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NFL Young Guns: Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco Lead New Group of Up-And-Coming Stars

Carl D. CarlucciCorrespondent IJune 26, 2016

Young Guns: Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco Lead New Group of Up-And-Coming Stars

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    Beginning in 2008 with the selection of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, the NFL has seen an influx of young quarterbacks who are setting the NFL landscape aflame with their gun-slinging and providing hope that, in a league where the passing game is taking precedence, there will be no shortage of high-quality quarterback play and parity in a league that prides itself on both.

    This is a good thing because from 2005 until 2008 each successive draft produced bust after bust with Aaron Rodgers being the diamond in the rough.

    In 2005, Alex Smith headlined a class that also included Aaron Rodgers and Jason Campbell. Smith has lost his job to Troy Smith, himself a fifth round pick in the 2007 draft and Campbell has a tenuous hold on the quarterback position with Bruce Gradkowski, a 2006 sixth round selection, in the rear-view mirror.

    The lone standout of that class, and indeed of the quarterbacks taken in the early rounds from 2005, 2006 and 2007 drafts is Aaron Rodgers, a budding superstar and successor to Brett Favre in Green Bay.

    In 2006, Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler were all selected to much fanfare at the front of the first round. Leinart has never amounted to more than a career backup, first for Kurt Warner and now for Matt Schaub.

    And while Young and Cutler have shown flashes, Young is now out of favor in Tennessee and Cutler has been flailing in mediocrity in Chicago.

    In 2007, the early-round quarterback bust trend hit critical mass when JaMarcus Russell, arguably one of the biggest busts of all time, was picked first overall. Several disappointing seasons and some "Purple Drank" later, and Russell is no longer in the NFL.

    Russell's failures would have been enough, but this draft also saw Brady Quinn, John Beck and Drew Stanton, who are all backups for .500 or worse teams, selected in the first two rounds.

    The only shot this Quarterback draft class has to be redeemed is by the play of Kevin Kolb, who is currently parked on the Eagles' bench behind Michael Vick.

    Where was all the early-round quarterback talent? Were scouts just that inaccurate in their evaluations or were the grades curved due to a lull in NFL caliber talent at the position?

    Whatever the case, that lull has seemingly came to an end starting in 2008 and leading up to draft day this April. Some of these guys might not ever amount to much, while others might be Super Bowl Champions one day.

    Here are the young guns of the NFL that are making names for themselves each week or may be doing so soon.

Jimmy Clausen

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    Drafted with the 48th overall pick in the second round of the 2010 draft, the one-time Notre Dame prodigy has not exactly lit the world on fire in his first season with the Carolina Panthers.

    The erstwhile Golden Domer has completed a paltry 48.6 percent of his passes for 692 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions in seven games (four starts).

    Pressed into duty following an injury to starting quarterback Matt Moore, Clausen did not make Broncos fans forget Moore, which shouldn't have been too hard given Moore's 55.6 Quarterback Rating.

    The Panthers have an historically bad offense. How much blame for this falls on Clausen's shoulders is a question that the new head coach in Carolina will have to determine heading into 2011.

    If Clausen can progress as a quarterback and the Panthers can get him some targets to throw to then there may be hope for his career yet.

    But as of now, sitting on the Panthers inactive list due to a concussion, Clausen's career is in neutral.

Tim Tebow

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    So what if Denver Head Coach Josh McDaniels only puts Tebow in during high-percentage situations and has him run either up the gut or outside for the most part?

    Tebow is still a superstar without even making a large impact on the field. His jersey was the highest selling jersey on following the draft. And no, that's not just among rookies; that is among all NFL players.

    Tebow has scored four touchdowns, three on the ground and one through the air. In fact, Tebow's sole pass attempt was a three-yard touchdown pass. His 118.8 Quarterback Rating is the highest of all rookie quarterbacks.

    With the new contract Kyle Orton recently received, it will be interesting to see what Tebow's career path will be from here on out.

    McDaniels, who might not even be around after an abysmal season, spent a first-round pick on Tebow, so it will be hard to justify not using him in some capacity or not handing him the reins at some point in the not-so-distant future.

Chad Henne

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    Let's get this out of the way: The Miami Dolphins made a mistake by benching Chad Henne for Chad Pennington.

    Henne was not lighting the world on fire. His 79.4 Quarterback Rating and nine to 11 touchdown to interception ratio didn't cry out "Superstar in Waiting!"

    But the entire Dolphins roster was nothing more than mediocre. They have a strong core of players to build around in Jake Long, Cameron Wake, Vontae Davis and Brandon Marshall; however, they lack the overall depth to compete against the better teams in the AFC.

    So injecting Chad Pennington into the starting lineup wasn't going to suddenly turn the mediocre Dolphins team into a playoff contender.

    All they have done by benching Henne is deal a blow to his confidence, perhaps hinder his development and prove that, yes, Chad Pennington's shoulder is now officially more fragile than the housing market in the United States.

    Hopefully, Chad Henne can return from his injury and take his starting job back from Tyler Thigpen.

Colt McCoy

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    Very few expected Colt McCoy to make a start this season, let alone the five he's already started.

