INDIANAPOLIS — After nearly every NFL Draft, a rookie quarterback proves he's ready to play right away.
Whether ahead of Week 1 or midway through the season, the young player takes the starting reins and shows instant flashes of potential.
The team's challenge, then, becomes how to identify that player, evaluating whether that player has the highest long-term ceiling and how to best position the young player to succeed. The last element — a team's role in the player's success — isn't as scrutinized during the draft process, but it is critically important.
First, though, the quarterback-needy team must find the right player — and in the 2022 NFL Draft, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah believes the player who finds immediate success and the player with the highest ceiling may not be the same individual. When asked by DenverBroncos.com last week, Jeremiah pointed to Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett as the player most likely to be ready to play early as a rookie. In his final season at Pitt, Pickett posted 42 touchdowns to just seven interceptions and 4,319 passing yards. Over his final four seasons, he appeared in 48 total games.
"Pickett has got a lot of experience," Jeremiah said. "He, to me, is somebody when you watch all these guys and you kind of watch them all one after another, he's just different with how quickly he operates, just getting through progressions, getting the ball where it needs to be. He doesn't have wow arm strength. He doesn't blow you away with that, but he's got really good vision. He throws with anticipation and timing. I think he'd be ready to come in and play right away."
Pickett backed up his case on Wednesday, as he told the media at the Combine that he believed his history of winning made him the most deserving to be the first quarterback off the board. He also noted that he'd be ready to make a near immediate contribution, and he said finding a landing spot that ran the West Coast offense would ease the transition.
"Coming from a pro system, I feel like I'll be able to adapt well into whatever system," Pickett said Wednesday. "Hopefully it's a West Coast system. That's what I came from [at Pitt]. Being able to come in, learn an offense quickly and adjust that way, that's number one."
Under new Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett, the Broncos are expected to run a variation of that system, and perhaps that's why Jeremiah also tabbed Pickett as the best fit for the Broncos.
The Broncos will also to weigh their other options in the draft class as they look to decide whether to draft a quarterback.
Liberty's Malik Willis, UNC's Sam Howell, Mississippi's Matt Corral and Nevada's Carson Strong figure to be among the options, and Jeremiah pointed to Willis as the player with the most upside.
"In terms of the upside, I don't know how you'd see anybody other than Malik Willis just in terms of what he can do once he gets it all figured out, but he's got a huge arm," Jeremiah said. "Not real tall obviously, just a little over 6 feet tall, but he is built. He is a powerfully built guy who can drive the ball. You saw it at the Senior Bowl when it was raining and everybody else was struggling. He didn't have any issues whatsoever. This guy can really power the football. He can make off-platform throws. He can create. You can use the -- you know, design quarterback run game with him and he's outstanding with that. He's just so strong and physical. I think he would be the one with the most upside."
If the Broncos do choose to move forward with a rookie quarterback, Hackett knows it will be his responsibility to help the young player thrive. The window of opportunity for young quarterbacks has seemingly shrunk in recent years, and quarterbacks have faced the pressure to perform with near immediacy.
In a conversation with DenverBroncos.com, Hackett conveyed the process he'd pursue to help the team's potential new quarterback find success.
"I've always said it's probably one of the most difficult positions in all of sports to be able to play, and then when you ask a young man to come out of college, not only adjust to the speed but all of the things we ask him to do, it's very difficult," Hackett said. "I think that's why all coaches want those rookies to be able to wait a little bit longer and be able to learn a little bit more with different quarterbacks [and] kind of sit in back. I think with any rookie quarterback that you have out there, you have to be sure you do a great job of protecting him and making sure you don't give him the whole playbook but slowly give him a little bit here and there so he's successful.
"I look back at the olden days when Joe Montana was first drafted and he was put in in the red zone just to get a couple touchdowns when [Steve] DeBerg, I think, was playing at that time. It's about building up confidence, it's about letting the guy learn the system. It's definitely hard for any rookie quarterback to come in and be successful."
Whomever the Broncos select as their 2022 starter, Hackett said he believes the best chances at success comes from a personalized system.
"Every single team, a lot of it is how the quarterback plays," Hackett said. "It's the most important position in the NFL. Like we said, it's the most difficult position to play, also. That's why it's so hard to be able to get a guy to go out there and be successful. I think the starting point is whoever that guy is, for them to understand the support that I'll give that person and the things that I'll do to try to build it around the quarterback.
"To me, that's the only thing that matters. Whatever that guy can do well, that's what I want to continually do and just make sure they're always feeling that can't-stop-me mentality when they walk out there. Whoever it is, that's what we're going to have to give that person."
MCBRIDE MAKES HIS CASE
Colorado State's Trey McBride will continue to make his case this week in Indianapolis that he should be the first tight end taken in this year's class.
"I think I'm a playmaker, a winner and a guy that can catch the ball," McBride said Wednesday. "[I have] very tough strong hands, and [I'm] physical and gritty in the run game, as well."
McBride may be an unlikely candidate to head to Denver — with Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam, it would be a surprise for the Broncos to use an early pick on a tight end — but he's used a former Bronco as motivation.
Joel Dreessen, who spent the last two years of his NFL career in Denver, also grew up in Fort Morgan. McBride said he's long looked up to the other Colorado native.
"[Fort Morgan is] just a blue-collar place where … you put your head down and work hard and good things will happen,'' McBride said. "I've had a lot of guys I can lean on for advice, so [I'm] very thankful they came before me."
LAFLEUR UNSURPRISED BY HACKETT'S SUCCESS
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur hired Nathaniel Hackett as his offensive coordinator when he arrived in Green Bay three seasons ago, and it didn't take long for LaFleur to tell that Hackett had the makings of a future head coach.
"I would say I recognized it pretty early," LaFleur said on Wednesday. "This guy's been doing it at a high level for a really long time. He's just a great person, great team guy, great communicator. Brings a lot of energy to the staff, to the team — and I think he's going to do a great job."