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Final Regular-Season Rookie QB Rankings

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2013

Final Regular-Season Rookie QB Rankings

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    The 2012 rookie quarterback class is special.

    Though some of it had to do with injury, eight rookies won at least one game this season, fully one-fourth of the league. Three of them made the playoffs. 

    Records fell. Fanbases were energized. Even teams with less success saw plenty of promise.

    There is no question who the top three quarterbacks are: Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. But how do they rank, and how does the rest of the quarterback class compare?

    Here is an in-depth look at the storylines and numbers behind each one. Brock Osweiler and those who did not see the field this season were not considered.

     

    Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

8. Ryan Lindley

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    Starting Record: 1-3
    Completion Percentage:
    52.0
    Passing Yards: 752
    Passing Touchdowns: Zero
    Interceptions: Seven
    Passer Rating: 46.7
    Rushing Yards: Seven
    Rushing Touchdowns: Zero
    Fumbles: Three

     

    To be fair, Ryan Lindley was thrown into the dumpster fire that is the Arizona Cardinals offense after John Skelton and Kevin Kolb were injured. He was clearly not ready.

    The rookie threw zero touchdowns in six games of action, four of them starts. He was a bane to Larry Fitzgerald and his fantasy owners.

    Lindley is only on the list because of injuries and ineffectiveness at the position in Arizona.

7. Kirk Cousins

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    Starting Record: 1-0
    Completion Percentage: 
    68.8
    Passing Yards: 466
    Passing Touchdowns: Four
    Interceptions: Three
    Passer Rating: 101.6
    Rushing Yards: 22
    Rushing Touchdowns: Zero
    Fumbles: One

     

    It is strange to see a quarterback who has about a game-and-a-quarter of regular-season action under his belt ranked ahead of a guy who saw significantly more, but Kirk Cousins flashed plenty more than Ryan Lindley did.

    After seeing some action against the Falcons in Week 5, Cousins came in for fellow rookie Robert Griffin III and led his team to an improbable victory against the Ravens. He then had a big game against a good Browns defense on the road. 

    The rookie did so well that trade rumors began swirling around him immediately after his success. Why the Redskins would trade a good, cheap backup is anybody's guess, but the Eagles and Bengals were able to pull some high draft picks for theirs in recent years.

6. Brandon Weeden

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    Starting Record: 5-10
    Completion Percentage:
    57.4
    Passing Yards: 3,385
    Passing Touchdowns: 14
    Interceptions: 17
    Passer Rating: 72.6
    Rushing Yards: 111
    Rushing Touchdowns: Zero
    Fumbles: Six

     

    Truthfully, Brandon Weeden barely edged Kirk Cousins out on this list.

    The Cleveland rookie had just four more wins than Cousins did in 14 more starts. He was not much of an improvement over Colt McCoy despite having an improved offensive roster.

    He does not have much rope considering he is 29 years old and the Browns are bringing in a new staff. He must improve quickly lest he be added to the list of quarterback busts in the Dawg Pound.

5. Nick Foles

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    Starting Record: 1-5
    Completion Percentage:
    60.8
    Passing Yards: 1,699
    Passing Touchdowns: Six
    Interceptions: Five
    Passer Rating: 79.1
    Rushing Yards: 42
    Rushing Touchdowns: One
    Fumbles: Eight

     

    Expectations were muted, but still high, for the Eagles heading into 2012. They still had plenty of high-profile players on the team, including Michael Vick, and they had another good offseason from a personnel standpoint.

    Vick showed no improvement from his mediocre 2011 campaign, however, to the point that there was speculation midround rookie Nick Foles would take the starting gig.

    It didn't happen until a concussion knocked Vick out of action, and Foles stepped in to post predictable results.

    The rookie had his ups and downs, and he nearly led the Eagles to upset victories against the Cowboys and Redskins. Had his defense been any good, he might have won those games.

    Foles could be the de facto starter heading into next season, depending on the moves Philadelphia makes this offseason. Hopefully it will be more up than down for him and Eagles fans next season if that is the case.

4. Ryan Tannehill

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    Starting Record: 7-9
    Completion Percentage:
    58.3
    Passing Yards: 3,294
    Passing Touchdowns: 12
    Interceptions: 13
    Passer Rating: 76.1
    Rushing Yards: 211
    Rushing Touchdowns: Two
    Fumbles: Nine

     

    Dolphins fans did not know what to expect from rookie Ryan Tannehill when he was drafted. 

    The Texas A&M product had just 19 college starts at quarterback under his belt, and Matt Moore had done a decent job after taking over the starting gig in 2011.

    While Tannehill has looked like a typical rookie—as opposed to the trio ranked higher than him on this list, which has looked anything but green—he has shown flashes of his potential.

    He was 72.9 percent accurate on aimed passes under pressure, and his passer rating of 121.2 on play-action passes was second in the league to Matt Ryan.

    The dearth of quality around him on offense has been a hindrance this season, though, and something the Dolphins desperately need to address during the offseason. If they can develop Tannehill properly, he certainly has the tools to succeed.

3. Andrew Luck

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    Starting Record: 11-5
    Completion Percentage:
    54.1
    Passing Yards: 4,374
    Passing Touchdowns: 23
    Interceptions: 18
    Passer Rating: 76.5
    Rushing Yards: 255
    Rushing Touchdowns: Five
    Fumbles: 10

     

    The turnaround in Indianapolis has been astounding.

    Andrew Luck took a 2-14 team that had been gutted in the offseason and led them to a playoff berth, just one game behind the division-leading Texans at 11-5.

