NFC South Reporter
Technically, the top two quarterbacks in this year’s NFL Draft will go head-to-head this weekend, but we never know.
This was predicted to be a weak rookie quarterback class, but there’s a reason teams in the league (usually top of the draft and hungry for promising passers) only took one in the first two rounds. I’m starting to understand. The rookie quarterback has scored eight total touchdowns his passes in 2022, which is one-fifth of his NFL average of 73.9 per year over the past decade.
Don’t write these guys off long-term just yet.The last time a class of rookie quarterbacks had this many touchdown passes was in 2000, and the entire league had four led by Falcons great Doug Johnson. A sixth-round pick with the Patriots, he had one completion all season and played well in the end.
Still, it’s certainly overwhelming to note that the Steelers and first-round pick Kenny Pickett will face the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday. He’s stuck behind Marcus Mariota and hasn’t played the snap.
Mariota has 14 touchdowns in 12 games as part of the league’s No. 31 pass offense, but coach Arthur Smith has handed over the keys to the rookie as the Falcons continue to be in contention in the NFC South. I resisted the temptation to wait and see. he can
The first quarterback drafted and the only quarterback to extend the stretch as a starter, Pickett had a quiet start of his NFL career with three touchdown passes and three touchdown runs in seven starts. I got off to a good start. He can claim to be the only rookie quarterback with a clear path to his starting job in 2023.
Last year’s rookies were a group of walkers led by Patriots’ Mack Jones and Texans’ Davis Mills, who combined for 79 touchdowns, with other recent classes simply playing more. In the 2019 class of 106 combined touchdowns, 10 rookies started at least three games. This season aside, NFL teams in constant search for elite quarterbacks are overdrafting high positions in the first round, and that hefty investment will quickly yield significant playing time.
Even back in the infamous quarterback class, the stats still dwarf this year’s rookies. This year’s class will need a strong finish just to match the 2007 class, which amassed 16 touchdown passes led by seven of Bills rookie Trent Edwards. Raiders that season.
Why didn’t this year’s rookie perform so well? Only 10 QBs were drafted, and only 5 of them have played this season. Even if it’s open to counting first-year players (who are making their NFL debut but not just their first year out of college), the Rams’ 1 touchdown pass from Bryce Perkins last weekend only one is added.
It’s part talent, circumstance, and even injury. Third-round pick Matt Corral could have almost certainly played for the Panthers, but suffered a season-ending leg injury during the preseason.
Others had spot-start chances and weren’t enough to keep the job going. He threw 25 touchdowns, but still returned to the bench. Zappe has five of eight touchdown passes by a rookie this season. Malik Willis of Tennessee said that Ryan made two starts when Tannehill was injured, but combined he threw for 135 yards without a touchdown and returned to the bench when Tannehill was healthy.
It may only take a small loss for the Falcons to drop out of contention and convince Atlanta to try what they have on the lidar, but aside from Pickett, the rest of the rookie class is the Patriots. The Titans are well positioned to make the playoffs with a more experienced starter.
The lack of contribution from the 2022 draft class means Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud are projected as top-five picks, with others like Kentucky’s Will Levis possible. With a high probability, it could further increase demand for quarterbacks at the top of the 2023 draft. With those alone, it’s highly unlikely the league will make fewer than 10 touchdown passes from a rookie quarterback when December rolls into next season.
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Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He entered his 10th season covering the NFL full-time with the Bucks, Tampa Bay he spent with The Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter. @gregauman.
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