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Redshirt Rookie Quarterbacks or Play Them?

Updated: Aug 23

Written by: Wayne G

Patriots Endzone

Growing up, I like many, was told that lightning never strikes twice. Then as an adult, I heard the story of William Yeldell Cosper. He was an Alabama man in the late 1800's to early 1900's. While sitting on his porch, he was struck by lightning, and his wife had to nurse him back to health. In 1919, he was fatally struck by lightning while inside his house. Less than a year after he was buried, his tombstone was struck by lightning, leaving it in rubble. And after it was replaced, it was again struck by lightning, destroying the tombstone.

I think it is safe to say that the Green Bay Packers are hoping that Jordan Love will turn out to be their William Yeldcell Cosper. 15 years after selecting Aaron Rodgers 24th in the NFL Draft, the Packers selected the Nevada Quarterback 26th in the 2020 draft. Rodgers would not start a game until 2008, having sat the bench for 3 years behind Brett Favre. Love didn't have to wait quite as long, sitting just 2 seasons behind Rodgers. And regardless of whether he is successful, or a complete failure, he fuel the same debate. Is it better to sit rookie quarterbacks until they are ready, or throw them into the fire.

The Focus Group

In order to compile accurate statistics, we need a decent focus group size. The group I used was every first round quarterback taken in the NFL Draft from 2003 to 2021.

The reason I chose first round picks, and no quarterbacks selected after that (even though I would have loved to have Tom Brady and Russell Wilson in the group) is because first round picks are expected to be starters. Picks after round one are more of a crap shoot. They may become starters. They may become the greatest quarterback of all time. But that is not the expectation. Its a pleasant, yet surprising outcome. First round picks are expected to start, even if not in year one.

In 2004, we get 3 first ballot Hall of Famers (Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger). Two of them sat in their rookie year (Manning and Rivers) and one of them started right away (Big Ben). 2007 we see the likes of JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn (both sat their rookie seasons). 20 years of subjects gave us 20 years of data.

The Statistics

It was important to use statistics that were fair, but would also gauge the value of whether or not QB's have better careers when they start right away or when they sit.

The first statistic is games started. What better measure of a career, than how long it was? The next statistic is career passing yards, followed by career touchdowns and career interceptions.

Using these stats, and our focus group, we are able to derive the average playing career of every quarterback drafted in the last 20 years who started as a rookie, and the ones who needed time. In order to qualify as "playing" as a rookie, you must have started at least half of your teams games. All others are considered to have sat out, or redshirted.

The Results

The average quarterback, who sat out his rookie season, averaged a longer career, more passing yards, more touchdowns, and fewer interceptions. There outliers to both parties. Guys like Tim Tebow who only started for a season, or Dwayne Haskins who barely started for two. But they were balanced out by guys like Carson Palmer.

The reality is that there is no cut and dry answer that works 100% of the time. Sometimes the best option for a quarterback is to start right away. They are NFL ready the day they sign their rookie deal, like Andrew Luck or Trevor Lawrence. Sometimes they are very raw and athletic and need time to adjust to the league, like Michael Vick or Trey Lance. Sometimes it depends on the organization or the coach. It truly is a case by case basis. But don't ever let anyone tell you the statistics show it's better to start a player right away, because as you've just learned today, the numbers can show the exact opposite. And numbers never lie.

Wayne G is the host of the YouTube show Patriots Endzone, which you can watch here. You can follow him and the show, and interact on Twitter @PatriotsEZ.

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