The NFL has always been a quarterback-driven league. Yet five seasons ago, even as the league experienced an unprecedented boom in passing volume, it also faced the possibility of a quarterback crisis.
"As the 2015 NFL season begins," then-Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Clark wrote, "the league's decision-makers say they are daunted by what they see as a widening gulf between the college game and the pro game, one that has existed for a while but is now starting to affect the quality of the league's most cherished commodity: Quarterbacks."
More than ever, quarterbacks in the 2010s were putting up big numbers, with Clark noting in 2015 that "the five most productive individual passing seasons in history have happened since 2011." But many QBs were increasingly relying on short, quick throws while taking advantage of rule changes designed to protect quarterbacks and pass-catchers, changes that, in turn, hindered defenses.
At the same time, a yawning talent gap developed. While several quarterbacks who entered the league before 2006 were still thriving into the late 2010s and even winning championships, the younger cohort was mostly bereft. Chase Stuart of Football Perspective ran the numbers in 2020, going so far as to dub the group of QBs who turned pro from 2006-15 "the missing generation." It was a period that featured a staggering number of first-round busts, and the best quarterback of that draft era - the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson - had slipped all the way to the third round.
Fast forward to 2021. Remarkably, oldsters like Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger all led their teams to the playoffs once again, though Rivers just retired while Brees and Roethlisberger have noticeably declined. Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (drafted in 2000) and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers (2005) are still here, though, and they're set to meet Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.