Rookie QBs on pace for record number of starts

Posted Nov. 30, 2011 @ 11:52 a.m.
Posted By PFW staff

When six quarterbacks were selected in the first 36 picks of the 2011 NFL draft, there were plenty of question marks in terms of what to expect from the crop of signalcallers in their rookie season.

Each rookie had to wait three months to see what his club did in free agency, and by the end of July — without minicamps or a chance to meet with head coaches and offensive coordinators, let alone an opportunity to start learning the playbook — it was hard to have high expectations.

Cam Newton first had to beat out Jimmy Clausen (which didn't take long) before learning a new offense. Jake Locker would sit behind Matt Hasselbeck, and Christian Ponder was second fiddle to Donovan McNabb. Blaine Gabbert began his season behind David Garrard and Luke McCown, and Andy Dalton had to beat out Bruce Gradkowski, once it was determined Carson Palmer was not coming back to Cincinnati.

Through 12 weeks, Colin Kaepernick is the only one of the highly drafted QBs not to play. Newton and Dalton have started since Day One, Gabbert and Ponder took over for the veterans who began ahead of them, and Hasselbeck's arm injury allowed Locker to see time.

This group is on pace for a record number of starts in a season by rookie quarterbacks since the merger, ignoring the 1987 season when replacement players filled in during the strike.

To put things in perspective, the famous QB class of 1983, when six passers were taken in the first round — including Pro Football Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino — started only 24 games as rookies. The heralded 1999 QB class, which included five passers taken in the first 12 picks, led by Donovan McNabb and Tim Couch, started a total of 47 games.

Barring injury, Newton, Dalton, Gabbert and Ponder will start the remaining games for their respective teams this season. If they do, that would give them 60 combined starts. And that doesn't count any starts that Locker might get.

Dalton and Newton are set to start all 16 games, which would make this the second time that a pair of rookies have started 16 games. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco did the trick in 2008.

This isn't a one-year deal for this group. Newton, Dalton, Gabbert and Ponder should be their teams' starters in 2012. Kaepernick and Ryan Mallett one day could be starters, too.

Because of the lockout, this group had to face a challenge that no previous QB class had to encounter, and their teams have to be pleased with the early returns.

To read the rest of this feature on the 2011 rookie quarterbacks, including individual assessments of each passer with analysis from league insiders, purchase a copy of the current issue of Pro Football Weekly online at In this issue, you'll also have access to a feature by Mickey Spagnola on DeMarco Murray, which will tell you what convinced the Cowboys to draft Murray; our comprehensive fantasy football coverage; and our draft-related "Audibles" and "The Way We Hear It."