Debate's Over, 2012 QB Draft Class Is Greatest in NFL History

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2012

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 25:   Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts and  Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins shake hands after a preseason game at FedExField on August 25, 2012 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Alright, maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves a little with the headline. But it's hard to argue with this: the 2012 quarterback draft class is off to the most impressive start in NFL history. 

Even before the season started, the fact that five rookies earned opening-day jobs was an impressive feat. Three months later, all five still hold their starting jobs and three have their team in playoff contention. 

But does this group really have what it takes to rank among the all-time great classes?

To answer that question, we first need to establish the current front-runner in that discussion. For years, the 1983 class has been the consensus choice. The three Hall of Famers from that class, John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino, combined for 10 Super Bowl appearances. Not too shabby. 

In recent years, the 2004 class has at least entered the discussion. Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have won two Super Bowls apiece and Phillip Rivers has put together a strong career. And Matt Schaub, a third-round pick of the Falcons, could potentially add to his class's Super Bowl total this year. 

So can the 2012 class possibly stack up?

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III can certainly rank among the all-time greats by the time it's all said and done. In 10 years of evaluating the NFL Draft for, Luck and Griffin received two of the three highest grades I had ever given to quarterbacks. (Lucks was my highest ever, while Griffin's matched Matt Leinart... oops.)

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Based on my pre-draft evaluation and their performances so far this year, nothing that either quarterback accomplishes will surprise me. Each player has the skill set, the mental make-up and the work ethic to finish their careers among the all-time greats. 

But based on the successes of the 1983 and 2004 draft classes, this group needs at least one more member to establish himself as an elite quarterback before the group as a whole can enter the all-time great discussion. 

So far, Russell Wilson looks as though he could be that guy. Among quarterbacks with at least 10 starts, only Robert Griffin III and Ben Roethlisberger posted a higher passer rating in their rookie year. 

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Wilson's performance this season has been his ability to handle pressure—an area of his game which I had some concerns about in my scouting report. But according to Pro Football Focus, Wilson has faced pressure on just over 40 percent of his dropbacks (second highest in the league) and has remained effective despite the lack of support from his offensive line. 

Ryan Tannehill is another candidate to step up as the third elite quarterback in this class, but the jury is still very much out on his ability to reach that level. Tannehill has performed admirably despite a limited supporting cast, and briefly had the Dolphins in the playoff picture, but his 7-to-12 touchdown to interception ratio is fairly ordinary for a rookie quarterback. 

The fifth opening-day starter is Brandon Weeden who, after a miserable start, has led the Browns to wins in four of their last seven games. But Weeden still ranks 33rd out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks in ESPN's Total QBR. And given his age, there is certainly reason to doubt his ability to ever reach an elite level. 

Other candidates to join Luck and Griffin on the elite level include Nick Foles (recently named the Eagles starter for the remainder of the season) and Brock Osweiler (a second-round pick currently studying behind Peyton Manning in Denver.)

So, can this class become the greatest of all time? Realistically, the odds aren't in their favor. Producing three Hall of Famers and 10 Super Bowl appearances is a tall order. But the depth in this class definitely gives them a shot.