NFL: What each starting NFC QB needs to do to be successful in 2023
Nothing is perfect. And as such, there is always a pathway toward improvement, even if it’s minimal.
NFL quarterbacks understand that more than most. After he won his second Super Bowl MVP, Patrick Mahomes mentioned in multiple interviewshis desire to get better. Joe Burrow said something similar this offseason. Jalen Hurts also spoke of “a thrill in not being satisfied” and looking for ways to grow your game.
If three of the best quarterbacks in the NFL believe in improvement, it should apply to the rest of the league’s passers as well.
So, here is some unsolicited advice for all 16 NFC quarterbacks to have a successful 2023 season (asterisk denotes projected starter).
*Desmond Ridder, Atlanta Falcons: Improve accuracy
The simplest thing Ridder can do between the four games he started in 2022 and now is to make better passes. He finished this past season with 20 bad passes for a 18.2% bad throw rate that would have finished tied for eighth in the league if extrapolated over an entire season. Zero interceptions is a great starting point, but that would always be the case for a young quarterback. Ridder needs to make the most of the Falcons’ bounty of offensive weapons that includes wideout Drake London, tight end Kyle Pitts and running back Bijan Robinson.
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals: Prove to new regime you’re a franchise QB
Murray will open the 2023 season at a severe disadvantage because of his ACL injury. He likely won’t play for most of the year – which might be a good thing considering the state of the Cardinals roster. There is a very real chance Arizona will be in position to draft one of the top quarterbacks in 2024 – whether it’s USC’s Caleb Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye or someone else. A good season for Murray means he showed new head coach Jonathan Gannon and new general manager Monti Ossenfort they shouldn’t replace him next year.
Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers: Make everyone forget your height
The Panthers don’t have a great offensive roster, but they do have a good coaching staff, a competent offensive line and added a solid running back in Miles Sanders. That should be enough to keep Young afloat during his rookie season if he doesn’t make mistakes. He has the mental and technical skills to be a good quarterback, but if his height or build get in the way of marginal success, questions about his viability will remain.
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears: Show you’re more than just a running QB
Fields was the best rushing quarterback in the NFL last season with 1,143 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns, but he added only 2,242 passing yards and averaged only 149.5 passing yards per game – 33rd in the league. Chicago added wideout D.J. Moore and drafted offensive lineman Darnell Wright to help Fields develop more. The next part is on Fields to put it together.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys: Avoid mistakes
Prescott already knows what he needs to do to be successful in 2023. He guaranteed a reduction in interceptions after he threw a career- and NFL-high 15 last season. Some of those were tipped picks, but it’s on Prescott to additionally add accuracy to his passes. He also finished tied for the sixth-highest turnover-worthy play percentage of 3.8%, per Pro Football Focus. Every quarterback needs to turn the ball over less, but the Cowboys’ pursuit of a deep playoff run could hinge upon on Prescott’s ability to follow through with his guarantee.
Jared Goff, Detroit Lions: Make more clutch throws
Goff proved in 2022 he can still be a good starting quarterback in the NFL after he had almost as good a year this past season as he did when he went to the Pro Bowl and took the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl in 2018. But Goff has always been pegged as a game manager, and he’ll never shake that moniker if he doesn’t develop into a clutch passer. Goff finished with just 18 big-time throws (perfect ball location and timing on deep passes) this past season, per PFF, which tied with Kenny Pickett and Tua Tagovailoa for 16th in the NFL among qualified passers. Maybe Goff just isn’t that type of quarterback, but he’ll need to try if he wants to take the next step for himself and the Lions
Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers: Don’t try to be Aaron Rodgers
Now, it would be incredibly impressive if Love could replicate some of Rodgers’ success during his first season as the Packers’ full-time starter. But that shouldn’t be his goal. Love even revealed Rodgers texted him before training camp to be himself and enjoy the new role. Love needs to establish his own path forward in the NFL with a youthful Green Bay team. He looked OK in the two games of expanded action of the past two seasons, but now he’ll get a full offseason to integrate himself into the offense.
Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams: Forget 2022
Stafford and the Rams plummeted to the bottom of the league the season after they won the Super Bowl the year before. But a lot of that had to do with injuries to their best players — Stafford included. It shouldn’t take much for the Rams’ offense to rebound if Stafford can return to the player he was in 2022. He still has wideout Cooper Kupp, tight end Tyler Higbee and running back Cam Akers. Another bad season could spell trouble for the veteran, though.
