Should Rookie Quarterbacks Start in the NFL? : AFC North

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Should Rookie Quarterbacks Start in the NFL? : AFC North

Joe Theismann, the legendary Redskins quarterback, was on the Tirico and Van Pelt Show on Aug. 22, stating "No rookie QB should start."

I think I agree with Theismann for the most part.

Below are the four teams in the AFC North: the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers. I'll take a look at each of their starters and see if Joe is correct.

 

Kyle Boller, Baltimore Ravens

This is a prime example of what Theismann was talking about. Drafted in the 2003 draft, No. 19 overall, Boller was named the starting QB almost immediately. Boller was Brian Billick's choice, pushing to draft the Cal quarterback. During his senior year, in 2002, Boller passed for 2,815 yards, 28 TDs, and 10 INTs.

Boller was named the starting QB based on his senior year and the fact that the Ravens didn't have a better option.

In his rookie season, he started the first nine games. He posted a 5-3 record, had a 51.8 percent completion rate, 1,260 yards, seven TDs, and nine INTs. In his ninth game against the Saint Louis Rams, he injured his thigh and was basically sidelined the rest of the season.

During his second season, he showed some improvement. Starting all 16 games, he set career highs of 2,559 yards, with 13 TDs, 11 INTs, and completed 55.6 percent of his passes. He also had his first rushing TD.

His third season, 2005, was injury plagued. He went down in the first game of the season, against the Indianapolis Colts, and then missed the next seven games. In just eight games, Boller posted some of his best numbers: 58.4% completion rate, 1,799 yards, 11 TDs, and 12 INTs. He became the first Ravens quarterback to have a 110+ rating in consecutive games.

The Ravens brought in Steve McNair and demoted Boller to backup. Boller accepted the demotion with dignity and class, never complaining. He finally had someone in front of him on the depth chart that he could learn from.

During a game versus the Carolina Panthers in Week Six, McNair was injured. Boller came in at the end of the first quarter. He completed 58 percent of his passes for 226 yards, three TDs and one INT.

Late in the game, the Ravens were down by nine. Boller led the team to two TDs, but the Panthers ran the clock out and won 23-21.

The Ravens would finish the season 13-3 and make the playoffs, led by both McNair and Boller.

In 2007, McNair was injured in the opener against division rival Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals won the game on a bad offensive-interference call on Todd Heap, which reversed a touchdown.

Boller then started game two and played quite a bit in the third game to give McNair some rest. After sitting for the next two games, Boller was again named the starter for Weeks Six and Seven.

In Week 11, Boller was finally given the starting job. Boller played well but the Cleveland Browns won on what seemed to be a missed field goal. After review, the field goal was called good, and the game went to overtime. The Browns won 33-30.

The next game was against the New England Patriots, who were running through the league on their way to a 16-0 regular season. The Ravens, led by Kyle Boller, played extremely well and almost pulled off the upset.

The final game of the season for Boller would be the following weekend against the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins were looking for their first win of the season. Boller was injured, and Troy Smith came in and played well. The Dolphins went on to their only victory in 2007, winning 22-16 in OT.

Boller is currently competing for the starting job with Troy Smith. Smith has shown promise and looks to be the favorite to win the job. Rookie Joe Flacco looked good against the St. Louis Rams, when he was given an emergency start due to Smith being sick.

Boller's problem has always been inconsistency. He will make strides that show his potential one week and then take two steps back the next. I don't think he should have started his rookie year, but there really wasn't a better choice.

Injuries cost him a lot of games early in his career, when he would have been developing his skills. After McNair was brought in, Boller made great strides but just couldn't get over the hump.

Hopefully the Ravens will learn from the mistake of rushing Boller out there and let Joe Flacco absorb the game before he is named the starter.

 

Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals

Palmer was selected in the same draft as Boller, 2003, as the No. 1 overall pick.

Though he was picked first overall, Palmer didn't take a single snap during the 2003 NFL season. Incumbent Jon Kitna remained as the starter. With Kitna mentoring him, Palmer learned the game from the sidelines.

Palmer was given the reins his second year and went through some growing pains. I was at a game in December of 2004 when the Bengals were playing the Ravens. The Ravens had built a 20-3 lead by the end of the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Palmer transformed from the Bengals' QB of the future to their QB of the present right before our eyes. He completed 10 of 13 passes for 200 yards and led the Bengals to a victory.

In 2005, Palmer had his breakout season. He led the Bengals to an 11-5 record and the division title. He finished the season with nine-consecutive games with a passer rating of 100+, and he led the league in completion percentage. He finished fourth in the league with 3,836 yards and a Bengals' franchise record 32 TDs.

After being injured in a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Palmer required offseason surgery.

The following season, he took all but one snap. It took until Week Nine of the season for him to completely regain his form. In a game against the San Diego Chargers, he threw for a career high 440 yards. He finished the season with a franchise record 4,035 yds, 28 TDs, and 12 INTs.

He was also selected to his second Pro Bowl.

The 2007 season was not good for the Bengals, as they finished with their first losing record with Palmer at QB. However, he was still productive, completing 376 passes for 4,131 yards, both franchise records, 26 TDs (including the 100th of his career), but 20 INTs, a career high.

