals last season — 73.0 completion percentage, 508 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions — but as far as the team’s prospects going forward with him, there’s a popular saying on the internet: You hate to see it.
Lamar Jackson: Jackson has nothing left to prove … in the regular season. He’s already won two MVP awards, the most recent in 2023 after accounting for 4,499 total yards and 29 total touchdowns while leading the Ravens to the No. 1 seed in the playoffs for the second time in his career. He was rewarded with what was then the richest contract in NFL history last offseason. But, as has been the case throughout his six-year career, Jackson’s performance in the playoffs helped sink the Ravens. In the AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs, Jackson completed just 54.1% of his passes, was intercepted once, and was sacked four times, including a strip-sack. Jackson’s going to be in Baltimore for many more years, but the Ravens only go as far as him.
Dak Prescott: Prescott played some of the best ball of his career this season — 4,516 passing yards, 38 total touchdowns — and did it at just the right time: his contract is up after the 2024 season. No matter what the fans and pundits say, Prescott is the best option the Cowboys have to win its first Super Bowl since 1995. As is always the case with team owner and general manager Jerry Jones, Prescott’s contract extension is going to drag deep into the offseason, but unless the Cowboys have some Ocean’s 11-style heist planned to get Mahomes out of Kansas City, Prescott will be starting in Dallas come the fall.
Second-year starters franchises are committed to
Anthony Richardson: Richardson is one of those cases where the words don’t do him justice. When you’re done reading this story, go type “Anthony Richarson highlights” in your search bar and sit back and enjoy.
Richardson is a mountain of a man with a rocket for an arm. He can move around the pocket, he can launch passes into the nosebleeds of the stadium, and on a handful of passes (he completed 59.1% of his passes last season) he can drop that thang right in his receivers hands. He is everything you love about Cam Newton and Josh Allen … but faster. And we know all of that from just four games (and eight total touchdowns) last season before Richardson missed the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.
Bryce Young: At the very least, Young has the most upside of any of the other quarterbacks listed here. And that’s because his rookie season could not have gone any worse. He was sacked the second-most (62) of any quarterback this season, and he might’ve surpassed the leader (Washington’s Sam Howell, 65) had Young not missed a game. He threw nearly as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (10). His coach got fired before the season was over, and the Panthers had the worst record in the league, finishing 2-15.
But there’s reason for optimism. The Panthers hired former Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dave Canales to replace the departing Frank Reich as head coach, and Stroud cussed out his teammates at one point last season amidst all the losing. If nothing else, it shows that the former Heisman trophy winner is not content with mediocrity.
C.J. Stroud: It took just 15 regular-season and two postseason games to know what’s up with Stroud. He threw for 4,108 yards and 23 passing touchdowns against just five interceptions, the best TD-to-INT ratio in the entire league. In his first ever playoff start, he lit up the Cleveland Browns defense for 274 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 45-14 beatdown. Stroud has the skill, maturity and poise that are necessary to one day win a Super Bowl. If you’re already looking for who is “next” after Mahomes, the easy money is Stroud.
Jordan Love: It’s safe to say that Jordan Love heard us all talking crazy about him. Aaron Rodgers skipped town to be the missing piece for the loaded New York Jets, and there were many reasons to believe the Packers wouldn’t amount to much during their first season with Love, who at that point had only appeared in 10 games since being drafted in the first round of the 2020 draft. He had his ups (eight total touchdowns in the first three games), downs (four straight losses between weeks 4-7) and ups again (17 touchdowns against one interception the final eight games) this season, and was one bone-headed interception away from the NFC Championship. Love had more success than Rodgers did his first season as a starter in 2008, had more success than Rodgers did in 2023, and even at times has looked like a carbon copy of Rodgers in Green Bay. The Packers have yet another star quarterback in the making.
Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Michael Penix: These three represent the future and continued evolution of Black NFL quarterbacks. While Williams (predicted to go No. 1 overall in April’s draft by ESPN draft analysis Matt Miller), Daniels (No. 3) and Penix (No. 42) might not all go in the first four picks like Young, Stroud and Richardson did last year, there’s reason to believe each will spend parts — if not all — of 2024 as their respective team’s starter.
Williams pulled off his best Mahomes impression last season at USC, though there are clear warts he’ll need to smooth over. Daniels is the speedster with the big arm that fans of the Patriots are not familiar with, but it’s hard to ignore 50 total touchdowns, 4,546 total yards and just four interceptions, which he put up during his Heisman trophy-winning season with LSU last year. Then there’s Penix, the lefty with the unorthodox throwing motion who has one of the prettiest deep balls around. Aside from injuries (tore ACL in right knee twice), one of his biggest hang ups is his age: Penix, who will be 24 in May, is less than four years younger than Jackson (27), who has been in the NFL since 2018.
He’s not going anywhere, ever
Patrick Mahomes: There’s a greater chance of Chiefs receiver Kadarious Toney being on the roster next season than Mahomes not being there. All it took was watching the final 1:53 of the fourth quarter and beyond of the Super Bowl to know what time it was. ‘Nuff said.