Nothing inspires hope in an NFL fan base quite like a rookie quarterback who has yet to take a snap at the professional level.
Every year, we see the same thing. A team that needs a quarterback—and, in some cases, has needed one for years—drafts a quarterback in the spring. From then on, for the rest of the offseason, training camp, and sometimes even trickling into the regular season, that team’s fans clamor for that young quarterback to take over as the starter.
In 2022, Steelers fans wanted to see Kenny Pickett, Titans fans hoped to get a good look at Malik Willis, and Patriots fans got Bailey Zappe Fever. In 2021, Bears fans booed veteran Andy Dalton throughout the preseason because they wanted to see Justin Fields starting under center.
Despite all of those expectations and a high level of pressure from fans and some members of the media to “save the franchise,” not all rookie quarterbacks are ready to start Week 1. Some guys have the experience, technique, and mental fortitude to step in as a starter immediately, but others would be better off “going the Patrick Mahomes route.” It’s not a bad idea for teams to give certain rookie quarterbacks some time to develop as a backup in their first season after making that big jump to the next level.
At the same time, there are guys who deserve the starting job right away. So before we even get into the thick of training camp battles later this summer, here are the three rookie quarterbacks I believe should get the starting nod for Week 1 of the 2023 season.
Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers
Much like the Bears in 2021, the Panthers signed Dalton this offseason to be their veteran option under center. Unlike the Bears in 2021, the Panthers shouldn’t hesitate to let their rookie quarterback start his first week as a pro.
Yes, to say Young is “on the smaller side for a quarterback” is an understatement. The Panthers are essentially relying on him and his frame to be the biggest exception to the rule that bigger is, generally, better for a quarterback. It’s true that no quarterback as small as Young has found immense success in the NFL. But at the same time, there’s a reason he was the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Besides his size, the former Alabama quarterback was one of the safest, most pro-ready options of any quarterback prospect in his class. His high football IQ, accuracy, poise, improvisational skills, and ability to make plays when his team needs him most all set him apart from other quarterbacks in the class. There’s a reason (or rather, many reasons) Young won the Heisman Trophy in 2021. There’s a reason he was the first overall pick in the most recent draft.
In a weak NFC South, Young will have a good chance to lead the Panthers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 in his rookie season thanks to all he brings to Carolina as a playmaker. In the long term, Carolina will get a better sense of Young’s ability to compete, learn and develop at the pro level if they roll with him as their starter from day one.
C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans
Just as there was a reason Young was the first overall pick in this year’s draft, there’s a reason Stroud was No. 2. Besides Young, Stroud was the most pro-ready quarterback in the 2023 class, and unlike Young, there aren’t any concerns about the Ohio State product’s 6-foot-3, 214-pound frame.
Stroud was an elite quarterback for the Buckeyes over his two years replacing Fields as the starter in Columbus. He’s an accurate passer with great ball placement, he has a live arm and he’s got a high football IQ that allows him to make good reads of opposing defenses pre- and post-snap. While he’s not at Fields’ level as a scrambler, there’s an impressive level of mobility to Stroud’s game as well—he does have the ability to make plays with his legs when he needs to.
Unlike Young, Stroud also doesn’t have much to worry about from an in-house competition standpoint. Davis Mills flashed at times, but he never quite crested the “franchise quarterback” hill in his first two years in the NFL. And unlike Dalton—Young’s competition in Carolina—Mills doesn’t have the veteran status to fall back on. Case Keenum is in that quarterbacks room in Houston as well, but the 35-year-old is nothing more than a solid backup at this stage of his career. He doesn’t bring quite the excitement and potential that Stroud does to the Texans.
Barring an injury, there’s truly no reason a pro-ready, young quarterback like Stroud shouldn’t be an immediate starter for the Texans.
Clayton Tune, Arizona Cardinals
I bet you thought this was going to be Anthony Richardson, didn’t you?
It’s true that Richardson is an absolute athletic freak, especially at the quarterback position, but he still requires enough development as a passer that I’m not quite on board with letting him start Week 1. The Florida product needs some work on his ball placement and ability to read coverages before he’s thrown into the fire of being an NFL starter and—to many Colts fans—the franchise “savior.” There’s no reason to tank his confidence by throwing him into that fire before he’s ready.
So, why is Tune on this list instead? Well, for starters, there are already rumors that he’ll get the chance to start Week 1 despite his fifth-round pick status. The next question you might be asking is, well, why’s that?
The recently extended Kyler Murray will be missing what is likely a significant part of the 2023 season—if not all of it—after tearing his ACL late last year. So for a significant part of the 2023 season, the Cardinals’ options are limited to Colt McCoy, David Blough, and Tune. Rather than skating by this year with known quantities like McCoy—a high-level backup with his fair share of injury trouble—or Blough—a less-promising backup—it just makes more sense for the Cardinals to see what they have in Tune. He was the second-most athletic quarterback at the NFL Combine (behind Richardson), and he has five years of playing experience from his time at Houston.
The Cardinals are already projected to be one of—if not the—worst teams in the NFL this season, and their new regime may have a chance to draft a new franchise quarterback next year. If they don’t like what they have in Murray, even with his recent extension, that new regime could find themselves with a prime opportunity to hit the reset button on the franchise in 2024. Or, if Tune plays well if he’s provided chances to start in 2023, they could still cut ties with Murray and pick up extra draft capital.
Thanks to Brock Purdy’s shocking 2022 performance, teams should be more willing than ever to give their Day 3 rookie quarterbacks a shot. So why would the Cardinals roll with McCoy or Blough rather than give Tune a shot from the jump?