Highlighting the Development of the NFL's 2nd-Year Quarterbacks
The 2011 NFL draft saw six quarterbacks picked within the first 40 selections: Cam Newton (No. 1), Jake Locker (No. 8), Blaine Gabbert (No. 10), Christian Ponder (No. 12), Andy Dalton (No. 35) and Colin Kaepernick (No. 36).
Ryan Mallett was taken with the 74th overall selection.
It probably goes without saying that last year's class was a quarterback-rich season for taking first-year signal-callers.
A year later, that class still looks very good—both on paper and from an on-field perspective.
In the following slides, we break down the development of each second-year quarterback listed above.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
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Some are calling Cam Newton's first four games this season the start of a sophomore slump, but the numbers don't suggest that notion.
A season ago, when Newton lit the NFL world on fire, he completed 60 percent of his passes for 4,051 yards and a passer rating of 84.5. This season, Newton is on pace for a 63.6 completion percentage, 4,052 yards and a passer rating of 87.5.
Even the rushing is close, with Newton on pace for 668 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. He rushed for 706 and 14 his rookie season.
Expectations are what separate 2011 from 2012.
The jump most expected out of Newton simply hasn't happened. For better or worse, he's still the same quarterback he was a year ago: an elite physical and arm talent, who makes some questionable decisions each week but also wows everyone in attendance a handful of times a game. That was Cam in Year 1, and it's still Cam in Year 2.
And the Panthers are mostly the same team, again starting off 1-3.
The sulking on the sidelines is nothing more than a side issue here, one that has been blown out of proportion by the media. The real reason Newton is taking heat in 2012 is because the improvement from both a personal and team standpoint hasn't been visible so far this season.
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
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The attached photo here pretty much sums up Jake Locker's second season so far.
After dislocating his left shoulder while attempting a tackle in Week 1, Locker re-injured the same shoulder on a sack by Texans safety Glover Quin in Week 4. The Titans are now shelving Locker until the shoulder is back to 100 percent.
When Locker was on the field, results were mostly mixed. Back-to-back losses to open the season saw Locker complete over 60 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Week 3 was Locker's coming-out party, as he threw for 378 yards and two scores in the Titans' 44-41 overtime win.
Then came the second injury setback, and now we're back to the waiting game with Locker.
Two things stick out from Locker's start, however: His ability to complete passes is up, and it's something he clearly worked on this offseason. But even more striking is Locker's willingness and arm talent to make throws down the field.
He's clearly progressed in year two, but he needs to stay on the field for that to continue.
Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
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Most would jump on the opportunity to talk about how horrific Blaine Gabbert's second season has been, even coming off what many considered a disaster rookie season.
But what about Gabbert throwing two go-ahead touchdown passes late in the fourth quarters of games this season? The Jaguars should have beaten Minnesota after Gabbert found Cecil Shorts late, and his perfectly thrown ball to Shorts in Indianapolis salvaged a poor day from the passing offense.
Still, it's hard not to reflect on some of the negatives.
Gabbert is on pace to get sacked 48 times. His 654 passing yards through four games puts him on pace for just 2,616 in a 16-game season. The completion percentage still lags behind in the mid-50s.
Granted, the Jaguars passing offense is probably the worst in football. There is still much work to be done, including from Gabbert.
But overall in 2012, there have been some positive flickers for Jaguars fans to latch onto. Gabbert has 12 more games this season to prove he deserves this job for the long term.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
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No second-year quarterback has made a bigger jump than Minnesota's Christian Ponder.
The stats are fantastic: 68.3 completion percentage (fifth in NFL), 824 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 97.7 (eighth in NFL).
He's also led the Vikings to wins over the Jaguars (fourth-quarter comeback), San Francisco 49ers (two-score favorite) and Detroit Lions (Minnesota 0-2 vs. Detroit in 2011). The Vikings are currently tied with the Bears atop the NFC North at 3-1 heading into Week 5.
Granted, Ponder has received a lot of help. The Vikings defense has undergone a revival, Adrian Peterson made a miracle recovery and the special teams have been a point-scoring asset. Ponder hasn't had to complete a pass over 29 yards so far this season.
But don't discredit what Ponder has meant to this 3-1 start. He's been poised, smart and accurate. Ponder has made legitimate and tangible strides in every area of quarterback play in his second NFL season.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
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Andy Dalton has a strong case for being the most improved second-year quarterback, but he showed us flashes of being the guy he has been in 2012 during his rookie season, when he was a Pro Bowl alternate.
In his second season, Dalton is starting to stack successes together.
In three straight Cincinnati wins, Dalton has thrown for over 240 yards and two scores in each. He's now on pace to throw for over 4,000 yards with 32 touchdowns in 2012.
There have been a couple of no-no interceptions on his 2012 record, but it's hard to argue with a 3-1 record and Dalton's overall stat line (67.5 completion percentage, 1,111 yards, eight touchdowns, 103.0 passer rating).
Mostly a game manager in his rookie season, Dalton is now the aggressor from the quarterback position. That says all you need to know about his progression in year two.
Other Second-Year QBs
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Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Kaepernick, picked one spot behind Dalton in the second round in 2011, is Alex Smith's backup in San Francisco. But the 49ers have cleverly used Kaepernick in the Wildcat formation, and the results have been smashing.
He's rushed six times for 67 yards and a score, while throwing just one pass (incomplete). His role won't be large in 2012, but the 49ers are getting their playmaking youngster on the field.
Ryan Mallett, New England Patriots
Mallett hasn't exactly lit the world on the fire, especially this past preseason. But he was handed the Patriots' backup quarterback job, and he's still in line to be the eventual successor once Tom Brady is done with football. A couple more years in that system should give him all the tools he needs.