Newton the next great rookie quarterback?
Cam Newton(notes) threw for just 158 yards Sunday, though he led the Carolina Panthers to their first victory of the season. Through three games, he had over 1,000 passing yards after back-to-back 400-yard games to start his NFL career. As it is, Newton is on pace to shatter all manners of NFL rookie records as a quarterback – if he can keep up his current torrid pace.
Not that long ago, starting a rookie quarterback is a novelty in the NFL. Teams were reluctant to toss in such fresh meat to be gnawed by hungry defenses. After selecting a quarterback in the first round and investing millions in him, a team typically lets the rookie sit on the bench and learn the game until such time when he’s ready, often three or four years down the line.
|Slideshow: The top rookie QBs in Super Bowl era|
But the changing economic environment and a win-now mentality have forced more teams to thrust their rookie QBs into immediate action – in Newton’s case, not even a real offseason because of the lockout. As a result, some of them have been overwhelmed and wilted under such pressure, but a few managed to keep their wits and deliver surprisingly good results.
The best of the lot has to be Dan Marino, who set the gold standard for rookie quarterbacks in 1983 when he wrested the starting job from David Woodley, who had just led the Dolphins to the Super Bowl the year before. Marino would start nine games, pass for over 2,000 yards and toss 20 TD passes. He proved that was no fluke the next year, when he rewrote the NFL record books with 5,000 yards passing and 48 touchdowns in a single season.
Even well before Marino, there was Greg Cook, who had what must be considered a phenomenal season for a rookie quarterback in 1969. Taken fifth overall by the hometown expansion Bengals, the former University of Cincinnati quarterback led his team to a 3-0 start. Coached by quarterback guru Bill Walsh, Cook would throw for 1,854 yards with 15 TDs and 11 interceptions, recording memorable upsets of powerhouses Raiders and Chiefs. Unfortunately for Cook, he suffered a torn rotator cuff during the season that went undiagnosed and he never really played again after his rookie season.
The phenomenon of starting rookie QBs became a more common occurrence in the passing game era, dating back to the mid-’90s. Starting with Peyton Manning(notes) in 1998, a quarterback was taken first overall in 11 of the past 14 drafts – compared to 16 QBs in the previous 62 years. With unparalleled parity, the pressure to produce immediate results is enormous. Ready or not, more and more quarterbacks are forced by their coaches to see action as rookies.
To be sure, this approach has produced plenty of disasters. JaMarcus Russell(notes), Alex Smith, David Carr(notes), just to name a few. Some quarterbacks failed because their horrendous offensive lines couldn’t protect them, others because they simply couldn’t adapt to the faster and more physical game quickly enough.
That’s why stud rookie quarterbacks remain rare. See all the good ones in our top rookie quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era:
The top five:
5. Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons, 2008)
4. Greg Cook (Cincinnati Bengals, 1969)
3. Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts, 1998)
2. Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004)
1. Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins, 1983)
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