December 7th, 2012 by Nat Coombs
NAT COOMBS follows up his early season review of the current crop of rookie QBs starting in the NFL with his late season report …
One of the most intriguing aspects the NFL season to date has been the progress of the QB Class of 2012. With valedictorians Andrew Luck & RG3 – who have lived up to the intense hype surrounding their rookie seasons – and the whirlwind emergence of Russell Wilson, many have suggested that this may be the finest graduating class we’ve seen in years, possible ever.
Prior to 2012 the two years widely regarded as vintage when it came to delivering QBs are 2004 and 1983. The former gave us two-time Super Bowl winning Eli Manning [pic right] as the #1 overall pick where he infamously snubbed the Chargers and was traded to the Giants, with Philip Rivers, the #4 pick, heading to Ron Burgundy’s hometown.
Another owner of two SB rings, Ben Roethlisberger went #11 to the Steelers. Throw in the high-flying Texans’ Matt Schaub, who dropped as far as Round 2 (how many teams missed him first time round?) … and you’ve got four of the best 10 QBs in the NFL right now. ALL from one year! But is that the best-ever quarterback draft?
Back in 1983, the Draft yielded THREE of the best QBs to ever play the game. John Elway [pic right] – nine-time pro-bowler, two-time Super Bowl winning HOFer – went first overall, and similarly to Manning Jr, ended up with a different team to the one that initially selected him. The (then Baltimore) Colts dealt him to Denver. After Elway came a Who’s Who of NFL QB legends.
Jim Kelly was picked by the Bills with the 14th overall pick, subsequently snubbed them for the USFL, and came back in 1986 to lead Buffalo to four consecutive Super Bowls.
Another Hall of Famer who went in the ‘83 first round is the one-man record machine Dan Marino. Hindsight clearly shows that the Dolphins nabbed a blue chip bargain with the 27th pick – much lower than his talent deserved because of the off-field rumors that dogged him. Three slots ahead of Marino in the draft, if not in overall career trajectory, was the Jets’ Ken O’Brien, who many regard as one of the most naturally gifted QB’s of the last 50 years.
Experts continually argue as to whether 1983 or 2004 is the crème de la crème of quarterback talent coming out of college, so how does the class of 2012 stack up?
Impossible to tell after (less than) a single season, but there are already many clues of what NFL historians may look back on in years to come:
ANDREW LUCK – Indianapolis Colts’ #1 draft pick overall
The Colts have been the stand-alone surprise package of the season, playoff bound (barring a stunning capitulation) and much of it has been down to their young QB. He seems to have singlehandedly rejuvenated Reggie Wayne, has shown the composure and maturity we expected, and his never say die attitude to bring his team back from the brink against the Lions – where they scored twice in the last three minutes to win 35-33 – has won him many admirers. His passer rating his solid, and predictably he’s already taken down some rookie records including one for passing yards in a game (433).It will be fascinating to see how he fares in the post season, if I haven’t jinxed the Colts place in the playoffs. He has already won more games as a rookie than any other a #1 pick QB in NFL history and thrown more 300+ yards games than any other first-year QB – still not impressed?
ROBERT GRIFFIN III – Washington Redskins #2 overall pick
Here’s all you need to know about RG3. We’re over three-quarters of the way into the season and he has a passer rating of over 104.4, second only to last year’s MVP Aaron Rodgers.
He may also end up with a 1000 yards season RUSHING (he’s on 714 with four to play) which is the benchmark of an elite Running Back. Composed and accurate in the pocket (his completion rate is 67% and he’s only thrown four picks all year – compared to Luck’s 16 at the same stage).
RG3 is capable of breaking a big play with his athletic ability, he’s the prototype of the new generation of QB (playing in a spread option, pro pistol set up). Few players in his position, if any, have ever had such a balanced make up of skills, speed and scoring weapons.
RUSSELL WILSON – Seattle Seahawks #75 overall pick
When I saw Wilson being interviewed on ESPN’s Jon Gruden’s QB Camp before the draft, I had a feeling that he may be something special a definite sleeper to look out for.
He set records at Wisconsin so his ability was obvious, but in the NFL, at the QB position certainly, it’s often a case of mind over matter and Wilson has a maturity and footballing brain that gives him a competitive edge. He quickly won the starting job over highly-touted Matt Flynn in preseason and hasn’t looked back. Another impressive QB rating (mid-90s) and, most important for a NFL QB, he gets the job done.
Wilson has the ‘Hawks playoff-bound and have a high quality QB to build the next 8-10 years around. How clutch is this rookie: he is the first rookie QB since 1970 to have thrown three TDs in the final minutes / overtime of a game.
RYAN TANNEHILL – Miami Dolphins #8 overall pick
Tannehill divided opinion when he was drafted – did the Fins go too big in reaching for him? And he continues to polarize fans and experts alike.
Statistically he’s in the lower reaches of the QB charts – but then so is Luck on most levels – but he’s certainly shown some real promise at key moments during the season.
For example, he broke the franchise record for most passing yards in a single game (431) and has already eclipsed Dan Marino’s long-standing record for passing yards in a rookie season (2712) and it’s the improvement in him that is giving his supporters most encouragement.
BRANDON WEEDEN – Cleveland Browns #22 overall pick
Poor Brandon Weeden suffered a torrid start to his NFL career – including a truly remarkable 5.1passer rating in his first start.
He had a 114.9 rating in his second game so showed a considerable amount of mental toughness to bounce right back. Whilst he continues to improve, it’s so hard to tell just how high his ceiling his because the Browns team that he’s marshaling is hardly vintage (or much good to be honest).
The fact they’ve been competitive in a number of games – and possibly boast the NFL’s most deceptively poor record – is more down to their underrated defense, but Weeden hardly has a receiving corps to target and should be given one more season to show he truly belongs in this season’s elite rookie company.
NAT COOMBS, as well as writing for ESPN America on the NFL & MLB, is one of ESPN UK’s studio anchors and also presents NFL Live on Channel 4 in the UK. He is the host of the cult sports podcast Americarnage.
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