After the three-headed monster that was Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III took the NFL by storm last season, the expectations for the 2013 draft class of quarterbacks have been changed. No one took a quarterback until the middle of the first round (and after that, it took until pick 39 for the second signal-caller to go), meaning that no team saw the talent of a Luck or an RGIII in any of these rookies.
However, the instant success of these quarterbacks (and encouraging signs from others such as Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden) has also put a lot of pressure on the first-year quarterbacks who do play to pick up the speed of the game quickly.
Fortunately, there are a handful of quarterbacks who could be starting games, and making some impressions, before their rookie seasons are over. Some of them could be getting in games once the season is winding down and their teams are looking towards the future. A couple of others, however, could very well be taking snaps from Opening Day. Here are five quarterbacks who could be starting by the last week of the regular season:
1) E.J. Manuel, Buffalo Bills:
Picked 16th overall, this one is pretty obvious. Manuel has looked very sharp in the preseason, going 16-for-21 with a touchdown against the Colts in his first game and looking even stronger against the Vikings last week. Many people close to the Bills agree that Manuel, rather than challenger Kevin Kolb, will likely be the starter come Week One against the New England Patriots.
Even though Manuel suffered a knee injury which will sideline him for the rest of the preseason, he has shown himself to be much better and effective than an inconsistent Kolb. With a strong arm and the ability to make plays outside the pocket, expect Manuel to be the Bills quarterback as long as he's healthy in '13.
2) Geno Smith, New York Jets:
Smith has looked a little shaky in the preseason thus far, when he's gotten to play at all. That said, Mark Sanchez (still likely to start Week 1) hasn't shown any major signs of improvement from last season.
The Jets are likely headed for another nightmare of a season, especially with the Dolphins expected to have a solid season thanks to the development of Ryan Tannehill and the signing of top wide receiver Mike Wallace. If the Jets are out of the hunt by the middle of the season, Rex Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff will want to see what they have in a quarterback who they drafted to be their signal-caller of the future.
It is becoming abundantly clear than Sanchez will never be the long term answer for New York. So what do the Jets have to lose by giving this rookie (a one-time Heisman frontrunner) a shot?
3) Matt Barkley, Philadelphia Eagles:
After losing one of his top weapons this season before the regular season even got underway (Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL during training camp), Michael Vick's work this season hasn't gotten any easier. The former star regressed last season (throwing 10 interceptions in as many games and only 12 touchdowns).
Backup Nick Foles got some playing time last year after Vick got hurt, and showed some signs of potential. He didn't, however, give any indication that he was the future of the franchise, completing less than 61 percent of his passes and throwing six touchdowns and five interceptions in his six starts.
Foles also doesn't have the mobility which new head coach Chip Kelly's high-octane offense requires. Playing behind a rebuilding offensive line would be hard enough without also having to learn a second new offense in two years. If the Eagles saw enough in Foles to give him a shot at being their full-time quarterback, they probably wouldn't have asked the regressing and injury-prone Vick to return.
Barkley is largely an unknown at this point, which is one of his greatest strengths. He is confident, unafraid to throw the deep ball and showing promise this preseason. Those factors alone may be enough to give him a handful of starts for a team which won't be doing much of anything in 2013.
4) Landry Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers:
In the past few seasons, starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been out for a period of time due to injuries. This has caused replacements such as Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch to have to come in and serve as standbys.
Roethlisberger is getting older, and his penchant for trying to make plays out of the pocket or in a broken pocket (one of the thing which makes him such a great quarterback) means he is likely to get hurt again at some point this season.
When that happens, the start will, in all likelihood, go to Jones. Jones was a school-record-setting passer at Oklahoma and was drafted by the Steelers in the fourth round. Whether Jones can be a legitimate starting quarterback or not remains to be seen. That said, he is likely as good as Dixon (now a fourth-stringer for the Eagles), and he has as good a chance as any rookie not named Manuel or Smith to see the field this year, simply because of the injury history of the guy he plays behind.
5) Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
The man who once stole Russell Wilson's spot at North Carolina State is now considered by many experts to be one of the steals of the '13 draft. Picked 77th overall, Glennon comes to a team with a lot of the right pieces, but inconsistent quarterback play from Josh Freeman.
Freeman now has targets Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, and a star running back in Doug Martin, who rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie last season. If the wins do not come this season for Freeman, there will be no excuse, and Glennon will be waiting in the wings once again to step into the starter role.