NFL rookie quarterbacks

NFL rookie minicamps have concluded, so most teams were able to get an early look at new quarterbacks. Five of the six first-round picks from the 2024 NFL Draft could start in Week 1. Franchises are more incentivized than ever to play rookie quarterbacks as soon as possible.

In this salary-cap sport, the greatest advantage you can have is a good young QB on a cheap contract. But what are reasonable expectations?

C.J. Stroud and Brock Purdy have reset our beliefs on what neophytes can achieve.

Stroud, the No.2 overall pick in 2023, enjoyed the best season a rookie has ever had, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year and a playoff game for the Houston Texans.

Purdy, the final pick in the 2022 draft, enjoyed the most surprising season a rookie has ever had, finishing third in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting and winning a playoff game for the San Francisco 49ers.

Some might see them as the evolution of the position. Outliers might be a more accurate description. Most quarterbacks look closer to Bryce Young than Stroud as rookies. They struggle on bad teams. Asking any member of this new crop of rookie quarterbacks to lift a franchise to new heights is asking too much. It’s a heavy burden.

Stroud and Purdy excelled in their first years for different reasons.

Stroud could be the ultimate unicorn. No one was predicting this type of success. There were questions about whether he would be the No. 2 overall pick. But on a roster that didn’t look overly talented and on a team with a rookie head coach, he led the league in passing yards per game (273.9), finished sixth in passer rating (1008.), and threw only five interceptions. We might never see a rookie season like that again.

Purdy, Mr. Irrelevant, was forced into action after a series of injuries. Expectations for him were low. But blessed with a loaded roster of skill-position talent, coupled with one of the best play-callers in Kyle Shanahan, Purdy did more than manage the game. He thrived, and the 49ers might have reached the Super Bowl in his rookie season if not for him getting hurt in the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia.

The bar has been set incredibly high for Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, and others. Unfairly so. The normal trajectory of rookie quarterbacks who eventually become stars as veterans is fairly standard: they look good in flashes and turn the ball over too much.

It happened with Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Joe Burrow. When the second year comes around, you see a big leap as they establish themselves as franchise quarterbacks. The learning curve for Stroud and Purdy was reduced significantly in ways that are difficult to replicate.

For obvious reasons, Williams has the best chance of the rookie quarterbacks to succeed quickly. On paper, he has the best collection of skill-position players the Chicago Bears have ever had. That kind of support is vital when trying to develop a youngster. However, it seems highly unlikely that he’ll repeat Stroud’s success.  In his final year at USC, Williams forced plays that resulted in 13 turnovers (8 fumbles, 5 interceptions). There’s a distinct possibility that he’ll be mistake-prone in 2024 with the Bears.

Daniels, Maye, J. J. McCarthy, and Bo Nix might not have the same type of talent at their disposal(We’re excluding Michael Penix Jr. since he is expected to back up Kirk Cousins this fall). They probably will experience growing pains as most rookies do. Eventually at least one of the first-round QBs will become a legit star, but it’s not always obvious which one it will be until games are played.

Just don’t expect any of them to succeed like Stroud and Purdy did as rookies.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.