NFL News & Analysis

NFL Mailbag: Where DeAndre Hopkins should go, Sam Howell's outlook as a starter and more

2M7EXR1 Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell (14) throws the ball against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

We are deep into the NFL offseason. The closest thing that the league comes to true downtime is right around the corner, so that means it’s mailbag time!

These questions were solicited via Twitter, the PFF NFL Podcast and the literal (e)mailbag. So, let’s answer some.

Is athleticism/mobility now a requisite skill for QBs?

Quarterback mobility tends to be a cyclical process largely built on the back of who the best players are at any given time. If you go back far enough, you’ll find footage of Sammy Baugh or Sonny Jurgensen playing like Patrick Mahomes, but there were blocks of time where the prototypes were relatively immobile pocket passers.

We are just emerging from a period where Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were the best two quarterbacks the game had — maybe ever — so they were naturally considered the prototype. Now, that’s Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen or any of a number of significantly more athletic and creative players. Any style is still clearly capable of winning and succeeding at the highest level, but mobility at the position has obviously become a desirable trait to be pursued when not to the detriment of other skills.

Is it a requirement in the modern quarterback? Not quite, but it’s become important enough that if a player doesn’t possess any mobility, he had better be elite at everything else.

Where should DeAndre Hopkins go?

I took a look at what Hopkins has left in this article, but the truth here is that it depends entirely on what he wants from the last years of his career. Hopkins has made well over $100 million in his time in the league, with more money on the way, but he has played in just six playoff games and never made it past the divisional round. Is he just interested in more money, or does he really want to chase a championship?

His skill set remains valuable to almost every team in the league, even if he might not have the ability to threaten defenses in every way anymore, but putting himself together with the best quarterbacks and best teams might not go hand in hand with maximizing his money. All things being equal, I would love to see Hopkins on the Bills as a complement to Stefon Diggs. That would likely require him to leave significant money on the table.

Are the Vikings right to move on from Dalvin Cook?

The Dalvin Cook saga is a classic case of teams grappling with the reality of running back dynamics in the modern NFL. Cook has been a fantastic back for the Vikings, and absolutely made a difference for them within games, but he isn’t the driving force in that offense and there’s really no way to justify a running back having the third-highest cap hit on the roster.

And as much as Alexander Mattison is a solid back, there likely will be a notable difference between Cook and Mattison. Over the past two seasons, while their PFF rushing grades have been similar and Mattison has broken tackles at a greater rate than Cook, he has trailed in yards before and after contact and generated explosive plays at a much lower rate.

Cook is an outstanding running back, but the Vikings are right to try and get away from his contract any way they can.

Can Sam Howell really be the guy?

The obvious answer is that nobody, including Washington, really has any idea, but we can lay out what we do know.

In his one regular season start, Sam Howell looked good. His running was particularly effective and he accounted for two touchdowns. He also played well in the preseason and was at his best in the game he started and earned the most playing time.

It’s also true to say that a year before the draft, he was expected to be the No. 1 overall pick, before sliding all the way to the fifth round. There was also no particularly good reason for that slide based on his final year in college. His PFF grade remained above 90.0, even if he leaned far more on his rushing ability than passing. However, the offense also changed around him and his top target had gone to the NFL. His turnover-worthy play rate remained a low 2.2% and he still made plenty of big plays.

There are several reasons to be optimistic about Howell’s potential, but it would be foolish to overlook the reality that fifth-round picks do not become high-end quarterbacks very often.

What is the best-case scenario for Trey Lance?

After getting Wally-Pipped last season by Brock Purdy, Trey Lance is in a tough spot with a very limited window to show he can be a legitimate NFL starter this offseason. While Purdy is recovering from his elbow injury, Lance has a chance to use reps to show the 49ers he has a higher upside than Purdy — or, more likely, to put himself in the shop window to other teams in need of a long-term starter.

Lance’s selling points are all still legitimate — elite size, athleticism and tools — but he remains incredibly inexperienced at the quarterback position at all levels of the game.

He attempted 318 passes in his entire college career, and another 142 in high school. Add in the 102 he has attempted in the NFL, and his entire football career has fewer pass attempts than 10 NFL starters had last season alone.

The biggest thing for Lance this preseason is to show development and improvement in terms of processing because his physical tools sell themselves. The best realistic outcome for him is probably to entice a team to trade for him and give him a pathway to starting elsewhere.

Why has the NFC fallen way behind the AFC?

Nine of the top 12 teams in PFF’s latest power rankings article are from the AFC, and in most odds for the Super Bowl, four of the top six teams are from that conference. The list of contenders in the AFC seems endless. The NFC rarely extends too far beyond the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers. But why?

The obvious answer is the quarterbacks. There has been a huge influx of talent to the NFL over the past several years to create a changing of the guard at the most important position in the league, and most of them have gone to AFC teams. Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow are most people’s top three passers in the league today. They all joined AFC teams. Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, Trevor Lawrence, Deshaun Watson all represent high-end quarterbacks or have high-end potential, while Tua Tagovailoa showed last season in Miami he can play at that level too in their current offense when healthy. Aaron Rodgers just jumped into the AFC after a career in the other conference.

In the NFC, Dak Prescott is a top-10 quarterback but clearly in the bottom of the top 10, while Jalen Hurts might be the only passer in the conference capable of challenging the best the AFC has to offer. The best quarterbacks in this conference in recent years have either departed (Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan), declined (Kyler Murray, Matthew Stafford) or are simply a clear step behind the elite in the AFC (Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr, Jared Goff).

As long as the AFC has a virtual monopoly on elite quarterbacks, they’ll be the clear best conference.

Would you rather fight one Aaron Donald or two Bryce Youngs?

No-brainer. Aaron Donald trains with knives and has a six-pack at 285 pounds. Bryce Young is my size. We’d need to be at four or five Bryce Youngs before I even considered another answer.


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