Friday, November 9, 2012

A New Era of Quarterback Development

One of the hot stories in the NFL has been how well the rookies have performed this year. There was a similar story last year as people were rightfully impressed with what players like Cam Newton and Andy Dalton did last year. There is no denying it; these guys have far exceeded my expectations in their rookie year. 

But I don't think this means that we're in some golden age for quarterbacks. I think that the NFL has just done a much better job with quarterback development. One huge cause is the rise of passing in college football. It was only about 15 years ago when Nebraska was kicking the shit out of people using the option with players like Eric Crouch and Tommie Frazier (Note: If a Nebraska fan is reading this, it was 15 years ago, get over yourselves). College offenses have become much more complicated, and it has no doubt helped quarterback development. 

The other big key has been that offensive coordinators are adjusting their schemes to more closely align with what they were successful with during college. It has created new schemes in the NFL, because the NFL is following college football's lead on innovation. That was definitely not the case until very recently, but college coaches have more freedom to experiment and fail, where NFL coaches have every decision questioned.

But just because these guys are doing so well in their rookie year does not mean that they are going to become superstars. I feel like Andrew Luck is the only guy who I would be shocked if he did not somehow become a superstar quarterback. Everybody else has question marks in my mind. I will openly admit that I have loved Andrew Luck since the beginning of his sophomore year, and I do mean that in a slightly gay way, because watching him pick apart defenses does give me a chub on occasions.

I am not completely sold on RGIII. And the reason has to do with Cam Newton's step back this year. These two are far, far different quarterbacks, but they do both rely on their running abilities to gain yards and open up passing opportunities. RGIII does it with pure speed, and Newton does it with power and a good amount of speed. But the one thing they have in common is that they are in a scheme that is new to most NFL defenses. It is something that they are not running up against with other teams. 

It's a lot like going up against Georgia Tech in college. Their spread option causes opponents a lot of issues, not because of the talent on the field as much as how different it is to face than any other college offense. It takes a while to get used to all of that misdirection, and it can really throw off defenses. But when Iowa played them in the Orange Bowl a few years ago, their offense got overwhelmed as the Hawkeyes had enough time to prepare for their offense and dominated.

Obviously, NFL defenses are not going to have six consecutive bye weeks to prepare for a team, but, for the most part, there are better coaches in the NFL than college. They are going to find things to pick up on and strategies to counteract what is working for the Redskins. I think RGIII is good enough to counter the counter, because his accuracy is far better than Newton's, but I could see there being an issue. It's very likely he becomes a great quarterback, but I wouldn't be shocked if he was more in the top 15 starters than the top 5. 

With Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, and Brandon Weeden, they have shown flashes of being good quarterbacks (Weeden less than the other two), but they are also quarterbacks who have benefited from their coaches designing offenses to emphasize their strengths. When I type that sentence, it is really amazing that teams were not doing this before, but teams more tried to find quarterbacks who would fit in their system than making a system that fit them. Out of these three guys, I would say that Tannehill has the best shot of being a top 10 quarterback, and I give him a 25% chance of doing that. That sounds bad, but it is really tough to become a top 10 quarterback these days. Outside of Blaine Gabbert, there are not many bad quarterbacks in the NFL. I mean, a guy like Joe Flacco goes to the playoffs every year, and you could make the argument that he is not one of the top 20 quarterbacks in the league. 

It's too early to get super excited about what is happening with these guys. They are having better rookie years than their predecessors, but they are in a different era than those guys. The second year is the new rookie year, where if guys are succeeding in year two, it is time to be impressed...except for with Andrew Luck, because he's the greatest.

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