Geno Smith #7 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates during the second quarter against the Denver Broncos, Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Carolina Panthers looks on during the second half of their NFL game against the Cleveland Browns
Left: Photo by Jane Gershovich/Getty Images, Right: Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Grading the NFC's Newest QB1s After Their Impressive (or Lackluster) Week 1 Efforts


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Nine teams started this season with new QB1s on their depth charts. These new quarterbacks hold the hopes and dreams of their fan bases in their hands each time they take the snap. After their first game, I graded all nine quarterbacks in new locations. So let's take a deep dive to see if these new QBs have what it takes to make a real change for their franchises.

Like your favorite teacher, I graded on a curve. It has to be this way because the NFL is a salary cap league. Not only does a quarterback being paid $5 million dollars have different expectations than one who is being paid $50 million dollars, but he also leaves $45 million dollars in salary cap to be used to pay other key players on the team. Every dollar a team spends has opportunity cost associated with it. Nothing is static.

The secret to winning in the NFL isn't just having elite quarterback play, it's coupling that play with a talented and deep roster of players who fit your offensive and defensive schemes -- and you can afford a lot more of those when your quarterback out performs salary expectations. By the same token if you skimp out and buy a bargain basement QB with a ceiling on his abilities, you likely have a lower ceiling on the play of all the others on the roster you spent that leftover money on. A perfect secret sauce is always a delegate blend of just the right amount of each ingredient. So how did these new quarterbacks do when added to their franchise recipes? Let's look at the five new NFC starters and see.

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Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks

Geno Smith #7 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates a touchdown during the first quarter against the Denver Broncos

Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

If you had asked me before the Week 1 games who would have the highest grade in this column, Geno Smith would have been about 60-1 odds. I mean this is the same Geno Smith that threw 12 TDs and 21 interceptions the only year he started all 16 games for the Jets. To the typical fan he has been written off and largely football irrelevant for the last seven years before his run replacing Russell Wilson after the 2021 Seahawks' season was out of hand. I mean Geno didn't even take a single NFL snap in 2019.

But maybe there is something to be said for continuity that we all overlooked. Geno Smith has been in the Seahawks system for four years (after he was broken by the Jets like so many quarterbacks have been over the years), and his familiarity with his teammates and the offensive system definitely showed up on Monday Night. I mean the guy had only one incompletion in the entire first half while throwing for two touchdowns.

Plus, Smith is playing for only $3.5 million dollars this season which would make him tied for the 8th highest paid BACKUP quarterback. Meanwhile he just beat the quarterback that he replaced, who costs three players (two of them starters), two sets of first and second round picks in 2022 and 2023, and $53.5 MILLION DOLLARS MORE than he does just this season alone. That's a lot of money and assets you can use to add future talent to your football team.

Of course things slowed down in the second half of the game for Geno and he will likely endure some struggles throughout the season with a young offensive line or if his previous pension for making mistakes returns. But if you told any Seahawks fan that Geno Smith would play a nearly flawless game and the team could beat Russell Wilson (who left Seattle dramatically this off-season) at home in Week 1, they would be over the moon. The 12th Man in Seattle were chanting his name after this victory, and they should be. If Geno keeps playing like this, they might have to steal a move from the Boston Celtics and start playing "It's Gino {Geno} Time" on the Jumbotron.

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Grade: A

Baker Mayfield, Carolina Panthers

Baker Mayfield #6 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Browns

Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

RELATED: The Baker Mayfield Trade Only Adds to Carolina's Identity Crisis

Baker Mayfield gets talked about a lot for a quarterback whose play doesn't have nearly the impact to warrant the discussion. To me, he is the football equivalent of eating a grocery store blueberry muffin. You eat the top part of the muffin and you're thinking 'hey this is actually pretty good. I had low expectations for this muffin but I'm happy I am eating it.' Then you start eating below the muffin top and you're like 'wow this part is drastically worse than the rest of the muffin and I kind of feel heavy in my belly as I plow through this whole thing'. By the time the muffin is done you really aren't sure if it was a net good or bad, it just kind of happened. That is Baker (pun intended) Mayfield. 

Is it good? No. Is it horrendous? Not really. For every marginally good thing there are several bad things and in the end you're like ehhh.

The Panthers were largely ineffective on the ground but Baker did have a nice touchdown scamper. However, he was also sacked four times and threw a horrendous interception.

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Baker did launch a critical fourth quarter 75-yard touchdown bomb to bring the Panthers within striking distance, but that one play also accounted for roughly a third of his total passing yards in the game.

He did lead the Panthers on a go-ahead field goal drive late, too, but his fumbled snap on that drive was one of the reasons the Panthers didn't press for a touchdown or another first to run the clock out and put the game out of reach. Brissett and the Browns went through the door Baker left open and won the game.

