In 2011, there were four rookie quarterbacks who saw significant playing time. Let’s break down each of them and try to determine their outlook for the coming year:
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
We all know his story from a year ago when he burst onto the scene and immediately produced as one of the elite quarterbacks in the game. We all knew he had the ability to run, though he may have even outperformed those expectations with 706 yards and an amazing 14 TDs (putting him second in the league behind only LeSean McCoy, who had 17).
With Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and the newly added Mike Tolbert, can we really expect Newton to get as many TDs in 2012?
There is no arguing that this is going to be a running team, but that number is a little bit extreme. It’s hard to go into the season expecting anything more than eight or nine rushing touchdowns.
Obviously, we would all take that from our QB, as it still gives you an edge over the rest of the field. Last season only two other quarterbacks had as many as six rushing TDs and both now play for the Jets. Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow had six apiece.
The biggest surprise with Newton may have been his ability to throw. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 4,051 yards, 21 TDs and 17 interceptions. He also improved his interception numbers as the season progressed. After throwing at least 4 interceptions er month in his first three professional months, he had 9 TDs vs. 3 INTs over his final five games.
This season, the receivers around him, most notably Brandon LaFell, who is expected to start opposite Steve Smith, are going to have to step up if he wants to match his strong performance from his rookie season. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to imagine.
While he should improve the TD-INT ratio, can we really expect him to throw for as many yards or rush for as many TDs? He’s one of the better options in the league, just be realistic when valuing him.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Not only did Dalton produce solid numbers, in four December games he threw for four touchdowns with just one interception. Yes, his middle months were better in terms of yards (909 in October and 1,030 in November), and he totaled 13 TDs in those two months. But being able to avoid the turnover is an important step for a young QB.
You also have to look at the rapport he and A.J. Green quickly established. Many think Green has the potential to emerge as one of the league's elite receivers, and it’s hard to argue. After posting 1,057 yards and 7 TDs as a rookie, he and Dalton could emerge as one of the league's most dangerous duos.
Throw in the addition of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and there is a lot to like in what they are building in Cincinnati. I would still be cautious, as quarterbacks can easily regress (would anyone have expected Sam Bradford or Josh Freeman to struggle the way they did in ’12). But things are heading in the right direction. Dalton is a solid QB2 heading into the year with the upside for more.
Ponder played in 11 games for the Vikings in his rookie year, throwing for 1,853 yards, 13 TDs and 13 INTs. Over the final two months of the season, he was sacked 23 times, so that alone tells you that the Vikings need to do a better job of protecting their quarterback.
I wouldn’t expect the Vikings to simply throw him into the fire, either. They figure to use the running game to try to take the load off him. A healthy Adrian Peterson would go a long way in opening things up for Ponder, with him forming a solid 1-2 punch with Toby Gerhart.
Percy Harvin and an emerging Kyle Rudolph should also give him a good set of receivers. If the Vikings can protect Ponder and use the running game well, I expect Ponder to produce like a solid QB2 this season, though not quite to the level of Andy Dalton.
Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
He completed just 50.8 percent of his passes in his rookie season while throwing 12 TDs in 413 attempts. Then again, there was little talent around him, something the team tried to rectify heading into 2012.
The Jaguars used their first-round pick on Justin Blackmon (who has finally signed) while also adding Laurent Robinson via free agency. You have to like the improved talent, but it remains to be seen if it will lead to improved results.
We would’ve liked to have seen some sort of improvement as the season progressed, but Gabbert arguably posted his worst month in December, throwing five interceptions, his high for any month. He also had a 54.6 completion percentage, another number that is far from impressive.
Would I expect the improved receivers to help him produce at least slightly better? Absolutely, but I wouldn’t consider him a very good option.
What are your thoughts on these quarterbacks? Who will thrive in ’12? Who will regress?
Make sure to check out our 2012 fantasy football rankings: