sports gazette

Too much too young? Why rookie Quarterbacks should be protected from themselves.

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Published: 15 Oct 2017

I’m sure the Dallas Cowboys are sick of Aaron Rodgers now.

Much like in the NFC Divisional Playoff game last year (where he led a clutch 35 second drive to set up a Mason Crosby field goal which beat the Cowboys), last Sunday he marched Green Bay down the field with one minute left which ended in a gorgeous throw to Davante Adams to once again break the Cowboys hearts.

This comes on the same weekend that DeShone Kizer was benched by the Cleveland Browns during a loss to the Jets having thrown 9 interceptions in the first five games of his rookie season.

While Kizer was thrust into the starting lineup in his rookie season by the Browns, Aaron Rodgers was able to be a backup and learn behind the Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre for three seasons before becoming the starter (even Favre was a backup during his first year in the NFL behind Chris Miller for the Atlanta Falcons in 1991).

But why are more rookies being pressured into starting from day one, while for some of the prospects, they should be a backup for a year while they learn the reigns from a more seasoned veteran before they move into the starting role?

An argument that is often made about a quarterback coming out of college is that they need a year of being the backup because the college game is so different to the NFL game.

Aaron Rodgers is the prime example of this paying off. Coming out of Cal he was expected to be drafted early as he was seen as a franchise QB. But he had to wait until the 24th pick for the Green Bay Packers to draft him and even then it was clear he would not be starting as they still had Brett Favre slinging the ball around at a high level.

Rodgers was able to learn under Favre and hone his skills from a legend which meant that when he did start in the 2008 season, he was able to throw for over 4000 yards with a passer rating of 93.8 - his second lowest of his career.

Rodgers is currently the best QB in the league and it’s not even an argument. Over his career now he has the highest passer rating of all-freaking-time with 104.1 which is just outrageous. A number Blake Bortles dreams of. But this is a good example of the good that can happen from giving a player time to learn the NFL ropes so they are better prepared for when they play.

However, whereas Aaron Rodgers is at one end of the scale, Jared Goff is a perfect example of the other end.

Goff was selected with Number 1 overall pick in the 2016 Draft by the Los Angeles Rams. The line on him was that the system he had been playing at college was so far from the NFL game that he needed at least a season on the bench so he could fully understand the complexities of an NFL offence. He was the backup for the first nine games of the system but the head coach of the Rams, Jeff Fisher, having come under increasing pressure from the Rams front office during a poor season, decided that the only way to save his job was to throw Jared Goff into the starting role.

It was clear from the following seven starts that Goff was not ready for the NFL as he lost all seven games and really struggled to read NFL defences. In his defence, the Jeff Fisher reign seemed incapable of developing offensive talent which meant he was destined to fail.

Goff seems like a decent chap, which makes the fact that he has bounced back and is having an excellent second season even better. As he is excelling in his second year, it gives life to two separate theories. Firstly, that Goff struggled to succeed in the Fisher-era offence which seemed incapable of producing offensive talents. As Chris Wesseling of told me: “Whereas Fisher’s staff lacked that coaching professor, new head coach Sean McVay is already one of the brightest offensive minds in football. Goff has found his guru, drawing up routes to free open receivers and giving his quarterback simpler reads.”

Secondly, and more importantly, it suggests that quaterbacks coming out of college would benefit from having a season or two on the bench so they can learn how to play in the pro game at the highest level. Mike Carlson of BBC and Channel 5 backs this up as he said that quarterbacks coming out of college are “less pro ready than ever due to simple college reads, not playing under centre and more complex professional defences.”

This theory may not apply for quarterbacks that are drafted and are pro ready. Good examples of these in recent years are Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota as their game was already suited to the NFL so could start from day one without any real complications.

It is becoming an increasing trend in the NFL that coaches are more willing to start rookie quarterbacks because if they show even a glimmer of upside, it could give the coach/front office job security for a while as they will receive the credit for drafting that player. Chris Wesseling gives prudence to this theory by saying “Look at John Fox. The only way to save his job is to ensure that Mitchell Trubisky shows enough franchise QB sheen to suggest there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

The majority of quarterbacks are not ready for NFL coming out of college so it would be wise for them to resist the urge to start them, and let them develop behind an experience veteran.

But in modern sports, how often does sense prevail?

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