Five Rookie Quarterbacks That We Meet Every Year

Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields
Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Trey Lance, Trevor Lawrence, and Zach Wilson are all likely to play a lot this season. And, by and large, they're gonna stink.

That's not pessimism. It's realism. Aaron Schatz says it all the time on the Twitch FO Radio Hour: rookie quarterbacks are generally bad. We remember Justin Herbert, Russell Wilson, and Ben Roethlisberger. We forget dozens and dozens of other guys who endured miserable to mediocre rookie years, from Ryan Leaf to Peyton Manning, Sam Darnold to Josh Allen.

Just 13 rookie quarterbacks have thrown for 20-plus touchdowns since 2000. Just 19 have thrown for over 3,000 yards. Those are not benchmarks of excellence, merely adequacy. Seventeen rookie quarterbacks have thrown 15-plus interceptions since 2000, including seven first overall picks (the most likely ones to get the chance to shoot through a slump). Wins are not a quarterback stat, but just seven rookies have led their teams to 10 of them in this century.

All of this brake-pumping feels necessary after an August where the engagement-thirsty Internet couldn't stop cheerleading for the first-round rookies as if they were destined to throw 40 touchdowns each in 2021. Lawrence may be a prospect of Andrew Luck's caliber, but Luck threw 18 interceptions and finished 19th in DYAR in his first year—and that was a relatively strong rookie season. Lance may be Russell Wilson once Kyle Shanahan tires of the two-quarterback rotation he teased on Sunday, or he may be a Josh Allen in need of an extra-long onramp to success. Fields will prove that he is better than Andy Dalton when the Bears finally give him his chance, but "better than Andy Dalton" is not a very lofty standard.

If any of these rookies leads a team to the playoffs, it will probably be as a one-and-done seventh seed. If they help your fantasy team, it's because they are racking up rushing yards. Only one or two of the five are likely to even contribute that much. One or two could also end up in three years where Dwayne Haskins is right now, and GIFs of their preseason highlights won't help determine who turns up where. It's natural to be excited about these youngsters, to chuckle at the Dalton and Jimmy Garoppolo types strewn in their paths, and to wish for the best, but it's important to recognize what you are getting excited about and wishing for, at least in the short term.

While most rookie quarterback seasons aren't spectacular, few are Leaf-level disasters. Most rookie seasons feature enough ups and downs to fall into one of five categories of below-averageness:

The Roller Coaster

The rookie has one or two big games early in his tenure, then glides back to earth as defenses figure out how much of the playbook he really knows. Examples include Carson Wentz (a 300-yard, two-touchdown game against the Steelers in Week 3 of 2016), Marcus Mariota (four touchdowns in his 2015 debut), Drew Lock (three touchdowns against the Texans in his second start), and Sam Darnold (two touchdowns in his 2018 debut). The early success forestalls criticism and buoys the rookie statistically through weeks of decline. Mariota, Darnold, and others also had "booster shot" big games later in their rookie seasons, just as some roller coasters have a second climb near the end of the ride. But most of the season becomes a dreary slog of 50% completion rates and multi-turnover afternoons.

Darnold's presence on the list above makes me think Zach Wilson is the top candidate to ride the 2021 roller coaster: there's no journeyman to take over when things go sideways, and Wilson will have the New York tabloids working for/against him the moment when things go right/wrong. Hyping that three-touchdown game (one screen-and-go for 60 yards, one broken coverage, one genuinely impressive throw) like it's a guaranteed ticket to Canton and then ripping the kid a month later is a huge part of the roller coaster experience.

The Driving Lesson

The rookie "finds a way to win"—which means, of course, that the defense or supporting cast is doing all the heavy lifting. Joe Flacco was a student driver in 2008, Mark Sanchez in 2009, Tua Tagovailoa last year. Mitchell Trubisky may have been the ultimate student driver in 2017: the Bears won a pair of starts in which he completed eight and four passes while John Fox, like a nervous gym teacher, kept his foot on the alternate brake. The student driver's wins, of course, fool a segment of the audience into assuming the rookie has special leadership skills or other mystical powers.

Mac Jones is 2021's prime candidate to take a driving lesson. Rest assured that the Boston media will appraise Jones' skills with cool detachment and not succumb to magical thinking or (heaven forbid) implicit bias in any way if the Patriots win by scores like 13-7 once Jones inevitably replaces Cam Newton.

The Meme Generator

Occasional splash highlights fool casual observers into thinking that the rookie quarterback is having a tremendous year, when in fact he's inconsistent, highly limited, and getting by on some combination of sheer talent and luck. Josh Allen was a meme generator in 2018, Gardner Minshew in 2019.

The main differences between a meme generator and a roller coaster are timing, results, and expectations. Meme generators sprinkle their big plays/games randomly through the year. Their teams aren't necessarily winning; otherwise they could slide into driving lesson territory. And they tend to be polarizing prospects when entering the league. Daniel Jones was a meme generator in 2019 because he entered the league as a DraftTwitter punching bag and his four-touchdown games were midseason losses to the lowly Lions and Jets. A roller coaster rookie inspires tabloid headlines. The meme generator inspires "bUt hE wAs a wAsTeD pIcK" Tweets.

