Getty Images

The path to NFL stardom is not the same for every rookie quarterback. Patrick Mahomes sat nearly all of his first season as Alex Smith led the Chiefs while eventual Offensive Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud was a revelation from the beginning. 

In total, nine rookie quarterbacks made at least one start during the 2023 season. Gazing into the crystal ball, here is when fans should expect this year's six first-round selections to make their respective NFL debuts: 

Caleb Williams, Bears (Round 1, No. 1 overall)

There is no drama in the Windy City. Williams has already been named the starting quarterback in Chicago. The organization has been preparing for his arrival long before he was actually picked No. 1 overall. Former first-round selection Justin Fields was traded to Pittsburgh leaving Tyson Bagent, Brett Rypien and Austin Reed as his primary competition. 

Williams is taking every opportunity to spend time with his teammates both on and off the field. When training camp arrives, he will get all of the starting repetitions as the Bears prepare for the 2024 season. 

Projection: Sept. 8 vs. Titans (Week 1)

Jayden Daniels, Commanders (Round 1, No. 2 overall)

Washington has a bit more of an encumbrance in the path of Jayden Daniels starting Week 1 with the presence of veterans Marcus Mariota and Jeff Driskel. However, it would be a shock if it was not the LSU product on the field ushering in the Dan Quinn era. Daniels is a dual-threat quarterback and that mobile skill set will buy him time as he becomes more comfortable with the speed of the game and understanding how quickly windows close at this level.

Mariota started 13 games in 2022 for the 7-10 Falcons. Prior to that exposure, he had not started since October 2019, which was his final season with the organization that drafted him. Daniels was the No. 2 overall selection just as Mariota had been.

Projection: Sept. 8 at Buccaneers (Week 1)

Drake Maye, Patriots (Round 1, No. 3 overall)

New England is a bit of a tricky situation. Jacoby Brissett is the best competing quarterback to this point. It would not be a surprise if he held off Maye for the entirety of the 2024 regular season. Brissett signed a one-year deal in New England; potentially serving as an opportunity to show that he deserves another opportunity to start in this league. Brissett is the consummate teammate and will turn over the keys to Maye whenever that time inevitably arrives.

The franchise does not have its bye until Week 14 so it is a little late in the season to be experimenting. The trade deadline is Nov. 5 so it would not be shocking if Brissett was moved in a deal, which opens up Week 10 against Caleb Williams and the Bears to be Maye's first NFL start. The Patriots are not expected to thrive this season so they could make the move to Maye at any time. 

Brissett is assumed to stay in this scenario and Maye would make his debut Nov. 17 at home against the Rams. Four of the final seven games are at home with the off week in there to recalibrate and create a plan for the remaining games. It is an opportunity for the rookie to create some positive momentum heading into the offseason. Brissett's short-term deal suggests that the Patriots want the North Carolina product to be in a position to take ownership of the team in Year 2.

Projection: Nov. 17 vs. Rams (Week 11)

Michael Penix Jr., Falcons (Round 1, No. 8 overall)

Four years, $180 million, including $100 million guaranteed: those are the terms of the lucrative contract signed with Atlanta by Kirk Cousins in March. The Falcons see themselves as a contender in the NFC. The division is relatively weak and the offense is well-positioned to take a big step forward in Zac Robinson's first season calling plays. 

Cousins is coming off a torn Achilles suffered in Week 8. It is a difficult injury from which to return but the organization and player have stated that they anticipate him returning to full form in time for training camp. Where does that leave Penix? Barring an injury, fans should not expect to see the rookie this season. Given the financial investment, the organization is reasonably committed to the veteran for at least two seasons. 

Projection: No starts as a rookie

J.J. McCarthy, Vikings (Round 1, No. 10 overall)

The Vikings' initial move to replace Cousins was the signing of Sam Darnold. The former No. 3 overall selection continues his journey from Carolina to San Francisco and now Minnesota since leaving the Big Apple. There is still a measured amount of confidence in Darnold among the McVay-Shanahan community, which may mean they do not take their new car out of the garage for quite some time. 

The Vikings seem pretty self-aware as they build toward the future so the expectations for this season alone should not be unreasonable. McCarthy walks into a relatively relaxed situation as far as quarterback rooms are concerned. Darnold may hold on to the job for awhile but history suggests that it is only a matter of time before the franchise looks in another direction. 

By starting McCarthy Week 7 coming off the bye, it gives head coach Kevin O'Connell two weeks to prepare his rookie quarterback for his first meeting with the division rival Lions. The Vikings could also opt to wait until Week 13 when four of the final six games will be played at home.

Projection: Oct. 20 vs. Lions (Week 7)

Bo Nix, Broncos (Round 1, No. 12 overall)

The past year has been about Sean Payton proving that he is the smartest man in the league. There were the media barbs at former head coach Nathaniel Hackett and the fallout with veteran quarterback Russell Wilson. The organization then used the No. 12 overall selection on the draft's sixth quarterback, Nix, who was not viewed by many as a first-round selection. A social media campaign to justify the selection began in earnest and it created potentially unfair expectations for the rookie quarterback. 

I have no reason to wish ill will toward Payton or Nix. In fact, I hope Nix proves doubters wrong and is wildly successful. However, it can not be overstated how much Payton, who has been lauded for his work with quarterbacks, has riding on the success of Nix. For that reason, it is likely that the rookie is on the field Week 1 rather than Jarrett Stidham or Zach Wilson

Projection: Sept. 8 at Seahawks (Week 1)