Pencils down, rookies.
In April, three quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the NFL Draft, and none of the three had to wait long to hear their names called. Bryce Young went No. 1 overall to the Panthers, C.J. Stroud went No. 2 to the Texans and Anthony Richardson rounded out the first-round passers by landing with the Colts, signaling the next wave of promise for all three franchises.
Playing quarterback in the NFL is difficult, and starting Week 1 as a rookie quarterback is even harder. Still, all three passers who took the field for their new teams actually performed relatively well in their first full games of action — even if none walked away with a win.
Here’s how the rookie quarterbacks who took the field on Sunday for their debuts graded out:
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C.J. Stroud, Texans: B-
Stats Week 1 vs. Ravens: 28-of-44 passing, 242 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, one fumble. Four rushes for 20 yards.
C.J. Stroud was staring down the barrel of a Baltimore Ravens defense for his first NFL start. No pressure, kid.
If there’s anything that’s going to benefit Stroud, it’s that DeMeco Ryans’ hand-picked OC Bobby Slowik comes from the Kyle Shanahan tree, which means the offense should be pretty easy for Stroud to pick up. He didn’t look so bad with a lot of throwing volume on Sunday.
Outside of completing his first pass to, well, himself, Stroud looked decent in his debut. He had happy feet at times, threw an ill-advised F-It ball down the middle of the field that was nearly picked in the second quarter and didn’t pull the trigger quick enough on some designed underneath stuff, which is normal rookie behavior.
Stroud also showed off his arm a bit: An opposite-hash throw to Robert Woods late in the second quarter exemplified that. He also looked to work through his progressions well as the game wore on.
Stroud had time in the pocket on Sunday, but when he didn’t, it got to him in a hurry, so he didn’t have too many opportunities to showcase his mobility. Still, Stroud exhibited a healthy dose of solid throws from the pocket mixed with some questionable decisions. Overall, there was more good than bad in a mixed-bag performance.
Anthony Richardson, Colts: B
Stats Week 1 vs. Jaguars: 24-of-37 passing, 223 yards, one touchdown, one interception. 10 carries, 40 yards, one touchdown.
Richardson was the most physically gifted on the passers to come out of this year’s draft, and there were flashes of that on display in the Colts’ loss to Jacksonville.
Richardson has an elite arm, and that was clear with the laser throws he made, but head coach Shane Steichen wasn’t afraid to get the big-framed Richardson out on designed runs throughout the game. And why not? Use it if you got it. The only danger is getting him hurt, and he did get dinged up a bit late in the game, though Steichen says he should be fine.
From the pocket, though, Richardson was generally accurate and on-time throughout the afternoon, and for however “raw” Richardson was labeled to be coming out of Florida, he didn’t look like a high-end project on Sunday. Richardson will need to work on throwing over the middle of the field, but his accuracy on Sunday was promising overall.
What makes it all the more impressive as that Richardson is working with a diminished skill position cast, which includes the absence of running back Jonathan Taylor.
It was certainly a promising start for Richardson and the Colts. We’ll see if the grade stays the same entering Week 2.
Bryce Young, Panthers: C
Stats Week 1 vs. Falcons: 20-of-38 passing, 146 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions. Three carries for 17 yards.
While he was knocked for his size coming out of Alabama, the one thing Young has always had is lots of poise and command in the pocket. For Panthers fans watching Young’s debut, that trait still showed up in his game on Sunday.
Young looked calm and in control throughout the afternoon, using his legs sparingly, opting to wait and throw over scramble at the first sign of trouble or a collapsing pocket. That’s a positive sign.
What’s not so positive is the innacuracy, but that’s to be expected from a rookie quarterback trying to figure out NFL game speed and timing. Young wasn’t great throwing outside the numbers, and a handful of passes exceeded 10-plus air yards.
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There are other positives to take from Young’s debut, though: His feet looked calm and settled, he looked decisive with the ball, he kept his eyes downfield and made a few tight-window throws that make it obvious why he was the top selection in this year’s draft.
The interceptions — both to Jessie Bates — weren’t anything to sound alarms over, either. It was a matter of a player trying to find out a window and quickly discovering that the players move faster than the ball in the NFL. Both were similar in nature, and that’s something that can easily be coached out.
Overall, Frank Reich didn’t ask Young to do a whole lot in this game, and Young’s decision making and pocket presence and awareness seemed to be very seasoned for a guy who’s starting his first NFL game. That’s good to take away, even if Young’s final line isn’t anything impressive.