Coming off the greatest quarterback draft class since 1983 when Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and John Elway were taken I wanted to review this year’s top three quarterbacks. I don’t have to remind you of their names but for this articles sake I will. I am of course referring to Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. There were more to this class than just the big three with play of Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Nick Foles they can also be added to this list.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck coming out of Stanford was a can’t miss prospect at quarterback, the first since Peyton Manning who the Colts also took number one in 1998. Luck had all the intangibles that you want in a NFL quarterback. He had the prototypical size at 6’4, a strong arm that can make all the throws and was a field general. He had complete control of the playbook at Stanford and could make any audible of his choosing (very Peyton Manning-esc). Not to mention Luck was not afraid to get physical after a turnover, just ask USC defensive back Shareece Wright, who Luck laid out after a fumble recovery.
Luck was drafted number one after what fans called a “Suck for Luck” 2-14 season. Luck was able to throw for over 4,000 yards and 23 touchdowns in a rebuilding season, even though he did throw 18 interceptions which is a bit high but expected in a rookie season. What was a surprise to most was his ability to put them in contention for the AFC South Division Title, which they owned since the division was formed until last season. With a year under his belt you can expect Luck to work his way into the elite category and be a very sought after fantasy quarterback next year.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
There was very little doubt that Griffin would be a top five pick especially after his 2011 Heisman Campaign. It is also worth noting that it was not surprising what Daniel Snyder gave up for the chance to draft him either. The Redskins have been looking for that franchise quarterback after the failed Rex Grossman experiment. Griffin took the Big 12 and all of NCAA by storm by at first dismantling a proven TCU defense and then Oklahoma. One knock on his game was that he was a “system” quarterback. We need to stop labeling quarterbacks as “system” guys.
Tom Brady and Drew Brees are system guys too, every quarterback is. Griffin was going to be good, but how would his game transfer to the next level? To remove any kind of learning curve for Griffin, his head coach Mike Shanahan implemented the pistol offense that he ran at Baylor. With the read option offense in place and his mobility, Griffin was able to propel the Redskins to the top of the NFC East. Griffin was also able to provide some jaw-dropping numbers this season with 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions. A 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio is unheard of for a rookie quarterback. One thing that is uncertain is the health of Griffin after tearing his ACL and LCL tendons in the first home playoff game in DC since 1999. For Redskins’ fans and Griffin fans sake, I hope he returns to that same form.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
The most impressive of the three quarterbacks would be Wilson. No disrespect what Luck and Griffin accomplished this past season, but I am also looking at where Wilson came from. Wilson was a top MLB prospect while he was at North Carolina State but turned down millions to transfer to Wisconsin to solidify his draft status as a top quarterback. Much like the Redskins, the Seahawks were in search of their next franchise quarterback after the departure of Matt Hasselbeck. In the 2011-12 season they tried using the combo of Tavaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst but failed.
In the offseason they drafted Wilson in the 3rd round and signed Packers’ backup quarterback Matt Flynn after his showcase in the final game of the season. With Wilson’s work ethic and drive to succeed he took the job by opening weekend. Wilson is undersized at 5’11 but what he lacked in size he made up for in mobility, quarterback IQ and arm strength. He was the first one in and last one out type of player. He spent countless hours in the film room trying to help his team get back to the playoffs.
During his rookie campaign he threw for 3,118 yards 26 touchdowns (NFL Rookie Record) and only 10 interceptions. Wilson should definitely be in the conversations for NFL Rookie of the Year. He meant every bit as much to his team as Griffin and Luck meant to theirs.
Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
Weeden is the eldest of the six rookie quarterbacks to take the stage in 2012. Weeden was actually minor league baseball player in the New York Yankee’s organization before trading his glove for a football. In his senior year at Oklahoma State, Weeden led the Cowboys to a 12-1 records including a Big 12 and Fiesta Bowl Championship. They finished the season ranked number three in the country.
For the second year in a row the Browns went into the draft with a need at quarterback. It never seemed like Mike Holmgren and Pat Shurmur were very comfortable with Colt McCoy taking snaps. So when the second round started they took a shot with Weeden. Weeden was the number four ranked quarterback in the draft and with some added weapons around him, he could lead the Browns back to prominence.
Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
Foles was not as highly regarded as the other five rookie quarterbacks, being drafted in the third round much like Wilson. However unlike Wilson, Foles did not have a chance to compete for the starting quarterback position. Andy Reid, in what would be his final season, had his quarterback in Michael Vick. Even with the early season struggles of Vick, Reid stood by him until injuries forced Reid to go to the rookie quarterback.
Foles took over in their first matchup against the Cowboys when Demarcus Ware knocked Vick out of the game. From that point on it was Foles team going 1-6 in that time frame. He was able to throw for 1,699 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions. It will be interesting to see what Foles can do in Chip Kelly’s fast paced offense. One thing is for certain, LeSean McCoy will have a bigger role taking some of the pressure off of Foles.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Tannehill was a good wide receiver in college but when Jarrod Johnson struggled to start the season in 2010 he was moved into the starting quarterback position. He was familiar with the position however, he was a dual threat quarterback recruited to A&M out of West Texas. He finished the 2010 campaign completing 65% of his passes for 1,638 yards and 13 touchdowns. Going into his senior season it was his team, finishing with 3,744 yards and 29 touchdowns. After the season Tannehill was a top quarterback draft prospect but actually picked as the third best ahead of Foles, Wilson and Weeden.
I did not have him in my top 10 draft picks so when the Dolphins called his name I thought it was a bit of a stretch. I thought to myself that the Dolphins just wanted Tannehill’s wife in the stands. All kidding aside he was a great pickup for a team searching for their next Dan Marino. The Dolphins had no consistency at that position and Tannehill would prove to be one of the four best rookies in this class. He amassed 3,294 yards with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. If Miami truly believes that he is their quarterback of the future they will need to put some talent around him. Tannehill is not at the stage of his career where he can make everyone around him better.
I am confident that in 20 years we will look back at this rookie draft class in the same regard we do that class of 1983.