Welcome to the new golden age of NFL quarterbacks.
Old-schoolers will always refer to the 1983 NFL Draft as the ‘Year of the Quarterback.’ Indeed, the first 28 overall picks of that draft produced six quarterbacks, three of whom went on to become first-ballot Hall of Famers.
- Number one overall pick John Elway used the leverage of a New York Yankees baseball contract to eventually force the Baltimore Colts to trade him to Denver, where he remains the Broncos’ all-time face of the franchise.
- Jim Kelly initially balked at playing for the Buffalo Bills but wound up playing in four consecutive Super Bowls after serving a USFL internship.
- Dan Marino was 27th overall pick, and 61,000+ yards later he had re-written the NFL record books; the Miami Dolphins have spent the last decade plus trying to find a replacement.
Ken O’Brien had a nice decade-long run with Jets (he might be a better option than Sanchez/Tebow this weekend) while Tony Eason led the New England Patriots to their first Super Bowl berth.
Only Todd Blackledge in Kansas City would be a bust, proving that even then that the Chiefs front office left something to be desired.
Nearly 30 years later we are witnessing a dynamic new crop of pro QBs who seem destined to change the direction of the game going forward in breathtaking fashion.
We knew that the first two overall picks of 2012 had a good shot at instant stardom, but as the regular season winds down we are finding out just how good, and deep, this bumper crop truly is.
Jon Gruden might be doing some decent teaching at his little quarterback camp…
How do we stack them up at this point? Let’s rank the current class based on this year’s results rather than on potential:
1. Robert Griffin III
I will attempt to get through this without making any sort of social or political commentary. Where is there to start??
Before getting hurt late in Week 14, RG3 had a 134.5 quarterback rating in his four most recent starts. Overall, he has thrown 18 TD passes against a mere four INTs, and before sitting last week was on pace for 920 rushing yards.
It is arguably one of the finest rookie seasons in league history.
The negative? Being in a market with a media that loves to pour gasoline on any controversy, and a fan base that likes to look at gift thoroughbreds in the mouth.
The initial trade that moved the Redskins up to #2 in the draft for their own first two picks + first round picks in 2013 and ’14 in itself is still a source of criticism amongst some DC fans. (Though it can’t be many…)
Then there are the durability concerns and the concussion and knee injury suffered in separate occurrences this year. One scribe claims that the Skins may have already witnessed ‘the sweet nectar’ of Griffin’s career and that his style of play is already threatening his long-term future.
I get the concept of perhaps toning down the risks running the ball. I don’t know about making him the Stephen Strasburg of the NFL (handle with kid gloves), but RG3’s passing game is good enough that the runs can be reduced. But I wouldn’t eliminate the running, and Aaron Rodgers is a good example of someone who picks his spots well.
20/20 hindsight also says hanging on to all those draft picks then drafting Russell Wilson in Round 3 would have been a bonanza. That’s true, but after 20 years of Gus Frerotte and a cast of many others, the front office knew they could not pass up the chance at a franchise quarterback no matter what the cost.
RG3 has proven every bit the asking price thus far. But with each injury, or any drop-off in performance long-term, the critics and micro-commentary will be back full force, which is just the nature of the DC media and the DC fan base.
1a. Colin Kaepernick
Since Colin basically red-shirted his rookie year, I will include him as an honorary member of the 2012 class.
I already did an entire article on Kaepernick supplanting Alex Smith, so I’ll make this brief. We have now seen enough of a sample size (150+ pass attempts) to know that Colin is the real deal. Two-thirds of the passes complete, 100+ QB rating, 7 TDs versus 2 INTs, and nearly 200 rushing yards last four games.
And he just won in New England, case closed. Colin is a half-tick behind RG3 if even that.
And to Alex Smith? It might not be fair, but the only fair is the County Fair.
Finally, how prophetic did Colin’s fourth-grade essay proved to be?? He had his NFL choices already narrowed down to the Niners and Packers – even early on the man had taste.
Don’t be surprised if Colin is holding the Super Bowl trophy in February.