    Right now he is playing sound football. Eric Mangini and the Browns are not asking him to do too much, and he is far from the reason why this Browns team is 3-7.

    McCoy is showing some great mobility and he is proving that his record-setting NCAA accuracy can translate into the NFL despite whatever physical limitations he might have, as he is completing 63.8 percent of his passes.

    It has now gotten to the point where, even if Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace are healthy, Colt McCoy will most likely be starting in Cleveland for the remainder of the 2010 season barring an injury.

    Whether the Browns feel they are set at the quarterback position for the next decade or so is a question that has yet to be answered, but right now McCoy is given them reason to believe that he may be a franchise signal caller.

Matthew Stafford

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    Every time Matthew Stafford gets out on the field, he displays the talent that made him the first overall pick of the 2009 draft.

    But that's when he gets on the field, because he has had shoulder problems in each of his professional seasons.

    After injuring his shoulder in 2009, Stafford has had two separate injuries in 2010 and is no longer playing. It's a shame because in the three games he did play in 2010, he completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 536 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception.

    If Stafford can shake off the injury problems that have plagued him early on in his career, he will develop into a great quarterback.

    If he can't, well, then every NFL fan has to feel sorry for a moribund Lions franchise that only seemed to be getting things together when their franchise signal-caller's career was derailed on account of injuries.

Mark Sanchez

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    Mark Sanchez caught a lot of flak for his performance last season after throwing 20 interceptions in 15 games.

    But going back to the AFC Playoffs, Sanchez has thrown 19 touchdowns to nine interceptions and owns a 10-3 record. Of course Sanchez has more talent around him than every other quarterback listed here other than Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, so he should be able to put up solid numbers.

    However, lately it has been Sanchez who is saving the talented Jets roster and not vice-versa. In the last three weeks, Sanchez has led three consecutive game-winning drives.

    Two of them have come in overtime on the road and the third came this past Sunday when he calmly carried the team 72 yards down the field in 49 seconds trailing the Houston Texans, 27-23.

    Sanchez' accuracy leaves something to be desired, and he often still makes two or three questionable throws a game, but Sanchez is quickly showing he is clutch and no longer a detriment to the New York Jets.

Josh Freeman

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    In terms of clutch play, Josh Freeman is the NFC version of Mark Sanchez. Or is Sanchez the AFC version of Freeman?

    However, Freeman is doing it with what is probably a slightly less talented overall supporting cast.

    And the best part about it for Buccaneers fans is that the 6'6", 248-pound Freeman certainly has a higher ceiling than his AFC clutch-counterpart.

    Freeman has been tearing it up this season, completing 61 percent of his passes and throwing 14 touchdowns to just five interceptions.

    Although the Bucs might not necessarily be real contenders this season, they certainly have a lot to be optimistic about, starting with Josh Freeman.

Sam Bradford

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    The Rams' rookie is making a strong case for a Rookie of the Year Award.

    Despite the Rams' record trailing off in recent weeks, Bradford has performed admirably in winning the Rams more games in the 2010 season than the franchise had won in the 2008 and 2009 seasons combined.

    He has done this despite having limited targets. Steven Jackson is a dependable running back and the Rams defense has been solid in support of their rookie signal-caller, but the Rams leading receiver is Danny Amendola, who sports a paltry 8.2 yards per catch.

    Given the injuries to the Rams receivers, first Donnie Avery and then Mark Clayton, Bradford's 79 quarterback rating and 14 touchdown to nine interception ratio is spectacular.

    The Rams might need to bring in more talent, but they have a quarterback in place in Sam Bradford. 

Joe Flacco

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    Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan lead this class of young guns because they have seniority. While both are now established quarterbacks in the NFL, they are both just 25 years old.

    In his two-plus seasons as the starting quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, Flacco has a record of 27-15. In each season since his rookie year, Flacco's Quarterback Rating has increased, going from 80.3 in his rookie season to 88.9 in his second year and now standing at 92.1, 10 games into his third season.

    The Ravens have made the playoffs in both of Flacco's seasons at the helm and most likely will do so for a third consecutive year with Flacco under center.

Matt Ryan

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    "Matty Ice," as his adoring fans call him, is, along with Flacco, the head of the pack in this next generation of quarterbacks.

    Ryan is 28-14 as a starter in the NFL, including 18-1 at home in the Georgia Dome.

    Could there be a more signature win than his come-from-behind victory in Week 10 against the Ravens? Ryan's cool demeanor under pressure has earned him the nickname and the respect of most NFL fans, as well as consideration for the best up-and-coming quarterback in the NFL.

    His 18-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season is stellar, and so is the Falcons' NFL-best 8-2 record. With Ryan under center, the Falcons should be headed toward the playoffs for the second time in three seasons after missing them in 2009 despite a 9-7 record.

So Who's Next?

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    The 2011 quarterback class has every shot of being just as good or better than the quarterbacks from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 classes.

    With Andrew Luck leading the way, there could be a good number of quarterbacks selected in the first two rounds of the 2011 draft this April.

    Other names that may or may not be called in a couple of months include Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker, Cameron Newton and Christian Ponder.

    These are names that any NFL fan should get to know, because soon they will join the other 10 names listed here in ensuring the most important position in the NFL is in good hands moving forward.

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