With his knack for scattering dazzling highlights among long stretches of obvious unreadiness, Trey Lance is well on his way to becoming a meme generator, especially if he starts the season running the Wildcrap package. The argument that Lance and Jones should switch categories is left to the message board as an exercise.

The Charity Case

How's the poor lad supposed to succeed with that coaching staff, supporting cast, and organization? Baker Mayfield started the 2018 season as a charity case before the Hue Jackson/Todd Haley coup, then became more of a meme generator. Jared Goff may have been the best recent example of a charity case, though he almost tumbled into the final category. This is also the home of quarterbacks who endured far too many early sacks behind dreadful offensive lines, from David Carr through Joe Burrow.

Justin Fields is the frontrunner to generate lots of get the kid some help storylines once he takes over for Andy Dalton and embarks on a 2021 season full of two-touchdown, two-turnover, six-sack afternoons.

The Near-Catastrophe

The rookie stays just above the Ryan Leaf/JaMarcus Russell Mendoza line: Josh Rosen, Dwayne Haskins, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller, and so on. Alex Smith, Eli Manning, and Matthew Stafford all fell into this category, as did Peyton Manning for most of his rookie year, so it's by no means a death sentence.

Poor Trevor Lawrence is poised on the brink of a near-catastrophe. He could throw 25 interceptions or take 50 sacks in Meyer's ready-for-the-B1G-time offense. Or he could end up wondering what's next when Meyer returns to the Big Ten in December. Lawrence is gifted enough to survive such an experience unscathed, and he finally looked sharp against the Cowboys on Sunday, but it's hard to look at the Jaguars offseason as a whole and not brace for a bumpy ride.

None of this is meant as an indictment of any of the five 2021 first-round rookie quarterbacks. And yes, one of them could turn out to be this year's Wilson, Herbert, Roethlisberger or Robert Griffin. But I'm not staking a fantasy roster, prop bet or my reputation on guessing which one. The smart money is on the overall field not being very good, because an August of fulsome praise and breathless anticipation almost always cools into an autumn of mild to moderate disappointment.

Around the League

News and notes from the final week of the preseason.

Boffo Dress Rehearsals

Tom Brady, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and their first-string teammates reminded us what NFL football is supposed to look like this weekend by demolishing their opposition in dress rehearsals. If Super Bowl-caliber starters look bad in the preseason, it's probably nothing to worry about. If they look like the Buccaneers, Bills, and Chiefs looked like on Friday and Saturday, it's DEFINITELY nothing to worry about.

To return to the theme of Thursday's Walkthrough: polybagging the entire starting lineup until September is popular right now and makes some degree of sense. I was eager to see Brady get the hell off the field after he looked like Doctor Manhattan in the first quarter against the Texans. But after watching teams such as the Titans, Chargers, Seahawks, and Rams noodle around with their backups for a month, it's hard to argue that they have done everything they could do to overtake the frontrunners who just tore through their soundchecks.

Dobbins Disaster

Dress rehearsals come with a dangerous downside, of course: Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins suffered a season-ending knee injury during the starters' brief cameo against the Washington Football Team.

Running back is among the easiest positions to replace. The Ravens have experienced backups Gus Edwards and Justice Hill behind Dobbins, plus a run-friendly scheme and a front office that knows all about the running backs Walkthrough features in Who's That Guy? each week. Also, Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, and Le'Veon Bell are currently unemployed, and any of them would probably look pretty spry when running into a defense that has one eye on Lamar Jackson. But Dobbins could still be a huge marginal loss for the Ravens as they try to keep up with the Chiefs and Bills. Edwards, Hill and (let's say) Gurley or Scottie Phillips could be 90% as effective as Dobbins, but that 10% could be enough to force the Ravens onto the road in the postseason.

Minshew Mania is Incurable

Gardner Minshew belongs on a contender that needs a low-cost backup who can hocus-pocus a win or two in a pinch. The Eagles need to stop wasting resources on their 2021 quarterback room and start thinking about who will populate their 2022 quarterback room. The Jaguars should have waited 48 hours before trading Minshew; the Titans might have offered more than just a sixth-round pick after Matt Barkley and Logan Woodside looked like dueling doofuses against the Bears, for example.

The Minshew-to-Eagles trade doesn't reflect well on any of the parties involved, in other words.

Eternal Vikings

Harrison Smith agreed to a four-year contract extension with the Vikings on Sunday. Smith is 32-years old and was due to become a free agent at the end of this season. The Vikings had over $210 million committed to next year's salary cap before the Smith extension.

The year is 2265. Hyper-intelligent lanternflies have enslaved the human race. The Vikings are still eating dead money they incurred by trying to keep their mighty wild-card nucleus intact.

Shaq Attack

The Jets traded a conditional sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans for Shaq Lawson, the former Bills first-round pick who has never been much more than a complementary pass-rusher. Lawson fills the void left by Carl Lawson's season-ending injury. Heck, the Jets don't even have to sew up a new uniform.

Some Jets fans likely wanted the Jets to not replace Carl Lawson at all for tanking purposes. That's silly: the Jets need to invest a few resources in remaining competitive in 2021 so that young players can develop properly. If they make a dozen more moves for Lawson types, then they will become the Texans, and then it's time for an intervention.

