Fanspeak Mock Draft 12.21: Will 3rd-round QB picks come back to haunt Atlanta, Carolina in 2023 draft?

Fanspeak Mock Draft 12.21: Will 3rd-round QB picks come back to haunt Atlanta, Carolina in 2023 draft?

History shows that most teams don’t draft a quarterback after round 1 unless they’re hoping that quarterback develops into a long-term backup.

Sure, there are notable exceptions to the rule. Former fifth-round pick Tom Brady and former fourth-round pick Dak Prescott come to mind. Now retired Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees was a second-rounder.

That’s because, the earlier the round, the higher the expectations. You expect your first-rounder to start as a rookie and, hopefully, flourish by his second year. You hope your second-rounder can start if called upon but otherwise becomes an immediate contributor. The same can be said of your third rounder, only to a lesser extent. You hope those players can become starters by Year 3.

Therefore, a team would never knowingly draft a player in the third round that they hope only plays on occasion or during an emergency.

That’s even true of the QB position.

For starters, teams don’t draft a quarterback in Round 3 (or later) with the hopes of that QB becoming an immediate, effective starter. Sure, there are a few recent cases of third-round or later QBs who have started games, but it was never the plan for them to be the full-time starter from Day 1. Prescott, for example, started his rookie season fourth on the depth chart and only became the starter due to injuries.

Instead, the primary reason teams draft a QB in the second through fourth rounds is because they currently start an older veteran and hope the rookie can sit behind and learn from the veteran for several years, only starting in an emergency. Overall, the goal in that scenario would be for the rookie to develop into an above average starter once the veteran is gone two to four years down the road.

A look at the past five drafts along with each team’s ideal starting lineup bears that out.

Of note:

Of the 32 QBs who were or are expected to start for their respective teams, 75 percent of them were taken in the first round.
Of the 56 QBs drafted since 2018, a span covering the past five drafts, 18 were taken in the first round. Out of those 18 QBs, 11 are starters.
Of the 38 QBs taken in Rounds 2 through 7 between 2018 to 2022, only two QBs, Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts and Houston’s Davis Mills, are starters. The rest are either buried on their respective teams’ depth chart or already out of the league.

Those statistics alone make you wonder why any team drafts a QB in the second through fourth rounds. Fifth round and later? Why not; those players come in as backups and aren’t guaranteed of making the roster.

Still, three QBs have been drafted in the second round since 2018, while seven have been drafted in each of the third and fourth rounds.

The two success stories, Hurts and Mills, were drafted under different circumstances.

The Hurts pick (he went No. 53 overall in 2020) was highly controversial at the time because the team was still depending on 2016 No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz. Wentz, though, had already started his decline, and poor play that year led to the then-rookie Hurts taking over as the starter late in the season. Wentz would be traded in the offseason to Indianapolis.

Then there’s Mills, who became the starting QB during the Deshaun Watson fiasco. Houston knew it was going to need a QB once allegations against Watson first surfaced a few months before the 2021 draft. But they didn’t know at the time how badly they’d need a new signal-caller, as the legal situation that would soon ensue was just getting started.

So the team signed Tyrod Taylor and drafted Mills out of Stanford in the third round. The hope was for Taylor to serve as a stop-gap until the team could figure out a long-term plan for the position. And if he didn’t pan out, Houston wanted to make sure it had at least a reasonable young backup who could step in if needed.

Instead, injuries derailed Taylor’s season, and Mills – once thought to be the third-stringer – wound up starting 11 games.

While the move worked for Philadelphia, other factors were involved, too. The Eagles have built one of the best offensive lines in the league, Miles Sanders is a top-10 RB, and the team has current or future Pro Bowlers at receiver and tight end. And, with all due respect to Philadelphia scouting department, a bit of luck was involved, too. After all, who would have thought at the time that Wentz’s demise would come so soon and fast? Furthermore, if the Eagles thought Hurts was going to be this good, then the team wouldn’t have waited until the second round to draft him.

But things haven’t gone so well in Houston. Of course, the Texans don’t have the talent Hurts does, as evidenced by the team’s 5-23-1 record since last season. Houston is out of the playoff picture once again at 1-10-1. It also makes you wonder how Mills and Hurts would fare if they were on opposite teams.

