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When will rookie QBs start their first NFL games?

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Remember back in December when the 2016 NFL Draft was supposed to be a mediocre one for quarterbacks? Since then, we saw franchise-defining trades for the top two picks and the defending champs traded up for their first-round quarterback of the future.

A record number of quarterbacks were taken in the draft overall and nine quarterbacks were picked in the first four rounds, tied for the second most in the common draft era. The top picks weren't as well known this year, but this was hardly the tepid 2013 class led by EJ Manuel and Geno Smith.

With so many quarterbacks taken so early, the natural question becomes: When will we see them on the field?

Developing a quarterback slowly has become the exception to the rule in today's NFL. With advanced passing games in college and NFL coaching timelines accelerated, it's rare to see a top pick sit for long. Our predictions for when each rookie will hit the field, ranked in order of how fast they will play.

1. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams: Coach Jeff Fisher said that Goff will play, "when he's ready to play. It may be the season opener, it may not."

Translation: It will probably be the season opener. The Rams are likely to get rid of Nick Foles or Case Keenum by then, with Keenum a possible option for his old coach Gary Kubiak in Denver. Goff was drafted in large part because of his decision making, accuracy and pro-ready skill set. It's hard to imagine anyone else starting the Rams' first game back in Los Angeles.

Prediction: Starts Week 1

2. Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos: Lynch has a lot to work on while transitioning from Memphis' spread offense to coach Gary Kubiak's attack under center. In a perfect world, Lynch truly would sit out a year. Perfect worlds don't have Mark Sanchez entering organized team activities No. 1 on the depth chart for the defending champions.

We're not convinced the Broncos are done adding veteran quarterbacks, so the equation could change here. But it's hard to imagine Sanchez holding the starting job all season. It would be fitting if Lynch made his debut against Brock Osweiler and the Texans on Monday Night Football in Week 7. The Broncos have 10 days before that game to potentially prep Lynch for his first start.

Prediction: Starts Week 7

3. Cody Kessler, Cleveland Browns: Coach Hue Jackson says to "trust me" on Kessler. We'll take his advice, but we'll also hold him to these words (Mike Shanahan still hasn't recovered from "staking his reputation" on John Beck and Rex Grossman).

Kessler is officially part of the competition to start in Week 1, but it would be stunning to see him win the job over Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown. With the Browns likely out of playoff contention by Thanksgiving, however, Kessler figures to get some starts this season.

Prediction: Starts around Thanksgiving

4. Christian Hackenberg, New York Jets: General manager Mike Maccagnan has been unapologetic after his divisive Hackenberg selection. After a fantastic first year in Gotham, this felt like Mac's first onion-hanging moment. He did a lot of work on Hackenberg and showed conviction with the pick. This is his organization, and Hackenberg could be pressed to play sooner than anticipated.

Even if Ryan Fitzpatrick returns, New York's brutal schedule could have them looking up at a .500 record late in the season. The Jets took Hackenberg in large part because he's believed to be more advanced in understanding pro concepts than, say, last year's fourth-round pick Bryce Petty.

Prediction: Starts in December

5. Cardale Jones, Buffalo Bills: Jones is not your average late fourth-round pick. The national champion possesses an athletic skill set and big arm. General manager Doug Whaley believes Jones could be a "franchise" guy, but coach Rex Ryan hopes that Jones doesn't start as a rookie. That means something will have gone seriously wrong with Tyrod Taylor, not to mention EJ Manuel, who should open training camp as the favorite for the backup job.

With all that said, we wouldn't be surprised to see Jones get a test drive in the dog days of December if the Bills fall out of contention.

Prediction: Starts Week 17

6. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles: Every NFL team says they want to sit their rookie quarterback for a year. The Jaguars swore that Chad Henne would start an entire season over Blake Bortles; Henne was benched midway through Week 3.

We believe what the Eagles are selling more than usual because of the steep upgrade in the level of play Wentz is facing after playing at North Dakota State. More importantly, the Eagles are spending $25 million on quarterbacks not named Wentz this year. Philadelphia insists it wants Sam Bradford to be its starter, while Bradford wants to be elsewhere. The rest of the NFL insists on yawning.

Despite his hard-line stance, it makes too much sense for Bradford to return to work before he starts getting fined for missing mandatory work. Even if Bradford doesn't return, the Eagles have Chase Daniel, an experienced quarterback in coach Doug Pederson's offense. The odds are that Bradford and Daniel make the majority of starts in Philadelphia. And since I'm way too optimistic about this Eagles roster, there is a real chance this team wins and keeps Wentz on the bench all season. You can make a Drew Brees-in-2004 run to the playoffs and boost your value, Sam! We promise.

Prediction: Sits all season

Redshirt years


7. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys: Predicting Prescott will start as a rookie would be foretelling a Tony Romo injury, and that's no fun. Still, Prescott is more likely than the rest of this second tier to make a start.

8. Jacoby Brissett, New England Patriots: He has a steep uphill battle to pass Jimmy Garoppolo for the Patriots' backup job.

9. Connor Cook, Oakland Raiders: Cook figures to learn behind Derek Carr and Matt McGloin before elevating to backup status.

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