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To start a rookie quarterback...or not

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Alright. So yesterday I posted a little idea I had about John Beck possibly getting some starts later this season. But then it was made clear that most felt if anyone besides Chad Pennington was to get any snaps (or starts) this season, it should be Chad Henne.

So let me preface this by saying that I really do like what I've seen from Henne so far - both in the preseason and the regular season. I'm as excited as all of you are to see him on the field and I'm beginning to become optimistic (cautiously, of course) about Henne's future in the NFL - even after just 12 regular season pass attempts.

So let's make this post about Henne and not about Beck or Pennington. This post is simply about whether or not it's a smart move to start your potential franchise QB during his rookie season. Now I'll leave my own opinion out of this and let you draw your own conclusions. I'll just provide you with some of the facts.

What I decided to do was to take a look at every quarterback that was drafted in the first 2 rounds of the NFL Draft between 1998 and 2005. I left out the 3 most recent drafts simply because of sample size and a lack of meaningful data. Too many unknowns still exist on guys like Matt Leinart, Vince Young, and Jay Cutler (for example). And I only went back to 1998 because the game has changed a lot over the years. So I don't think that bringing up a guy like Dan Marino is very fair considering defensive schemes have become much more complex and the abilities of defenders, physically speaking, have evolved - with stronger, faster, and quicker players making up defenses now. and let's not forget how much more scrutiny players are under these days from fans and the media. So I tried to keep this somewhat relative to today's NFL - and not the NFL of years past.

Between '98 and '05, 28 quarterbacks were drafted in rounds 1 and 2. I've divided them into 2 categories. Those who started at least 1 game during their rookie season and those who did not start a single game as a rookie. In parenthesis are the number of starts each QB made during their rookie season:

Started at least 1 game - Peyton Manning (16), Ryan Leaf (9), Charlie Batch (12), Tim Couch (14), Donovan McNabb (6), Akili Smith (4), Cade McNown (6), Shaun King (5), Michael Vick (2), Quincy Carter (8), David Carr (16), Joey Harrington (12), Patrick Ramsey (5), Byron Leftwich (13), Kyle Boller (9), Rex Grossman (3), Eli Manning (7), Ben Roethlisberger (13), Alex Smith (7)

Started 0 games - Daunte Culpepper, Chad Pennington (sat 2 years), Drew Brees, Marques Tuiasosopo (only 88 career pass attempts), Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers (sat 2 years), J.P. Losman, Aaron Rodgers (sat 3 years), Jason Campbell

Those are two very interesting lists, right?

Let's first talk about the group of 19 who started at least a game as a rookie. Of those 19, how many would you say are successful NFL quarterbacks? I'd say just 5 of them are (both Mannings, McNabb, Roethlisberger, and Vick). And yes, I included Vick because he was a winning QB before the whole disgusting, unspeakable situation played out and sent him to prison. So that's 5 out of 19 - or 26%.

Now let's take a look at the 9 who didn't start a single game as a rookie. Of those 9, I'd say that 7 of them are (or were) successful NFL quarterbacks (all but Losman and Tuiasosopo). Culpepper, before his knee injury, was a very good player. And Pennington, despite what he is now, is - statistically speaking - the most accurate NFL passer of all-time. So, again in my opinion, 7 of these 9 are successful NFL quarterbacks - or 78%.

Now for those of you who are more quantitative in nature, let's quickly talk about the average QB rating of these two groups of QBs. The average rating of those passers who started at least a game as a rookie is 73.5. And if you remove the highest of the group (Peyton Manning's 94.4) and the lowest (Ryan Leaf's 50), the adjusted average comes out to 73.67.

For the group of 9 who didn't start any games as a rookie, the average passer rating is 82.6. And, again, if you remove the highest (Aaron Rodgers' 95.7) and lowest (Tuiasosopo's 48), the adjusted average comes out to 85.7.

Now it could just be coincidence and these little stats could mean absolutely nothing (that's for you to decide for yourself), but the data shows that it might be smarter to not start your rookie quarterback.

Noe you might ask what's the difference between starting the rookie and letting him enter the game later on. There's a big difference. First and foremost, the opposing defense didn't tailor a gameplan to the specific abilities and tendencies of that particular QB. The rookie would also face less pressure from the media and fans if he wasn't expected to start the game. So, yes, I think there's a difference.

So what should you read into these statistics? Does it mean anything that recent QBs who didn't start any games as a rookie have been more successful, or at least have a higher success rate, than those who started some games as a rookie? I honestly do not know.

But what I do know is that I have a strong opinion on whether or not Chad Henne should start any games this season. Do you?