Situation is often the most decisive factor for rookie quarterbacks turning in a successful first season in the NFL.
Surrounding infrastructure, such as talented skill players, an accomplished offensive line and a top defense, plays a large role, both in the statistical output for the quarterback and in the team's win-loss record.
After looking back at the data from recent rookie quarterbacks, it can be argued Teddy Bridgewater has landed in an environment with the Minnesota Vikings that should be conducive to success—and especially on an individual level.
Kurt Warner, an MVP and Super Bowl-winning quarterback who is now an analyst for NFL Network, agrees. He sat down with Bleacher Report's Adam Lekoe to discuss Bridgewater's chances for early success in Minnesota:
"I really like the situation that he's in," Warner said.
While individual talent matters greatly, the majority of rookies starting at quarterback in Year 1 enter the league as first- or second-round picks. These are highly regarded players. Andrew Luck was obviously light-years more advanced at playing the position than, say, Brandon Weeden, but overall, the talent level of the rookie quarterbacks mostly evens out.
Situations, on the other hand, have a wide variety. And in most occasions, it determines how the rookie quarterback handles his first season.
Still, some young quarterbacks transcend situation. The most obvious example is Luck.
He arrived in Indianapolis in 2012 to save an Indianapolis Colts team that won just two games the year prior, thanks mostly to horrific quarterback play in the absence of Peyton Manning. Luck then led the Colts to 11 wins in his rookie season, a nine-victory jump that was good enough for a spot in the postseason.
The No. 1 overall pick turned around the franchise as a rookie, and he did it mostly by himself.
The Colts did not have a 1,000-yard rusher. Vick Ballard and Donald Brown combined for over 1,200 yards, but neither averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry. In fact, Indianapolis finished 22nd in the league in total rushing yards and averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, 26th best in the NFL.
Luck was asked to throw 627 times (no rookie quarterback had ever attempted more than 590), and he took 41 sacks, the 11th most by a rookie quarterback since 1970.
The defense didn't give him much help either. The Colts allowed the 21st-most points in the NFL and the 26th-most yards, and the defense's 15 takeaways ranked 30th. Overall, Indianapolis gave up 30 more points than it scored.
Luck did have Reggie Wayne, a future Hall of Fame receiver whom he connected with 106 times for over 1,300 yards. But beyond Wayne, Luck was throwing to a 28-year-old washout (Donnie Avery), a raw, rookie speedster (T.Y. Hilton) and two rookie tight ends (Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen).
The Colts did not present Luck with an ideal supporting cast for a rookie quarterback. He was without a strong running game, a plethora of dependable receiving options and a strong defense.
Yet because of his off-the-charts talent and poise, Luck willed the Colts to seven come-from-behind wins and a wild-card berth in the AFC playoffs. His year was one of the most underappreciated rookie seasons at the position ever.
Bridgewater will not enter the NFL on the same level of Luck. He will need the help.
Recent history provides various pathways to rookie quarterback success. And that success needs to be divided into statistical success and win-loss success. There's an important distinction, even if both are difficult are to attain.
Believe it or not, only 10 quarterbacks since 1970 have delivered a rookie season with 2,500 or more passing yards and a passer rating over 80.0. While just half of those seasons came from 1970-2010, the most recent five are from the last three years.
|Rookie QBs w/ 2,500+ Passing Yards, 80.0 Passer Rating Since 1970|
|Robert Griffin III||WAS||2012||3,200||102.4||9-6|
The recent examples were helped by either strong supporting casts on offense or top defenses or, in some cases, both.
In 2011, Andy Dalton was given a 1,000-yard rusher in Cedric Benson and a rare 1,000-yard rookie receiver in A.J. Green. Tight end Jermaine Gresham caught 50 passes. Dalton was sacked on just 4.4 percent of his dropbacks. Maybe most importantly, the Cincinnati Bengals defense ranked in the top 10 of both points and yards allowed.
That same season, top pick Cam Newton set a new rookie record with 4,051 passing yards (it would be broken by Luck a year later).
But he also received almost 1,600 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns from DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (the two averaged 5.4 yards per carry combined), and Steve Smith made the Pro Bowl after registering almost 1,400 receiving yards. Tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey combined for over 80 catches and almost 1,000 yards.
