Ranking NFL rookie starting QBs: Good, bad and ugly, from C.J. Stroud to Tommy DeVito

As a rookie quarterback, Bryce Young has had a lot on his plate this fall — from position meetings to film study to dealing with another change at the Carolina Panthers’ offensive play-caller post.

So Young hasn’t had time to keep up with every development around the league, like the status of the other members of his quarterback draft class. Like Young, many of them have been busy.

As the season’s midpoint, a record 10 rookie quarterbacks already have started a game this year, breaking the former mark of nine set in 2019. Young was asked how many of the other rookie passers he had a background with.

“I don’t know exactly who the 10 are,” Young said. “But I imagine I at least have been around or talked to probably all of them. Again, I don’t really know who the 10 are, but odds are pretty high.”

Forgive Young for not being able to rattle off all the names. It’s a long list.

It includes the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft (Young) who played at perennial power Alabama all the way down to an undrafted free agent from Division II Shepherd University in West Virginia (the Chicago Bears’ Tyson Bagent).

10 rookie QBs who have started in 2023



Round 1, No. 1



Round 1, No. 2



Round 1, No. 4



Round 2, No. 33



Round 4, No. 135



Round 5, No. 139



Round 5, No. 140



Round 5, No. 164








Young and Bagent squared off last week in the Bears’ 16-13 win at Soldier Field. Young faced No. 2 pick C.J. Stroud in Week 8 and will see second-rounder Will Levis next week in Tennessee. Young would have played against Indianapolis Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson in Week 9 had the No. 4 pick not gone on injured reserve following shoulder surgery.

“It’s great to see other guys in the same situation — us being the same year and other guys starting and getting those opportunities,” Young said. “It’s really cool. It’s real encouraging. Just being a part of this class, I always root for guys in my class.”

That so many quarterbacks have started is a combination of supply — 14 quarterbacks were taken in this year’s draft, including a record 12 in the first five rounds — and opportunity. Seven of the 10 rookies got their chance to start because of an injury at the position.

Young, Stroud and Richardson all were Week 1 starters, tied for the second-most since the merger in 1970. Five rookie QBs started their season openers in 2012 — Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden.

Coaches and general managers say several things are fueling the trend of early playing time quarterbacks. They say QBs are more NFL-ready because of the proliferation of 7-on-7, high school passing leagues and the shift to more pass-centric offense in college football.

Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer was a three-sport star in high school in Seattle and played football and baseball at UCLA before transferring to LSU.

“It’s more year-round now,” Fitterer said before the season started. “When we played, it was during the season. Then you went and played basketball, you went and played baseball. These guys are getting in so many more throws and there’s so much more coaching at the youth level, in the high school level and college level. They’re doing a great job.”



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The other piece is financial. When teams expend high draft capital on a QB — the Panthers sent four high picks and wide receiver DJ Moore to Chicago for the No. 1 pick — they’re inclined to play him immediately while he’s on his cost-controlled, rookie contract.

“I think people are seeing having a rookie quarterback or a younger quarterback on his first contract is valuable,” said Randy Mueller, a former GM for three teams now with The Athletic.

“It’s everybody trying to skew younger and therefore cheaper and build around ’em,” Mueller added. “I don’t think it’s ever been out of vogue to not take a quarterback every two or three years. It just seems like a lot of them got pushed to the front this year because of injuries.”

It’s been a mixed bag for the quarterbacks taken at the top of the draft. Stroud is putting together one of the best seasons by a rookie QB in NFL history, and Richardson had shown off big-play ability before hurting his throwing shoulder in a Week 5 win against the Tennessee Titans. Meanwhile, Young has regressed a bit in recent weeks behind shoddy pass protection and with no consistent downfield receiving threat.

We asked Mueller and five others — a former NFL head coach and four current personnel executives for NFL teams — to rank the 10 quarterbacks who have started this season. The Athletic granted anonymity to the other five experts so they could analyze the QBs candidly.

