One of the biggest advantages an NFL team can have in 2023 is a quarterback on a rookie contract. You still need your quarterback to actually play well, of course, but a player at the league's highest-paid position making a relative pittance compared to his peers is easier to surround with high-caliber talent.
With that in mind, we're going to take a look at what teams with rookie-scale quarterbacks did in the draft to help those players. We'll break things down by class, working from this year's picks back to the players selected in 2020. (The class of 2019 is headed into the final year of its rookie contract, but also already getting ready to sign its extensions, as we have already seen with Jalen Hurts. Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and potentially Tua Tagovailoa's deals cannot be far behind.)
Without further ado...
Class of 2023: Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson, Will Levis
The Carolina Panthers sacrificed much of their available draft capital to move up for Bryce Young in the first place, and filled out most of the infrastructure around him with free agents and previously-drafted players. That said, they did take a cue from many recent teams who had the No. 1 pick, and selected a wide receiver at the top of the second round in Jonathan Mingo. At 6-2, 225 pounds, Mingo is an enormous target for Young, and with D.J. Chark and Adam Thielen in place there won't be much pressure for him to be the top receiver on the team right away. Carolina also used a fourth-round pick on N.C. State's Chandler Zavala, who can provide depth on the interior and potentially develop into a starter.
The Texans sat at No. 2 and drafted Stroud, then made their big trade-up for Will Anderson. Due to the Deshaun Watson trade, they had plenty of draft capital still available, and used much of it to select two interior offensive linemen and two wideouts. Juice Scruggs is, as his name suggests, one of the strongest players in the draft, and he should slide in as this team's starting center right away. Teams often like to pair their young quarterbacks with veteran centers, so it'll be interesting to see how the Texans fare with two rookies at those positions. Tank Dell was one of the most productive receivers in the country last year, and despite his size (5-8, 165 pounds), is a fantastic playmaker all over the field. With him, sixth-round pick Xavier Hutchinson, and 2022 second-rounder John Metchie III joining Nico Collins and free-agent signings Robert Woods and Noah Brown, Houston has plenty of perimeter pass-catching options available for Stroud.
The most important thing the Colts did for Anthony Richardson was hire Shane Steichen, who has worked with both Justin Herbert (who has a similar size profile to Richardson) and Jalen Hurts (who has a similar skill set and athleticism) and helped take each of them to new heights. They also focused on drafting high-level athletes all over the field. Each of slot receiver Josh Downs, tackle Blake Freeland, running back Evan Hull, and tight end Will Mallory registered a Relative Athletic Score of 9.0 or better with their performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, and fit the mold for what should be a faster-paced, open-space offense with Richardson at the helm.
Will Levis lasted into the second round and will likely have the luxury of sitting behind Ryan Tannehill for at least part of the 2023 season, and that's probably to his benefit due to the lack of playmakers the Titans currently have on their roster. Beyond Derrick Henry, Treylon Burks, and Chigoziem Okonkwo, the cupboard is pretty bare. And the offensive line was in rough shape, too, which made the selection of Peter Skoronski in the first round necessary in the first place. Third-round running back Tyjae Spears is talented but reports have already indicated that he is missing part of his knee cartilage, which could limit his impact and durability.
Class of 2022: Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder, Sam Howell
The Steelers put one of the league's worst offensive lines in front of Kenny Pickett for much of last season, and thankfully made a few upgrades up front both in free agency (Isaac Seumalo) and the draft. Pittsburgh moved up three spots in the first round to land massive tackle Broderick Jones, selected the best blocking tight end in the draft in Darnell Washington (there was some thought that he could add weight and become a tackle, Jason Peters-style), and picked up some center depth in Spencer Anderson. With a solid pass-catching corps already in place, it made sense to focus on the trenches.
The Falcons eschewed taking a quarterback in the draft and instead picked a running back and two guards. They're going to trot out all the usual explanations about how Bijan Robinson is not just a running back, and how running the ball will protect the quarterback, and everything else. But this was a team that already ran the ball extremely effectively last year, with fifth-round pick Tyler Allgeier as the lead ball-carrier. Going with a back in Round 1 meant passing up a chance for a higher-impact player. Matthew Bergeron looks like a tackle-to-guard conversion coming into the NFL like Zack Martin and Brandon Scherff were. The track record of those moves is pretty good, and the Falcons should be able to get some quality play out of him on the inside.
Washington is strangely committed to Howell, and seems strangely fine with its offensive personnel despite having added only Andrew Wylie and Nick Gates in free agency. The Commies used a Day 2 pick on center Ricky Stromberg and a fourth-round selection on tackle Braeden Daniels, then added Chris Rodriguez to their backfield that already consists of Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson. There's probably not much in the way of impact talent here.
Class of 2021: Trevor Lawrence, The 49ers, Justin Fields, Mac Jones
The Jaguars had one of the most successful offseasons in terms of helping their quarterback last year, and spent a significant portion of their draft capital trying to do it again. After losing Jawaan Taylor in free agency and likely seeing Cam Robinson suspended, they traded down twice in the first round and still picked up Anton Harrison. With him, Robinson, and Walker Little, they should be able to find two quality starters. Not resting on the laurels of Evan Engram's first good season basically ever, the Jags added Brenton Strange at tight end. Travis Etienne doesn't necessarily have a "bell-cow running back" body, so Jacksonville added Tank Bigsby to help carry the load. And sixth-rounder Parker Washington has a chance to develop behind Calvin Ridley (acquired for this year's sixth-round pick and a fourth-rounder next year), Christian Kirk, and Zay Jones.
San Francisco barely had any picks thanks to the trade-up for Trey Lance, the trade for Christian McCaffrey, and several other roster moves, and added a pair of tight ends in Cameron Latu and Brayden Willis, plus a wide receiver in Ronnie Bell. There's really no telling which of them Kyle Shanahan will find a way to make into a big-time playmaker and which he'll decide he's done with sooner rather than later. That's just kind of how it goes with him.
Chicago's best move to help Justin Fields was the trade down from No. 1 to No. 9, which landed D.J. Moore and a ton of additional draft capital. The trade of their second-round pick for Chase Claypool was less successful, but he's at least still a talented player with a chance to contribute more in his second season with the team. Moving down one spot and selecting Darnell Wright gives the Bears a plug-and-play right tackle, solidifying that side of the line alongside free-agent signing Nate Davis. Fourth-round picks Tyler Scott and Roschon Johnson should at least play rotational roles at receiver and running back, respectively, and Johnson in particular has a chance to become a three-down back.
The Patriots did their typical Patriots thing, loading up on interior linemen (Sidy Sow, Jake Andrews, Antonio Mafi) before taking shots on a couple of late-round wide receivers (Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte). Given their track record, it seems reasonably to expect one or two of the linemen to become contributors and the receivers to flame out, but who knows.