Projecting when Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis and other rookie quarterbacks could make their first NFL start

Quarterbacks taken in the first round of the NFL Draft are often expected to start early in their rookie seasons. Over the past five seasons, an average of 5.8 rookie quarterbacks have started at least one game. Kenny Pickett was the only quarterback to be taken on the draft’s opening night but other rookies carry expectations as well. Ten quarterbacks taken on Days 2 & 3 have started at least one game over the same time period. 

 After months of discussion regarding the weaknesses of the 2022 NFL Draft class, a few of them are now under the spotlight to contribute. Here are some paths to the rookie quarterback class making their debut in 2022:

Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett

Pittsburgh did not give Mitchell Trubisky a veteran contract where he needs to be on the field to justify the cost. Training camp should feature a healthy competition between Trubisky and Pickett. In the end, head coach Mike Tomlin will probably give the veteran the first opportunity to win the job and then bring the rookie along at his own pace. The opening portion of the schedule is not necessarily conducive to early success for a young quarterback; chief among those early opponents is Bill Belichick and his impressive history against rookie quarterbacks. 

The most logical position for Pickett to be thrust into the starting lineup is Week 10 at home against the New Orleans Saints. The latter half of the schedule features a game against every team in the division, including the Ravens twice, as well as the Panthers and Falcons.

The expectation is that Atlanta is going to struggle this season, which would theoretically mean it has nothing to lose. Teams in similar situations in the past have opted to play young quarterbacks to glean more about what the player can and cannot do on the football field in an effort to plan for the future. 

When looking for natural points in the season to insert a rookie quarterback, the target is often one of three situations: 1.) following a bye week, 2.) against a weak opponent or 3.) at home. There is not an obvious point in Atlanta’s schedule to play Ridder but Week 15 against the Saints could be an option. The Falcons finish the season against the Saints, Ravens, Cardinals and Buccaneers. It is a very difficult stretch but long enough to inform the team and short enough to not break Ridder’s confidence if it goes poorly.

Tennessee is committed to its process. Head coach Mike Vrabel was clearly frustrated by the team’s decision to trade star wide receiver A.J. Brown and it is difficult to envision them trying to infringe upon his job to coach the team again. The AFC South franchise has aspirations of contending this season and that plan can only come together with Ryan Tannehill under center. Tannehill is likely to start this season in its entirety and then the team will re-assess following the season unless it goes south quickly. Tannehill has two more seasons under contract with a large, but manageable, out following the 2022 season. The information gathered this season should go a long way towards determining which direction the Nashville team goes in 2023.

Based on the current roster, head coach Matt Rhule would probably insert Corral in Week 10 against the Falcons. The team would make it through a difficult point in the schedule before bringing him in against a team that could enable him to boost his confidence. It is difficult to envision owner David Tepper stomaching another full year of Sam Darnold under center. The team would have three games from the Ole Miss rookie to evaluate before the bye, which would then give the Panthers an opportunity to learn how he adapts in-season.

If Carolina trades for Baker Mayfield, then the timeline is entirely different. Mayfield is talented enough when supported to stave off competition. He is coming off a season that was interrupted by a shoulder injury though. 

There is a human element to sports that cannot be ignored. When a franchise makes the level of commitment it did to Carson Wentz despite everyone warning them of the consequences, they are going to be stubborn in his usage. Wentz is sure to undergo some adversity in Washington, much like he did previously in Indianapolis and Philadelphia. Washington will stand by the quarterback through the ups and downs. His contract will not carry any dead money beyond the upcoming season so the franchise could move on from Wentz if it goes as expected. 





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