Last week we took a look at how this year’s rookie quarterbacks have fared in their first season in the NFL. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III seem like locks to be impact players if they stay healthy. Russell Wilson is on the cusp of leading the Seahawks to the playoffs. Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden have had inconsistent first seasons, but provide hope for fan bases that have had little reason for optimism over the past decade.
This week we take a look at the five second year QB's who began the year leading their teams. The class of 2011 appears much shakier than this year’s crop.
Three of the five rookie quarterbacks have their teams in playoff contention with winning records and as a group the first year signal callers have racked up a 34-31 record. While two sophomore passers have missed some time with injuries, in games that the second year QB's have started their teams are a combined 21-36. If the postseason began today it would not include any of the sophomore starters.
Last year Cam Newton was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year. This year started slow for the Heisman Trophy winner. Newton threw five interceptions during the first three weeks of the season and the Panthers won just once in the first seven weeks. However, the last four weeks Newton has thrown for eight scores, rushed for three more and completed nearly 61-percent of his throws. Two of Newton's three best rushing days have been the last two weeks. When he is a duel-threat, the Panthers can get hot like they did last year when the team finished with four wins in their final six games. Carolina has won two of their last three with Newton their star in the wins.
The Cincinnati Bengals were 4-12 in 2010 after going 120-199-1 over the previous 20 years. Andy Dalton was drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft and the red head led the Bengals to a 9-7 mark last season. This year Cincinnati is 7-6 and Dalton has played well. He ranks behind only four Super Bowl winning QB's (Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers) with 25 touchdown passes and has helped the Bengals win four of their last five games thanks to 11 TD passes and only three interceptions during that span. Dalton's 90.3 QB Rating is best among sophomores and 12th in the NFL. If Cincinnati beats Philadelphia this week they will control their playoff destiny with back-to-back division games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore to finish the season.
While the Bengals are in playoff contention thanks in part to Andy Dalton the Vikings are in the same position in spite of Christian Ponder. The Florida State product has improved slightly on his pedestrian rookie year numbers. Ponder ranks 23rd in the league or worse in touchdowns thrown, yardage, and QB rating. While he has completed nearly 63-percent of his passes, his 12 interceptions are second among the sophomores. Over the last two weeks Ponder has thrown for 210 total yards, completed 23 passes out of 42 attempts, and passed for one score while being picked off three times. Adrian Peterson is amazing but he can only carry a team so far without support at quarterback.
The best thing to report about Tennessee's Jake Locker and Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert is that we probably have not seen enough to make an accurate assessment of their future. However, hope is not exactly running high. Locker played sparingly last year and tossed four touchdowns without being picked off. This year he has been below average by every measure though he has played much of the season with a shoulder injury. Gabbert also has missed time because of injuries but being out played by Chad Henne is not a ringing endorsement. In games that Gabbert has started over two years the Jags are 5-20. He too ranks towards the rear of every major statistical category.
There is reason for optimism with Newton and Dalton. It is not impossible one of the other sophomore QB's may emerge and succeed. None of them are Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III.