In a draft quarterback class without a consensus QB1, the discourse over who is most deserving will be endless. However, is it worth it?
Lack of Top Prospects Among Draft Quarterback Class Not Unprecedented
Rewind yourself back nine years ago to 2013. The number one song was “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and LeBron James just won the NBA Finals with the Miami Heat. In football, Joe Flacco just led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory. Personally, I was twelve years old playing flag football at recess. However, while 2013 was certainly a much different time than 2022, the NFL Draft is quite similar, especially when it comes to quarterbacks.
A great trivia question to break out: Who was the first quarterback selected in the 2013 NFL Draft? The answer is E.J. Manuel. Selected sixteenth overall, he was also the only first-round quarterback selected that year. On day two, Geno Smith went in the second round and Mike Glennon went in the third round. Funny enough, Manuel is the only one of the three who didn’t play in 2021 and he isn’t even on a roster. Both Smith and Glennon are on borrowed time.
Widely considered the worst draft quarterback class of all time, 2013 is an example of the NFL doing the right thing. Instead of falling in love with mediocrity, general managers largely let the draft come to them. In 2014 however, the same cannot be said. In a class full of questions, three quarterbacks were selected in the first round.
The first was Blake Bortles who was selected number three overall. The second was Johnny Manziel who was taken with the 22nd pick. Finally, Teddy Bridgewater was taken with the last pick of the first round. Hardly a murders row of names, it is only marginally better than the 2013 class.
This all sets a precedent for the 2022 class. As the NFL gets more aggressive with how it addresses quarterbacks, the demand at the position is through the roof. No longer will teams wait around as they did in 2013. Now, average or even below-average quarterback prospects will get elevated to high first-round picks simply based on need.
The Players and Teams
One area where the draft quarterback class of 2013 differs from the 2022 one is the options available to teams. In 2022, there are five quarterbacks who are gaining the most buzz as first-round picks. These are Malik Willis, Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder, Sam Howell, and Kenny Pickett. Many of these players have great aspects about their games. However, none of these players are elite prospects.
As such, team fit will be as important as ever. Looking at the top ten of the 2022 NFL Draft, five of the teams would appear to have a quarterback as a pressing need. These are the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, and Denver Broncos. The Lions, holders of the second overall pick, present the most intrigue. After just spending a week in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, they coached both Malik Willis and Sam Howell firsthand.
Regardless all of those teams, besides Atlanta, are looking for a starter in the 2022 season. They cannot afford to let a rookie sit. The same can be said for quarterback-hungry teams like the Steelers, Saints, and Buccaneers. Such is the nature of the NFL these days as well. The days of rookie quarterbacks waiting and learning from the sideline are nearly gone, for better or worse. If you’re selected high, you’re expected to contribute.
How Can These Prospects Succeed?
Of course, the NFL Draft is hardly an exact science. While it appears the top five quarterbacks in this class need work, they could all also end up being All-Pro. Much more likely, however, all or most of them struggle. So the best way for NFL teams to get the best out of these young passers is to do as they did in 2013 and just wait. Don’t force quarterbacks up the board just because it’s exciting.
Does anyone really expect this to happen though? In the pass-happy NFL that we are currently in that features rookie contract QBs as its most valuable currency? Of course not, there will be AT LEAST one selected in the first round. In fact, the O/U for first-round quarterbacks in April is 4.5. A gaudy number for even the most talented QB draft classes, there are surely not five NFL starters in the 2022 class.
Alas, NFL teams will try as the value is just too high. Going forward, the question may have to shift from “who is QB1?” to “Who is going to have the most support?” Judging by the quarterback landscape in the NFL right now, the answer might just be no one.