Last year, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton were opening day starters, and their success (along with the success of Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan) have undoubtedly made teams become more willing to start rookie quarterbacks. In fact, the youth movement goes beyond just this year’s class: in addition to Newton and Dalton, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, and Blaine Gabbert will be second-year quarterbacks starting in week one this season. That’s another record, breaking the seven such quarterbacks in 2000. Remember 1999, the Year of the Quarterback in the NFL Draft? Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, and Daunte Culpepper were all high first-round draft picks, and all were sophomore starters in 2000. Shaun King, fresh off a strong late-season run for Tampa Bay, joined the group in week 1 of the 2000, as did Jeff Garcia in San Francisco.
What’s the explanation? Luck, Griffin, and Newton were uber elite talents who were too good to sit. Wilson legitimately won the Seahawks job in training camp and preseason, a rare event in any era for a rookie quarterback. But the rest of the group — Weeden, Tannehill, Dalton, Gabbert, Ponder, and Locker — seem to signal a shift in NFL philosophy. The table below lists all quarterbacks drafted in the top 40 — but not in the top 5 — since 1970, and the first year in their career when they started for their team in week one:
There seem to be several factors at play that have made teams get younger at quarterback. One reason is that the younger levels of football have become significantly better at developing quarterbacks and making them ready for the pro game sooner than ever. Subjectively, it feels like teams are drafting for need more now than ever; as a result, the best quarterbacks tend to end up on the teams most likely to start one right away. And as NFL teams feel more pressure to win right away — or at least give their fans a glimmer of hope — injecting a young quarterback is a surefire way to earn goodwill and increase the length of one’s leash.
With Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson, Logan Thomas, Landry Jones, Aaron Murray, Tyler Bray and Geno Smith as possible early drafts pick in 2013, NFL general managers will have no shortage of options if they want to go young at quarterback next season. Or maybe this is just an odd blip on the radar screen.
What do you think? Why are we seeing so many young quarterbacks starting in 2012, whereas for most of NFL history young quarterbacks were rarely asked to start?