Bryce Young Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Predicting Every 2023 Drafted Rookie QB's First NFL Start

Gary Davenport

The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. And as such, the quarterback position drives the NFL draft. This year, three of the first four picks were signal-callers. All three are expected to become the faces of their respective franchises in relatively short order.

Of course, Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson weren't the only quarterbacks selected. In all, 14 quarterbacks were taken.

They included a player most thought would be a first-round pick and who slipped into Round 2. A 25-year-old rehabbing a torn ACL. Another older prospect who won back-to-back national championships. A longtime starter at UCLA. One of the heroes in TCU's run to the College Football Playoff. And a couple of standouts from Group of Five schools.

Many of these quarterbacks will never be more than career backups, and attempting to project when a signal-caller will make his first start is an exercise in throwing darts. If I could accurately see the future, I'd do less quarterback-projecting and more Powerball ticket-buying.

But many of the quarterbacks listed here have the potential to be viable starters—either this year or in the future.

The only question is when.

Don't Hold Your Breath

Dorian Thompson-Robinson Sam Wasson/Getty Images

If these quarterbacks draw a meaningful start in the foreseeable future, something has gone terribly wrong for their respective teams.

Jake Haener, New Orleans Saints (4th round, pick No. 25)

Haener may well be the most underrated arm talent in the 2023 class, and he was a good get for the Saints. But New Orleans just handed Derek Carr a bag of cash and has an experienced backup behind him in Jameis Winston. Until Winston leaves, Haener isn't seeing more than a kneel-down or two at the end of a blowout.

Week 9, 2024

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Cleveland Browns (5.05)

Thompson-Robinson is an experienced collegiate starter with quite a bit of potential. Unfortunately, he also landed on a team with a starter in the second year of a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract. Barring an injury to Deshaun Watson, Thompson-Robinson's only game time is coming in preseason.

Week 5, 2025

Sean Clifford, Penn State (5.14)

Clifford may be the guy who beat out Will Levis to start at Penn State, but he's not going to beat out Jordan Love to start in Green Bay. Even if Love struggles somewhat in 2023, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst isn't about to admit that he completely mishandled the whole Aaron Rodgers saga. So long as Love's healthy, he's the guy.

Week 9, 2024

Jaren Hall, Minnesota Vikings (5.29)

Hall has the ability to eventually become a decent backup, but that's about it. As much as some Vikings fans would like to think of a future without Kirk Cousins, it's not happening anytime soon. Were Cousins to suffer an injury this year, it would all but certainly be journeyman backup Nick Mullens who draws the start.

Week 8, 2025

Tanner McKee, Philadelphia Eagles (6.11)

You can't fault Howie Roseman for hedging his bet at quarterback, and McKee threw for nearly 3,000 yards last year at Stanford. But the Eagles just gave Jalen Hurts $255 million to be the starter and have Marcus Mariota backing him up. Can I interest you in a meaningless Week 18 games in a couple of years?

Week 18, 2024

Max Duggan, Los Angeles Chargers (7.22)

Duggan was a star at TCU, and it's not outside the realm of reason that he could beat out Easton Stick to back up Justin Herbert in Los Angeles. But Herbert is the unquestioned starter for the Chargers, so barring an injury, Duggan had better get used to holding a clipboard.

Week 12, 2024

The Maybe Brigade

Hendon Hooker Donald Page/Getty Images

None of these young quarterbacks has a clear path to starts early in their professional careers, but there are circumstances that could elevate them into a starting lineup sooner rather than later.

Hendon Hooker, Detroit Lions (3rd round, pick No. 5)

Two factors will determine how soon Hooker could potentially see the field: the play of Jared Goff and the status of Hooker's surgically repaired knee.

Goff is a better starter than he's given credit for, and if he plays in 2023 like he did in 2022, his job should be relatively safe. But Hooker could still see a start in 2023 if the Lions are able to sew up a playoff spot. For the sake of beleaguered Lions fans everywhere, we'll assume they do.

Week 18, 2023

Stetson Bennett, Los Angeles Rams (4.26)

The Rams drafted Bennett because Matthew Stafford wanted a backup his own age. (Bennett age jokes, unlike the quarterback himself, never get old). Joking aside, the 25-year-old is as pro-ready as any quarterback in the class.

With the 35-year-old Stafford working his way back from a serious neck injury and the depth chart at quarterback in L.A. rather blah, it's not hard to imagine Bennett being pressed into spot-starting duty at some point as a rookie.

Week 7, 2023

Aidan O'Connell, Las Vegas Raiders (4.33)

There are certain constants in life. There's death. Taxes. Bill Belichick being surly in press conferences. And Jimmy Garoppolo missing time with injuries.

Garoppolo has missed at least six games in three of the past five years. Brian Hoyer is penciled in as the Raiders backup, but if it's late in the season and the Raiders are out of contention (a relatively realistic scenario), the Raiders might as well see what they have in the youngster from Purdue.

Week 13, 2023

Clayton Tune, Arizona Cardinals (5.4)

A four-year starter at Houston, Tune has the kind of experience that could spur his readiness to take the field in an NFL game. That could be a good thing for the Cardinals.

