There's always a handful of quarterbacks that are entering a given season looking to establish themselves as a bonafide star and franchise cornerstone for the foreseeable future. And 2023 is no exception to that. While the likes of Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Jalen Hurts are already household names, there are a select few signal-callers where the jury is still out as to where they rank among their peers. That was the case for Hurts entering last season and the Eagles quarterback was able to answer the bell by turning himself into an MVP candidate. Who will that be in 2023? That's what we'll try to decipher.
Below, we've collected seven non-rookie quarterbacks that are still largely unproven entering this season. While some have more starts under their belts than others, each is entering the 2023 season looking to show the NFL that they belong in their respective starting spot. As we comb through these signal-callers, we'll rank them from most least likely to most likely to succeed.
7. Sam Howell
Howell is going to be fascinating to watch play this season. The 2022 fifth-round pick out of UNC played in just one game last season and was able to help the Commanders to a Week 18 win over Dallas. In that start, his completion percentage (57.89%) left little to be desired but was able to make plays with his feet rushing for 35 yards and a touchdown. Washington didn't enter the QB fray this offseason by way of the NFL Draft or by making any major swing in the trade or free agent market (signed Jacoby Brissett in mid-March), so Howell does have the inside track to be the team's Week 1 starter.
He's on a team that has a solid array of skill position players, ranging from wide receivers Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel, along with running backs Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson. Howell will also be playing under new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who the Commanders hired this offseason. While those are some of the ingredients for success, Washington's offensive line is a bit suspect. Pro Football Focus recently ranked the unit 27th in the league and is possibly looking at four new starters in 2023. For a young quarterback looking at his first season as the full-time starter, protection is going to be key and I'm quite sure Howell will get it.
Ridder was selected by Atlanta in the third round in 2022 out of Cincinnati and, like Howell, was afforded some starting reps down the stretch. He received four starts over the Falcons final four games of the year and he did seem to get more comfortable as the year progressed. His passer rating increased over each of his four starts, including a Week 18 win over Tampa Bay where he registered a 108.2 passer rating and threw for two touchdowns.
The Falcons have spent the offseason bolstering its roster and have continued to add hyper-athletic players at the skill position. In years past, Atlanta has drafted tight end Kyle Pitts and wideout Drake London and just used the No. 8 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to bring in running back Bijan Robinson. Robinson's arrival gives Ridder a tremendously deep backfield that also consists of second-year back Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson. Given head coach Arthur Smith's affinity to run the football, that trio can't be overlooked in Atlanta's overall prospects to compete in 2023 and a successful run game will also do wonders to take pressure off of Ridder. Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller are also two intriguing offseason additions as secondary pass-catchers that'll now be at Ridder's disposal.
While Ridder and Howell are in somewhat similar circumstances coming into this season as full-time starters for the first time, the biggest difference between their setups could arguably be the offensive line. Atlanta's unit was recently ranked seventh-best in the league by PFF, and 2023 second-round pick Matthew Bergeron has a chance to be a Day 1 starter for the club at left guard.
Kenny Pickett was the only quarterback taken in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft and the Pitt product had himself a solid first season in the league. He officially became the team's starter in Week 5 and had Pittsburgh above .500 (7-6) in his 13 starts the rest of the way. Pickett's accuracy was a bit questionable throughout the year and he didn't have a single multi-passing touchdown game last year, so there are certainly still some areas for him to grow.
At the skill positions, Pickett has Diontae Johnson and second-year wideout George Pickens, along with offseason acquisition Allen Robinson. There's also Najee Harris in the backfield and Patt Freiermuth, who is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league, so he has no shortage of weapons. It also doesn't hurt that Pittsburgh's defense is routinely among the best in the league, which should take pressure off of Pickett on offense. What will be interesting to watch unfold is the left side of Pittsburgh's offensive line. The team drafted Broderick Jones in the first round and is expected to be Pickett's left tackle on Day 1. The Steelers also signed Isaac Seumalo in free agency.
Of course, there's also the Matt Canada variable to Pickett's development. It's been a tumultuous two seasons for the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh after taking over for Randy Fichtner in 2020, but the team did decide to retain him for 2023. Last year, Canada's offense finished 26th in scoring, 24th in passing, 16th in rushing, and 23rd in red zone efficiency, and those numbers may not even tell the entire story of how lackluster the offense as a whole looked throughout the year. There was some improvement in the second half of the year where the offense scored at least 20 points in five of their final nine games following the Week 9 bye. If Canada's offense takes a step back, that could be bad news for Pickett.