Rams Punter Battle Update!

Corey Bojorquez, who led the NFL in gross punting average for the Bills in 2020, averaged 51.9 yards per punt for the Rams in the preseason and has also kicked well in camp. He may replace four-time All-Pro Johnny Hekker, who is currently on the COVID list.

Hekker eats up almost $5 million in cap space each year through 2023, while Bojorquez's cap number is just over $1 million this season. The Rams, of course, are paying Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey over $44 million to play for them in 2021 and Jared Goff and Todd Gurley over $33 million not to play for them in 2021.

The Rams are incredibly creative at finding exit strategies when they overpay their players. Imagine what a great team they could build if they came up with better strategies for not overpaying their players in the first place.

Colts Injury Update

T.Y. Hilton is out indefinitely with a neck injury. Reserve tackle Sam Tevi tore his ACL against the Lions. Left tackle Eric Fisher and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson went from rehabbing injuries straight to the COVID list this week. But hey, Carson Wentz is slated to return to full-team drills this week, or at least what's-left-of-team drills.

Trade for Wentz, instantly turn your organization into the 2018-2020 Eagles. You can't fight it, folks. It's science.

Peter, Man

Nathan Peterman is the distilled essence of preseason football. The dude probably smells like preseason: a weird mix of desperation and unearned confidence, like the popular body spray in the freshman dorms. Peterman took every preseason snap for the Raiders, recording the emptiest 68.5% completion rate this side of Sam Bradford fanfic.

The Raiders, of course, could afford to noodle around this preseason because their stacked roster and glittering success over the last three years speaks for itself. And Peterman will still be completing 3-yard swing passes on third-and-10 in August of 2029 before finally retiring to become the color commentator for the Raiders Preseason Television Network.

The White Elephant

The Deshaun Watson trade rumors are basically schmuck bait: no one is trading three first-round picks and more for a quarterback who could be suspended indefinitely 24 hours after the trade is announced. NFL general managers are ridiculously risk-averse, while any Watson trade comes with one of the highest catastrophic failure risks in league history. The Dolphins and other teams may well be keeping the Texans on the phone, but they are doing so in anticipation of a deep, deep motivated-seller's discount which will only come after either the NFL or prosecutors make the first move.

Who's That Guy?

Walkthrough's final installment of Who's That Guy? has one eye on the looming final cutdowns. Few of the following players are likely to make their current team's roster or practice squad. But all of them are likely to make some team's roster or practice squad.

Scottie Phillips, RB, Houston Texans
eight carries for 73 yards and a touchdown vs. TB

Phillips displayed burst, a strong finish, cutback ability, and even some pass-protection chops throughout the preseason. But he's stuck behind Mark Ingram, David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, Rex Burkhead, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Domanick Williams, and Arian Foster's nephew on the Texans depth chart. I was kidding about the last three, and only the last three.

Let's give Nick Caserio some advice: offer Mark Ingram back to the Ravens for a conditional late-round pick right now, while they are vulnerable. Blast David Johnson into orbit, for heaven's sake. Keep Lindsay, because he's plucky and affordable. Keep Burkhead because you just know he's a Jack Easterby binkie. And keep Phillips, a former Ole Miss rusher who spent most of last season on the practice squad, because the Texans are going to be pathetic this year and have nothing better to do besides evaluate back-of-the-roster prospects in search of treasure.

Caserio will almost certainly take none of that advice, and Phillips will end up in a committee for the Rams while David Johnson gets 10 touches for 44 yards each week.

Jesper Horsted, TE, Chicago Bears

Horsted made the Bears roster as an undrafted free agent out of Princeton and caught six passes in 2019. He spent 2020 on the practice squad. Ryan Pace has spent ridiculous amounts of money at draft capital at tight end over the last four seasons—the Bears tight end depth chart in any given year looks like the Texans running back depth chart this year—and Horsted is currently trapped behind Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet, and Jesse James.

The Bears will likely be forced to release Horsted despite his Saturday heroics, but they will be left with one of the deepest tight end corps in the NFL, which should prove really helpful for a team with no offensive tackles.

Gerrid Doaks, RB, Miami Dolphins
16 carries for 56 yards and two touchdowns vs. CIN

Doaks is a 230-pound seventh-round battering ram out of the University of Cincinnati. I think he was only in the game because his name rhymes with "soaks" and Brian Flores wanted someone to soak up carries so Myles Garrett and Malcolm Brown wouldn't have to play. Doaks has power but is so one-dimensional that only a team that runs up the middle a ton, perhaps with lots of option concepts to widen the defense, would really have significant use for him.

Deon Jackson, RB, Indianapolis Colts
10 carries for 81 yards and one touchdown and a two-point conversion plus 1-3-1 receiving vs. DET

Jackson is an undrafted rookie out of Duke, where he shared carries with Mataeo Durant in 2020. Jackson and former Browns practice-squadder Benny LeMay are competing for a final roster spot that probably doesn't exist behind Jonathan Taylor, Jordan Wilkins, Nyheim Hines, and Marlon Mack—there already appears to be one name too many on that list. Jackson's 42-yard touchdown in silly time may have earned him a practice squad spot somewhere, but as is almost always the case, there are more replacement-level running backs on the job market than jobs.

