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10 Players Who Could Take Over When Tom Brady Is Done

At 40 years old, the New England Patriots quarterback isn’t supposed to be here anymore

10 Players Who Could Take Over When Tom Brady Is Done

At some point New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a superstar athlete, will retire. Who will the NFL turn to next?

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Prior to 2016, only one quarterback in NFL history had posted a passer rating above 100 after he turned 39: Brett Favre had a rating of 107.2 with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions for the Vikings in 2009. Warren Moon also had some success as he approached and crossed over 40, going to the Pro Bowl with Minnesota at age 39, then with the Seahawks at age 41. So through decades of professional football, we had a couple of examples of elite quarterbacks near or at 40 years old.

Now we have two seasons by Brady that rank as the two best seasons ever for an over-39 quarterback, and there’s no telling when his success will fade.

Brady had a rating of 112.2 as a 39-year-old in 2016, the best ever passer rating for a player over 38. This season, he has a rating of 111.7. Since turning 39, Brady has thrown just five interceptions on 840 attempts, and there’s an easy argument to be made that he should have won the MVP award for last season and that he should win it this season. And yet as good as he’s been, pushing past the boundaries for what we can expect from a player at his age, we also know that history tells us that quarterbacks don’t gradually decline. They plummet.

At any point, Brady’s career could just be over. It’s entirely plausible that one day he’ll have a terrible game, the worst game we’ve seen from him in years, and the questions of “Is this it?” will once again arise and that is the time that it could really be over. And when it is, where will the league turn to find its next superstar? Who will be the next face of the NFL once Brady joins Peyton Manning in officially retiring?

There are a number of great candidates at quarterback, but also some young players around the league who are changing the game and dominating their opponents to a degree that makes it clear we’ve already started to move into the next era of the sport. 

10 Players Who Could Take Over When Tom Brady Is Done

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Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

To include any running back requires the acknowledgment that players at the position rarely last longer than a few years. Leonard Fournette has the best shot among running backs to still be relevant in 2022 and beyond – it’s just so rare to see 240-pound human beings cover 40 yards in 4.51 seconds; consider that Saints rookie Alvin Kamara weighed 216 at the scouting combine and was five-tenths of a second slower than Fournette.

Fournette is tied for the NFL lead in 100-yard rushing games (four) despite missing two starts and playing through an ankle injury. Most important of all, Fournette’s unique gifts mean that the Jaguars sport a competitive offense despite having to put the ball in Blake Bortles’ hands on every single play. The guy handing him the ball will change, but Fournette is the most likely running back to be the face of football from now until the mid-2020s. And while Ezekiel Elliott serves a six-game suspension, Fournette is making the rounds on social media as a “Florida man” with a good cause.

10 Players Who Could Take Over When Tom Brady Is Done

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Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland Raiders

As a rookie, Khalil Mack was one of the best run stoppers in the league. In year two, Mack added 15 sacks and was named as an All-Pro. In year three, Mack won Defensive Player of the Year and helped Oakland reach the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. But the latest challenge for Mack is maintaining composure and relevance while the rest of his defense has seemed to preemptively move to another city before the actual franchise has; FootballOutsiders ranks the Raiders as having the worst D in the league.

Surrounded by little talent, offenses can focus their attention on Mack alone, but he still gets results: Mack’s “down year” still includes him ranking second among edge rushes in QB pressures with 62, according to ProFootballFocus (PFF). He played his college ball at Buffalo; he’s not flashy; and I’m sure few fans have ever even heard him speak, but Mack’s unique gifts will help him continue to stand out as a league star much like how Larry Fitzgerald remains relevant in Arizona. He’s already accomplished a lot, and his next task assuming the Raiders do the right thing and sign him to an extension, will make him legendary for a new reason: becoming the first NFL star in Las Vegas.

