An NFL Rookie QB Barometer For The Bucs' Josh Freeman

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIOctober 29, 2009

Since the 1995 NFL Draft, there's been 35 quarterbacks chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Many of the League's franchises have done it differently during that time. Some throw their rookies right into the fire in a sink or swim type scenario. Others coddle their quarterbacks, not playing them for several years.

Now that Buccaneers Quarterback Josh Freeman has ascended to the throne, let's take a look at how other fellow first round picks have performed in their rookie seasons to give us a reference point of where Josh Freeman is.

Keep in mind, each of these quarterbacks had several factors working either for them or against them in their rookie seasons. Many QB's were drafted by downright horrible football teams with absolutely no weapons.

Others were plugged into a young developing team that just needed him as the final piece to the puzzle.

The First Dayers

Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Joey Harrington (after Week two), David Carr, Vince Young (after Week two), Peyton Manning, Kerry Collins (After Week two), Ben Roethlisberger (after Week one), Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford , Ryan Leaf .

We all know the stories of Roethlisberger, Flacco, and Ryan, taking the reigns of their team from Day One (or Day two as the case was for Roethlisberger).

Roethlisberger was perhaps the best of the bunch. Finishing his rookie season with an unreal 13-0 record as a starter. Big Ben was no slouch statistically either, in his 14 total games for the Steelers, he was 196 of 295, 66.4 comp pct., 2621 yds 17 TDs, 11 INTs. In his first start as a Steeler, Ben went 12 of 22, 163 yds, 1 TD, 1 Int in 13-3 win over Miami.

Matt Ryan started all 16 games for the Falcons, going 11-5 as a starter. He 265 of 434, with a 61.1 completion percentage, 3440 yds, 16 TD and 11 ints. His first NFL start (albeit against a Detroit Lions team that would go winless), Ryan was 9 of 13 for 161 yds, 1 TD, 0 Ints in the win. We all know the story how Ryan's first pass in the NFL was an 80 yard touchdown.

Flacco wasn't quite as successful as Ryan. He also started all 16 games (11-5 as a starter), going 257 of 428, 60.0 comp pct, 2971 yds, 14 TDs, and 12 INTs. Flacco's first start was against the Cincinnati Bengals and he struggled a bit, 9-for-24, for just 94 yds and an interception, but won 17-10.

Joey Harrington moved into the starting role in Week Three of his rookie season and started 12 games, going 3-9 as a starter. He had the typical rookie season, 215 of 429, for just a 50.1% pct, 2294 yds, 12 TDs, 16 Ints. His first career start was against the Green Bay Packers and he had some turnover issues. Harrington went 15 of 35 for 182 yds, 2 touchdowns but four interceptions in a 37-31 loss.

David Carr had the double whammy, being the No. 1 overall draft pick and playing for the expansion Houston Texans. Carr started from day one for the Texans and wasn't very effective, going 4-12 in 16 starts and 233 of 444, with a 52.5 completion percentage, 2592 yds passing, 9 TDs and 15 ints. Carr's first start was a 19-10 upset of the Dallas Cowboys. He played decently, going 10 of 22 for 145 yds, 2 TDs and 1 Int.

Kerry Collins knew Carr's pain, starting for the expansion Carolina Panthers but he fared a little better. Taking over in Week Three, Collins was a surprising 7-6 in 13 starts for the Panthers despite struggling statistically—214 of 433, only a 49.4% comp pct, 2717 yds 14 TDs, 19 Ints. Collins first start was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he played well in the Panthers 20-13 loss to the Bucs, going 18 of 32, 234 yds, 1 TD and 1 Int.

Vince Young took over the struggling Titans in Week Three as well, exploding on to the NFL scene. Young was 8-5 as a starter, 184 of 357, 51.5 completion percentage, 2199 Yds, 12 TDs, 13 Ints. He also added 552 yds and seven touchdowns rushing. Young's first start was an ugly 45-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Young went 14 of 29 for 155 yds with a touchdown and two picks. He was held to just three yards rushing on five carries.

Peyton Manning had an ugly rookie season, going 3-13 as a day one starter. Manning statistically wasn't too bad although he was high in the interception department.

Peyton passed a lot because the Colts were down in most games. He finished 326 for 575, 56.7 completion percentage, a whopping 3,739 yds, 26 touchdowns and 28 picks. In Manning's first NFL start, a 24-15 loss to Miami, he threw for over 300 yds, going 21 of 37, 302 yds, 1 touchdown, and 3 ints.

The two other first round draft picks of 2009 opened as opening day starters for their respective teams.

Matthew Stafford got hurt in Week Four after struggling a bit in the early going, 79 for 139, 56.8 comp pct., 894 yds, 3 TDs, 6 INTs. He is 1-3 as a starter in four games this season. Stafford opened the season against the mighty New Orleans Saints and he had a rough outing, going 16 for 37, 205 yds, 0 TDs, 3 Ints.