Asim Rose, RB, Minnesota Vikings
six carries for 41 yards and two touchdowns vs. KC

Walkthrough checked in on Rose after his 100-yard effort in the preseason opener, when all of Minnesota's starters and top backups were in cryostasis. The undrafted rookie from Kentucky has done all that the Vikings asked him to do in the preseason, but it's hard to imagine him doing much more than landing on the practice squad; there are just too many veterans clamoring for roster spots behind Dalvin Cook.

It doesn't help that Rose's pass-protection technique involves lowering his shoulder and just leaning into the oncoming pass-rusher. That sort of thing could scare the running back-hungry Ravens or Rams away. But not the Jaguars.

Kenny Yeboah, TE, New York Jets
four catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns vs. PHI

Before Friday night, Yeboah was best known for a 7-181-2 afternoon for Ole Miss against Alabama last October. He's the type of player I love to root for, even though they rarely pan out in the NFL: versatile collegiate H-back types who don't block well enough to be in-line tight ends or run well enough for the slot.

Yeboah is competing for a fourth tight end spot, which is why he was on the field for a last-second Hail Mary touchdown in the final preseason game. The Jets may use a fullback at times this season, which could create a roster opportunity for Yeboah. If not, Ryan Pace also loves developmental H-backs (see above) and has not yet realized that they rarely pan out in the NFL.

Derrick Gore, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown plus 6-26-0 rushing vs. MIN

Gore has been bouncing on and off the Chargers roster since 2019, with a brief stop in Washington wedged in. Every time his name bubbles up, I search the web to make triple-sure he is not Frank Gore's son or nephew. Every time, it turns out that they are not related.

I cannot be the only one seeking constant verification about Gore, because Saturday's web search took me to a site I refuse to link to because it was built from blatant search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. Every sentence was little more than a list of highly searched keywords, every header repeated the phrase "Is Derrick Gore related to Frank Gore?" to ensure that the site was at the top of any search, and the content was padded for length with Wikipedia-type information to allow space for ad breaks. Such tactics are terrible for our industry; they force readers to sift through purposely bad content and choke out more reputable sources and informed discourse like an invasive species.

So is Derrick Gore related to Frank Gore?
No. I just said that.

Will Derrick Gore make the Kansas City Chiefs final 2021 roster?
Possibly. He has demonstrated the versatility to be a useful committee back. The cap-strapped Chiefs could move on from a veteran such as Darrel Williams or Jerick McKinnon.

Is Derrick Gore related to Tipper Gore?
No. That's silly. Wait, what's happening?

Is Derrick Gore a Kansas City Chiefs 2021 fantasy football sleeper?
No! What's with all the headers full of keywords and silly questions? Don't tell me we…

Derrick Gore Patrick Mahomes Tyreek Hill fantasy sleeper Super Bowl LVI Bitcoin COVID Marvel's What If…?
… sellouts.

Shane Buechele, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
20-of-23 for 231 yards, two touchdowns, one interception vs. MIN

Buechele is an undrafted rookie out of SMU who started his college career at Texas but lost his starting job to Sam Ehlinger in 2018. Buechele appears to have locked up the Chiefs' No. 3 quarterback role behind Patrick Mahomes and Chad Henne. He led an impressive two-minute drill for a touchdown on Friday night and looks like the sort of heady/pesky type who hangs on as a third-stringer for years and, if he's lucky, eventually evolves into Chase Daniel.

Is Shane Buechele related to baseball's Steve Buechele?


52 comments, Last at 03 Sep 2021, 2:05pm

#1 by Raiderfan // Aug 30, 2021 - 11:08am

“The year is 2265. Hyper-intelligent lanternflies have enslaved the human race.”

”binkie “

Thank you for building my vocabulary.

Also, is Brady retired by then, or not?

Points: 0

#2 by mehllageman56 // Aug 30, 2021 - 11:40am

Wildcrap package.  Awesome work, Mike.

Also, that lanternflies part sounds like a Kaitlyn Kiernan story.

Points: 0

#3 by turbohappy // Aug 30, 2021 - 2:15pm

And now Wentz, Kelly, and more players are on that COVID list for the Colts. Is it actually possible that there is a cloud following Wentz somehow?

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#4 by RevBackjoy // Aug 30, 2021 - 2:38pm

Peyton Manning's rookie season was so miserable to mediocre that... he finished 12th in DYAR and 14th in DVOA! To compare his stellar debut season to the wretched sub-replacement-level efforts of Leaf, Darnold and Allen is insulting.

Points: 0

#5 by RevBackjoy // Aug 30, 2021 - 2:39pm

I don't feel tremendously confident about any of the rookie 1st round QBs. Based on preseason play, I'd rank my expectations for them as follows:

1. Lawrence

2. Wilson

3. Jones

4. Fields

5. Lance, who I think has a fairly high chance of hitting Haskinseque levels of unplayability

Points: 0

#8 by theslothook // Aug 30, 2021 - 2:48pm

I was going to say. I think Manning's rookie season is being held to the typical Peyton Manning in his prime season, rather than the typical rookie season. 



