Ranking the Chance Each Rookie QB Is a Week 1 NFL Starter in 2020
In each of the last 12 NFL seasons, at least one rookie quarterback has started in Week 1.
In fact, ever since John Beck started for the Miami Dolphins in Week 11 of the 2007 season, at least one rookie quarterback has started in each of the NFL's past 211 regular-season weeks.
Which first-year signal-callers have the best chance to extend that streak at the beginning of the 2020 season? Based on quarterback depth charts, veteran presences and rookie readiness, we ranked those with a shot from least to most likely to start come early September.
The following quarterbacks were drafted in April, but none of them have a realistic chance to start Week 1 barring one or more injuries.
Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers: The dynamics with Love and Aaron Rodgers could cause controversy one day, but that won't be in 2020. Rodgers' contract is practically untradeable, and the conservative Packers also have Tim Boyle on the roster.
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles: Franchise quarterback Carson Wentz is the sixth-highest-paid player in the league in terms of average salary.
Jacob Eason, Indianapolis Colts: Indy just signed Philip Rivers to be its starter, and Jacoby Brissett remains on the roster as well.
James Morgan, New York Jets: 2018 No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold remains the man in New York, while David Fales is also on the roster.
Jake Fromm, Buffalo Bills: 2018 No. 7 pick Josh Allen just led the Bills to the playoffs last season, and Matt Barkley and Davis Webb are looming as competition behind him.
Cole McDonald, Tennessee Titans: Coming off a breakout season, Ryan Tannehill became the NFL's ninth-highest-paid player in terms of average salary earlier this offseason. Logan Woodside will likely back him up.
Ben DiNucci, Dallas Cowboys: Even if the Cowboys suddenly lose their patience and trade or release Dak Prescott, they'd turn things over to Andy Dalton.
Tommy Stevens, New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees is Drew Brees, and the Saints also have Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill.
Nate Stanley, Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins has a fresh two-year, $66 million contract extension and is coming off a career year. Sean Mannion figures to back him up.
4. Jake Luton, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Jake Luton with a sixth-round pick, and no rookie drafted that low has been a Week 1 starter in this century. Then again, sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew II stole the starting quarterback job from highly paid veteran Nick Foles on this same Jaguars team last season.
If the Jags were willing to give up on Foles and crown Minshew that quickly, they might be willing to make the switch from Minshew to Luton between now and their Sept. 13 opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Jaguars traded Foles to the Chicago Bears this offseason and didn't invest in a starting-caliber replacement, which bodes well for Luton. If he outperforms Minshew, Mike Glennon and Josh Dobbs this summer, he could have a shot at claiming the starting job ahead of Week 1.
Despite all of the magic that surrounded Minshew when he first replaced an injured Foles last fall, he came into the league with no more fanfare than Luton. And while he had some dazzling moments as a rookie, he struggled when he took over again in December. In his final five games, Minshew completed only 59.5 percent of his passes, averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt and posted an ugly 88.1 rating.
Luton, meanwhile, had a massive senior season at Oregon State and might be efficient and developed enough to supplant Minshew. But it's a long shot.
3. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Even though the Miami Dolphins selected Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 5 overall pick, his chances of starting Week 1 aren't much better than Luton's.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported Monday that while "Miami isn't opposed to playing Tagovailoa as a rookie if he earns the opportunity at some point" during the 2020 season, "it's likely [Ryan] Fitzpatrick will begin the season as the starter."
The Dolphins are in the midst of a ground-up rebuild, and they brought Fitzpatrick back for a reason. Pushing Tagovailoa into early action less than a year removed from major hip surgery would be hasty, especially since restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic figure to limit his time with teammates this offseason.
If Tagovailoa hadn't suffered a severe hip injury this past fall, his chances to start Week 1 would be higher. If not for the pandemic, his chances would be higher. And on a team in win-now mode, his chances would be higher.
But given the circumstances, the Alabama product is likely to be holding a tablet when the Dolphins begin their season against the New England Patriots on Sept. 13.
2. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers might be more incentivized than the Dolphins to quickly introduce their rookie quarterback. They're equipped to win now, and they'll be scratching and clawing for wins on and off the field when they open their new shared stadium with the Los Angeles Rams in September.
Longtime starting quarterback Philip Rivers is now in Indianapolis, and incumbent backup Tyrod Taylor can't move the needle like No. 6 overall pick Justin Herbert, who threw 61 touchdown passes to 14 interceptions in his last two years at Oregon.
While Herbert is the future, Taylor was a 2011 sixth-round pick who has made three starts in the last two seasons. He's an exciting player and a high-end backup who has experienced some success as a starter, but his career 89.8 passer rating suggests he has a low ceiling.
With that said, we have no idea when Herbert will get a chance to properly practice with his new team. Taylor at least has extensive experience in head coach Anthony Lynn's system.
"With spring practices canceled and training camp shrouded in doubt, Taylor will almost certainly be the Week 1 starter, barring an injury or something else unforeseen," The Athletic's Daniel Popper wrote earlier this month.
There's always room for something unforeseen in this league, but for now, it seems like Herbert will also be on the sideline when the Bolts open up the 2020 season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 13.
1. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
That Sept. 13 Bengals-Chargers opener will likely feature at least one rookie quarterback under center, because the Bengals presumably won't wait to get a look at No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow.
Six of the last eight quarterbacks drafted first overall have started from the get-go, and Burrow is one of the most hyped No. 1 picks of the 21st century. The Bengals haven't officially called him their Week 1 starter, but their actions spoke louder than words when they released Andy Dalton less than a week after the draft.
That left only Burrow, 2019 fourth-round pick Ryan Finley and sophomore undrafted free-agent pickup Jake Dolegala on the quarterback depth chart. Neither Dolegala (who has never thrown an NFL pass) nor Finley, who completed only 47.1 percent of his passes in three starts as a rookie, is likely to be better equipped than Burrow to run the offense come September.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor spoke during the draft about Burrow's transition from LSU to Cincinnati, according to the team's official website:
"There's a lot of carryover there. Maybe conceptually they're named different, but certainly a lot of things you see on tape carry into our offense. He'll be able to get up to speed on that quickly. They did a great job at LSU of putting him and other players in great positions. Those guys took ownership of the offense, starting with Joe. It will be exciting to integrate him into what we want to do."
Taylor stopped short of declaring Burrow the starter, but he said he expects him to compete for the job. A look at the competition indicates we'll almost certainly see the Heisman Trophy winner on the field come Sept. 13.