Setting Expectations for Rookie NFL Quarterbacks in 2019

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJune 3, 2019

Setting Expectations for Rookie NFL Quarterbacks in 2019

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Quarterback is the most scrutinized position in professional sports. This is particularly true for many incoming rookies who shoulder the burden of becoming the face of a franchise. 

    First-round quarterbacks are treated as saviors. 

    The NFL consists of haves and have-nots. Either a team has its franchise quarterback or it doesn't. If it doesn't, the team can't compete on a consistent basis. Thus, Super Bowl or even playoff aspirations are fleeting. 

    The root of a franchise's struggles usually starts at the game's most important position. So, an investment in a quarterback isn't a small step; it's a massive leap of faith. 

    The Cleveland Browns, for example, owned the No. 1 overall pick in last year's NFL draft. The organization endured years of futility thanks to organizational ineptitude and an inability to find a quality starting quarterback. But Baker Mayfield changed everything. His rookie-record-setting 27 touchdowns instilled a level of confidence that radiates throughout the organization. 

    But Mayfield isn't the norm. Young signal-callers usually require more time to acclimate themselves and start building a comfort level. 

    No one in this year's quarterback class is on Mayfield's level entering the league. As such, expectations should be tempered, but excitement remains high. 


Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Kyler Murray had big shoes to fill when Baker Mayfield departed the Oklahoma Sooners program. Murray eclipsed Mayfield's previous single-season record with a 199.2 quarterback rating and won the Heisman Trophy before the Arizona Cardinals made him the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft class. 

    Yet questions persisted. Is Murray too short? Is he committed to football? Can he make the transition after only one year as a starter? 

    All of these supposed negatives overlooked the obvious: Murray is a natural thrower from the pocket and elite playmaker once he decides to run. 

    "The great tools Baker has right now, you can even see it in Kyler, so obviously that's coming from somewhere," Cleveland Browns quarterbacks coach Ryan Lindley said, per's Nate Ulrich. "They're teaching that there [at Oklahoma]. They do a very good job of developing quarterbacks."

    Murray and Mayfield present different skill sets. Mayfield is more precise and has better overall ball placement, while Murray's velocity, quick release and rare foot speed make him a big-play threat at all times. 

    "It's very unique, for sure," Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk said of Murray's arm strength, per the Arizona Republic's Bob McManaman. "... Obviously, everyone knows what he can do with his legs, but what he's able to do with his arm and just the way it comes off his hand. It's never a duck; it's always a spiral.

    "It's just so quick coming off his hands and the ball is usually never late and it's usually never under-thrown."

    In Kliff Kingsbury's wide-open passing offense coupled with Arizona's commitment to add talented receivers this offseason—Charles Clay, Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson to go with Kirk and Larry FitzgeraldMurray will need to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award to meet expectations. 

    Prediction: 16 starts, 4,000 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 700 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns

Daniel Jones, New York Giants

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The New York Giants are trying to sell a scenario in which Daniel Jones sits a year or two behind Eli Manning as they rebuild on the fly while still trying to win games. 

    Really, they are. 

    "Maybe we're going to be the Green Bay Model, where Rodgers sat for three years. Who knows?" general manager Dave Gettleman said after drafting Jones with this year's sixth overall pick, per's Ryan Dunleavy. "You can never have too many good players at one position."

    The Rodgers example was intentionally extreme, but the point remains the same: Eli Manning is the Giants' starting quarterback, and Jones is expected to sit and learn for at least one season. 

    "I think you can learn a lot from [Manning] on the field obviously, just from a scheme standpoint," Jones said, per John Fennelly of USA Today's Giants Wire. "... To me, a lot of it is in his routine and his daily preparation and how he prepares for practice, how he reviews practice and learns from practice. I think just that routine and just learning from that, being able to watch him every day to me has been the most helpful."

    However, the organization's preferred approach overlooks the reality of the situation. 

    The Giants were the worst team in the NFC East last season and lack the all-around talent to experience a significant improvement. New York might leapfrog the Washington Redskins, but the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles are legitimate division contenders.

    Jones playing at some point this seasonlikely late in the process once the Giants are no longer contendingis the most likely scenario. There's no reason to sit the future of the franchise if the team isn't playing well. 

