The top rookie quarterbacks this season have drawn justifiable praise. Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson haven’t just racked up the statistics. They’ve lifted their teams above mediocrity and into the realm of genuine contenders.
Overshadowed by the debate of “Is this the best crop of first-year signal-callers ever?” is the fact that we were having this exact same conversation just last season.
So are this year’s rookies that much better than last year’s? Or is merely that short attention span, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sports culture rearing its ugly head?
In the interest of that referenced meager attention span, I have chosen the top few from each class—and taken some liberties with the definition of rookie season—to compile an easily digestible debate.
Andy Dalton (2011) v. Andrew Luck (2012)
On paper, the stats for these two are remarkably similar, even when factoring in that Luck has two games left in the regular season:
Dalton: 300 for 516, 58.1 completion percentage, 3,398 yards, 20 touchdowns, 80.4 QB rating
Luck: 308 for 564, 54.6 completion percentage, 3,978 yards, 20 touchdowns, 75.5 QB rating
Luck has the slim advantage in the win column, having matched Dalton’s 9 victories with two games to spare. You could make the argument that Luck inherited a worse team, but the 2010 Bengals were also pretty putrid.
For me, the deciding factor comes in the amount of giveaways. Dalton threw 13 interceptions and had two fumbles last season. Luck, meanwhile, has already been picked off 18 times and given away five fumbles.
Eight more turnovers, with two games to play? Advantage Dalton.
Cam Newton (2011) v. Robert Griffin III (2012)
Another matchup that is closer on paper than one would expect, given the widespread (and understandable) swooning over RGIII:
Newton: 310 for 517 passing, 60.0 completion percentage, 4,051 yards, 21 passing TDs; 706 rushing yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 14 rushing TDs
Griffin III: 233 for 351 passing, 66.4 completion percent, 2,908 yards, 18 passing TDs; 748 rushing yards, 6.7 yards per carry, 6 rushing TDs
Griffin has been much more efficient, but the sheer power of Newton’s lofty statistics makes this an interesting debate.
Griffin gets a huge boost thanks to his team’s success—8 wins to 6, with two games to spare—but the Redskins are stocked with more raw talent, thanks to Dan Snyder’s blind spending over the years, than the hapless Panthers.
This is another comparison decided by giveaways. Newton threw 17 interceptions and had two fumbles lost last season, while Griffin has been picked off just four times and given away a pair of fumbles.
That kind of care with the ball wins this round, no matter the weight of Newton’s colossal numbers. Advantage Griffin III.
The top two from each draft class stack up remarkably well, but the 2012 Class would easily win the debate thanks to Russell Wilson’s breakout performance. Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker would all get trounced in a head-to-head comparison.
To make things interesting for the tie-breaker, I’m pulling out a member of the 2011 Draft Class whose 2012 season is essentially his rookie campaign, after seeing almost no snaps last year.
Colin Kaepernick (2012) v. Russell Wilson (2012)
As with the premise of this piece itself, comparing the numbers for these two requires a bit of imagination since Kaepernick didn’t get the starting nod until midseason:
Kaepernick: 101 for 154 passing, 65.6 completion percentage, 1,289 yards, 8.37 yards per attempt, 7 passing TDs; 379 rushing yards, 7.2 per attempt, 5 rushing TDs
Wilson: 222 for 353 passing, 62.9 completion percentage, 2,697 yards, 7.64 yards per attempt, 21 passing TDs; 402 rushing yards, 5.2 per attempt, 3 rushing TDs
Stay with me. Double Kaepernick’s passing totals to make up for the discrepancy in attempts, and this is another fascinating debate. Wilson has racked up more passing scores, but Kaepernick has more yards per attempt through the air and on the ground.
Turnovers aren’t going to settle the debate this time: Kaepernick has thrown just two interceptions and lost one fumble to Wilson’s nine INTs, but doubling the totals keeps it close. Kaepernick has also inherited a better situation—the Niners were a muffed punt from the Super Bowl last season, after all—but has responded with a nearly flawless record.
Luckily for us, San Fran travels to Seattle this weekend for a huge divisional showdown. We’ll let that settle this debate, so for now…Advantage: Push.
Is that the easy way out? Maybe. But should Cincy fail to get the job done in Pittsburgh on Sunday, this will give you a reason to overcome your nausea and tune in for what should be a great Sunday Night Game.