Every year around this time I try to project when in the upcoming season a rookie quarterback will take over the huddle. Even in the best of times, it can be a challenging exercise. In an offseason in which not a single pass will be thrown, and without a single healthy player in a team facility for work, it is even more difficult. Obviously this is a spring unlike any other in the NFL, and the player who would always benefit most from hands-on, daily coaching and teaching, is the player who has the ball in his hands for every snap on offense.
So things are indeed a little more complicated this year, with none of the quarterbacks selected in the 2020 NFL Draft able to do anything with teammates or coaches for the most part other than Zoom meetings and other virtual training. Less than ideal, to be sure. Still, I'm going to forge ahead with my fearless forecast for the top five QBs selected in this draft, anyway.
I'll take my best crack at when I believe they will get their first opportunity to start an NFL game, with more of an emphasis on patience this year than in many others given the constraints these players and coaches are facing.
Week 1: Pandemic or not, Burrow was selected first overall to begin taking over the Bengals offense ASAP. That isn't going to change. There is a reason owner Mike Brown wouldn't entertain any offer for that pick and then had to cut established veteran Andy Dalton despite being one of the more decorated QBs in franchise history, and it wasn't so he could sit behind Ryan Finley for a handful of games. No way. We saw enough of that last year. This is Burrow's franchise and just as we all knew the Bengals were taking him with the top pick no matter what, same applies to him being the Week 1 starter. Only an injury would derail that inevitability.
Week 13: There was already no real rush to hand the team over to Tua even before the pandemic. Coming off hip surgery, and with the dependable Ryan Fitzpatrick in the fold, Chan Gailey can take his team folding Tua into the offense. That transition was always more likely to come much closer to the end of the season than the beginning. And this is a team on the rise that will be able to be competitive with most teams with Fitzpatrick doing his thing … But Fitzy will start to run out of gas eventually, and even with an expanded playoff field, Miami isn't ready to take that step just yet. That Week 11 bye is the perfect time to be ramping up Tua and with the Bengals set to come to Miami in Week 13, well, that's a date I might circle with a Sharpie. That begins a stretch of three straight home games to let the fanbase start to see their future in action before the Dolphins close with consecutive road contests.
Week 1, 2021: This is going to be something of a project and the lack of a normal offseason further compromises that transition. Herbert was always going to take some time and now even more so. Plus, Tyrod Taylor is going to have a nice season for the Chargers and I find myself infatuated by this roster -- again -- and looking at this outfit as a darkhorse contender. Taylor will protect the ball above all else and make sound decisions and that alone will see them in the playoffs. He took a far less talented Bills team to the postseason not that long ago. I don't see Herbert pushing him at all in 2020, and maybe not in 2021 either if the Chargers reach the high end of their potential and do some damage in January.
Week 1, 2022: Moving up to select Love in the first round put Aaron Rodgers on the clock. His time with Green Bay expires after the 2021 season. Perhaps Rodgers ends up pushing to get out sooner -- wouldn't blame him one bit if he goes that route -- but they didn't make this move, with how A-Rod's contract is structured, not to hand the reigns to Love by the 2022 season. It's baked into the cake at this point, no matter how much spinning and yammering and revisionist history the Packers brass concocts. Rodgers knows it and he's expressed as much about the probability he does not retire as a Packer and if that coaching staff continues to deploy him more like Jacoby Brissett than Dan Marino, well, things just might come to a head sooner rather than later. Regardless, this will be one of the more intriguing dynamics to watch unfold over the next 18 months or so.
Week 1, 2022 (on a different team): Make no mistake, I believe Hurts sees the field much, much sooner than that, only not in a starting QB capacity. Recall when the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson at the end of the first round a few years back and had certain packages ready to go Week 1. Hurts is a unique weapon who can complement Carson Wentz in many ways and add wrinkled to that offense (think Taysom Hill) while biding his team and being developed into a potential starting QB. This franchise has a knack for that – always seemed like Kevin Kolb might be a trade piece has the concussions not cut his career short – and GM Howie Roseman loves to wheel and deal and two years of tutelage under Doug Pederson while apprenticing under Wentz just might have Hurts poised to fetch a handsome return via trade prior to say the 2022 NFL Draft. Eagles are always forward-thinking and in the meantime, Hurts's skillset lends itself to numerous roles.