    Prediction: Three starts, 600 passing yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions

Dwayne Haskins, Washington Redskins

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins traded for Case Keenum to provide a stable presence behind center during Alex Smith's injury-induced absence, but it's only a matter of time before this year's 15th overall draft pick, Dwayne Haskins, is anointed the starter. 

    This succession plan will likely happen sooner rather than later. 

    "He's good, man," wide receiver Josh Doctson said of Haskins, per CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora. "He's a quick learner, I would say. I don't know what they did over there at Ohio State, but they were doing something right, because he's come in here and he doesn't really hesitate. He's real quick and he makes decisions quick, and he throws with a lot of accuracy."

    Keenum's understanding of concepts and reads places him ahead of a rookie, and his experience will help Washington in the short term. But Haskins' natural gifts can't be overlooked. His velocity and ability to consistently deliver from the pocket are two traits Keenum doesn't possess. 

    "[Haskins] can throw; he can really throw," tight end Vernon Davis said, per 106.7 the Fan's Ben Krimmel. "... It's just amazing to see him throw the ball. The way his arm is so strong, he probably has one of the strongest arms I've ever seen."

    Washington needs a playmaker at quarterback since the team lacks talent at wide receiver. Haskins is an ideal fit in Jay Gruden's rhythm passing attack because he delivers the ball accurately and on time and with enough zip to exploit tight windows. 

    The team should be willing to endure early missteps as part of the rookie learning curve to eventually benefit from Haskins' long-term potential. 

    Prediction: 16 starts, 3,725 yards, 16 touchdowns, 13 interceptions

Drew Lock, Denver Broncos

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos are invested in second-round quarterback Drew Lock, but not too much. 

    The organization passed on Lock three times (including trading down from 10th overall) before general manager John Elway could no longer overlook the obvious value, traded up to the 42nd selection and chose the big-armed gunslinger. 

    Elway and Co. are fully invested in Joe Flacco as their starting quarterback, and the team is buying into the 34-year-old veteran. 

    "He's such a cool guy," running back Devontae Booker said, per the Denver Post's Ryan O'Halloran. "He talks to everybody in the locker room. Previous quarterbacks didn't really do (that) much. They were just (about) being there on the field (and) getting the job done.

    "He brings that leadership ability out of all of us on the field." 

    Flacco is trying to get a mediocre team back on a winning track, not mentor a young quarterback. That's perfectly fine. Lock, meanwhile, can still learn behind the established starter. 

    "The biggest thing I've learned about the NFL is it's about learning," Lock said, per Aric DiLalla of the team's official site. "I'm not expected to be perfect right now. I'm learning all new plays. We just got done with our installs. We have a couple more coming. … I need to realize that sometimes I'm going to make a mistake, and I've just got to learn from it."

    Injuries could eventually force Lock into the lineup—the same thing happened to Lamar Jackson last year when Flacco suffered a hip injury—but the 11-year veteran has been a workhorse through most of his career with 16 starts in all but two of his seasons. Lock shouldn't expect much playing time other than mop-up duty.

    Prediction: Zero starts, 250 passing yards, one touchdown, two interceptions

Will Grier, Carolina Panthers

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers surprised many when they drafted quarterback Will Grier in this year's third round. The reasoning behind the selection was rather simple, though. 

    "This has nothing to do with Cam Newton," general manager Marty Hurney said, per the Associated Press. "He is our franchise quarterback and our starting quarterback.

    "This is a position when you find a guy you like and have a chance to get him and it helps the depth at the most important position, you have to do it."

    Hurney didn't mention the fact that Carolina required an insurance policy since Cam Newton is still recovering from an offseason shoulder surgery, though the 2015 MVP has begun throwing a regulation-sized football, according to the Charlotte Observer's Jourdan Rodrigue

    Carolina hopes Newton is healthy this season, and his recovery process seems promising, but injuries to throwing shoulders can be tricky. Ask Andrew Luck

    The Panthers improved their depth by adding Grier to a quarterback room that still includes Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen. 

    "Will is going to have his work cut out for him to come in and beat [Taylor and Kyle] out," quarterbacks coach Scott Turner said, per Max Henson of the team's official site. "Those guys are competitive and they’re not going to concede anything." 

