Who will be the next Tom Brady?
It’s a patently ridiculous question, right? The GOAT is irreplaceable, and his avalanche of NFL records – and certainly his track record as the league’s ultimate winner – will never be matched. Right? (My colleague Mike Freeman says there won’t be another, and it’s difficult to counter his case.)
But weren’t similar queries floated when Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky retired? Didn’t this happen when Joe Montana, long ago eclipsed by Brady in the minds of most, walked away?
The moneyline (-12,121,212) that TB12’s football résumé will ever be duplicated is overwhelmingly improbable. But the improbable is a routine occurrence in sports, and it’s what keeps us watching. So let’s at least just whisper it: Who might be the next Tom Brady?
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The Kansas City Chiefs superstar is two wins away from becoming the only active quarterback in the NFL – assuming Brady is indeed a goner – with multiple Super Bowl victories. (Brady had three by age 27.) There’s no questioning Mahomes’ ability – the arm, the vision, the mind, the competitive fire, and certainly far more athleticism than TB12 ever brought to the table. Yet Mahomes, 26, is also a beloved teammate, and even though his 10-year contract could pay him more than a half-billion dollars, it was structured to allow the Chiefs to keep their Super Bowl 54-winning core intact. Don’t be surprised if Mahomes’ deal is revised down the road in a manner that gets him paid while leaving money on the table for Kansas City to retain a top-tier supporting cast.
The leader of the 2019 national champion LSU Tigers – arguably the greatest college football team ever – is also two wins from a Lombardi Trophy. Burrow’s Cincinnati Bengals have never historically had much staying power as a contender, and the franchise has not yet broken through for a Super Bowl win in its history. But the same could be said of the New England Patriots when Brady took over in 2001, his second NFL season. Burrow has a brilliant football mind, a more-than-sufficient-arm, swagger that’s already attracted players to Cincinnati – any of this sound familiar? – and is surrounded by a gifted young roster that could be poised to go on a serious run. One significant factor working against Burrow: He’s already 25.
For much of the past two years, the Los Angeles Chargers‘ budding superstar has overshadowed Burrow as the top passing prospect to come out of the 2020 draft. It helped that Burrow’s first NFL season was cut short by a major knee injury, which cleared the runway for Herbert’s takeoff as offensive rookie of the year. And though the scales appear re-balanced – maybe not even given Herbert has yet to take a playoff snap – this duo should be a fun one to watch over the next decade-plus. Herbert’s intellect and quiet drive have been lauded by teammates, and his athleticism and live arm distinguish him – comparisons to a young Aaron Rodgers probably aren’t out of bounds. But Herbert, 23, obviously has a ton of work ahead to enter the Brady conversation and – like Burrow and TB12 before him – will have to elevate a franchise that hasn’t won a championship during the Super Bowl era (since 1966). But talent and time are, for now, on Herbert’s side.
Widely (and unfairly … despite what you’re about to read) compared to Brady entering the 2021 draft, Jones, 23, already has one feather in his cap that TB12 can’t claim – leading the Patriots to the playoffs as a rookie. Like Brady before him, Jones is armed with the football genius that is Bill Belichick, at least as long as the 69-year-old coaching legend wants to keep donning his hoodie. Jones will never have the physical gifts of Mahomes, Herbert or any number of his peers. But Jones does have a big football brain, seems highly motivated to win and possesses the advantage of playing for a flagship franchise that knows how to win.
He seems to be emerging as the primary rival to Mahomes, Allen’s Buffalo Bills eliminated by the Chiefs in the past two postseasons – and in spectacular fashion in this year’s divisional round. A first-round pick in 2018, Allen has shown more improvement at the professional level – especially as it pertains to accuracy – than most young quarterbacks ever realize. If he hasn’t already developed into Cam Newton 2.0, and it’s probably safe to say Allen is already a more polished passer than Newton, that seems to be where his trajectory is headed. The Bills have also become a model of consistency and stability under coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane. But like Burrow and Herbert, Allen will have to overcome an organizational history that includes only Super Bowl heartbreak … and, at 25, he needs to get on the Lombardi board soon. Also noteworthy? His Newton-esque style will need to evolve if he’s going to have the staying power to play another 15 seasons.
His rookie season with the Jacksonville Jaguars wasn’t pretty, but the majority of the blame lies at the feet of fired coach Urban Meyer, not Lawrence. The No. 1 pick of the 2021 draft entered the league with a level of hype that rivaled John Elway, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck – and two of them are at least mentioned in the conversation of all-time quarterbacking greats even if Elway and Manning aren’t quite Brady-caliber. Lawrence, a 6-6, 213-pounder with all the ability in the world and a pedigree of winning cultivated in high school and at Clemson, is only 22. Potential never won a game in the NFL, but if Lawrence’s talent blossoms as many expect it can – we’re just saying, there’s a chance.
Is it fair to mention a kid who’s not yet a senior in high school to Tom Brady? Nope, not even a little bit. But we are talking about a Manning, and Arch’s uncles – Peyton and Eli – have taken plenty of bites out of Brady over the years. (Eli bested Brady in two Super Bowls, but don’t forget that Peyton won three of five head-to-head matchups in the postseason.) What does all of that mean for Arch, who hasn’t even committed to a college program yet? Who knows, other than he’s got unmatched NFL bloodlines and a great group of advisors teeming with NFL wisdom. It’s a very long projection, but Arch Manning is already on track to easily surpass Lawrence as the greatest quarterbacking prospect since … Peyton Manning?
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who’s NFL’s next Tom Brady? These 7 quarterbacks might have a shot
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