10 Players Who Could Take Over When Tom Brady Is Done

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Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Though Prescott opened the door for his doubters in a recent three-game stretch (0 TD, 5 INT, 14 sacks, passer rating of 57), he was simply so good before that and deserves some “forgiveness” for those losses. “If you’re questioning me, you don’t know me,” Prescott said after his struggles. He’s still setup to succeed in the long-term with a team that is guaranteed to be put in primetime as often as any other franchise. So it’s fair to say that Prescott – who had 39 touchdowns and eight interceptions over his first 24 career starts, plus 10 rushing scores – is the most likely person to be the face of a franchise that simply won’t be removed from the national football conscience any time soon. 

10 Players Who Could Take Over When Tom Brady Is Done

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Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

Wentz was the second quarterback drafted in 2016, but he’s clearly overtaken Jared Goff as the better prospect over these last 18 months. Through 13 weeks, Wentz leads the NFL in touchdown passes with 29 and has the Eagles in position to potentially be the number one seed for the first time since 2004, when they fell just shy of their first Super Bowl championship in a loss to Brady. Wentz may now get his own shot against Brady. And if he manages to win a ring in his second season, it’ll be hard for anyone to ignore the mention of Wentz as the league’s fastest rising star. At that point he’ll have the advantage not just over Goff, but over Dak, Russell Wilson, Myles Garrett – and anyone else.

Even going up against the Seahawks defense on the
road, Wentz found opportunities to show why Philly plucked him from North
Dakota State obscurity to make him their franchise player.

10 Players Who Could Take Over When Tom Brady Is Done

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Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns

Since 2010, the Browns have only won 29 games against 95 losses, but somehow they managed to avoid elite draft picks in each and every successive year. After missing out on opportunities to draft guys like Julio Jones, Odell Beckham and Wentz, they finally have a legitimate franchise star to build their team around. I don’t care if it’s been less than half a season, we have enough information on Garrett to call him one of the best right now and a likely top-10 player for years to come.

Garrett was the number two high school prospect in the country in 2014, dominated during his three seasons at Texas A&M, owned all kinds of tests at the 2017 scouting combine, and was the number one overall pick, perhaps the best draft prospect on the defensive side of the ball since Julius Peppers in 2002. After missing the first four games with an ankle injury and a fifth from a concussion, Garrett has five sacks in seven games, been one of the top pass rushers since he returned, and he’s given Browns fans hope that Cleveland’s defense will be a top-10 unit much sooner than anyone expected. And that’s always enough of a reason to put any athlete on a top-10 list: he’s given Browns fans hope.

10 Players Who Could Take Over When Tom Brady Is Done

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Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams,

Donald held out right up to the start of the season because he knows something we all know: Aaron Donald is the type of defensive tackle who comes around once a decade. Though he plays interior defensive line, Donald leads all NFL players in pressures on the quarterback with 71, per PFF. Repeat: Donald skipped all of training camp and preseason and didn’t suit up in Week 1, and he might still be the best pass rusher in the league.

It’s harder to market football or a team around a defensive tackle, but Donald is the most special player at the position since Warren Sapp, and nobody complained about a lack of Warren Sapp mentions during his career or since. Sapp had 29.5 sacks over his first four seasons and then his career really started to take off. Donald already has 36 career sacks and he still has a month left in his fourth season. His special days are ahead of him, not behind him. Being in Los Angeles – if they are smart enough to not lose him – also won’t hurt Donald’s national presence.

Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Less than two seasons into his career, Ramsey has already shown why he’s going to be the preeminent cornerback of his generation. The fifth overall pick last year, Ramsey stepped into perhaps the second-hardest position to transition to from the college-to-pro level (quarterback being the hardest) and was a starter from day one, finishing his rookie season with an AFC Defensive Player of the Week award, 14 passes defensed, and locking down players like DeAndre Hopkins, T.Y. Hilton, and Demaryius Thomas. This season, Ramsey hasn’t just gotten better (passer rating allowed of 52.7, per PFF), he might already be the best cornerback in the NFL and he’s not afraid to let that show through his words and actions on the field. After a recent altercation with Bengals receiver A.J. Green that ended with Ramsey in a chokehold and both players ejected, Ramsey told reporters: “I lock receivers down physically and then mentally. I get in their mind and get under their skin. I talk my talk whatever I’m going to say.”

