The AFC North is believed by many to be the best, and deepest, division in the NFL.
A large reason for that belief is because of the talent at the quarterback position each of the four teams have. While the talent is noteworthy, each team has a different type of quarterback, all of which are out to prove something in 2023. Joe Burrow has led the Bengals to consecutive AFC Championship Games and is undoubtedly a top three player at the position. Lamar Jackson just signed a large extension, but hasn’t finished either of the previous two seasons due to injury and will be running a new offense under Todd Monken. Deshaun Watson is looking to show he was worth a $230 million guaranteed contract in his first full season since 2020.
That leaves Kenny Pickett, coming off a rookie season that saw him take his lumps, but perform well down the stretch. From Weeks 14-18, no quarterback had a higher EPA per play in the fourth quarter than Pickett, and he led the Steelers to seven wins in their final nine games, finishing just shy of a Wildcard berth in the AFC playoffs.
How do these four quarterbacks stack up against one another? Here is how I rank them:
1. Joe Burrow
Burrow is easily the best quarterback in the division. While his playoff performances do get overhyped, no one can deny that he is an absolute killer in games that matter most.
The Bengals’ performance in Buffalo in the Divisional round last January was maybe the best game of Burrow’s career. Not in terms of pure numbers, but in terms of dealing with the elements on the road in the playoffs, Burrow was stone cold. In the snow, the former No. 1 overall pick went 23-of-36 for 242 yards and a pair of touchdown passes, finishing with a passer rating of 101.9.
The Bengals are the best team in the division in large part because of how good Burrow has been. No team has won the AFC North three consecutive years since division realignment in 2001- the Bengals could be the first to do it.
2. Lamar Jackson
I’m going to be very intrigued to see what the Ravens’ offense looks like in 2023. In large part because of the new offense, but also because we don’t know if they can stay healthy. Odell Beckham is always hurt, Rashod Bateman is always hurt, Lamar Jackson seems to now be hurt all the time. J.K. Dobbins has also had a lot of injuries.
Jackson is a special talent, but how will Baltimore blend his ability to run in a new pro-style offense? The former MVP has earned the benefit of the doubt, but I’m skeptical about their health and the offense being a seamless transition. That said, Jackson’s play speaks for itself. He’s arguably the best dual-threat in the league and there are few better when he is at his best.
3. Kenny Pickett
Third in the division is a fine spot for Pickett entering the 2023 season, and he could absolutely move up the rankings. His two game-winning drives against the Raiders and Ravens, respectively, showed that he has that much-desired clutch gene.
With the upgrades on the offensive line, and the plethora of weapons at his disposal, Pickett could have a very solid season. The only question mark is Matt Canada at offensive coordinator. If anything or anyone hold back Pickett, it will be Canada.
4. Deshaun Watson
Nothing about the way Watson played last season says he should be ranked any higher than fourth in the division. Of 37 quarterbacks who played at least 200 snaps, Watson finished 31st in EPA per play and 30th in success rate.
The Browns have all the talent in the world on their roster, it just comes down to how Watson performs. Can he unlock the quarterback we once saw? If he does, Cleveland will be a playoff team. If not, they’ll be stuck in purgatory.