One of the major questions a franchise must face after drafting a young quarterback fresh out of college is, when do we play him?
Some say, the sooner, the better, get him out on the field! Others will say, let him sit on the bench and learn. Neither is wrong, because through research and many years of observation, I have come to the conclusion that no matter what you do with the young quarterback, it takes three full years on the same team, in the same offense, for a quarterback to reach his full potential.
Whether those three years are spent on the bench or getting sacked, every quarterback needs it.
Consider Eli Manning.
His first three seasons with the Giants were nothing spectacular, but he showed signs of hope and really just lacked NFL experience. In his fourth year as a pro, he had a mediocre regular season and looked very average. However, he went 4-0 in the postseason and won the Super Bowl.
Now Manning is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league. While he has not won a playoff game since, his QB rating has risen considerably in the two years since his Super Bowl win.
Aaron Rodgers is another fantastic example for my three year rule. Rodgers was drafted by the Packers in 2005. He spent three years sitting on the bench behind Brett Favre. He got virtually no game experience.
However, in his fourth year with the Packers, he got the starting job and posted one of the most impressive seasons from a first-year starter, throwing for 4,038 yards and 28 TDs.
Now in his second year as a starter Rodgers continues to build on his impressive statistics as well as turn the Packers into contenders.
One of my very favorite examples is Drew Brees. Drafted by the Chargers in 2001, Brees did not start a single game. However, he did start in 2002 and 2003. His combined stats for those two years are 28 TDs and 31 interceptions.
Then, in his fourth year with the Chargers, Brees broke out with 27 TDs and only seven INTs. Since then, Brees has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
But let's not just look at the youngsters. How about the all-time greats?
Brett Favre only needed two full seasons in Green Bay to break out, and his fourth season was still better than his third. Favre threw a combined 37 TDs and 37 INTs in his first two seasons with Green Bay.
His third and fourth were combined 71 TDs and 27 INTs.
Through my research, Peyton Manning is the only quarterback to defy the three year rule, as he started pumping out huge stats his rookie year.
Coaching changes of any kind, or going to another team during these three years of maturation, slows the growing process and often times will require a restart.
For example, Jay Cutler is in his fourth season in the NFL. However, because of his trade to Chicago, his maturation process has been extended to probably another year or so. Hence his less than stellar 2009 season.
Flacco and Sanchez have found post-season success, but their statistics during those runs were not very good. They rode their defenses, but I do commend them for taking care of the ball.
There will always be exceptions to rules, but I firmly believe in this three year rule.