Anyone who has known me over the years knows I hate, hate, hate rookie quarterbacks in the NFL. Second year guys were only slightly more in my good graces. But here we are this season with one of the great paradigm shifts in NFL history.
Five rookie quarterbacks are slated to start on opening weekend. There will also be five second year men, two third year men and three crusty old four year veterans. That’s 15 of the league’s 32 starters. Five opening week matchups will feature two quarterbacks from this list facing one another.
The NFL is a zero sum league. One team wins, the other loses. For every quarterback above average there is one below. How do we find which ones will help us win and/or cover and which we would rather fade?
In the past few seasons a popular mantra has been that it’s a quarterback/coaches/management league. That’s far too simplistic, but it is a decent place to start.
Some quarterbacks or coaches may have all the skills but don’t mesh well with their surrounding talent. Steve Young looked like a stiff with Tampa Bay but became a Hall of Famer in San Francisco. Bill Belicheck was fired in Cleveland but is a genius with Tom Brady as his field general.
Obviously we can’t tell much about the rookie QB’s at this point. Unfortunately many on this list are being guided by relatively inexperienced head coaches as well. As handicappers we will have to make some hasty assessments in these situations.
There are a few we know a little more about, however. I think we can safely say Cam Newton has fit in well with his coach and offensive personnel. I don’t expect a linear assent to the stratospheric pantheon of all-time greats for young Mr. Newton. There will be a little turbulence along the way. Coaches will make some adjustments and he’ll have to respond, but all the necessities are there for him to be a star in this league.
Another top overall choice, Matthew Stafford, also looks to have the goods. (Yes, as long as he stays healthy). Andy Dalton has overcome the anti-red head stigma (David Caruso was reportedly preparing to call in the ACLU) and has established himself as a legitimate NFL quarterback.
Christian Ponder hasn’t shown me much and his coach, Leslie Frazier, even less. I like Sam Bradford, but last year has to scare you at least a little. New Rams head coach Jeff Fisher is an improvement over the atrocious job done by Steve Spagnuolo last season, but Fisher is one of the league’s most overrated coaches.
Fisher has had six winning seasons in 16 years as a head coach. His offenses have been in the top 10 three times. Blaine Gabbert and Mark Sanchez had better show some improvement or they will be former starting quarterbacks.
The QB who intrigues me the most is Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman, who struggled his first year under a rookie head coach, Raheem Morris. The next season he improved personally as well as leading his young team to a 10-6 record.
Then came last season, his third. Yikes! He was dreadful, his team even worse. Coach Morris lost the team half way through the season and was sent packing within hours after the last game went final.
There is a little more to it, however. The front office did absolutely nothing to improve the team after its promising 10-6 season. Their complacency or downright negligence enabled the 4-12 failure of 2011.
This offseason the front office got sorely needed offensive line help, beefed up the defense and drafted well. All the ingredients necessary for the standard ‘help the young quarterback’ recipe.
This year Freeman will be coached by Greg Schiano, making the leap from Rutgers to the NFL. Schiano had a very good record at Rutgers, but wasn’t exactly Knute Rockne. For God’s sake, it’s Rutgers. Do you realize they’re in New Jersey? What did they have to sell recruits on besides the potential benefits of political corruption? Was there even a football team before Schiano got there? There must have been, but I sure don’t remember it.
Word is Freeman lost 20 pounds and worked extremely hard to impress his new coach. The Bucs, along with the rest of their division, play the NFC East (tough) and the AFC West (pretty easy). The Bucs’ two added games are with the Vikings and Rams. Come on. How much easier can it get?
Looking at their schedule, they have a reasonable shot to be 5-3 at midseason. The schedule toughens a bit from there, but young teams can build confidence, as can a young quarterback.
There will be some separation between the wheat and the chaff with these young QB’s and unproven coaches. I’m looking for Josh Freeman and the Bucs to be among the wheat.