From Manning and Marino, to Wilson and Luck, we ranked the best rookie quarterbacks of all-time and projected the upside a certain rookie quarterback from the 2018 draft class.
Rookie quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield have already taken meaningful NFL snaps this year, but what does an elite rookie QB look like? Let’s examine 15 of the best rookie quarterbacks of all-time from the Super Bowl Era, taking into account how football has changed over the years. Let’s get started with a honorable mention!
Honorable Mention: Baker Mayfield, Browns, 2018
Break out the Bud Light! The Browns finally won?! Mayfield entered Week 3 against the Jets and went 17/23 for 201 yards. The Browns won their first game since Dec. 24, 2016. In just over two quarters, Mayfield is responsible for 30% of the Browns’ season passing yards, 35% of the season scoring, and 20% of the team’s wins over the last 46 games!
In all seriousness, there’s CLEARLY a long ways to go. But Mayfield was the inspiration for this article, and if he can lead Cleveland to more wins he just might land on this list next year.
15. Deshaun Watson
With the 12th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans drafted Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson. Watson was the third quarterback taken in the draft, behind Mitchell Trubisky (2nd overall) and Patrick Mahomes (10th overall). Watson made his first regular-season appearance on September 10, 2017, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, after starting quarterback Tom Savage was benched at halftime. From that point on, Watson set the league on fire with his dazzling play.
Unfortunately, Watson’s season was cut short due to injury. On November 2, Watson tore his ACL on a non-contact play during practice, prematurely ending his rookie season. In 7 games (6 starts) of his rookie year, Watson finished with 1,699 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. He also rushed for 269 yards and 2 touchdowns. If not for the injury, there’s a very good chance Watson finishes at the top of this list.
14. Marcus Mariota, Titans, 2015
Mariota was selected second overall by the Titans in the 2015 draft. In his first career start, Mariota became the first rookie QB to ever have a perfect passer rating of 158.3. He was also the first rookie QB in NFL history to throw four TDs in the first half of his inaugural game.
Rookie stats: 12 GP, 62.2% Comp, 2,818 Yds, 19 TD, 10 INT, 91.5 QB rating, 252 Rush Yds, 2 Rush TD, 1 Rec TD
13. Jim Plunkett, Patriots, 1971
Plunkett, the 1970 Heisman winner from Stanford, was the first overall pick in the 1971 draft. Plunkett was a prototypical pocket passer who often threw long. He had an impressive rookie season, leading the Patriots to their best record in five years while having the fourth most passing yards in a rookie season in the 1970s.
While Plunkett’s stats look inferior compared to some of the more current quarterbacks on this list, it’s important to keep in mind that he played in an era that wasn’t nearly as friendly to quarterbacks and the passing game. As a matter of fact, a majority of quarterbacks in Plunkett’s era tossed far more interceptions than touchdowns in a full season.
Rookie stats: 14 GP, 48.2% Comp, 2,158 Yds, 19 TD, 16 INT, 68.6 QB rating, 210 Rush Yds, 0 Rush TD
12. Andy Dalton, Bengals, 2011
The 35th pick in the 2011 draft, Dalton paired with Bengals first round pick A.J. Green to set NFL records for yards and completions for a rookie QB/WR combo. The Red Rifle led Cincinnati to a 9-7 record and Wild Card berth, rebounding from a disappointing 4-12 year in 2010.
Rookie stats: 16 GP, 58.1% Comp, 3,398 Yds, 20 TD, 13 INT, 80.4 QB rating, 152 Rush Yds, 1 Rush TD
11. Peyton Manning, Colts, 1998
The top pick in the 1998 draft, Manning finished his rookie season in the league’s top 5 in QB attempts, yards, and touchdown passes. While he did lead the league with 28 interceptions, Manning threw more TDs and fewer INTs in the second half of the season. He parlayed that into a Pro Bowl year in 1999.
Rookie stats: 16 GP, 56.7% Comp, 3,739 Yds, 26 TD, 28 INT, 71.2 QB rating, 62 Rush Yds, 0 Rush TD
10. Jim Kelly, Bills, 1986
With the 14th overall pick in the 1983 NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills selected quarterback Jim Kelly from the University of Miami. In a surprising twist, Kelly chose to sign with the Gamblers instead and did not play for the Bills until the USFL folded in 1986. Kelly finished his rookie year in the Top 10 in every major passing category; 6th in passing yards, 5th in touchdowns and 8th in quarterback rating.
As a side note, this draft class was absolutely loaded with all-time great quarterbacks. With the 1st overall pick, the Baltimore Colts selected John Elway and with the 27th overall pick, the Miami Dolphins landed some guy named Dan Marino. Speaking of Marino, you might see that name come up again on this list.
