Previewing the 2023 free agent QB class: Lamar Jackson, Geno Smith, Tom Brady and more

Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) drops back to pass during the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 free-agent quarterback class is looking like one of the best in recent memory. It features two MVPs, two Heisman winners and an NFL player who lived in a bus down by the river this offseason. While the top players — Lamar Jackson, Tom Brady and Geno Smith — may not change teams, we could see some big-name backups find new homes this offseason.

Lamar Jackson

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 85.2 
  • Strength: Everything
  • Weakness: Health
  • Best Fit: Any team playing in the NFL, XFL, USFL or CFL

The 2019 MVP was back playing at a high level before another injury derailed his 2022 season. This is the second year in a row Jackson has missed time with an injury, and it’s the only reason there can be any pause about his value to whatever team he plays for in 2023. Even with the injuries, the Ravens cannot afford to go back to the drawing board in regard to finding a quarterback, and so they should pay Jackson whatever he wants to lock him up long-term.

The offense runs entirely through Jackson and has struggled in most games that he hasn’t been available for. Jackson’s rushing ability will continue to be his elite trait, but he’s improved by leaps and bounds as a passer. This season, his turnover-worthy play rate sits at 2.4%, the second-lowest mark of his career. His accurate throw rate is at 55.6%, the second highest of his career. It's hard to believe there would be any sort of overly negative discussion about a player as singular as Lamar Jackson.

Geno Smith

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 81.0
  • Strength: Decision making
  • Weakness: The Seahawks' rookie tackles
  • Best Fit: Back to the Seahawks

The Geno Smith resurrection tour started hot — he was an MVP candidate early in the season — but it fizzled out as the season progressed, and now the Seahawks' playoff fate comes down to Week 18. Smith, however, has stayed consistent, and the play of his rookie offensive tackles has affected him.

While the team should still be excited about both Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas as tandem bookends for the future, their play since Week 12 has been rough. They sport a combined 51.7 pass-blocking grade since that game against the Raiders game. That’s down from 74.1 in Weeks 1-11. Meanwhile, Smith’s grade was a fantastic 85.9 in Weeks 1-11 and has since fallen to 67.0. His process hasn’t been much different, but the tackle play has affected him and the entire offense.

Cross and Lucas will be more consistent as sophomores in 2023, and with a solid supporting cast of receivers and running backs, Geno Smith's future could and should continue in the Pacific Northwest.   

Tom Brady

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 79.4
  • Strength: Processing
  • Weakness: Age
  • Best Fit: Whichever team is closest to the Fountain of Youth

After two stunning years to begin his Tampa Bay era, Brady had to scrape and claw his way into the playoffs following an inconsistent regular season. Brady has had good moments, but he’s also had ones that align with his age. Amid overall poor play from Tampa Bay's offensive line, Brady has not stood in the pocket and gone through progressions in the same way as in the past. His 2.34-second average time to throw is the lowest in the league and the lowest of his career since PFF began tracking the number more than a decade ago.

Going into his age-46 season in 2023 means Brady is more likely to continue to decline rather than this season being an aberration. The Buccaneers still have the roster makeup that Brady would look to stick with if center Ryan Jensen comes back at full strength and tackle Donovan Smith cuts down on the holding penalties. 

Daniel Jones

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 76.7
  • Strength: Athletic ability
  • Weakness: Timing
  • Best Fit: The NFL offenses that make their quarterbacks look better than they are

With the Giants returning to the playoffs, there is enough goodwill for the franchise to endure another season from Daniel Jones, but he and the team are likely regression candidates. Head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka have done a commendable job creating an offense that hid most of Jones’ faults. Jones is at best a slightly above-average quarterback and could look effective in a good scheme (he has that this year) and with a good supporting group of pass catchers (he does not have that this year), but he will probably never be a player who can elevate his teammates.

The Giants' coaching staff protected Jones with a league-leading number of bootlegs, the fourth-most quarterback runs and a seventh-ranked running game in expected points added per play this season. This was the perfect storm for Daniel Jones to look like a good quarterback without necessarily being one.