Stroud was ranked first on all six ballots, which should come as no surprise considering the former Ohio State star is starting to be mentioned as an MVP candidate. Stroud leads the NFL with 291.8 passing yards per game, has thrown just two interceptions while tossing 15 touchdowns, and ranks sixth in passer rating. Richardson is the next highest-rated rookie at No. 21, although he didn’t play enough to qualify for the official NFL leaderboard.

Stroud and Houston first-year coach DeMeco Ryans are leading one of the best turnaround stories in the league. The Texans (5-4) have already surpassed last season’s three-win total.



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Mueller said the 6-3, 218-pound Stroud had everything to succeed leaving Ohio State.

“He had all the skill set. He had the frame and the measurables. I didn’t have a lot of hesitation on him coming out,” Mueller said. “I’m just surprised that that (Texans) group right now is playing as good as they are. I think the team has helped elevate his status for sure.”

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In his past two games, Houston’s C.J. Stroud has thrown for a combined 826 yards with six TD passes and one interception. (Thomas Shea / USA Today)

2. Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts

The pre-draft comparisons to Cam Newton looked spot-on for Richardson during his four games before his season-ending injury. The 6-4, 244-pound Richardson displayed big arm talent and a knack for making plays with his feet before sustaining an injury to his AC joint on a running play against the Titans.

Richardson completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 577 yards, with three touchdowns, one interception and an 87.3 passer rating. Richardson, who started only one season at Florida, also rushed 25 times for 136 yards and four touchdowns for the Colts, who went 2-2 in his starts.

After cycling through a different quarterback in each of Frank Reich’s five seasons, the Colts feel confident they have their franchise QB.

“I thought when he played he was explosive and he was electric,” Colts coach Shane Steichen said. “He gives us an opportunity every time he steps on the field to win football games. Just his big-play ability, throwing the ball downfield, the four touchdown runs in the limited time that he played. But there is tremendous opportunity for him going forward and (for) this franchise.”

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Anthony Richardson averaged 5.4 yards per rush in four games before his season-ending injury. (Troy Taormina / USA Today)

3. Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers

After a pair of turnover-free games against Houston and Miami, Young threw a pair of pick-sixes — both to Kenny Moore — in a dispiriting home loss to the Colts. A week later, after the Panthers failed to score an offensive touchdown in a 16-13 loss to the Bears, a frustrated Young let out his emotions in the locker room. Panthers running back Miles Sanders said Young’s talk included a lot of yelling.

“The sweet, little Bryce that y’all see, he wasn’t that sweet,” Sanders said. “But we needed that just to see that type of vibe from him. We all knew he cared, but we know that he really cares now. We’re just not in a fun position right now, and we’re just trying to do whatever we can to get out of it.”



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That has included Frank Reich taking over the play calling again from offensive coordinator Thomas Brown and cutting starting guard Calvin Throckmorton this week in favor of fourth-round pick Chandler Zavala. The interior of the offensive line has been a problem, allowing too much pressure and making it hard for the 5-10 Young to see downfield.

Critics have called for the Panthers to get Young better protection and more playmakers. But Mueller was even more specific.

“You’re gonna have to really build a perfect group around him,” he said. “Your interior offensive line has to be built different, like the Saints did with Drew Brees. They purposefully did the guards and center as a stronger, can’t-give-ground threesome because of that lack of size. His vision can’t be compromised.”

Mueller also said Young would benefit from having bigger receivers to target.

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Bryce Young has completed 62.8 percent of his passes but the Panthers are 1-7 in his starts. (Jamie Sabau / USA Today)

4. Will Levis, Tennessee Titans

The second-round pick from Kentucky replaced an injured Ryan Tannehill, then won the job with a four-touchdown debut against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 29. The 6-4, 229-pound Levis hasn’t thrown a TD in two games since — road losses at Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay in which he was sacked four times in each. Levis had his worst game against the Buccaneers, completing just 19 of 39 passes for 199 yards. He also had an interception.

