2022 NFL draft: Setting rookie expectations for this year’s top QBs

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The 2022 NFL draft left much to be desired at the game’s most important position, which was in stark contrast to the loaded group from the previous year’s draft class.

Only one quarterback managed to crack the first round in this year’s draft, and not until the 20th overall pick. The next one didn’t come off the board until the third round. In 2021, five quarterbacks were taken in the top 15 picks. This year, only six were selected before the seventh round.

Even so, some of this year’s top passers landed in some intriguing situations, with multiple prospects having a path of little resistance to a potential starting job in their rookie season.

Here’s what fans should expect from some of the top quarterback prospects this season:

Kenny Pickett | Pittsburgh Steelers

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The first quarterback selected in this year’s draft, Pickett was billed by many as the most pro-ready passer in the class, thanks to his level of starting experience and polished skill set.

After Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, the Steelers signed Mitchell Trubisky in free agency, presumably to give them a serviceable starter without having to break the bank for any of the bigger names that might have been available via trade. That didn’t stop them from taking Pickett with their top pick in the draft, which should tell you everything you need to know about their confidence in Trubisky being a long-term solution.

Pickett obviously has more upside than Trubisky, but the Steelers aren’t a franchise that’s ever interested in playing for next year. Head coach Mike Tomlin will obviously ride with the quarterback that gives them the best chance to win now, but it’s possible that training camp might prove Pickett to be that guy. If that happens, Pickett will have no shortage of dynamic weapons in the passing game (including fellow rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin III), and he’ll be playing in the same stadium from his college days.

The biggest question mark will continue to be the offensive line, regardless of who is throwing passes. Trubisky makes the most sense as the Week 1 starter thanks to his starting experience at the pro level, but if Pickett proves he can be “the guy” during training camp, Tomlin is bold enough to hand him the reins and roll with the rookie immediately.

Desmond Ridder | Atlanta Falcons

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

After more than a round went by following the Steelers’ selection of Pickett, the Falcons started a mini-run on quarterbacks in the third round, tabbing Ridder as their franchise passer of the future.

Another team that just ended a memorable era under center, the Falcons traded longtime starter Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts for a third-round pick this offseason, then signed veteran free agent Marcus Mariota to serve as their new starter.

Now that Ridder is in the picture, Mariota is clearly a bridge option until the younger, high-upside passer can prove worthy of taking over. No team wants to lose, so it won’t be surprising if head coach Arthur Smith wants to ride with Mariota as long as possible, especially if they have any success early. That said, the Falcons have one of the least-talented rosters in the entire league, so it might make sense for them to get Ridder as many live reps as possible while the rebuild continues.

As is the case with Pickett and the Steelers, if Ridder proves at any point that he’s clearly the team’s best option, Smith shouldn’t waste any time giving him the starting job. Kyle Pitts and Drake London should give him some young weapons to grow with, even if the rest of the offense is somewhat lackluster.

Malik Willis | Tennessee Titans

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Titans fans likely would have preferred the team spend this pick on a player more likely to help them immediately, but the long-term payoff of landing Willis in the third round could be huge. Ryan Tannehill is about to turn 34, and his contract should keep him the starter for at least the next two seasons.

That should give Willis plenty of time to adjust to the speed of the NFL game, which will allow him to maximize his elite traits for the position. His combination of arm talent, instincts, athleticism and intelligence gives him a Russell Wilson-type ceiling.

None of that is likely to move the needle this season, though, as the Titans are coming off a season that saw them score the No. 1 seed in the AFC heading into the playoffs. Yes, they met a disappointingly early exit, but even with the departure of A.J. Brown, there’s no reason to believe this team won’t be potential Super Bowl contenders again this season.

That means plenty of time holding a clipboard for Willis, as he waits for his turn while Tannehill tries to ride Derrick Henry and a strong offensive line back to the postseason. The future is bright for Willis, but the present might be a bit boring in terms of in-game reps during the regular season.

Matt Corral | Carolina Panthers

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Barring a trade for someone like Jimmy Garappolo or Baker Mayfield, Corral might have the best chance to be the first rookie quarterback to start a game this season.

Sam Darnold returns as Corral’s stiffest competition, and anyone who watched the Panthers last season knows that shouldn’t be much of a challenge to overcome. While Darnold has more experience at the pro level, and with head coach Matt Rhule’s offense, he’s still just as inconsistent as he was when he entered the league.

Much like the division-rival Falcons, the Panthers aren’t expected to compete for much this season in the NFC South. That being the case, it wouldn’t be shocking for Rhule to just roll with Corral, if only to see if he can show enough to build on next season.

Corral has promising physical traits, and his toughness and intangibles made him a respected leader among teammates and coaches. If he has a similar impact in training camp this year, the Panthers could easily hand him the starting job from Week 1 and see what they have, instead of wasting any more time with Darnold.

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