There has been a massive influx of young starting quarterbacks into the NFL in the past three seasons. The 2011 draft produced six starters, 2012 produced five (with Nick Foles almost making it six) and 2013 has produced two. This means that 13 positions have turned over in three years -- an incredible development at the most critical position in football.
Quarterback has traditionally been the most difficult position to master quickly of any in football. The NFL features complex playbooks that need to be assimilated. The less challenging corners and safeties have been left behind at the college level -- these QBs are now throwing against the elite. The pacing of the game is more rapid than in college. Defenses are designed to be confusing, and players don't move exactly the same way they do in the college game -- this leads to interceptions. Coordination with an offensive line and wide receivers takes time.
Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon once told me, "When I was young, I often didn't know what I was seeing defensively. I succeeded with my feet and my arm".
This is why traditionally teams saw it as prudent to draft their next quarterback while they still had a capable starter. The young quarterback would learn by osmosis, learn from the older QB and not be pushed into a pressure cooker. A player like Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre and was more than ready when he became the starter, as was Tom Brady who had sat behind Drew Bledsoe.
Those days are gone. Salary-cap limitations make it difficult to afford a high young draft pick learning from a well paid starter. The fear that the younger QB would come in, make mistakes, be harshly judged as a bust by fans, press and teammates has been subordinated to the need to have the young quarterback start.
What is completely stunning and defies NFL tradition is the almost instantaneous success of these first time starters. The Colts' Andrew Luck, the Redskins Robert Griffin III and Seahawks third-rounder Russell Wilson performed at amazing levels of efficiency throughout last year. Colin Kaepernick stepped at mid-season for the 49ers and came close to leading them to a Super Bowl victory. How was this even possible?
These were situations that traditionally led the young QB to line up over guard instead of center, call inappropriate timeouts and throw ugly looking interceptions in droves. The common wisdom was that the young QB could take a defense by surprise once, but the League would soon learn his weaknesses and make him ineffective.
The Jets' Geno Smith and the Bills' E.J. Manuel both had credible first games Sunday as rookies. The old wisdom would have predicted a disaster for them.
The Bengals' Andy Dalton played well last year, and we will see improvement from the Panthers' Cam Newton, the Titans' Jake Locker, Miami's Ryan Tannehill and several others.
Part of the answer to the instant success is the adjustment of college offenses to a pro-type game plan, so that the transition is easier. Part of the answer is the escapability through scrambling of many of the quarterbacks. Part of it is better pro coaching. This group of quarterbacks will be looked at as pioneers who had success from the start.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.
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