    Grier won't automatically become Carolina's No. 2 quarterback, but the third-round pick has a roster spot on lock. 

    Prediction: Zero appearances

Ryan Finley, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals quietly have a quarterback problem. The organization isn't ready to move on from Andy Dalton, but the new coaching staff isn't necessarily invested in the veteran signal-caller. Plus, the front office traded up in the fourth round to acquire Ryan Finley. 

    "I do want to make something very clear before we start: Andy Dalton is our starting quarterback," offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said after Finley's selection, per the Associated Press' Joe Kay. "That has not changed. That will not change. We think very highly of Andy and what he's going to do in our offense."

    Callahan's statement has one potential mistake. Dalton's standing "will not change" isn't a certainty.

    The new coaching staff is preparing the veteran quarterback for a system change. Head coach Zac Taylor brings an offensive mentality and will build his scheme around the 31-year-old signal-caller. 

    What happens if Dalton doesn't excel or, worse yet, continues his mediocre play? The Bengals are positioned to move on from their longtime starter. Dalton's contract isn't guaranteed over the next two seasons, and the Bengals can release him without incurring any dead money against the salary cap. 

    If Dalton and the Bengals struggle—Cincinnati projects as the AFC North's worst squadthe franchise should see what Finley can do under Taylor's supervision. 

    Prediction: Two starts, 450 passing yards, three touchdowns, one interception

Jarrett Stidham, New England Patriots

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots waited until the fourth round to draft a young quarterback when the team's starter will be 42 years old this season. 

    That's why Jarrett Stidham is in a tough position. The pressure is already on Stidham to become Tom Brady's heir apparent, even if the rookie is a middle-round talent just trying to find his way. 

    "It's just there's a gap from college to pro," Stidham said, per NESN's Doug Kyed. "Talking about schematics, defenses, whatever, terminology, it's an adjustment." 

    The transition is difficult for any incoming quarterback. Stidham's learning curve is steeper than typical because he played in two rather simplistic offenses at Baylor and Auburn. The Patriots understand this yet see his potential. 

    "He's a smart player who takes care of the football with pretty good arm strength," director of player personnel Nick Caserio said of Stidham, per Mass Live's Andrew Callahan. "He's fairly athletic, though not a running quarterback but he has decent movement skills, so I'm sure he'll be competitive with the rest of the players that we have at the position."

    New England needs to develop Brady's eventual replacement, but one doesn't have to play this year. Brady is still playing at a high level, while Brian Hoyer is a reliable backup. 

    Prediction: Zero appearances

Rest of the 2019 Class

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Franchises chose the following four quarterbacks in the fifth round or later. None of them are expected to play significant roles this season unless something drastic occurs. They are developmental backup options behind already established starters (and proven backups in some cases). 

    Easton Stick, Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers are Philip Rivers' team and the front office signed another former starter, Tyrod Taylor, to serve as the primary backup. Stick gets to learn behind two consummate professionals while providing a little more athleticism.  

    "He looked good, especially on the move," head coach Anthony Lynn said of Stick's performance during OTAs, per the Orange County Register's Gilbert Manzano

    Clayton Thorson, Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles' decision to select Thorson is a long-term play. Of course, Carson Wentz is the organization's franchise quarterback. However, backup Nate Sudfeld is a free agent after the 2019 campaign and may look for another opportunity. Thorson can step into the backup role a year from now. 

    Gardner Minshew II, Jacksonville Jaguars: Of the four quarterbacks selected beyond the fourth round, Minshew is the most likely to earn a primary backup designation since the Jaguars released their previous veteran option, Cody Kessler, behind new starter Nick Foles

    "You get comfortable once you've earned the respect of the guys," the rookie said during OTAs, per the Florida Times-Union's Matt Soergel. "You don't come in day one doing the things a starter does. You have to earn their respect."

    Trace McSorley, Baltimore Ravens: While listed as a quarterback, McSorley has a chance to be more in the Ravens offense as a versatile performer in multiple packages. At the very least, head coach John Harbaugh told Rich Eisen that he had plans to play McSorley on special teams from the moment he was drafted, per The MMQB's Albert Breer