Quarterbacks were the hot commodities in the 2012 NFL Draft. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III went one and two and were immediately expected to be dominant forces in the league for years. But beyond that talented twosome, this draft could prove to be one of the deepest quarterback drafts in recent memory, as five rookies will take the helms of their teams on opening day. Outside of Luck and RGIII, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and, most recently, Russell Wilson have been named their teams’ starting QBs.
After the success of second round pick Andy Dalton last year, teams across the league seem more confident in starting first year quarterbacks who weren’t top picks. Dalton threw for 20 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards while leading the Bengals to 9 wins and a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. Dalton was considered a less prospect than Cam Newton yet had just as an impressive season as the top pick did. The Seahawks, Dolphins and Browns are hoping the same holds true this season.
However they seem to be ignoring the egregious failure that was Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert got the start for the Jaguars and went on to lead all quarterbacks in fumbles (14), finish with the lowest Quarterback Rating (65.4) and yards per attempt (5.4), post the second worst completion percentage (50.8%) and was the third most sacked QB (40).
Gabbert was a well thought of prospect, drafted tenth overall, but was thrust into a starting spot too early, as Jacksonville had no other options at the position. That is exactly how teams should not handle young quarterbacks. Throwing them into a position to fail will only damage their confidence and give them very few positives to build around.
Weeden and Wilson both seem closer to finished products than Gabbert was and should be at least competent in their starting roles. Tannehill, however, was drafted high due to his potential and is more of the project Gabbert was thought to be. Having played two seasons at Texas A&M at receiver before switching to quarterback for two seasons, Tannehill is still learning the position and could struggle his rookies, especially given the lack of offensive weapons around him.
The trial by fire path seems to have replaced the past strategy of handling rookie QBs. Many of the NFL’s best field generals started their careers as backups to established veterans, learning the nuances of the game from them without suffering the risk of fractured confidence.
Take Jake Locker for instance. The Titans quarterback spent his rookie year last season learning from Matt Hasselbeck. This season, Locker has beat out Hasselbeck and has shown significant improvement in his decision making and accuracy.
With so many young quarterbacks who earned their starting spots in a variety of ways, this season could be an interesting case study in quarterback development.