Which First Round Rookie QBs Should Start Week 1?

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]As a fan, when your favorite team takes a quarterback in the first round you instantly start to wonder about the their future. One of the things you wonder about is whether they will start right away. None of us will know what the future holds for the five first round quarterbacks selected last month until the end of the summer. Over this time, we can speculate what will happen and what may be best for each one.

I went to Twitter as well as my colleagues at Inside the Pylon and asked if they would prefer their rookie start day 1 or sit and develop. I know how impatient some fans can be to get the youngster out there so I was surprised to see the results I got back. Of the 15 responses I got back, 8 were in favor of having them sit to start their career.

Each case is different, seeming to mostly depend on whether or not the offense has the pieces to help the rookie rather than the quarterback actually being ready or not. Being selected in the first round means you have such high expectations to succeed, which will sometimes force them to be thrown into the fire even when they aren’t mentally ready.

I want to take a look at the first round QBs drafted between 2008 and 2015. For the sake of this argument I will leave out the 2016 and 2017 draft classes because the general consensus is that it takes roughly three seasons to fully evaluate players in the NFL. *Draft selection in parentheses.

2008: Matt Ryan (3), Joe Flacco (18)

2009: Matthew Stafford (1), Mark Sanchez (5), Josh Freeman (17)

2010: Sam Bradford (1), Tim Tebow (21)

2011: Cam Newton (1), Jake Locker (8), Blaine Gabbert (10), Christian Ponder (12)

2012: Andrew Luck (1), Robert Griffin (2), Ryan Tannehill (8), Brandon Weeden (22)

2013: EJ Manuel (16)

2014: Blake Bortles (3), Johnny Manziel (22), Teddy Bridgewater (32)

2015: Jameis Winston (1), Marcus Mariota (2)

Over those particular years, 21 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round. The following shows when each made their first start.

Week 1: Winston, Mariota, Manuel, Luck, Griffin, Tannehill, Weeden, Newton, Bradford, Stafford, Sanchez, Ryan, Flacco

Middle of season *Week # in parentheses*: Bortles (4), Manziel (16), Bridgewater (4), Gabbert (3), Ponder (7), Tebow (15), Freeman (9),

Second Season: Locker

Looking at these 21 quarterbacks, 13 started right away, 7 in the middle of the season and 1 the following year. When you look to see how it has panned out for each of these 21 first rounders, the success rate for starting right away in comparison to sitting was actually a lot higher than I initially thought it would be.  Barring any injuries, 9 of the 13 will be the starter in week 1 of the 2018 season. Meanwhile, Bortles is the only one that did not start week 1 of their rookie season that will be a starter in 2018 and only two others (Bridgewater and Gabbert) will be on an NFL roster. Granted, not every situation is the same but the huge difference between the two sides is very noticeable.

When a quarterback is slated to start day 1 it usually means one of two things; the player is pro ready and is expected to be able to control an NFL offense or the current quarterback room doesn’t consist of anything that would stand in the way of the rookie seeing the field.

For sitting and developing, as mentioned, there is only one starter on the list, Blake Bortles. He sat for only 3 games and if not for the defense carrying them to an AFC title game last season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was on the bench as well. So as much as we would like to think sitting and learning from the sidelines helps, that hasn’t really been the case over the last 10 seasons. Outside of Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers, I can’t think of another time in recent memory that it has worked out.

Here I will go in depth of each scenario of the five incoming first rounders and whether or not they should start right away or sit and develop.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns (1st Overall)

Throughout the draft process we were hearing that Sam Darnold was going to be a Brown come April 26, but the speculation was put to rest when they selected Baker Mayfield with the first selection. It’s weird to think, but the 1-31 Cleveland Browns might have the best offensive situation of any of the five rookies.

Offensive Line: The front office has put a lot of money and resources into solidifying the offensive line the past couple of offseasons. Four of the top nine highest paid players on their roster are on their offensive line (Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter, Kevin Zeitler, Chris Hubbard) and they just drafted OL Austin Corbett with the 33rd pick to replace recently retired and future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas. Pro Football Focus had ranked them 14th in the league last season and if Corbett pans out like they hope, there is no reason to believe that they can’t be in the top half yet again, maybe even top 10. Ranking: (1st of 5)

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: The Browns entered the offseason with the return of Josh Gordon on the horizon, a pair of former first rounders in WR Corey Coleman and TE David Njoku, and a couple of depth pieces in Rashard Higgins and Ricardo Louis. They added WR Jarvis Landry via trade, veteran TE Darren Fells in free agency and then drafted WR Antonio Callaway in the 4th round. Callaway was probably a top WR in this class with borderline 1st round talent but had undrafted off field issues, so he could be a potential steal. Look… I know it is a big IF but, IF these weapons can stay healthy AND out of trouble it turns out they have one of the best corps for a young QB to throw to. Ranking: (1st of 5)

