Out of over 1,000 players released in the NFL this week, two who got the most attention were quarterbacks Matt Corral and Bailey Zappe from the Panthers and Patriots, respectively. You probably know of these players and you probably heard of their releases and you may have even held out hope that the Los Angeles Rams would be inquiring on either as a claim.
It shouldn’t possibly because you have any expectations that either of them will turn into NFL starters based on their position and draft pick value. There’s just no good evidence to support that.
Corral was a third round pick and Bailey Zappe was a fourth round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, which was considered at the time (and should still be seen this way today) as one of the weakest quarterback classes in the modern draft era. Kenny Pickett of the Steelers was the only quarterback to be selected in the top-70—that’s first and second round—and teams are so obsessed with finding franchise quarterbacks that only a historically underwhelming “draft season” of watching film and combine tests could explain why 2022 resulted in almost every franchise passing on almost every QB in the class.
The fact that Corral and Zappe were released just a year later despite being on cheap rookie contracts only emphasizes the reality that despite really low expectations, they still couldn’t reach the bar of being a lottery ticket you hang onto, so why should another team? Zappe cleared waivers and is on the Patriots practice squad, so none of the other 31 teams were interested.
Now what you could point out is that four other quarterbacks in the 2022 class are slated to be Week 1 starters: Pickett, third rounder Desmond Ridder, fifth rounder Sam Howell, and Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy.
Well, let’s just put a pin on those four quarterbacks and re-evaluate to see where they are in two months. Pickett threw seven touchdowns in 13 games, Ridder and Howell barely played, and Purdy was the best of the bunch but must complete his “prove it” season with the 49ers without any sophomore hiccups.
We’ll see. But know that there are a lot more mid-to-late round quarterbacks who resemble Bailey Zappe than those who turn out careers like Kirk Cousins, Dak Prescott, or Russell Wilson.
2021 post-first round QBs
Kyle Trask (2nd round), Kellen Mond (3rd), Davis Mills (3rd), Ian Book (4th), Sam Ehlinger (6th)
Trask (backup), Mond (free agent), Mills (backup), Book (free agent), Ehlinger (3rd string QB)
2020 post-first round QBs
Jalen Hurts (2nd), Jacob Eason (4th), James Morgan (4th), Jake Fromm (5th), Jake Luton (6th), Cole McDonald (7th), Ben DiNucci (7th), Tommy Stevens (7th), Nate Stanley (7th)
Jalen Hurts (starter), Eason (FA), Morgan (FA), Fromm (practice squad), Luton (FA), McDonald (FA), DiNucci (practice squad), Stevens (FA), Stanley (FA)
2019 post-first round QBs
Drew Lock (2nd), Will Grier (3rd), Ryan Finley (4th), Jarrett Stidham (4th), Easton Stick (5th), Clayton Thorson (5th), Gardner Minshew (6th), Trace McSorley (6th)
Lock (backup), Grier (practice squad), Finley (FA), Stidham (backup), Stick (backup), Thorson (FA), Minshew (backup), McSorley (FA)
So looking just at the previous three years to 2022, we see that out of 22 drafted quarterbacks, there is one starter—who was picked in the middle of the second round—and seven other players on a 53-man roster, with 14 players who are either free agents or on a practice squad.
This isn’t just players who ended up as free agents after four or five years in the league with teams making attempts to “fix” them or to get the potential out of them that other teams couldn’t. These players either couldn’t make a team as a rookie or in most cases given up on within 18 months of the draft.
So even if the 2022 draft does have four starters in Week 1, and three of them were picked after the second round, the odds of Ridder, Howell, and Purdy being starters in 2024 are still low. We only need to look at Gardner Minshew, Drew Lock, and Davis Mills as examples of quarterbacks who were given opportunities to start for teams in Week 1 and now what are they considered?
“He’s a good backup!”
Which is okay. That’s what the expectation should be for quarterbacks who were picked on day three.
Wilson, Cousins, Prescott
If you go back to 2009 and take every single quarterback who was drafted after the second round, you will find only three who proved to become starters: Russell Wilson (3rd round, 2012), Kirk Cousins (4th round, 2012), and Dak Prescott (4th round, 2016).
Maybe Purdy becomes the next, I can’t say. I like to go with facts instead of predictions and the only fact here is that not since Prescott has there been a successful quarterback picked after the second round. That was seven years ago.
The absolute next best examples dating back to 2009 are Trevor Siemian, Davis Mills, Tyrod Taylor, Jacoby Brissett, Gardner Minshew, Colt McCoy, Nick Foles, and Mike Glennon. That’s the second tier of post-second round quarterbacks. That’s the SECOND tier.
“But no, I see that 2023 has produced a half-dozen awesome QBs on day three!”
As seems to be the case every single year, we have conveniently forgotten or ignored the past and were too impatient to find out what happens in actual regular season games. Case in point being that Aidan O’Connell (4th round), Dorian Thompson-Robinson (5th), Sean Clifford (5th), Jaren Hall (5th), Tanner McKee (6th), and Jake Haener (4th) have all gotten “good to great” grades for their preseason performances.
Meanwhile Clayton Tune (5th) didn’t get good grades but because the Cardinals want to make sure that they do pick the first quarterback in 2024, he is reportedly preparing to start in Week 1 against Washington. That’s no more exciting for Cardinals fans than it was for Texans fans to live through Davis Mills.
Seventh round pick Max Duggan has already been released and is on the Chargers practice squad. And the Rams pick, Stetson Bennett, is still slated to be Matthew Stafford’s backup in Week 1 against the Seahawks. He didn’t play well in the preseason and anyone is welcome to dismiss those errors as “growing pains” or “it’s only the preseason” which is fine. Do that.
But don’t ignore that even if Bennett was great in the preseason that the odds of him becoming a starter for the Rams are extremely low and they always were.
I know, quarterback is the most important and exciting position in football. Every single time a team adds one, it’s a story. Even when a team drops one like Bailey Zappe and makes it loud and clear to the league that they’re not going to use a roster spot on a cheap quarterback, it’s a story.
Should it be?