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Rookie Impact - Quarterbacks
Young Guns II
6/5/10

Back in 2007, I explored the “conventional wisdom” in the fantasy football community which held that rookie and/or other first year starting quarterbacks struggled mightily in year one. Those in re-draft leagues preparing for their drafts at the time wouldn’t put much thought into selecting a young quarterback and would also seriously downgrade the other skill position players from any NFL team starting a rookie at quarterback. Even RBs on that team were knocked down the rankings as opponents were “sure to stack the box and let the rookie try and beat them”.

The article was spurned by the successful 2006 debuts of rookies Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler and first year starters Philip Rivers and Tony Romo. These young guns turned the fantasy world upside down as they achieved unexpected levels of success right off the bat.

Matthew Stafford

Stafford took a beating but posted solid numbers for a rookie QB.

Since that time other young guns like Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez have made even greater strides by leading their NFL teams to the playoffs, and in the case of Flacco and Sanchez have even won playoff games.

Last season had some mixed results from a fantasy perspective but still helped create chinks in the armor to the thought process that rookie QBs and their supporting cast were destined to struggle.

Sanchez struggled at times during the regular season and wasnít a big fantasy contributor, due in large part to the run first mentality of head coach Rex Ryan, but he didnít exactly hurt RB Thomas Jones as the Jets led the NFL in rushing yards. Matthew Stafford took a beating behind a subpar Detroit offensive line, but was more than an effective fantasy QB when he was behind center. Despite having only one legit target in the passing game, Stafford averaged more than a TD and 225+ yards per game. Not too shabby. Matt Moore took over for a very ineffective Jake Delhomme and led the disappointing Carolina Panthers to a 4-1 finish while also salvaging Steve Smithís fantasy value for his disappointed owners. And finally, while Josh Freeman didnít set the world on fire, he didnít exactly embarrass himself or make his receivers (particularly TE Kellen Winslow) useless either.

Below is a chart, which puts all the recent early success of these signal callers into a little perspective. The aforementioned young field generals are compared to some of the best rookie QB seasons of all time as well as the rookie campaigns from a random selection of QBs considered to have gone on to become the best of the modern era. This list is based on a scoring format where all TDs are scored as six points and interceptions count as negative two points. Note, the list is sorted by fantasy points per game (ďFPts/GĒ) in order to be able to compare the players who did not play full seasons to those who did. Please understand that I am not implying that these young guns will someday measure up to the all time greats or that they are destined to become Hall of Famers. Iím simply trying to show how successful first year quarterbacks have been in recent seasons as compared with how they fared in the past. As you can see, with the lone exception being Dan Marino, five of the top six slots are dominated by QBs who started their careers after 2004 while the bottom five slots are filled with players whose busts are sitting in Canton, Ohio.

 The Rookie Years
Rk Player Year G Yds TDs INT R-YDs R-TDs FPts FPts/G
1 Dan Marino 1983 11 2210 20 6 45 2 224.9 20.4
2 Tony Romo 2006 12 2903 19 13 102 0 240.3 20.0
3 Jay Cutler 2006 5 1001 9 5 18 0 95.8 19.2
4 Matthew Stafford 2009 10 2267 13 20 108 2 191.5 19.1
5 Vince Young 2006 14 2199 12 13 552 7 257.2 18.4
6 Carson Palmer 2004 13 2897 18 18 47 1 234.6 18.0
7 Fran Tarkenton 1961 14 1997 18 17 308 5 248.7 17.8
8 Brett Favre 1992 15 3227 18 13 198 1 262.9 17.5
9 Steve Young 1985 5 953 3 8 233 1 85.4 17.1
10 Philip Rivers 2006 16 3388 22 9 49 0 272.4 17.0
11 Ben Roethlisberger 2004 14 2621 17 11 144 1 227.2 16.2
12 Bob Griese 1967 12 2005 15 18 157 1 191.9 16.0
13 Peyton Manning 1998 16 3739 26 28 62 0 255.8 16.0
14 Jim Plunkett 1971 14 2158 19 16 210 0 221.3 15.8
15 Matt Ryan 2008 16 3440 16 11 104 1 250.0 15.6
16 Matt Leinart 2006 12 2547 11 12 49 2 184.8 15.4
17 Drew Bledsoe 1993 13 2494 15 15 82 0 198.0 15.2
18 Josh Freeman 2009 10 1855 10 18 161 0 150.3 15.0
19 Matt Moore 2009 6 1053 8 2 -3 0 89.8 15.0
20 Joe Flacco 2008 16 2971 14 12 180 2 232.8 14.6
21 Troy Aikman 1989 11 1749 9 18 302 0 154.2 14.0
22 Mark Sanchez 2009 15 2444 12 20 106 3 198.4 13.2
23 Joe Montana 1980 15 1795 15 9 77 2 181.5 12.1
24 John Elway 1983 11 1663 7 14 146 1 129.1 11.7
25 John Unitas 1956 12 1498 9 10 155 1 135.4 11.3
26 Terry Bradshaw 1970 13 1410 6 24 233 1 121.7 9.4
27 Dan Fouts 1973 10 1126 6 13 32 0 84.2 8.4