In respose to comment 4

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#9 by RevBackjoy // Aug 30, 2021 - 3:01pm

Lol, sorry... I just edited it again, in an attempt to salvage my inadvertent triplicate post.

Points: 0

#52 by nat // Sep 03, 2021 - 2:05pm

Manning’s rookie season is a good case study for both the limits and value of DVOA/DYAR. Usually, DVOA/DYAR serve to remind us that turnovers matter far more than highlight plays. In Manning’s rookie season, DVOA/DYAR remind us that you can be historically bad* at avoiding turnovers, and yet can make it up in high value plays to get a middle-of-the-pack overall result.

As for limits of DVOA, the 3-13 record and below average scoring indicate that somehow all those highlight plays and volume stats weren’t showing up on the scoreboard or standings. The turnovers were doing more damage than DVOA expected. Or the highlight plays mattered less.

Does it mean DVOA is wrong about the value of turnovers? Maybe? But it is certainly not perfect at detecting when stats are overstating actual value.

* By “historically bad” I mean the worst in ten years (and the twenty years to follow). So, yes, that bad.

Points: 0

#51 by Kaepernicus // Sep 01, 2021 - 8:38am

I mean if the only thing you were doing was looking at completion % I guess it could be understandable. The only comp I could think of on Lance was Josh Allen. Haskins played like trash without any appreciable big-time plays or scoring drives as a rookie. Lance went on dumpster fire stretches of football with insane streaks of incredible football as well. He had 9 balls dropped and another 2-3 interceptions dropped. The 49ers running game was nearly unstoppable with him on the field in the 3rd game against Raiders scrubs. He lead his second straight last minute scoring drive before a half using mostly his arm. He had 2 incomplete passes on that drive that would have scored really high on DVOA because of PI calls. The second throw in the endzone was flagged because of his throw, not in spite of it. He also got appreciably better every single game. He was definitely the worst of the bunch overall but he at least proved his running ability will fly in the NFL. 

Points: 0

#6 by RevBackjoy // Aug 30, 2021 - 2:39pm

As for the ongoing existence of the NFL career of Master Peterman, now in its 5th year, I can only conclude that he has in his possession a large cache of incrimating photos of Couch Gruden, perhaps with Bride of Chucky themed fetish porn?

Points: 0

#13 by Pat // Aug 30, 2021 - 3:16pm

It's actually not that surprising. Derek Carr's a very reliable QB (he's barely missed any games) and if you've got a reliable starter, you can choose the backup QB based on what they bring to practice field/QB room.

So maybe Peterman just sucks on the field, but he could be a fairly good backup in terms of how he runs practice and such.

Points: 0

#20 by RevBackjoy // Aug 30, 2021 - 4:42pm

Good point- he must provide some sort of value as a 3rd stringer. But he's completely unplayable on the field during an actual game, so it's still surprising to me that he even warrants a roster spot.

Points: 0

#34 by RevBackjoy // Aug 30, 2021 - 8:24pm

How dare ye invoke the name of Chase in vain! The Ace has compiled a semi-respectable career passer rating of 85.0, whereas Peterman continues to wallow in Sub Spiking The Ball On Every Play Land, with a whopping 34.0! Not to mention career earnings, where Peterman's $2.5M is an order of magnitude behind Chase's $37.8M (!!!!!)

Points: 0

#48 by Joey-Harringto… // Aug 31, 2021 - 12:16pm

Hey, it's more aspirational.  Chase Daniel is Tier 1 in the Chase Daniel rankings.  Peterman is maybe a Tier 3.

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#7 by serutan // Aug 30, 2021 - 2:40pm

or he may be a Josh Allen in need of an extra-long onramp to success.

 Back in the Goode Auld Daies (tm), with any new QB who wasn't an utter disaster  3 years was pretty standard before deciding whether or not he was working out.

Points: 0

#17 by Joey-Harringto… // Aug 30, 2021 - 4:10pm

Some of that may be due environment.  Rankin Smith and the Falcons of that era would have given the current Texans a run for their money in the Dysfunctional Franchise Olympics.

Points: 0

#19 by Mike Tanier // Aug 30, 2021 - 4:27pm

Both college and pro football were much, much different back then. 

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#27 by mansteel // Aug 30, 2021 - 5:52pm

Examples abound. Phil Simms lost a QB competition to the immortal Scott Brunner in year FIVE, then went on to throw for 4000 yards in year six and make multiple pro-bowls and SBs. Drew Brees was terrible in years 1-3 and then became Drew Brees in year 4. Even the esteemed Mr. Brady wasn't so great early on and improved a great deal over time: yrs 2-4 adj yds/attempt was sub-7, yrs 5-7 was 6.8-7.6, and from yrs 8-13 it was a minimum of 7.7--better than any of his first seven years. 

Mike is right above when he says that both college and pro games have changed a lot and that sort of thing used to be more common, but it still happens. Tannehill, Fitzmagic, and Alex Smith are all guys who improved a lot after being in the league for years. Even Prescott was a game manager for a few years before becoming a stud in the last two years. 

