In the today's NFL, Year 2 is often when an eventual star quarterback comes into his own, finds his groove, and parlays previous flashes into consistent high-level play.
There was Carson Wentz in 2017, Patrick Mahomes in 2018, and Lamar Jackson in 2019. Josh Allen took a mammoth third-year leap, although in his second season, the rookie-year mishaps melted away into signs of the imminent MVP-vote-getting season ahead.
In 2021, Joe Burrow built on a strong rookie season cut short due to injury, and led the NFL in completion percentage and yards-per-attempt average en route to leading the Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance. Last season, Trevor Lawrence went from colossal disappointment as a rookie to impressive sophomore campaign en route to an AFC South title and epic road playoff win.
Of course, past results from other quarterbacks don't guarantee the second (or third) year eruption will continue to happen. But let's rank the passers from the 2022 draft class by likelihood of elevating their game to franchise-altering status.
Not going to happen
5. Malik Willis, Titans
It pains me to place Willis, my QB1 in the 2022 class, here. Really does. To the core. While I understood his offense at Liberty was basic and that he didn't fare well in the few opportunities he had against top competition, the big-time throw ability Willis demonstrated in his two years as the Flames starter, coupled with his tremendous athleticism, made him appear to be ready for the modern-day NFL.
Willis was a brutal pairing with Tennessee's coaching staff and roster as a rookie. He was instantly thrown under the bus for not getting the ball out quickly enough, and he threw to, probably, the worst receiving corps in football in his few appearances. The scrambling and flashes were absolutely there. Willis toted the rock 19 times for 123 yards with eight forced missed tackles and a highlight-reel touchdown.
But Willis only completed 50.8% of his throws at a miniscule 4.5 yards per attempt without a touchdown and three interceptions. While I don't think it's out of the question for Ryan Tannehill to be cut or traded before the season, Tennessee picked Will Levis in the top of the second round a month ago. It's much more likely that Willis is shipped in a trade than it is for him to win the Titans starting job and take a monster leap, especially considering the Titans really didn't get any more imposing at wideout.
Probably not, but crazier things have happened
4. Sam Howell, Commanders
Howell's time as the starter in Washington -- which isn't guaranteed, especially given Jacoby Brissett's presence -- will be a fascinating case study. Universally believed to be a first-round pick before his final season at North Carolina, Howell ultimately wasn't picked until the fifth round in last year's draft.
We didn't see him during an NFL game until the season finale, an impressive 26-6 throttling of the playoff-bound Cowboys. Howell didn't set the world on fire in his professional debut but was hardly brutal either in his low-volume 11 of 19, 169-yard passing effort which included a touchdown and an interception.
The natural talent is there, yet the disappointing final season at North Carolina lingers. In Washington, with Terry McLaurin, Howell has a borderline superstar wideout, as well as former first-round receiver Jahan Dotson entering Year 2 after an impressive rookie campaign. Beyond that, Washington is barren at pass-catcher yet has prioritized the strengthening of the blocking unit. I'm not expecting Howell to suddenly become a high-volume stud. But, yeah, crazier things have happened in the NFL.
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Don't be shocked
Ridder's in a compelling spot. He was a third-round pick, didn't really flash as a rookie and plays for a run-oriented head coach. Then again, the Falcons personnel department has drafted an offensive skill-position player inside the top 10 in each of the past three drafts. Bananas.
Atlanta also quietly boasts one of the NFL's most reliable offensive lines. Ridder has a fair amount of arm talent and tested like a supreme athlete at the quarterback spot at the 2022 combine. With Bijan Robinson and Co. in the backfield, it's hard to envision Ridder getting the opportunity to throw it 30-plus times very often.
Even if it doesn't amount to a 4,000-plus yard, 30-touchdown sophomore season in the NFL, Ridder is actually positioned well to piece together an ultra-efficient game-manager type 2023 in what is a watered-down NFC South. Ridder absolutely can be Ryan Tannehill 2.0 for Arthur Smith.
How much better can he get?
2. Brock Purdy, 49ers
Purdy was the most relevant Mr. Irrelevant of all time. He optimally operated Kyle Shanahan's super QB friendly system and guided the 49ers to the NFC title game. No, Purdy wasn't ripping 30-yard lasers through tight windows frequently every game. He did mostly handle what defenses threw at him, avoided pressure in many scenarios, and got the ball out on time more often than what anyone expected.
Now, rehabbing from the serious arm injury he suffered early in the NFC title game defeat, Purdy won't necessarily be able to start Week 1, and there's Sam Darnold and former top 5 pick Trey Lance as his main competition. Even if Purdy assumes the starting role immediately after being declared "ready" by team doctors and the coaching staff, how much better can we realistically assume he could play?
During the regular season, Purdy completed 67.1% of his throws at a hefty 8.1 yards-per-attempt average with 13 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Actually, he could improve in the "big-time throw" department. As a rookie, his 2.0% big-time throw rate ranked third-lowest among 34 quarterbacks with 200-plus attempts in 2022.
The most likely
The Steelers organization knows how to properly build a team. Omar Khan is a new-ish GM but learned under the criminally underrated Kevin Colbert for years, and Khan has Pittsburgh's roster pointed in the right direction after another non-losing season.
George Pickens looks bound for superstardom. Allen Robinson was added in the offseason. Diontae Johnson is an established possession target who gets open regularly. Lightning-bug Calvin Austin III returns from a serious rookie-year injury. Then there's Pat Freiermuth at tight end and third-round pick Darnell Washington from Georgia.
The offensive line should be more reliable in Year 2 of the Pickett era with Round 1 selection Broderick Jones and critical free-agent guard signing Isaac Seumalo from the Eagles. Now, the Steelers aren't absolutely loaded. But they have a surplus of young, exciting talent up front and out wide -- and not to mention Najee Harris in the backfield -- for Pickett. The Steelers will know what they have in Pickett after 2023. He's most likely to take the ever-important early-career leap.