Are Rookie Quarterbacks Set up to Fail?


I don’t know if it is all rookie quarterbacks. After all, every great NFL quarterback was a rookie once. However, it seems that many of these young signal callers leave college with tons of potential only to crash and burn in the pros.

Below is a list of the quarterbacks drafted in the first round since the year 2000.

Chad Pennington, Michael Vick, David Carr, Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey, Carson Palmer, Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, J.P Losman, Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, Jason Campbell, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler, JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christain Ponder, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, E.J Manuel, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch.

Jared Goff
Jared Goff, this year’s first overall pick, has struggled heavily this preseason. (Wikimedia Commons)

There are some really good quarterbacks in that group. However, there are several others that flamed out or turned out to be duds. It’s very hit or miss.

I chose to focus on the first round only because there are only two quarterbacks that weren’t chosen in the first round, but started their rookie year currently in the league (Andy Dalton and Russell Wilson).

Part of the reason is that these players come into situations where the team is not very good if they are spending a first round pick on a quarterback. A weak supporting cast can often cause these quarterbacks to struggle right out of the gate. There are several examples of this one. David Carr spent most of his career being battered behind an awful offensive line. Joey Harrington joined a talent-deprived team in Detroit on both sides of the ball.

The bigger reason though is that most of these quarterbacks end up not being pro ready, yet having to play right away because the team views them as the best option. The players who are in italics on the list above all played in at least 12 games during their rookie seasons. These young signal callers do not have the time to learn the intricate playbook and fully acclimate themselves to the speed of the NFL more often than not. This rushed development hinders the growth process in a young quarterback, which is arguably the most hyper-specific of an position in the league.

Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers had to wait three years before taking the starting job in Green Bay. (Wikimedia Commons)

Very few of these kids get what I will call the Aaron Rodgers treatment. There is no doubt that Rodgers is supremely talented, but his three years of sitting behind Brett Favre paid off in a big way with his capability to understand and command the offense from the first day he took the starting job. Even Eli Manning sat for half a season behind Kurt Warner before taking the reigns. You could probably have given J.P Losman five years to learn on the bench and he still would have been terrible, but a few years of development might have really changed the careers of guys like Mark Sanchez or E.J. Manuel.

Fewer quarterbacks are getting the chance to learn from the bench first. From 2000 to 2007, only seven of the 21 quarterbacks taken in the first round played 12 or more games during their rookie season. From 2008 to 2015, 14 of the 20 quarterbacks selected in the first round played at least games during their rookie season. That might help explain why it seems like the league is burning through quarterbacks at an incredible rate.

Being a first round selection really increases your odds of getting a big paycheck and starting for a team. It does not always correlate to success though.

Taking a look around the NFL, of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the league, 21 of them were first round selections (I’m not counting Goff here, as rumor has it Case Keenum will start in Los Angeles.) Four of them were second rounders, Wilson is the lone third round pick with a starting job. Fourth rounder Kirk Cousins is alone as well. No one starting now came from the fifth round but Tyrod Taylor and Tom Brady were sixth round selections. Ryan Fitzpatrick came from the seventh, while Tony Romo and Keenum were not drafted at all.

Ben_Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger is one of the most successful rookie quarterbacks of all-time, going 13-0 in games he started during the regular season. (Wikimedia Commons)

However, of those 32 guys, only 18 of them are entering their third consecutive year of being the starter for the team they are currently on. It just goes to show how much turnover there is in a three-year span at the quarterback position. There are some exceptions in the form of Brady, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers, but on the whole, these quarterbacks don’t have much job security. This also speaks to the lack of patience NFL teams now have to develop a quarterback before just throwing him onto the field. The level of turnover, especially in recent years, has been through the roof.

The reality is that there is no best way to groom young quarterbacks. However, it seems that when you try to force the majority of them to play during their first year, it becomes a very hit or miss process. For every Cam Newton, you also get a JaMarcus Russell.

This year might break the recent trend though, as none of the current rookies seem slated to start under center early in the season. Maybe, just maybe, that will give them a fighting chance to make it in this league.

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