QB-Needy Teams Who Missed out in NFL Draft Can Look Forward to Loaded 2023 ClassMay 3, 2022
The 2022 NFL draft was a wild one, filled with trades, surprise selections—in the New England Patriots' case, a Strange pick—and an early run on wide receivers. What we didn't see over draft weekend was a high demand for rookie signal-callers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers took Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett 20th overall. He wound up being the only quarterback selected in the first two rounds. Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder was the next passer off the board, going to the Atlanta Falcons at No. 74.
Things unfolded much differently than many outside of NFL war rooms anticipated in the weeks leading up to the draft. In some cases, insider information seemed to suggest multiple quarterbacks would go in the top half of the first round.
"One GM told me he sees three in the top 20," ProFootballTalk's Peter King wrote on April 11. "Those three are likely Kenny Pickett of Pitt, Malik Willis of Liberty and Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder. I've heard very good things about Ridder's exchanges with teams over the past month, but each QB has his critics."
We now know just how many critics this year's quarterback class had. Pickett is the only rookie passer looking at a surefire starting role—though he's no lock to start Week 1 with Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph on the roster—and it's fair to wonder how much the Steelers would have coveted him if he weren't a local product.
Teams like the Atlanta Falcons (Ridder), Carolina Panthers (Matt Corral), Washington Commanders (Sam Howell) and Tennessee Titans (Malik Willis) took fliers on quarterbacks who may eventually start but are largely developmental prospects. They all took those chances in the third round or later.
The way the draft actually unfolded is more in line with what most expected early in the predraft process. There was no "sure thing" in the quarterback class, and there seemed to be few high-end options.
In the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's post-Senior Bowl big board, for example, Ridder was viewed as the only first-round prospect, while he and Pickett were the only two quarterbacks ranked inside the top 73.
Prospects like Willis and Ridder gained steam during the predraft process, but teams simply didn't panic-pick quarterbacks early. There was no repeat of the 2011 draft, when quarterbacks Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder went in the first 12 picks.
There are likely a few reasons for this, aside from the possibility that NFL decision-makers are finally learning their lesson about risky quarterback prospects. Teams like the Indianapolis Colts (Matt Ryan), Denver Broncos (Russell Wilson) and Cleveland Browns (Deshaun Watson) traded for proven passers in the offseason. Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo still linger as trade options too.
Perhaps the biggest reason teams didn't pounce on passers early, though, is that waiting for the 2023 quarterback class is worth it.
The 2023 Quarterback Class is Loaded with Talent
Now, teams don't know exactly which quarterbacks will declare for the 2023 draft just yet. Looking at the draft-eligible pool, however, next year's class is loaded, perhaps even more so than the 2021 class, which saw five quarterbacks go in Round 1.
The 2023 pool is headlined by reigning Heisman winner and Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. He helped guide Alabama to a College Football Playoff championship game appearance and finished 2021 with 4,872 passing yards, 47 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
And Young may not have hit his ceiling.
"He's going to continue to get better. He's going to continue to grow under Coach [Nick] Saban and under their offensive guys," former Alabama and current Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said in mid-April, per Tony Tsoukalas of FanNation. "He knows what it feels like to win the big game. He knows what it feels like to lose. I know he's going to take all of that and put it in a ball and roll it."
Ohio State's C.J. Stroud is in the mix as well. He finished the 2021 season with 4,435 passing yards, 44 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Alabama pass-rusher Will Anderson Jr. will also be considered for the top pick—he racked up 101 total tackles, 17.5 sacks, 33.5 tackles for loss last season—but there will likely be a healthy debate on whether Young or Stroud should go No. 1 overall.
The debate won't be about styles, though, a la the Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III argument of 2012. Young and Stroud are both archetypal pocket passers who can fit in just about any NFL offense.
The 2023 class doesn't end with Young and Stroud either. Stanford's Tanner McKee, Kentucky's Will Levis, N.C. State's Devin Leary, South Carolina's Spencer Rattler, Fresno State's Jake Haener, Brigham Young's Jaren Hall and Florida's Anthony Richardson could all work their way into the first-round conversation by December.
