Which Rookie Quarterbacks Will Shine In 2014?

Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, and Teddy Bridgewater were all first-round picks this year, but will they have an immediate impact?

Youth basketball was a huge part of my childhood. When I wasn’t losing Pokemon battles or watching reruns of "Scooby Doo, Where Are You!", I was at practice. Despite my best efforts (and dreams), I was a very average basketball player. I could dribble the ball fine, my shooting was okay, and my defense was passable. However, I never excelled past being average; just call me Martell Webster.

That being said, I remember one game very fondly. In this game, I was an unstoppable hoops machine. I was hitting shots from all over the court, and I was beating the bigger kids to rebounds. I was on fire, like Alonzo Mourning in NBA Jam.

For one game.

That one game surely didn't determine my basketball skills and it was not indicative of my future performances. I was just as average as ever. See where I'm going here?

As far as rookie quarterbacks are concerned, there are very few who see a significant amount of playing time. And those quarterbacks who do get a starting gig, usually perform at a subpar level. Of course, there are exceptions and I’m sure some of you will be quick to point them out, but the reality is that those exceptions are just that. Exceptions. And they are rare.

Since 2000, there have been 16 (out of 173) rookie quarterbacks who ranked within the top 24 quarterbacks in terms of total fantasy points. I’m using fantasy points here, instead of other statistical measures, because it encompasses both aspects of a quarterback’s game. In a general sense, this shows that rookie quarterbacks who perform at a high level are a rare commodity.

The 2012 NFL season is a wrecking ball to this statement as we saw three rookie quarterbacks have a HUGE impact on their respective teams. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson were incredibly effective during their rookie seasons.

However, that was only one season. And just like my unbelievable basketball game, this cannot be used to judge how things will be in the future. We also cannot let this change our impressions of the past. From a historical standpoint, this is unlikely to happen again. But let's see what we've got with this year's crop of youngsters, shall we?

Blake Bortles

Bortles was a surprise to many when he was selected as the third overall pick by Jacksonville earlier this month. His draft stock was hurt by allegedly shaky fundamentals and a lack of sustained success in college. Also, he sounds like an insurance salesman.

As fellow numberFire writer, Joe Redemann, notes in his reaction article, Bortles still has a ways to go to becoming an NFL-caliber passer. Joe conjectures that Bortles might not be the immediate solution to Jacksonville’s passing woes, but if he is properly developed and given enough time to gain his footing, he could be the long term solution Jacksonville hasn't had since Mark Brunell, which is really quite sad if you think about it.

If you are a Bortles backer, the good news is that this quarterback will not be buried deep on the depth chart. His competition is Chad Henne, who was only better than Geno Smith and Eli Manning in terms of Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) among quarterbacks who dropped back at least 400 times last season. Eek.

Here at numberFire, our READ metric gives us an idea of how a rookie could perform during his first year. This metric looks at combine results and pairs them with other players who had similar combine numbers. It compiles that list of comparables and then adjusts the list so that it only includes players who will be in a similar offense.

Unfortunately, the comparables that we have for Bortles are a bit ugly. His best match is Mark Sanchez, followed by Joey Harrington, Josh Freeman, and Andy Dalton.

If the planets align for Bortles to snag the starting job, it would surely help Jacksonville’s offense, if only because the other options are so terrible. The Jags were ranked dead last in our Adjusted Passing NEP metric in 2013. Really, anyone not named Chad Henne - or Blaine Gabbert - would help.

Johnny Manziel

Johnny Football has the potential to be one of the most polarizing quarterbacks in recent memory. Many people like his talent and athleticism (which is hard to dispute), but some critics think that it could be hard for him to translate his skills to the NFL. He could Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning; we just don't know.

Leo Howell wrote a fantastic article, comparing Brian Hoyer and Manziel. In short, he found that Hoyer was a serviceable quarterback in 2013, noting that he "finished in the middle of the pack among quarterbacks with 75 or more passing attempts in 2013 on a per drop back basis". Leo smartly pointed out that he finished ahead of Joe Flacco, Ryan Tannehill, and Sam Bradford. It would make a lot of sense for the Browns to stick with Hoyer at quarterback, while Manziel develops.

Nik Bonaddio also penned an article earlier this month that took a look at JFF's READ metric and comparables, and found that his were somewhat favorable. As Leo Howell noted in his article, Donovan McNabb's and Russell Wilson's presence on this short list gives hope for Manziel's long term-success, but his rookie season might not be the "splash" that some fans are expecting.

Johnny might end up being the most "dangerous" rookie quarterback in 2014 for fantasy football owners. I say this because he could end up being overvalued on draft day due to his talent and possible opportunity. He could end up as the starting passer in Cleveland this year, but as of this writing, it would be foolish to assume that this will be the case. The Browns have some attractive receivers in Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon (presumably playing at some point during the season). Both players are in the top five of their respective positions in terms of Target NEP. This is significant, because it shows us that Gordon and Cameron are significantly effective any time the ball is thrown their way.

Overall, I tend to agree with Leo's analysis that it is the smart decision to leave Hoyer as the starting while Johnny Football adjusts to life in the NFL. To repeat what I have said earlier, it's difficult (and rare) for rookie quarterbacks to jump into the starting gig immediately and I don't foresee Manziel being an exception.

Teddy Bridgewater

I'll keep this section short, because other writers at numberFire have covered Bridgewater quite extensively already and I doubt I could say things as well as they are said in those articles.

First and foremost, Teddy Bridgewater has the most potential out of the three quarterbacks listed in this article to start for his team this season. numberFire writer, Jim Sannes showed us that Bridgewater is the top statistical rookie quarterback this year and also gave his approval of Teddy's signing with Minnesota. As Jim noted, the Vikings clearly had a need at quarterback as Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder helped their offense finish 2013 with the 25th-best passing attack.

If Bridgewater gets the starting job, he will have good weapons at his disposable. Adrian Peterson surely has some gas left in the tank and Cordarrelle Patterson is coming into form. If you forgot, Minnesota had one of the best rushing attacks in the league last year (second in Adjusted Rushing NEP) and they are only one year removed from a wild card appearance. A strong quarterback could help a lot of their current issues and as Jim mentioned, it surely doesn't hurt to have Norv Turner as an offensive coordinator. The pieces are coming into place for the Vikes and Bridgewater has the potential to be the icing on the cake.

Besides Teddy B, I'm not convinced there will be a rookie quarterback who will step up and have a huge impact this year. We need to remember that the key to rookie success is a combination of talent and opportunity. There are certainly a few talented rookie quarterbacks in the 2014 class, but some are missing a clear path to opportunity. And until we see an indication that they will see significant playing time, it may be best to hedge our bets.