When will Class of 2017 quarterbacks make their starting debuts? Here's our best guess
Expect three rookie quarterbacks to make starts this season, but which three?
In a perfect world, every quarterback selected in the 2017 NFL Draft should sit the entire season. Redshirt them all. None of them -- to an unbiased scouting eye -- seem particularly ready to lead an NFL team right now, or very likely by September. All of them have warts and, based on pure analysis of all the talent available in the draft, and eliminating the "need factor," none of them would have been considered top-20 prospects.
But the NFL is far from a perfect world. Long-term player development quite often takes a backseat to ownership demand to play a particular quarterback rightbleepingnow, or the need to sell tickets or the need to sell fans (false, in many cases) hope. Politics, and where you were drafted and who you were drafted by and the current job security of those individuals, as well as mounting pressure -- both internal and external -- all matter. In some cases, it matters quite a lot. To say nothing of the inevitable rash of injuries that will befall veteran NFL quarterbacks once the pads and helmets come back on, and consequently push these green novices up the depth chart.
It stands to reason that many of the quarterbacks who just entered the league a few weeks ago will be playing in meaningful NFL action far sooner than most would assume. Unfortunately for them, many are joining lousy teams who will be effectively eliminated from contention by midseason, which will put coaches and management in a similar plight as, oh, say the Los Angeles Rams last season. When the need to placate fans, and to adhere to some degree of common sense, made it only logical to begin to determine what young Jared Goff was capable of, the Rams, for better or worse, played him after mortgaging so much to move up the draft to get him.
Of all 10 quarterbacks selected last month, the one who finds himself in the best situation, both short and long term, is Patrick Mahomes II. He goes to a playoff team in Kansas City with a great structure and continuity, with a bevy of dynamic playmakers and an established coach and GM who are both about to get long-term extensions, under a QB guru in Andy Reid with a knack for developing passers of all types. That is as close to ideal as it will get for anyone in this group.
Most of these novice passers -- almost all of whom either played sparingly in college, or played in a gimmicky system that doesn't translate well to the NFL, or played against weak competition, or have severe limitations in physical potential – will end up somewhat compromised this season. Many of them will end up likely fighting for their lives come Sundays late fall, on teams with poor rosters and supporting casts, without a Reid-level coaching staff around them, when all of their flaws and inexperience will be further exploited and exposed.
With that in mind, I thought I would peer into my crystal ball and try to forecast how quickly these youngsters end up starting an NFL game. It's an impossible task, and the teams themselves don't even know exactly what they have with these rookies or how circumstance will collude to force them into action. But I'll take a shot at sizing it up anyway based on the mitigating factors that already exist and the growing pressure that will naturally manifest itself, especially when considering the lengths some teams went to in landing them.
Mitch Trubisky, Bears, No. 2 overall
Week 5: I don't care what the Bears gave Mike Glennon -- $18.5 million guaranteed in Year 1(!) -- or how much they still talk him up and how ideal they would have you believe their quarterback situation will be. They just gave up a bounty to move up one spot to select the first quarterback in the NFL Draft, despite the fact he would have just been sitting there at third overall anyway. Selling Glennon as the long-term answer was perilous at best. This team does not have a competitive roster and the coach and general manager will be fighting for their jobs. Unless Glennon somehow performs like Johnny Unitas despite playing with a weak supporting cast, he won't be the starter there for long.
This has the potential to get ugly, fast, and if the Bears were smart they would try to execute an Osweiler NBA-style trade to pawn that contract elsewhere. I wouldn't be shocked if Trubisky is under center before Week 5, but considering the Bears face Atlanta, Tampa, Pittsburgh and Green Bay in the first four weeks, and will be playing a second straight prime-time game in Week 5, and this one is at home, against rival Minnesota, I say it's conservative to set the over/under there for a Trubisky starting debut.
Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs, No. 10 overall
Week 1, 2018: There is no reason to play the kid this year. Reid will keep his focus on the long-term plan with this raw but potentially exceptional youngster, and this remains Alex Smith's team … for one more year. The Chiefs have veteran Tyler Bray, entering his fifth year in Reid's system to serve as the primary backup, and he would be the next man up if Smith got hurt. No reason to expedite the arrival time for Mahomes, who will be groomed to take over next fall.
Deshaun Watson, Texans, No. 12 overall
Week 1: If he can't beat out Tom Savage then something is up. Coach Bill O'Brien finally gets an early-round quarterback after the team won the division in spite of Brock Osweiler a year ago. They need to have Watson looking more like a veteran by December for a playoff push and they are more or less in Super Bowl or bust mode. You don't make the trade they made, after giving away a pick just to shed Osweiler, to then deprive Watson of high volume reps early on -- the same reps Savage will require given how little he has played to this point. Savage has definite upside, and O'Brien trusted him in the past, but the organization just went all in on the kid who won the national championship. He's going to be playing a lot of football this season.