4. Mac Jones
Mac Jones got a raw deal in 2022 thanks to New England's decision to have Matt Patricia run the offense. The offensive approach was elementary at times, which led to the Patriots having the lowest red zone offense in the league while also ranking 27th on third down. It also didn't help that Jones suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 3 that threw a wrench into his sophomore season even further and contributed to a bit of quarterback controversy with Bailey Zappe. Bill Belichick has since corrected that mistake at the offensive play-caller spot by hiring Bill O'Brien as the offensive coordinator. O'Brien's presence alone should have a night-and-day impact on New England's offense and the team also also added some high-upside pass-catching weapons this offseason like JuJu Smith-Schustter and Mike Gesicki.
With those weapons, stability at the coaching positions, and a top-10 defense to protect him, Jones is set up far better than what he was dealing with a year ago. That said, the offensive line is the last major question in terms of him succeeding in 2023. New England didn't make any major splashes toward improving the O-line and currently have Trent Brown and Riley Reiff as their potential starting tackles. For a quarterback like Jones that needs time in the pocket to make an impact, leaving the tackle spot a bit bare is a gamble.
3. Jordan Love
It's finally Jordan Love's time in Green Bay after the Packers traded Aaron Rodgers to the Jets this offseason, paving the way for the former first-round pick to be the full-time starter. Love has appeared sparingly throughout his career and did start a Week 9 game for Green Bay as a rookie in 2021. More recently, Love did complete six of his nine passes for 113 yards and a touchdown in limited time against the Eagles in Week 12 of last season. While his playing time wasn't consistent, Love has been able to marinate inside of Matt LaFleur's offense over the past two seasons, so he should be extremely comfortable within the system, giving him a leg up as he begins his career as a starter.
Love also has an intriguing roster around him. His offensive line ranks 8th in the NFL, per PFF, and has a dynamic two-headed monster in the backfield that he can lean on in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. At the pass-catcher spots, the Packers did lose Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb in the migration of players joining Rodgers in New York but still have promising second-year receivers in Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs.
We already know that Justin Fields can be lethal with his legs. He became just the third quarterback in NFL history to rush for a thousand yards in a season, but it's his passing that still needs some refining, which is something GM Ryan Poles pointed out in his end-of-the-year press conference.
Since then, the Bears have put Fields in a position to succeed in that area by trading the No. 1 overall pick in exchange for a number of assets, including receiver D.J. Moore. As we've seen with some quarterbacks in the past like Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia, adding a dynamic young receiver (Like A.J. Brown) can drastically help their development in the passing game, and Chicago is banking that Moore can have a similar impact. Along with Moore, the Bears have a solid receiver room with Chase Claypool, D.J. Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown, and rookie speedster Tyler Scott. Cole Kmet is a decent pass-catching tight end and running back Khalil Herbert is primed for a breakout season as well.
One of the key questions will be Chicago's ability to protect Fields when he does drop back to pass. He was sacked a league-high 55 times last season and the O-line ranked at the bottom of the league in adjusted sack rate. The club did draft Tennessee tackle Darnell Wright in the first round of the Draft, which should help elevate the unit.
1. Brock Purdy
Mr. Irrelevant surprised everyone with his play in 2022. After being thrust into the starting role thanks to injuries to both Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, Purdy not only was able to keep San Francisco afloat, but the offense was humming under his watch. He was 5-0 as a starter during the regular season and had a 107.3 passer rating throughout the year. Purdy's strong play continued in the playoffs and was able to bring the 49ers to the NFC Championship before suffering an elbow injury in that contest, which left him ineffective. He's since gone through surgery to repair the injury and to be ready for the start of the year.
Health permitting, Purdy is in the best spot imaginable out of these young quarterbacks. He plays under an offensive mastermind in Kyle Shannahan and seemed to have no problems running his offense as a seventh-round rookie. Now that he has more experience within the system, he should only improve. Meanwhile, he has top-tier weapons at the skill positions in tight end George Kittle and wideout Deebo Samuel along with a dynamic running game headlined by Christian McCaffrey. So long as Purdy can bounce back from the elbow injury, he should continue his astounding ascent and have San Francisco in the thick of the Super Bowl conversation.