How soon will Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder and NFL rookie quarterbacks play? Predicting when each early-round QB will start
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One year after five quarterbacks were drafted in the top 15, only one was selected in the first 73 picks of the 2022 NFL draft. Three others were drafted before the end of Round 3, and only two more came off the board before Round 7. It was certainly a down year for the quarterback class — but that doesn’t mean we won’t see some rookies getting starts under center at some point during the 2022 season.
So when will we see the young QBs debut? Could first-rounder Kenny Pickett beat Mitch Trubisky right out of the gate for the Steelers’ gig? Will Atlanta’s Desmond Ridder or Carolina’s Matt Corral push to start for their rebuilding franchises? And how long will Malik Willis have to wait behind Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee?
Our NFL Nation reporters broke it all down, giving chances each could start in Week 1 or conversely sit the entire season before landing at their best prediction for when the rookie QBs could see their first NFL starts. Plus, we take a quick look at expected roles for the midrounder QBs selected by New England and Washington. Let’s get started in Pittsburgh.
Jump to a QB:
Picket | Riders | Willis | corral
Midrounder roles for 2022
Drafted: Round 1, no. 20
Competition to start: Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph
Chance of winning the starting job in Week 1: 2% Throughout OTAs and minicamp, Pickett consistently took third-string reps behind Trubisky and Rudolph. To supplant Trubisky as the starter by Week 1, Pickett would have to be the second coming of Johnny Unitas as soon as he hits training camp. That’s not happening. And that’s OK — the Steelers don’t need to rush Pickett’s development.
Trubisky has looked comfortable and confident throughout offseason workouts, and his early rapport with the locker room signals that he’ll be a leader on this team. Add in the fact that the Steelers open on the road against the AFC champion Bengals, and it’s even more likely Trubisky begins as the starter.
Chance of sitting all season: 40%. The Steelers must believe Pickett is the future of the organization; otherwise, they wouldn’t have selected him in the first round. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the immediate future. If the Steelers navigate the season-opening gauntlet that includes games in Cincinnati and Cleveland, along with home games against Tampa Bay and New England, and Trubisky isn’t losing them games, they should stick with him.
If the Steelers can field a strong defense and improved offensive line to aid running back Najee Harris, they just need a steady quarterback who doesn’t make big mistakes. Assuming Trubisky has truly matured and learned a lot in Buffalo behind Josh Allen, he’ll be that guy.
Best prediction for first NFL start: Week 18 vs. Cleveland Browns. Truthfully, I have two weeks circled as possible 2022 NFL debuts for Pickett. The first is Week 10 vs the Saints after the bye. If Trubisky isn’t performing, the bye gives the Steelers a natural break to make a starting quarterback change. But if Trubisky is playing well, there’s no point in making a change at that juncture.
The second — and more likely — date is Week 18. Even in years in which the Steelers weren’t supposed to be part of the playoff conversation, they’ve still had a fighting chance late in the season. This season might not be any different, and as long as Trubisky isn’t losing the team games, it makes sense to stick with him. But if Week 18 turns into a formality game with nothing on the line but bragging rights, then the Steelers might give Pickett a taste of an AFC North rivalry game. — Brooke Pryor
Drafted: Round 3, no. 74
Competition to start: Marcus Mariota
Chance of winning the starting job in Week 1: 5%. Mariota appears to be far ahead of Ridder right now, and Atlanta brought Mariota in for a reason — to be the starter at least in the short term because he has familiarity with what coach Arthur Smith wants in the offense. Plus, Mariota has looked sharp through OTAs. So why the 5%? There’s always the chance of an injury, and it’s also possible Ridder takes a big jump once training camp starts. Atlanta likes what it has seen from Ridder so far, but a Week 1 debut seems like a stretch.
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Chance of sitting all season: 20% The reality is if Mariota plays well and the Falcons are still mathematically eligible for the postseason, he will be the quarterback. Ridder’s paths to playing at this point include:
Mariota struggles as a starter.
The Falcons are eliminated from playoff contention and decide they need to see what they have in Ridder.
