Saturday, September 17, 2011

Canon Review Listamania: Top 10 Rookie Quarterbacks

Last Sunday, Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton made history in his first NFL start, passing for 422 yards in his first NFL game. Well, Newton's excellent performance got me to thinking about the best rookie quarterbacks in NFL history, and because I can, I decided to make a list of the top 10 Rookie Quarterbacks in the history of professional football. One of the things that I noticed while researching this list is that now more than ever, teams are relying on rookie quarterbacks a lot more often than they did 20 or 30 years ago. Sure, you get a few high draft picks like Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers that sit for a season or two, but in today's NFL, if a team spends a high draft pick and a whole lot of money on a quarterback, then chances are that that player is going to play. This year alone, both Newton and Cincinnatti's Andy Dalton started week one at QB, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Tennessee's Jake Locker, Minnesota's Christian Ponder, and especially Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert got quite a few starts at quarterback this year. Consider this, from 2007-2010, there were nine rookie quarterbacks that started at least half of their team's games, which is almost as much as the number of rookie QBs that accomplished the same feat in the 1990s (11) and 1980s (10). What does this have to do with anything, you ask? Well, nothing really, I just found it kind of interesting. But don't be surprised if as a result, this list skews towards the more recent quarterbacks. Anyway, here is The Canon Review's Top 10 Rookie Quarterbacks.

Honorable Mention:

Dennis Shaw, 1970, and Vince Young, 2006: Both players did win the Rookie of the Year award during their first seasons, but neither player had a season that I'd say was great. Shaw, a former Buffalo Bill, was sixth in the NFL in passing yards with 2,507. However, his TD/INT ratio wasn't too hot (10/20) and his quarterback rating was a partly 65.3. Young may have had an 8-5 record as a starter, and he did add a lot of value with his running ability (552 yards, seven TDs). However, his performance as a passer (51.5 completion percentage, 12/13 TD/INT ratio), left something to be desired.

Peyton Manning, 1998: Guess who holds the NFL rookie records for passing yards and touchdown passes by a rookie? Quite obviously, it is Peyton Manning. So why in the world would I leave Peyton off a list of the top rookie quarterbacks? Well, despite his high yardage (3,739) and touchdown (26) totals, Manning wasn't quite the Peyton Manning that we would see on the field for the next decade or so. In 1998, Manning also threw for 28 interceptions, which was a factor in the Colts going 3-13 that year. So, because of his high interception total and somewhat pedestrian QB rating (71.2), Manning just misses the cut.

10. Sam Bradford, 2010, St. Louis Rams

Coming out of Oklahoma, there were some questions about how quickly Bradford would adjust to the NFL, especially since he was recovering from a severe shoulder injury. But Bradford showed to be a quick learner, and ended up starting all 16 games for the Rams last year and nearly leading them to a division title. In his rookie season, Bradford threw for 3,512 yards and set a new rookie record for most completions in a season with 354 on his way to winning the 2010 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Bradford also became the first rookie quarterback to win consecutive Rookie of the Month awards (October and November) and set a rookie record for most consecutive passes thrown without an interception (169). All in all, a rather successful rookie season.

9. Charle Batch, 1998, Detroit Lions

Batch was the third quarterback selected in the 1998 Draft behind Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, but it was Batch that was the most effective rookie quarterback that year. In 12 starts, Batch threw for 2,178 yards, had a nearly 2-1 TD/INT ratio(11-6), and his 83.5 QB rating is the sixth highest among NFL rookies with over 200 attempts. Batch also contributed to the Lions' cause with his feet, running for 229 yards and a touchdown. While Batch may not have had the career that Peyton Manning has had, at least he can say that he had the better rookie season.

8. Greg Cook, 1969, Cincinnati Bengals

In 1969, the Bengals thought they drafted their quarterback of the future when they made Cook their first round selection. At first, Cook did nothing to make the Bengals believe otherwise, as he won his first three starts. However, an injury to Cook's shoulder knocked him out of action for a few weeks, and with Cook out, the Bengals tumbled to the basement of the AFL Western Division. Even so, it was still a successful season for Cook, as he led the AFL in passer rating (88.3) and in completion percentage (53.8) despite playing most of the season with a torn rotator cuff. Cook was the AFL Rookie of the Year, but his shoulder injury was so severe that he never could regain his previous form, and only threw two more passes after his rookie season. Today, we can only speculate about what might have been had Greg Cook stayed healthy, but there's no doubt that he had a heck of a first season.

7. Otto Graham, 1946, Cleveland Browns

Graham served in the Coast Guard after starring at Northwestern, and didn't make his debut until 1946, where he was the quarterback for the AAFC's Cleveland Browns. Graham and the Browns took the new league by storm, as the Browns went 12-2 and won the first of their four straight AAFC League Championships. For his part, Graham was quite successful, finishing second in the league in passing yards (1,886) and first in touchdowns (17). His QB rating of 112.1 would have led the league if he had enough passing attempts, and would also be the fifth highest single-season total in pro football history. Yes, it was quite a year for Graham, but he does get penalized because the level of competition he was playing against wasn't exactly the strongest.

