2022 NFL preseason rookie QB roundup: Desmond Knight, Kenny Pickett, Sam Howell shine; Matt Corral struggles

Week 1 of the preseason always brings excitement with football returning, especially as teams get their first look at the rookies on their roster. This year’s rookie quarterback class wasn’t as strong as it has been in years past, but many of the young signal callers got their first taste of NFL action this weekend.

Kenny Pickett, the only quarterback to be taken in the first round this year, is competing for the starting quarterback job with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Desmond Ridder may be the starter down the line for the Atlanta Falcons, while Matt Corral and Sam Howell wait patiently with the Carolina Panthers and Washington Commanders, respectively.

While not a rookie, Trey Lance goes into the season as the No. 1 quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Given how little Lance has played in the past two seasons (one in college and one in the NFL), let’s group Lance with the rookie signal callers for this experiment.

The following is a breakdown of how all the starting quarterbacks fared this weekend—with a special exception for Lance.

Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers, sophomore year)

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Playing just 11 snaps was enough for 49ers fans to get a glimpse of what Lance brings on offense as he completed 4 out of 5 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. Lance threw a perfect deep pass to Danny Gray for a 76-yard score to end his night, giving the 49ers a 10-7 lead as he left the field.

Lance finished with a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in his debut as the No. 1 quarterback, with the 49ers scoring on both of his possessions. The 49ers have no plans to play Lance next week, so this could be it for him this preseason.

Not a bad cameo appearance.

Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh Steelers)

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What an impressive performance from Pickett, who took over for the Steelers in the second half of his debut. Fighting for the starting quarterback job, Pickett came into play after Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph, but finished 13 of 15 for 95 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions (132.6 rating).

Pickett threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Tyler Vaughns with three seconds left to give Pittsburgh a 32-25 win over Seattle. The pass went for 24 yards, while Vaughns used his yards-after-the-catch skill to find the end zone.

Maybe Pickett will move the depth chart next week.

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Willis showed flashes in his Titans debut, finishing 6 for 11 for 107 yards (88.1 rating) with a hasty touchdown in his two and a half quarters of an hour action. Also with five carries for 38 yards, Willis demonstrated his dual-threat abilities at quarterback — but ran a little too much for Mike Vrabel’s liking.

The Tennessee head coach pulled Willis out of the game midway through a drive in the third quarter because he wanted his quarterback to throw the ball.

“He should try to throw the ball when the guys are open,” said Vrabel. “Be more decisive, so we’ll evaluate that and see if there’s a timing issue or what’s going on. I wanted to get him out there and see how he reacted. He did well. There were some good plays. we’ll have to look at the timing of the release and whether we’re making the right decisions.”

Desmond Knight (Atlanta Falcons)

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Knight arguably had the best performance of any rookie quarterback in Week 1, although the third-round Cincinnati won’t win the Atlanta runway. He made a great first impression, finishing 10 of 22 for 103 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (89.8 rating), while also leading the Falcons with six carries for 59 yards.

In addition to his strong play, Ridder threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jared Bernhardt on fourth and 9 with 1:30 remaining to give the Falcons a 27-23 victory over the Detroit Lions. Head coach Arthur Smith may have something to think about with his starting quarterback in the coming weeks as Knight continues his strong game.

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Howell had an impressive debut for Washington, finishing 9 of 16 for 145 yards (86.7 rating), while also rushing for two touchdowns (three carries for 19 yards). He juked a pair of defenders on his 17-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter and also scored on a 1-yard run to put Washington on a run with 2:26 to play.

Howell is listed as the #3 quarterback behind Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke, but the fifth round pick showed flashes of why he was considered a top-10 pick at this point a year ago.

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Mississippi’s third-round pick was 1 of 9 for 11 yards for Carolina, but led the Panthers on the scoring drive that resulted in Zane Gonzalez’s 45-yard field goal in the last minute. Corral is the #3 quarterback behind Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold as the pair battle for a runway.

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No matter how the play-calling duties were divided, Zappe had an impressive performance for the Patriots in his debut. His 20-yard touchdown pass to Lil’Jordan Humphrey gave New England a 21-20 fourth-quarter lead against the New York Giants—the culmination of a 19 for 32 show.

Zappe came into play midway through the second quarter, throwing 205 yards with a touchdown and an interception (75.6 rating). The Patriots scored two touchdowns on his eight possessions.

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Brown, an unwritten free agent signed with the Ravens, came into the game in the second half of Baltimore’s 23-10 win over Tennessee. Brown finished 10 of 15 for 117 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions (90.1 rating), leading the Ravens to field goals on all three of his possessions.

With Lamar Jackson not playing the opening preseason game, Brown relieved Tyler Huntley to open the second half. He is fighting for the No. 3 quarterback job at Brett Hundley.

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An undrafted free agent, the former Washington state quarterback went 7 of 10 for 54 yards and a fourth quarter touchdown for the Cardinals. Guarantano also had four carries for 10 yards in the win.

Guarantano played the second half, leading the Cardinals on two touchdown drives. He is the fourth quarterback on the Arizona depth chart.

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Plitt, an unwritten free agent rookie for the Bengals, led Cincinnati on an impressive 11-play, 94-yard drive in its only run late in the fourth quarter. He capped the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Kendric Pryor and finished the night 6 of 6 for 76 yards with a perfect passer rating of 158.3.

Plitt is currently the fourth string quarterback on the Bengal depth chart, but may have played a part in the overweight for the No. 3 job.

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Iowa State’s seventh-round draft pick finished 3 of 6 for 36 yards and a touchdown (106.6 rating) in his only series for the 49ers. With Jimmy Garoppolo in the trading bloc, Purdy has a chance to make the roster as the No. 3 quarterback — which he listed in week 1 of the preseason.

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Crum finished 6 of 11 for 18 yards (60.0 rating), entering the game midway through the third quarter for Kansas City. The former Kent State quarterback was an unwritten free agent signed by the Chiefs, but it’s a long shot to make the roster as the No. 4 quarterback now.

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Coan finished 1 of 5 for 0 yards in clearing duty for Indianapolis. The Wisconsin and Notre Dame undrafted free agent is the fourth quarterback on the depth chart, behind Sam Ehlinger for the No. 3 job.

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Thompson played the entire game for the Dolphins, finishing 20-of-28 for 218 yards and a touchdown in the 26-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The seventh round pick hit Lynn Bowden on a 22-yard pass in the second quarter for the score.

The No. 3 quarterback got a good look at the preseason opener.

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