2022 NFL QB Draft: Desmond Ridder, Kenny Pickett, Sam Howell shine; Matt Corral is struggling

The first week of preseason always brings excitement when football returns, especially when teams see rookies on their roster for the first time. This year’s rookie defensive class wasn’t as strong as it has been in recent years, but this weekend saw many young defensive backs get their first taste of the NFL.

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

Despite not being a rookie, Trey Lance enters the season as the No. 1 defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers. Given how little Lance has played over the last two seasons (one in college and one in the NFL), let’s pair Lance with the rookie signal-callers for this experiment.

Below is a look at all of the starting defensemen — with the exception of Lance — this weekend.

Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers, second year)

49ers fans only had to play 11 snaps to see what Lance brings to the offense as he completed 4 of 5 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. Lance threw a perfect deep pass to Danny Gray for a 76-yarder to end his night, giving the 49ers a 10-7 lead when he left the field.

Lance finished with a perfect 158.3 passer rating in his debut as the No. 1 quarterback, with the 49ers scoring on both of his possessions. The 49ers don’t plan to play Lance next week, so it could be this preseason for him.

Not a bad episodic appearance.

Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh Steelers)

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What an impressive performance from Pickett, who led the team in the second half in his Steelers debut. Competing for the starting quarterback job, Pickett entered the game behind Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph, but finished 13 of 15 for 95 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions (132.6 rating).

With three seconds left, Pickett threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Tyler Vaughn to give Pittsburgh a 32-25 victory over Seattle. The pass went 24 yards as Vaughn used his yardage ability after the catch to find the end zone.

Maybe Pickett moves up the depth chart next week.

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Willis flashed in his Titans debut, finishing 6 of 11 for 107 yards (88.1 rating) with a rushing touchdown in two and a half quarters. Also with five catches for 38 yards, Willis showed his dual-threat ability at linebacker, but ran too much for Mike Vrabel’s liking.

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

“He’s got to try to throw the ball when guys are open,” Vrabel said. “Be more assertive so we’ll evaluate it and see if there’s a timing issue or what’s going on. I wanted to call him out there and see how he would react. Everything worked out for him. There were some good games. Obviously, some plays we’re going to have to watch for release time and if we’re making the right decisions.”

Desmond Ridder (Atlanta Falcons)

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Ridder had perhaps the best performance of any rookie defensive end in Week 1, even though the third-round pick out of Cincinnati won’t win the starting job in Atlanta. He made a great first impression, completing 10-of-22 for 103 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (89.8 rating), while leading the Falcons with six carries for 59 yards.

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

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

Howell is listed as the No. 3 defensive end behind Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke, but the fifth-round pick has shown flashes of why he was considered a top-10 pick a year ago at this time.

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The third-round pick out of Mississippi was 1-of-9 for 11 yards for Carolina, but led the Panthers on a scoring drive that led to Zane Gonzalez’s 45-yard field goal in the final minute. Corral is the No. 3 quarterback behind Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold in the battle for the starting job.

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Regardless of how the responsibilities were distributed, Zappé 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 lead in the fourth quarter against the New York Giants, culminating a 19-for-32 game.

Zappe entered the game midway through the second quarter and threw for 205 yards with a touchdown and an interception (75.6 rating). The Patriots scored two touchdowns on his eight possessions.

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An undrafted free agent who signed with the Ravens, Brown entered the game in the second half of Baltimore’s 23-10 win over Tennessee. Brown completed 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 sitting out the preseason, Brown replaced Tyler Huntley to open the second half. He’s battling for the third guard spot with Brett Hundley.

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An undrafted free agent, the former Washington State cornerback went 7 of 10 for 54 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter for the Cardinals. Guarantano also caught four passes for 10 yards.

Guarantano played the second half and led the Cardinals with two touchdowns. He is the fourth linebacker on Arizona’s depth chart.

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An undrafted free agent rookie with the Bengals, Plitt led Cincinnati on an impressive 11-play, 94-yard drive on his only drive late in the fourth quarter. He capped the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Pryor, finishing the night 6-of-6 for 76 yards with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.

Plitt is currently the Bengals’ fourth-ranked defensive end, but he may have played his way into the No. 3 position.

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The seventh-round pick out of Iowa State completed 3 of 6 for 36 yards and a touchdown (106.6 rating) in his only drive with the 49ers. With Jimmy Garoppolo on the trading block, Purdy has a chance to enter the roster as the No. 3 defensive end, which is what he was listed as in Week 1 of the preseason.

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Crum was 6-of-11 for 18 yards (60.0 rating) entering the game midway through the third quarter for Kansas City. The former Kent State cornerback was an undrafted free agent signed by the Chiefs, but he has very little chance of making the roster right now as the No. 4 cornerback.

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Coan finished 1-of-5 for 0 yards in a sweep for Indianapolis. The undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin and Notre Dame is the fourth defensive back on the depth chart behind Sam Ehlinger at the No. 3 position.

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

The third linebacker looked good in his first preseason game.

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