Between 1970 and 2005, an average of 1.4 rookie quarterbacks per year started at least eight games. Since then, that number has increased to 2.7. And if Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson hit that mark this season, that number would increase to 3.1.
In other words, twice as many rookie quarterbacks are becoming prominent starters immediately in this era than in eras passed.
Luck, Griffin, Tannehill and Weeden have already been named Week 1 starters, which is unprecedented. Wilson is slated to start the second-to-last preseason game for the Seahawks, which is an indication that he leads the quarterback competition in Seattle.
Since the merger in 1970, a minimum of three rookie quarterbacks have started a minimum of eight games only eight times, but six of those seasons have taken place since Peyton Manning came into the league in 1998.
Front-running fans lose patience more quickly than in the past. Our attention spans are dying, right? As a result, every owner wants his franchise to go from zero-to-hero. "Rebuild" has become a dirty word. Front offices are pressured to turn franchises around faster than ever. And now football has this thing about passing. Turns out that if you can't do it extremely well, you usually can't win.
And so everyone's rolling the dice on quarterbacks and nobody's willing to wait for them.
If Wilson wins the job in Seattle, 10 of the league's 32 teams will be led into Week 1 by quarterbacks who are either entering or coming off of rookie seasons. From a signal-calling perspective, the NFL will be 31 percent green.
Are teams overdoing it? The jury's still out on 60 percent of the five sophomores slated to start in 2012. Cam Newton and Andy Dalton look like success stories, but what about Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker? Three of the top four picks from 2010–Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy–have already lost starting jobs.
It's true. Quarterbacks–and players in general–are developed more efficiently now than in the past. And physical marvels like Newton and Ben Roethlisberger didn't really exist–or were at least harder to find–in previous eras. Scouting has become more advanced, and exceptional athletes are easier to discover.
But it's still a hit-or-miss endeavor. For every Matthew Stafford there's a Mark Sanchez. For every Matt Ryan there's a JaMarcus Russell. Everyone's forced to keep swinging the bat because the alternative is being the Arizona Cardinals.
But you have to wonder what even a trace of patience might produce. Would Sam Bradford have been better off holding a clipboard in his first season? Would Sanchez have been better off being eased in slowly the way Dan Marino and John Elway were three decades ago? We'll never know, and we might not get very many opportunities to see events unfold that way in years to come.
In this era of NFL football, top-quality quarterbacks no longer have the ability to redshirt.