Rookie Quarterbacks: Is it Better to Sit Them or Start Them?

By Danny Williams
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Once upon a time, before the successes of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, rookie quarterbacks were thought to be unready and unfit to start an NFL game. They were put under the tutelage of a veteran quarterback for a year so they could learn the ropes of being an NFL quarterback and eventually take the reins.

An emergency could warrant a rookie to start, but certainly they would not start the season. Starting them right out of the gate was viewed as rushing them and hindering development.

Ben Roethlisberger was the first quarterback to have success as a rookie starter in the 21st-century NFL. In 2004, the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t lose a game with Roethlisberger as the starter until the AFC championship game. He only became the starter because Tommy Maddox, who Roethlisberger was originally supposed to sit and learn behind for the entire 2004 season, was injured in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens in only the second game of the season.

Roethlisberger broke the recently accepted theory that was fueled by the failures of David Carr, Joey Harrington and Ryan Leaf that in the NFL, a rookie quarterback would struggle and eventually crumble. Still, NFL teams were not ready to have a rookie starting at QB and subsequently leading the team. It was more of a trust issue than an issue with the talent of a rookie QB.

It wasn’t until 2008 when the NFL was taken by storm by the rookie QB combination of Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and Joe Flacco of the Ravens, that those views started to change. The two were the first rookie QBs to start an entire 16-game season and have at least an 80.0 QB rating. At the end of 2008, Ryan had the third-highest QB rating for a rookie QB behind only Greg Cook in 1969 and Dan Marino in 1983.

Both Flacco and Ryan led their teams to the playoffs. It was an amazing feat for two men who were thrown into the starting positions because their teams lacked better options. The two set a trend, as every year since 2008, there has been a rookie QB starting on opening day in the NFL, with a record five rookie QBs starting in 2012.

The days of coddling QBs are gone, but it is for the better?

Since 2000, one-half of the QBs (five) who have sat their rookie year produced at least a 90.0 QB rating in their first year of starting. Four out of five of those QBs led their team to the playoffs. Two of the QBs who didn’t produce a 90.0 QB rating (Brady Quinn and Jake Locker) haven’t played a full 16-game season in their NFL careers.

For those keeping count, sitting a QB his rookie season will have more than a 50 percent chance of creating a 90.0 rated passer if the QB plays a full NFL season. A 90-rated passer translates to a playoff berth in 80 percent of these scenarios. The argument could go on forever. There are pros and cons to both sitting and starting a rookie QB, but in today’s NFL, starting a QB right off the bat has been the norm since the success of Ryan and Flacco.

With that said, there will still be traditional teams who want to ease a quarterback into the starting role. Colin Kaepernick is the most recent success to start his career on the bench. Will any rookie QB of the 2014 class start their career the same way? While it would benefit them all greatly as they all need to mature whether physically or mentally, due we will likely see at least two rookie starters in 2014 the lack of patience in the NFL.

Danny Williams is an NFL writer. Follow him on Twitter @dannyweeumzNFL

You May Also Like