The Rookie Revolution

Starting Rookie Quarterbacks are rare. It’s even rarer that they succeed. It’s even rarer still that the signal-callers are well-enough transitioned to the NFL pace to help their teams succeed – to the point of the postseason.

Now considered a lock for the Hall of Fame, Peyton Manning started his career in 1998 with the Indianapolis Colts who went a dismal 3-13 that year and finished fifth when they were still in the AFC East. While Manning played adequately, he could not propel his team to any contention for postseason play.

What I’m getting at is that not every starting Rookie Quarterback is successful in their first year, but they could become successful later in their career. However, there are some busts, even at number one overall; most notably JaMarcus Russell out of LSU for the Raiders and the 1999 Browns pick of Tim Couch.

To have one superstar, franchise Quarterback out of the draft and make an impact their Rookie year is unusual, but to have four…it’s unheard of and it’s historic.

The other facet of these Rookies game is mobility. Unlike in years past with Cam Newton, Michael Vick and Pat White, the Quarterbacks of today were runners as a second option. However, they do it well. All four Quarterbacks are more than adept at passing from the pocket, but the group can also scramble and make the indispensable contributions of extending a play and getting into the open field. The big-play possibility is a major addition to their squads.

This year, the Rookies broke the mold. Andrew Luck for the Indianapolis Colts, Robert Griffin III in the nation’s capital for the Redskins, Russell Wilson on the West Coast for the Seahawks, and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco led the way in this Rookie Revolution. A disclaimer: Kaepernick was drafted in 2011, but threw five passes that year and retained Rookie-eligibility to this year. All four are outplaying former number one picks that received bigger paychecks before they stepped foot on NFL turf. All four were superior to former number one picks who now have more experience in Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions and Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams.

This was true out in Indianapolis.

Andrew Luck broke rookie records with the most yards, mot attempts and tied the record for game-winning drives in the 4th quarter or overtime with seven. This broke the previous rookie record held by Big Ben Roethlisberger (5). He also holds the most “wins” in a season by a rookie QB drafted No. 1 overall. Luck is also more mobile than most give him credit for. He rushed for 255 yards and five touchdowns.

The man drafted directly behind him, RGIII, is not only a football player, but a brand. He is a spokesman for Adidas and for Subway; he boasts colorful socks and is a former Heisman trophy winner. The man is a winner on and off the field; affable and athletic, he is the light that Washington needed to revive football in DC. Washington certainly had high expectations after trading away three future first-rounder’s and a second-rounder to move up to the number two pick to the Rams. The Redskins, who have had four winning seasons since 1992, knew they needed an impact player. Griffin made an impact immediately. He had the third-highest Quarterback Rating in the NFL and was a leader.

Griffin also led all Quarterbacks in rushing with 833 yards, seven touchdowns and could move the chains with 33 first downs. To put those numbers into perspective, he ran for more yards than a third of the starting running-backs in the NFL. He ran for more yards than men who were paid to run – and solely run – for 10 other NFL teams.

However, with his ACL and LCL tear, it will remain to be seen how Griffin responds. The thing is though, is that if Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings is any model – Griffin should suffer not set-backs.

The success of these four new Quarterbacks goes beyond any mere statistic and further than numbers.

It goes to the franchises. Before the season began, no one (who has any honesty), was picking the Washington Redskins or Indianapolis Colts to go to the playoffs – much less to have pegged Russell Wilson as the starter for the Seattle Seahawks. What makes Wilson’s promotion to first-string more surprising is that Seattle had just signed free-agent Matt Flynn, the former Packer, to a contract worth $26 million and $10 million guaranteed.

Russell Wilson – a third-round selection – not only captured the starting job, but he was appointed the captain by his teammates. To be a part of a squad with established veterans as Marshawn Lynch and Sidney Rice and to be voted to the captaincy cannot be understated. And he earned it; Wilson’s year was phenomenal. His 100.0 Quarterback Rating (QBR) and 64.1 completion percentage was fourth and eighth respectively in the NFL ahead of names such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan in both categories. Wilson also threw fewer interceptions than Peyton Manning – just to show the company Wilson is keeping.

One of those men who outplayed the former number-one picks was a Utah Ute drafted in the second-round and 36th overall.

Though he was drafted in 2011, Colin Kaepernick threw only five passes that season and was still Rookie-eligible this year. When incumbent Starter Alex Smith suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams in week 10, the former Utah Ute got the nod. He did not squander that opportunity as Kaepernick led the 49ers to a 5-2-1 record.

Kaepernick’s tremendous arm was not the only positive facet of his game. He can run, a 4.53 40-yard time, and can make big throws. On his debut on Monday night against the Chicago Bears, he made a throw from the left hash towards the opposite side of the field which fell just over the Cornerbacks fingers and into the waiting arms of Kyle Williams, who beat Kelvin Hayden of the Bears for a long touchdown.

Kaepernick also ran for 417 yards and 5 touchdowns in half of the time that Griffin, Wilson, and Luck had.

What makes these Quarterbacks so special? They are poised. They feel no pressure. They know how to win.

What Luck did goes beyond the numbers and the fact that he turned the Colts, 2-14 a season ago, into an 11-5 playoff team is worthy of merit by itself. He led them to the playoffs and though they lost to Baltimore, there is hope in the 23-year old Luck and the young Colts roster.

Griffin made a statement early in Washington and showed he knew how to pull-out a victory. He started his year by defeating an NFC powerhouse in the New Orleans Saints and then took Washington on a season-long ride that concluded with a seven-game win streak, beating the Cowboys and Eagles twice, defeating the reigning NFC Champion Giants and capturing the team’s first NFC East title in 13 years.

Russell Wilson was a winner from day one as he wrested control of the starting job and never relinquished it by playing up to the highest standard. Under the steady and guiding hand of Wilson, the Seahawks had an 11-5 record and made the playoffs for the first time for the first time since 2007. Wilson defeated his Rookie counterpart in RGIII in the Wild Card round of the playoffs and advanced to the Divisional Round to play the Atlanta Falcons.

Down 20-0 at halftime, Wilson brought Seattle all the way back and with under a minute left, the Seahawks had the lead, 28-27, with under a minute to play. Wilson would have had another win and still be playing football if it wasn’t for Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll out-thinking himself and attempting to ice Atlanta’s kicker.

Colin Kaepernick has been just as clutch as Matt Bryant (on the second attempt) throughout the season. His victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football came after his 31-3 lead was erased and a 31-31 impasse came midway through the fourth-quarter. Kaepernick then hit Michael Crabtree for the go-ahead touchdown and the lead, which was a landmark win for San Francisco.

He has also been clutch in the playoffs and has given an arm and legs to propel the 49ers through the playoffs. Kaepernick outplayed veteran and NFL MVP, Quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers in a 45-31 drubbing of the favorites to win the NFC. Kaepernick was historic in the game, rushing for 181 (an NFL record for QBs) and two touchdowns, while throwing for 263 yards.

In an unprecedented combination of skill and poise, Kaepernick, Wilson, Griffin and Luck have really led the first Rookie Revolution.

While it’s unclear why four starting Rookie Quarterbacks have stepped into the bright-lights and been unfazed by the game’s biggest stages this year, it will certainly be fun for NFL fans for years to come if they keep the pace they are at now.

While the futures the first-years are unclear, one thing is certain; the Rookie Revolution is here to stay.


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