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Arms Race: Ranking the AFC West Quarterbacks

Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes sits on top, but where does Raiders’ Derek Carr land?

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, left, greets Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr after KC beat Vegas 35-3 last December.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

I’m not going out on a limb saying the AFC West boasts the best starting quarterback group from top to bottom. The other 28 teams in the NFL would be fortunate to have any of the four division signal callers as its starting QB.

That said, below is where my hierarchy of the Wild West quarterbacks. This is where they stand before the 2022 campaign. The rankings will most certainly fluctuate when regular season games are played, however, the top QB in the division is likely not going to change.

No. 1: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
2021 Stats: 436 of 658 (66.3 percent completion rate), 4,839 yards, 37 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 28 sacks, nine fumbles, three game-winning drives, 66 carries, 381 yards, two touchdowns

The AFC West’s top gun and standard bearer at the quarterback position. What Mahomes has been able to accomplish in his five season in the league has been exemplary. He’s a Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl and league MVP, an all-pro and made the Pro Bowl four times.

Under Andy Reid’s guidance and tutelage, Mahomes sports a domineering 50-13 win-loss record as a starting QB while throwing for 18,991 yards, 151 touchdowns and 37 interceptions for his career thus far.

Once thought to be too unorthodox of a signal caller, Mahomes is a revelation of sorts as he makes throws no other quarterback can as he delivers from a variety of platforms while showcasing the same arm strength whether the ball is thrown sidearm or while falling.

Mahomes may have lost arguably the best deep threat wide receiver in the game (Tyreek Hill), however, he has the moxie, improvisational skills, and the head coach/play caller in Reid that will put him in the best possible position to succeed. And, at only 26 years old, Mahomes is likely to be around for at least another decade as the division’s Grim Reaper.

No. 2: Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
2021 Stats: 428 of 626 (68.4 percent completion rate), 4,804 yards, 23 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 40 sacks, 13 fumbles, six game-winning drives, 40 carries, 108 yards

For transparency’s sake: I originally had Justin Herbert in this spot. However, the more I thought about how DC4 didn’t drown in the ungodly amount of turmoil the Raiders had to wade through last season, I couldn’t justify putting him anywhere lower than the two spot.

All that said, Carr displayed tremendous leadership and poise in circumstances that would scuttle any other organization. It wasn’t pretty — there were times where it did look like the Raiders were going to fold having sustained the loss of their scintillating speedster of a wide receiver and their head coach — but Carr was at the helm of a team that not only kept its head above the rising water but zapped a division foe to get into the playoffs.

That can’t be understated or overlooked. You can’t be dismissive of Carr’s performance last season — even if you’re a skeptic. Like me.

All eyes are on 2022 and rightfully so. The new Raiders regime not only provided Carr with his all-time favorite wide receiver Davante Adams with a we’re-all-in-type trade with the Green Bay Packers, general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels committed to the quarterback long term with a solid contract extension. That coin is owner Mark Davis’ money and you know the owner expects solid return on investment (ROI).

Carr has the requisite experience, arm strength and accuracy, and cerebral nature to excel in McDaniels scheme and 2022 should be one of, if not the most, successful season of the 31-year-old’s career.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers OTA
Justin Herbert looks downfield during the Los Angeles Chargers OTAs on June 1.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3: Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
2021 Stats: 443 of 672 (65.9 percent completion rate), 5,014 yards, 38 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 31 sacks, 1 fumble, five game-winning drives, 63 carries, 302 yards, three touchdowns

The youngest signal caller in the division at 24, Herbert followed up a good rookie year with a solid sophomore outing. Displaying poise and the look of a throwback to the pure pocket passer days of the league, Herbert’s power and precision when he throws dimes is something to watch.

The Bolts have done well to build around their franchise signal caller spending prime draft capital for offensive linemen to protect Herbert. And he’s got two solid wide receivers at his disposal in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

However, despite having excellent fundamentals and skills, Herbert can’t climb up this list until L.A. stops zapping itself and finally get over the hump. Perhaps Herbs and the Chargers can use getting booted from the postseason by the Raiders as motivation in 2022.

No. 4: Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos
2021 Stats: 259 of 400 (64.8 percent completion rate), 3,113 yards, 25 touchdowns, six interceptions, 33 sacks, six fumbles, one game-winning drive, 43 carries, 183 yards, two touchdowns

The elder statesman of the group at 33 years old, Wilson may no longer be the magician he once was but he should be effective captaining the Broncos offense.

His body didn’t hold up well in his final season with the Seattle Seahawks last year but a change of scenery can often do players good. And for a veteran who has seen it all and experienced the peaks and valleys of NFL life, Wilson should do well in the mile high air.

The reason he’s at the bottom of my rankings is simple: Denver’s supporting cast. It’s not the best built roster around Wilson at the moment and there will be an adjustment period. Despite all the experience he has and all the OTAs and camps the Broncos will have from now till the regular season, rapport must be built during in-game situations against live opponents.