Ranking the rookie QBs’ NFL debuts

Sunday was the debut weekend for the 2012 NFL season. It was also the debut of five rookie quarterbacks around the league.

The days of drafting a quarterback and letting him sit behind a veteran starter have gone by the wayside in the “win now” NFL. It is a quarterback-driven league, and clubs can’t afford three years to develop a franchise player. They need to know what they have or else they better start thinking about replacing him.

We have seen the recent successes of Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford and, yes, even Mark Sanchez, but NFL history still suggests teams bat right around .500 when it comes to the success of drafting a first-round quarterback. See JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn and, while some might not agree, Tim Tebow.

So, although it is possible that all five rookies who started on Sunday will survive the rigors of the NFL to become the future of their respective teams, it is more likely that at least two of them won’t even be on their current roster three years from now.

If the performances Sunday are any indication, history will prevail. From worst to best, this is how I rank the debut performances of each of the rookie quarterbacks:

5. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns

Is it already Colt McCoy time again in Cleveland? Maybe not, but Weeden looked absolutely terrible, by all accounts on Sunday. And this one is especially painful given the way the Browns’ defense gave the team every opportunity to win the game. Seriously, if the Browns could have put any semblance of an offense on the field for even one possession, they would have won this game.

Not only did Weeden throw for only 118 yards on 35 attempts, with four interceptions, but he also routinely missed wide-open receivers for what should have been textbook completions. The Browns picked off four Vick passes, as well. As it turns out, they might have been best off forcing the Eagles to punt. At least then Josh Cribbs could have returned one for a touchdown.

4. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

Although I don’t necessarily believe that the preseason is a precursor for how your team will perform in the regular season, it looked awfully similar for the Dolphins on Sunday. Outside of the Jets, there wasn’t a team that struggled more than the Dolphins in the four tuneup games. The Jets turned it around on Sunday; the Dolphins, not so much.

During the second quarter, Miami turned the ball over on four straight possessions, the first three being Tannehill interceptions. Pretty hard to get into an offensive rhythm when you account for four turnovers in the span of only 16 plays!

Even more disappointing, Tannehill, a former college wide receiver, was drafted for his athleticism and ability to make plays with his legs. He finished with only two rushing attempts for minus-1 yards. This guy isn’t going to win many games if his stat line continues to look like that.

3. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Outside of Robert Griffin III, Luck was facing the most daunting task on Sunday, traveling to Soldier Field and dueling the new-look offense of Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears.

Luck’s defense kept him in the game early, but, eventually, it was up to him to keep up with the Bears, who piled up 41 points by the end of the day. Luck’s three interceptions are, obviously, mistakes he needs to eliminate from his game, but I liked the chances he took down the field. And, let’s face it, outside of Reggie Wayne, he doesn’t have too many offensive threats to help him. Luck stayed positive, listened to his coaches, kept leading, no pouting whatsoever, and that is what it will take to survive what is sure to be an up-and-down rookie season.

To put Luck’s performance in perspective for Colts fans, in Peyton Manning’s 1998 NFL debut, he also threw three interceptions. And he turned out to be pretty good!

2. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

I’m not sold on the idea that Russell Wilson is the future of the Seattle Seahawks, but he had a decent debut for the blue and green. Although his statistics left a lot to be desired, it was what he did on the final drive that pushes him ahead of Luck.

Russell won’t get credit for a comeback victory in the record books, but he should have. He led the Seahawks down the field and, on fourth-and-goal, threw a perfect pass on a slant route to Braylon Edwards for the go-ahead touchdown. Only problem, Edwards dropped it. Wilson put it high and outside, just where he should have thrown it to the 6-foot-3 receiver.

There was, obviously, controversy on that final series, with two drive-sustaining pass interference calls and a fourth timeout granted, but you can’t blame Wilson for that. He put his team in a position to win, and that is all you can ask.

1. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

Griffin’s statistics alone put him to the top of this list, but it was his confidence and poise that get me excited for his future.

Of all the rookies, he was going into the most hostile environment, against one of the most explosive offenses the NFL has ever seen. He didn’t skip a beat. In his first series in a Redskins uniform, his offense possessed the ball for 7:30 and finished with a field goal to go up early 3-0. That was just the beginning. By the end of the Redskins’ fourth possession, RG3 was 11 for 13 for 182 yards and two touchdowns with an additional 24 yards on the ground. And even though I think it is a fairly useless statistic, he posted a perfect QB rating in the first half, just the 35th time for that to occur in league history and the first for a rookie.

By the end of the game, his rating of 139.9 was only 19 points less than the other four rookie quarterbacks combined. So much for the rookie acclimation period. Cam Newton set the world on fire last year as a rookie, and while he threw for 422 yards in his debut, he couldn’t even lead his team to victory over a dismal Arizona team in 2011. Not only did Griffin win, but he did it on the road while outplaying Drew Brees in his own house.