NFL rookie quarterbacks: How did the top QB draft picks do in week 1 of the preseason?
The first preseason games saw many rookie quarterbacks suit up for their debuts and get their first taste of the NFL game.
Given the physical nature of the game and the risks it entails, the NFL preseason is always light for stars and veteran players, but it is one of the best opportunities that rookies around the league get to show that they are ready for the real thing. The bulk of the first preseason game each year is played by depth players who will not make the roster cuts, but there still are glimpses of quarterbacks who will be important when September comes around. Even if this is not a very strong rookie QB class, some of them have already had the chance to show off:
Kenny Pickett, Steelers (Pick #20)
Stat line: 13-of-15 passing, 95 yards, two TDs, 6.3 yards per attempt, 132.6 passer rating, three rushing attempts for 16 yards
The only QB deemed a first round pick made his team score in two of his drives as the offensive snaps were split three ways between him, Mason Rudolph (9-15) and Mitch Trubisky (4-7). Pickett took the field in the second half and got his team down the field late in the game for the winning TD pass, making fans in the stand cheer for the kid they hope will take Roethlisberger’s place. Pickett played college in Pittsburgh and he may be poised to start games in the NFL in the same place as soon as next month. Rudolph has never performed at an starter level with the team and Trubisky is in Pittsburgh after the Chicago Bears gave up on him and his limitations, so everybody knows, including Pickett, that this is his job to win, and he started his campaign the right way.
Desmond Ridder, Falcons (Pick #74)
Stat line: 10-of-22 passing, 103 yards, two TDs, 4.7 yards per attempt, 89.8 passer rating, six rushing attempts for 59 yards
Ridder will probably not be the starting QB at any point this season, as Atlanta has replaced Matt Ryan with another capable starter in Marcus Mariota who head coach Arthur Smith knows from his Tennessee days, but the rookie has shown that he is not that far from ready. The former Cincinnati QB had a long career in a winning program, so he has already had his game optimized towards playing winning football, which is the reason the Falcons decided to spend a mid-round pick in a player that is soon to be 23. His ceiling may not be the highest in the class, but if he can be competent as a passer and provide help with his rushing games, both things he achieved ins his debut, he will be a good enough game manager to start games soon. If Mariota cannot keep a middling team in the race for the playoffs, the staff will probably give Ridder some real snaps down the line.
Malik Willis, Titans (Pick #86)
Stat line: 6-of-11 passing, 107 yards, 9.7 yards per attempt, 88.1 passer rating, five rushing attempts for 38 yards and a TD
Malik Willis has a steep road to becoming Tennessee’s starter this season, but it is not impossible if he keeps showing tools that Ryan Tannehill does not have. The team has made the playoffsa few times with Tannehill at the helms of the offense, so either he declines, which is possible but not likely at age 34, or Willis shows both better potential and consistency than the ex-Dolphins QB. They are in no hurry to change QBs, so these kind of preseason plays are probably the most will see from Willis for now, which is already something.
Matt Corral, Panthers (Pick #94)
Stat line: 1-of-9 passing, 11 yards, 1.2 yards per attempt, 39.6 passer rating, one rush, 6 yards
A disappointing debut by Corral, who did not find his game this time around. He is in no hurry to do so as he is very clearly the Panthers’ third option at QB behind Mayfield and Darnold, but he needs to show something better in the coming games if he wants to make sure that he has a spot to do more next preseason.
Bailey Zappe, Patriots (Pick #137)
Stat line: 19-of-32 passing, 205 yards, one TD, one INT, one sack, 6.4 yards per attempt, 75.8 passer rating
Zappe is in a race against veteran QB Brian Hoyer for the substitute spot, and he got almost a full game to show his skills this time around. The Patriots expectations with him are different that if they did not have Mac Jones, so Zappe only has to display a replacement-level amount of competency to show that he belongs in the roster. His TD drive late in the 4th quarter will help Belichick know what he has in Zappe.
Most of these rookie quarterbacks will get another chance to show their talents this weekend as the NFL preseason goes into week 2.