Sam Darnold or Ryan Tannehill: Which quarterback would you want?

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New York Jets

(Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Who would you rather have: Sam Darnold or Ryan Tannehill? Is it that simple?

Ah, quarterbacks. Where would we be without them? To have a good NFL quarterback is to guarantee at least some separation from mediocrity. Great teams don’t have bad quarterbacks, period. Good teams may have average quarterbacks, bad teams may have good quarterbacks, but never will a championship team have a bad quarterback.

Which begs the question: How can you tell how good a quarterback actually is? For some teams, their current quarterback keeps the rest of the roster afloat. The quarterback is skilled enough to mask most struggles that the team may have.

Take a team like the Houston Texans. Where would they be without the clutch, game-saving antics of Deshaun Watson? Maybe they’d go 1-6, like they did in 2017 when Watson missed the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

For other teams, the roster does the heavy-lifting while the quarterback just steers the team. We’ve seen this many times over the years, including the 2015 Denver Broncos. Despite Peyton Manning’s early-season struggles and Brock Osweiler taking over the job midway through the season, the team’s historic defense paved the way to a title. I don’t think anyone will say it was Osweiler who led the team to the playoffs.

Of course, for the few lucky teams, it’s a perfect marriage of both aforementioned situations. A good quarterback working seamlessly with a good team. Unfortunately for the New York Jets and the Tennessee Titans, this golden situation doesn’t apply to them.

The 2019 season shed some important light on where their respective quarterbacks, Sam Darnold and Ryan Tannehill, stand within these scenarios. The comparison of the two is made easier by the games they started last season — 13 each.

But this won’t be a Player A versus Player B situation. The differences between Darnold and Tannehill are too evident. One’s a recent top pick with supposed heaps of potential. The other is a former disappointment who revived his career with the 2019 Comeback Player of the Year award.

So why would be it so hard to compare the two passers? Is it because Darnold’s youth bumps his value? Is it because of Tannehill’s past woes? Is it because we really haven’t seen enough of either to give them an appropriate label?

Well, I’m here to tell you that those questions — while influential to understanding each quarterback’s success — are not the right ones you should be asking.

The question isn’t what each player has done, it’s how they’ve done it. Understanding their individual situations may provide key answers into what type of player each is, and ultimately, what truly defines a good NFL quarterback.

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