Folks would do well to remember that whenever they're tempted to trash, say, a third-year guy who's had like 13 career starts.


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#29 by serutan // Aug 30, 2021 - 6:00pm

Yet another was Terry Bradshaw - he didn't become the unquestioned/full time starter until (IIRC) late in his 5th season (1974).   Of course this had nothing to do with hatred for Chuck Noll.

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#44 by dryheat // Aug 31, 2021 - 8:49am

Shoot, Joe Theismann was out there returning punts as a rookie.  While not Hall-of-Famers, not only did Brad Johnson and Mark Brunell start slowly, they weren't even starters as NCAA seniors.

In addition to what Mike said...and he's right in that there was no timetable for development, the player stayed with the team unless and until the GM tired of him, the difference is also in the acquisition cost.  If you have career NCAA backup and 7th round pick Matt Cassel, or a UDFA sitting behind an established quarterback, there's no hurry.  He can develop at practice with no pressure to justify their cost.  QB in the first two rounds?  If he can't start for you early in his first contract then what was the point?  Aaron Rodgers seems to be the exception to prove the rule, and that wasn't the intention.

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#47 by Pat // Aug 31, 2021 - 9:47am

If he can't start for you early in his first contract then what was the point?  Aaron Rodgers seems to be the exception to prove the rule, and that wasn't the intention.

Back in the 2000s without the rookie wage scale, the early years weren't really valuable, so waiting to play the QB was a luxury you could easily use. I mean, top of the first round QBs cost as much as starters! Not saying it happened often - just that not playing a QB right away didn't really cost you anything. Nowadays, if you do that you burn an absolutely huge value, so there's much more pressure to start a QB young.

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#50 by Vincent Verhei // Aug 31, 2021 - 2:34pm

"Shoot, Joe Theismann was out there returning punts as a rookie. "

It was his first year in the NFL, but he had played three years in the CFL.

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#30 by theslothook // Aug 30, 2021 - 6:06pm

I agree with this, but there are also some very real downsides to giving a player a long enough rope to be sure of how good he is. 

The opportunity cost of staying the course and seeing it not pan out usually means that coach is going to get fired.



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#33 by Mike Tanier // Aug 30, 2021 - 7:52pm

Free agency is a big deal. Most of the success stories of the past came from an era where a team could just control the rights to a young QB year after year after year. And the flip side of that less mobility meant less competition for those backup jobs. 

Points: 0

#45 by Pat // Aug 31, 2021 - 8:52am

There's just a massive range in the examples you're giving, and they don't really tell a consistent story. Brees was fine in year 1 as a starter, around 0% DVOA. Worse in the next year (-20%), but coupled with the first year that's not a terrible early career average. Prescott was *way* above rookie expectations, not sure what you're talking about there. Brady was at 5% DVOA in his second league year: that's an *excellent* sign. Tannehill was fine (~replacement at rookie year).

Early career improvements for QBs are significant, like +13% DVOA. If in you're first year, you're within even 20-30% of zero, you're OK. Worth looking at. In the range of normal development.

Fitz and Alex Smith are a bit different. Smith was beyond godawful his rookie year. That improvement is *almost* unheard of. Fitz took forever to get starts and was "normal bad" for a bit before improving to "average-ish". More of a normal career arc than Smith though.

But again, big ranges in your examples. If you declare "he sucks" for some guy putting up replacement numbers his first/second year, yeah, that's *way* early. But if you're counting on a guy who completely bombed, in epic all-time fashion: you better hope for a miracle. Relying on getting tutored under Harbaugh and Reid isn't a safe bet.

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#11 by JimZipCode // Aug 30, 2021 - 3:13pm

But Dobbins could still be a huge marginal loss for the Ravens as they try to keep up with the Chiefs and Bills. [Someone] could be 90% as effective as Dobbins, but that 10% could be enough to force the Ravens onto the road in the postseason.

I think that's exactly the right way to look at it.

Gus Edwards is a surprisingly good back. He's like a poor man's Arian Foster: good foot placement, economical, intelligent using his blocks, decisive, and FINISHES every run. Gets what's there plus half a yard, every single time.  And sometimes when I feel like getting hype I note that  Gus is 10# bigger than Foster was, ran the 40 in .15 sec's faster than Foster did, jumped 2½" higher in the vertical, and 8" farther in the broad. Gus is a slightly bigger, slightly faster, and slightly more explosive (in athletic testing) Arian Foster.

There's no reason Gus can't get 1200 and 8 in the Ravens offense.  A safe fantasy RB1.

Lamar could fall out of bed and gain 60 yds rushing in any given game in slides. Third-yr guy Justice Hill ran 4.4 at the Combine. And this preseason the Ravens unearthed this gem:
He's looked very good in the fake games.

So in a macro sense, the Ravens rushing offense will be fine.  They can win 10-12 games with the guys they have.

Where the loss of Dobbins will hurt is in the marginal difference against the toughest opponents.  His slashing ability and speed around the edge could make a huge difference busting open a tight game.  Say versus the Steelers D, or trying to match the Chiefs TD for TD in week 2. That ridiculous 7 game stretch to close the season.