Running Backs: Another position group that will be vastly different from last year. They let Isaiah Crowell walk only to bring in Carlos Hyde from San Francisco in free agency and select Nick Chubb from Georgia with their second 2nd round pick. They still have Duke Johnson Jr. on the roster as well, but will likely let the two aforementioned newcomers take care of the early downs. I expect Duke to exclusively be in the backfield on 3rd downs and could be used as a third or fourth receiver at times as well. Ranking: (2nd of 5)

Current Quarterback Situation: On the same day that they traded for Jarvis Landry, they also were able to bring in Tyrod Taylor in exchange for a third round pick. Taylor is obviously seen as a bridge quarterback, and a very good one at that, for whoever they decided to bring in, as he only has one year left on his contract. He was able to lead the Bills to their first playoff appearance in almost two decades. He will start the offseason and preseason as the guy to beat for the starting job.

I Say… Start him. I believed that Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield were the two most ready to step in and play from the beginning. I am a believer in playing the quarterback when ready, as long as there is some help. The Browns are coming off an 0-16 season, which makes me assume pretty easily that they won’t be expecting the playoffs in 2018. Baker will need some time to make his transition from the Oklahoma system to an NFL offense but let him make his mistakes and allow him to learn from them. Cleveland has put a solid supporting cast around him to go along with a pretty smart offensive coordinator in Todd Haley. As long as Hue Jackson doesn’t pull what he did last year and continuously change his mind on the starter, I know Mayfield will be just fine in his rookie season if given the opportunity.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Sam Darnold, New York Jets (3rd Overall)

The Jets made the trade up from six to three hoping to get one of the top three quarterbacks on their board. After getting the luck of the draw, not only did the Jets get their much needed QB of the future, they got the top guy they wanted all along. Now they just need to be able to put him into the best situation they possibly can.

Offensive Line: Quite honestly, it’s mediocre at best. Over the years they have neglected this positional group and it shows. They have refused to put too much money into the group, which isn’t the end of the world, there is always the draft. But wait… you look at their drafts since Rex Ryan was hired and you notice they have only used two picks in the first three rounds on a lineman, Brian Winters in 2013 and Vlad Ducasse in 2010. Neither of which was in the Maccagnan era. Maccagnan’s highest selection of an offensive lineman was RT Brandon Shell in the 5th round of 2016. In addition to Winters and Shell, the starting line includes LT Kelvin Beachum, LG James Carpenter and newly signed C Spencer Long. Last year was not a good season for this group in the slightest. However, with the upgrade at center and Winters being healthy I expect to see better protection in 2018. Ranking: (3rd of 5)

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: The media seems to make the receiver situation much worse than it actually is. Having a top 4 of Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse and Terrelle Pryor is more than okay in my book. Each of the 4 have put up more than 800 yards in one of the last two seasons. The quarterbacks throwing to them were Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Ryan FitzpatrickAnderson is a fantastic deep threat and continues to improve as a route runner. Enunwa returns from a neck injury but prior to that he showed to have great value as a blocker and getting yards after the catch. If Kearse can provide his steadiness and reliability from last year, Terrelle Pryor should just be icing on the cake. The tight end situation is cloudy, however. There is no concrete starter, but the one that played the most last year is Eric Tomlinson who is seen as a blocker more than a receiving threat. They have spent a mid round draft pick each of the last two drafts on the position in Jordan Leggett and Chris Herndon. Leggett missed all of last year and drafting Herndon in the fourth this year doesn’t look good for him. I would expect this to be a three man race for the starting position, with lots of rotation through the year. Ranking: (2nd of 5)

Running Backs: This group is deep but nothing to brag about. They brought in Isaiah Crowell, who is a solid back, and he will likely take the role that Matt Forte left behind. Returning are both Bilal Powell and Eli McGuire, the former being a solid all around back, including in pass protection, and the latter showing solid ability as a pass catcher. Fighting for a spot will be Thomas Rawls, who shined as a rookie in Seattle but has done very little since, mainly due to injuries. He will have something to prove this offseason. Ranking: (4th of 5)

Current Quarterback Situation: The Jets brought back soon to be 39 year old Josh McCown who knows he is nothing more than a stopgap that’ll be required to teach everything he knows to Sam Darnold. They also signed former first round pick Teddy Bridgewater, but to a one year deal that has very little guaranteed money. This quarterback room is such a great room to go into if you are a rookie. McCown has long been looked at as a future coach who will have no problem taking Darnold under his wing. Bridgewater is such a team player he wouldn’t be shy to helping out th youngster either. Also if Teddy shows he is healthy this summer, they could give him a ton of reps trying to get some trade value.

