BEFORE YOU BET: A RECENT HISTORY OF ROOKIE QBS
Bettors look at a lot of factors before laying their money down. Any and all information is valuable if it’s weighed properly. Each sport has its own unique list of factors for bettors to consider, and certainly NFL football – the undisputed King of betting sports – has as many variables to consider as any sport. One factor that can sometimes be informative but is often overlooked is recent history. Early in a season, a lack of useful information can make it hard to accurately see what may unfold. One useful way of predicting the future is by reviewing the recent past. Looking back and remembering what happened in similar situations we can recognize trends developing that may help us make smarter bets. The more you know, right?
With that in mind, in 2021 there are several rookies who have won their teams’ QB1 position battle this year and are slated to begin the season under center. Mac Jones (New England), Zach Wilson (NY Jets) and Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville) are the three rookies announced to start in Week One. Other first round picks like Trey Lance in San Francisco and Justin Fields in Chicago will at least start this season holding a clipboard and wearing a ballcap. Whether they have successful debuts or even finish the season as their team’s QB1 is hard to predict due to a lack of useful information at this point, so I thought I’d look at recent first round draft pick QBs who started as rookies, how their first game went and whether that continued into their first season. As you’ll see, it doesn’t create a lot of optimism for success in this coming year – a good reminder of just how hard it is for a rookie quarterback to win in the NFL. Temper your excitement and your expectations before you lay your bets and ask yourself how many good, playoff quality teams have rookies starting for them?
JOE BURROW, CINCINNATI (#1 overall in 2020)
The first pro game for the former National Champion and Heisman Trophy winner was not a successful one in any regard other than he didn’t suffer a season-ending injury (which would happen 8 weeks later). Despite his debut being a home game against a mediocre Chargers defense that finished last season 23rd overall, he threw for just 193 yards, 0 TDs, 1 interception and fumbled once. The Bengals had a 2-7-1 record in his first 10 starts before he was lost for the remainder of the season with a knee injury. He remains the team’s clear starter for his second season this year.
KYLER MURRAY, ARIZONA (#1 overall in 2019)
The Cardinals convinced Murray to leave his pro baseball career behind (he had been a first round pick of the Oakland A’s as well), selecting him first overall out of Oklahoma and giving him the job right away. His first game was at home versus a Detroit team that won just three games that season and the Cardinals could only manage a tie. Murray threw for 308 yards, 2 TDs and 1 interception, completing just 54% of his passes. He kept the starting job the entire season, despite the Cardinals struggling to a 5-10-1 record and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year under Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury, himself an NFL rookie. His second season showed even more promise and he appears to be a dark horse MVP candidate.
DANIEL JONES, NY GIANTS (#6 overall in 2019)
Eli Manning was still squeezing out the last few drops of his terrific NFL career as the 2019 regular season began, so Jones barely played in the first two games. After those two games ended in bad losses to Buffalo and Dallas, Jones was handed the reins in Week Three. He led the G-Men to a road win that day in Tampa Bay, throwing for 336 yards and 2 TDs with no interceptions as well as rushing for 2 scores as well. He won his next game vs. Washington, too, but only won once more the rest of the way, finishing with a 3-9 record as a starter that year. After a lost second season full of key injuries to teammates, he looks to firmly establish himself as a bona fide above-average starting QB in his third season.
BAKER MAYFIELD, CLEVELAND (#1 overall in 2018)
For reasons only he will ever comprehend, soon-to-be-former Cleveland Head Coach Hue Jackson decided not to have Mayfield begin his first season as the Browns’ starter, instead allowing Tyrod Taylor to underwhelm in the first two games before inserting the former Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma. Mayfield’s NFL debut was effectively efficient, if not spectacular. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 201 yards with no TD’s and no interceptions as the Browns edged the Jets 21-17 in Cleveland. The rest of the season he had a .500 record as the team’s starter – and Jackson didn’t last into November before the Browns fired him.
SAM DARNOLD, NY JETS (#3 overall in 2019)
After just two seasons starting at USC, Darnold was immediately thrust into the chaos of New York and named the Jets’ starter in Week One of his rookie season, making him the youngest opening day NFL starting QB in over 50 years. His first game was a team success, with the Jets crushing an inept Lions squad 48-17 in Detroit. His personal numbers were unspectacular, but steady: 16 for 21, 198 yards with 2 TDs and 1 interception. The rest of the season was certainly challenging, but not the abject failure people seem to remember it being. New York was just 4-9 in games Darnold started, and he finished with 17 TD passes, 15 interceptions and a 77.9 passer rating. He has already been traded away to Carolina for draft picks and replaced by Zach Smith just three years later. It will be interesting to see how Smith fares this season in the Big Apple in a very similar situation.