Regardless, Houston won’t think twice about replacing Mills in the 2023 draft, which begs the question: Was Mills a wasted third-round pick in 2021? You’d have to think just about any QB could have guided the Texans to a one-win season thus far due to the overall lack of talent on the team.

It also means Houston won’t ever get a true evaluation of Mills if it drafts a QB in the first round.

Now it’s Atlanta, Tennessee and Carolina that are on the clock.

Each team drafted a QB in the third round this year; New England drafted a QB in the fourth round, and he’s already played as a backup to a 2020 first-rounder.

But the three teams that drafted a QB in the third round this past spring – during what was widely considered to be a bad year to draft one – all did so with the hopes of grooming the rookie under a savvy, but not long-term, veteran. The hope for Tennessee, Atlanta and Carolina was to find a QB who could develop into an above-average starter within two to three years.

It was a solid strategy for Tennessee, which took Liberty’s Malik Willis with the No. 86 overall pick in the third round. Willis will presumably serve as the backup to former Pro Bowl QB Ryan Tannehill, who, at age 34, probably only has a few years left.

Willis was pretty shaky, as expected, in his two injury starts, going 17-of-38 for 177 yards, no TDs and 1 INT. He’s also rushed 20 times for another 80 yards.

But the Titans are hoping they have a few more years to evaluate Willis to determine if he’s their future signal-caller. And if he’s not? Then at least the team didn’t waste a first-round pick on him.

As for the other teams, bypassing the position this past draft actually would have provided them more clarity on the QB situation. At least then Atlanta and Carolina would have known if it needs a QB.

Instead, Atlanta flirted with a playoff spot and chose to stick with the veteran free agent signal caller rather than giving third-round rookie Desmond Ridder a chance. Ridder was the No. 74 overall pick in the third round, 12 picks ahead of Willis.

Instead, it took an injury to Marcus Mariotta – who then left the team – for Atlanta to finally give Ridder a chance. Like Willis, Ridder was unsprisingly bad in his debut, completing 13-of-26 passes for 97 yards. He was also sacked 4 times while rushing 6 times for 38 yards.

The problem, though, is just around the corner.

As many as four QBs could be drafted within the first 10 picks. As of now, Tankathon has Atlanta picking seventh overall. Therefore, it’s possible one of those top QBs falls to Atlanta in the first round.

Draft a player like Kentucky’s Will Levis or Florida’s Anthony Richardson in the first round, then you no longer need Ridder as your full-time starter. Maybe he could stick around as an injury replacement, but it’s rare for teams to pair young QBs together, preferring to pair a veteran with a younger player. Besides, Ridder would still have trade value; remember, lots of teams could be in the market for a QB this offseason.

But in that scenario, you could make the argument that the Ridder pick was wasted. He wasn’t given a prolonged “tryout” until the season was already out of reach, then will be asked to caddy for the team’s shiny new toy, a first-round QB.

And finally, there’s the Carolina situation. Like Atlanta (and New Orleans), the 5-9 Panthers are flirting with a playoff spot and are just one game behind division-leader Tampa Bay.

But you can blame Carolina’s sub-500 record at least partially on the team’s QB carousal. Former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield wasn’t the answer and is now an injury replacement starter for the Los Angeles Rams. Sam Darnold, the former No. 3 overall pick, has missed most of the season due to lingering injuries. Finally healthy, Darnold has been mostly solid as the team has won two out of three games since his return.

And when it wasn’t Mayfield or Darnold running the show, then it was PJ Walker, a former undrafted rookie free agent now in his third season who started five games.

But the one QB who hasn’t received any snaps? Third-round rookie Matt Corral of Ole Miss, whom the team traded up to select. Drafted with the No. 94 overall pick, Corral suffered a Lisfranc injury during preseason and will miss his entire rookie year.

So even if Carolina somehow makes the playoffs with either Darnold or Walker, would it have been a good enough of an audition to keep either player around next season? Keep in mind, both are in the final years of their contract.

That means, the Panthers could enter next season with Corral as their starting quarterback, even though he’s never taken an NFL snap.

And that’s what separates Atlanta from Carolina’s QB situation. Carolina won’t get a look at Corral like Atlanta will with Ridder and therefore will be more likely to pull the trigger on drafting a QB in the first round if one of the top QBs is still on the board.

