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A few things I enjoy about every NFL season is seeing teams go worst to first, from pretenders to contenders, and, of course, breakout performances like the quarterback leap.

I recently logged every quarterback leap since 2000 to find the most common factors linking them together as we look ahead to project breakout stars in 2024. You can find everything you need to know on my criteria and the history of the quarterback leap in Monday's article

The primary factors leading to quarterback leaps can be placed into four buckets: development, coaching, supporting cast and a change of scenery. Development was the most common thread since 2000, showing up as the primary factor in 31 of the 97 leaps. This included rookie quarterbacks who made an immediate splash and exceeded expectations, thanks to improvements made between college and their first season. For example, not many could have predicted Dak Prescott's performance in 2016. It'll be interesting to see which rookie can perform like a top 10 quarterback in 2024.

The Year 2 leap has also become a popular phrase for good reason. They accounted for 20% of all leaps, by far the most of any season number. There's been a Year 2 leap in six of the past seven seasons, including nine total in that span. Carson Wentz, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow and Brock Purdy either won MVP, or were MVP contenders in their second seasons. The primary reason for the Year 2 leap isn't always development, as we saw the coaching impact with Trevor Lawrence in 2022, but it's certainly a part of it.

Editor's note: This is Part 2 of a five-part series that dives deep into NFL quarterbacks making sudden, massive improvement, which we've dubbed 'Quarterback Leap Week.' To see what's coming each day this week, scroll down to the end of this story.

Year 2 leaps since 2017 

  • 2023 -- Brock Purdy: 31 Pass TD and NFL-high 9.6 yards per attempt (first season as primary starter)
  • 2022 -- Trevor Lawrence: 25 Pass TD and 8 INT (12 Pass TD and 17 INT as rookie)
  • 2022 -- Justin Fields: Fourth 1,000-yard rushing season by QB in NFL history
  • 2021 -- Joe Burrow: First No. 1 overall pick QB to reach Super Bowl within first two seasons
  • 2019 -- Lamar Jackson: Led NFL in Pass TD (35) and set QB single-season rushing record in unanimous MVP season
  • 2018 -- Mitchell Trubisky: 24 Pass TD and 12 INT (7 Pass TD and 7 INT as rookie)
  • 2018 -- Patrick Mahomes: Won MVP and became third player all time with 50 Pass TD in a season 
  • 2017 -- Carson Wentz: Eagles-record 33 Pass TD and MVP favorite before tearing ACL in Week 14
  • 2017 -- Jared Goff: 28 Pass TD and 7 INT (0-7 record with 5 Pass TD and 7 INT as rookie)

The sophomore MVP seasons by Dan Marino (1984) and Kurt Warner (1999) stand out among the best Year 2 leaps ever. Marino shattered the record for touchdown passes in a season (48) and Warner was the last quarterback to win MVP and Super Bowl MVP in the same season until Patrick Mahomes followed him in 2022. 

CAR Carolina • #9
Age: 22 • Experience: 2 yrs.
2023 Stats

Bryce Young is my prime Year 2 leap candidate in 2024, and no, not because he looked great in OTAs like every quarterback ever. Here's five reasons:

1) He can follow in the footsteps of other top picks. Young could join a handful of No. 1 overall picks to bounce back from an awful rookie year. There's Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning, Jared Goff and most recently Trevor Lawrence, among others. Young can really only go up from here after he averaged 5.5 yards per attempt in 2023, the fourth-lowest average in NFL history (minimum 500 attempts). I'm not saying he has to be a star in Year 2, but even improving to an average starter would be a leap from 2023.

2) New Panthers coach Dave Canales could be a quarterback whisperer. Geno Smith (2022) and Baker Mayfield (2023) had breakout years with Canales, posting career highs in touchdown passes and passing yards.

3) His pass catchers are better. The Patriots were probably the only team with a worse offensive supporting cast than the Panthers last year, and Carolina made moves to change that, starting with the trade for Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson. Carolina had one wide receiver or tight end in the top 100 in open rating last year (Adam Thielen), a stat from ESPN Analytics which uses NFL Next Gen Stats player tracking data to look at how pass catchers get open on every route. Johnson has a 99 rating in that category since 2021, tied with A.J. Brown for the best in the NFL. Carolina also traded up for wide receiver Xavier Legette in the first round. Legette had a 4.39 40-time and 40-inch vertical at 6-1, 221 pounds at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine. Carolina's second- and fourth-round picks (running back Jonathon Brooks and tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders) could also take some pressure off Young.

4) His offensive line is better. The Panthers signed Dolphins guard Robert Hunt to a lucrative deal (five years, $63 million guaranteed) to improve one of the worst units in the NFL. The Panthers have the most salary cap dollars tied up on the offensive line ($73 million) this year and they could take a step forward with the addition of Hunt and development of 2022 first-round pick Ikem Ekwonu. The Panthers also led the NFL in free agent spending this offseason ($139 million guaranteed). The last eight teams to be the "top spender" improved their win total by at least three games in the following season. And some free advice: Six of those teams went over their preseason over-under win total. The less of a dumpster fire this team is, the better Young's bounce-back prospects are. 

5) They face an easy schedule. Carolina has the third-easiest strength of schedule in the NFL this year. They face one top-10 defense (in terms of expected points added) before the Week 11 bye (Saints, twice). If there were a formula for a nice start, this would be it. 

I think Anthony Richardson and Will Levis are also capable of taking Year 2 leaps, but Young has the best case. 

CHI Chicago • #18
Age: 22 • Experience: Rookie
2023 Stats

If a rookie quarterback is going to burst onto the scene, it's going to be Caleb Williams. He has the best supporting cast for a quarterback drafted first overall, ever. He's the first top-five rookie quarterback to inherit two receivers coming off 1,200-yard seasons (Keenan Allen, D.J. Moore), plus Chicago drafted Rome Odunze ninth overall after he led the nation in receiving yards last season. The Bears also have weapons at running back (D'Andre Swift) and tight end (Cole Kmet, Gerald Everett), and an above-average offensive line. Chicago was top five in both pass block win rate and run block win rate last season. 

Jayden Daniels is the other leap candidate for me among the historic 2024 quarterback class, but I'll give Williams the edge. Williams had some weapons at USC (wide receivers Tahj Washington and Brenden Rice were seventh-round picks), but nothing like Daniels, who had two teammates drafted in the first round (wide receiver Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr.). 

Williams college coach Lincoln Riley also has a track record for producing impact rookies, as Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield were former Heisman winners drafted first overall coached by Riley. 

As for the rest of the rookie class, I could see Bo Nix having an impact on Denver but I have lower expectations for Drake Maye, Michael Penix Jr. and J.J. McCarthy next year. That being said, I don't think anyone predicted C.J. Stroud going off last year. Bottom line: It's impossible to predict if a quarterback will succeed in the NFL. If someone could, they would be very, very rich. 

Quarterback Leap Week

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).