Mariota gets injured.
More likely? Ridder gets some action as the season goes along, but when that comes and what that looks like will depend on both how Mariota is playing and how Ridder is progressing.
Best prediction for first NFL start: Week 15 at New Orleans Saints. The Falcons have a late bye and should know whether they are still in the playoff race at that point. If they are, Mariota would likely remain the starter. If not, it could be a good time to make the switch (unless Mariota is playing really well) because it would give Ridder an extra week to prepare and four games of play. That gives Atlanta a reasonable sample size to judge what it might need to do at QB in the 2023 season.
If things are going poorly for Mariota, Week 11 against Chicago would be another time to watch because the Falcons would be coming off a Thursday night game in Week 10 — again giving a rookie a little more time to prepare for a switch to starter. –Michael Rothstein
Drafted: Round 3, no. 86
Competition to start: Ryan Tannehill
Chance of winning the starting job in Week 1: 5%. Barring injury or some kind of catastrophic failure, Tannehill will take the bulk of the snaps this year. The Titans have taken a ground-up approach to developing Willis, starting with getting him more used to calling plays in the huddle and working from under center. Quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara has also worked extensively with Willis to make adjustments to his mechanics to improve accuracy. The coaching staff loves what they see already in Willis, but it’s a work in progress.
Chance of sitting all season: 75%. The Titans are still in win-now mode despite drafting who they feel is their quarterback of the future. Tannehill has started every game since taking over in Week 6 of the 2019 season. He’ll likely have a rebound season from last year and remain the starter throughout 2022.
Best prediction for first NFL start: Week 15 of the 2023 season. Tannehill’s contract has $9.2 million in dead money after the 2023 season. The Titans will need to see what they have in Willis before they make a decision to move on from Tannehill. If Tennessee isn’t vying for a playoff spot, that’s the perfect time to give Willis a chance to show what he can do in live game action. –Turron Davenport
Drafted: Round 3, no. 94
Competition to start: Sam Darnold, PJ Walker
Chance of winning the starting job in Week 1: 5%. That might even be stretching it, since offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo spoke in depth on how Corral is having to learn a completely different language and how it will take time and won’t be easy. McAdoo also said he’s going to be tough on Corral so the former Ole Miss star will be ready when it is time. That time likely won’t be Week 1, unless Corral makes a huge jump in training camp.
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The plan is to have a veteran — whether it’s Darnold, Baker Mayfield or someone else — start the season and keep Corral ready to take over if that player fails to get the job done.
Chance of sitting all season: 0% Darnold hasn’t proved that he can consistently win over four per seasons, so there’s no reason to believe that will change this season. Darnold could get benched early if he struggles, giving Corral a chance. The staff loves the energy the rookie brings, and the more McAdoo is around him, the more he likes what he brings
Best prediction for first NFL start: Week 6 at Los Angeles Rams. The early schedule is tough, and five games is plenty of time to see whether Darnold or another veteran can win. So while starting Corral against the defending Super Bowl champs on the road might seem harsh, the expectations for him to win would be low, and that would ease the pressure. Plus, his mobility against the Rams’ front could be useful. –David Newton
What role will the midround QBs play in 2022?
Bailey Zappe, New England Patriots (Round 4, No. 137): Zappe will most likely be the Pats’ third quarterback. Mac Jones is locked in as the No. 1, so the only question would be whether Zappe can challenge veteran Brian Hoyer for the No. 2 roles. That seems like a long shot at this time, but in 2009, Hoyer was viewed the same way when competing against Kevin O’Connell before winning that job. — Mike Reiss
Sam Howell, Washington Commanders (Round 5, No. 144): Howell wants to be Washington’s third quarterback. The Commanders will start Carson Wentz and consider Taylor Heinicke a high-end backup. But with Heinicke in the last year of his contract, Howell has a chance to become the primary backup in 2023. Also keep in mind that Washington has not had a quarterback start every game since Kirk Cousins left after the 2017 season — and it has used at least three starters in each subsequent season. — John Germ