The first week of the 2012 preseason is finally in the books, with all four first-round quarterbacks—Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden—getting a look in their NFL debuts.
Below, we compare the debuts of top quarterbacks in the 2011 draft with our squad of first-round quarterbacks in 2012.
2011 NFL Draft
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Newton is a solid case study as to why preseason debuts can mean so little. The No. 1 overall pick didn't start his first NFL preseason game, then completed just 8-of-19 passes for 130 yards and was sacked twice once he got on the field. It was a shaky debut.
Overall, Newton was shaky for most of his first preseason. But as we all found out, Newton was the real deal as a rookie. His 2011 season was arguably the best season in the history of rookie quarterbacks.
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
Locker was impressive in his 2011 debut, completing 7-of-10 passes for 89 yards and a score in a 14-3 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Despite a strong performance, however, Locker wasn't even granted one start during his rookie season.
In mop-up duty during the regular season, Locker did show flashes. He's currently still battling Matt Hasselbeck to be the team's starter in 2012.
Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
Gabbert's rough start in 2011 was a precursor of things to come. In a 47-12 shellacking in New England, Gabbert completed 9-of-16 passes but was sacked three times.
The rookie's pocket presence simply never developed. In 14 starts during the regular season, Gabbert was sacked 40 times and finished with a passer rating of 65.4. During the preseason, Gabbert was sacked seven times and had a passer rating of 64.3.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
There wasn't a lot to take out of Ponder's 2011 debut. He looked timid in the pocket—three sacks came as a result—but he did throw for 84 yards on 61.5 percent passing.
Eventually, Ponder took over for Donovan McNabb as the Vikings' quarterback during the regular season. He started strong but faded quickly as the Vikings struggled to protect him. He's the undisputed starter to begin 2012.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton certainly didn't look like a 16-game rookie starter during his first preseason action in 2011. Dalton completed 11-of-15 passes in Detroit, but he totaled just 69 yards (4.1 yards/attempt) and threw an interception. He was also banged to the turf by Ndamukong Suh.
Overall, it wasn't pretty.
However, Dalton successfully figured things out by the regular season. He threw for 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and was named to the Pro Bowl in his rookie year.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Of the nine rookie quarterbacks on this list, Luck had far and away the most impressive debut.
The 2012 No. 1 overall pick completed 10-of-16 passes for 188 yards and two scores in a 38-3 blowout of the St. Louis Rams Sunday afternoon. Three of his four drives resulted in scores.
Overall, Luck appeared beyond his years in several aspects of quarterbacking, including pocket presence and manipulation of defenses with his eyes. He looks like the real deal.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Griffin III had his own encouraging debut Thursday night.
While he led just one scoring drive, Griffin III was mostly solid overall. On his one scoring drive, Griffin III found Pierre Garcon three times for long completions, including a bubble screen that Garcon took to the house.
Griffin III would finish his debut 4-of-6 for 70 yards and one score. It wasn't on Luck's scale of impressiveness, but there were plenty of encouraging signs to take away.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Tannehill got an extended look with David Garrard out with a knee scope, and the first-rounder made the most of it. Tannehill completed 14-of-21 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown.
Now, Tannehill may be in position to steal away the starting job for Week 1 of the regular season. He still has work to do, but he's outplayed Matt Moore recently. The best player will play for head coach Joe Philbin.
Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
Weeden certainly had the most inconsistent debut of the 2012 rookies.
The 28-year-old completed 3-of-9 passes for 68 yards and one interception against the Detroit Lions. He made two outside throws early but still appeared vulnerable to a collapsing pocket. Browns fans are hoping consistency eventually follows.
There's simply not a lot you can take out of preseason debuts.
The 2011 beginnings were not completely indicative of future regular season results, and who can be entirely sure that the 2012 debuts are a definitive look into how any of the four rookies will fare this season?
And let's not forget: The 2011 rookies had roughly two weeks to prepare for their first preseason game. The 2012 group got OTAs, minicamp and the security of knowing there was going to be a season to prepare for. To think that didn't play a role in the debuts of both years would be asinine.
Overall, let's not overreact one way or another to preseason debuts. There are simply too many variables that go into the equation to find an answer because of one exhibition performance, good or bad.
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