Ranking the four first-year starting QBs heading into Week 2
In Week 1 of the NFL season, four first-time starting quarterbacks were under the biggest microscope, with some impressive debuts stealing headlines. The group exceeded many analysts’ expectations, going 3-1 with the closely-contested Cowboys-Giants game in the mix. After one week of play, I’ve ranked the four first-year starters, and also outlined what to expect moving forward from these young signal callers.
1. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Fans in Philadelphia got a glimpse last week of why this organization felt the need to move up and take Carson Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick. Wentz was in command from the very first snap against the Browns, and the game plan put together by Doug Pederson and the offensive staff was perfectly crafted to fit exactly what the North Dakota State product excels at.
Wentz has the physical ability to make every throw in the book, the extreme athleticism necessary to threaten defenses outside the pocket (especially on bootlegs), and excels when getting the ball out of his hand quickly (second-best passer rating last week on throws under 2.5 seconds). However, something to watch for as the season progresses is how Wentz performs when pressured. At times he can get stuck on reads in the pocket, often ending up flat-footed, something that leads to sacks and inaccurate throws.
Utilizing his athleticism and legs—with a quick clock in his head when the play is exhausted—will be key for Wentz as he continues to develop within the Philadelphia offense.
2. Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots
Filling in for a legend under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football while facing a Super Bowl-caliber team, no quarterback was under a bigger spotlight last week than Jimmy Garoppolo, and the Patriot answered the call. Garoppolo dominated on third downs, going 8-for-10 for 107 yards, moving the chains in a variety of ways.
While he possesses one of the quicker releases in the NFL, the thing that impresses me most is his elite-level skills to process information post-snap and move quickly with his eyes from one receiver to the next, all while feeling the pocket. Garoppolo’s athleticism and creativity within the pocket to extend plays and make throws downfield will be an added dimension to the New England offense, and something defensive coordinators are not used to having to worry about when game-planning for the Patriots.
Expect New England to continue to run the same offensive schemes it’s run for years, with some added movement plays to utilize Garoppolo’s athleticism. With a few more performances like last week’s against the Cardinals, and the Patriots can feel good about their post-Brady quarterback situation.
3. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
After he stole the show all preseason, Prescott saw just how hard it is to win in this league against the Giants. The running game didn’t help him out by any means, and he failed to keep the balance needed for this offense to succeed. Prescott ended up having the third-most pass attempts (45) in Week 1, something the Cowboys will hope to avoid going forward.
Throughout the preseason—and in glimpses on Sunday—Prescott proved to have a good overall understanding of the passing game, the capability of identifying defenses pre-snap, and willingness to throw to the open receiver accordingly. The Cowboys’ offensive line will continue to give him time, and it will be up to Prescott to show he can scan the field, and most importantly, reset his feet and maintain accuracy when forced to go to his second and third options.
Two stats to keep an eye on as the season progresses are Prescott’s rating when passing under pressure and his downfield accuracy. In college, his under-pressure numbers were fairly low, and it showed against the Giants, as went 3-for-13 for 28 yards in that area. Prescott showed a willingness to push the ball downfield, but throws traveling 20+ yards last week resulted in 0 yards going (0 for 6). Expect the Cowboys’ running game to pick up in Week 2 against the Redskins, and for Prescott’s numbers to improve as a result. Overall, the best takeaway is the poise and confidence Prescott exudes to this team in Tony Romo’s absence.
4. Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos
Replacing Peyton Manning and being the face of the defending Super Bowl champs is a daunting task, but Trevor Siemian showed some poise in Week 1 and fared alright in his starting debut, earning a win on opening night. In the matchup with the Panthers, the former Northwestern standout showed off his quick decision-making and running ability (earning the third-highest running grade among QBs in Week 1).
With the Broncos’ commitment to the rush, defensive looks can be expected to be fairly straightforward, and head coach Gary Kubiak will likely dial up rhythm throws—both to the short and intermediate levels—on early downs to gain confidence, as we saw last week. Siemian’s comfort level with getting the ball out quickly and accurately, specifically outside the numbers, will be an area he will continually have to own to have success.
It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinators choose to play against Siemian—and this offense as a whole going forward—on third downs, where the Broncos were 5-for-10 last week. Siemian will need to attack the middle of the field on third downs, and more importantly, use two of his biggest assets—his internal clock and his legs—when rushing lanes open up like they did at times against the Panthers.
One theme for all four of these quarterbacks? Each possesses the ability to move the chains with their legs. Overall, it was a good start for these first-time signal callers, but consistency is the name of the game in the NFL. As defensive coordinators continue to get more tape and information on these QBs, how will they respond, and most importantly, how will they use their strengths within the offense, to help their teams win games?