In Week Two of the season, the Bengals lost to the Cleveland Browns, 51-45. Palmer threw for 401 yards and six TDs.

So far, Theismann is batting .1000. The drastic difference can be seen between Boller and Palmer.

 

Derek Anderson, Cleveland Browns

He was originally drafted by the Ravens in the sixth round of the 2005 draft. The Ravens waived him on Sept. 20, and the Browns picked him up the following day.
Anderson was the third-string QB, behind another former Raven in Trent Dilfer, and Charlie Frye in 2005.

After Dilfer left in 2006, Frye was promoted to starter, and Anderson was the backup. Anderson took one snap in a game in October, but made a bigger impact in his second appearance.

In a game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Charlie Frye was injured. Anderson played the entire second half of the game, throwing his first two TDs and rushing for 33 yards. He led the Browns to a come-from-behind overtime victory.

The 2007 season was Anderson's breakout year. Charlie Frye was named the starter for the Browns but struggled in the first quarter of the season opener. Anderson would come in and never looked back.

In his first start, he led the Browns to a 51-45 victory over the Bengals. With a passer rating of 121.0, Anderson threw for 328 yds and five TDs.

Anderson would lead the Browns to two victories against the Ravens. It was the first time since 2001 that the Browns had swept Baltimore.

The Browns finished 10-6, and Anderson finished the season with respectable numbers: 3,787 yds, 29 TDs, 19 INTs, and an 82.5 passer rating.

Anderson signed a three-year extension during the offseason, but will probably have to fight Brady Quinn for the starting job.

 

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben was drafted 11th overall by the Steelers in 2004.

Originally, Ben Roethlisberger was the third string QB for the Steelers, behind Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch. Batch was injured in the preseason, and Ben moved up to No. 2.

Maddox started the first two games of the season for the Steelers. The second game was against the Baltimore Ravens, in which Maddox was injured. Roethlisberger took over.

The third game of the season was the first start of Ben's career.

His rookie season was supposed to be a time for him to sit and learn the system, but Big Ben was thrown out there due to injuries, and he performed extremely well. Going 14-1 in his 15 starts, 13-0 during the regular season. Roethlisberger was the first QB to be named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 34 years.

Roethlisberger struggled in his first playoff game, throwing two INTs; however, the Steelers managed to hold on and win the game against the New York Jets. They would lose to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

He finished the season with 2,621 yards, completing 66.4% of his passes, 17 TDs, 11 INTs, and a passer rating of 98.1.

In 2005, the Steelers were 11-5 and became an AFC Wild Card team. Ben Roethlisberger missed four games due to injuries, and the Steelers were 9-3 with him and 2-2 without him.

He finished the regular season with the third-best passer rating behind Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer. Completing 62.7 percent of his passes for 2,385 yards, 17 TDs, and nine INTs.

As the wild-card team, the Steelers won three road games to reach the Super Bowl, beating the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, and Denver Broncos.

The Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XL, despite Roethlisberger's struggles. He completed only nine of 21 passes for 123 yds and two INTs. His passer rating of 22.6 is the lowest for a Super Bowl winning QB. But he also become the youngest quarterback to win the Super Bowl.

During the offseason, Roethlisberger was almost killed in a motorcycle accident and then had to have an emergency appendectomy. Needless to say, he missed the first game of the 2006 season.

He struggled through the first several weeks of the season, until Week Six against the Kansas City Chiefs. In a 45-7 rout, Ben threw for 238 yards, two TDs, and zero INTs.

The following week, Roethlisberger was playing well until suffering a concussion. Upon his return, Ben threw four INTs in a game against the Oakland Raiders, his fifth loss of the season, two more than in his first two seasons as a starter combined.

2006 was the worst season of Roethlisberger's young career. Finishing the season with a passer rating of just 75.4, completing 59.7 percent of his passes for 3,513 yards, 18 TDs, and 23 INTs.

The Steelers opened the 2007 season against division rival Cleveland Browns. Roethlisberger bounced back from his poor 2006 season right away, routing the Browns 34-7. Ben had the first four-TD game of his career.

In Week Nine, he tied the franchise record of five TDs in a game, held by Terry Bradshaw, against the Baltimore Ravens in a 38-7 victory.

In Week 12, in horrible weather, Roethlisberger completed 85.7 percent of his passes and beat the Miami Dolphins 3-0.

During the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Ben threw his 29th TD of the season, breaking Terry Bradshaw's franchise record.

He became the first quarterback to have two perfect passer rating games (158.3) in a single season.

The Steelers made the playoffs but lost in the first round to the Jaguars. Capping off a great comeback season Ben was named to his first Pro Bowl. His final stats for the season were a 65.3 percent completion rate, for 3,154 yards, 32 TDs, 11 INTs, and a passer rating of 104.1.

 

So it seems that Joe Theismann is correct. At least based on this division. Boller should never have started his rookie year, Palmer and Anderson didn't and have become solid quarterbacks. Roethlisberger started his rookie year, due to injuries, and he is the exception in this group.

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