In a recent mock from Pro Football Focus' Mike Renner, Young, Stroud, McKee, Levis and Leary all went in the first round. McKee was the third quarterback off the board, just two spots after Stroud.
"The former top recruit didn't have much to work with at Stanford in his first year as a starter last season. His footwork is tremendous in the pocket, but he is firmly a pocket passer," Renner wrote. "He'll need to take a step forward with his decision-making to get into the first-round conversation, but he has the talent to do so."
Levis is another rising prospect who could wind up being a top-10 selection.
The race to be QB3 will be hot, much like it was last year, but Young and Stroud are the clear top two targets and the biggest reasons why bad teams may have skipped the 2022 class early.
Why gamble on Willis or Corral in Round 1 when landing a top-two selection in 2023 could guarantee a true franchise signal-caller? Teams didn't do it, and they were also reluctant to part with 2023 first-round picks—an example of how highly teams think of the 2023 class in general.
The question isn't about whether teams will find their quarterbacks of the future in 2023; it's now about which teams will be looking to do so.
Teams Eyeing the 2023 Rookie Quarterback Class
The market for 2023 rookie quarterbacks may or may not be muddled by Mayfield and Garoppolo. Both could be had via trade, but both are one-year options if they don't pan out. And there's a reasonable chance that neither is moved this offseason.
Teams hoping to land a top-five pick won't want a quarterback who has shown he can guide a team to the postseason.
Teams likely eyeing a quarterback in the top five may include the Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks.
Detroit has Jared Goff under contract through 2024 but can dump him next offseason and only owe $10 million in dead money. The Texans have a nice project in Davis Mills, who posted a respectable 88.8 passer rating in 2021, but they almost certainly opt for a "sure thing" like Young or Stroud given the opportunity.
The Falcons and Panthers both drafted developmental prospects and have Marcus Mariota and Sam Darnold, respectively, as veteran placeholders. None of these quarterbacks should preclude the Panthers or Falcons from drafting a signal-caller in 2023.
The Seahawks have Drew Lock and could target Mayfield, but they're not going to pass on the 2023 quarterback class if they obtain an early first-round selection.
The New Orleans Saints did trade their 2023 first-rounder, but if Jameis Winston doesn't pan out, they'll be in the quarterback market too. New Orleans was one of the teams, along with Atlanta and Carolina, that bid on Watson before he landed in Cleveland.
The Washington Commanders seemed to be thinking of the playoffs when they dealt for Carson Wentz, but he could be a one-year stopgap too. He was for the Colts.
Then, you have the Colts themselves, who acquired Ryan from Atlanta. The four-time Pro Bowler hasn't fallen off the proverbial cliff yet, but he is 36 years old. It wouldn't be a total shock to see Indianapolis grab a successor in 2023, though they do view Ryan as a long-term asset.
"We hope Matt can be here for four years, maybe," franchise owner Jim Irsay said, per ESPN's Mike Wells. "We certainly have our radar out for a young guy that can be the long-term future."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could also be in the first-round quarterback market. Tom Brady unretired this offseason, but the soon-to-be 45-year-old may not play beyond this year. Tampa has Gabbert and 2021 second-round pick Kyle Trask at quarterback but could easily opt for a guy like Hall or Richardson late in Round 1 if Brady finally (and honestly) calls it quits.
We can't discount the Minnesota Vikings either, as Kirk Cousins is only under contract through 2023. The Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals could even be wild cards, as their quarterbacks—Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray, respectively—are entering their fifth seasons with no long-term deals in place.
There could be a scenario in which a third of the league is looking for a quarterback of the future in 2023, and there are plenty of impending prospects to consider.
While the predraft buzz surrounding 2022 first-round quarterbacks appears to have been the product of smoke, bad information and/or team-induced uncertainty, several quarterbacks will go early in 2023.
For the teams that didn't find their new franchise signal-callers this offseason, there's a lot to look forward to and many moving parts to consider. Like this past weekend was, the 2023 draft is going to be wild.