MINNEAPOLIS — Ryan Tannehill is a Texas quarterback: Big, fast, smart, skilled. He’s 6-foot-4, 221 pounds from Big Spring, Texas. He went to Texas A&M and he was the eighth pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Even though he started only 15 games in college, the kid can play.
This year, the Big Texas quarterback will suit up for the Miami Dolphins and while the Dolphins aren’t expected to light up the AFC East, they do expect Tannehill to take all his Big Texas skill and start his journey toward becoming the next big thing.
And, by the way, you have to love the way he responded to a reporter’s question about being the next Bob Griese or Dan Marino: “I don’t think that’s anything. Every situation is different. I’m blessed to have this opportunity. I just want to make the most of it.”
He probably wondered who Bob Griese was (we’ll give him Dan Marino), but he’s right. When you’re one of five rookie quarterbacks who will start in the National Football League this season, you can’t be thinking about what happened 30 or 40 years ago. Tannehill could be the next big thing. He won’t be the next old thing.
The NFL’s preseason schedule is now over (thank goodness) and while Peyton Manning’s new assignment in Denver, Tim Tebow’s controversial backup role with the Jets and the New Orleans Saints’ road to redemption (or not) will garner many of the headlines this season, the fact that five rookie quarterbacks will start Week 1 of the NFL is quite significant.
Over the past 10 seasons, only 10 rookie quarterbacks have started Week 1 of an NFL campaign – Cam Newton and Andy Dalton in 2011, Sam Bradford in 2010, Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez in 2009, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan in 2008, Kyle Orton in 2005, Kyle Boller in 2003 and David Carr in 2002.
Not since 1968 and 1969 have three or more rookies started Week 1 of an NFL season.
This week, we’ll see Tannehill in Miami, Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, Robert Griffin III in Washington, Brandon Weeden in Cleveland and Russell Wilson in Seattle.
Now I’d never suggest that NFL coaches don’t know what they’re doing. Not ever. But historically, starting a rookie quarterback in Week 1 has not been a particularly great idea. Newton, Flacco, Ryan, Dalton and Stafford were certainly good choices. The jury is still out on Bradford and Sanchez. Orton, Boller and Carr had some bright moments but for the most part were busts.
This year, however, there is a belief throughout the NFL that all five of the Week 1 starters have what it takes to become outstanding NFL players with long careers ahead.
So why? Why suddenly have five NFL coaches decided to lay their own jobs on the line and go with rookies at the most difficult and most important position in the field.
“The kids are learning how to play the position,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told the Seattle Times. “And they’re so well and so much earlier that when they get to us, they’re just better equipped than they were in years past. Not anything against all the wonderful quarterbacks that came out in past year, but this year it’s just different.”
Carroll is probably taking the biggest chance. He’s going with young Russell Wilson who was superb in the preseason, but as we all know, preseason is now nothing more than practice. Wilson was a third-round draft choice and the only third round quarterback selection to start Game 1 of a season in the past decade was Orton. And he only started because Rex Grossman was hurt in the preseason.
In Miami, there is a big reason to go with Tannehill. Even if he doesn’t set the AFC on fire, the Dolphins dropped 10 per cent of their ticket base last season. They need a new quarterback, a new look and a new direction and until Tannehill looks completely lost, his presence is good for a scuffling organization. After all, the Dolphins have had 17 starting quarterbacks since 2000. Tannehill won’t be the worst by any stretch.
In Indianapolis, a team that was 2-14 last year, Andrew Luck certainly can’t be any worse and based on his preseason work, he’ll adapt to the pro game quite quickly. If this guy stays healthy, his mere presence will make the Colts a better team.
If Robert Griffin III gets time to throw in Washington, he’ll be a huge upgrade for the Redskins. This is, after all, a team whose quarterbacks have been in the bottom half of the league’s stats since Mike Shanahan took over as head coach.
RG3 has so much natural talent that the pace his development will depend on Shanahan’s comfort zone. If Shanahan doesn’t mind seeing RG3 use his legs from time to time, the kid should be a big time NFL quarterback by the middle of this season.
Here’s an interesting stat, courtesy of nfl.com. RG3 is only the fourth quarterback drafted by the Redskins in the first round since 1967. The other three were Heath Shuler, Patrick Ramsey and Jason Campbell. Those three were 34-55 as starters in Washington and never started a post-season game.
Colt McCoy started the final pre-season game of 2012 for Cleveland and was, quite frankly, awful. The Browns won’t be better than 6-10 this season, but with patience, Weeden could be the next quarterback of the future in Cleveland, although he’s almost 29, the oldest quarterback ever to be taken in the first round of the Common Draft Era.
Meanwhile, out in Seattle, Wilson beat out the highly paid Matt Flynn for the starting job. Before it’s over, Flynn could win the job back (or Wilson could lose it), but in the meantime, this is a courageous decision for head coach Pete Carroll.
Then again, last year Seahawks quarterbacks completed only 52 per cent of third-down passes and were sacked 22 times (second worst in the league).
During his first series of downs, Russell Wilson – just like RG3, Luck, Weeden and The Big Texas Quarterback – will be an immediate improvement. And that’s really all fans can demand.