Grading Each NFL Rookie QB's Performance in Week 1 of the Preseason

Josh Rosenblat@JMRosenblatContributor IIIAugust 16, 2011

Grading Each NFL Rookie QB's Performance in Week 1 of the Preseason

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    Quarterbacks are easily the most scrutinized position in all of sports.

    A quarterback is the face of the franchise, the leader of the team and hopefully a winner.

    All of these characteristics are magnified when a franchise elects to pay a player millions of dollars without seeing him play a snap of NFL action.

    So after a lockout, fans have become increasingly anxious to see their team's new quarterback.

    Here is a review of how the top rookie quarterbacks fared in their first action as an NFL quarterback.

    Josh Rosenblat is a high school student from Chicago looking to find a way to break into sports journalism. He often writes about the NBA (primarily the Chicago Bulls), as well as the MLB, college basketball, Tennis and the NFL. You can email him at or follow him on Twitter @JMRosenblat. Feel free to send him comments.

    Visit Josh's Blog: The Rose Garden: Where Sports Fanatics and Writing Meet in Harmony.

Tyrod Taylor, Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens' sixth-round pick in this April's draft isn't expected to do much, especially in his rookie season.

    Tyrod Taylor is currently competing for the second-string quarterback spot on the depth chart behind Joe Flacco.

    In the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, Taylor entered the contest in the second quarter. He was 19-of-28 with 179 passing yards, along with two interceptions. But what makes Taylor a dangerous player is his running ability. Taylor ran six times for 59 yards as he was the leading rusher in the game.

    Although his passing was a little shaky, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh was prompted to call Taylor "electric" and "exciting" during his post game press conference.

    Overall, Taylor performed well, but his two interceptions (one in the red zone) are a cause for concern.

    GRADE: C

Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Blaine Gabbert was thought by many to be the top quarterback prospect out of this year's NFL draft class. But Gabbert fell to the 10th pick in the draft where the Jacksonville Jaguars made him the third quarterback taken in the top 10.

    With an already established starter in veteran David Garrard, Gabbert was expected to sit behind him and watch during his first season. But with a training camp injury to Garrard, Gabbert had to step in and start against the New England Patriots.

    Gabbert led the Jags to an opening-drive field goal and finished his first half of NFL football with a solid 9-of-16 passing attempts for 85 yards. He led the Jaguars to another field-goal drive on his next possession, but he was unable to knock in a red-zone opportunity for a touchdown.

    Gabbert looked to have a calm and collected presence in the pocket during his first taste of NFL action.

    GRADE: B-

Ryan Mallett, New England Patriots

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    The big, 6'6'' gunslinger from Arkansas was arguably the most talented quarterback coming into the 2011 NFL Draft. But, character concerns caused Ryan Mallett to fall all the way to round three, where he was picked up by Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

    Mallett landed in the best possible situation for quarterbacks, being able to learn from Belichick and also to sit behind and learn how to be a successful NFL quarterback from Tom Brady.

    Brady did not play in the preseason opener and Pats' second-stringer, Brian Hoyer, got the start.

    In his first drive to start the third quarter, Mallett led the Patriots down for a touchdown. The following drive was a seven-and-a-half minute drive ending in a touchdown pass. On the ensuing drive, Mallett led a methodical 14-minute march down the field for yet another touchdown run for the Patriots.

    Mallett was an exceptional 12-of-19 passing for 164 yards, while outshining fellow rookie, Blaine Gabbert, albeit against the second- and third-team defense.

    GRADE: A-

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

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    The TCU product and second-round pick was tossed into a touch situation with the Bengals. Disgruntled-veteran Carson Palmer threatened retirement if he was not traded, and Palmer has kept his word.

    Andy Dalton began his first series with a greatly under-thrown deep ball that ended up being an interception. Dalton just never got going on the night, and he was constantly under pressure from an aggressive Detroit Lions defensive front. Ndamukong Suh nearly took Dalton's head off with a late hit.

    Dalton did lead one drive of the Bengals' drives for a field goal, for the only Cincinnati points in their 34-3 loss.

    The quarterback's 11-of-15, 69-yard performance, was clearly less than stellar, but he should improve with experience.

    GRADE: D

Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

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    A new era in San Francisco began Friday night, when new head coach Jim Harbaugh took the field for the first time with his new team.

