Which AFC East quarterback is set up to have the most success in 2020 and beyond?

Sam Darnold (top left; AP - Julio Cortez), Josh Allen (top right), Jarrett Stidham (bottom left; AP - Ben Liebenberg), Tua Tagovailoa (bottom right; AP - Todd Rosenberg).
Sam Darnold (top left; AP - Julio Cortez), Josh Allen (top right), Jarrett Stidham (bottom left; AP - Ben Liebenberg), Tua Tagovailoa (bottom right; AP - Todd Rosenberg).

It's a division that has quickly turned over and armed themselves with a legion of young quarterbacks. Josh Allen and Sam Darnold represented the first wave of the youth movement in the 2018 draft as picks of the Bills and Jets respectively. They were followed by Jarrett Stidham by New England in 2019 and now Tua Tagovailoa in Miami this past spring.

So which one of these signal callers is best positioned to succeed in 2020 and beyond?

"I think Josh Allen is the quarterback who's in the best position," said ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky. "The Bills are by far the favorite in my eyes in 2020. The Bills are by far the most complete team, the second-best coached team and just structural organization in that division in terms of help when it comes to GM and coach seeing things the same way is Buffalo. We're talking about a top five defense in the NFL so then you're not demanding too much of your quarterback. You don't know need to score 30 every game. You have a top 10 receiver in Stefon Diggs and that's a big deal.

"Josh has a coach in Brian Daboll who gets him and a supporting cast that gives them a complete football team."

The Bills have been steadily building their roster into a contender for the last three seasons with Allen gaining valuable game experience along the way.

The Jets, meanwhile, had to rebuild on both sides of the ball under new GM Joe Douglas this offseason. The Dolphins are entering year two of their build under head coach Brian Flores and the Patriots are beginning a new chapter in their history without QB Tom Brady.

"When you look at that division, the Dolphins are in rebuilding mode," said CBS Sports NFL analyst Pete Prisco. "They're moving in the right direction. The Jets have a lot of holes on their roster and Sam Darnold hasn't played as well as Josh Allen. And in New England is Jarrett Stidham the answer? That's to be determined. It looks like he is, but that's a tough situation for him.

"I think the Bills are the best team in the division right now and I think they're going to be a really tough, feisty defensive team and if Josh Allen can throw the ball a little bit better, which I think he can, I think they're going to be really good. I think they'll win 11 games this year."

The Jets did what they could to put more protection around Darnold, who was part of a sack percentage that was fourth-highest in the league in 2019. They signed free agent OT George Fant, G/C Connor McGovern and drafted OT Mekhi Becton with the eleventh overall pick.

They additionally added WR Denzel Mims in the draft and signed WR Breshad Perriman in free agency. But will it be enough to lift an offense that finished last in the league in total yards and 31st in points scored?

"Sam has been put in the worst situation," said Orlovsky. "He's had a bottom five offensive line in the run and pass game the past two years. I still believe in his talent moving forward."

Orlovsky isn't alone. There are still some NFL analysts who genuinely believe Darnold is the best overall talent of the young AFC East QBs.

"It starts with Sam Darnold," said ESPN NFL reporter Field Yates. "He was number one amongst my AFC East starting quarterback rankings. Tua was behind him, then Josh Allen, then Jarrett Stidham. Here's why I'm in on Sam Darnold. First, he's just 22-years old. He had a lot of factors working against him last year, but for the last half of last season when things started to get right around him he threw 13 touchdowns and four interceptions in the final eight games of 2019 with a JV offensive line and a depleted group of skill players around him. The line looks decidedly improved. We'll see about the skill players, but I believe Sam Darnold has the most upside of any AFC East quarterback."

Yates' colleague Dan Graziano also has Darnold atop the list.

"I have Darnold number one, Tua number two," Graziano said in rating the AFC East quarterbacks. "Tua may have the higher ceiling, but we've seen Darnold perform in the NFL at a high level in spurts. Tua is still coming in with question marks. So I put Darnold ahead of him. Everything I've been told about his upside leads me to believe he's in line for a hugely successful career.

"I have Josh Allen third which it's worth talking about. He's been the most successful of that group so far. I wonder if he's going to get his accuracy issues corrected or if he's able to overcome them with his legs and the other ways he's able to win games like Cam Newton did at one time. It's worth watching on Josh Allen, but he comes with more question marks than the other guys."

Scroll through to view some notable stats of Bills quarterbacks throughout team history. As Josh Allen continues to get ready for his third season in Buffalo, he has the chance to set new records for Buffalo Bills quarterbacks.

Many analysts continue to question Allen's completion percentage, much like they did when he entered the 2018 NFL draft pool. It's a misguided viewpoint. For those who are trying to compare Allen's game to that of Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, it's an apples and oranges conversation.

Allen's game is more about using his unique physical gifts much the way the aforementioned Cam Newton did in leading his team to an NFC title and Super Bowl appearance when he was the league's MVP in 2015. Newton has completed more than 60 percent of his passes in just three of his nine NFL seasons.

"I think Brian Daboll did an outstanding job of figuring out who and what Josh Allen is as a player," Orlovsky said. "What I mean by that is quarterbacks can be boiled down to two different kinds. Thinkers or reactors. You can be successful both ways, but you've got to understand what you have. Maybe there's a mix, but Josh is a dominant reactor. Does that mean he's dumb? No. Or that he can't process stuff? No, but that's his strength and that's what he's best at. I think we saw Daboll tap into that last year."

Though Allen is committed to raising his completion percentage again in 2020, being a 68-70 percent passer like Brees or Rodgers is not who he is. His strength, as Orlovsky noted, is making plays off script by reacting to the situation as it is unfolding. Allen is likely to make the game-changing play more often than most.

Proof of that comes in Allen tying for the NFL lead with five comeback victories in 2019. This despite his completion percentage of just under 59 percent. No NFL signal caller had more come-from-behind victories last year.

ESPN NFL analyst Ryan Clark curiously has Tua Tagovailoa as his top young quarterback in the AFC East even though he has yet to play a down in the NFL.

"I don't think it's a difficult decision to make," Clark said. "I'm going Tua Tagovailoa first because you haven't seen the bad in the NFL. You know he does have a great upside. He didn't have the turnover issues that Sam Darnold had. I have it Tua, Sam, Josh, Jarrett. When you look at Sam's arm talent, I put him over Josh and Jarrett Stidham and he'll be better if they put some people around him."

Beyond 2020, Orlovsky tends to agree with Clark concerning Darnold.

"Long term I like Sam Darnold as a player the best, but right now Josh Allen is in the best situation to play well," he said.

In fact, Orlovsky believes Allen could propel his game to within reach of the top tier in the AFC.

"Josh should have an outstanding year," he said. "Quarterbacks who are the best in the conference right now it's Pat Mahomes and Lamar Jackson up there and then Big Ben if he comes back healthy and probably Deshaun Watson and Ryan Tannehill is proven off of last year. Then you're having a conversation about Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen and Phillip Rivers. Josh Allen should ascend into the top five of six quarterbacks in the conference."

Whatever way analysts want to rank them, whether it's for success in 2020 or in the years that follow, ESPN's Mel Kiper believes it's the fans of the teams in the AFC East who will be the big beneficiaries of very competitive football.

"Looking at the quarterbacks in this division it's going to be a tremendously competitive four teams over the next several years with Tua, Darnold, Josh Allen and Jarrett Stidham if he's the guy," Kiper said. "What a division quarterback-wise the AFC East could end up being."

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