The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and there’s a new crop of signal-callers looking to make their mark.
Highly touted 2023 draft picks and young quarterbacks entering their first full season as QB1 alike, these players are positioned to shape the futures of their franchises and the league as a whole.
FOX Sports’ NFL staff focuses on nine of them, analyzing their standing and their training-camp progress entering the final week of the preseason.
Here’s the breakdown:
Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers
Ben Arthur: The Panthers have handed Young the keys to the franchise as the immediate starting quarterback, as you’d expect of a No. 1 overall pick. He has drawn praise from teammates and coaches for his steady progress, but that hasn’t necessarily shown up in the preseason. The Panthers have 19 points in two games, the lowest total in the league, and they’re 31st in passing yards. Young has played sparingly, however, with only 56 yards on 12 pass attempts, no touchdowns, no turnovers. The real test comes Sept. 10 in Atlanta vs. the Falcons and Sept. 18 at home vs. the Saints, setting the tone for the NFC South this season.
C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans
Arthur: Early in training camp, Stroud was in a battle with Davis Mills to be QB1, but the No. 2 overall pick has distanced himself in the past couple weeks. That was punctuated by his performance in Houston’s preseason game against Miami last Saturday, when he threw with confidence and decisiveness, despite a loss and a couple dropped passes by his receivers. Stroud was 7-of-12 for 60 yards and a 71.5 passer rating. Coach DeMeco Ryans said he displayed the accuracy he showed at Ohio State.
Stroud will be starting in the Texans’ preseason finale Sunday against the Saints. He’s taken all the first-team reps in practice for more than two weeks now, too. Even if Ryans won’t say it, it’s clear the Stroud era in Houston will begin Week 1 at Baltimore.
Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts
Arthur: When Richardson was drafted No. 4 overall in April, there were discussions that he could start the season on the bench, as a prospect who’s biggest knock was his inexperience (he started just 13 games at Florida). And in Gardner Minshew, who played in new coach Shane Steichen’s offense the previous two years in Philadelphia, Indianapolis had the perfect veteran backup to ease in the Richardson era.
But last week, the 21-year-old rookie was officially named QB1. His poise, command of the huddle and comfort running the offense in the Colts’ preseason opener against the Bills were all positives cited by Steichen. Richardson also threw an interception, due to an apparent miscommunication, and Indianapolis knows that his consistency and accuracy will be a work in progress — as it has been in practices and his lone preseason appearance. Still, the bottom line is that he has checked every box to this point.
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Will Levis, Tennessee Titans
Arthur: A second-round pick, Levis appears to be the Titans’ No. 3 quarterback at the moment. Ryan Tannehill is the undisputed starter entering the season, and second-year quarterback Malik Willis looks like the top backup right now based on the strides he’s made from his rookie season and his consistent availability.
Levis left last Thursday’s joint practice with the Vikings with a lower-body injury and sat out the preseason game this past weekend, giving Willis all the quarterback snaps. Coach Mike Vrabel expects Levis, who returned to practice Wednesday, to play in the Titans’ preseason finale against the Patriots on Friday. For now, it looks like Tennessee will carry all three quarterbacks into the season, with Levis last on the depth chart.
Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers
Eric D. Williams: Mr. Irrelevant in last year’s draft, Purdy has made a successful return from UCL surgery in his right throwing elbow. The Iowa State product does not appear to have lost any velocity and has worked back to a full throwing regimen during training camp. During his only action in exhibition play, Purdy finished 4-of-5 for 65 yards in leading the 49ers to a field goal scoring drive in the opening series against the Denver Broncos last week.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has always said that Purdy is his team’s starter if healthy. And Purdy will get one more opportunity to play during the preseason, against the Los Angeles Chargers this weekend before traveling East to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular-season opener.
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Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers
Carmen Vitali: The Packers have made the curious decision to play Love in every preseason game, but the silver lining of taking that risk is that we’ve been able to see tangible improvement week to week. Love played two series in the first game and three in the second. Overall this preseason, he has gone a combined 12-of-18 for 94 yards and two touchdowns. Not too shabby.
Of course, while this may be Love’s first year starting, it isn’t his first year in Matt LaFleur’s system. Love has spent the past three years learning it and watching a Hall of Fame quarterback execute it. He’s as prepared as any QB could be in his first season at the helm. It’s just up to him to execute, and with the decision-making he has exhibited in the preseason, his ability to place the football right where his receivers can get it and his footwork, Love seems like he’s going to be just fine taking over in Green Bay. Can you imagine if he beats the Chicago Bears in Week 1, too?
Desmond Ridder, Atlanta Falcons
Greg Auman: Atlanta is showing a lot of trust in the 2022 third-round pick, who has just four NFL starts under his belt. He’ll be well-equipped to step up in a wide-open NFC South, thanks to three recent top-10 picks in running back Bijan Robinson, receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts. This might be the best running game in the NFL, so Ridder won’t have to do too much. But it won’t be easy: He’ll go directly up against some of the league’s best young QBs early, facing Bryce Young, Jordan Love, C.J. Stroud and Sam Howell in the first six weeks alone. If Ridder struggles too much early, Atlanta could turn to Taylor Heinicke, who has 24 starts over the past two seasons.
Sam Howell, Washington Commanders
Ralph Vacchiano: Howell, a fifth-round pick last year, has had as solid a preseason as the Commanders could have hoped, especially since he’s learning a brand-new offense. Every time he takes the field, Howell shows that he has poise and an awareness in the pocket. He has a knack for getting out of trouble and knowing when to run. On top of that, his decision-making has been terrific and so has his accuracy. He has completed 28 of 37 passes for 265 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He certainly seems to have command of the offense. And he’s clearly got enough weapons around him. He’s set up for success, but it’s still a tough task in a division loaded with quarterbacks and offensive talent.
Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers
Williams: The only quarterback selected in the first-round in 2022, Pickett has picked up where he left off his rookie year so far in exhibition play. In two preseason games, he is 9-of-11 for 113 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, leading the Steelers on three touchdown-scoring drives. Pickett is expected to get an extended look in his team’s final preseason game, against the Falcons on Thursday. The Steelers averaged just 18.1 points per game in 2022 but should be more explosive on offense with Pickett having another year in offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s system.
AFC South reporter Ben Arthur (@benyarthur)
NFC South reporter Greg Auman (@gregauman)
Dallas Cowboys reporter David Helman (@davidhelman_)
AFC East reporter Henry McKenna (@McKennAnalysis)
NFC West reporter Eric D. Williams (@eric_d_williams)
NFC East reporter Ralph Vacchiano (@RalphVacchiano)
NFC North reporter Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV)
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