As the guy who drafted Peyton Manning, Bill Polian knows something about quarterbacks.
Polian calls this year’s class of rookie QBs the best since 1983, when guys named Elway, Marino and Kelly were selected.
There’s one huge difference: Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck are playing key roles on contending teams. In some ways, they are the main reasons their teams are in the championship chase.
It’s happened before, even as recently as last year when defensive end J.J. Watt of Houston and linebacker Von Miller of Denver were major contributors on playoff clubs. But quarterbacks, where experience and decision making have always been at a premium, particularly in the postseason?
Polian sees three reasons for it, starting with the salary cap and free agency.
“High level rookies now are expected to come in and play, filling roles vacated by players who went to other times because of free agency and the salary cap,” says the man who built the Bills, Panthers and Colts into Super Bowl teams. It’s very different from when rookies expected to wait their turn and had a period of breaking in.
“Second, the passing game’s development: receivers and quarterbacks most notably, and of course running backs, are much more prepared to come in and play now. There’s an accent on the passing game all the way down to junior high school. They are much more capable of stepping in and learning an offense and throwing the ball and understanding routes and, to a degree, coverages.”
Luck and Griffin, the top two overall picks in April’s draft, and Wilson, a third-rounder, have played from the outset. Only Seattle’s Wilson was a surprise starter, but he easily beat out high-priced free agent Matt Flynn during the summer.
Luck was selected by Indianapolis and Griffin by Washington not only to turn around suddenly downtrodden franchises, but to invigorate them. Both have done more than anyone could expect in Year 1, with Indianapolis (9-5) needing one victory to claim a wild-card berth, and Washington (8-6) earning the NFC East title if it wins its final two games.
Wilson has the Seahawks (9-5) are poised to make the playoffs, too.
And the stats are, well, record-setting. This year’s group of rookie quarterbacks, which also includes Ryan Tannehill in Miami, Brandon Weeden in Cleveland, Nick Foles in Philadelphia, Kirk Cousins in Washington (when RG3 was hurt last week) and Ryan Lindley in Arizona — had 39 wins, 18,220 yards passing, 92 TD passes and 1,531 completions.
All records for a rookie class.
It’s a crop that also includes some superb running backs in Washington’s Alfred Morris, Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin and Cleveland’s Trent Richardson, and defensive playmakers in Carolina LB Luke Kuechly, Seattle LB Bobby Wagner, New England end Chandler Jones, and cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins of St. Louis and Casey Hayward of Green Bay.