Week 1 of the preseason always brings excitement with football returning, especially as teams get their first look at the rookies on their roster. This year’s rookie quarterback class wasn’t as strong as in recent years, yet many of the young signal-callers got their first taste of NFL action this weekend.
Kenny Pickett, the lone quarterback taken in the first round this year, is fighting for the starting quarterback job with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Desmond Ridder may be the starter down the line for the Atlanta Falcons, while Matt Corral and Sam Howell wait patiently with the Carolina Panthers and Washington Commanders, respectively.
Although he’s not a rookie, Trey Lance enters the season as the No. 1 quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Given how little Lance has played over the past two seasons (one in college and one in the NFL), let’s group Lance with the rookie signal-callers for this experiment.
Below is a roundup of how all the rookie quarterbacks fared — with a special exception given to Lance — this weekend.
Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers, second year)
Playing just 11 snaps was enough for 49ers fans to get a glimpse of what Lance brings to the offense, as he completed 4 of 5 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. Lance threw a perfect deep pass to Danny Gray for a 76-yard score to cap off his night, giving the 49ers a 10-7 lead when he left the field.
Lance finished with a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in his debut as the No. 1 quarterback, with the 49ers scoring on both of his possessions. The 49ers don’t have plans to play Lance next week, so this may be it for him this preseason.
Not a bad cameo appearance.
Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh Steelers)
What an impressive performance from Pickett, who took over in the second half of his debut for the Steelers. Battling for the starting quarterback job, Pickett entered the game behind Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph but finished 13 of 15 for 95 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions (132.6 rating).
Pickett threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Tyler Vaughns with three seconds left to give Pittsburgh a 32-25 victory over Seattle. The pass went for 24 yards, as Vaughns used his yards-after-the-catch ability to find the end zone.
Perhaps Pickett moves up the depth chart next week.
Willis showed flashes in his Titans’ debut, finishing 6 for 11 for 107 yards (88.1 rating) with a rushing touchdown in his two and a half quarters of action. Also having five carries for 38 yards, Willis showcased his dual-threat ability at quarterback — but ran a bit too much for Mike Vrabel’s liking.
The Tennessee head coach took Willis out of the game midway through a drive in the third quarter because he wanted his quarterback to throw the ball.
“He needs to try to throw the ball when guys are open,” Vrabel said. “Be more decisive, so we’ll evaluate that and see if there is a timing issue or what’s going on. I wanted to get him out there and see how he responded. He did okay. There were some good plays. Obviously, some plays that we will have to look at the timing on the release and if we are making the right decisions.”
Desmond Ridder (Atlanta Falcons)
Ridder arguably had the top performance of all the rookie quarterbacks in Week 1, even though the third-round pick from Cincinnati won’t be winning the starting job in Atlanta. He made a great first impression, finishing 10 of 22 for 103 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (89.8 rating) while also leading the Falcons with six carries for 59 yards.
In addition to his strong play, Ridder threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jared Bernhardt on fourth-and-9 with 1:30 remaining to give the Falcons a 27-23 victory over the Detroit Lions. Perhaps head coach Arthur Smith might have something to think about with his starting quarterback in the coming weeks if Ridder keeps up his strong play.
Howell had an impressive debut for Washington, finishing 9 of 16 for 145 yards (86.7 rating) while also rushing for two touchdowns (three carries for 19 yards). He juked a few defenders on his 17-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter and also scored on a 1-yard run to put Washington up a point with 2:26 to play.
Howell is listed as the No. 3 quarterbacks behind Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke, but the fifth-round pick showed flashes of why he was considered a top-10 pick a year ago at this time.
The third-round pick from Mississippi went 1 of 9 for 11 yards for Carolina, yet led the Panthers on the scoring drive that resulted in Zane Gonzalez’s 45-yard field goal in the final minute. Corral is the No. 3 quarterback behind Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold as the pair battle for a starting job.
No matter how the play-calling duties were split, Zappe had an impressive showing for the Patriots in his debut. His 20-yard touchdown pass to Lil’ Jordan Humphrey gave New England a 21-20 lead in the fourth quarter against the New York Giants — serving as the highlight of a 19 for 32 showing.
Zappe entered the game midway through the second quarter and threw for 205 yards with a touchdown and an interception (75.6 rating). The Patriots scored two touchdowns on their eight possessions.
An undrafted free agent signing with the Ravens, Brown entered the game in the second half of Baltimore’s 23-10 victory over Tennessee. Brown finished 10 of 15 for 117 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions (90.1 rating), leading the Ravens to field goals on all three of his possessions.
With Lamar Jackson not playing the preseason opener, Brown relieved Tyler Huntley to open the second half. He’s fighting for the No. 3 quarterback jobs with Brett Hundley.
An undrafted free agent, the former Washington State quarterback went 7 of 10 for 54 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter for the Cardinals. Guarantano also had four carries for 10 yards in the win.
Guarantano played the second half and led the Cardinals on two touchdown drives. He’s the fourth quarterback on Arizona’s depth chart.
An undrafted free agent rookie for the Bengals, Plitt led Cincinnati on an impressive 11-play, 94-yard drive in his lone series late in the fourth quarter. He capped the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Pryor, finishing the night 6 of 6 for 76 yards with a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
Plitt is currently the fourth-string quarterback on the Bengals depth chart, but may have played his way into consideration for the No. 3 jobs.
The seventh-round draft pick from Iowa State finished 3 of 6 for 36 yards and a touchdown (106.6 rating) in his lone series for the 49ers. With Jimmy Garoppolo on the trading block, Purdy has an opportunity to make the roster as the No. 3 quarterback — which was what he was listed as in Week 1 of the preseason.
Crum finished 6 of 11 for 18 yards (60.0 rating), entering the game midway through the third quarter for Kansas City. The former Kent State quarterback was an undrafted free agent signing by the Chiefs, yet is a long shot to make the roster right now as the No. 4 quarterbacks.
Coan finished 1 of 5 for 0 yards in mop-up duty for Indianapolis. The undrafted free agent from Wisconsin and Notre Dame is the fourth quarterback on the depth chart, behind Sam Ehlinger for the No. 3 jobs.
Thompson played the full game for the Dolphins, finishing 20 of 28 for 218 yards and a touchdown in the 26-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The seventh-round pick hit Lynn Bowden on a 22-yard pass in the second quarter for the score.
The No. 3 quarterback got a good look in the preseason opener.