Mark Sanchez had bit better start to his NFL career, doing so well he actually earned the nickname "The Sanchize". Unfortunately for the Jets, The Sanchize has cooled off a bit. Seven games in to the season, he's 4-3 as a starter losing three of his last four (including a game where he tossed 5 ints), while going 94 of 178, 52.8 comp. pct, 1178 yds, 6 TDs, 10 ints.

Sanchez's first start was against the Houston Texans. He went 18 of 31, 272 yds, with a touchdown and an interception in the Jets 24-7 win.

Then there's Ryan Leaf. It's hard to imagine that some analysts believed Leaf would be better than Peyton Manning in the NFL. After his rookie year, all thoughts to that effect were gone. Leaf won as many games as Manning did in 1998, going 3-6 as a starter, but he was downright dreadful. Leaf went 111 of 245, a 45.3 comp pct, 1289 yds, 2 TDs and 15 ints.

Leaf actually won his first two NFL starts. His first, a 16-14 win over Buffalo, Leaf went 16 of 31 for 192 yds, 1 TD and 2 Ints.

Leaf found himself on the bench by Week 10.

For the "First Dayers", Manning and Roethlisberger have won Super Bowls, while Flacco, Ryan, and Collins led their team to playoff berths. Harrington and Carr are now backups with other teams, never reaching their first round potential. Young has been benched but may get another chance to rejuvenate his NFL career. We know the jury is still out on both rookie QBs of the 2009 class. We all know what became of Ryan Leaf.

The Half Seasoners

Donovan McNabb, Patrick Ramsey, Akili Smith, Alex Smith, Cade McNown, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Matt Leinart

Like the Bucs' top pick, Josh Freeman, many teams tried to make a go of it with veteran quarterbacks before injecting their top pick into the fray. Some went on to have great careers, while others...not so much.

This is the group that we can use to really gauge where Freeman is in his development. Some will play less than Freeman (barring injury, of course), some will play more.

Let's start with McNabb. McNabb saw limited action in many of the early games of the Eagles season before assuming the starting role late the in the season.

McNabb, much like Freeman, was an unpopular choice with the fanbase and his rookie year didn't help alleviate any fears. McNabb was 2-4 as a starter, going 106 of 216, 49.1 completion percentage, 948 yds, 8 TDs, 7 Ints. McNabb added 313 yds rushing. In his first start as an Eagle, the QB who would lead Philadelphia to multiple trips to the NFC title game and a Super Bowl berth was an awful 8 for 20, 68 yds, no touchdowns and 1 int in a 33-7 blowout loss to Carolina.

Unlike McNabb, Patrick Ramsey also saw action as a starter in the early weeks of the season—beginning his career as a starter in Week Four. Unfortunately, two and half games into his season, he would go down to injury and didn't start again until week 13.

He would finish his rookie season with five stars and a 2-3 record as a starter. His first game started out like gangbusters. Ramsey went 20 for 34, 268 yds and 2 TDs in a 31-14 victory over the Titans.

Akili Smith took over as starter of the Cincinnati Bengals in Week Five. By week nine, he was no longer the starter. Smith was horrible in four starts for the Bengals, going 1-3 and 80 for 153, a 52.3 completion percentage, 805 yds, 2 TDs, 6 Ints. Smith actually didn't start too badly. In his first NFL start, he led the Bengals to an 18-17 win over Cleveland, going 25 for 42, 207 yds, while throwing two interceptions.

Alex Smith started seven games for the 49ers in 2005. The Niners yo-yo'd their young QB a little that season, starting him in Weeks three and four, benching him, then putting him back at starter for the rest of the season after Week 11. It didn't help the young QB's confidence.

Smith was a dreadful 2-5, while going 84 of 165, 50.9 completion pct., 875 yds, 1 TD, 11 Ints. That's right. Smith had a negative ten touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio. Ouch.

It all began in his first NFL start against the Indianapolis Colts where Smith was as bad as a quarterback could possibly be. He went 9 for 23, 74 yds, 0 TDs, and 4 interceptions in a 28-3 loss.

Cade McNown also struggled early on and was benched after three starts, only to be given the reigns back late in the season. He'd start six games total for the Bears in his rookie season, going 2-4. His numbers were average for a rookie, 127 of 235, 54.0 completion percentage, 1465 yds, 8 TDs 10 Ints. In his first career start against the Philadelphia Eagles, McNown went 17 of 33, 255 yds, 1 TD and 2 Ints.

Jay Cutler took over for the Broncos late in 2006 and had a fabulous rookie run. Despite going 2-5 as a starter, Cutler was an impressive 81 of 137, 59.1 comp. pct, 1001 yds, 9 TDs and just 5 ints. His first start was a 23-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, where Cutler went 10 of 21 for 143 yds, 2 TDs, 2 Ints.