Waste of a third-round pick? Who knows – but that’s a lose-lose scenario either way. Any first-round QB drafted by the team in the spring would be considered a bust if Corral wins the job long-term. And the opposite is true: Corral will be considered a bust if he never gets the chance to start for Carolina.

Then again, it’s also possible Carolina and Atlanta never get a shot at one of the top-4 QBs in the upcoming draft, as it’s possible all four could be gone before either team is on the clock.

In that scenario, the teams will be glad they drafted a QB on Day 2 this past spring. The only question then becomes, will either of those teams be in the market for a starting QB in 2024?

With so few success stories of QBs drafted after the first round, history says yes.

Here’s this week’s Fanspeak mock draft.

Round 1

1. Houston Texans: Edge Will Anderson, Alabama

Houston would be taking a huge risk by bypassing a QB here, as there’s a good chance that the top four quarterbacks are gone by the time the Texans are back on the clock.

2. Indianapolis Colts (proposed TRADE with Chicago): QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

Indianapolis would have to give up this year’s first- and second-round picks and next year’s second to make this trade with Chicago work.

3. Seattle Seahawks (from Den): QB Bryce Young, Alabama

The Seahawks have experience protecting a smaller QB.

4. Detroit Lions (from LAR): QB Will Levis, Kentucky

The way QB Jared Goff has played lately may cause the team to bypass the position in the first round. However, the next-best QB likely won’t be available with the team’s second first-round pick.

5. Arizona Cardinals: DL Jalen Carter, Georgia

Who will last longer in Arizona, QB Kyler Murray or head coach Kill Kingsbury? A year from now, the Cardinals could be looking for a replacement for both. With only one QB remaining with a first-round ranking, this is also a prime trade spot.

6. Chicago Bears (proposed TRADE with Indianapolis): Edge Myles Murphy, Clemson

Not a bad haul for Chicago: The Bears get a potential Pro Bowl pass rusher and what will likely be a high, extra second-round pick next year.

7. Atlanta Falcons: QB Anthony Richardson, Florida

This is a tough spot for Atlanta. On the one hand, the team is finally giving third-round rookie Desmond Ridder a chance in the midst of a playoff race. And, Richardson is far from a “clean” pick, the ultimate “boom-or-bust” prospect. But if the pick pans out, then Atlanta has Josh Allen 2.0. And if it doesn’t work out? Then at least the team still has Ridder (unless they trade him).

8. Carolina Panthers: CB Cam Smith, South Carolina

Current starter C.J. Henderson has allowed 37 receptions and has a PFF grade of 54.7 despite his 2 INTs. In other words, the team could look to upgrade the position and pair Smith with another former Gamecock, 2021 first-rounder Jaycee Horn.

9. Philadelphia Eagle (from NO): RB Bijan Robinson, Texas

At some point, you have to stop arguing against arguably the best offensive player in this draft, regardless of the position he plays (which, by the way, could be a need if Miles Sanders leaves in free agency).

10. Las Vegas Raiders: OT Paris Johnson, Ohio State

CB Rock Ya-Sin and RT Jermaine Eluemunor will be UFAs at the end of the season. Whoever re-signs could determine whether the Raiders take a tackle or a cornerback in Round 1.

11. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Quentin Johnston, TCU

The suddenly surging Jaguars need receiving help for Trevor Lawrence. A star WR could help transform the team into a playoff contender.

12. Houston Texans (from Cle): OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern

Looks like the Houston gamble didn’t pan out, as the top four QBs are already off the board. In this scenario, at least Year 3 of Davis Mills includes more protection along the offensive line.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT Broderick Jones, Georgia

The only thing preventing Pittsburgh from reaching the playoffs again is improved play from the offensive line. The defense remains mostly solid and still has high-performing talent. The team also has young, improving talent at receiver, tight end and running back. Now the team needs its OL to perform at the same level, and adding the highest-remaining tackle is a good place to start.

14. Green Bay Packers: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame

Green Bay may cry a little if the third-best OT is drafted one pick ahead of them, but the top TE is a nice consolation prize.

15. Seattle Seahawks: DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson

A Bryce Young-Bryan Bresee haul on Day 1 may determine the fate of this franchise over the next 10 years.

