Ranking All 10 Potential Rookie and 2nd-Year Starting NFL QBs

Joe Rapolla Jr.Featured ColumnistAugust 23, 2012

Ranking All 10 Potential Rookie and 2nd-Year Starting NFL QBs

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    One may dub this NFL season "the year of the future." Another may call it "the youth revolt." Some may just simply call it "a year of desperation."

    However optimistic or pessimistic the mood may be, one fact holds true: we will see potentially 10 starting quarterbacks this season who are either rookies or second-year players. 

    The NFL's ringleader position has not been dominated by such young whipper-snappers in quite some time, and the youth that will be present under center this year will certainly make for some interesting football. 

10. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings

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    Tim Tebow had a thought...it was a Christian ponder. (Cue comedic drum fill.)

    Sorry, I didn't come up with that, but I thought it was funny. Christian Ponder is entering his second year in the league, and he's on potentially the worst team in football. 

    The Minnesota Vikings are an absolute wreck, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them go 1-15, or even 0-16. Adrian Peterson is hurt, the defense has but a few notable names, and Percy Harvin—Ponder's biggest target—has dealt with injury in the past. 

    Ponder got in for a bit last season and didn't show us much. He threw 13 interceptions and 13 touchdowns, yet his biggest problem was his poor decision-making. His picks often came at crucial moments of games and abruptly ended otherwise solid drives. 

    I'm not saying Ponder doesn't have any potential, but in this grouping of young players, the 22-year-old ranks last based off what we have seen so far. 

9. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

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    Russell Wilson may not even have the starting job come September, and I would argue that he shouldn't get it. 

    I like everything about Wilson. First off, he's small (5'11") yet still finds a way to be effective. He does this by utilizing his speed (4.55 40), making short, accurate passes and making smart, safe decisions. 

    In his senior year at Wisconsin, Wilson raised his completion percentage to a shocking 72.8 percent. 

    Still, Wilson's size, despite helping him to claim my fanhood, ultimately works against him. He'll have trouble seeing over the line, his arm strength suffers and a hard hit by a charging pass-rusher has a greater injury potential. 

    Should Wilson find his niche like other small quarterbacks have done, however (i.e. Doug Flutie), he could be very successful in this league. He's a natural athlete who played minor league baseball while in college and is a poised and well-spoken gentleman. 

    One roadblock standing in his way this season: Matt Flynn. 

8. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans

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    Jake Locker, once touted as a potential first-overall draft pick, has fallen from grace a bit. 

    He elected to return to Washington for his senior year in 2010 only to have a disappointing season. He completed only 55.4 percent of his passes and threw nine picks to 17 touchdowns. This led to him being drafted eighth overall by the Tennessee Titans and failing to wrest the starting job from veteran Matt Hasselbeck last year.

    He's gotten the all-clear to start this year, yet it certainly seems that he's been selected as more a last resort than anything else.

    Locker has yet to prove anything in the pros, so 2012 is his chance to make a statement. He runs a 40-yard dash of under 4.6, and he showed in his junior year at Washington that he can be a skilled, yet reliable and un-flashy pocket passer. 

    Tennessee isn't on anyone's Super Bowl watch list this season, and this could bode well for Locker—he can play pressure-free football. 

7. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    It doesn't take a genius, or even a smart man, for that matter, to see that Blaine Gabbert's rookie year was an unmitigated disaster. 

    Playing behind an offensive line that couldn't stop two flies and an old lady, Gabbert completed only 50.8 percent of his passes, had a league-low passer rating of 65.4, and fumbled an astonishing 14 times. Luckily, some of his games were played in Jacksonville, and not many people were watching. 

    Gabbert is still very young (22), though, and he has shown improvement throughout training camp and the preseason so far. At 6'4", he's quicker than some would think (4.61 40 time) and has above-average arm strength and accuracy.

    If the Jacksonville O-line can actually block some defenders, Gabbert could be in for a successful sophomore campaign, especially now that he (presumably) has Justin Blackmon to throw to. 

6. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

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    As usual, the Miami Dolphins are a preseason enigma. On paper, they aren't the best team, and they aren't the worst. They also have more talent than their record will probably show. 

    Also as usual, they will be having a new quarterback calling the shots, rookie Ryan Tannehill. 

    Tannehill was widely overshadowed in this year's draft due to Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. While he certainly does not have the natural ability of Luck or the athleticism of Griffin, he is still a prototype of a successful NFL quarterback. 

