The quarterback position is arguably the most important position in all of sports. Quarterbacks need to be able to read opposing defenses and know when to audible a play. Aside from the center, the quarterback is the player that touches the ball on every offensive snap, with the exception of direct snaps, like in the wild cat offense. Elite NFL quarterbacks are few and far between, which makes drafting the right guy to lead a franchise all the more essential and vital. Each year there are top-tier college quarterbacks who get drafted in the first round who are looked upon to try and turn a franchise around or be groomed to become the starter after the current starter either retires or gets traded or released.
Some of the first round selections are anointed the opportunity right from the get-go, i.e. Peyton Manning. Others don’t necessarily get the keys to the franchise early, but get the opportunity to compete for the starting job. The guys on the depth chart ahead of the rookie quarterbacks are usually NFL veterans, but that doesn’t mean the rookie can’t pick up the offense quickly and beat out the veteran. Take the case in Cleveland this year, where Brian Hoyer was penciled in to be the starter for the Browns this season, until Johnny Manziel was drafted in the first round. Hoyer had to beat out Manziel to be named the starter and the race was close and could eventually see Manziel beat out Hoyer and become the starter. The same situation occurred with the Jacksonville Jaguars who selected Blake Bottles with the third overall pick. Bortles made the competition close with Chad Henne, but Jacksonville has opted to stay the course with their plan to have Bortles sit out this season, which doesn’t mean Bortles can’t win the job down the road. Teddy Bridgewater was the third and final quarterback drafted in the first round this year by the Minnesota Vikings at pick 32. Bridgewater nearly beat out Matt Cassel for the starting gig, but will be the backup heading into the first week of the regular season.
Neither of the three first round quarterbacks drafted this year are slated to start in week one. The last time a first round quarterback didn’t start week one was in 2007. On Numbers Never Lie, a question was asked if it was a bad sign for the 2014 draft class with that statistic dating back to 2007 about first round starters. The answer to that question can’t be determined at the point in time, because we haven’t seen these three young quarterbacks play in the regular season yet. In the cases of JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn, who were the only two quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft, (1st and 22nd respectively), it didn’t work out and now neither are in the NFL.
Now take the case of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers waited and waited on draft day in 2005 until the Packers selected him with the 24th overall pick. Rodgers did not start that season or either of the next two as he was being groomed to replace the legendary Brett Favre. In those three years, Rodgers got to learn from one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history and really hone his craft so one day he could take over. In his first season as starter in 2008, Rodgers passed for over 4,000 yards with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Rodgers continued to excel and solidify his place among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, further cementing his place by leading the Packers to a Super Bowl victory in 2010.
Does it really matter when a first round quarterback actually gets to start? If the quarterback doesn’t start right away, we will never know how they would have performed in that situation. If the quarterback does get the opportunity to start from the beginning, he will do one of two things: succeed or fail. If the player does in fact fail, that doesn’t mean his career is over as he could go to a different team and find success there, like Alex Smith did. He wasn’t terrible for San Francisco as he was drafted by them first overall in 2005, the same year Rodgers was drafted. Smith found a new home in Kansas City where he is playing well under head coach Andy Reid. Then you have the case of the waiting game, like what Rodgers went through in Green Bay. There is really no right or wrong answer as to whether or not a first round quarterback should start right away or sit for a period of time.