Justin Fields is seemingly everyone's favorite pick to be the next Jalen Hurts, and Jordan Love is the popular pick to become, well, the next Aaron Rodgers. I'm on board with those comparisons, but let's go a little more under-the-radar and look at five surprise picks at QB to put up big numbers in 2023.
Purdy was Mr. Irrelevant, so it doesn't get any more under-the-radar than that. He will open the season as the 49ers' starting QB and has fully recovered from offseason elbow surgery. He also led the NFL in touchdown passes and yards per pass attempt in his first five career starts from Weeks 14-18 last season. He has all the pieces he needs to put up big numbers if he stays healthy – offensive mastermind Kyle Shanahan, perhaps the best group of offensive skill players in the league and Trent Williams blocking his blindside. He has 40-1 odds to lead the NFL in touchdown passes. Since he led the NFL over a short span last season, it might be worth taking a flier!
Goff will always be a little bit under-the-radar after the Rams traded him with two first-round picks to get Matthew Stafford. It's taken some time, but Goff has rebuilt his reputation as a quality starting QB in the National Football League after his second-half surge in 2022, something he can build on in 2023. He enters the season with 324 straight passes without an interception, the longest streak in Lions history. He has a good offensive line, anchored by Penei Sewell, a go-to wideout in Amon-Ra St. Brown and a new weapon in first-round pick Jahmyr Gibbs. Gibbs could be a valuable gadget player in Detroit's offense after leading all SEC RB in yards per touch (7.0) last season, while playing nearly 100 snaps at wide receiver. Once Jameson Williams returns from his six-game gambling suspension the Lions' offense could really be humming.
Jones' numbers hardly jumped off the stat sheet in 2022. He threw for 15 touchdown passes, but you have to remember he was playing with a subpar offensive line and a below average group of pass catchers. He also had the second-shortest average throw distance in the NFL last season, a number that's gone down in every career season.
That number should spike in 2023 which could result in some gaudier statistics. Jones threw for 24 touchdown passes in 13 games as a rookie while his average throw distance was 19th in the NFL, much closer to the league average. I expect him to air it out more in his second season with Brian Daboll thanks to the trade for Darren Waller, who led all tight ends in catches 20-plus yards downfield last year despite missing eight games. New York also drafted a home-run hitter in Jalin Hyatt, a third-round pick and 2022 Biletnikoff winner (best WR in the nation) at Tennessee. He caught 10-of-16 targets thrown 30-plus yards downfield last year.
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With two new downfield threats, Jones could put up eye-popping numbers. Only nine different QBs in NFL history have thrown 25 touchdown passes and run for 500 yards in a season. I'd say Jones has an outside shot at it in 2023.
I see parallels to two players that give Richardson a path to some video game numbers in 2023, at least on the ground. Only two rookie QBs in NFL history have averaged 50 rushing yards per game: Robert Griffin III and Josh Allen. Richardson could find himself in that kind of company after leading all FBS QBs in yards per rush in 2022.
RGIII played for Mike and Kyle Shanahan in 2012, who used a zone-read option offense to take the NFL by storm. Griffin III threw 20 touchdown passes to just five interceptions while rushing for 815 yards and seven scores on the ground. The run-pass option style Shane Steichen brings over from Philadelphia could help Richardson make a quick transition.
Josh Allen was touted for his arm strength and athleticism, not for his polished passing coming out of Wyoming in 2018. He still ran for 631 yards in 12 games as a rookie. We may not know what Richardson can offer with his arm just yet, but he could make noise with his legs this season, especially if backfield partner Jonathan Taylor plays.
Howell is a dark horse pick. The fifth-round selection in the 2022 draft will open the season as the Commanders' starting QB. I expect plenty of inconsistency from Howell in 2023, but he does possess the dual-threat and big-play ability to put up big numbers from time to time.
He has three things working in his favor to fill up the stat sheet in 2023:
- Dual-threat skills: He ran for 829 yards in 2021 at North Carolina, third among FBS QBs behind Malik Cunningham and Malik Willis. He ran for 35 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut for the Commanders in Week 18 last season.
- Downfield threat: Howell will take deep shots. He completed a pass to Terry McLaurin in Week 18 that traveled 52 yards downfield, the longest completion through the air by a Washington player since Robert Griffin III in 2012.
- Eric Bieniemy: Patrick Mahomes isn't walking through the door anytime soon, but his former offensive coordinator is. Things could open for Howell if Bieniemy brings over the pass-happy offense with half the wrinkles the Chiefs had. Of course, the Commanders could choose to run the ball often like last year and rely on their defense to win games, but Bieniemy does give Howell some upside.