NFL News & Analysis

Grading the situations for second-year quarterbacks

2WC3R16 Houston, Texas, USA. 13th Jan, 2024. Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) reaches back to pass downfield during the first quarter of the AFC Wild Card Playoff game between the Houston Texans and the Cleveland Browns at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on January 13, 2024. (Credit Image: © Erik Williams/ZUMA Press Wire) EDITORIAL USAGE ONLY! Not for Commercial USAGE!

• C.J. Stroud remains in an elite situation: Nico Collins, rookie Tank Dell and now top-tier veteran Stefon Diggs headline an impressive Texans passing attack for 2024.

• The Panthers upgraded, but Bryce Young still has a shaky supporting cast: The team traded for Diontae Johnson but continues to have question marks in the receiver room and along the offensive line.

• Check out PFF's fantasy football rankings: PFF’s fantasy football rankings include ranks from our experts, projections and our strength of schedule metric.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

The situation a quarterback is drafted into is one of the most important aspects in the NFL development of a rookie signal-caller. Some can overcome it, but far too many extremely talented young quarterbacks struggle to succeed in these tough environments.

Here is a look at the current situations for some second-year quarterbacks and how well their teams have set them up to succeed.

C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans: Elite

The Texans have made one of the quickest pivots from a rebuilding team into one that can contend. Stroud's outstanding play in his rookie season is the driving force, but Houston has also rapidly built a strong supporting cast around him. We didn’t know it at the time, but Stroud walked into a great situation with new offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, who did a great job of marrying their run and pass games to provide Stroud with clean, easy decisions all year long.

On top of the new play caller, the Texans also had a very successful young group of receivers, led by Nico Collins and rookie Tank Dell. Dell’s 2.22 yards per route run was good for second best among rookie receivers. Collins had a breakout season in his third NFL season, finishing with the third-best overall grade among all receivers. The Texans were one of three NFL teams to have two wide receivers with top-15 grades. The team then went out and added a top-tier veteran wide receiver in Stefon Diggs, bolstering an already elite passing attack.

While Houston's offensive line as a whole might not stack up as one of the best in the NFL, Stroud has an elite offensive lineman to help protect his blindside in Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil has never had a season with a pass-blocking grade lower than 75.0 and has never allowed more than 32 pressures in a campaign.

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Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts: Above Average

Richardson showed flashes last year as to why he was a top-10 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft before injuries derailed his season. The Colts are in a decent spot in terms of creating the right environment for a young quarterback to excel. Head coach Shane Steichen also serves as the offensive play caller, bringing a good background with the Philadelphia Eagles and Jalen Hurts in developing a successful offense for a young quarterback.

As for the pass catchers, Michael Pittman Jr. has put up three straight seasons of at least a 70.0 overall grade and recently signed a three-year extension with the team. The Colts have a fellow second-year player in Josh Downs who put up some decent numbers as a third-round rookie, with 1.60 yards per route run. To add to this group, Indianapolis selected Adonai Mitchell from Texas in the second round to give them another very good route-running pass catcher.

The Colts' offensive line is a top unit, with six offensive linemen playing more than 500 snaps in 2023 and only one posting a sub-60.0 PFF grade. Veterans Ryan Kelly and Quenton Nelson give Richardson a ton of experience to lean on, and young left tackle Bernhard Raimann put together a very impressive sophomore season last year, posting an 82.7 overall grade.

Will Levis, Tennessee Titans: Average

The Titans hit the reset button this offseason, hiring Brian Callahan to replace Mike Vrabel as the team's head coach. Callahan comes from a high-powered Bengals offense where he helped guide quarterback Joe Burrow, into one of the league's best. He will look to help Will Levis generate some consistency in his second season. After taking over in Week 8 last year, Levis showed some flashes, with three games of 70.0-plus grades. But he also had multiple games with sub-50.0 grades.

The Titans are looking to re-tool their group of pass catchers for Levis to lean on. They signed Calvin Ridley, who in his first full season back from suspension orchestrated a 1,000-yard season and earned a 71.4 overall grade. More recently, they added veteran Tyler Boyd to work from the slot. Boyd recorded the most slot snaps of any NFL receiver in 2023. Adding those two veteran receivers to a room with DeAndre Hopkins, who is still producing at a high level, gives Levis a lot more to work with than in years past.

Tennessee's offensive line is the final piece of the puzzle, a unit that struggled to generate any level of cohesiveness in 2023. Nine offensive linemen played at least 350 snaps for the team last year. The Titans spent big at the center position by grabbing Lloyd Cushenberry III from Denver after he had a career year. Cushenberry played more than 1,000 snaps and produced the third-best pass-blocking grade among centers last season. They then drafted JC Latham with the seventh overall pick to fortify their right tackle position.

However, one of the Titans' best offseason additions might just be their offensive line coach, Bill Callahan. Callahan, the father of new head coach Brian Callahan, seemingly turns every offensive line he works with into one of the league's best.

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Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers: Poor

Few rookie quarterbacks in recent memory endured as poor of a situation as what Bryce Young was thrust into last season. Young’s head coach, Frank Reich, was fired before the campaign even concluded. Young is already on his third different play caller, Dave Canales, who was hired as head coach after previously being the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he helped resurrect Baker Mayfield’s career.

The Panthers' pass-catching group is beginning to turn around, at least on paper, after a dismal 2023. Adam Thielen proved to still be his consistent self, but he was the only Carolina receiver to have more than 50 catches and more than 600 receiving yards. The Panthers this offseason traded for Diontae Johnson, who is seen as one of the best route runners in the NFL and knows how to generate separation. They then drafted Xavier Legette in the first round. Legette is a big-bodied wideout who can win against single coverage and in contested-catch situations.

The offensive line was also a massive problem last season. The Panthers' unit earned the sixth-worst pass-blocking grade. Due to that, the team made upgrades through free agency by signing Robert Hunt, Damien Lewis and Yosh Nijman. While none of them have posted a grade above 77.0 in their careers, they still will provide a much-needed boost to an offensive line that struggled to keep Bryce Young upright.


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