Jimmy Garoppolo

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 71.4
  • Strengths: Throwing to the middle of the field
  • Weakness: Throwing to the middle of the field
  • Best Fit: There has to be another Shanahan family member somewhere

Considering Brock Purdy‘s emergence and the draft capital spent on Trey Lance, it does seem like we are finally at the end of Jimmy G’s time as a 49er. He will benefit a team as a backup quarterback who can come in if needed and execute an offense for a few weeks, but we have yet to see him without Kyle Shanahan calling the plays (minus a couple of games as a rookie for the Patriots in 2016).

Garoppolo plays with great timing, and if the coordinator can get people open quickly, he can look like a good quarterback. This timing is also his downfall, as pre-snap to post-snap defensive movement can lead to him still trying to fit the ball in en route to turnovers. This tends to happen when he’s throwing to the middle of the field. He refuses to throw the ball outside the numbers and down the field — even though the 49ers have had receivers who can make plays in those areas. 

Jacoby Brissett

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 82.6
  • Strength: Arm Strength
  • Weakness: Thinks he’s Michael Vick — is not Michael Vick
  • Best Fit: Staying in Cleveland

You may have missed it, but Brissett played well for the Browns this season, and it wasn’t just due to all the play action and run game that Kevin Stefanski and the offense have been known for. Brissett’s 73.3 passing grade when removing RPOs, rollouts and play-action attempts ranks 10th in the league.

He has a strong arm, moves really well in the pocket and averages 8.7 yards per scramble, fifth best in the league but also far greater than any other season he’s had. He’s one of the better backups that a team could have, but staying in Cleveland is probably his best choice. 

Andy Dalton

  • Strength: Going through progressions
  • Weakness: Mobility
  • Best Fit: As a playable character in “God of War: Ragnarök”

While the Saints' offense has not been good this year with Dalton at the helm, ranking 17th in EPA per play since his first start in Week 4, he has played well in spite of it. He’s probably not a Week 1 starter anymore, but he’s finally played like the serviceable backup that he should have been since leaving the Bengals in 2020.

Dalton looked completely out of sorts while playing for the Cowboys and Bears in 2020 and 2021, respectively. He finished with a 69.9 grade in 2020 and a 67.1 mark in 2021. Now, in his third straight year coming off the bench, he has produced an 86.3 grade. The Saints could sign him again as a stopgap until they find their quarterback of the future, but another team could take a chance on him as a starter. 

Baker Mayfield

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 52.9
  • Strength: The enormous chip on his shoulder 
  • Weakness: Footwork
  • Best Fit: Staying in Los Angeles and looking good under Sean McVay again

Although it may feel like Mayfield has again revitalized his career in Los Angeles, the numbers don’t quite back up that assertion. His 56.7 PFF grade since his first game as a Ram ranks 30th in the league during that span. As a whole, the Rams have fielded the seventh-best offense by EPA per play since then. There is a disconnect, and it begins with head coach Sean McVay.

The Rams were clearly not comfortable with either John Wolford or Bryce Perkins as the team's backups, so keeping Mayfield around to back up Matthew Stafford would make sense. However, Baker might still think he should be a starter somewhere. 

Sam Darnold

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 68.4
  • Strength: Arm strength
  • Weakness: Accuracy
  • Best Fit: Anywhere (as long as he keeps his beard)

The Panthers have played lights-out since Darnold took over as the starting quarterback late this season, but we can’t forget how good their running game has been over that time and how bad Darnold has been in his career up to this point.

Darnold does boast a big arm, but his accuracy has not been good in his career. Since his first start this season in Week 12, the Panthers lead the league in RPO rate and run rate while ranking third in play-action rate. The Panthers have protected Darnold, and it’s worked, but there’s no guarantee it works again wherever he plays next season. 

Gardner Minshew

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 55.6
  • Strength: Playmaking
  • Weakness: Not having an elite trait
  • Best Fit: A spread system where he can make plays in space

After exposing a Dallas Cowboys defense that was ripe for exposure, Minshew came back down to earth against a surging Saints defense in Week 17. We know what Minshew is at this point: a backup who can come in and provide a spark with just enough arm strength, decision making and accuracy to go along with good playmaking ability. But it’s hard for him to start for multiple games in a row and make a positive impact. 


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