Nobody ever said that playing quarterback in the NFL was easy. Rarely does a player get the hang of it right away, which is why even some of the best to ever play the game had less than stellar rookie seasons. However, there have been plenty of young quarterbacks who are able to figure things out by their second season and take the league by storm.
Just in case your memory is a little fuzzy, let’s take a look at five quarterbacks who had amazing sophomore campaigns in the NFL.
5. Carson Wentz, Eagles
Wentz’s sophomore season in 2017 is like doing an essay question on a test but running out of time. You don’t get to finish, but the teacher sees where you were going and gives you an A even without a conclusion. The former North Dakota State quarterback had the terrible misfortune of suffering a torn ACL in Week 14, cutting his season short. However, we all knew where he was going, which was straight to the top of the MVP voting and deep into the playoffs. Instead, Nick Foles took over and led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win.
After an up and down rookie season, Wentz made a huge leap in his second season, throwing 33 touchdown passes despite his season ending after 13 games. If he had he played the last three games of the season, he probably would have reached 4,000 yards passing and may have even made it to 40 touchdown passes. Whether Philadelphia would have still won the Super Bowl we can’t know for sure, but the Eagles were 11-2 with Wentz as a starter and his season, while incomplete, deserves to be recognized as one of the best sophomore seasons in NFL history.
4. Lamar Jackson, Ravens
To think some “experts” looked at Lamar Jackson coming out of college and wanted him to play wide receiver in the NFL. After taking over for Joe Flacco during his rookie season, Jackson led the Ravens to a 6-1 record in his seven starts despite Baltimore losing a home playoff game in the Wild Card Round. As it turns out, we hadn’t seen anything yet. Jackson took the league by storm in his second pro season, becoming an unstoppable force because of his speed and athleticism, not to mention improved accuracy as a passer.
In an offense largely designed around his particular skill set, Jackson set a new NFL record for quarterbacks by rushing for over 1,200 yards while also leading the league with 6.9 yards per carry. But he also proved himself to be more than just a runner. After some ups and downs as a passer during his rookie season, Jackson completed 66% of his passes in 2019, throwing for over 3,100 yards and a league-high 36 touchdown passes compared to just six interceptions. Despite another playoff loss, Jackson silenced his critics during his sophomore season, proving to be the real deal and arguably the most multi-faceted quarterback the NFL has ever seen.
3. Kurt Warner, Rams
One could argue that Warner cheated a little by being 28 years old in his second NFL season. Then again, it’s not his fault the entire league overlooked him for so long. In Warner’s defense, he had just 11 pass attempts during his first season with the Rams in 1998. Unlike most young quarterbacks who explode in their second season, Warner didn’t get much playing time as a rookie, so his sophomore season was his first true taste of NFL action. Of course, that didn’t seem to be an issue for him.
With Warner at quarterback, the Rams were transformed into the Greatest Show on Turf. A little bit of credit should go to the play-makers around him. But Warner was the one who led the league with 41 touchdown passes and a 65% completion percentage, not to mention a QB rating of 109.2. His sophomore season earned Warner the first of two MVP awards he took home in a three-year span. Most importantly, he led the Rams to a 13-3 record that ended with them winning the Super Bowl.
2. Dan Marino, Dolphins
For more than 30 years, Marino’s second NFL season was the gold standard for NFL quarterbacks during their sophomore campaign. It didn’t come as much of a surprise, as Marino looked like a natural during his rookie season, even though the Dolphins waited until Week 6 to make him the starter. One could also argue without much push-back that Marino’s 1984 season was also the best of his career, which is almost a little sad and disappointing for a quarterback who played until 1999.
The rest of Marino’s career aside, he was utterly magical during the 1984 season. He set six NFL records that season, although some have been eclipsed since then. His 5,084 passing yards were the most ever in a single season at that point. The same is true of the 48 passing touchdowns he threw that year, helped along by four straight games with at least four touchdown passes. Alas, it ended up being a bittersweet season for Marino. Despite winning his only MVP that year, Marino and the Dolphins fell short in the Super Bowl in what would be the only Super Bowl appearance for the Hall of Famer.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
It wasn’t easy to surpass Marino’s sophomore effort, but there’s no doubt that Mahomes accomplished that in 2018. As was the case with Warner but few other elite quarterbacks, nobody saw this coming. A Week 17 start with the Chiefs resting their starters was the only action Mahomes saw during his rookie season. While throwing for 284 yards, Mahomes had one interception and no touchdowns in that game, so nobody was sure what to expect from him when Kansas City handed him the starting job the next year.
Well, what happened is one of the best seasons from a quarterback in NFL history. Right out of the gate, Mahomes set NFL records by throwing 10 touchdown passes in the first two games of the 2018 season, 13 touchdowns in the first three games, and 22 touchdown passes in the first eight games. When all was said and done, Mahomes threw a league-high 50 touchdown passes while also throwing for over 5,000 yards on his way to MVP honors. It was a season that nobody saw coming, nobody will soon forget, and that Mahomes may never be able to match. But it’s undoubtedly the best season a second-year quarterback has ever had.