A dozen rookie quarterbacks have led their teams to the playoffs, none advanced to the Super Bowl in their first professional season. The list does include five quarterbacks who did lead their teams to a Super Bowl later in their careers; Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson. From that group, Roethlisberger, Flacco and Wilson won the National Football League title game.
Of the 12 quarterbacks that led their teams to the postseason only Flacco and Mark Sanchez earned a winning record with two wins and one loss in their first postseason effort. The overall postseason record for that dozen rookies is seven wins and twelve losses. Another eight rookies were handed the starting role in the postseason due to injuries to their teams’ starting quarterback, and half of them won their first postseason game and compiled an overall record of four wins and eight losses.
In other words, a rookie quarterback is likely not the answer for a team looking to win Super Bowl LVI, although three teams are opening their 2021 campaigns with a first year player behind center. They are the New England Patriots, who will start Mac Jones following the release of veteran Cam Newton; New York Jets, who will start the season with second pick in the draft quarterback Zach Wilson; and the Jacksonville Jaguars, with first pick in the draft Trevor Lawrence.
If you have the Patriots, Jets or Jaguars in your pool to win the Super Bowl, I suggest you ask for a do-over.
While quarterbacks are not at their best in their rookie seasons, other positions lend themselves well to making an immediate impact. Wide receivers and runningbacks top this list. Youth and fresh legs serve athletes at those positions very nicely. Randy Moss was a rookie in 1998 when he led the NFL in touchdown catches, 17, and was instrumental in the Vikings setting scoring records and advancing to the NFC Championship Game.
In the past 20 seasons, 29 rookie runningbacks have cracked the 1,000 yards rushing mark. One of those rookies, Joseph Addai of the Indianapolis Colts, was also on the team that won the Super Bowl. In 2006, Addai rushed for 1,081 yards and Indianapolis beat the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI for Peyton Manning’s only Super Bowl victory with the Colts.
While fresh legs help runningbacks, too much of a workload one season can spell doom for long term success for a runner. NFL history is filled with examples where big seasons while carrying the ball for a team results in that player experiencing limited success in succeeding years.
With this in mind, caution by my numbers point to a decline in Tennessee Titans runningback Derrick Henry. Last season, Henry became the eighth NFL runner to crack the 2,000 yards rushing barrier with 2,027 on a career high 378 carriers. With the addition of Juilo Jones to their receiving corps, quarterback Ryan Tannehill appears to be at the center of an explosive offensive juggernaut.
The Titans also have a solid defense and head coach Mike Vrabel has been one of the few exceptions to come out of the New England Patriots coaching factory that found success with his new team. But, last year’s leading rusher, and questions on whether Jones can duplicate what he accomplished in his first ten professional seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, now that he has reached the stage of his career where injuries are playing a role in his productivity, creates cracks in the Titans armour.
I like a lot about the Titans, but the expected decline from players who played key roles in prior campaigns, pushes them out of contention for my Super Bowl pick.
This week, on Tuesday, we will be posting our season win projections, and on Wednesday, our Super Bowl prediction.