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings: Don’t vanish in big moments
Cousins’ starter seat is probably one of the hottest heading into this season. The Vikings already dumped veterans Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook, and Cousins could be next if they want to go cheaper at quarterback. And while his skillset is well known and likely won’t change, Cousins’ biggest flaw is his prime time flops. Minnesota is 7-9 in night games since Cousins took over in and went 1-1 in 2022 before the Vikings lost to the New York Giants in the wild-card round. This year, Minnesota plays in five prime time games. Cousins will need to shine there.
Derek Carr, New Orleans Saints: Better placement on quick passes
Carr has a chance to change the narrative around his career with the Saints. He’ll play in a new offense with different weapons like receivers Chis Olave and Michael Thomas, running backs Alvin Kamara and Jamaal Williams and tight ends Juwan Johnson and Jimmy Graham. And while Carr had the eighth-longest time to throw on dropbacks and finished as the ninth-best quarterback while under pressure this past season, according to PFF, he wasn’t good when he had to attempt quicker passes. Carr had the worst completion percentage on passes thrown in less than 2.5 seconds among 22 qualified quarterbacks, per PFF, and had the third-most interceptions on such passes with six and 2.2% of his passes were considered turnover-worthy. The Saints have a shot in the NFC South, but not if Carr falters.
Daniel Jones, New York Giants: Pass more
This is the most basic offering here. Simply put: Jones averaged 29.5 passing attempts per game in 2022 – the fewest in his four-year career. And that was when he played an almost-full slate of games (the Giants clinched the playoffs by Week 18 and therefore didn’t need to play Jones). To put that into perspective, Jones’ 472 passing attempts this past season were the second-fewest by a quarterback who played at least 16 games in the past four seasons (the other was Josh Allen in 2019) and the 10th-fewest in a season since 2013. Jones doesn’t need to turn pass-heavy to be successful, but the Giants aren’t paying Jones $40 million a year not to throw the football. He’ll have a better supporting cast, too, with tight end Darren Waller and rookie receiver Jalin Hyatt alongside running back Saquon Barkley and a stable of other receivers.
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles: Allow fewer sacks
Hurts didn’t do much wrong in 2022, but one thing he certainly needs to improve on is the number of sacks he takes and allows. He finished eighth in sacks and fourth in sack percentage on passing attempts but also led the NFL in sacks allowed on quarterback-owned pressures with 16, per PFF. The Eagles boast one of the best offensive lines in football, so Hurts needs to take advantage of that protection and build on his strong season with an even better one in 2023.
Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers: Develop into clear-cut starter
Purdy’s rookie success is well-documented, but there are still concerns about his long-term viability as the 49ers’ starter. He plays in an extremely quarterback-friendly system with arguably the best collection of skill positions at his disposal. Purdy is also coming off a major elbow injury. A successful year for Purdy isn’t just a return to the postseason or the conference title game, he also needs to display franchise-caliber tendencies throughout the year to solidify his position on the team and in the NFL.
Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks: Retain efficiency
Smith’s rise was one of the biggest surprises of 2022 after he won NFL Comeback Player of the Year and led the Seahawks to the playoffs with a 9-8 record. What’s more, Smith led the NFL with a 69.8% completion rate. But his numbers were a bit misleading; he finished second in turnover-worthy plays behind Josh Allen and had the second-fewest drops by his receivers. Smith has the arm and accuracy to maintain his credibility as an efficient passer, but needs to do so on his own.
*Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Keep your job
Mayfield’s past two years have been tumultuous and he’ll start 2023 on his fourth team since 2021. He is fully expected to beat Kyle Trask as the Buccaneers’ starting quarterback in training camp, but he might not have as long of a leash as he enjoyed during his four years with Cleveland Browns as the No. 1 overall pick. Despite their faults, Tampa Bay still has a good group of offensive players in wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as well as emerging second-year running back Rachaad White. Mayfield is also two years removed from a torn labrum that plagued his 2021 season. This might be his last opportunity to be a starting NFL quarterback.
*Sam Howell, Washington Commanders: Show better decision-making skills
There isn’t a lot of tape on Howell after he started just one game in 2022. And his production was hit-or-miss. Howell didn’t look awful — he completed 57.8% of his passes for 168 yards, one touchdown and one interception — but didn’t show the makings of a bonafide franchise quarterback. Howell’s decision-making left a lot to be desired during the 2022 preseason and continued on his red zone interception in Week 18. If Howell can master the mental processing side of the position he can stake a claim to keeping the job.