There’s going to be a lot more speculation between now and the start of the 2022 regular season as to whether or not Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett will wind up being the team’s Week 1 starter. So, why another post on this topic from me to start the month of July? Well, I came across some interesting research on Thursday by Adam Rank of NFL.com that I thought was interesting, and the byproduct of that is this post.
“There have been just seven quarterbacks selected 20th overall or later who actually started Week 1 of their rookie season since 2015,” Rank wrote in his recent post on the Steelers. Now, some of them — Dak Prescott, Derek Carr, and Russell Wilson — ended up being pretty good. But it’s reasonable to expect [Mitch] Trubisky to get the job to begin the season, even if it seems like a matter of time before he’s replaced by [Kenny] Pickett.”
Now, let me state that Rank has some data wrong, according to my research. First, Russell Wilson was selected in the 2012 NFL Draft. Second, and using 2012 as a starting point, there have only been six quarterbacks selected 20th overall or later that went on to start the Week 1 game of their rookie season.
As part of me researching Rank’s blurb, I figured I would go back 20 years to see how many times a quarterback that was selected 20th overall or later went on to start the Week 1 game of his rookie season. According to Stathead.com, there have only been eight such quarterbacks. That list of eight quarterbacks includes Kyle Orton (Chicago Bears, 2005), Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals, 2011), Brandon Weeden (Cleveland Browns, 2012), Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks, 2012), Geno Smith (New York Jets, 2013), Derek Carr (Oakland Raiders, 2014), Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys, 2016) and DeShone Kizer (Cleveland Browns, 2017). That’s it. Only one of those eight quarterbacks, Weeden, was selected in the first round.
With the research complete, I wanted to look at the situations of all eight quarterbacks as it relates to how each ended up starting Week 1 of their rookie season. Most of these eight quarterbacks weren’t hard for me to remember, and the same may go for many of you reading this post. Even so, let’s quickly recap each one of the eight quarterbacks.
Kyle Orton – The Chicago Bears originally selected Orton in the fourth round (106th overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft out of Purdue. The reason he wound up starting Week 1 of his rookie season was due to veteran quarterback Rex Grossman breaking his ankle during a preseason game. Orton beat out the Bears other backup quarterback that season, Chad Hutchinson, during the preseason for the right to start in place of the injured Grossman.
Andy Dalton – The Cincinnati Bengals originally selected Dalton in the second round (35th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft out of TCU. That was the year that veteran quarterback Carson Palmer demanded to be traded or released. There was much speculation over whether Dalton or veteran Bruce Gradkowski would start at quarterback for the Bengals in Week 1 of that season, and the former ultimately won out.
Brandon Weeden – The Cleveland Browns originally selected Weeden in the first round (22nd overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma State. Weeden, by the way, was 28 years old when the Browns drafted him. There’s not much to the story when it comes to Weeden as the Browns seemed poised to make him their Week 1 starter that entire offseason. Veteran quarterback Colt McCoy wasn’t given much of a chance to compete against Weeden.
Russell Wilson – The Seattle Seahawks originally selected Wilson in the third round (75th overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Wisconsin. He went on to easily be the team’s Week 1 starter that year after beating out veteran quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson during the preseason.
Geno Smith – The New York Jets originally selected Smith in the second round (39th overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft out of West Virginia. During that preseason, Smith had been competing for the starting job with veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez, who went on to suffer a shoulder injury in a preseason game. The other two quarterbacks the Jets had at that time were Matt Simms and Brady Quinn. Sanchez likely would have been the Week 1 starter had he not gotten injured.
Derek Carr – The Oakland Raiders originally selected Carr in the second round (36th overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Fresno State. Carr beat out veteran quarterback Matt Schaub for the starting job that offseason. Matt McGloin was the other Raiders quarterback that year.
Dak Prescott – The Dallas Cowboys originally selected Prescott in the fourth round (135th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Mississippi State. Prescott was named the team’s Week 1 starter after veteran quarterback Tony Romo suffered a compression fracture to the L1 vertebra in his back during the team’s third preseason game. Had Romo not gotten injured, he would have been the team’s Week 1 starter.
DeShone Kizer – The Cleveland Browns originally selected Kizer in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame. He went on to be named the team’s Week 1 starter that year after beating out three other quarterbacks on the roster, Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler, and Kevin Hogan.
So, to recap, only four of the eight quarterbacks, Weeden, Wilson, Carr and Kizer, won their Week 1 starting jobs outright during their rookie seasons. The other four, Orton, Dalton, Smith, and Prescott, got their Week 1 starts due to injuries or disgruntleness.
In case you’re curious, those eight quarterbacks combined to go 2-6 in their Week 1 starts. The two quarterbacks who won their Week 1 games as rookies were Dalton and Smith. Dalton, however, did leave his Week 1 game at halftime due to an injury and the Bengals were trailing at the time. Gradkowski took over for Dalton in the second half and went on to lead the Bengals to a victory over the Browns.
Of those eight quarterbacks, five are still in the NFL in Dalton, Wilson, Smith, Carr, and Prescott.
So, circling this all back to Pickett and his chances of being the team’s Week 1 starter, history is not on his side. That said, injuries or poor play ahead of him on the quarterback depth chart could ultimately result in Pickett being the Steelers Week 1 starter. Do with all this info what you will.