For the most part, NFL coaches have been reluctant to play rookie quarterbacks unless they are forced to because of injury. Part of the reason was the offenses that many of the young quarterbacks played in while in college. Until recently, the college spread offenses had no comparison to the offenses we see played in the NFL.
Now, many teams have gone to spread-type offenses with the quarterback playing from the shotgun, so there is at least some similarity. Still, the sophistication of NFL offenses are far superior to the college game.
That being said, young quarterbacks are not only having to play as rookies, but many are playing well. Last year Dallas lost starter Tony Romo due to injury during the preseason and rookie Dak Prescott, a fourth-rounder, came in and not only played well but led the Cowboys to the playoffs. Carson Wentz — who did not play much in the preseason because of his own injury — still was the opening day starter for the Philadelphia Eagles and, for the most part, played very well all season.
The Los Angeles Rams drafted Jared Goff No. 1 overall with the idea of having him sit and learn but he came in and was the starter for the last third of the season. His play was not as good as Prescott and Wentz but he did flash.
This season, after a rough start by veteran Tom Savage, rookie first-round draft choice Deshaun Watson took over as the starter in Houston and has played excellent football from the get go. Second round pick DeShone Kizer won the starting job in Cleveland during the preseason but hasn’t played up to expectations. This week the Chicago Bears' rookie, Mitch Trubisky, who clearly outplayed veteran Mike Glennon in the preseason, will finally make his first start under center.
Why are so many rookies playing — and most playing well?
I think in most cases, these young quarterbacks have a high degree of intelligence and unprecedented football character, and that is why they are ready to play and why most are playing well.
While in college, Prescott showed consistent improvement from year to year but that wasn’t enough to get him drafted high. Once he got to the Cowboys, where there was no college distractions, he made learning the playbook his most important task and did everything he could to improve each day at practice. This was not unnoticed by both teammates and the coaching staff. When he was forced into playing, he was more than ready.
Wentz may have played at the FCS level in college, but he played in a pro-friendly offense. He always had strong leadership skills and was able to pick things up very quickly. It came easy to him in college and in the NFL. That put him a step ahead of others. Having former NFL quarterbacks in his head coach and offensive coordinator has also helped tremendously. Both Frank Reich and Doug Pederson know exactly what Wentz is going through as far as NFL growing pains.
Goff had some struggles because of the offense he played in while at Cal, but also because there was not a strong quarterback friendly coach on the Rams staff in 2016. This year, under new head coach Sean McVay, Goff has improved by leaps and bounds. Not only is Goff playing much better but so is third-year running back Todd Gurley. Who the coach is helps!
When we look at Watson, we see a quarterback who won in college, played on the big stage having gotten to two National Championship games, was well-coached and had superb football character and intelligence. In Houston, he has a head coach in Bill O’Brien who is an excellent tutor of quarterbacks and understands quarterback play as well as anyone.
Kizer, who has flashed, was probably better prepared for the NFL than the others because of the offense he played in at Notre Dame. In Cleveland, his supporting cast isn’t that good and the game plans and play calling have not helped his play. He is better than he has shown.
Trubisky not only impressed the coaches but also his teammates during the offseason program and in training camp. His work ethic and desire to succeed are second to none and he has natural leadership skills. With only a year of starting experience in college, he was not expected to be as far along as he has shown. He is a very quick decision-maker, has a tight quick release and has uncanny accuracy on throws to all levels.
It really gets down to two things when a club plays a rookie quarterback. Does the player have top football character and intelligence, and does he have the right people on the coaching staff to teach him and help him succeed? In the cases of the young quarterbacks who have played well, the answer is yes to both.