2. Russell Wilson
Way back in August we were talking about Luck and RG3 while just beginning to recognize Wilson as a nice little sleeper. Next to the first two overall picks Russ seemed like the Libertarian candidate.
Well, Wilson is now a legit ROY candidate, and he has gotten stronger as the year has worn on. Wilson has a 95.5 rating for the year, and how many fantasy owners did he come through for with his three rushing TDs in Week 15?
Wilson also gets points for his incredible intelligence, which Mike Leach noted doing commentary on an NC State game two years ago. It is an amazing skill set. How many GMs are kicking themselves right now for immediately writing him off just on the grounds of being 5’11”?
And Kaepernick v. Russell Sunday night – that is must see TV.
3. Andrew Luck
Don’t get me wrong, Luck deserves huge accolades for taking over a 2-14 team and having Indy on the verge of an AFC playoff berth no one dared predict (except for one wacko MSF scribe). And how cool will it be to see RG3, Kaepernick, Wilson, AND Luck all in the playoffs?
But statistically, Luck has taken a few lumps in his rookie campaign.
Out of 35 qualified leaders, Luck’s 75.5 rating ranks only 31st. Some of this is due to pure volume – Luck is fourth in the league with 564 pass attempts, throwing 20 TDs, but also among the league leaders with 18 interceptions. But five touchdowns on the ground should also be factored in.
Luck’s rookie campaign is far from a bust. If RG3/Kaepernick/RW are graded as As, then Luck is an A- or B+ at the very worst. A decade from now we may still be talking about Luck as the best overall out of this incredible class.
4. Kirk Cousins
RG3 is hurrying himself back into the Redskins lineup before Cousins has any chance of starting the next great quarterback controversy.
All joking aside, there is no controversy as long as Griffin is upright. Cousins knows his current role. (But one need only ask Alex Smith how that assumption can turn out…)
The point is that the Skins’ fourth-round pick has come up absolutely clutch the last two weeks. First was coming in cold and leading the comeback OT victory over the Ravens. Then he got the W last week in Cleveland. It is a still a small sample size (48 attempts), but a near 69% completion percentage and a 100+ rating is more than passable.
If you grabbed Kirk when RG3 went down in fantasy, you are forever thankful if he helped you win your Week 15 playoff game.
Not a bad insurance policy. If Cousins can keep it up he will be one of the most coveted free agents ever a couple years from now.
5. Ryan Tannehill
Texas A&M is still trying to replace this guy. Or not…
Actually, this remains a work in progress, but Tannehill has had a few moments since being given the keys to the Dolphins offense in Week 1.
With a 75.9 rating, Tannehill ranks in the lower percentiles of NFL starting QBs right now. But with the Dolphins sitting at 6-8, you can say that Tannehill hasn’t hurt the team and gives them a chance each week.
I cannot give a true verdict until Miami gives Tannehill some more talent around him offensively.
6. Nick Foles
The Philadelphia Eagles season has been a train wreck since the start this year, and HC Andy Reid is expected to finally part ways somewhere around December 31st.
But amidst the wreckage, it looks like the Eagles have found their answer under center with the late third-round pick.
Foles’ best effort came a couple weeks back passing for 381 yards in Philly’s come from behind win at Tampa. Long-term, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Foles to prove to be at least equal to Tony Romo, and he already has an arsenal of receivers that other QB’s (see Sam Bradford) would kill for.
Michael Vick still feels he can be a starter, if he does it will be elsewhere.
7. Brandon Weeden
Coming into the league at age 29, Weeden has, from the start, been in the category of stop-gap than long-term answer.
But what Weeden has been is an actual upgrade over Tim Couch and other QBs who have gone through Cleveland in the last decade-plus. Over the past four weeks, Weeden has completed 63% of his passes. He is amongst the league leaders with 17 INT’s, but the downfield kill-shot pass has actually been a option with the Browns this year, and the team has been very competitive after an 0-5 start.
Out of the seven rookies though, Weeden has the best chance of being supplanted next year. It remains to be seen if he will remain the starting with a new front-office regime and possibly Nick Saban (if you believe such scuttlebutt) coming on as coach.