    Alex Smith got the starting nod from Harbaugh, and after he struggled through a handful of possessions, Harbaugh called for his second-round draft pick, Colin Kaepernick.

    Kaepernick thrived as a dual-threat quarterback at the University of Nevada, as his physical tools helped climb up draft boards during the spring. But come his first NFL snaps, his physical tools weren't too much of a help.

    Kaepernick was able to escape the pocket for 47 yards, including a 28-yard scamper, but his passing was sub-par. Kaepernick threw for 117 yards along with two interceptions.

    It was clear that Kaepernick struggled, and showed very little as a prospective starting quarterback for the 49ers.

    GRADE: D- 

Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings

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    The Vikings made many heads turn when the selected Christian Ponder out of Florida State with the 12th-overall pick in the NFL draft.

    His solid footwork and accurate arm made him a solid but surprising selection for the then quarterback-less Vikings.

    Ponder spent the summer preparing to be Minnesota's starting quarterback, but when the NFL lockout ended, the Vikings traded for veteran Donovan McNabb. For Ponder, this move should benefit him in the long run. He now will get to sit behind McNabb and study and understand the nuances of the West Coast offense.

    Ponder entered his first preseason game as a the third-stringer, behind Joe Webb, in the third quarter. He threw for 84 yards in the second half with no scores.

    GRADE: D+

Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans

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    Jake Locker's journey to the Titans is a curious one. After turning down a chance to be one of the top quarterback's taken in the 2010 NFL Draft, Locker wasn't as strong in his senior season at Washington. His draft stock seemingly fell, and he arrived at the 2011 NFL Draft with a wide array of possible draft locations. Then, with the eighth pick in the draft, the Tennessee Titans took Locker to be their starting quarterback.

    In a similar situation to Christian Ponder, the Titans picked up veteran Matt Hasselbeck.

    Locker entered the exhibition contest against the Minnesota Vikings as number two on the depth chart.

    His game began near the end of the first quarter, as he led the Titans to a field-goal drive and later a long touchdown pass. That touchdown pass showed the creativity and resilience of Locker. Locker fumbled the snap, and proceeded to pick it up, roll out of the pocket, and spot an open receiver for an 45-yard touchdown.

    Overall, Locker showed his ability to throw from within the pocket, as well as move around outside the pocket and find open receivers.

    GRADE: B+

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

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    The first-overall selection in every NFL draft is analyzed thoroughly after his first appearance on an NFL field. Fortunately for Newton and the Carolina Panthers, their new face of the franchise looked strong in his inaugural game.

    Newton started the game behind Jimmy Clausen, but it was soon obvious who the more talented passer was.

    On his first possession, Newton led a drive for a field goal. Later in the game, he threw a 36-yard strike to Armanti Edwards to move the Panthers inside the red zone. But, Carolina was unable to capitalize as they settled for a field goal after three straight Cam Newton incompletions.

    Newton showed a lot in his first game, enough to heat up the quarterback competition between himself and Clausen.

    Newton's 134-yards passing proved he was effective, but he did struggle with his accuracy at times as he finished his debut with a 42 percent completion percentage. 

    GRADE: B

Greg McElroy, New York Jets

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    The seventh-round pick, with aspirations of becoming the President of the United States, showed he could play some football in the New York Jets' preseason opener against the Houston Texans.

    Greg McElroy is a cerebral quarterback who doesn't necessarily possess the physical tools of a Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker or other top quarterback prospects.

    McElroy came into the game for Mark Sanchez in the second quarter and finished out the rest of the game.

    His NFL debut was astounding, as he threw for 208 yards on 23-of-39 passing. He led the Jets to field goal, as well as a third-quarter touchdown drive that ended with a McElroy touchdown pass to Patrick Turner.

    The surprising performance of McElroy should give Rex Ryan and the Jets confidence that if Mark Sanchez was to go down, McElroy would be a highly capable back up.

    GRADE: A

Reviewing the Grades

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    A, Greg McElroy

    A-, Ryan Mallett

    B+, Jake Locker

    B, Cam Newton

    B-, Blaine Gabbert

    C, Tyrod Taylor

    D+, Christian Ponder

    D, Andy Dalton

    D-, Colin Kaepernick