    While he certainly had help, it was difficult to imagine the Colts getting to six victories, let alone 11, before the season began. The defense was barely addressed, and the offense was full of holes and rookies. 

    The team even lost its head coach early in the season when Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, only getting him back at the end of the season after recovering from treatment.

    It has been a fantastic year for Luck, who smashed the record for wins by a top-overall pick. He also broke the rookie record for passing yards, doing so in the 15th game of the season.

    His numbers lose their luster once you dig deeper, however.

    The rookie out of Stanford might have broken that yardage record, but he dropped back to pass a record 703 times, throwing a pass on 627 of those dropbacks. To put that into perspective, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson dropped back 465 and 477 times, respectively.

    Peyton Manning threw the ball 575 times in his rookie season, which led the league. 

    As such, Luck's YPA was just 7.0, which was just better than Ryan Tannehill's. Luck also just edged out the Dolphins rookie in passer rating, and his completion percentage was the worst among all the rookie quarterbacks save Ryan Lindley.

    Of course, there is the fact that his average depth of target (aDOT, or the average depth of his throws to receivers) was 10.8—a league-leading average that was well higher than Griffin's. That goes to show that the Colts trusted him like they would a veteran, and it likely contributed to his accuracy issues, though it cannot completely excuse them. 

    Luck might have been a big part of Indy's turnaround—after all, he did lead the league with seven game-winning drives as a rookie—but his numbers were flatly average outside passing yardage, which he obtained through sheer volume. He also happened to have the third-easiest strength of schedule this season, and that includes two games against the Texans.

    He should get credit for having less talent around him, and he has the look of a savvy veteran, but Luck was outperformed by two other quarterbacks this season.

2. Robert Griffin III

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    Starting Record: 9-6
    Completion Percentage: 
    65.6
    Passing Yards: 3,200
    Passing Touchdowns: 20
    Interceptions: Five
    Passer Rating: 102.4
    Rushing Yards: 815
    Rushing Touchdowns: Seven
    Fumbles: 12

     

    The Redskins paid a king's ransom for the right to draft Robert Griffin III. Washington's fanbase had been quarterback-starved, naturally leading to excitement and anticipation in the nation's capital.

    RGIII has delivered.

    Baylor's golden bear stormed the league much like Cam Newton did a year before, but with quite the different style. Griffin still ran for plenty of yards and touchdowns, but the rookie has also been within the top five in completion percentage and passer rating all season.

    Unfortunately, Griffin's style got him hurt, as some predicted might happen. He was concussed in Week 5 against the Falcons, then suffered a knee sprain against the Ravens.

    Thankfully for him, his knee injury was minor, but it was enough to knock him out of the Baltimore game and keep him out against Cleveland. That allowed Kirk Cousins to pull off some heroics and win one on the road.

    The fact Cousins' numbers were not terribly far off from Griffin's—limited sample size or not—also dings Griffin a bit. Kyle Shanahan's scheme proved rather effective for Cousins too.

    Speaking of the offensive coordinator, Shanahan brought back the pistol and read option, tailoring them for Griffin. The scheme flummoxed opposing defenses thanks to the rookie's ability to run it effectively, but he had help from a good offensive line and a fellow Rookie of the Year candidate in Alfred Morris.

    The scheme is one reason why Griffin's accuracy numbers were so good this season. He mixed in a lot of short throws to wide-open receivers, shielding him from mistakes. He still had to make those throws, though, and his average of 8.1 yards per attempt led the league.

    (In fairness, his aDOT was in the middle of the pack at 8.5. The ability of his receivers to gain yards after the catch helped his YPA quite a bit.)

    He only really faced one truly good defense in a 27-12 loss to Pittsburgh. 

    While Griffin had a spectacular season that prompted some hyperbole from his own coach, there was one rookie quarterback who edged him out this year.

1. Russell Wilson

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    Starting Record: 11-5
    Completion Percentage: 
    64.1
    Passing Yards: 3,118
    Passing Touchdowns: 26
    Interceptions: 10
    Passer Rating: 100.0
    Rushing Yards: 489
    Rushing Touchdowns: Four
    Fumbles: Six

     

    Tarvaris Jackson had a decent year for the Seahawks in 2011, and they won the Matt Flynn "sweepstakes" during free agency. As such, Russell Wilson was a roster afterthought after Seattle drafted him with a third-round pick.

    After all, how could a 5'10" quarterback drafted in the third round crack the starting lineup, right?

    Perhaps Wilson had a little extra motivation after hearing he was too short for the NFL. The rookie was spectacular in the preseason, good enough to earn the starting gig to the chagrin of some Seahawks fans and chuckles of others around the league.

    Nobody is laughing harder than Wilson and his steadfast supporters now.

    It was not all roses for the rookie as the Wisconsin product got off to a horrendous start on the road against Arizona. He was known more for his "Fail Mary" pass that netted Seattle a(n illegitimate) victory against the Packers in Week 3.

    It wasn't until he came back to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in Week 6 that his true colors began to show.

    Wilson caught fire and was absolutely torrid in the second half of the season, going 7-1 and torching defenses regardless of quality—just ask Chicago and San Francisco—in the process. He went from dark horse to contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year in the blink of an eye.

    Like Robert Griffin III and unlike Andrew Luck, however, Wilson had plenty of help. Marshawn Lynch and that offensive line were huge, the defense was monstrous at times and the "12th Man" in Seattle is simply one of the best home crowds in all of sports.

    Whether or not he did enough to overcome his draft status, playing in Seattle and being surrounded by quality teammates to win the award remains to be seen, but he had quite the run to get here.

    There are arguments for and against each of the top three quarterbacks, but Wilson's incredible season coming from nowhere tops the list.

     

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