Friday, May 27, 2022

Forecasting 2022 NFL quarterback competitions: Steelers’ Kenny Pickett could be only rookie to start in Week 1

With the 2022 NFL Draft now in the rear view, most teams have their quarterback rooms filled out for the upcoming season. There are still a few veteran dominoes yet to fall, but with offseason programs underway, the majority of the signal-callers are set. That doesn’t mean we know exactly which 32 QBs will be starting come Week 1, especially with several rookies poised to compete for Opening Day duties.

With that in mind, here’s an early forecast of 2022’s likely starting QB competitions:

Falcons (Marcus Mariota vs. Desmond Ridder)

Atlanta signed Mariota, 28, to a two-year deal before spending a third-rounder on Ridder. Neither is overly promising as the long-term successor to Matt Ryan. The former, who will essentially make high-end spot-starter money, is what he is: mobile and experienced, but with physical and passing limitations. Being the fresh face, Ridder and his touted smarts and leadership offer more upside. It’d be a surprise if he isn’t starting sooner rather than later. Mariota has history with coach Arthur Smith, however, so he’s got the leg up in terms of opening the year under center, especially for a team that’s sorely lacking depth around the lineup.

Projected Week 1 starter: Marcus Mariota

Giants (Daniel Jones vs. Tyrod Taylor)

Jones is set to audition for a new regime on a contract year after the Giants declined the former first-rounder’s fifth-year option, which would’ve secured him through 2023. All signs point to Jones getting that audition, even though Taylor, 32, costs almost as much on his pricey backup deal. Truth be told, neither QB is particularly reliable these days. But at least with Jones, still just 24, you can buy that a better staff and supporting cast will accentuate his athleticism.

Projected Week 1 starter: Daniel Jones

Panthers (Sam Darnold vs. Matt Corral)

No matter how many swings they’ve taken during the Matt Rhule regime, their QB room has remained ugly. Corral is a fine bet as a third-round pick — a confident arm with good athleticism. But are we sure Darnold, who’s just one year older, doesn’t offer just as much with his arm and legs? Maybe the fact the latter’s already been battered around the NFL does dent his upside. Darnold is on track to open with the job just because of experience, but after all their public and private talk about upgrading the position, we’d rather bet on another, last-gasp addition claiming the Opening Day title, hence …

Projected Week 1 starter: Jimmy Garoppolo

Seahawks (Geno Smith vs. Drew Lock)

Everyone figured Seattle had a grand succession plan (Deshaun Watson? Malik Willis?) after dealing franchise icon Russell Wilson, but nope. Pete Carroll says they’re content with Smith, 31, who briefly filled in for Russ in 2021; and Lock, 25, who they apparently liked coming out of college. We’re still not sold they’re totally disinterested in Baker Mayfield as a fallback, but we also wouldn’t put it past Carroll to double down on the old-school run-first approach with one of these backup-level signal-callers. Smith is probably a touch safer at this point in his career, whereas Lock offers more big-play, albeit mercurial, arm talent.

Projected Week 1 starter: Geno Smith

Steelers (Kenny Pickett vs. Mitchell Trubisky)

Now we know why Trubisky, 27, basically got high-end backup money in free agency. While he has the athleticism to give Pittsburgh arguably just as much as Ben Roethlisberger did for much of 2021, the ex-Bears QB was never going to be the Steelers’ only option under center. (It’s apparent, through their actions, they already know what Mason Rudolph is: a backup.) It’s possible Trubisky’s NFL experience will give him the Opening Day job, but Pickett literally knows the Steelers’ facilities, and his general combination of steady accuracy and athleticism should make him a favorite of both fans and staff early on.

Projected Week 1 starter: Kenny Pickett

Texans (Davis Mills vs. Kyle Allen)

This is probably the most fraudulent “competition” of all the battles listed here, just because Houston has (somewhat inexplicably) hitched its 2022 wagon to Mills, the former third-rounder. Sure, he was relatively poised as a rookie, but after converting Jeff Driskel to tight end, only Allen, the ex-Panthers and Washington reserve, was added as insurance. Chances are, they’ll be back in the QB hunt in 2023. For now, it’s Mills’ job to lose.

Projected Week 1 starter: Davis Mills

Other QB situations to monitor

  • Commanders: Carson Wentz is definitely the guy in Washington, but if injuries or poor play cause a major disruption, both Taylor Heinicke and fifth-round rookie Sam Howell bring plenty of moxie off the bench.
  • Dolphins: New coach Mike McDaniel is clearly interested in getting the most out of Tua Tagovailoa, but if the results aren’t there, or injuries surface, Teddy Bridgewater is experienced enough to warrant an extended look from their staff, even if he’s already proven he’s best suited as a No. 2.
  • 49ers: It’s Trey Lance’s time, but incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo has an extremely limited trade market coming off surgery. If they can’t find a suitor, might they (and he) rather negotiate a pay cut to remain as Lance’s backup?
  • Titans: Ryan Tannehill is locked in as the starter, but he’s expendable after the 2022 season, and it’s very possible he’s already reached his ceiling as this team’s QB. If he gets in a slump, they’ve got a raw but electric Malik Willis waiting in the wings.

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