Tom Rudawky is a former NFL scout for the New York Giants who previously worked in football operations for the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings. He now writes for The 33rd Team among other publications. Find him on Twitter @TRudy831
It’s been a wild offseason on the QB carousel, with high profile quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and Matt Ryan being traded to new teams. Many franchises have made clear, definitive decisions at the most important position, putting a lot of pressure on themselves to be on the right end of those decisions, or else jobs could be lost. However, as we head into the Draft later this month, there are still some teams that absolutely must come away with a young quarterback, whether in round one or a couple rounds later. Below, we highlight the five teams who need to operate with the most urgency once draft day comes around.
After striking out on the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, no team faces more pressure to acquire a quarterback than the Panthers. After a 3-0 start to the 2021 season, the Panthers bottomed out and only won two more games the rest of the year, finishing with a 5-12 mark. Much of that losing was due to poor play by Sam Darnold, who hardly deserves another shot to be their starter going forward. The heat is also on for Matt Rhule. After compiling a 10-23 record in his first two seasons as an NFL head coach, Rhule must win more games in 2022, or he’s likely to face the music. Getting better QB play is essential for this team.
While the Panthers could also target an offensive tackle with their sixth overall pick, it stands to reason that they will likely target one of the draft’s top QBs. Carolina must be strong and assertive in their pursuit for a young signal-caller with the QB-needy Lions at second overall and the rebuilding Giants — who could be looking to move back and accrue more draft capital — sitting at fifth overall.
Watch out for Kenny Pickett here — Rhule and Pickett have history together as Pickett committed to play for Rhule at Temple before he left to take the Baylor head coaching job, causing Pickett to de-commit and choose Pittsburgh.
Second-year General Manager Brad Holmes faces a pivotal decision this year with the second overall pick. While there are no surefire franchise QBs in this year’s draft, the Lions must start to accelerate this rebuild, and this is a prime opportunity to get their face of the franchise. After all, if the Lions make improvements in 2022, they may not be in position to draft one in 2023.
It’s a tough decision for Holmes, as you hate to spend the second overall pick on a player they may not love. But at the same time, it’s hard to see a scenario where the Lions become a contender with Jared Goff steering the ship. There’s some things to like about what Holmes has done so far in building up Detroit’s roster, but it’s unlikely he’ll see great return on those investments if the QB play continues to lag behind.
To Malik Willis’ credit, he’s done a great job taking advantage of big stages such as the Senior Bowl, combine, and pro day to distinguish himself from the rest of the class. But do the Lions like him enough to spend the second overall pick on him? Especially when there will be multiple impact pass rushers available – which is also a big need for Detroit. It’s a decision Holmes has roughly three weeks to make, and one that’s going to impact the Lions franchise for years to come. Regardless, the Lions must come away from April’s draft with another quarterback in the fold.
With Ben Roethlisberger retiring, the Steelers are in a key transitional phase with finding their next quarterback of the future. They stepped up in free agency and signed QB Mitch Trubisky to a two-year contract, despite other teams vying for his services. Trubisky is a good signing and is still a developing player with a lot of talent. However, in a loaded AFC with QBs such as Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Wilson, and Watson (just to name a few), can the Steelers truly contend for a championship with Trubisky as their QB1? It seems like a tall order, even with a stingy defense like Pittsburgh possesses.
The question remains – is there a quarterback in this draft that Pittsburgh can realistically draft that would be a clear upgrade over Trubisky? It would likely require a trade up into the top 10 picks or so.
With Pickett being a local prospect, the Steelers certainly have all the intel they need on him. It feels unlikely that they can trade all the way up to get Willis, unless Detroit passes on a QB and Willis starts falling. If Pittsburgh stays put, that leaves prospects such as Sam Howell and Matt Corral as potential options at number 20 overall. The Steelers are a very well-run organization with a solid front office – they don’t often reach for players simply due to positional need. However, given the strength of the competition around them, they must come out of this draft with another young option at quarterback to compete with, and eventually beat out, Trubisky.
Like the Steelers, the Falcons are also in a transitional phase at the quarterback position after the departure of longtime starter Matt Ryan. Following the Ryan trade, General Manager Terry Fontenot signed Marcus Mariota to a two-year contract. In Mariota, the Falcons are getting one of the better backup QBs in the league and a player that could lead a productive offense if the situation around him is strong. Fontenot is in a similar position to Holmes – a second-year GM with a roster that needs improvement and now, an uncertain quarterback situation.
While Mariota is capable of playing winning football, the Falcons must add another young QB at some point in the first few rounds. It’s understandable to not want to spend number eight overall on a signal-caller in a so-called “weak” class, but Atlanta should see if they can strike lightning in a bottle and uncover a difference-making player. Watch out for a guy like Desmond Ridder in the second round – Atlanta owns multiple second rounders and has the draft capital to take a chance at a potential upgrade over Mariota.
Having traded Wilson to the Broncos, the Seahawks now have a major void at QB on a roster that is devoid of talent in other areas – especially on the defensive side. For a few years now, Wilson was the glue that held everything together and kept Seattle right in the thick of things in the NFC. Now that he’s gone, it puts a lot of pressure on everyone else to step up, including General Manager John Schneider. While the Seahawks got Drew Lock from the Broncos in the Wilson trade, there is a lot to be desired from the 2019 second round pick from Missouri.
As currently constructed, it’s hard to see the Seahawks contending in 2022, meaning they must start to look at ways to set themselves up for the future. With four picks in the top 72, there’s plenty of opportunity to do so. It would be wise to spend one of those assets to acquire another young quarterback, in the hopes that they too, can catch lightning in a bottle – just like they did with Wilson.