NFL Week 8 Report Card: Grading Each Rookie QB's Performance
Rookie quarterbacks have been through a lot. For years, their drafting meant a steady diet of clipboard holding and hat wearing, destined to work the sidelines behind a veteran mentor for at least a season before taking the reins themselves.
Now, a first-round quarterback is expected to start winning in Year 1, and the learning curve has been hammered flat by trigger-happy owners and hot-seated coaches.
For some, the transition has been a happy one, but for a few new faces, adjusting to the NFL is apparently going to be a multi-year process.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
No surprise here. Newton once again played beyond his years and provided more evidence that his smile is, in fact, real.
His critics have to feel a bit sheepish about doubting a 6'5", 250-pound passer who can throw the ball 60 yards with pinpoint accuracy after evading pass rushers with 4.6 speed. Especially one who'd been a part of three collegiate national championship teams.
Still, Newton's career grade will likely come down to wins and losses, and this week didn't help that campaign. Despite being matched up with one of the NFL's true cellar-dwellers, the Carolina Panthers came up short in a 24-21 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
That's not to rain on Newton's personal parade. The rookie quarterback was once again uncannily prepared and focused on his way to 290 yards and three touchdowns through the air and 53 more yards on the ground.
True, the Panthers limped to the loss column once again, but Newton's proving every week that he was well worth the No. 1 overall pick in 2011.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
Ponder was a bit of a surprise call at 12th overall in the 2011 NFL draft, but he's wasted no time defending Minnesota's decision in limited recent playing time.
After making his NFL debut against the Green Bay Packers in Week 7, Ponder carried the momentum over to his first NFL start against Carolina. He finished 18-of-28 for 236 yards and a touchdown, without a single turnover and with his first win, the Vikings' second of the season.
Heading into the NFL draft, Ponder's injuries and their effects on his arm strength were considered solid red flags, but through just under two games of action, he's shown the zip he displayed in college pre-injury, and his mobility and accuracy on the run are major pluses behind a sub-par offensive line.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Plenty of people love to talk about Tim Tebow being a guy who "just wins," but with all due respect to Tebow, maybe Andy Dalton should be soaking up some of that praise.
Through eight weeks of his rookie season, Dalton has the Bengals, the NFL's fourth-worst team in 2010, sitting at 5-2 with a legitimate shot at winning the AFC North.
It hasn't always been pretty, and he's suffered his fair share of first-year blunders, but at the end of the day, Dalton's a winning quarterback, despite being the only man on this list not to hear his name called in the first round of last April's draft.
Dalton was predictably solid, if not flashy, in Cincinnati's 34-12 win over the Seattle Seahawks, completing 18-of-29 passes for 168 yard, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
He continued to display a strong connection with fellow rookie AJ Green, who caught his fifth scoring strike of the year, and he has the Bengals on a four-game winning streak.
His performance wasn't perfect, but like his rookie season, it was effective.
Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
Blaine Gabbert, after helping to pull off an improbable upset of the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7, almost did it again against the Houston Texans on Sunday.
But Gabbert, who has struggled to find a groove in his rookie season, and his teammates fell just short in a 24-14 loss that saw the first-year passer complete just 10-of-30 passes for fewer than 100 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Gabbert's now gone under 110 yards in each of his past three starts, never completing more than 12 passes in any game during that stretch, and he's managed to complete at least half of his throws only once this season.
A lack of talent and size at the receiver position is certainly a handcuff for a young QB, and Gabbert hasn't really single-handedly lost a game for the Jags, but he's doing very little to prove his worth as the 10th overall pick in 2011.