I Say… Start him. This was tough but I think the Jets should start him as long as he gets his fumble problem cleaned up. There are parts of his game that will need to get fixed, like bailing out of the pocket early, but I think that actually doing it at full speed will help him more than it just getting lectured to him throughout practices. I fully expect him to learn the offense well enough to run the whole playbook, especially with the help of OC Jeremy Bates and the two veteran QBs. The supporting cast around him is nothing special but there have been far worse situations for a rookie quarterback than this one. Four quality receivers and a solid 1-2 punch at running back gives him some playmakers to bail him out if needed.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (7th Overall)

The Bills finally snapped their playoff drought only to let their starting QB leave. So leading up to the draft everyone knew they would make the move up. We didn’t know when, we didn’t know for who, but we knew it was going to happen. So now that they got their guy in Allen, how do the pieces look around him?

Offensive Line: This was one bad offseason for the offensive line. They lost both Eric Wood and Richie Incognito to retirement and traded Cordy Glenn to be able to move up to 12 from 21, which ultimately landed them Allen. This left them with two incumbent starters in RG Vlad Ducasse and RT Jordan Mills. Replacing Glenn is second year LT Dion Dawkins, who actually filled in for Glenn when he was injured. Dawkins played so well in fact that he was actually among the top five left tackles in the game during the second half of the season, according to Pro Football Focus. To replace the other two that left, they brought in C Russell Bodine from Cincinnati and drafted OG Wyatt Teller in the fifth round. Career swing interior offensive lineman Ryan Groy will likely compete somewhere on the OL. The interior line is worrisome as there is either inexperience or inconsistent play. The only player on the line that I believe in is Dion Dawkins, who has started less than 16 games. Ranking: (5th of 5)

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: I’m just going to be blunt about it, this is a rough group. Their top receiver is Kelvin Benjamin, who they traded for last year but he is a number two at best. Behind him is second round, second year player Zay Jones. Jones had some unfortunate headlines this offseason after coming off a down rookie season so he is a question mark. He also just underwent knee surgery and is expected to miss most of the spring. And behind him are Andre Holmes and Jeremy Kerley, neither of which can stick with a team. They do have Charles Clay at tight end who is still a solid security blanket. Hopefully Clay can get used more than he has been at times. While I really liked Zay Jones coming out of East Carolina, this is a group that scares me, and not in a good way. Ranking: (5th of 5)

Running Backs: The running game is still all Shady McCoy. They brought in some much needed depth with Chris Ivory who is a great compliment, especially as the goal line and short yardage back. McCoy may still be considered a top 10 running back, but how much tread does he have left entering his age 30 season? I can see him going down with an injury, which will really hurt the offense as a whole if it happens. Ranking: (3rd of 5)

Current Quarterback Situation: Losing Tyrod isn’t horrible but they did replace him with AJ McCarron who has only a handful of starts. He was only signed for 10 million over two years so it’s not like they are forced to play him. They still have Nathan Peterman but I think we all know his era is over in Buffalo barring any injuries.

I Say… Sit him. It will be tough considering they traded into the top ten for Allen but this is a terrible situation for him to come into. I thought Allen needed the most work before stepping onto the field so throwing him into the fire here will only hurt him. The supporting cast, especially the offensive line, is lackluster who won’t be able to help him grow. Let McCarron get his playing time and allow Allen to make the transition from Wyoming to the NFL with no immediate pressure.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals (10th Overall)

Josh Rosen was my 2nd ranked quarterback in the draft. So after a ridiculously long draft day slide, Arizona gets a steal after trading up to take him. There will be some differences from last year’s offense so let’s take a look.

Offensive Line: Last season was not a good season for the offensive line, as shown by being ranked 31st by Pro Football Focus. They tried to make improvements this offseason by bringing in OG Justin Pugh and OT Andre Smith who are both expected to play on the right side of the line. They will join LT DJ Humphries, LG Mike Iupati and a battle at center between AQ Shipley and third round rookie Mason Cole out of Michigan. While it does stand to improve next season, this is yet another below average offensive line group. Ranking: (4th of 5)

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: In Rosen’s rookie year he would actually have some pretty decent weapons, mainly highlighted by future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. They lost both John and Jaron Brown in free agency but second round rookie Christian Kirk and last year’s third rounder Chad Williams will likely take over their respective spots on the field. Tight end continues to be a position that has been practically non-existent for the Cardinals offense, having Ricky Seals-Jones and Jermaine Gresham battle for the top spot. It doesn’t look great but with Fitzgerald still in the mix you have a very reliable receiver to look at. Ranking: (3rd of 5)

