Class warfare: 2nd-year QBs outplaying rookies

CHARTRookies, shmookies. The NFL’s second-year quarterbacks are putting up better numbers than their more celebrated rookie counterparts.

A comparison of the stats put up so far by the six second-year QBs who have started games this season, versus those of the seven rookie starters, offers some surprising numbers.

The second-years have thrown 356 fewer passes, but connected on 10 more touchdowns and 16 fewer interceptions – with a passer rating that’s 7.4 points higher. (See chart at right — this snap of how it appears in print looks far better than my ox-knuckled attempt to chart it up in WordPress.)

Of course it makes intuitive sense that a group of players with double the experience would perform better.

But all we seem to hear about anymore – and, admittedly, we’re as guilty as anyone – is how wonderful the rookies are, such as Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, and how woeful the Cam Newtons and Blaine Gabberts of the 2011 class are.

As is often the case, perception belies reality.

Leading the way for the second-years is Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals.

He got off to a hot start in September, then cooled, but since late October has it together again. Dalton is up to 11th in the league in passer rating (94.0), having completed 63% of his throws for 23 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.

Dalton and A.J. Green are as formidable a pass-and-catch combo as any in the league, having connected on touchdowns in all but two games.

We’ve documented Newton’s struggles this year, but in November the Carolina Panther seems to have finally found a groove in the new zone-read offence concocted for him by head coach Ron Rivera and coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

Newton finally is throwing more touchdowns than interceptions on the season (11-10), and is ripping open his imaginary Clark Kent suit almost as often as he did in his sensational debut last year.

If he can ever stay healthy, Jake Locker of the Tennessee Titans has shown promising glimpses. His forte is making plays outside the pocket with his speed, accuracy on the run and creativity.

After riding the bench last year behind b, Locker won the starter’s job in training camp and looked good in early September before shoulder injuries sidelined him for weeks.

Locker is back now, and with a TD-to-interception ratio of 7-4 he has a passer rating of 84.5, better than that of all rookies except RG3 and Russell Wilson.

Christian Ponder seemed to have turned the corner in Year 2 of starting for the Minnesota Vikings, but he hit a wall a month ago, reverting to his scattershot, mostly ineffective rookie form.

It says here that it’s no coincidence Ponder’s plummet began the week the Vikings lost one of the league’s most prolific and dynamic wide receivers in 2012, Percy Harvin (to a badly sprained ankle).

Observers of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Blaine Gabbert in spring workouts and summer training camp were convinced he was no longer the way-over-his-head rookie. His passes were snapping, his accuracy much improved and his confidence in the pocket actually detectable.

Then the season started.

Until he was lost for the year a week ago Sunday in Houston, Gabbert was barely better. That discarded Dolphin Chad Henne has been lighting it up the past two weeks with the same Jaguars cast is further indictment of Gabbert’s play.

Finally, there’s Colin Kaepernick.

He has started fewer NFL games than any of the second-years – two, both in the past two weeks. Yet already Kaepernick has shown more upside than most of the newbies.

That Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh would bench Alex Smith – who only led Frisco to within an overtime field goal of the Super Bowl last year – in favour of Kaepernick last week in New Orleans tells you how much his own coaches think of him.

But more than that, the second-round draft pick last year out of the University of Nevada has shown the whole league he can be special.

“I think clearly Colin has gotten better mechanically,” ESPN analyst Ron Jaworkski told reporters on a conference call last week. “He’s got incredible natural ability, but he’s got a ways to go as far as getting better, shortening his stroke, being more accurate with his throwing. (But) he’s pretty darn good right now.”

It is Kaepernick’s downfield throwing – not his mobility and elusiveness as a zone-read runner – that has given him an edge over Smith. The threat of a consistently improved vertical passing game can render the 49ers’ already potent rushing attack even more lethal.

There’s one more second-year quarterback who might get his first big career break before the season is out.

Ricky Stanzi backs up Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel in Kansas City. Asked last week if Stanzi might yet play in 2012, Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel said:
“There’s always a scenario, and we’ll have to evaluate that and see.”

Stanzi would be the 14th first- or second-year quarterback to start a game this year, and the 15th to take a snap with an outcome still in doubt. (Rookie Kirk Cousins filled in for an injured RG3 against Atlanta in September.)

The super sophs vs. the remarkable rookies might make for a captivating class warfare for years to come.

 

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