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Young Starting Quarterbacks Are Taking Over The NFL

Lawrence Murray |
September 26, 2012 | 4:09 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Week 3 in the NFL just wrapped up with the Monday Night Football disaster bomb that was Seattle Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson’s game-winning “touch-ception” to defeat the Green Bay Packers.  

Lost in all of the rage is the fact that Wilson, a 5-foot-10 third-round pick out of Wisconsin, has a 2-1 record as the Seahawks starter. While he’s not putting up impressive numbers (57 percent completions, fewer than 150 yards passing a game), he has avoided turnovers (“touch-ceptions” included) and has put his team in position to win every game this year. Not bad for a guy I said would be “Seneca Wallace to Matt Flynn’s Matt Hasselbeck” when he was drafted.

Then again, here’s what else I said about Wilson when the Seahawks surprisingly took him despite the presence of three QBs already on their roster:

Another potential third-day pick was Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson. Yes, the Seahawks still have QB Tarvaris Jackson to go along with Flynn and former California PA QB Josh Portis. Yes, Wilson is nowhere close to 6 feet. Yes, Wilson was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2010. Forget all of that for now, and realize that Carroll is lighting a fire under the entire QB corps by selecting a player who completed 73 percent of his passes, averaged over 10 yards a pass, and had a TD:INT ratio of 33:4 after transferring from North Carolina State.

Reading that, why be surprised that Wilson became the fifth rookie starter in the NFL this season?  All of the QBs drafted above Wilson are starting as rookies except one.  The other starting rookies are all first-round picks:

  • Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck (1-2 record, 53% completions, 5 TDs, 4 INTs, 282 yards a game)
  • Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (1-2 record, 67% completions, 4 TDs, 1 INT, on pace to break 1,000 yards on the ground)
  • Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (1-2 record, 53% completions, 1 TD, 4 INTs, 202 yards a game)
  • Cleveland Browns QB Brandon Weeden (0-3 record, 57% completions, 3 TDs, 6 INTs, 225 yards a game)

The only QB drafted above Wilson not starting now is Peyton Manning’s heir apparent in Denver, rookie QB Brock Osweiler, a second-round pick.  

Manning just so happens to be the oldest starting QB in the NFL now in 2012. The last time none of the current starters were in the league was back in 1997, Manning’s last year at Tennessee. This is the part of the article where we flash back to that great year of 1997 and observe the quarterbacking landscape of the NFL.

Here is a list of the starting QBs in 1997:


  • AFC - Todd Collins (Bills), Dan Marino (Dolphins), Drew Bledsoe (Patriots), Neil O’Donnell (Jets), Vinny Testaverde (Ravens), Jeff Blake, (Bengals), Kordell Stewart (Steelers), Jim Harbaugh (Colts), Mark Brunell (Jaguars), Warren Moon (Seahawks), John Elway (Broncos), Elvis Grbac (Chiefs), Jeff George (Oakland Raiders), Stan Humphries (Chargers).
  • NFC - Troy Aikman (Cowboys), Danny Kanell (Giants), Bobby Hoying (Eagles), Gus Frerotte (Redskins), Erik Kramer (Bears), Scott Mitchell (Lions), Brett Favre (Packers), Brad Johnson (Vikings), Chris Chandler (Falcons), Kerry Collins (Panthers), Heath Shuler (Saints), Trent Dilfer (Buccaneers), Jake Plummer (Cardinals), Tony Banks (Rams), Steve Young (49ers).


Cam Newton had a stellar rookie campaign last season. Will Luck or RGIII have similar instant success? (AnthonySC1988/Wikimedia Commons)
Cam Newton had a stellar rookie campaign last season. Will Luck or RGIII have similar instant success? (AnthonySC1988/Wikimedia Commons)
From that list, there were eight QBs who were either rookies or playing in their second or third years (Todd Collins, Stewart, McNair, Kerry Collins, Banks, Hoying, Kanell, Plummer). Plummer was the only rookie, and he only started after the ‘97 Cardinals started 1-6 (his numbers were shaky, as well: 3-6 record, 15 TDs, 15 INTs).

