Two things stand out looking at the 10 best rookie quarterback seasons in modern (post-merger) NFL history: one, that there aren't very many great ones; and two, that most of those are recent. If the trend continues, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III could wind up positioned well on lists like this one in the future.
For now, though, here's who they're chasing. These are the quarterbacks who have gotten off to great starts.
10. Vince Young (Tennessee Titans, 2006)
Vince Young won't appear on many lists of tremendous quarterbacking accomplishments, but he does squeeze onto this one. VY went 8-5 as a starter as a rookie, and just finished on the wrong side of the TD/INT ratio, with 12/13. That doesn't set the world on fire, but for a rookie, it's at least decent. Young's legs added a ton of value, giving the Titans an extra 552 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs.
9. Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams, 2010)
Bradford threw the ball an insane 590 times as a rookie, trailing only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in attempts in 2010. And he completed 60 percent of those, which is a plateau not often reached by rookie QBs. It also feels like it's worth pointing out that the top two receivers on that 2010 Rams team were Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson. That ups the degree of difficulty significantly.
8. Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens, 2008)
All Joe Flacco did in his rookie year was compile a record of 11-5 and lead the Ravens to the AFC Championship game. He also hit the 60 percent completion mark, and had more TDs than interceptions, and ended up being named the Rookie of the Year. The only blip was in Baltimore's last game of the season, the AFC championship game in Pittsburgh, which is not an ideal scenario for a rookie QB. Pittsburgh killed him, forcing him into a 13-of-30, 0 TD, 3 INT performance.
7. Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals, 2011)
Dalton was perhaps overshadowed a bit by Cam Newton, but you could argue that he was just as good, especially if you're into the "Quarterback Wins" statistic. Even without it, though, Dalton was formidable: 3,398 yards, with 20 TDs against just 13 INTs. And before the season, most people expected the Bengals to be just horrific. They exceeded all expectations and made the playoffs, due in large part to Dalton's steady play.
6. Charlie Batch (Detroit Lions, 1998)
In Ryan Tannehill's most optimistic dreams, his rookie season goes like Charlie Batch's. Batch was the third quarterback taken in 1998, behind Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning (more on Manning in a minute), but he ended up with a better quarterback rating than either of them. In 303 attempts, Batch was intercepted just six times. He piled 229 rushing yards on top of that, too.
5. Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons, 2008)
Ryan was the only reason why No. 8 on this list, Joe Flacco, was the 2008 rookie of the year. At the time, he was just the second rookie in history to throw for 3,000 yards, and he led the Falcons to the playoffs after they went 4-12 the season prior. He threw 16 TD passes against just 11 interceptions and had a passer rating of 87.7 ‒ the third best for a rookie quarterback since the 1970 merger.
4. Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts, 1998)
Charlie Batch's numbers might look better, but Peyton Manning still had the best year among rookie quarterbacks in 1998. He was more error prone, especially early on, but he was just so much more ambitious. He threw the ball 575 times and had over 3,700 yards, with 26 TDs. There were 28 interceptions, too, but most of them came very early in the season. In his first four games, he had three touchdowns and 11 interceptions. From Week 5 through the end of the season, he had 23 TDs against 17 INTs.
3. Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004)
A rookie record of 13-0 ‒ that's pretty good, right? That's what Ben Roethlisberger did in 2004, stepping in as the starter after Charlie Batch and Tommy Maddox were injured. He was brilliant, throwing 17 TDs against 11 INTs, with a 66.4 percent completion rate and a passer rating of 98.1 ‒ the best ever for a rookie.
So why isn't he No. 1 on the list? Well, first and foremost, because Cam Newton and Dan Marino had brilliant rookie seasons, too, but also because the Steelers were a ground-and-pound team in 2004. Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley were killing people on the ground, and the Steelers had their customary punishing defense. Roethlisberger was brilliant, but he was only asked to throw the ball 21 times per game and was in just about the best situation a rookie quarterback could ever hope for.
2. Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins, 1983)
Marino wasn't expected to start as a rookie, either, but earned the starting job in Week 6 because David Woodley wasn't very good. Marino was ridiculously good, right away. In games he started, he had a quarterback rating under 84 just once time ‒ and five games with a rating over 100. He threw 20 passes against six interceptions, and went 7-2 as a starter. His rookie passer rating was 96.0.
So why isn't he No. 1 on the list? Again, because Newton was brilliant, but also because Marino started just nine games as a rookie. It would be interested to see what his numbers would've looked like with 16 starts, but Newton still threw for significantly more yards per game. Newton's rushing contributions set him apart a bit, too.
1. Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers, 2011)
Cam Newton blew everyone's mind as a rookie in 2011, shattering records and re-setting the bar for what a rookie quarterback could be. He set the following rookie records (via Wikipedia):
• Most passing yards by a rookie in a game (432), September 18, 2011 vs. Green Bay Packers
• Most passing yards by a rookie in a season (4,051)
• First rookie in NFL history to pass for more than 400 yards in back to back games, September 11, 2011 vs. Arizona Cardinals and September 18, 2011 vs. Green Bay Packers
• First rookie in NFL history to throw for 10 touchdowns and run for 10 touchdowns in a season.
• Fourth rookie quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in a season.
• Third most pass TDs (21) in a rookie season.
• Most total touchdowns by a rookie NFL player: 35 (21 pass, 14 rush)
• Most rushing yards by a rookie quarterback: 706
• Most rushing touchdowns by a rookie quarterback: 14
• Along with Andy Dalton, the two make the first pair of rookie QB's to make the Pro Bowl
All of which raise the expectations for Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
A quarterback has won the Rookie of the Year award just six times ‒ and five of those have come in the last eight years. The way rookie quarterbacks are handled has changed. No longer is a top rookie expected to sit and learn for a year or two; they're thrown into the fire immediately, and more is expected of them. It's more of a pressure cooker now, but there's also a way better chance to succeed right away.
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