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NFL history of the quarterback leap: Who made the jump in 2023, a look at every QB who has done it since 2000

The biggest question mark entering last year was Jordan Love. Would he continue the Packers’ run of MVP-caliber quarterbacks, settle in as an average starter or completely face plant. Sure enough, he took a leap to superstardom, culminating with a blowout win in Dallas in the postseason. Now he’s on the doorstep of a new contract that’ll surely pay him over $50 million per year. 

Love’s season is one of the greatest quarterback leaps in recent memory and also illustrates how fascinating and impactful the quarterback leap can be. Every year a few quarterbacks burst onto the scene or improve their play to a degree that can change the fortunes of a franchise (and their personal fortunes). 

As an NFL history buff and someone who loves to nerd out, I decided to find every quarterback leap since the turn of the century (2000) in search of the most common factors that linked the leaps together as we look ahead to another season of quarterback leaps in 2024.

Quarterback leap criteria:

  • There needs to be a statistical baseline. I started my search with quarterbacks who jumped at least a quarter of the league’s qualified passers from one season to the next in terms of expected points added (EPA) per play. EPA takes into account value added on all plays, from passes, sacks, scrambles and designed runs. It captures a quarterback’s entire impact better than a traditional stat like passer rating.
  • I used the eye test to refine the list, adding and subtracting quarterbacks from there. Numbers were a great place to start but not the end all, be all. For example, there are quarterbacks who qualified for the passer leaderboard, but clearly didn’t have enough playing time for anyone to believe they made “the leap.” 
  • Traditionally, you might connect a quarterback leap to players in their first few seasons in the league. I looked at leaps of all flavors. I included Aaron Rodgers in 2020. He clearly took a step forward after the Jordan Love pick, winning back-to-back MVPs, following a few average seasons. 

History of the quarterback leap

Now that I’ve established the ground rules, let’s get to the good stuff. There were 97 total quarterback leaps since 2000, which averages out to roughly four per season. There’s been at least one leap in every season over that span, and three leaps in 22 of the past 24 seasons. 

Feast your eyes on the list. You’ll probably remember some of these seasons, like Ryan Tannehill leading the Titans to an AFC Championship game after a period of obscurity with the Dolphins. Do you recall Case Keenum and his season leading up to the “Minneapolis Miracle?” You definitely remember the sophomore jumps made by Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow. My personal favorites include Andy Dalton in 2015, when the “Red Rifle” made a run at MVP before getting hurt, and Drew Brees in 2006, when he broke out with the Saints. Plus, Jalen Hurts made a quantum leap in 2022.

Quarterback leaps since 2000

2023Jordan Love, C.J. Stroud, Brock Purdy, Lamar Jackson, Matthew Stafford, Baker Mayfield


Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts, Jared GoffGeno SmithJustin FieldsTrevor LawrenceDaniel Jones


Joe Burrow, Matthew StaffordKyler Murray


Josh AllenTom BradyBaker Mayfield, Aaron Rodgers, Justin Herbert


Ryan Tannehill, Lamar Jackson, Kirk CousinsDeshaun WatsonJimmy Garoppolo


Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck


Case Keenum, Carson WentzAlex SmithPhilip RiversBlake Bortles, Jared Goff


Marcus MariotaDerek CarrDak PrescottMatt Ryan


Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Blake Bortles, Tyrod TaylorCarson Palmer, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Fitzpatrick


Joe FlaccoEli ManningBen Roethlisberger


Nick Foles, Philip Rivers


Robert Griffin IIIColin KaepernickRussell Wilson


Cam Newton, Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford


Matt CasselJosh Freeman, Michael Vick


Brett Favre


Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Chad Pennington, Matt Ryan, Kurt Warner, Matt Cassel


Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Derek Anderson, David Garrard


Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees


Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Mark Brunell


Drew Brees, Donovan McNabb, Ben Roethlisberger


Jake Plummer, Jon Kitna, Daunte Culpepper


Trent Green, Matt Hasselbeck, Chad Pennington, Michael Vick, Brad Johnson, Drew Bledsoe


Steve McNair, Kordell Stewart, Brett Favre


Daunte Culpepper, Donovan McNabb, Jeff Garcia, Kerry Collins

A trio of young stars led a group of leaps last season:

2023 Leaps

One interesting element of the quarterback leap is sustainability. Since 2000, just over half of the quarterbacks to take a leap made an additional Pro Bowl in their career.  Quarterbacks like Andy Dalton, Carson Wentz, Case Keenum and Mitchell Trubisky made leaps that turned out to be more like one-hit wonders. It’ll be interesting to see which 2023 leap turns out to be unsustainable. 

Biggest factors behind quarterback leaps

It’s been said that in order to look forward, you have to look back. So for the rest of this week I’ll be using the history of quarterback leaps to project who will make a jump in 2024.

As I selected all 97 quarterback leaps since 2000, I also picked out the biggest reason for each leap. The primary factors fell into four buckets. Here’s a look at what’s coming up in the ‘Quarterback Leap Week’ schedule:

Quarterback Leap Week

Tuesday: Which young quarterback is the next to make the leap?

The most common reason for a leap wasn’t a new star teammate or big change on the coaching staff, it’s simple quarterback development. You’ve probably heard of the Year 2 leap before. There’s been a Year 2 leap in six of the past seven seasons. Think Carson Wentz, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence and Brock Purdy. This year’s candidates include Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson and Will Levis. Of course, development isn’t just limited to Year 2 players. Other young quarterbacks who can crush expectations include rookies like Caleb Williams and Jayden Daniels. 

Wednesday: Which coaching change will spur a leap?

Coaching changes were the second-biggest reason for a leap. A new coach was the primary factor with roughly one quarter of all leaps, including Lamar Jackson getting a new offensive coordinator (Todd Monken) last year. Leap candidates in 2024 include Geno Smith (new head coach Mike Macdonald) and Justin Herbert (with Jim Harbaugh). 

Thursday: Which offseason move will lead to a leap?

They say the NFL is a copycat league and the new trend is trading for veteran pass catchers, especially those who can speed up the development of new quarterbacks. Getting top-flight wide receivers worked wonders for Josh Allen (Stefon Diggs), Joe Burrow (Ja’Marr Chase), Jalen Hurts (A.J. Brown), Tua Tagovailoa (Tyreek Hill) and Lamar Jackson (Zay Flowers).  It’s definitely a new fad, as a quarterback made a leap due primarily to an improved supporting cast in eight of the past 10 seasons. Leap candidates this year include Daniel Jones (Malik Nabers), Patrick Mahomes (Hollywood Brown and Xavier Worthy), Jalen Hurts (Saquon Barkley), Kyler Murray (Marvin Harrison Jr.) and C.J. Stroud (Stefon Diggs). 

Friday: Which old face in a new place will improve the most?

The hot trend that bounced back after a miserable 2022 was veteran quarterback in new places. Baker Mayfield was able to resurrect his career in Tampa Bay, won a playoff game and got a three-year deal. Last season didn’t work out so hot for Aaron Rodgers, but let’s hit the reset button as 2023 was a wash. Other 2024 leap candidates include Russell Wilson and Justin Fields (both for the Steelers), Kirk Cousins (Falcons) and Gardner Minshew (Raiders). 

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Author: Douglas Clawson
June 24, 2024 | 8:56 am

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