Updated at 4:34 p.m. ET, Saturday, Dec. 24
It's supposed to be tough for rookie quarterbacks in the NFL. The transition from college to pros should make life difficult for young signalcallers, especially when so many come from simple, spread offenses in college. But in the passing league that the NFL has become, rookie quarterbacks are putting up historic numbers. Already this season, two quarterbacks have entered the top five for most passing yards in a season by a rookie, and one broke the record on Saturday.
Cam Newton, the heavily scrutinized No. 1 pick from April's draft, passed Peyton Manning for the most passing yards in a season by a rookie. Newton, who had a season-low 149 passing yards in Week 15, trailed Manning's record by only 17 yards heading into Week 16 — and then claimed the record early in the first quarter against the Buccaneers. Another rookie, Bengals QB Andy Dalton, could finish in the top three or four.
This era's quarterbacks dominate the list. Even players like Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, not necessarily known for putting up huge passing numbers, are currently fourth and sixth on the list, respectively.
With a highly touted crop of quarterbacks expected to be drafted this April, led by Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Robert Griffin III and Landry Jones, Newton's record might not stand for very long.
On the following list of the top eight seasons for passing yards by a rookie, only two occurred before 2000 — Manning in 1998 and Rick Mirer in 1993.
1. Panthers QB Cam Newton, 2011 / 3,893 — Newton quieted any questions about his ability to throw in a pro-style offense in his first career game, airing it out for 422 yards. When people said, "That won't happen again," all Newton did was throw for 432 the next week in a loss to the Packers. What has made his rookie season even more impressive is that he also has rushed for 609 yards and 13 touchdowns.
2. Colts QB Peyton Manning, 1998 / 3,739 — After being the top overall pick in the 1998 draft, the Colts started Manning in Week One and never turned back. As a rookie, he led the league in both passing attempts (575) and interceptions (28) en route to a 3-13 record. However, he also tossed 26 touchdown passes and laid the foundation for a Hall of Fame career.
3. Rams QB Sam Bradford, 2010 / 3,512 — Considering his top target was undrafted free agent Danny Amendola, Bradford's rookie season was quite the accomplishment. The No. 1 pick of the 2010 draft started immediately and was a major reason the Rams went from 1-15 the year prior to his arrival to 7-9. Along with the impressive yardage total, Bradford also threw more touchdowns (18) than interceptions (15).
4. Falcons QB Matt Ryan, 2008 / 3,440 — Along with RB Michael Turner and head coach Mike Smith, Ryan ignited a turnaround of the entire Falcons franchise in 2008. The QB completed 61.1 percent of his passes, started all 16 games and helped Atlanta go 11-5 and win the NFC South, just a season after the team had gone 4-12.
5. Bengals QB Andy Dalton, 2011 / 3,166 — Dalton has benefited from Jay Gruden's West Coast offense and is one of the bigger surprises among rookies this season, connecting often with another rookie, WR A.J. Green. Dalton has five games with 170 passing yards or fewer and three games with more than 297 passing yards. But Dalton has one thing that Newton doesn't have — a chance at the playoffs.
6. Ravens QB Joe Flacco, 2008 / 2,971 — Despite never eclipsing 300 yards in a game, the first-round pick out of Delaware was exactly the type of signalcaller the Ravens needed in 2008. Flacco helped Baltimore win a wild-card playoff berth, then led them to the AFC championship game. He started all 16 games in '08 and has never missed a start in his career.
7. Panthers QB Chris Weinke, 2001 / 2,931 — Though he was a fourth-round pick, the former Heisman Trophy winner came in and started for the Panthers in 2001. Weinke won the season opener, but he lost his other 14 starts, throwing 19 interceptions and only 11 TDs. Of his 20 career starts, 15 of them came as a rookie.
8. Seahawks QB Rick Mirer, 1993 / 2,833 — The No. 2 overall pick in the '93 draft, Mirer started all 16 games for the Seahawks and threw 486 passes. His team went 6-10, and he tossed 12 TDs and 17 interceptions. After four disappointing seasons in Seattle, Mirer became a journeyman, playing for seven teams in his 12-year NFL career.