6. Charlie Conerly, 1948, New York Giants

Conerly was an All-American player at Ole Miss and the 1947 SEC Player of the Year, so the Giants had high hopes for their new quarterback. In his first season, Conerly not only met those hopes, but exceeded them, finishing 2nd in the NFL in completions (162), passing yards (2,175), touchdown passes (22), and QB rating (84.0). Not only did Conerly excel as a passer, he was also a dangerous running threat, running for five touchdowns. Even though he played over 50 years ago, only one other rookie has more touchdown passes than Conerly's 22. Despite Conerly's excellence, the Giants went 4-8, but Conerly still had a rookie season for the ages.

5. Joe Flacco, 2008, Baltimore Ravens

Coming out of 1-AA Delaware, Flacco was picked in the first round by the Ravens in the 2008 draft. In a surprising move, the Ravens made Flacco their opening game starter, and Flacco repaid the Ravens' confidence in him by leading them to victory in his first two starts. At the end of the season, the Ravens finished with an 11-5 record, and Flacco started each game, throwing for 2,971 and 14 touchdowns. Flacco was an efficient quarterback who completed 60 percent of his passes, and he finished the season with a QB rating of 80.3. The Ravens made the playoffs that year, and Flacco made history by becoming the first rookie quarterback to win two playoff games, both of which were on the road. While Flacco wasn't spectacular in each game, he was careful with the ball (0 turnovers) and led the Ravens down the field on their game winning drive against the Tennessee Titans in the second round. Yes, Flacco's Ravens were eventually beaten by the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, but it was quite an excellent first season for Flacco.

4. Matt Ryan, 2008, Atlanta Falcons

Despite Flacco's excellent rookie season, it was Matt Ryan that would win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2008, and for good reason. The Falcons made Ryan the starter from day one, hoping that he would at least help to improve their 3-13 mark from last year. On his first pass, Ryan established himself as a player to watch, as he threw a touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins on a stunned Detroit Lions defense. From that moment on, Ryan was the man behind center in Atlanta, and he led the Falcons to a surprising 11-5 record and a spot in the postseason. Ryan also became the second rookie to throw for over 3,000 yards in a season (3,440) and put up very nice numbers in his rookie season (61.1 completion percentage, 16/11 TD/INT, 87.7 rating). Even though the Falcons lost their playoff game, Ryan made more history by completing 26 passes, a record for NFL rookies.

3.  Bob Waterfield, 1945, Cleveland Rams

At first glance, Waterfield's stats do not appear very impressive. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns (17-14), his completion percentage was 51.0%, and his QB rating of 72.4 doesn't look like anything to write home about. But 1945 wasn't exactly a banner year for passing, so Waterfield did quite well compared to his peers. He finished third in completions (89) and in passing yards (1,609), and his 14 touchdowns were tied for the most in the league. At the end of the season, Waterfield was named to the NFL All-Pro team, and led his Cleveland Rams to victory over the Washington Redskins in the NFL Championship game, making Waterfield the last rookie quarterback to lead his team to a title in the NFL, and is also the only rookie QB to win the NFL's Most Valuable Player award.

2. Dan Marino, 1983, Miami Dolphins

Marino was the sixth quarterback taken in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft when Miami picked him with the 27th pick. While the rest of his peers were either struggling or playing in the USFL, Marino thrived in his rookie year after taking over for David Woodley early in the season. This despite the fact that Woodley had led the Dolphins to the Super Bowl the prior season. But the Dolphins not only didn't miss a beat with Marino, they added a whole new element to their team, as Marino proved to be a much more skilled quarterback. At the end of the year, Marino led the Dolphins to a 12-4 record and a division title while throwing for 2,210 yards and 20 touchdowns while only throwing six interceptions. His 96.0 rating was third best in the league, and became the first rookie quarterback to be named the starter for the Pro Bowl.

1. Ben Roethlisberger, 2004, Pittsburgh Steelers

The number one quarterbacks on our list started the 2004 season as a backup to Tommy Maddox. But a week two injury to Maddox forced Roethlisberger into the lineup, and Roethlisberger never left. In fact, the Steelers went 13-0 with Roethlisberger as a starter that year, and finished the season with a franchise best 15-1 record, and a large part of that was the play of their rookie quarterback. Roethlisberger set rookie records for completion percentage (66.4) and quarterback rating (98.1), and finished in the NFL in both categories. He also passed for 2,621 and 17 touchdowns, while only throwing 11 interceptions. Not only that, but Roethlisberger proved to be a clutch performer, leading his team on five game winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. In the playoffs, Roethlisberger and his Steelers went all the way to the AFC Championship Game before falling to the Patriots. Nevertheless, it was a great year for Roethlisberger, who was named to the Pro Bowl and also won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Well, thanks for reading The Canon Review's list of the Top 10 Rookie Quarterbacks of All Time. Whether you agree or disagree, feel free to express your opinion on this article by leaving a comment on the blog. Also, if you have any requests for future posts, then send those along to me via e-mail at

1 comment:

  1. Hey, a Charlie Batch sighting! I liked Batch and wish he would have stayed in Detroit longer than he did. He was certainly better than the handful of QBs they brought in after him.