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Grading NFL's Next Generation Of QBs: Steelers' Kenny Pickett Gets 'F' While 49ers' Brock Purdy Shines Week 1 | TheSportsDay Grading NFL's Next Generation Of QBs: Steelers' Kenny Pickett Gets 'F' While 49ers' Brock Purdy Shines Week 1 | TheSportsDay

Grading NFL’s next generation of QBs: Steelers’ Kenny Pickett gets ‘F’ while 49ers’ Brock Purdy shines Week 1

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The 2023 NFL Draft featured three quarterbacks off the board in the first four selections, and that trio started their respective NFL careers simultaneously Sunday. None of them emerged victorious, and it was very tough sledding for two of the rookie passers. 

Even though we only had one quarterback in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, that class now has four starters — Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder, Sam Howell, and, of course, Brock Purdy. 

A grand total of seven quarterbacks selected in the past two NFL draft classes saw considerable playing time during a thrilling but mostly low-scoring Week 1.

Let’s dive deep into the individual efforts of each quarterback and assign a grade on a per-snap basis, taking every individual aspect of their performance into account. At least 10 attempts were needed to qualify for this debut piece, which will come out weekly on Tuesdays.

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High-Caliber Throws/Plays: 

  • While short, his touchdown to Pat Freiermuth had plenty of juice and surgical accuracy. 

Low-Caliber Throws/Plays: 

  • On the first third down of the game, Pickett took an unnecessary sack when he held the ball after eluding one rusher before being brought to the turf by another 49ers defender. 
  • He missed an open Diontae Johnson breaking over the middle in the first quarter. Throw was high and behind the receiver. 
  • On the final drive before the half, Johnson was open on a slant near the end zone, but Pickett failed to lead Johnson and it was knocked away by an underneath defender. 
  • Pickett’s fourth-quarter interception on a seam throw to Connor Heyward never should’ve been thrown. The trailing defender was in perfect position, and there was a safety directly over top of the route. 

Summary: Woof! Pickett and the Steelers were manhandled in every way imaginable against the 49ers, and the second-year quarterback just seemed “off,” especially when the game was seemingly within reach early. Low throws, late throws — they were all there. The vast majority of his completions were easy throws into the flat or checkdowns, which San Francisco’s defense was inviting, and he took a few sacks late.

Grade: F
Season Grade: F

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High-Caliber Throws/Plays:

  • While well outside the pocket to his left late in the third quarter, Ridder dropped down to a sidearm release and found Tyler Allgeier for 12 yards. 
  • His last throw of the game, with right around 5:00 to go in the fourth quarter, Ridder launched a jumpball to Kyle Pitts, who made an incredible grab for a 34-yard gain. 

Low-Caliber Throws/Plays: 

  • Late in the first, Ridder’s pocket presence was nonexistent on a sack from a slowly crumbling pocket. No movement. 
  • He took a 13-yard sack.

Summary: This was a difficult watch. While Ridder wasn’t making mistake after mistake and throwing the football inaccurately, he demonstrated minimal pocket navigation skills or assertiveness as a passer. And there was seemingly even less trust from Ridder’s coaches. Everything — beyond the final throw — was a swing pass, a check down, a screen that got the ball out quickly. When he did have opportunities to scan the field, he quickly resorted to an super-conservative, underneath throw. 

Grade: C-
Season Grade: C-

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High-Caliber Throws/Plays: 

  • Howell’s first touchdown of the season was a fine display of his mobility and ability to extend plays. He rolled left, bought as much time as possible before changing his arm angle to squeeze it into Brian Robinson Jr. 
  • With a defender in his face, Howell got to his second read over the middle for a 19-yard completion. 
  • Midway through the second, he navigated amazingly inside the pocket before ripping a strike to a wideout at the intermediate level for 17 yards. Tight coverage, too. 
  • On the final drive before the half, he ripped a deep out-breaker that landed in the hands of the intended target just before a diving pass-breakup attempt. 

Low-Caliber Throws/Plays: 

  • On his second read in the second, Howell had an open receiver but threw behind him. 
  • Right before the half, Howell tried to spin inside the pocket, was tenuously holding onto the ball and fumbled, which led to a scoop-and-score for the Cardinals. Major mistake. 
  • He missed high on a deep out-breaking route on the final route before the half. 
  • With 19 seconds left in the second quarter, he didn’t see a safety flying downhill and threw an ill-advised pass that was nearly intercepted. 
  • He took a bad sack in the third. No movement away from the oncoming rusher. 

Summary: As expected, based on how he played at North Carolina, it was a performance with high volatility from Howell to begin his second professional season. Some awesome displays of his arm talent and creativity, some woeful displays of pocket presence and decision-making. Mostly, though, Howell held his own against the Cardinals. 

