There may be no other position on the football field where a landing spot is as crucial to success in the NFL as quarterback. Surrounding talent, play calling, path to a starting job and organizational stability are all factors that can help or hinder a quarterback’s growth.
Here’s how I see that for all the quarterbacks selected within the first 150 picks of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Howell comes enters the NFL with no expectations other than to develop behind Carson Wentz, given where he was drafted. The good news — for Howell’s sake — is Wentz's extensive injury history could thrust the rookie into playing time, and the Commanders have no dead money committed to Wentz after 2022. That couldn’t put less pressure on Howell to transition from the college-y offense he ran at North Carolina to the pro game.
As important as all the above is the talent the Commanders already employ offensively. PFF ranked their offensive line sixth by the end of the 2021 season. Even though they lost Brandon Scherff, they added Andrew Norwell and can expect a leap in play from second-year right tackle Sam Cosmi. Howell also pairs up with his top collegiate target in Dyami Brown in what’s now a loaded receiving corps after the Commanders added Jahan Dotson in Round 1. That’s the best supporting cast of any quarterback on this list.
Even if the offensive line he’s getting thrown behind placed 26th in PFF’s final rankings last year, there are a number of reasons why this was still an ideal scenario for Pickett. The first is obviously comfortability. Pickett took 1,054 dropbacks at Heinz Field for the Pittsburgh Panthers and earned an 85.5 passing grade (compared to a 73.6 on the road in college). The second reason is the Steelers' revamped receiving corps, featuring Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens and Calvin Austin III. That has the potential to be the most dynamic group on this list. The final reason is stability. Now, that may not apply to offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who is on the hot seat after the way that offense performed last season, but it does apply to Mike Tomlin, who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The one worry is that Pickett’s 8.5-inch hands couldn’t have gone to a worse landing spot to alleviate the fumbling issues he showed in college. Every single team in the AFC North plays its games in cold-weather outdoor stadiums. And before you say, “he played there in college what’s the big deal?” understand that the latest game he ever played in Pittsburgh came in November and he’ll play six games later than that next season.
The book on Willis’ prospects heading into the draft was pretty much universal: You didn’t want him getting thrown to the wolves in Year 1. Coming from the offense and competition level he played in at Liberty, Willis will have a steep learning curve out of the gate. The best-case timeline for his success looks something like the timeline for Josh Allen’s success. Allen famously broke out in Year 3, which for Willis just so happens to be when Ryan Tannehill’s contract expires. The Titans give themselves a high-floor backup with Willis’ rushing ability and the stability of the reigning coach of the year in Mike Vrabel to commit to a long-term developmental plan.
Zappe went to a great landing spot in terms of long-term stability, but it's quite obviously not the best place for his chances of becoming a starter. Bill Belichick’s track record of later-drafted quarterbacks having long NFL careers is second to none. Of the 11 signal-callers Belichick has drafted outside the first round, five of them — Tom Brady, Matt Cassel, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett — played at least six years in the NFL while two others — Kliff Kingsbury and Kevin O’Connell — are current NFL head coaches. The other four were two seventh-rounders — Zac Robinson and Danny Etling — and two fourth-rounders — Rohan Davey and recently moved Jarrett Stidham. That’s a good spot for Zappe’s chances of sticking around in the league.
While Ridder is neck and neck with Pickett for the easiest track to a starting job of any rookie quarterback, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a long-term one. He’ll be tossed behind an offensive line that made no starter additions to their 27th-ranked unit from last year, and his No. 1 wide receiver is a rookie. And even if he does win the job and exceeds expectations for a third-rounder, the Falcons' roster is such that they will be firmly in the running for a top-five pick. Ridder would have to have one hell of a rookie season for the Falcons to pass on what’s shaping up to be a much, much better quarterback class in the 2023 draft.
In the intro, I spoke about the criterion for this evaluation: surrounding talent, play calling, path to a starting job and organizational stability. I’m not sure there’s a box among those that Corral ticks as a Panthers quarterback. While he certainly has receiving weapons, Carolina fielded the 31st-ranked offensive line last season. The team made considerable moves to shore it up with Ickey Ekwonu at Pick No. 6 and Austin Corbett in free agency, but there's still a long way to go before the unit proves to be competent.
Ben McAdoo hasn’t had the best track record as an offensive coordinator, and Matt Rhule is on one of the hottest seats in the NFL. That makes him far more likely to give Sam Darnold every opportunity to fail once again, as he’s inextricably tied to his success after what the Panthers gave up in a trade for him last offseason. And then just like Ridder above, Corral could very well do nothing wrong as a rookie and still have the Panthers draft his replacement if they stumble to a top-five pick.