NFL’s 5 rookie QBs are winning at record rate
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III tosses a game ball to a team employee Sunday after the Redskins beat the Minnesota Vikings 38-26.
MIAMI — As a rookie starter, Ryan Tannehill learns on the job, and since the season began he has become better at stepping forward in the pocket, throwing past tall pass-rushers and avoiding passes into coverage, especially at crunch time.
Even his slide improved. The Miami Dolphins quarterback was gently scolded by a teammate during the exhibition season for his brazen scrambling, and Tannehill now tries to hit the ground before tacklers arrive.
"He understands his value to the team, and how he needs to be able to play the next play for us," offensive coordinator Mike Sherman says.
All five rookie starting QBs in the NFL have showed their value this season. They're not only playing, but winning — at least some of the time. Last week the quintet of Tannehill, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson went 4-1.
"That's a little different from what people would assume would happen to rookies," Sherman says.
The one-week victory total tied for the second-most by first-year starting quarterbacks since 1970, according to STATS LLC, supporting the argument that this crop of new QBs ranks with the best ever.
But wait. The record of five victories in one week was set in 1974 by this group: Jesse Freitas of San Diego, Larry Cipa of New Orleans, Larry Lawrence of Oakland, Mike Boryla of Philadelphia and Tom Owen of San Francisco. Each ended up in obscurity, not in the Hall of Fame.
So are these 2012 guys really fancy passers, or merely a passing fancy?
To judge their potential, a more meaningful statistic might be their 13-16 record going into Wilson's game with Seattle against San Francisco on Thursday night. That .448 winning percentage won't get anyone to the playoffs, but the rookies were nonetheless on pace to break the season record of 26 victories by first-year quarterbacks set in 2004.
That group included Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Eli Manning, but also Craig Krenzel, Drew Henson and Ken Dorsey.
At the moment, the 2012 rookies look more like Big Ben than Ken, although all of the newcomers have been humbled at times.
"They're probably all dealing with the same issues — trying to play at a high level, and once they play at a high level, be consistent," says Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who is grooming Weeden. "That's what they're grinding through. I think all rookie quarterbacks to some degree grind through the first season, and I see that from our guy. I think Brandon is grinding through it. He's having pockets of success, and then he's making mistakes, and I'm sure that's the case with all of them."
Weeden threw two touchdown passes on his 29th birthday Sunday against Cincinnati to lead the Browns to their first win. He leads all of the rookies in passing yardage but also leads the NFL with 10 interceptions.
Weeden will go head to head with Luck on Sunday when the Browns play at Indianapolis. Luck, the No. 1 pick in the April draft, ranks next to last among all starting QBs with a completion percentage of 53.4 and has thrown seven interceptions.
"He's really, really trusts his arm, and sometimes it will get him into trouble, and sometimes it will make him look great," Browns cornerback Joe Haden says. "When he tries to squeeze those passes into those windows, sometimes it's intercepted and sometimes it makes him look like Peyton Manning."
Luck's potential was such that the Colts deemed Manning dispensable. Despite looking like a rookie on occasion, the former Stanford star has helped Indy to a 2-3 start, matching last year's win total.
"I see the guy that we all were hoping we could have drafted," Shurmur says. "He's doing a really smart thing — he's throwing the ball to Reggie Wayne a lot, which confirms why he went to Stanford. He's obviously got the skill and ability to be an outstanding player."
Among the rookies, Griffin has by far the best numbers, including the most highlight-reel plays. The Heisman Trophy winner leads the league with a completion percentage of 70.2, ranks second in yards per attempt and is on pace to rush for more than 1,000 yards.
"You hear about how good these guys are coming out of college, but you don't really know until you get a chance to work with them," Redskins QB coach Matt LaFleur. "He has lived up to every expectation that I have ever had for him. He's just doing a great job. He's got that sense of urgency — he wants to be great."
Wilson is only rookie QB whose team is above .500, and he leads the group in touchdown passes. Tannehill has the Dolphins tied for first place in the AFC East at 3-3, while throwing for more yards in his first six games than any Miami rookie, including Dan Marino.
"He's got to be the best rookie QB out right now," rookie teammate Jonathan Martin says.
That's a slightly biased, probably premature view. To be declared the best of this bunch will require a lot more games — and wins.
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