The importance of a building-block quarterback has never been more apparent in the NFL. Since 2002, the league’s Super Bowl champions have employed an array of future Hall of Famers en route to the Lombardi Trophy. With the exception of Joe Flacco, every NFL champion in the past 14 seasons has been led by a passer with at least three Pro Bowl invitations to his name.
That emphasis echoed through the 2017 NFL Draft, where a cache of talented but flawed quarterbacks surged into the first round. Teams in need of offensive leadership paid dearly for the chance to roll the dice on the next generation of passers. Every QB selected came at the cost of premium picks as the Bears, Texans, and Chiefs all traded up in hopes of finding a franchise cornerstone.
Mitchell Trubisky, the first passer drafted, wound up as the No. 2-overall pick despite just one season of starting experience under his belt. Patrick Mahomes II, the 10th pick of the draft, threw for nearly 10,000 yards and 77 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Texas Tech, but went 13-17 as his team’s primary QB. Deshaun Watson, the most accomplished of the first-round selections, raised concerns over whether his dynamic scrambling and hot-and-cold decision-making could translate to the next level.
All three have had their moments this preseason, giving hope they can live up to the expectations and high costs their franchises have placed on their shoulders. They’re not the only rookie quarterbacks to turn heads, however. DeShone Kizer and Joshua Dobbs have each earned starting assignments this preseason, and mid-round picks like C.J. Beathard and Nathan Peterman could each wind up forcing their way into regular season lineups for rebuilding squads.
Here’s a look at where all 10 of 2017’s drafted quarterbacks stand after three weeks of preseason play.
Mitchell Trubisky, No. 2-overall pick, Chicago Bears
The Bears were roundly criticized after sending four picks to San Francisco to move up one spot in the draft and select Trubisky, but the UNC product’s efficient preseason suggests the overpay may have been worth it. He played his way into the starting conversation after completing more than 70 percent of his passes and posting a 3:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his first three preseason games.
While $45 million acquisition Mike Glennon eventually shook off enough rust to claim the team’s top spot, Trubisky will have every opportunity to push him for snaps this season. The Bears can jettison Glennon next offseason with just $4.5 million in dead cap money on the books. A comparison of their preseason performances could mean his tryout may not last long.
Patrick Mahomes, No. 10-overall pick, Kansas City Chiefs
In order to live up to his draft status, Mahomes will have to fight off years of history of Texas Tech quarterbacks flopping in the NFL. With a solid preseason performance, he may be on his way.
Barring an injury to incumbent Alex Smith, Mahomes is unlikely to start for the Chiefs in 2017, but he has helped validate the team’s decision to trade up for him. The big-armed rookie hasn’t been asked to do much — his longest pass of the preseason has gone for just 19 yards — but he’s been accurate and transitioned well from his college system to Kansas City’s so far.
Deshaun Watson, No. 12-overall pick, Houston Texans
The Texans hit eject as the Brock Osweiler experiment hurtled through the atmosphere and crashed back into the Earth’s crust, opting to spend what turned out to be three premium draft picks to ship him out of Houston. Two first-round picks went to the Browns (who also absorbed Osweiler and his albatross of a contract for a second rounder) for the chance to select Watson — the draft’s winningest quarterback.
Watson has endured an up-and-down preseason, impressing in his first appearance with the club but cooling off since then (14 of 31, zero touchdowns, one interception). That will leave Tom Savage as the team’s starter, though he’ll likely have a shorter leash than Osweiler, who was replaced after 14 starts last season. Watson gives the Texans a dynamic running threat from the pocket, but the Clemson product will have to improve his accuracy to make an impact in 2017.
DeShone Kizer, No. 52-overall pick, Cleveland Browns
Cleveland will field the league’s youngest starting quarterback this fall after naming Kizer the winner of a quarterback battle that included 2016 sometime-starter Cody Kessler and Texans castaway Osweiler. His big arm has produced some highlight moments, like this touchdown strike to Jordan Payton:
However, the uneven tendencies that dropped him to the second round have also surfaced early in his NFL career. He’s taken five sacks in just 54 dropbacks this preseason, and put together a putrid 6-of-18, 93-yard, one-interception performance in his first start for the team. The good news for Kizer is expectations won’t be high, so he’ll have every opportunity to prove himself as Cleveland rebuilds.
Davis Webb, No. 87-overall pick, New York Giants
New York’s Eli Manning retirement plan now falls on Webb, who put up big numbers at California after spending the first three years of his college career at Texas Tech. He started the preseason slotted into the Giants’ No. 4 spot, behind Josh Johnson and Geno Smith, leading to limited snaps. He’s completed just 10 of his 20 passes so far, but will likely get extended reps in the team’s preseason finale and will likely make the team’s 53-man roster as a developmental prospect — probably at Johnson’s expense.
C.J. Beathard, No. 104-overall pick, San Francisco 49ers
Beathard threw for just 148 yards per game as a senior at Iowa and was a bit of a surprise pickup at the end of the third round. He’s been a playmaker this preseason, throwing for more than 10 yards per pass attempt and slinging four touchdowns (an 11 percent touchdown rate).
That’s not sustainable, but it’s a strong foundation for a quarterback with plenty of room for upward mobility. With Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley standing in front of him on the depth chart, Beathard could work his way into a starting spot in San Francisco.
Joshua Dobbs, No. 135-overall pick, Pittsburgh Steelers
Dobbs was immediately thrust into a starting role with the Steelers — but it was just for the team’s preseason opener as Ben Roethlisberger stayed glued to the sideline. Returns on that opening performance were mixed. He completed just over 50 percent of his passes and threw a pair of interceptions, but the franchise will bank on him to overtake underwhelming Landry Jones as he develops as an NFL quarterback.
Nathan Peterman, No. 171-overall pick, Buffalo Bills
The University of Pittsburgh hasn’t produced a good NFL quarterback since Dan Marino, but that hasn’t stopped Bills fans — and players — from hitching their wagon to Peterman. As the team’s only healthy passer — starter Tyrod Taylor and backup T.J. Yates are both currently in the league’s concussion protocol — he’ll have the opportunity to start Thursday’s preseason game and potentially beyond. With Buffalo selling assets for draft picks in what looks like a tanking year, Peterman could be in line for regular season playing time as the team evaluates its roster.
Brad Kaaya, No. 215-overall pick, Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford just became the most highly paid player in league history, which means Kaaya’s path to playing time in Detroit now hinges on the 29-year-old getting injured. The former Miami Hurricane has been useful in the preseason, but will need plenty of polish to prove himself an NFL starter. He’s currently behind Stafford and Jake Rudock on the Lions’ depth chart.
Chad Kelly, No. 253-overall pick, Denver Broncos
Kelly wasn’t even a part of Denver’s quarterback competition thanks to an extended recovery from ACL and wrist injuries. While the team will likely hold him on the injured list while he convalesces, his spot on the active roster is no certainty. Kyle Sloter, an undrafted free agent who played wide receiver at Southern Mississippi before handling QB duties at FCS Northern Colorado, has looked capable enough this preseason to be the Broncos’ third quarterback, behind starter Trevor Siemian and 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch.