There’s a famous saying about football teams with a struggling quarterback: Nobody’s more popular than the backup quarterback.
Around these parts that makes Matt Corral, the former Ole Miss star whom the Panthers selected at No. 94 in the third round this year, a popular man. Carolina’s front office gave up a 2023 third round pick to move up to from the fourth round in the 2022 draft to land Corral so they must have some faith in him. Corral’s slide into the third round was somewhat unexpected as many mock drafts had him going somewhere in the mid- to late-first round. NFL.com’s projection is that Corral will become a good starter within two years and “good” quarterbacks don’t normally go unclaimed in a pass-happy NFL.
But given Corral’s third round draft status, current NFL trends don’t portend well for him becoming a full-time starting quarterback at any point of his career. Being a starting quarterback is an elite, exclusive club, and most of the guys sitting at that table were very high draft picks.
The website Ourlads lists projected 2022 depth charts for every NFL team and there’s an interesting, but not surprising, trend among quarterbacks. Check out where every current projected starter was selected:
Top 10 picks (19 total): Joe Burrow (1), Trevor Lawrence (1), Jared Goff (1), Jameis Winston (1), Kyler Murray (1), Matthew Stafford (1), Zach Wilson (2), Mitchell Trubisky (2), Carson Wentz (2), Marcus Mariota (2), Matt Ryan (3), Sam Darnold (3), Trey Lance (3), Tua Tagovailoa (5), Justin Herbert (6), Daniel Jones (6), Josh Allen (7), Ryan Tannehill (8), Patrick Mahomes (10)
Picks 11-20 (3): Justin Fields (11), Deshaun Watson (12), Mac Jones (15)
Picks 21-32 (2): Aaron Rodgers (24), Lamar Jackson (32)
Second round (3): Derek Carr (36), Geno Smith (39), Jalen Hurts (53)
Third round (2): Davis Mills (67), Russell Wilson (75)
Fourth round (2): Kirk Cousins (102), Dak Prescott (135)
Sixth round (1): Tom Brady (199)
Let’s hope Matt Corral is a baller because it’s going to require a minor miracle for him as a third round pick to break in among the league’s better signal callers.
Of the 32 projected starters in 2022, 13 of them (41%) were Top 3 draft picks. A total 19 starters (59%) were Top 10 picks, and 24 starters (75%) were selected in the first round. Only three starting quarterbacks were drafted after Corral was selected at No. 94: Kirk Cousins (102), Dak Prescott (135), and Tom Brady (199).
Now, sometimes becoming an NFL starter doesn’t only have to do with the player himself. It’s also determined heavily by who’s ahead of the player on the depth chart. Take the Green Bay Packers, for example. Aaron Rodgers sat for several years behind Brett Favre, and now Jordan Love, the No. 26 pick in 2020, continues to hold a clipboard behind Rodgers. On the flip side, Houston’s Davis Mills, a rookie third round pick in 2021, was unexpectedly thrust into a starting role when Deshaun Watson missed the entire season then Watson’s backup, Tyrod Taylor, was injured in Week 2. Mills entered last year as the Texans No. 3 quarterback and ended up starting by the team’s third game.
As the Panthers roster sits today, Matt Corral couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to claim a starting quarterback role as a rookie. Sam Darnold is the presumed starter but he’s on thin ice. Darnold also has a history of injuries and has yet to play more than 13 games in a season in his four-year career, and all it could take is one for Darnold to take a big hit and Corral’s likely starting, whether he’s ready or not.
There’s at least some smoke still surrounding the Panthers possibly trading for Baker Mayfield (another former No. 1 overall pick), but for now Corral has a golden opportunity to become one of the few starting quarterbacks selected after No. 90 overall in the draft. All it takes is for Sam Darnold to have a bad camp, a shaky start to the season, or another annual injury and the starter’s position is Corral’s to claim, regardless of where he was drafted.