November 24, 2014

The New QB Era

Ten years ago, prevailing wisdom said that it was better for a Heisman-winning quarterback taken first overall to hold a clipboard for a year (or more) and sit behind a guy with less talent. Things sure have changed. The movement to start rookies — begun five years ago by the Falcons out of necessity — has forever changed the position. Teams no longer fear rookie QBs. They expect these guys to start and to succeed. And they are. The game is more exciting for it.

A year ago, many a Bengals fan thought that Andy Dalton should get consideration for Rookie of the Year, even though we knew he wouldn’t get it. (And he didn’t.) With the inaugural season winding down on the current crop of rookie QBs, now seemed a good time to some comparisons. The table below shows the numbers put up by Cam and Andy through Week 13 of the 2011 season and the stats of all five rookie starters.

Player Draft Comp Att Pct Yds Avg TD INT
Cam Newton Rd 1, Pk 1 251 413 61.4 3297 8.1 13 14
Andy Dalton Rd 2, Pk 3 229 387 59.4 2644 6.8 17 12
Andrew Luck Rd 1, Pk 1 279 503 55.5 3596 7.1 17 16
Robert Griffin III Rd 1, Pk 2 218 325 67.1 2660 8.2 17 4
Ryan Tannehill Rd 1, Pk 8 210 363 57.9 2559 7.0 7 12
Brandon Weeden Rd 1, Pk 22 247 433 57.0 2820 6.5 13 15
Russell Wilson Rd 3, Pk 12 201 317 63.4 2344 7.4 19 8

As I put these numbers together, Luck’s line jumped out right away. He is on pace to throw an astounding 4795 yds, completely obliterating Cam Newton’s record-setting 4051 yds for a rookie. That would have made him the fifth most prolific passer in 2011… ahead of Aaron Rodgers (4643) and Philip Rivers (4624). He is also on pace for 671 pass attempt. Simply incredible. His INTs are a bit gawdy, but I doubt that Colts fans are complaining too much over that.

RG3′s numbers compare interestingly to Dalton’s. Their passing yardage is nearly identical, although RG3 shows his impressive accuracy in that he has made 62 fewer attempts to get there and is averaging +1.4 yds/throw above Dalton to this point in his rookie season. He also does an impressive job of being careful with the football. RG3 runs circles around Andy… 714 yds vs 98 yds rushing this season.

I will be very interested to see how the evaluation for Rookie of the Year is judged between these two. They are so different from each other. I wouldn’t be surprised if the talking heads who are former QBs prefer Luck because he is such a pure passer, while the former defensive guys aren’t more taken with Griffin because he is so hard to defend.

Tannehill’s numbers look a lot like Dalton’s, only without the touchdowns. With the difference in where they were selected, it seems fair to say that the Dolphins reached a bit while the Bengals were able to make a value pick.

Weeden, like Cam Newton, proves that putting up big yards does not automatically translate into wins. He has already surpassed Colt McCoy’s yardage from 2011. If the new owner in Cleveland is smart enough to leave Shurmer and Weeden in place next year, the Browns might not stink in 2013.

Wilson is the other interesting entry in the table. Impressive numbers from a third rounder. His high completion percentage and yards/attempt indicate that he makes good decisions and is thriving in Seattle’s offensive scheme. His low number of attempts shows that Carroll is not asking him to do too much but putting him in a position to succeed. Wilson has obviously responded well. I’m no Seahawks fan, but I’d like to see Wilson do well if for no other reason than to see someone challenge the 49ers in that division.

To see five rookies start all season and do as well as they have is both impressive and a good indicator for how good the game will remain for years to come.