Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. Today's installment explores the league's new crop of quarterbacks ...
In the months leading up to the 2022 NFL Draft, the quarterback class took plenty of heat. But did anyone expect just one signal-caller to come off the board in the first two rounds?
General consensus says the position will always be overdrafted, as there are always teams desperately seeking an answer at the game's most important position. But conventional wisdom didn't apply this time around. After Kenny Pickett's selection at No. 20 overall, 53 picks elapsed before the next quarterback came off the board midway through the third round.
At the moment, it doesn't look like this group will produce many (any?) Day 1 starters, with all but one landing in the "developmental" range of the draft. That said, we're still months away from kickoff, and no one predicted previous mid-round picks Dak Prescott (a fourth-rounder in 2016) and Russell Wilson (a third-rounder in 2012) leading their respective teams to the playoffs in Year 1. So it's shortsighted to completely discount what a rookie quarterback could accomplish if given the chance in the right environment.
I took some time to examine the situations and circumstances for each of the top six quarterbacks selected last week. Here is a brief glance at what the future could hold, in 2022 and beyond.
2022 OUTLOOK: As the 20th overall pick, Pickett will enter training camp as a viable contender in the QB battle against Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph. The rookie will need to earn the respect and trust of his new teammates by performing steadily in practice, while convincing his coaches he's ready via solid play in preseason games. If the competition is close between the rookie and the veterans, the Steelers will likely hand Pickett the keys to the franchise, officially kicking off a new era in Pittsburgh.
LONG-TERM PROGNOSIS: In the wake of Ben Roethlisberger's retirement, the Steelers needed a modern quarterback with athleticism and arm talent to incorporate some of the college concepts that have taken the NFL by storm. That's why they initially signed Trubisky in free agency and then drafted Pickett. With offensive coordinator Matt Canada intent on adding some of his favorite wrinkles from his days as a college play-caller (pre-snap motions and shifts, RPOs, jet sweeps), the Pitt product should flourish in a system that is far more imaginative than we've seen in Pittsburgh in years.
2022 OUTLOOK: Despite the push to create a quarterback competition in Atlanta, Ridder will have a hard time wrestling the job away from Marcus Mariota prior to the regular-season opener. The Cincy standout will likely spend most of the 2022 season mastering the system behind the scenes, honing his skills on the practice field. That said, if Mariota plays poorly over the first half of the season with the Falcons falling out of the playoff picture, Ridder could log a few starts down the stretch to potentially prepare himself for a full-time starting role in 2023.
LONG-TERM PROGNOSIS: Ridder is in a perfect situation as a developmental quarterback prospect. The rookie is not only backing up a veteran quarterback with a similar game, but he is playing for a head coach who understands how to build game plans around an athletic signal-caller. Given a chance to play in a scheme that accentuates the strongest parts of his game (game-management skills and athleticism), Ridder could develop into a solid starter in Atlanta in a few years.
2022 OUTLOOK: The Liberty standout was viewed as an ultra-talented developmental prospect with the tools to shine as a dual-threat playmaker in today's NFL. As a third-round selection, Willis begin as the backup to a former Pro Bowler who has led the franchise to three straight playoff berths while accumulating a 30-13 record as Tennessee's starter. Although the critics are coming after Ryan Tannehill following his playoff meltdown, the veteran is clearly established as the starter, with Willis likely in line for a redshirt season.
LONG-TERM PROGNOSIS: Tennessee has experience bringing along a young quarterback slowly, given Steve McNair's fine tenure with the franchise. The late, great Titans icon spent most of his first two seasons on the bench, before fully taking the reins as the team's QB1, eventually earning league MVP honors and guiding the team to its only Super Bowl appearance. The Titans should follow a similar blueprint to maximize their new QB's potential at the position. While I am not ready to proclaim Willis the next McNair, the rookie is a dazzling athlete with the arm talent and improvisational skills to excel in an offense built around his unique abilities. Given a few years to master his craft on the practice field, Willis could be the Titans' QB1 for a long time if he realizes his full potential.
2022 OUTLOOK: The Panthers' trade up into Round 3 to grab Corral should not change the team's plans to allow Sam Darnold to make another run as the starter with a better supporting cast around him. The rookie will need to knock off P.J. Walker to earn the QB2 assignment before he can compete with Darnold for the top job. The Ole Miss product could get a shot in 2022 if the Panthers underperform and/or the incumbent QB falters again as a starter.
LONG-TERM PROGNOSIS: Carolina's willingness to move up for Corral suggests that the team has plans for the young passer to eventually compete for the starting job. Matt Rhule and Co. certainly recognize the talent and they want to give the rookie every opportunity to develop into a franchise player if he can handle his business on and off the field. Corral's quick hands, outstanding arm talent and crafty athleticism could add a dimension to a Panthers offense that needs more sizzle at quarterback. It might take time for the 23-year-old to grow into the role, but he certainly possesses the raw talent to start in this league at some point.
2022 OUTLOOK: The Patriots surprised everyone when they selected a young passer early on Day 3, one year after picking up their franchise quarterback. Although Mac Jones is firmly entrenched as New England's starter, Zappe's arrival gives the Pats another young passer to groom for a key role. If the Western Kentucky standout wins the QB2 job with a strong training camp showing, New England will have a pair of young field generals on team-friendly deals.
LONG-TERM PROGNOSIS: The Patriots needed to find a long-term backup, with Brian Hoyer turning 37 in October. The Western Kentucky standout is an experienced QB with a ton of reps under his belt as the director of a pass-happy offense that broke records at the FBS level. Zappe could blossom in the Patriots' system as a dink-and-dunk passer with a quick release and high football IQ. He could man the QB2 spot behind Jones for a few years or become the next trade chip (SEE: Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo) for the team to parlay into a valuable pick. If Zappe impresses as a gunslinger, he could become a valuable piece of Bill Belichick's team-building puzzle.
2022 OUTLOOK: After shockingly sliding all the way to Round 5, Howell must overcome long odds to become a rookie starter. Washington has a pair of veterans with starting experience in Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke, and Howell must close the gap on the backup (Heinicke) before he can knock off the starter (Wentz). Given the experience within the quarterback room, it will be quite hard for the rookie to jump to the front of the line in Year 1.
LONG-TERM PROGNOSIS: It is rare for a Day 3 pick to be viewed as an eventual starter, but Howell's skills and intangibles give him a chance to make a run at the QB1 job down the road. The 21-year-old must earn the trust of his coaches and teammates in July and August. If Howell flashes winning traits in limited action, he will eventually get a chance to compete for the job -- especially if Wentz backslides again this season.