Catching up with rookie QB crop

In 2011, five rookie quarterbacks actually started games, but only two of them were named the starter for the season opener: Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. Interestingly enough, Newton and Dalton became the first pair of rookie QBs named to the Pro Bowl in league history and were just the fifth and sixth rookie quarterbacks ever to be selected. Three of those six now reside in the Hall of Fame.

This season kicked off with five rookie quarterbacks starting the season opener, the highest number since 1950. Three rookies have started the opening game just twice in the past 62 years and you would have to add all the Week 1 rookie starters from the 2009 (2), 2010 (1), and 2011 (2) seasons just to equal the five that started this year.

Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, and Russell Wilson are this year’s starting rookie quarterback class, and all of them are clearly comfortable in their roles.

After Week 8, these five quarterbacks had already accounted for eight 300-yard passing games. And Andrew Luck’s 433-yard performance on Sunday made it nine. Playing against Luck’s Colts, Ryan Tannehill was just 10 yards shy of adding to the total.

That Colts and Dolphins game was just the sixth time in the modern draft era that rookie quarterbacks who were both selected in the top 10 started against one another. And it didn’t disappoint. There were a total of six lead changes in the game, and neither team led by more than a touchdown at any point in the entire game. The Colts outgained the Dolphins by 151 yards, and in the process, Luck broke Cam Newton’s single-game rookie passing record by a single yard. And by the way, the third-highest total for a rookie quarterback is held by Ryan Tannehill, just a single yard less than Newton and two behind Luck.

Robert Griffin III, who had stolen the spotlight for the majority of the first half of the season, may be cooling off after a hot start. He entered Week 8 with the league’s best completion percentage, but after nine official drops from his receivers, fell to fifth place (66.8%). He completed just 59 percent of his passes and converted on just three of 15 third downs in a loss to the Panthers. Sunday was just his second game in which he failed to either throw or rush for a touchdown.

Sure, he is currently without both his best receiver, Pierre Garcon, and his favorite target, Fred Davis, but try making that argument to either Andrew Luck or Ryan Tannehill. Luck at least has Reggie Wayne, but still has a less than desirable corps of offensive weapons. Tannehill has a playmaker in the backfield with Reggie Bush, but the average NFL fan would be hard pressed to even name one of his receivers or tight ends. RG3 had the benefit of entering the season with the best supporting cast, but after the aforementioned injuries along with the loss of Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker on the defensive side of the ball, the playing field has just about leveled out between the three.

The guy with the best team surrounding him, Russell Wilson, helped his team in a win against the Vikings. After an early touchdown deficit, Wilson calmly responded with three first-half touchdowns of his own. Those three touchdowns tied a career high and it was the fourth time that Wilson finished a game without throwing a single interception. He clearly is the proverbial “game manager” of the rookie class as he plays alongside the second-most productive running back in the game and enjoys the league’s fourth-best total defense and sixth best scoring defense. The Seahawks surrendered just 44 passing yards against the Vikings on Sunday.

Not to be forgotten, Brandon Weeden had yet another game of 35+ passing attempts in a close loss to the Ravens, much closer than the 10-point differential the final score suggests. Weeden and the Browns were unable to reach the end zone and were only able to secure five field goals on a perfect day from Phil Dawson. With the 15 points the Browns scored on Sunday, they now are averaging a woeful 11.7 points per game over the last three, but that is who the Browns are right now. What is frustrating is that they are unwilling to tailor their strategy to the strength of their team. Weeden and the Browns aren’t a 35-plus passing attempt team right now; they simply aren’t built for it along the offensive line and definitely not at the receiver position.

Weeden’s 37 drop backs on Sunday ties him with Luck for the most passing attempts of all the rookie quarterbacks with 336, or in Weeden’s case, 37 attempts per game. For comparison purposes, RG3 has 262 attempts, Tannehill has 241 and Wilson brings up the rear with 234 attempts per game. In this case, bringing up the rear is far from a bad thing. The Browns should watch how the Seahawks have been handling Wilson and execute the same strategy with Weeden. Trent Richardson and Marshawn Lynch have similar rushing styles, but the biggest difference is Richardson’s 152 total carries compared to Lynch’s 185. If the Browns want to get on track, they need to mimic the numbers of the Seahawks.