Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder come up aces; Matt Corral flops: Grading NFL rookie QB preseason debuts

Nine quarterbacks were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. Eight of them saw their first game action this weekend in Week 1 of preseason.

Though only one QB was picked in the first round last April — the Steelers’ Kenny Pickett — the group showed promise for the first time as professionals.

Aside from Pickett battling Mitchell Trubisky for the Pittsburgh seed, there’s little chance of either of them becoming their team’s No. 1 seed in Week 1 of the regular season. But everyone from the potential franchise passers-by to the development backups made a first impression. The Sporting News counts how they fared.

MORE: Pickett vs. Trubisky breakdown in Pittsburgh

NFL Rookie Quarterback Scores

1. Kenny Pickett, Steelers (1st round, #20 overall)

Class: A+

Statistics: 13 of 15 passes, 95 yards, two TDs, 6.3 yards per attempt, 132.6 passer rating, three rushes, 16 yards

There was electricity at Acrisure Stadium, and for good reason. Pickett felt right at home in Pittsburgh and played like he was still a Pitt Panther. He showed everything that made him an all-rounder as he ripped up the Seahawks: moxie, arm, accuracy and athleticism. He worked within the downfield passing offense that suited his ability, and he also brought with him some of the improvisational flair that’s part of his all-around game.

Let’s hope the Steelers think a lot more about Pickett winning the job directly over Mitchell Trubisky, whose camp fights are well-documented.

2. Malik Willis, Titans (3rd round, #86 overall)

Class: A

Statistics: 6-of-11 passing, 107 yards, 9.7 yards per attempt, 88.1 passer rating, five rushes, 38 yards, one TD

Where there’s a Willis, Ryan Tannehill should be nervous. Tennessee may have gotten a steal with a player who should have been a first-rounder due to their physical advantages.

Willis played on a closed offense at times, and like many raw athletic QBs, he relied heavily on starting and running against the Ravens. But he also delivered a “wow” deep ball to wide receiver Racey McMath.

The conservative Titans have no plans to pit him against Tannehill just yet, but no one would be shocked if Willis was their top option by midseason.

MORE: Vrabel details Willis’ biggest area for improvement after ‘OK’ preseason debut

3. Desmond Ridder, Falcons (3rd round, #74 overall)

Class: A-

Statistics: 10 of 22 passing, 103 yards, two TDs, 4.7 yards per attempt, 89.8 passer rating, six rushes, 59 rushing yards

The Falcons, coached by former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, are also not expected to put their third-round player into action over veteran bridge QB Marcus Mariota. But they picked Ridder for his similarities to Mariota, who was No. 2 overall in 2015.

Ridder showed the spice he’s gleaned from his long winning career in Cincinnati as he led a comeback win over the Lions. The last numbers weren’t that efficient, but he made clutch plays and proved he’s a plus runner. It’s only a matter of time before the Falcons want to see Ridder make significant snaps in the regular season with his inevitable early fall from the playoffs.

MORE: Ridder wasn’t focused on immediately winning the starting QB job over Mariota

4. Sam Howell, Commanders (5th round, #144 overall)

Class: A-

Statistics: 9-of-16 passing, 145 yards, 9.1 yards per attempt, 86.7 passer rating, three rushes, 19 yards, two TDs

Howell also experienced a shocking fall in the draft considering how he played in North Carolina. He showed promise as a viable QB with a smooth, confident performance against the Panthers. He excelled in the intermediate and low-pass games and showed his athleticism as a crucial runner.

Like Trubisky, Carson Wentz didn’t have the best camp ratings, but the commanders are committed to him for now. Howell is far from pushing the veteran, but he inspired as a potential Day 3 steal who could soon be Washington’s No. 2 at worst.

MORE: Behind Howell’s drop in draft stocks

5. Bailey Zappe, Patriots (4th round, #137 overall)

Class: B

Statistics: 19 of 32 passes, 205 yards, one TD, one INT, one sack, 6.4 yards per attempt, 75.8 passer rating

Based on his video game highlights and numbers from western Kentucky, there’s no question that Zappe can send the ball all over the field. But what stood out on his debut against an aggressive Giants defense was his easygoing manner in the bag. He showed good mental and physical strength.

Zappe doesn’t have much early pressure on him with Mac Jones as a starter and Brian Hoyer an experienced No. 2. But he has shown he can grow in New England’s post-Josh McDaniels system. He made solid throws, including a sharp hit on Lil’Jordan Humphrey.

MORE: Why did the Patriots move in Zappe?

6. Skylar Thompson, Dolphins (7th round, #247 overall)

class: B

Statistics: 20 of 28 passing, 218 yards, one TD, 7.8 yards per attempt, 106.0 passer rating, three rushes, 25 yards

The Kansas State product was the only Miami QB to play Tampa Bay. He handled well, with good accuracy and distribution (10 different receivers caught passes). Mike McDaniel found the right man for his system behind Tua Tagovailoa.

7. Brock Purdy, 49ers (7th round, #262 overall)

Class: C

Statistics: 3-of-6 passing, 36 yards, one TD, 6.0 yards per attempt, 108.3 passer rating

Purdy was an interesting “Mr. Irrevelant” as the last pick in the draft. He’s a pocket passer in the style of Kyle Shanahan. Whenever Jimmy Garoppolo gets transferred, Nate Sudfeld should be stepping up for Trey Lance. Purdy looked very much like a rookie in a short, late stint in preseason week 1 after a successful career at Iowa State. He showed intangibles with a game-winning TD and a two-point conversion. Purdy can put himself in position to make the team No. 3 without Jimmy G if he does more good work ahead of the season.

8. Matt Corral, Panthers (3rd round, #94 overall)

Class: D

Statistics: 1-of-9 passing, 11 yards, 1.2 yards per attempt, 39.6 passer rating, one rush, 6 yards

Corral is buried behind Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold on Carolina’s depth chart. He confirmed with his awkward debut why he poses no threat to either of the 2018 first-rounders. Corral has a lot to do to prove he can even be a competent third-stringer.

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