    The Texas A&M product stands 6'4" and has above-average arm strength. Though he did have some issues with picks in college, Tannehill was still able to manage a 62.5 completion percentage.

    I wouldn't expect anything stellar from Miami's rookie this season, yet, like Andy Dalton last season, he has the potential to quietly surprise some people and raise the bar for his sophomore campaign. 

5. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns

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    Remember that kid in kindergarten who was eight years old? That's essentially Brandon Weeden in this rookie class. Weeden, who is (no joke) 28 years old, didn't repeat any grades, but he did play six years of professional baseball. 

    Weeden was a highly-touted pitcher out of high school and was drafted in the second round of the 2002 MLB draft by the New York Yankees. After vagabonding his way from team to team, Weeden decided to try his hand at college and football and enrolled at Oklahoma State University.

    Weeden excelled at OSU, and there is no doubt that his age served its advantages. Wiser and more mature than most opponents, Weeden amassed a completion percentage of 72.3 in his senior year and topped off his college career with an exciting Tostitos Bowl win over the Stanford Cardinal and Andrew Luck. 

    Weeden's age will be both a blessing and a curse for his pro career. On the upside, with more maturity presumably comes better decision-making abilities. On the contrary, he has a shorter shelf life and is probably at a higher risk for injury. 

    Personally, I think Weeden will have a great deal of success this season working with an underrated Cleveland Browns roster. 

4. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

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    Whether his rookie season proves to be successful or not, Robert Griffin III will be one of the most exciting and intriguing players to watch in the league.

    He's certainly not the mold of a prototypical quarterback, yet his brilliance at Baylor was enough to silence many critics. 

    Everyone will just have to wait and see with Griffin. 

    Running a 4.4 40, many are quick to label him as a scrambler with a weak arm. Yet he proved that arm strength is not the only judge of success. He threw 78 touchdowns and only 17 picks at Baylor.

    Griffin is also extremely bright. He was the valedictorian of his high school and finished college with a GPA of just under 3.7. He actually graduated early and began taking graduate courses. 

    Intelligence, speed and athleticism can make for a deadly NFL quarterback. 

3. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

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    While it's been well publicized that Andy Dalton doesn't have the prototypical arm of a QB, no one can argue with his success last season. And that is why he finds himself at third on this list. 

    Dalton proved last year that plays do not have to be flashy and stats do not have to dazzle for success. He very quietly led the Cincinnati Bengals to a postseason berth and near-win during a season that many had pegged his team as one of the league's worst.

    Granted, Cincinnati's defense proved to be much better than ever given credit for, but Dalton made smart choices, clutch plays and, most importantly, few mistakes. 

2. Andrew Luck, Indianpolis Colts

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    Andrew Luck is one of the most highly anticipated and dissected rookies in the history of the game, and this is largely because people have been waiting three years to see him on the big stage. 

    He surprised many when he announced after a ridiculously successful junior year that he would indeed finish college and return for a senior year, and he didn't lose a beat his senior year.

    Despite losing out on the Heisman Trophy to RG3, Luck was selected No. 1 overall in the draft and is the first to succeed Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. (No, I'm not counting Curtis Painter or Kerry Collins.)

    Luck has looked beyond impressive in preseason, and while the Colts will have many areas of concern in 2012, it doesn't look like quarterback will be one of them. 

    The rookie reminds many people of what John Elway and Peyton Manning looked like their rookie years. Fine comparisons indeed.

1. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

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    After the season that Cam Newton had last year, it would be downright insulting and horrifyingly egregious if I did not give him the top spot on this list.  Newton proved to the world last year that he could do it all, and then some. 

    He passed for over 4,000 yards, threw 21 touchdowns to 17 interceptions and finished the season with a passer rating of 84.5. He also proved to be one of the league's best rushers, amassing 706 yards and 14 touchdowns. (In fantasy football, Cam is a god.)

    At 6'5", Newton is a force to be reckoned with, and he put the Carolina Panthers back on map in no time. The Panthers will have to improve on defense if Carolina has any playoff aspirations at all, and Newton also has to focus on throwing less picks.

    Unfortunately for Newton and Co., they play in a very competitive NFC South featuring the likes of the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons

    With Newton passing, rushing and scoring, however, do not rule out Carolina. Their QB's a stud.