NFL: 5 Quarterbacks Who Had the Strongest Rookie Seasons

It’s painful to remember now, but RGIII’s rookie season was seriously impressive | Al Bello/Getty Images

We have said many times before that quarterback is the most important position in football. That statement has proven to be true dating all the way back to the first game of football ever played. In today’s NFL, quarterback play tends to dictate the success of an entire franchise. Landing an elite, franchise quarterback in the NFL Draft can propel a team into a decade or more of success. For some, an elite quarterback can lead a team from being highly successful to being a dynasty.

Given the importance of the position, it should come as no surprise that quarterbacks are the most heavily scouted and scrutinized players leading up to the annual NFL Draft. Even so, teams continuously swing for the fences and miss when it comes to drafting quarterbacks. With the difficulty in projecting future NFL production at the quarterback position, there have been few prospects through the years that were viewed by coaches and personnel staffs as can’t-miss players.

Additionally, quarterbacks are the least likely position on the field to achieve instant success in the NFL. Several players have needed as many as three or four years to adjust to being a professional quarterback and serving as the face of a franchise. With that being said, some of the best rookie seasons by quarterbacks in NFL history have come from some unexpected players.

Turning in a solid rookie season does not guarantee players will go on to be Hall of Fame players. Likewise, an up-and-down rookie season does not mean that player will be destined for mediocrity at the NFL level. Some players just so happen to walk into far better situations for their first professional seasons.

In narrowing down this list to only five quarterbacks, we were forced to leave off players who were impressive in their rookie seasons. Guys like Andrew Luck and Greg Cook were both Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks in their first NFL seasons, but their rookie seasons weren’t quite as good as the five players we chose to include. Without further ado, here is a look at the top five rookie seasons by a quarterback in NFL history.

1. Robert Griffin III, 2012

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Rookie stats:

  • 65.6% completion percentage
  • 3,200 passing yards
  • 20 touchdown passes
  • 5 interceptions
  • 8.1 yards per attempt
  • 102.4 quarterback rating
  • 815 rushing yards
  • 7 rushing touchdowns

The Washington Redskins mortgaged their future to move up in the 2012 NFL Draft to select RGIII with the second overall pick. They sent three first-round and one-second round pick to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for the rights to select the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner. After Griffin’s rookie season, it appeared as though the Redskins had gotten a fair deal in what seemed like an overwhelmingly lopsided trade at the time.

Griffin led Washington to its first playoff appearance since 2007 and set rookie records for the highest quarterback rating and the highest touchdown-to-interception ratio of all time. On top of proving to be a more polished passer than anyone had expected, he was also a serious threat as a ball carrier, rushing for more than 800 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, RGIII’s rookie year has been by far the best season of his career. After two below-average seasons and a couple of major injuries, he left Washington in disgrace and looks to revive his career in Cleveland.

2. Dan Marino, 1983

Rhona Wise/Getty Images

Rookie stats:

  • 58.4% completion percentage
  • 2,210 passing yards
  • 20 touchdown passes
  • 6 interceptions
  • 7.5 yards per attempt
  • 96.0 quarterback rating

Marino will go down as one of the all-time biggest NFL Draft snubs. Yes, he was a first-round pick, but there were still five other quarterbacks selected ahead of him in 1983. Two of them, John Elway and Jim Kelly, went on to be Hall of Fame quarterbacks themselves, but the other three — Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason, and Ken O’Brien — shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as Marino.

Marino stepped into the starting role for the Miami Dolphins in Week 6 of his rookie season and would go on to hold the position for the next 17 seasons. In his nine starts as a rookie, Marino gave the NFL world an accurate preview of what he would become as an NFL quarterback. He went on to earn second-team All-Pro honors, was selected to the 1983 Pro Bowl, and won the NFL Rookie of the Year award.

3. Cam Newton, 2011

Elsa/Getty Images

Elsa/Getty Images

Rookie stats:

  • 60.0% completion percentage
  • 4,051 passing yards
  • 21 touchdown passes
  • 17 interceptions
  • 7.2 yards per attempt
  • 84.5 quarterback rating
  • 706 rushing yards
  • 14 rushing touchdowns

The Carolina Panthers made Newton the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft just months after the 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback ad won the 2010 Heisman Trophy and led Auburn to the BCS National Championship. He was almost instantly named the starter in Carolina and would go on to have an excellent rookie season in the NFL.

Newton proved to be a true dual-threat quarterback and one of the top playmakers in the league during his first professional season after throwing 21 touchdown passes and rushing for another 14 scores. He would earn a trip to the Pro Bowl as a rookie and was a near-unanimous selection as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year for the 2011 season, not to mention leading his team to Super Bowl 50.

4. Russell Wilson, 2012

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Rookie Stats:

  • 64.1% completion percentage
  • 3,118 passing yards
  • 26 touchdown passes
  • 10 interceptions
  • 7.9 yards per attempt
  • 100.0 quarterback rating
  • 489 rushing yards
  • 4 rushing touchdowns

Russell Wilson may go down as the biggest Draft Day steal of all time by the end of his career. Like Montana in 1979, Wilson was a third-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Seattle Seahawks selected Wilson with the 75th overall pick, and unlike Montana, Wilson would go on to win his team’s starting job during training camp as a rookie. He started off his rookie year as a more of a game manager than a playmaker, but that changed by the midway point of the 2012 season.

Wilson quickly evolved into one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the league and led the Seahawks to a playoff appearance in his first year on the job. After wildly exceeding expectations, Wilson won the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award and was selected to the 2012 Pro Bowl.

5. Ben Roethlisberger, 2004

Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Rookie stats:

  • 66.4% completion percentage
  • 2,621 passing yards
  • 17 touchdown passes
  • 11 interceptions
  • 8.9 yards per attempt
  • 98.1 quarterback rating
  • 144 rushing yards
  • 1 rushing touchdown

The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, and their choice paid near-immediate dividends. After beginning the season as the team’s backup, Roethlisberger took over the starting job when Tommy Maddox obtained an injury early in the 2004 season.

From there, all Big Ben did was lead the Steelers to a 13-0 regular-season record and a trip to the AFC Championship Game as the team’s starter. In his first professional season, he proved early on that he was going to be a dominant force in the NFL for years to come; he went on to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

All statistics are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.

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