Are NFL Teams Throwing Rookie Quarterbacks to the Wolves Too Early?
Rookie quarterbacks can no longer sit idly by and wait for their opportunity behind veterans.
That philosophy has fallen by the wayside as the latest trend in the NFL dictates that youngsters must start right away and usher in a new era for their respective franchises.
And while Robert Griffin III made this theory look brilliant as he upstaged All-Pro Drew Brees in Week 1, other rookie quarterbacks were not as impressive in their NFL debuts.
In fact, the other four rookie QB starters each suffered numerous trials and tribulations over the course of their first games.
Should fans in Cleveland, Indianapolis, Miami and Seattle panic?
Absolutely not. Organizations know what they are getting into when they start rookie quarterbacks, and performances like RGIII's are the exception, not the rule.
Certainly, each situation is unique, but the consensus is that quarterbacks should take two to three years to develop, if possible.
However, is it realistic to expect such a standard in today's NFL?
This is a "what have you done for me lately" type of league, and organizations are often far too impatient to wait for a youngster to learn the ways of the game from the bench.
Can you blame them?
When should most QBs become starters?
How could the Miami Dolphins, a team clearly in the rebuilding process, justify naming someone like Matt Moore or David Garrard the starter in training camp when their potential is limited at best. Ryan Tannehill can learn on the fly while getting acquainted with the NFL game by actually playing.
Could the Cleveland Browns let 28-year-old Brandon Weeden sit on the bench for two years and not become a starting quarterback until his 30s?
Or how about Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. There is simply no way the Colts can afford to pay Luck $22 million to hide behind a playbook for a few years.
Yes, there are tremendous quarterbacks that have sat behind experienced veterans before getting their opportunity, and maybe that does help their progression and make them that much hungrier to get on the field, but most teams don't have time to wait.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers famously sat behind Brett Favre for three seasons before claiming the starting job and elevating himself into the most elite group of QBs. The only reason the Packers even spent a first-round selection on a QB was because Rodgers had one of the most epic free-falls in draft history. The value was too good to pass up.
Meanwhile, Alex Smith, the man drafted first overall in 2005 and 23 spots ahead of Rodgers, was immediately given the keys to the San Francisco 49ers franchise. He struggled for years to become a quality NFL QB.
Were Smith's struggles due to being thrown to the wolves too quickly, or was it because he had seven different offensive coordinators in seven seasons?
I would lean towards the latter, but still, this isolated story of Rodgers and Smith has made many people wary of the notion that starting right away is the proper course of action.
Let's look at more recent first-round quarterbacks and how they have fared in the ever-changing NFL. Here are each of the quarterbacks taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2008:
- Matt Ryan
- Joe Flacco
- Matthew Stafford
- Mark Sanchez
- Josh Freeman
- Sam Bradford
- Tim Tebow
- Cam Newton
- Christian Ponder
- Jake Locker
- Blaine Gabbert
Each of these players saw action in their rookie season, and with the exception of Tim Tebow, each is currently a starter.
How can any team consider letting a rookie sit when there is such a recent track record of immediate dividends by getting these QBs on the field? For example, Ryan, Flacco, Stafford, Sanchez and Newton have all seen some amount of success already in their young careers, and all of the other QBs are developing properly.
The moral of this story? Starting right away is not detrimental to a quarterback's development.
Quarterbacks are not being thrown to the wolves too early, because the situations into which they are being drafted demand they step in more often than not.
At every other position, first-round draft picks are almost always expected to start and contribute right away.
That same standard is finally being applied to QBs as well.
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