Losing Dobbins will not cost the Ravens "much", in the sense that they'll still be good.  Just a game or so.  But it could be the difference between a trip to the conference title game, vs just another "pretty good" season with another trip to the playoffs.

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#15 by dank067 // Aug 30, 2021 - 3:36pm

While I see the point you guys are making here, I think this marginal difference in the running game probably pales in comparison to what the Ravens stand to gain if their passing game can bounce back from last season. I still really like Lamar, but I'm starting to feel pessimistic that they haven't improved much at WR. We'll see if Roman has come up with anything new that can help them in the passing game.

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#16 by theslothook // Aug 30, 2021 - 3:44pm

It's also possible that the passing game woes are a Lamar Jackson problem, in which case having better receivers is not by itself a panacea.

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#22 by dank067 // Aug 30, 2021 - 5:03pm

It's possible, but we're also just two years removed from watching Jackson throw 36 touchdown passes and finish #2 in passing DVOA and #5 in passing DYAR at a higher volume than last season. I'm less worried about his ability to produce in the passing game as I am the lack of improvement and evolution of the supporting cast and scheme.

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#23 by ImNewAroundThe… // Aug 30, 2021 - 5:14pm

I don't think Dobbins is gonna be the difference. The Ravens were the 1 seed just two years ago with a 30 year old Mark Ingram as their top RB. Lamar and the Ravens are the top franchise Id have faith in them figuring things out. 

I liked Bateman, injury put a damper on things and Tylan Wallace was a good value but I haven't heard anything from the preseason about their WRs specifically but they did just go undefeated....again. Much more concerned about the pass catchers than Lamar who won a unanimous MVP with a rookie Hollywood Brown and Willie Snead as his top WRs. 

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#28 by JimZipCode // Aug 30, 2021 - 5:53pm

I haven't heard anything from the preseason about their WRs

Hurt, all of 'em!  Marquise Brown & Miles Boykin haven't practiced in 3 or 4 weeks due to hamstrings.  Rashod Bateman is having groin surgery and is out 2 months.  Sammy Watkins had been held out of practice (and all the preseason games) after banging something; they've been saying it's just precautionary.

The Ravens have been down to their 3rd & 4th string guys, for weeks now.  Deon Cain was looking good – he got hurt.  They've been down to 2nd-yr guys Devin Duvernay (20 catches for 200 last yr, mostly a screens & reverses guy + KR) and James Proche (1 catch on 3 targets last year, a "possession" guy), along with rookie Tylan Wallace, and practice squadders Jaylon Moore & Binjamin Victor.

Maddening, for a team whose priority is supposed to be beefing up the perimeter passing game.

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#35 by ImNewAroundThe… // Aug 30, 2021 - 8:43pm

In reply to by JimZipCode

But all it really says is there isn't depth. Which they haven't had in a while anyway. Wouldn't blame Lamar as much. 

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#38 by jheidelberg // Aug 30, 2021 - 9:28pm

Shocked to see so many Ravens posts with no mention of the offensive line:

LT: Stanley coming off major injury, clearly potential to be great, but I must have some concern

LG: TBD, usually not a great option

C:  Bozeman - How many NFL snaps??

RG:  Zeitler—OK here is some stability

RT:  Villaneuva, where is he at this stage of his career?

This line is highly questionable.  The running backs and Lamar need a top of the “line” performance from this O-line if the Ravens are to have success on offense.  As a Ravens fan the O- line is my biggest concern.  They may be good, but they may be bad and in my opinion this will determine the season.

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#42 by ImNewAroundThe… // Aug 31, 2021 - 12:57am

But if there's something a QB can do, especially one that has legs like Lamar, is elevate OL. And Lamars done just that. 

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#40 by JimZipCode // Aug 30, 2021 - 11:18pm

This line is highly questionable

I'm as alarmist as anyone about the Ravens OL. But I don't think it's as bad as you say. I expect it to be a top-10 or -12 OL.

  • RT Villanueva should find life easier blocking for Greg Roman's offense than passing 50x per game. Not a mauler but a good positional guy who will get to his target points.
  • C Bozeman grew into a solid LG over the past three seasons; before that he was a 3-year starting C for Alabama and 2nd-team AA.  Hard to believe his floor at C is any lower than "fine". C is supposedly a less (physically) challenging position than what he's already played in the NFL. 
  • Someone among the Bens Powers & Cleveland & Bredeson, and Tyre Phillips, can play LG.  I suspect Powers will open the year there, and Cleveland will take the job from him around the bye.

That's a good, capable OL *IF* Ronnie Stanley comes back at something comparable to his 2019 form. If he's not good, then all bets are off -- this'll be a tough season.

do wish the "delicate balance of Ravens football" called for a little more draft resources being allocated to the interior OL. I'd be happier with this group if -- well, one, if I knew Ronnie Stanley was 100% -- but two, if they had Cesar Ruiz or Creed Humphrey plugged into the middle.

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#25 by JimZipCode // Aug 30, 2021 - 5:41pm

this marginal difference in the running game probably pales in comparison to what the Ravens stand to gain if their passing game can bounce back

Yes, absolutely.