Those two paragraphs have a lot of ups and downs. Welcome to the Baker Mayfield experience, Carolina.

In the end, it's nearly impossible to win a Super Bowl with a guy who has the ceiling of a grocery store muffin. I mean at least a donut can get you to the promised land on the right day, even if the day after it's not helping you... but a muffin... I'm out.

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Grade: C-

Marcus Mariota, Atlanta Falcons

Marcus Mariota #1 of the Atlanta Falcons drops back to pass during the first half of the game against the New Orleans Saints

Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

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Hand up, I forgot about the good things Marcus Mariota can do with the football in his hands. Can you blame me? Mariotta threw more passes on Sunday than he threw combined since October of 2019 when Ryan Tannehill replaced him with the Titans.

Maybe we should be giving Mariota a little more credit. After all, he did sign a $9 million dollar contract back in 2020 to compete with Derek Carr to possibly start for the Raiders. To put that in perspective, that is roughly double what the Panthers are paying Mayfield and what the Browns are paying Brissett this season.

This season Mariota has reunited with head coach Arthur Smith after the two had a complicated relationship when Smith was his offensive coordinator in Tennessee. Following his performance in Week 1, I think there is a lot more there than most expected. Mariota took zero sacks and didn't throw an interception against a Saints team that perennially boasts one of the better defenses in the league. He showed strong control of the offense, consistently executing at a high level and showing his trademark athleticism by adding 72 yards and a touchdown himself on the ground. If it weren't for his defense falling apart and a miraculous 17-point fourth quarter comeback by the Saints, Mariota would be receiving extensive praise for leading the Falcons to an upset victory.

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While the passing game still needs to evolve and his connection with Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Pitts was virtually non-existent on Sunday, I think there is some hope that Mariota and the running game can keep the Falcons in a lot of games this year.

Mariota is on one of the most team friendly deals for a starter in the league. If he plays well enough, Atlanta can trade him for picks, or opt to keep him for a relatively low price to have a highly-drafted quarterback play behind him in 2023. If he plays poorly you can cut him without much of an issue. I certainly don't think having him under center will stunt the growth of young skill position players like Pitts and Drake London.

Grade: B+

Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

RELATED: Kyle Shanahan's Legacy is Now Tied to Trey Lance's Success or Failure

Although Trey Lance did get some playing time as a rookie last year, this is his first season as QB1 on the Week 1 depth chart, so he gets evaluated here. This is bad news for Lance because he was downright poor while it was downright pouring in Chicago.

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The weather does give Lance a little bit of a pass, as does the fact that he was missing his elite tight end George Kittle, but the incredibly dynamic athlete did little to stretch the field with his arms or his legs on Sunday. Lance threw for only 164 yards and ran for just over 50 despite 13 carries. Lance did play in a dome in college and so I do have some concerns that he might not be as much of a weapon in less than ideal conditions. Luckily for San Francisco, most of the 49ers late season games are in nice climates.

Expectations are high for the 49ers and the former No. 3 overall pick, but the team is too talented to wait forever for Lance to achieve his potential. If this becomes a theme, you will hear the calls for the newly resigned Jimmy G. Look for Lance to get back on track at home against Seattle next week and prove he is the type of player that will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night trying to plan how to slow him down.

Grade: C-

Carson Wentz, Washington Commanders

Carson Wentz #11 of the Washington Commanders celebrates a two point conversion during the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

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Carson Wentz is in an interesting spot. He's in the last year of guaranteed money in his deal, so the Commanders can cut him at no expense at the end of this season if he under performs. If he plays well they can opt to keep him for $26 million or he can try to get a decent contract on the free agency market. Seems like a guy who should be extremely motivated to make this season count.

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In Week 1 against the Jaguars, we saw yet another of the up and down performances football fans have grown accustomed to since late in Wentz's tenure with the Eagles. The stats usually end up looking strong for Wentz, as they did in this game with over 300 yards passing and 4 touchdowns, but he also made a ton of mistakes including interceptions on back-to-back throws.

After starting the game with two touchdown drives, Wentz and the Commanders had six drives in a row that ended in punts or turnovers, allowing the Jaguars to wrestle away command (get it) of the game. Then just when it seemed like we would never see him again, the good Carson Wentz reappeared and led back-to-back touchdown drives to pull out the victory.

Over 300 yards passing and a comeback win is always going to get you a good grade, but the main concerns about Wentz -- his decision making, his health, and the limits on athleticism after several injuries -- they remain concerns. He's got to do better than comeback wins against the Jaguars at home to get an A. A's don't throw back-to-back picks.

Grade: B

MORE: The 10 Highest-Paid Backup Quarterbacks in the NFL in 2022