Grade: C+
Season Grade: C+

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High-Caliber Throws/Plays: 

  • Late in the first quarter, Purdy amazingly stopped himself from releasing the football on a slant a split second before the ball was out of his hand, reloaded with a defender at his feet and found Christian McCaffrey over the middle for a 7-yard gain. 
  • The back-shoulder(ish) touchdown to Brandon Aiyuk was a thing of beauty. Awesome trust in his receiver, too. 
  • In the second quarter, Purdy navigated his way through a muddy pocket to free himself so he could get the ball to Aiyuk for 16 yards. 
  • He spun away from a free blitzing defensive back off the edge before finding Deebo Samuel for a 10-yard gain and first down. 
  • Purdy demonstrated good acceleration on a 17-yard scamper on his second-to-late dropback of the game. 

Low-Caliber Throws/Plays:

  • Purdy was a tick late on an in-breaker to George Kittle that was broken up. 
  • In the second quarter, he threw low on a wide-open out-breaking route to McCaffrey that should’ve gone for a longer gain. 
  • While he was looking in the opposite direction, Purdy took a bad sack when he held the ball for an eternity in the pocket in the third quarter. He also fumbled on the play. 
  • He was wide on his final throw, an underneath toss to Samuel. 

Summary: While Purdy himself wasn’t quite as sharp as his statistics would indicate — it was a fine outing to begin the season, particularly on the road against the Steelers defense. As he did all rookie season, Purdy took what the defense gave him, snapped through his reads and demonstrated a firm grasp of Kyle Shanahan’s offense while sprinkling in a few high-caliber throws and impressive displays of his escapability. 

Grade: A-
Season Grade: A-

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High-Caliber Throws/Plays: 

  • Early in the second, he moved through his progressions and fit the ball through a tiny window between multiple defenders.
  • His last dropback of the game featured a very creative run for four yards.  

Low-Caliber Throws/Plays: 

  • He was late over the middle and didn’t recognize safety Jessie Bates III roaming near his target on his first interception. 
  • After scrambling right and noticing Hayden Hurst with a step on his defender, Young threw behind the tight end and was nearly picked. 
  • His second interception was a spitting image of the first. Unidentified safety. 
  • In the fourth, from his own one-yard-line, Young overthrew Jonathan Mingo, who had a step or two on his defender. Had the throw hit the fellow rookie in stride, it probably would’ve been a 99-yard touchdown. 
  • After bouncing in a crumbling pocket, he airmailed a throw underneath to his checkdown. 
  • He did the same thing later on a swing pass attempt. 

Summary: This was about as bad as it gets for an NFL debut. Late throws, very timid passing philosophy, sacks — you name it, it happened to Young in this game. Now, take this at face value. It’s not to guarantee these performances will continue for Young, but there were some concerning signs against Atlanta. 

Grade: F
Season Grade: F

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High-Caliber Throws/Plays: 

  • Midway through the third, he threw a ball low to Nico Collins that helped the receiver shield the converging defenders from the football. Play went for 15 yards. Solid strike from Stroud. 
  • Late in the game, Stroud threw with perfect timing and accuracy on a deep comeback run by Tank Dell. Almost a back-shoulder-type connection.
  • In garbage time he pieced together a nifty scramble for 11 yards, weaving his way through traffic. 

Low-Caliber Throws/Plays:

  • Early, he missed wide on an easy throw toward the boundary.
  • After miraculously eluding multiple defenders inside the pocket, Stroud rolled left and threw against his momentum deep down the field. The ball floated and was nearly intercepted. Very dangerous. 
  • Near the end of the half, he rolled right and had Nico Collins waiting with his feet positioned in bounds, right next to the sideline, but the pass sailed high and wide. 
  • The first play of the third quarter was a bad sack when he attempted to outrun a defensive tackle who had the angle on him instead of throwing the ball away. 

Summary: It was a mostly dreadful day for Stroud and the Texans offense in Baltimore. The offensive line struggled, and Stroud was late — or simply missed — on a variety of throws. He had many welcome to the NFL moments when he attempted to escape pressure only to discover how explosive and athletic professional defensive linemen are. Was nice to see some strikes late. 

Grade: D+
Season Grade: D+

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High-Caliber Throws/Plays: 

  • His supreme explosiveness was on full display on his rushing touchdown. 
  • As he was being hit, Richardson delivered a rocket to Josh Downs over the middle, in stride, which led to a 22-yard gain.
  • With under four minutes to go in the game, Richardson fit a fastball over the middle through a small passing window to Kylen Granson for 14 yards. 
  • With under three to go, he launched a rocket to Michael Pittman on a throw across his body to pick up a key third down. 

Low-Caliber Throws/Plays:

  • Near the end of the first half, Richardson held the ball far too long and was sacked by Travon Walker. 
  • On his last throw of the third quarter, he missed low on an in-breaker to Alec Pierce. 
  • His next attempt was behind Granson. 
  • Richardson’s interception in the fourth was a fine play by Tyson Campbell, sinking and leaping to find the football, but the throw had to be made sooner and with more loft under it. 

Summary: Richardson hardly looked like an ultra-raw quarterback who attempted fewer than 400 passes during college in his NFL debut. No, he wasn’t tremendous by any means, and he did not attempt a pass over 20 yards all contest. There were some misfires. He was not a deer in headlights. Surprisingly, Richardson wasn’t able to do much damage with his legs. 

GradeC-
Season Grade: C-

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