It's also possible that the passing game woes are a Lamar Jackson problem

Yes, definitely.

I thought last year that pass-pro issues triggered a cascading breakdown in Lamar's mechanics + trust of his pocket.  I think his worst play was before the bye.  After the bye I thought he was greatly improved – 2½ really bad plays vs the Steelers, but overall a pretty decent game; then his best overall play of the season in the Indy game.  Two weeks later he got covid

I feel a blog post coming on.  But long story short, there's been a whole lot of talking-head about scheme & WR play, for a QB who was recovering from covid and playing behind a makeshift OL (the three right-side players all near-replacement-level injury replacements).  Least hypothesis is that covid and the OL had some impact on the Ravens performance in the passing game.

I'm less worried about his ability to produce in the passing game as I am the lack of improvement and evolution of the supporting cast and scheme.

So is it a good sign that the Ravens top four WRs have all missed the last 3 or 4 weeks of training camp?  (Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, 1st-rd pick Rashod Bateman, fan punching-bag/scapegoat Miles Boykin)

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#26 by dank067 // Aug 30, 2021 - 5:51pm

The news definitely hasn't been good so far about the receivers! And I worry about Roman, who also failed to evolve his passing offense with Kaepernick in San Francisco - I recall they tried and mostly failed to expand their passing game with more spread looks in 2014. In Lamar's case, he has specifically struggled throwing outside the numbers, but he's very experienced operating from the pocket going back to his college days and was very good passing out of empty formations in '19.

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#41 by Rufus R. Jones // Aug 30, 2021 - 11:21pm

Hard to believe that Sammy Watkins has been injured. 

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#12 by Pat // Aug 30, 2021 - 3:13pm

I feel like Goff and Smith really don't belong in those categories. Stafford/Eli put up "not so horrible" numbers, at around -30% DVOA or so. Considering rookies improve by ~13% DVOA on average from year 1 to 2, that means you're not far off from expecting at least replacement level the next year. Not crazy. And calling Goff a charity case is more of a hindsight thing: Keenum wasn't god-awful the year prior, for instance.

I'd call them "It'd Take a Miracle (Coach)" QBs - and lump Leaf and Russell in there as well. Basically any QB below -40% their first year, I think. I mean, after Harbaugh and McVay turned out solid performances from Smith/Goff, we totally thought they were geniuses.

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#14 by theslothook // Aug 30, 2021 - 3:30pm

Whenever I think of rookie QBs I think of the Discovery channel episode on baby turtles hatching on the beach, about to begin their perilous journey to the ocean. Awaiting them were crocodiles, seagulls and other carnivores looking for easy prey. Most perished but a few made it successfully and lived. 

I suspect out of these five, two are going to be outright busts. Another two might turn into tier 3 or tier 4 quarterbacks. And maybe only one becomes a difference maker.

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#31 by mansteel // Aug 30, 2021 - 6:08pm

Not a bad guess...I just looked at all the QBs drafted this century and came up with a thoroughly unscientific 15 difference-makers, 16 journeymen, and 21 busts (I didn't include the 2019 or 2020 classes). So the bust rate is right at the 40% you presumed in your post.

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#43 by dryheat // Aug 31, 2021 - 8:43am

For God's can you post this and not include the words "Blue-footed Booby"?

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#24 by ImNewAroundThe… // Aug 30, 2021 - 5:17pm

and actually take something from preseason. Then everyone shouldve seen why people thought this was a stacked class and why 5 went in the top 15.  

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#32 by liquidmuse3 // Aug 30, 2021 - 6:26pm

This is why I was pro-Tebow for the longest time: how many wins did Gardner “hocus-pocus” his team to? Clearly he’s a better athlete and a better thrower (& not as insufferably popular as a backup, though he has a mini-cult ☺️) , but the “analysis” that Minshew is the acceptable “wing it in a pinch” QB doesn’t actually hold water (or results. Yes, I just said “results” on an analytics website 😉).

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#36 by BroncosGuyAgain // Aug 30, 2021 - 8:44pm

and Derrick Gore (no relation to Lesley) was among the Chiefs earliest cuts.

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#37 by Darren // Aug 30, 2021 - 8:47pm

Myles Garrett is not the Miami RB, although he probably could play fullback. Myles Gaskin is the name you were looking for.


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#39 by Rufus R. Jones // Aug 30, 2021 - 11:13pm

Most entertaining article I've read in quite some time. Thank you.

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#46 by fyo // Aug 31, 2021 - 8:57am

The first two auto-complete suggestions Google comes up with for "is Chad Henne":

- good

- still in the NFL


I know the answer to the first one, being a Dolphins' fan, and the answer to the second one surprises me every year and has for close to a decade now.

In fairness, he is the second best quarterback the Dolphins have drafted in the past 37 years (not counting Tua) - and it's not even remotely close. No points for guessing the reason for the 37 year limit, nor the one better quarterback. 

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#49 by JimZipCode // Aug 31, 2021 - 12:47pm

I got the "Chad Henne is a joke" song from YouTube stuck in my head back during the run-up to the 2008 draft.  It was probably posted by a group of Ohio St fans?  It has always colored my impression of Chad Henne.

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