A year later, a pair of quarterbacks—not including Luck, whose passer rating finished below the 80.0 cutoff—joined the party.
Robert Griffin III captained an offense that rushed for a league-high 2,709 yards, including 1,613 from rookie running back Alfred Morris. The low-risk offense committed just 15 turnovers. Griffin III sprayed the football around to four main receivers (Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson and Santana Moss), a group in which each caught at least 38 passes for 500 yards.
Russell Wilson wasn't asked to do a lot during the first half of his rookie season and understandably so. Running back Marshawn Lynch would run for almost 1,600 yards for the league's third-best rushing offense, and a rock-solid defense finished the season ranked first in points and fourth in yards allowed.
Eventually, Wilson was unchained; he finished the season with over 3,100 passing yards and 30 total touchdowns. Sidney Rice and Golden Tate combined for over 1,400 receiving yards and 14 scores. Yet the Seattle Seahawks still finished with the league's fewest passing attempts.
Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon received the worst support of the 2,500-yard, 80.0 rating group, but then again, he won just four games in 2013. Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin went down after just six games, leaving only Vincent Jackson (78 catches, 1,224 yards) as the lone playmaker for the Bucs offense.
Glennon threw 19 touchdowns against just nine picks, but he'll enter camp this summer fighting for a job against veteran Josh McCown.
Other somewhat recent statistical successes include Marc Bulger in 2002 and Peyton Manning in 1998. Bulger inherited one of the most talented offenses in modern NFL history as a rookie, while Manning had both Marshall Faulk and Marvin Harrison at his disposal.
Success as a rookie quarterback can also be measured in wins and losses.
Ben Roethlisberger threw just 295 passes over 14 games in 2004, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still won all 13 of the games he started. While Roethlisberger's 98.1 passer rating was part of the reason for Pittsburgh's streak, a running game that rushed for the most yards in the NFL and a defense that finished first in points and yards allowed fueled Pittsburgh's Super Bowl run.
In fact, the Steelers threw the least amount of passes in the NFL that season but rushed for the most attempts.
Matt Ryan was cool as a cucumber during his rookie season in 2008, leading four game-winning drives and finishing with a respectable passer rating of 87.7 (like Roethisberger, Ryan fits the requirements of the 2,500-yard, 80.0 rating group).
The Atlanta Falcons won 11 of his 16 starts. However, he received almost 1,700 rushing yards from Michael Turner, and Roddy White made the Pro Bowl with almost 1,400 receiving yards. Ryan was sacked just 3.8 percent of his dropbacks, and the Falcons defense gave up the 11th-fewest points.
Also in 2008, Joe Flacco threw just 14 touchdowns and averaged just 185.7 passing yards per game, but the Baltimore Ravens still won 11 games. Again, the running game and defense powered the victories. Baltimore rushed for 2,376 yards (fourth most) and 20 touchdowns (fifth most), and the Ravens defense allowed the third-least points and second-fewest yards.
Much like the Steelers in 2004, Baltimore's offense threw the third-fewest passes but had the most rushing attempts in the NFL.
Even Kyle Orton in 2005 qualifies. He started 15 games as a rookie but threw for just 1,869 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged under 125 passing yards per game, completed just 51.6 percent of his passes and had 13 interceptions.
Yet the Chicago Bears went 10-5 during Orton's starts. The theme continues; Chicago's offense finished '05 with 2,099 rushing yards and the seventh-highest yards-per-carry average, and the Bears defense ranked first in points and second in yards allowed.
The New York Jets know all about the win-despite-a-rookie-quarterback trend. Mark Sanchez (2009) and Geno Smith (2013) combined to throw 41 interceptions during their first seasons. Neither completed more than 56 percent of his passes, averaged more than seven yards per attempt or finished with a passer rating above 68.0.
Yet both quarterbacks won eight games as rookies (Sanchez made the postseason and advanced to the AFC title game), thanks almost solely to suffocating defenses and ground-and-pound run games.
|Rushing and Defensive Ranks for Rookie QBs with 10+ Wins|
|QB||Year||W-L||Rushing Yards||Points Allowed|
Recent history appears to support the idea that rookie quarterbacks have success in two ways. Either a quality cast around the quarterback helps deliver a strong statistical season (which occasionally leads to a strong win-loss record too) or a team wins by protecting the rookie with a high-volume running game and sturdy defense.
