Rookie quarterbacks have been judged and reassessed before and during this season like no other season. With the debut of five new starting quarterbacks to the NFL, all fresh out of college and thrown into the deep end, it is always worth looking at their progress and how they are performing. Though this brief assessment should be taken with a pinch of salt: Cam Newton had a phenomenal year in his rookie season and seems to be suffering a sophomore slump, and these rookies have only played at most 8 games in their careers.
What struck me most about this new class is that these quarterbacks have been remarkably competent. Usually rookies are kept on the bench or given a few plays over a season to blood them slowly. Many quarterbacks drafted to the NFL never see game time or only one season before they are shipped out. Some quarterbacks, I’m looking at you JaMarcus Russell, are complete busts from the start, despite great college careers. But in this class, it is worth noting that at the very worst these new quarterbacks have played with a degree of maturity that is surprising. Even poor, ancient Brandon Weedon has managed to look competent for the Browns, maybe better than Colt McCoy but certainly no worse than his predecessor. RGIII, Luck, Tannehill, Weedon and Wilson have proven themselves so far this season to be good quarterbacks that can give their respective franchises something to build on.
What is an interesting development this year is that coaches have systems in place that fit the players that they drafted to lead their teams to victory. Tannehill was drafted by his former college coach who spent the off season training the offense how to play his desired style of football, something that Tannehill was running successfully at Texas A&M. Kyle Shanahan has developed an offensive play book that brings in plays that RGIII utilised successfully at Baylor combined with a strong, dual threat running game to confuse opponents facing such an athletic QB. In Indianapolis the Colts have let themselves be broken to the needs of Luck. They took Coby Fleener in the second round of the draft to make Luck feel comfortable in the transition to a pro offense. By drafting Fleener the Colts showed that Luck was going to be given every chance to succeed in the NFL because they would back him just as they had backed Peyton Manning. Wilson has not been given the same advantages as his other rookies but managed to win over Pete Carroll with his intense work ethic and mental approach to the game, two integral parts that make someone a winner in the NFL. Wilson beat out Tarvais Jackson and Matt Flynn, who had just been handed a lucrative deal to be the starter, in training camp simply through impressing the coach with his skill set. Wilson gained something in training camp that most of the other rookies were drafted with: respect.
But of all the rookies the most impressive is not Wilson or RGIII but Tannehill, who seems to be the major change from last season that could turn the Dolphins into a playoff team in one season. At 4-3 the Dolphins stand a chance of reaching the play offs after beating the Jets comfortably in New Jersey. Despite losing their greatest offensive threat, Brandon Marshall, and having a young receiving corps they have managed to score more than enough to churn out three victories in a row. Though their passing yardage is not necessarily that high compared to other teams with rookie QBs, they have a great running game at the moment that takes some of the pressure off of Tannehill and enables him to play like an established player. Though he did throw 3 interceptions against the Texans and two against the Cardinals those are forgivable errors for two reasons: the Texans were his first opponents and both of those teams have formidable defences that most quarterbacks struggle against.
Rookie QBs have dominated discussion in the NFL this season even more that whether Cutler or Suh should be the most disliked player in the NFL. But they are being discussed for their positive play rather than their negative attributes.
Though each of these players has a different style they are able to play in the NFL with teams that are willing to fit a scheme to their strengths rather than forcing them to conform to the style that the team already plays. And it is working for the moment.