Of the rest of those “young guns,” Todd Collins, Kerry Collins, Hoying, Kanell, and Banks were all given up on by their respective teams by 1999. Stewart was actually a top fantasy QB going into 1998 because of his “Slash” dimension from 1997 (21 passing TDs, 11 rushing TDs in first year as a starter), but he bombed in 1998 and would never come close to 20 passing TDs or 10 rushing TDs again in his career. Only McNair, a future AFC Champion and NFL co-MVP, would see future success with his team.

It should also be noted that only McNair and Kerry Collins were first-round picks. The only QB drafted in the first round in the 1996 and 1997 drafts was 49ers QB Jim Druckenmiller. Druckenmiller was the 26th pick in the 1997 draft in order to be Steve Young’s heir apparent. Druckenmiller threw one TD in his entire career.  

The bigger problem? Teams could not find a QB in the draft, and pretty much gave up on trying by the mid-1990s. Broncos QB John Elway finally won a Super Bowl in 1997, the only QB of the famed 1983 draft class to win one. Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, and Todd Eason combined to go 0-9 in the Super Bowl before Elway won one. In between 1984 and 1997, the only QBs to win a Super Bowl as a starter with the team that drafted them were Troy Aikman (1989, first round) and Mark Rypien (1986, sixth round). Even when teams drafted a great QB, their original teams gave up on them first before they went on to success with other teams (Steve Young was a Buccaneers first-round pick in 1984; Brett Favre was a Falcons second-round pick in 1991).  

By the start of Peyton Manning’s rookie season in 1998, the only starting QBs who had won a Super Bowl as a starter were Elway, Aikman, Young and Favre. All of those players’ best years were behind them by then. None of those QBs returned to the Super Bowl after Elway’s retirement in 1999.  

As a rookie starter in 1998, Peyton Manning threw 28 INTs while his team went 3-13. (Jeffrey Beall/Wikimedia Commons)
As a rookie starter in 1998, Peyton Manning threw 28 INTs while his team went 3-13. (Jeffrey Beall/Wikimedia Commons)
The fact that Manning could come in and be ready to start all 16 games as a rookie was considered an anomaly (reflected perhaps by the fact that his counterpart, Chargers draft pick Ryan Leaf, crashed and burned early, flaming out after four years).

Now? There are 12 QBs starting in the NFL who are rookies or in their second or third seasons: Wilson, Luck, Griffin, Tannehill, Weeden, Cam Newton (Panthers), Jake Locker (Titans), Blaine Gabbert (Jaguars), Christian Ponder (Vikings), Andy Dalton (Bengals), Sam Bradford (Rams), and John Skelton (Cardinals)(Skelton may have lost his starting job due to injury…stay tuned).  

That number doesn’t even include young QBs who have won playoff games as starters last year but are backups for now (second-year Texans QB T.J Yates backs up Pro Bowl QB Matt Schaub, and the Broncos traded Tim Tebow to the Jets to make room for Peyton Manning). And we should remember that current starters Matt Ryan (Falcons), Joe Flacco (Ravens), and Mark Sanchez (Jets) opened their careers as rookie starters.

All of these players are still chasing the six starting QBs who have won a Super Bowl: Tom Brady (Patriots), Eli Manning (Giants), Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers), Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Drew Brees (Saints), and current Bronco Peyton Manning, who won a ring with the Colts. Only Peyton came out of the preseason as a rookie starter; he only won three games.  

But the narrative has clearly changed as far as young QBs being ready to play. The young passers are talented coming out of college, they’re playing in an age where the rules favor the passing game (for better or for worse, as the Packers defense found out Monday night), and the coaches have molded their schemes around these talents better than they have in the past (especially the athletic passers). There are still reasons why some QBs should spend some time on the bench before taking over for their teams (see: Blaine Gabbert, 2011), but it all comes down to preparation. Gabbert’s career may have been saved by the hiring of head coach Mike Mularkey, who got the job because of the work he did with Matt Ryan in Atlanta. We are seeing the evolution take a big step this year with the rookie starters, and expect the trend to continue going forward.

Reach Staff Writer Lawrence Murray via email or follow him on Twitter.



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