NFL rookie QB ranking debuts from week 1 of preseason: Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder steals the show

The future looks bright for the Pittsburgh Steelerseven though Kenny Pickett is not the starting quarterback in Week 1 of the regular season. The same goes for the Atlanta Falconsdepending on how Desmond Cavalier starred in its premiere NFL stock.

This year’s rookie quarterback class isn’t as highly regarded as it has been in years past, but Pickett and Ridder have shown there’s talent in the group. Sam Howell and Malik Willis also showed potential, though neither will likely start Week 1 for their respective teams either.

Of the quarterbacks drafted in 2022, which one had the most impressive debut? Who needs to dramatically improve their game as the pre-season progresses?

Let’s rank the best Week 1 preseason performances from the nine that were drafted (for a full look at how all the rookie quarterbacks fared, see our recap of week 1 here).

Tower: 7; Choose: 241

The other rookie quarterback in the Steelers camp, Oladokun, did not play in the preseason opener. He doesn’t get a lot of reps in practice, and that carried over to the game. Oladokun is fighting for a spot on the Steelers roster.

Round: 3; Choose: 94

A disappointing start for Corral, as he went 1 of 9 for 11 yards for Carolina, entering the game in the fourth quarter behind Mayfield Baker, Sam Darnoldand PJ Walker. Corral led the Panthers on the scoring campaign that resulted in by Zane González Last-minute 45-yard field goal that gave Carolina a 23-21 win, but he didn’t complete a pass on the drive, was sacked twice (the first canceled by an illegal contact penalty and the second canceled by a face-mask penalty), and groped.

Corral is expected to be the No. 3 quarterback behind Mayfield and Darnold as these two battle for the starting position. The rest of Corral’s pre-season can’t be worse than its debut.

Tower: 7; Choose: 262

Purdy went 3 of 6 for 36 yards and a touchdown (106.6 rating) in his only series for the 49ers, coming in for the cleanup late in the fourth quarter. With Jimmy Garoppolo on the trading block, Purdy has the opportunity to make the roster as the No. 3 quarterback — which was what he charted as in Week 1 of the preseason.

Tower: 4; Choose: 137

Zappe isn’t going to start in New England, but he’s making quite a play for the No. 2 quarterback position. He entered the game midway through the second quarter (relieving Brian Hoyer) and threw for 205 yards with a touchdown and an interception (75.6 rating), completing 19 of 32 passes. The Patriots scored two touchdowns on his eight possessions.

His 20-yard touchdown pass to Lil’ Jordan Humphrey gave New England a 21-20 lead in the fourth quarter against New York Giants – it was the highlight of Zappe’s debut. No matter who calls the plays, Zappe seems to have the makings of someone who will stick around in the league.

“You get more and more comfortable (as the game went on),” Zappe said. “The more I come on the sidelines, I talk to my coaches, I talk to my teammates about what they’ve seen, what they’re seeing, and I drive back and I just have this next game mentality, and that’s kind of what my coaches, my teammates, we’re all trying to communicate to everybody is to have that next game mentality and move on from what’s come before and move on next and try to do our best, do our job.”

Tower: 5; Choose: 144

Howell isn’t expected to play much in 2022 as fifth-round pick is behind Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke on the depth chart. Howell may be able to step into the backup role after a strong start.

He went 9 of 16 for 145 yards (86.7 rating) while rushing for two touchdowns (three carries for 19 yards) after entering the game in the second half. Howell threw a few defenders on his 17-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter and also scored on a 1-yard run to give Washington a point with 2:26 left (the Commanders ended up losing to the Panthers of Carolina 23-21).

Commanders can afford to be patient with Howell, as he’s supposed to be a future starter down the line if Wentz struggles in 2022.

Tower: 7; Choose: 247

Thompson played the full game for the Dolphins after Mike McDaniel played Tua Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater in joint practices against Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Thompson was 20 of 28 for 218 yards and a touchdown in the 26-24 win, hitting Lynn Bowden on a 22-yard pass in the second quarter for the score.

Thompson is Miami’s No. 3 quarterback, adding valuable depth in the quarterback room based on his debut this weekend.

“He’s a rookie, and to his credit, we’re counting on him as a veteran,” McDaniel said. “I know he feels, and we will all feel like he left a few games there. But the biggest problem is that we haven’t had any turnovers in attack… There is a lot to do to improve, but he is a stallion and we are happy to have him.

Round: 3; Choose: 86

Willis may be on the fast track to start though Ryan Tannehill struggling anytime this season, but the third-round pick has a lot to learn if he’s going to start for a division contender. He went 6 of 11 for 107 yards (88.1 rating) with a rushing touchdown in his two-and-a-half quarters of action, starting the game as Tannehill rested.

Also having five carries for 38 yards, Willis showed his dual-threat ability at quarterback – but ran a little too much for Mike Vrabel’s liking. Vrabel fired Willis midway through a third-quarter practice because he wanted him to throw the ball.

“I missed some things and kind of made up for it with my legs,” Willis said. “I can’t keep counting on that, but that’s what pre-season is for. Just playing against a live defense and one we haven’t played against before was a great experience. But just watch the movie and take it for what it’s worth and keep working because we’re only halfway through camp.”

2. Desmond Ridder (Atlanta Falcons)

Round: 3; Choose: 74

Ridder is not going to start Week 1 for the Falcons, as head coach Arthur Smith announced on the first day of training camp that Marcus Mariota will be the starting quarterback. Maybe Smith might want to reconsider that decision.

Going into the game in the second quarter, Ridder went 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. He 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.

“I was proud of Desmond, he came out there and showed those guys how to handle adversity,” Smith said. “It wasn’t perfect, there was a lot to learn, but he kept swinging and had a few plays, took a break there on one with the penalty, then he had a few drops. But it is what I like about him. I like his mindset, and he just found a way to make a play in the end.”

1. Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Round 1; Choose: 20

What first impression Pickett made on his Steelers debut, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Tyler Vaughn with three seconds left to give Pittsburgh a 32-25 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Pickett and the Steelers were playing for the basket in a draw, but his pass to Vaughns set up the receiver to catch and out the pattern and end the play.

Pickett was 13 of 15 for 95 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions (132.6 rating) for the Steelers, playing the entire second half behind Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolf. Trubisky is the favorite to start Week 1, but Pickett pushes his way into the conversation.

On the game-winning drive, Pickett went 2-of-2 for 26 yards and had two carries for 12 yards. Quite impressive for his first game.

“He moved his group. He played situational football. He showed a competitive spirit,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “Lots of good stuff to build on from an early performance perspective.”

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