Sounds like a perfect combination then for Ramsey to take the torch from Richard Sherman as the league’s top trash talker. And another reason to believe that Ramsey will be one of the most talked-about, written-about, and interviewed NFL players from now until his retirement many years from now.

Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers

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Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers

In the span of less than a couple of years, L.A. has gone from literally zero NFL players to a handful who could become the face of the league. The Rams have Goff, Todd Gurley, and Donald, while the Chargers field Keenan Allen, Ingram, Casey Heyward, and Bosa, who may be the best defensive player to enter the league since J.J. Watt. But not even Watt got off to as good of a start as the start the one that Bosa is off to.

He’s setting records for fast career starts by pass rushers and has 22 sacks in 24 games. Even though he held out and missed four games of his rookie year, Bosa is one of just 15 players in history to record double-digit sacks in each of his first two seasons. Bosa and Donald could be competing for the title of “best defensive lineman in the NFL” for years and they might not even live a mile apart.

Odell Beckham, Jr, WR, New York Giants

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Odell Beckham, Jr, WR, New York Giants

“He’s a trailblazer, and you know, I think it’s bigger than basketball … he’s on the the level of international soccer player. That’s how big Odell Beckham is. That’s how big his brand is. I’ve been in cities with him where there’s literally people chasing our Uber car, trying to get his autograph. I’ve never seen anything like this. The NFL has never seen anything like this. He is the first player– maybe Tom Brady is close, but he is the first NFL player that is a global icon. And this is– he’s not even in his prime yet,” Brandon Marshall told Colin Cowherd on OBJ’s star power.

The only thing holding Beckham back from being the most-talked about and discussed player in the NFL at any given time is injuries. It was a hamstring injury that help Beckham out for four games as a rookie in 2014, when he led the league in receiving yards per game. And now it’s ankle injuries that have cost him all but four games of 2017, making him an afterthought at times like this, especially with the Giants in the cellar and Eli Manning on the bench. But Beckham’s record level of production, flair for memorable catches, and his enjoyment of the spotlight in New York separates him from contemporaries like Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, putting him right there with how Randy Moss affected the league at the turn of this century.

He even made Manning look like a decent quarterback for awhile, up until the point that OBJ was placed on injured reserve and got Manning benched for the first time in his career.

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

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Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

Though you could call him “advanced” in age compared to everyone else on this list, Wilson is the player most ready to take over as the face of the league should Brady retire or implode within the next couple of years. Prior to 2017, Wilson’s resume included playoff trips in all five of his seasons, at least one postseason win in all of those trips, two Super Bowl appearances, a blowout over the Broncos followed by a matchup against Brady that’s gone down as perhaps the best Super Bowl ever. That was before this season, and this has proven to be the year in which Wilson needs to completely take over as the face, arm and legs of the Seahawks.

Wilson is the most-winningest quarterback in NFL history through six seasons, but he’s also taken on even more responsibility as Seattle’s defense gets a little bit older and a lot more injured; Wilson has the most pass attempts in the league, leads the Seahawks in rushing yards, and is the NFL leader in total yards per game, just barely edging out Brady. And though 29 may be old for most positions, it is often just the start for many quarterbacks, especially ones as good, meticulous and smart as Wilson; he runs a lot but avoids contact much better than most traditional pocket passers do. Brady was 29 in 2006 and he’s still going strong. Wilson is already one of the best players in the league right now, certain to get a lot of MVP votes after Seattle’s convincing win over Wentz and the Eagles on Sunday night, but he’s also the player who is most likely to still be great in 2025.

At which point he’ll be 37, three years younger than what Brady is now. Plenty of time left to go.

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