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Hines Ward: Mahomes, Goff, Watson have staying power, but experience still matters

Two-time Super Bowl champion and CNN sports contributor Hines Ward spoke to CNN's Jill Martin, dishing o...

Posted: Nov. 1, 2018 1:00 PM
Updated: Nov. 1, 2018 1:00 PM

Two-time Super Bowl champion and CNN sports contributor Hines Ward spoke to CNN's Jill Martin, dishing on quarterbacks as the NFL heads into Week 9.

I've always said this year has kind of been, really, the year of the quarterbacks. Drew Brees becoming the all-time leading passer, Tom Brady's still doing his thing at the age of 41. But I kind of see the young guns, the young quarterbacks that are rising.

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Patrick Mahomes is taking the league by storm, lighting it up. Deshaun Watson seems like he's overcome that ACL injury, this past week throwing for five touchdowns. Jared Goff is leading the way for the undefeated Los Angeles Rams.

I just think the league is in pretty good hands with the young guys that we've got leading the way. You can kind of see the passing of the torch from the legendary quarterbacks like Brees and Brady down to the young guys.

Mahomes and Watson are 23, and Goff just turned 24. They all have their teams in first place in their respective divisions. Do they have staying power?

Yes. I just think those guys are the future. You look at what they've done and the success they had so early in their careers. They're only going to get better, as the game tends to slow down (and) they get familiar with the coaches and the offenses and the defensive schemes that they're trying to do.

I think the future is bright for the NFL with the young quarterbacks that we have.

How much do you think it helped the second-year Mahomes by learning from Alex Smith and not taking the reigns when he as a rookie?

Sometimes sitting out as a rookie helps you learn how to be a professional athlete. You sit back and watch guys what they do on a day-to-day regimen: coming in early, learning the plays, getting the workout in during the week and then what you're doing with your time when you're away from the building, when you're away from the office. I think that is very key to a lot of young guys coming into the league, especially the quarterbacks.

For a lot of quarterbacks, you get thrust into the limelight. It's a whirlwind, from practice, the speed of the game and to the nightlife. Going out, every restaurant you go to, there are always distractions, so it's really hard to stay focused if you kind of get thrust into the starting role at such an early age.

What about 25-year-old Carson Wentz? He, like Watson, is coming back from a serious knee injury.

I think what he did last year, before his injury, he was on his way to winning MVP. But I think having that little taste of success put a lot of pressure coming into this year, being that his backup (Nick Foles) led them to winning the Super Bowl.

The pressure I think for Wentz is probably more than the other young guys, being in the sense that where he was before he got hurt to now. And look at Watson. He kind of struggled earlier this year, too, coming back from the same knee injury.

I just think over time you kind of get over that mindset, that you're going to be OK and get back to playing football. And I think that's what Wentz will do, is just get back to what he did last year.

At age 24, is the Jameis Winston era over in Tampa?

I think so. Right now, going back and forth between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Winston, you just don't know. You're given an opportunity in certain places in the league, and I just think he hasn't maximized his opportunity in down in Tampa.

Sometimes change is good, not only for the organization, but the player as well. It's just putting the right environment and right situation for Winston. Maybe he can go somewhere else and thrive. I think the Winston era is done in Tampa.

The Giants are 1-7 and have already made a couple of trades. With the dismantling of the team, are Eli Manning's days numbered?

Yes. I think his past bought him some time the last couple of years just because of what he's done. He won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants.

But talentwise, Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr., those are the faces of that team. It's no longer Eli. As you get older as a player, the hardest thing to do is look at yourself in the mirror and see if you still can play. Not saying that Eli can't play, but he's definitely not the same quarterback he once was.

Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Manning and Brees are all over the age of 35. Now there's the youth movement with Mahomes, Watson and Goff. Who is in the best position to win a Super Bowl right now: Proven champions in guys like Brady, Brees and Roethlisberger, or a young guy like Goff, Watson or Mahomes?

I'm going to have to go with experience. Add (34-year-old) Aaron Rogers in there. You take Aaron Rogers, Brees, Brady, Roethlisberger -- all those guys are proven. They played on the big stage before. I know what they can do.

Yes, Goff is very talented. So are Mahomes and Watson, but I have no idea how they're going to respond in a big game, like an AFC championship or NFC championship game to go to a Super Bowl.

That's still to be determined with those guys -- not saying that they can't do it, but I always lean to the guys who have been there. I think they have a proven track record that they know how to get it done when it matters the most.

What do you think is going to happen to Baker Mayfield now that his offensive coordinator Todd Haley and offensive-minded head coach Hue Jackson are now gone?

I think the next coaching hire is key to his success. I think he's a great talent, and he's shown flashes of what he can do. But bringing in the right coach, that offensive-minded coach that caters to his skill set and really works with him developing him into an NFL quarterback, I think that's key for Mayfield.

The talent is there. It's just the dysfunction. You don't really need that around your young rookie quarterback.

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