There's no telling when Kyler Murray will be ready after tearing his ACL last year. While Colt McCoy is a serviceable backup, he had injury issues of his own last season. Of all the quarterbacks in The Maybe Brigade, Tune is the clubhouse leader to see the field first.

Week 3, 2023

Will Levis, Tennessee Titans

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The draft-day slide suffered by Will Levis was one of the 2023 draft's bigger surprises. Regarded by some as a top-five pick, Levis fell out of Round 1 entirely before being snagged by the Titans early on Day 2.

Per Ryan Glasspiegel of the New York Post, the 6'4", 229-pounder has put the draft in the rearview mirror and is ready now to get down to work.

"I'm just ready to learn," Levis answered. "I want to be the best teammate that I can be. I'm going in there to compete, for sure, but they have a lot more experience than I have in the NFL, and I just want to learn from them and help the team win."

On some level, Levis' slide may have been a blessing. He was widely regarded as a quarterback who needed some time to develop, and with an established starter ahead of him in Ryan Tannehill, there won't be pressure on Levis to hit the field.

At least not right away.

However, while Tannehill is an established starter, he's also 34, entering the last year of his contract and coming off an injury-marred season in which he posted some of the worst numbers of his career.

If the Titans win games and stay in the mix in the AFC South, all will be well and good. But the Titans are a flawed team that went 7-10 last year.

If the results are close to the same in 2023, then by midseason, calls for Levis to get a shot will be deafening.

Week 8, 2023

Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts

David Eulitt/Getty Images

Anthony Richardson is a unicorn.

Because 6'4", 244-pound quarterbacks with 4.43-second speed who can throw a ball 70 yards on a rope don't grow on trees. If there was a knock on the youngster, it's that he was inconsistent and inexperienced after making just 13 starts at Florida. Prevailing wisdom was that high pick or no, Richardson would sit for a while and learn the pro game.

Well, the Indianapolis Colts made Richardson the fourth overall pick, but team owner Jim Irsay told reporters that, in his opinion, the best way for Richardson to learn is by doing.

"I think it's important," Irsay said. "You get better by playing. I mean, practice and preseason games and watching in a quarterback room, that's great. But, man, I'll tell you, he'd get better by playing, and it's something that it is really important. Because, again, his development [is] so much of a key to the franchise's future. It is the critical key. Everyone knows that him developing into an outstanding, great player in this league is going to determine where we go and how far we go and how long we have excellence. So, everything's going to be based around that."

It's not like there's a markedly better option ahead of Richardson on the depth chart—Gardner Minshew may be a fan favorite, but he's not a plus starter.

Provided that Richardson isn't totally lost in camp and the preseason, roll him out for the opener.

Week 1, 2023

C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans

David Eulitt/Getty Images

After quite a bit of speculation that the Houston Texans might eschew the quarterback position altogether with the second overall pick, the Texans not only selected Ohio State's C.J. Stroud at No. 2, but they also moved up to No. 3 to select Alabama edge-rusher Will Anderson Jr.

The picks make Stroud and Anderson the faces of the franchise on their respective sides of the ball, and that's a responsibility that Stroud said he takes very seriously.

"I know that it's meant to be," Stroud said, via Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press. "And I know that, with this franchise, it's going [to] be something that I'm really going to take very, very seriously, and I'm going to work my tail off to get some wins."

However, Texans general manager Nick Caserio insisted that neither Stroud nor Anderson will be guaranteed a starting job come Week 1.

"In the future days here they have to earn the respect and the trust of their teammates," he said. "They haven't really earned anything to this point, and they're certainly not entitled to anything."

Come on, Nick.

Yes, the Texans have a quarterback in Davis Mills who has 26 NFL starts under his belt. But in those starts, Mills has 25 interceptions, a passer rating of 83.3—and five wins.

Assuming that Stroud doesn't completely face-plant in camp, there is exactly nothing to be gained by sitting Stroud except more losses. And with two years as the starter at Ohio State under his belt, he isn't going to face-plant in camp.

The future is now in Houston.

Week 1, 2023

Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers

David Eulitt/Getty Images

The cat (or Panther) was out of the bag long before Thursday night that Alabama's Bryce Young was going to be the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft. While speaking to reporters at his introductory press conference as a member of the Panthers, Young said being the first pick was an honor—but now it's time to get down to work.

"I want to do everything I can to earn the respect of my peers and the guys in the locker room in the building," Young said. "I'm super grateful for what's happened in my past and, you know, in for being selected where I was, but I know that doesn't entitle me to anything. You know, it's on me to prove myself to show up every day and work and earn the respect of the people around me. That's something I'm looking forward to starting."

That mentality is just one of the reasons why Young should absolutely be Carolina's Week 1 starter.

There's just nothing to be gained by waiting. Young already reads defenses and works his progressions better than any quarterback in this draft class. Young has extensive experience playing at college football's highest level. He's smart. He's accurate. He's poised.

He's ready.

And given that the alternative is rolling out Andy Dalton, this is an easy call to make.

Week 1, 2023


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