All Hail the Rookie Quarterback (Really)
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because these are the stats to yell at your screen the next time you’re watching a game.
In the NFL, franchises need one of two things to rally their fan base for the coming season: proven talent or unabashed hope. And when it comes to bad teams, whether kind of bad or stench-of-sulfur bad, the greatest source of optimism is the possibility of picking a potential franchise quarterback in the draft.
That’s why the Los Angeles Rams traded up to select Jared Goff overall. They’ll probably rely on him this season right out of the gate, which might not be a bad thing.
Since 2008, nearly one-third of the quarterbacks who started at least 10 games as rookies led their teams to the playoffs that year.
Teenagers are getting better training and practice, and college players are running playbooks closer to the ones they might see as professionals. Danny Kelly, an NFL writer at the Ringer who has covered the career of Russell Wilson — one of the best rookies in league history — says that quarterbacks are challenged with pro-style offenses at the college level, meaning the transitions are often easier to grasp. For instance, Wilson’s pro team, the Seahawks, runs what Kelly calls a “hybrid” of the offenses Wilson ran in college. QBs who run a spread offense in college, such as Goff, may need more time to adjust at the next level, Kelly says, adding that there’s not a lot of evidence that Goff is in a great situation to thrive early with the Rams. “I’d expect he’ll play relatively poorly as a rookie, but that’s fine,” Kelly says. “I’d be comfortable giving him another year to develop.”
But quarterbacks are forced into adapting. Teams pay through the nose for them and aren’t as patient as they used to be. According to SB Nation writer Joe McAtee, if a team is going to trade for a higher first-round pick, that player should be able to contribute right out of the gate, especially if he is a quarterback who has been through all the drills of an elite prospect. “Quarterbacks aren’t just playing high school football, they’re also in offseason sevens; they’re attending camps; they’ve got specialty position coaches training them with brooms and robots,” says McAtee, who believes if a QB goes first overall, he should be expected to contribute as a rookie.
In 2008, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan started all 16 games as rookies and took their teams to the playoffs. Since then, rookie first overall QBs are shining brighter, with an average passer rating of 76.54, and the ones who weren’t picked first overall are also doing well out of the gate. But not everyone will choose the newbie. Despite positive progress reports out of Philadelphia, the Eagles likely won’t start their No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz until 2017 because of two insurance policies: Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. Of course, the Eagles could decide to ignore the $34 million in combined guaranteed money they just paid to those two quarterbacks and start Wentz anyway, but the risk of exposing him to an injury right after they traded up will probably keep him seated for at least half of his first season in the NFL. Unless, that is, the Eagles think he gives them a significantly better chance to win games, which seems unlikely for a rookie.
Oh, how things change. From 1970 to 2007, 23 quarterbacks were drafted first overall and averaged a paltry QB rating of 62.7 in their first year. Some young QBs didn’t play at all as rookies, like 2003 pick Carson Palmer. Others played terribly, perhaps none worse than Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, with six touchdowns and 24 interceptions in 1970.
But these days, if a quarterback expected to be a savior can’t handle the pressure his rookie season, then he might not be “franchise” quarterback after all. Stay tuned.