Mueller said Levis looks the part but has been “wildly erratic” early in his career.

“I just don’t know if the processing will be consistent enough to make good decisions. It was just really up and down,” he said. “I see what everybody’s saying about his physical skills. That’s not the hard thing to sort out with him.”



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Turnovers have been a problem for the fourth-round pick from Purdue, but O’Connell has played OK for the Raiders when he’s hung on to the ball. In his first start in place of Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 4, O’Connell threw for 238 yards and ran for a touchdown but also had four turnovers (one INT, three fumbles) in a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

O’Connell has two wins since interim coach Antonio Pierce named him the starting quarterback. O’Connell’s 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Mayer helped lift the Raiders to a 16-12 victory against the New York Jets last weekend.

Mueller said O’Connell has shown some traits to give the Raiders hope he can be a dependable starter as he gains much-needed experience.

6. Tyson Bagent, Chicago Bears

With Justin Fields returning from a thumb injury, Bagent will return to the sideline after some ups and downs as the Bears’ starter. Bagent went 2-2 in four starts, completing 65.7 percent of his passes for 859 yards, with three touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran 23 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns. But like O’Connell, Bagent had issues with ball security, with three fumbles to go with the six picks.

Bagent got rid of the ball quickly last week against the Panthers, who had no sacks against Bagent and only hit him four times. Bagent has good size (6-3, 213) and proved to be a capable fill-in.

The fifth-round pick known as “DTR” hopes his second start goes better than his first. The ex-UCLA standout was pressed into duty against Baltimore on Oct. 1 when Deshaun Watson was ruled out a few hours before kickoff with a shoulder strain. The Ravens overwhelmed Thompson-Robinson, piling up three interceptions and four sacks in a 28-3 win.

With Watson out for the season after fracturing his shoulder last week against the Ravens, Thompson-Robinson believes he’s better prepared this time. He said he’s taken note of how Brock Purdy, the San Francisco 49ers’ second-year QB, Stroud and other rookies protect the ball.

“I think the biggest thing is they’re playing clean football, not giving the ball away,” he said. “And by doing that, they’re having clean feet, clean progressions, getting the ball out (of) their hands into their playmakers’ hands and they’re doing the job for them, making them look good. So I’m trying to do the same.”

Mueller said Thompson-Robinson has some upside “but is not ready for prime time.”

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Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed 19 of 36 passes in his first start of the season for 121 yards. (Ken Blaze / USA Today)

Hall’s first start was not one to cherish. The 25-year-old, a fifth-round pick from BYU, went out with a concussion in the first quarter against the Falcons on Nov. 5 after taking a big hit on a run near the goal line and appearing to hit his head on the ground. Josh Dobbs replaced Hall and has led the Vikings to a pair of victories following Kirk Cousins’ season-ending Achilles injury.

Tune did not look like he belonged during his only start — a 27-0 loss to the Browns in Week 9 in which he was sacked seven times, threw a pair of interceptions and coughed up a fumble. Tune, a fifth-round pick out of Houston, completed 11 of 20 passes against Cleveland for 58 yards.

But even with Kyler Murray back from his ACL injury, it appears the 6-3, 220-pound Tune has a role in the Cardinals’ offense as their “tush push” guy. Tune scored on a 1-yard run in that formation last week against Atlanta and was in for a fake sneak that resulted in an Arizona first down.

DeVito gained national acclaim last week before his first start at Dallas when it was revealed the 25-year-old still lives with his parents at their home in northern New Jersey not far from MetLife Stadium. The Cinderella story landed with a thud in Texas when the Giants were routed 49-17 by the Cowboys. The undrafted DeVito threw for 86 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception, and also ran for 41 yards. With Tyrod Taylor still out, DeVito will get another start Sunday against Washington.

Mueller called Tune and DeVito “practice-squad guys” who were thrust into action. “They’re not up to the speed of the game yet,” he added. “They’re projects currently.”

(Top photos of Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson: Getty Images)

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