Joe Burrow is not only the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback, he is the leader of a draft class that in a short time is making a run to be one of the best.
The 2020 QB draft class has had one of its own in the Super Bowl the past two seasons — Burrow with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021 and Jalen Hurts last season with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Burrow and Hurts are in the top five in The Associated Press ranking of quarterbacks.
The rest of the group also has its share of accomplishments.
Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers has the most passing yards by a player in his first three seasons, while Tua Tagovailoa helped lead the Miami Dolphins to their first playoff appearance since 2016.
With Jordan Love taking over in Green Bay, Sunday will mark the first time since 2012 that the top five selected quarterbacks in a draft class will start in a season opener.
“You’ve got a class where three of the six are the face of the NFL. We haven’t seen a class this talented in a long time,” said Amazon Prime Video analyst Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played 17 years in the league.
At least not since 2004, when the trio of Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers took the league by storm. All three have Hall of Fame-worthy resumes, and Manning and Roethlisberger own a pair of Super Bowl rings.
With its depth, though, the 2020 group could make a run at the greatest of all time, the Class of 1983. It is the only one with three Hall of Famers — John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly — and it has a combined 11 Super Bowl appearances.
It already has equaled the 1983ers by having two quarterbacks reach the Super Bowl within their first three years in the league (Marino and Tony Eason).
The 1983 group went 100-55 (including the playoffs) as starters in its first three seasons while the 2020 QBs are 100-71-1 going into Sunday’s openers.
The one area where the current group has its predecessors beat is money. With Burrow agreeing to an NFL-record five-year, $275 million extension Thursday, three of the four top-paid quarterbacks are from the 2020 class, with Burrow, Herbert and Hurts all averaging at least $51 million per season.
Burrow, the top pick in 2020, was tied for second in the league with 35 TD passes last season. He joined Andrew Luck as the only players with at least 75 touchdown passes (82) and 10 rushing scores in their first three seasons.
NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms thinks Burrow is the second-best quarterback coming into the season, behind Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.
“He’s got special qualities and leadership but also just the cool calm and clutchness to his game that is phenomenal. And he’s a great thrower,” Simms said.
Many consider Herbert to have the strongest arm in the group. He has 14,089 career passing yards, the most by a player in his first three seasons. His 94 touchdown passes are the second most.
With Kellen Moore taking over as the Chargers’ offensive coordinator, Fitzpatrick thinks this might be the season that Herbert can lead LA to the next level.
“Maybe not a jump statistically because he’s been so efficient, but in leading that team to more wins, getting them to the playoffs and doing some damage. I think we’re just at the beginning of the greatness we’re going to see with Herbert,” Fitzpatrick said.
Tagovailoa led the league with a 105.5 passer rating last year. Until a three-game losing streak at the end of the season, he was on a stretch where he had won 14 of 17 starts.
Fitzpatrick, who was Tagovailoa’s teammate in 2020, said the important thing to remember about Tagovailoa is the improvement he has made each year. That should continue with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle as his top receivers.
“That offense he’s running now with Mike McDaniels is about being accurate and on time with the football. It’s the catch and run,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s why the 49ers are so good and efficient in what they do, and that’s his strength. He’s got an offense and a coach tailor-made to him, to his personality and the way he plays the game.”
Many were surprised when the Eagles drafted Hurts in the second round and 53rd overall, but he has continued to prove skeptics wrong.
In his second season as the full-time starter, Hurts became the fourth quarterback ever with at least 3,000 passing yards (3,701), 20 touchdown passes (22) and 10 rushing touchdowns (13) in a single season. Simms and Fitzpatrick think Hurts is just scratching the surface of what he can do as a passer.
“I watched at the Super Bowl how far he’s come as a passer. The pinpoint accuracy, making the right decisions and being able to lead his football team,” Fitzpatrick said. “He was a couple of minutes away from being the MVP. He had maybe his best game of the year on the biggest stage.”
Love finally gets his opportunity to show he can pick up the mantle from Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers and keep the Packers a contender in the NFC. Green Bay has one of the youngest rosters in the NFC, but Simms says it has perhaps the most talented group in the NFC North.
“I think he’s got all the physical abilities to be a mainstay at quarterback for a long time,” Simms said. “He’s big, he throws well and his mechanics have improved. He was careful not to make mistakes his first few years, but now he’s throwing lasers around the field.”
Love is eager for his chance to show what he can do, beginning Sunday at Chicago.
“It’s been awesome to see those guys. They’ve all kind of made their mark pretty early,” he said. “They did a great job, but yeah I’m definitely excited to finally get my shot.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Green Bay, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.
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Joe Reedy, The Associated Press