DeShone Kizer, Browns, No. 52 overall
Week 6: It would be easy to say Week 2, given the fact the Browns systematically got their QBs maimed last season starting with the first half of the first game (the offensive line improvements should at least give their passers a puncher's chance this year). And I honestly would not be surprised if he is the Week 1 starter. But considering how far this team still is from contending, and given the fact that they bailed out of first-round quarterbacks, I'm going to err on the side of caution with this projection as well, as the Browns might want to pretend Cody Kessler has starting upside after over-drafting him a year ago and let that play out a few weeks.
So I'm hedging a bit here. I don't think Osweiler will get meaningful reps -- why waste them on him? -- and the Browns won't abandon hopes of dealing that contract at some point if they can incentivize another team sufficiently to do it, as was the case with them taking him on from Houston in the first place. That was a paper transaction with "Brock Lobster," and he won't hold Kizer back. The Browns face Watson and the Texans in Week 6, and I can't see Kizer not running the offense by then.
Davis Webb, Giants, No. 87 overall
Week 1, 2019: Eli Manning could be out of his contract after the 2018 season, and I'm not sure he'll be as driven to hang on to the very end the way his brother was. Plus, Manning already has his two rings and a potential Hall of Fame career. He has seen two of his brothers deal with very significant football injuries, and he has made more money than he could ever spend. If Webb shows he can build on his one year at Cal and has legit upside, then I could see a changing of the guard two seasons from now.
C.J. Beathard, 49ers, No. 104 overall
Week 6, 2019: OK this is a totally random guess. But Kyle Shanahan knows what he wants from his quarterbacks and he selected this kid, higher than some would have projected, for a reason. Brian Hoyer is the guy this season and if Kirk Cousins is a free agent in 2018, he'll be in San Francisco a year from now. Or they'll draft a kid high next year who is close to ready.
In the meantime, Beathard will be developed into the ultimate system guy Shanahan trusts, who could be a long-term high-end backup able to function in the offense for half a season or so. He'll be limited but smart, and if/when the starter gets hurt a few years from now, he'll get an opportunity to play. Shanahan has had guys like Matt Schaub and Rex Grossman in the past, and Beathard could be in the role for years to come.
Joshua Dobbs, Steelers, No. 135 overall
Week 4, 2018: No, Big Ben isn't retiring after this upcoming season. And Dobbs is years away from being the possible long-term solution. And, yes, the Steelers will carry three quarterbacks this season, and Landry Jones could still be the starter in a pinch due to a Ben Roethlisberger injury this season.
But let's be honest, Roethlisberger takes a ton of abuse and absorbs big hits. He's a huge target, and he doesn't run like he used to. Injuries are inevitable with the way he plays the game, and Dobbs won't be third on this depth chart for long. I could even see him starting a game this year. Think of how many times Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon or Jones have had to play in big game. It tends to happen.
Nathan Peterman, Bills, No. 171 overall
2019? This one is hard to figure. He's not beating out Tyrod Taylor for 2017 and I don't think Taylor is going anywhere for two years (the Bills will want to pick up that 2018 roster bonus). He has been highly durable despite doing as much as he does outside the pocket.
Of course, Peterman wouldn't be here if new coach Sean McDermott didn't think he had something to offer, and McDermott is definitely the central figure in that organization moving forward. Could he be seen as the guy by the start of 2019? I suppose, but Taylor will still only be 29 then, and he could be working on his fourth contract with the Bills by that point, too.
Brad Kaaya, Lions, 215th overall
2020? If Kaaya develops he'll likely be trade bait, though it remains to be seen how quickly he can pick up this offense. The reality is Matthew Stafford isn't going anywhere, and he'll soon enough be the highest-paid player in the league once his contract extension gets done. And it's hard to see that extension not being for five or six years. I could conceive of Kaaya being the top backup by 2018, and thus the next man up if/when Stafford suffers an injury. But I could also see him playing out his rookie contract and flashing some preseason promise, as Taylor once did, and then getting a starting shot elsewhere.
Chad Kelly, Broncos, No. 253 overall
Week 12, 2019: Taking a wild guess here, but by next year the Broncos could be positioned to trade whichever young quarterback does not win the job this year (I expect it to be Trevor Siemian who is shopped, given what the Broncos did to land Paxton Lynch a year ago). So, by 2019, could Kelly be the No. 2? It's possible. John Elway knows his QBs, and Kelly will have ample time to get healthy. The Broncos believe they have the infrastructure to help him grow off the field as well. But if Lynch were to suffer an injury a few years from now, then Kelly might be in line to take the reigns. If that were to happen by the middle of next season as well, that wouldn't entirely shock me either.
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