What we can take from this, is that the college game may be changing in a way that will better prepare young QBs to succeed at the NFL level quicker than they did in the past. The big time nature and vast television exposure of NCAA football today likely helps prepare young QBs to better handle the pressure and fame that used to belong exclusively to players at the next level. More importantly, as college passing offenses become more complex and pro style systems outnumber the old school run orientated systems, the traditional way of thinking about the performance of first year starters and the effect they will have on their supporting skill players may be starting to go the way of the wishbone offense.

Iím not advocating going out and drafting a first time starter at QB to be the starter for your fantasy team, but you may want to think twice about totally avoiding the skill players on any team that will be lead by a young QB simply because of that young QB. Further, keeping your eye on the progress made by a young QB can also help land a prized waiver wire acquisition that could help your team come playoff time if you have been winning despite shaky QB play. On the flip side, so far we have ignored busts like JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn and Brodie Croyle among others Ė so itís not all wine and roses when it comes to rookie QBs in the NFL. However, it is undeniable that times have changed and NFL teams can win right away with a first year starter under center.

Will any of 2010ís first year starters take the league by storm? Quite frankly, I donít see many of this yearís rookies getting significant playing time, which obviously is one of the prerequisites for fantasy success. The obvious candidate for fantasy production among first year starters is Kevin Kolb who threw for over 300 yards in both of his starts last season while subbing for the injured Donovan McNabb. I didnít include him in the chart above because two games is much too small of a sample size, but he would have helped further prove the point, as he would have been ranked even above Marino on a points per game basis based on the numbers he put up in those two starts. Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen and Tim Tebow are the only other legitimate candidates to see their first snaps as NFL starters in 2010 Ė and Claussen and Tebow are real long shots to see much playing time behind Matt Moore and Kyle Orton, respectively. With that said thereís really only need to discuss Kolb and Bradford, but perhaps a couple of other young QBs will find their way onto fantasy rosters as late season waiver wire acquisitions.

Kevin Kolb: Kolb was handed the reigns to the high-powered Philly offense after McNabb was shipped to Washington earlier this offseason and will be a hot commodity come draft day. Kolb threw for 718 yards and 4 TDs (with 3 INTs) in his two starts last season and will head into 2010 with some great young weapons at his disposal in Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek. As a result, itís not tough to see why most drafters will be high on his prospects. A few words of caution are necessary though. Kolb threw for a lot of his yards in a game against New Orleans where the Saints jumped out to an early lead and the Eagles played catch up the rest of the game. In his second contest he faced a very poor Kansas City pass defense that was scorched all season. Teams will be better prepared to face him this year, now that some real game tape exists. I still see a highly productive year from the youngster, but I caution you to not necessarily pass up more established veterans on draft day while salivating about Kolbís ďupsideĒ.

Sam Bradford: In addition to an overall No. 1 draft pedigree, Bradford has some things working in his favor for early success. He posses quick strike capabilities that will work well in the Ramsí aggressive passing offense, outstanding long range accuracy, an indoor home setting, a weak division, and a young improving offensive line to protect him. On the negative side, he lacks experience, weapons in the passing game and carries some risk as potentially being fragile based on serious shoulder injuries sustained at Oklahoma. Bradford is very likely to open the season as the Rams starting QB, but if the team decides to go with A.J. Feely to start the year, it shouldnít be long until Bradford sees the field. Heís capable of doing what Stafford did last season, so spending a late round pick on him instead of a declining veteran like Jake Delhomme or Matt Hasselbeck may not be the worst thing in the world for your backup QB.