This is a question that props up, without fail, every year for a number of teams during training camp. Should the team’s (usually) high round draft pick at quarterback open up the season as a starter?
There are two schools of thoughts on this question:
The first is the baptism by fire method. Throw the quarterback into the teeth of the defense and see what he can do and learn. The second is a more patient method, let the rookie learn behind the grizzled veteran so that he feels confident in the game plan and can acclimate himself to the league.
Both methods have proven to be effective. Both methods have proven to be ineffective.
Players who started their first game in the N.F.L. and struggled early but had great careers can be found throughout the league with the best example being Peyton Manning. Other players have played well like Ben Roehtlisberger. Matt Stafford is yet to be determined, but things look positive for him as well, ditto for Cam Newton. Newton has already had a tremendous amount of success and entered a promising offensive situation stacked with good players. He is an outlier in the rookie quarterback equation.
David Carr is the opposite of the above trend. Starting from jump might have cost Carr an effective N.F.L. career, but we’ll never know. Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco are interesting case studies as well. Both quarterbacks starter their career with a tremendous amount of success. Flacco seems to be continuing to ascend while Sanchez has Tebow nipping at his tail.
Players that sat for their entire first year or part of their first year are Eli Manning (1st half of his first year), Aaron Rodgers (more than one year), Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Matt Schuab, Drew Brees.
As you can gather from a small sampling, players can thrive either way, but I tend towards the letting a player sit and learn. A franchise quarterback’s shelf life in the N.F.L. is not the same of a running back. A franchise QB will likely run a team for 10 years or more. Rushing him into action isn’t necessary. The three best quarterbacks in the league all sat and watched for an entire year before they saw any real action and turned out just fine. Rookies enter the league before they are fully done maturing physically and mentally and I belief there can be downside starting a rookie early if he struggles mightily. It’s tough to tell who can handle being sub-standard for the first time in their lives and who can not.
This is the question that a few teams must answer this year: the Colts and Washington Redskins with Andrew Luck and RGIII respectively. The Dolphins with Ryan Tannehill, and the Seahawks with Russel Wilson.
Luck and Griffin III are going to be the starting quarterbacks week 1, but is that the best call? Luck will be entering a very difficult situation. The Colts are in complete rebuilding mode. They are young along the offensive line and at many of the skilled positions. Luck might spend half his season running for his life, though his first pre-season game says otherwise. Likewise in Washington, RGIII is very talented and the Redskins have enough to make a playoff run with an inspired performance from Robert Griffin III, but they too have questions along their offensive line and will face DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umeinyora, Trent Cole, and Jason Babin six times this year. But they are #1 and #2 overall picks and the team will be under pressure to start them immediately. I believe Dolphins fans would be a little more patient with Tannehill. The Browns are a unique situation as well. Their rookie quarterback is not a young man in terms of NFL age. He’ll be counted on to start immediately as well.
I think the Dolphins should take the patient route. The Dolphins have the makings of a pretty good run game, but are short on receiving options. Tannehill is extremely talented, but also a bit more raw than Andrew Luck for example. Russel Wilson is getting a lot of praise, but he seems a long shot to start the season opener. It’ll be interesting to look back in a few years from today and see how Luck and RGIII compare to Tannehill and Locker–the two top ten picks who won’t start every game of their rookie season (well depending on what happens in the Tannehill situation) and compare them to the situations going on in Indy, Washington, and Cleveland.
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