There's no such thing as grooming a high draft pick quarterback in the NFL these days. For most of them, it's out of the frying pan that was college ball and into the fire that is the professionals.
This year, five rookies have been thrust into starting roles from game one by their NFL teams _ a league record for freshman signal-callers. This on the heels of four last season.
Forget dipping your toes into the water before getting wet, it's right into the deep end for many highly rated first-year quarterbacks.
This season's rookie quarterback starters include No.1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck (Indianapolis), No.2 choice Robert Griffin III (Washington), Cleveland's Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill of Miami and Seattle's Russell Wilson.
Last year, the list counted Carolina's Cam Newton, Jake Locker of Tennessee, Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert and Andy Dalton (Cincinnati). Five, if you count Minnesota's Christian Ponder who took over six games in.
That means over a third of all NFL first-string quarterbacks started as rookies in the last two years alone.
Add other fellow fresh starters in recent years _ Atlanta's Matt Ryan of Atlanta, Detroit's Matthew Stafford, the Jets' Mark Sanchez and co _ and the percentage swells further.
This recent trend is in direct contrast to the old nurturing ways of bringing a guy on slowly. The thinking was rookie quarterbacks needed time to adjust to the more intricate pro game. And there was always the fear of shattering his psyche by thrusting him into the starting line-up too soon.
In the past, most quarterbacks served apprenticeships, even greats like Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Steve Young and Tom Brady. Almost all the stellar ones spent at least several years as back-ups, even bounced around from team to team before finally starting and making their pro bones.
There was the occasional Dan Marino but rookie sensations for years were a rarity. And for every Marino there were 10 freshman disasters. Ryan Leaf, San Diego's No.2 overall choice in 1998, is a classic example of what can go wrong.
NFL quarterback has almost always been a position where dues were paid.
The recent trend toward starting signal callers just out of college can be traced to a combination of four factors: first, the recent success of trend-bucking rookie starters _ see Ryan, Newton, et al; second, quarterbacks being better prepared for NFL offensive systems and concepts while in college; third, economic necessity; fourth, pressure on team general managers and coaches to win quickly.
With the kind of money owners throw at freshman quarterbacks these days, they expect a much quicker return on their investment.
The new-breed of owners are but a reflection of their instant gratification-craving fan base _ they want results and they want it yesterday. Patience is prehistoric.
As a result, the general managers and personnel people _ feeling the heat from above and beyond _ often gamble on fast success with rookie quarterbacks, knowing that building a ball-club systematically is passe. Slap a winner together quickly or risk firing is the name of the front office game now.
This season, though, that new modus operandi might be actually be working. This campaign's rookie quarterback starters may outdo the current gold standard for fresh quarterbacks _ the 1983 draft class which included Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly.
Griffin has sparkled for the Redskins, though many fret over his running style being too risky for the pros. Luck has been as sound as the Colts could haved hoped for. Tannehill shows signs of not being the poor pick many Dolphin fans had feared.
Meanwhile, Weeden's solid progression has given Cleveland a light at the end of the tunnel and Russell Wilson has Seattle in contention in the NFC West with his late-game heroics.
Yep, nowadays grooming is for pooches, not passers.
Email Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author
- Writer: Dave Wiggins