Running Backs: By far the best running back corps for any of these five rookies. David Johnson comes back after missing most of last season with a year long wrist injury. If back to normal he is a consensus top 5 running back but is a great receiver as well, reeling in 80 catches in 2016. Hopefully Johnson can stay healthy because they really have nothing behind him that would scare an opposing defense. Knowing you have a back like Johnson to hand it off or dump it to gives the quarterback a lot of relief, rookie or not. Ranking: (1st of 5)

Current Quarterback Situation: Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon were both signed this offseason, the former top pick is the only one that could stand in Rosen’s way. Bradford was signed to a 1 year, 20 million dollar deal and is slated to start the season. When healthy he has looked very good, just go back to his week 1 performance against the New Orleans Saints last season as a member of the Vikings. This gives new head coach Steve Wilks the choice to give Rosen some time to learn more if he feels like it is needed.

I Say… Start him. Rosen was the most pro ready out of all of the quarterbacks coming out of the draft, so don’t wait. One of the knocks on Rosen, however, was his lack of mobility. With the poor state of the offensive line the decision to play him could come back to haunt them, but it’s a risk they should be willing to take. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is a solid offensive mind who will put Rosen in the best situations to avoid having him hold onto the ball for too long, dumping it off to their great security blankets in Fitzgerald and Johnson. If they do decide to sit him at first, they’re just prolonging the inevitable because Bradford’s history shows that he will get hurt at some point. Better to just get Rosen starting out of the gate in my opinion.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens (32nd Overall)

Jackson was just able to sneak into the first round when the Ravens traded up for the last pick. It’ll be a long road for Jackson, but maybe not as long as many expect, so let’s take a look at what he has around him.

Offensive Line: They have four of the five expected starters from last year returning with the one exception being center Ryan Jensen who left in free agency. They have two studs in LT Ronnie Stanley and RG Marshall Yanda who is coming off a year long injury but should still be a phenomenal mauler on the inside. Alex Lewis also returns from a nasty ankle injury to likely play LG and then they re-signed James Hurst, who will compete at RT with Lewis and possibly third rounder Orlando Brown. Center is another question mark after losing Jensen. They can either play Matt Skura or maybe have rookie Bradley Boseman take over. The wishful thinking is that they won’t have as many injuries as last year and use 26 different combinations again. Ranking: (2nd of 5)

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: To say the Ravens made changes to the offense would be an understatement. They have three new receivers from free agency in Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead; all of which could be the starting X, Y, Z receivers. They then add two TEs in the first three rounds drafting Hayden Hurst in the first and Mark Andrews in the third. Hurst should be able to step in and play right away as the competition will be with Nick Boyle and former second rounder and current bust Maxx Williams. While there are still some potential holes, you can’t say they didn’t try to upgrade for the last couple years of Flacco’s tenure. Ranking: (4th of 5)

Running Backs: Last year they were banking on a group of Danny Woodhead, Buck Allen and others to contribute to a solid running attack. However, it was former Seahawk Alex Collins who came out of nowhere and dominated in the games he did play in. He’s a bruiser of a runner who was able to run for a solid 4.6 yards/attempt clip for just under 1,000 yards, despite only getting 15+ carries in half of the games. We might not be able to expect the same level of play out of him again, but it’s somewhere to start. They still have Buck Allen who is a solid receiving threat and Kenneth Dixon who has struggled getting onto the field with both injuries and multiple suspensions. Not a great committee, but it could be worse. Ranking: (5th of 5)

Current Quarterback Situation: We all know they still have Joe Flacco at the helm but his play is steadily declining. It could be because of the injuries on the offensive line and the lack of skill at the receiver position but Flacco himself does not look the same as he once did. And because of that, the Ravens got out in front out the decline and took his successor in Lamar Jackson. It’s 100% still Flacco’s job to lose, no debating it.

I Say… Sit him. As I just mentioned Flacco isn’t going anywhere. He still gets paid a ton of money until they can let him go after the 2020 season, maybe after 2019 if they’re willing to eat some money. Until then, let Lamar take some time and continue to develop as a passer from the pocket. He did a great job taking strides from the 2016 season to the 2017 season, but still has a little ways to go. He can possibly be used in some packages such as wildcat or even as a gadget player for a few plays a game. He may be the best playmaker on the roster right now to make a little noise, but he can still work on his craft as a passer until his time comes.

Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaySmars. Check out his other work here.

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