16, New England Patriots: TE Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State

While this may be a bit high for Kraft, it’s never a bad idea to give a young QB a big, young target to throw to.

17. NY Jets: TE Darnell Washington, Georgia

Not only does New York need tight end help, the massive 6-foot-8, 270-pound Washington should provide the offensive line some help, too.

18. Detroit Lions: CB Joey Porter, Penn State

He’s not going to snag a lot of INTs but is otherwise solid and the next-best CB in the 2023 class.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Kelee Ringo, Georgia

Expect the team to consider a CB or an OL in Round 1. Ringo is the highest-remaining out of those positions.

20. Tennessee Titans: TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah

Could a fourth TE be taken in the first round? Kincaid would certainly fill a need for Tennessee. There’s a growing feeling among national draft analyst that as many as eight tight ends could be drafted among the top 100 picks.

21. Washington Commanders: WR Jordan Addison, USC

Washington needs playmakers on offense, especially with a QB situation that remains fluid.

22. LA Chargers: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

Los Angeles would be doing somersaults if Gonzalez fell this far in the draft. He’s the last of the tier 1 CBs.

23. NY Giants: WR Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

If New York can re-sign RB Saquon Barkley and QB Daniel Jones, then the team will be a lot closer to conference title contention than many thought, and a deep threat receiver like Hyatt could put them over the top. Although the team could probably survive the loss of Barkley, all bets are off if Jones signs elsewhere.

24. Baltimore Ravens: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

It seems like Baltimore drafts a receiver in the first round every year, only to see either injuries or ineffectiveness wreck the pick. Why should this year be any different?

25. Denver Broncos (from SF): OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State

It wouldn’t take much to improve Denver’s offensive line. The team could also use a starting left tackle, another guard and a center. Hard to really gauge what Russell Wilson has left in the tank until the Broncos fix their offensive line.

26. Dallas Cowboys: CB Jaylon Jones, Texas A&M

Despite mostly solid-to-great first-round picks in recent years, Dallas’ ineptitude in the second and third rounds of the draft may force the team to draft for need in the first round in 2023, which, in this case would be the highest-ranked receiver or cornerback. It worked out OK last year, when Dallas wanted to come away with a rookie tackle, then was accused of “over-drafting” when it selected Tulsa’s Tyler Smith with the No. 24 overall pick. Smith, the last of the tackles to be taken in the first round, has performed well despite the general feeling among national draft analysts that he was rated as a more of a second-round prospect.

27. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

Cincinnati needs to come away from the first two days of the draft with a future starting cornerback.

28. Kansas City Chiefs: S Brian Branch, Alabama

Branch will play a little slot, a little high safety, a little box safety and sometimes even a little outside corner. Plus, the Chiefs have recently invested in some relatively young talent at the receiver position, so taking one here doesn’t make much sense.

29. Minnesota Vikings: Edge Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech

A deep draft for pass rushers could wind up hurting players like Wilson, LSU’s B.J. Ojulari and Ohio State’s Zach Harrison, as teams may pick lower-ranked players at positions that aren’t as deep with the hope that a talented pass rusher will still be available on Day 2.

30. Buffalo Bills: RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama

With his speed and receiving ability, Gibbs should catch more than 50 passes from QB Allen next season, plus tack on anther 600 to 800 yards rushing to what’s already one of the most talented offenses in the league.

31. Philadelphia Eagles: LB Trenton Simpson, Clemson

The team could lose a couple of starting linebackers to free agency, so expect the Eagles to address the position in the offseason. Drafting the best offensive player and the top linebacker – both positions of need – puts Philadelphia closer to “untouchable” status.

Who’s left:

Los Angeles Rams, second round: Edge B.J. Ojulari, LSU

New Orleans Saints, second round: QB Hendon Hooker, Tennessee

Cleveland Browns, second round: CB Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State

Miami Dolphins, second round: DL Siaki Ika, Baylor

San Francisco, third round: S Jordan Battle, Alabama

 

* Draft order courtesy of Tankathon.

** Miami lost its first-round pick due to tampering charges.

Jake Rigdon (@jrigdon73) covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak.com. He also covers the NFL draft from a Dallas Cowboys perspective in this subReddit. And his big board is updated at least once per week during the season and leading up to the draft.

Author: Austin Bryant