The Vikings could take a shot at either strategy, but the first option seems most likely.
Sure, Minnesota has the best running back of the last decade in Adrian Peterson, and the additions of defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer, nose tackle Linval Joseph, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and linebacker Anthony Barr should help the Vikings make a sizable leap on defense.
But the offensive pieces in Minnesota are tailor-made for a rookie quarterback.
Peterson runs behind a massive and mostly talented offensive line. But he's also dominant on his own, with a rare blend of speed, power, endurance and agility. Since 2011, Peterson leads the NFL in rushing yards (4,333). He's scored the second-most rushing touchdowns (34) and is fourth in yards per carry (5.19). And teams play defense against the Vikings knowing that fact, giving Peterson as many eight-men boxes as any running back in the NFL.
He is now 29 years old. But if any running back can hold off Father Time, it's Peterson—a true physical specimen in a sport filled with world-class athletes. He should have a handful of good seasons left.
Considering Norv Turner has been either the head coach or offensive coordinator during 12 seasons with a 1,200-yard rusher, it's a relatively safe bet that a healthy Peterson will make it 13 in 2014. He could become Bridgewater's most favored companion in Year 1.
The aforementioned offensive line is also a significant asset for a rookie quarterback.
The Vikings have bookend tackles in Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt plus a Pro Bowl center in John Sullivan. Brandon Fusco is coming off a strong season at guard, and Minnesota also drafted a future starter in David Yankey. Barring injury, the Vikings will start five capable players in front of their quarterback next season.
Why is the offensive line important? For starters, 16 rookie quarterbacks have been sacked 40 or more times since 1970. Those quarterbacks went a combined 75-140. Only Luck and Dieter Brock finished over .500, and seven of the 16 lost 10 or more games.
Bridgewater will also have a cast of receivers around him.
Greg Jennings has five career seasons with 900 or more yards. At age 30, he should have several more cracks at highly productive years, especially with better play at quarterback. A strong route-runner with deceptive vertical speed, he can still be a legitimate No. 1 receiver in the right situation. At the very worst, Jennings will be a pass-catcher Bridgewater can rely on at all times.
Second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has some refining to do in his sophomore season, but few in the game are more exciting or dangerous with the ball in his hands. The Vikings can simplify the offense for a rookie quarterback by giving short reads and throws to Patterson, who is a threat to go the distance every time he gets the football.
Strong yards-after-the-catch receivers can be a godsend for rookie quarterbacks. The short passing game—and Bridgewater was deadly accurate on almost everything underneath as a collegiate—can create a certain layer of comfort for a young player under center.
And when receivers can turn easy throws into big chunks of yardage, comfort can evolve into confidence. Both Patterson and Jennings fit the bill in terms of YAC. The two combined for 641 yards after the catch in 2013.
Need a deep threat? Every young quarterback should want a player who can take the top off a defense. Jarius Wright returns as Minnesota's best vertical receiver. He averaged 16.7 yards over his 26 catches last season, with seven of the 26 going for 20 or more yards.
Finally, the Vikings have a big and reliable tight end in Kyle Rudolph. At 6'6", Rudolph has a huge catching radius and above-average hands. He's also strong in the red zone.
Just two years removed from playing in the Pro Bowl, Rudolph could be Bridgewater's security blanket early on—especially in the tight end-friendly offense employed by Turner. He made the most of Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron during previous coaching stops, and Rudolph could be next.
It all adds up to a very friendly situation in Minnesota for a rookie quarterback.
The Vikings probably can't get to .500 by relying on running the football 600 or so times and banking on the league's worst scoring defense becoming one of the best. The '04 Steelers, '08 Ravens and '12 Seahawks used this strategy with rookie quarterbacks and won a lot of games. But the Vikings—even with all the improvements—aren't there defensively.
However, there is more than enough on the Vikings offense to believe Bridgewater could step in as the Week 1 starter and put up impressive rookie numbers. He's in a perfect situation to play safe, efficient football while learning the professional game on the fly.
Recent history suggests that the Vikings—given their current roster on offense and defense—can get a strong statistical season from Bridgewater and still improve on their five wins from a year ago. The pieces around the rookie quarterback are in place.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.
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