Eli Manning had the unusual situation of taking over a 6-2 New York Giants team. Despite his team's tremendous start under Kurt Warner, head coach Tom Coughlin decided to put in Manning, essentially forgoing the rest of 2004 to get his star QB ready for the future.

Manning struggled for the Giants, going 1-6 as a starter. He was 95 of 197, 48.2 comp. pct, 1043 yds, 6 TDs, 9 Int. His first NFL start was against the Atlanta Falcons where he went 17 for 37, 162 yds, 1 touchdown and 2 ints in the 14-10 loss.

Kurt Warner would be victimized again by another number one draft pick in 2006 he would give way after five games to Matt Leinart.

Leinart would start the most of the half-seasoners, starting in 11 games. He would be 4-7 as a starter, while putting up 214 of 377, 56.8 comp. pct, 2547 yds, 11 TDs, 12 Ints. Leinart played well in his first NFL start, a 23-20 loss to Kansas City, going 22 of 35, 253 yds, 2 TDs, 1 Int.

Donovan McNabb and Eli Manning would go on to lead their teams to the Super Bowl. Jay Cutler played very well for the Broncos, but a regime change saw him traded to the Bears where he is struggling to establish himself.

Patrick Ramsey turned into a journeyman NFL quarterback while Alex Smith and Matt Leinart were benched and are awaiting their next shot to start with their teams.

Akili Smith and Cade McNown were out of the league within three years.

The Toe Dippers

The remaining first round quarterbacks didn't play in their first season except for spot duty or minimal starts here and there.

There were successes like Daunte Culpepper (33 TD passes his first season as a starter in Minnesota—his second year as a pro), Mike Vick (24 total touchdowns, starting for the first time in year two), Phillip Rivers (22 TD passes when first starting during his third season), and Chad Pennington (22 TD Passes when first starting in his third season).

There were so-so performances like Steve McNair (14 TDs, 13 Ints starting full time in his 3rd season) and JaMarcus Russell (13 TDs, 8 Ints in his second season).

Then there were the awful performances, JP Losman (In his second season was benched after eight games with a 49.6 completion percentage, 8 TDs, 8 Ints, and a 1-7 record as a starter) and Brady Quinn (benched after three starts in his third season with 1 TD, 3 ints).

Then there's the guy that never really even got a chance—Jim Drukenmiller, who couldn't break into the starting line up for the 49ers. He started just one game in the NFL his entire career. In his second season, he was traded to Miami where he never saw the light of day and eventually found his way to the Arena League and XFL.

The Great Ones

For those of you wondering. Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and Drew Brees weren't mentioned earlier simply because they weren't first round draft picks.

Brady, a 6th round steal by the Patriots, started for the first time in his second season after an injury knocked out Patriots starter Drew Bledsoe.

Brady would start 14 games for the Patriots, going 11-3 and leading them to a Super Bowl upset over the St. Louis Rams. Brady would finish his first season as a starter 264 of 413, 63.9 comp pct, 2843 yds, 18 TDs, 12 Int. Brady's first start was a 44-13 destruction of the Indianapolis Colts where he went 13 for 23, 168 yds, 0 TDs, 0 Ints.

Drew Brees was drafted in the 2nd round by the San Diego Chargers. Brees sat the bench his rookie season behind veteran Doug Flutie. Drew started the 2002 season as the starter of the Chargers from opening day and would go 8-8 in his first season as a starter.

Brees definitely wasn't the QB he is today, going 320 of 526, 60.8 comp. pct, 3284 yds, 17 TDs, 16 Ints. His first start came against the Bengals, and it was a good showing as he was 15 of 19 for 160 yds and 2 TDs.

Many folks forget but Brett Favre was actually drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2nd Round. He wouldn't get a chance to start in Atlanta, who traded him to the Packers for 1st Round pick the next season. Favre would take over for the injured Don "Majik Man" Majkowski in 1992 and the rest, as they say, is history.

After relieving the injured Majkowski and leading the Packers to a come from behind win against (who else?) the Bengals, Favre's first career start came against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Favre went 14 of 19 for 210 yds and 2 TD passes.

What We Learned

Rookie seasons can be a mixed bag. Some quarterbacks take a little while to get it before coming great players, others—we find out quickly whether they'll be good or not.

If Josh Freeman struggles in his first NFL game or even in his first NFL season, it doesn't mean he'll be a failure as a quarterback in the NFL.

If he's brutally bad...well, then we may know pretty quickly that he's not the guy for Tampa Bay.

If he plays well, it doesn't mean he's the next Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, either but it bodes well.

The important thing for the Buccaneers front office is to stand behind Freeman, no matter how bad it gets in this first season. We've seen what the yo-yo effect has on guys like McNown, Alex Smith, and others. If he tosses four picks in a game—don't bench him. Just let him learn from those mistakes.

So Buc fans, get behind your young quarterback, strap on your seat belt and get ready for a wild ride.

For better or worse, here is Josh Freeman. Let's hope he's closer to Roethlisberger than Akili Smith.


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