Rookie stats: 16 GP, 59.4% Comp, 3,593 Yds, 22 TD, 17 INT, 83.3 QB rating, 199 Rush Yds, 0 Rush TD
9. Jameis Winston, Buccaneers, 2015
After a 2-14 record in 2014 the Buccaneers made Winston the top pick of the 2015 draft. Winston finished his rookie season with 28 total TDs and led the Bucs to a 6-10 record, highlighted by throwing five TDs in a win on the road against the Eagles. He is currently top 5 in rookie QB yards and touchdowns in a season.
Rookie stats: 16 GP, 58.3% Comp, 4,042 Yds, 22 TD, 15 INT, 84.2 QB rating, 213 Rush Yds, 6 Rush TD
8. Matt Ryan, Falcons, 2008
Atlanta selected Ryan with the third pick in the 2008 draft. After going 4-12 the year before, Ryan led the Falcons to an 11-5 record and the playoffs. His first career NFL pass was a 62-yard TD to WR Michael Jenkins. Ryan, the 2008 AP Offensive ROY, was the first rookie QB to start for the Falcons since Steve Bartkowski in 1975.
Rookie stats: 16 GP, 61.1% Comp, 3,440 Yds, 16 TD, 11 INT, 87.7 QB rating, 104 Rush Yds, 1 Rush TD
7. Andrew Luck, Colts, 2012
Luck, the first pick in the 2012 draft, turned around a 2-14 team and led the Colts to an 11-5 record and the playoffs. Luck earned a Pro Bowl appearance in his rookie year and threw for the most passing yards for a rookie QB in a single season. He even added a rushing dynamic to the Indy QB position with 62 rushing attempts and 3.9 YPA.
Rookie stats: 16 GP, 54.1% Comp, 4,374 Yds, 23 TD, 18 INT, 76.5 QB rating, 255 Rush Yds, 5 Rush TD
6. Dak Prescott, Cowboys, 2016
Prescott was an afterthought in the 2016 draft, selected in the fourth round after Jerry Jones unsuccessfully tried to trade up for Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook. Lucky for the Cowboys, Dak proved a revelation in his rookie year, stepping in for an injured Tony Romo to lead the team to a 13-3 record while accumulating the highest rookie QB passer rating in history. Prescott won the 2016 AP Offensive ROY award.
Rookie stats: 16 GP, 67.8% Comp, 3,667 Yds, 23 TD, 4 INT, 104.9 QB rating, 282 Rush Yds, 6 Rush TD
5. Dan Marino, Dolphins, 1983
Taken as the sixth QB off the board in the 1983 draft with the 27th overall pick, Marino didn’t win the starting job out of camp. However, he played 11 games, went 7-2 as a starter, launched his HOF career, and won the AP Offensive ROY award. In his first career start, Marino threw for 322 yards and three touchdowns.
Rookie stats: 11 GP, 58.4% Comp, 2,210 Yds, 20 TD, 6 INT, 96.0 QB rating, 45 Rush Yds, 2 Rush TD
4. Russell Wilson, Seahawks, 2012
An overlooked third round pick in the 2012 draft, Wilson started 16 games for the Seahawks and led them to the playoffs with an 11-5 record. The 2012 AP Offensive ROY posted the third highest QB rating for rookie QBs who played at least 10 games and received a Pro Bowl nod for his efforts.
Rookie stats: 16 GP, 64.1% Comp, 3,118 Yds, 26 TD, 10 INT, 100.0 QB rating, 489 Rush Yds, 4 Rush TD
3. Cam Newton, Panthers, 2011
The first overall pick in the 2011 draft, Newton took the league by storm as a true dual threat QB. The 2011 AP Offensive ROY and Pro Bowler not only ran for a league QB-record 14 TDs, but also threw for 21 TDs and alleviated some concerns about his passing ability.
Newton went on to become the first rookie quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. He also ran for 14 touchdowns, more in a single season than any quarterback in NFL history. To put that into perspective, in 2017, running back Todd Gurley led the NFL with 13 rushing touchdowns. Newton scored 14 rushing touchdowns as a quarterback!
Rookie stats: 16 GP, 60.0% Comp, 4,051 Yds, 21 TD, 17 INT, 84.5 QB rating, 706 Rush Yds, 14 Rush TD
2. Robert Griffin III, Redskins, 2012
RGIII was drafted second overall in the 2012 draft and lived up to the hype his rookie year. Leading the Redskins to a division title and the playoffs for the first time since 2007, Griffin posted the third best rookie QB rating in history. He accounted for 27 total TDs and earned the 2012 AP Offensive ROY award and a Pro Bowl trip.
Rookie stats: 15 GP, 65.6% Comp, 3,200 Yds, 20 TD, 5 INT, 102.4 QB rating, 815 Rush Yds, 7 Rush TD
1. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers, 2004
Drafted by the Steelers with the 11th pick in the 2004 draft, Big Ben saw his first game action after a Week 2 Tommy Maddox injury. Expected to sit behind Maddox all year, Roethlisberger smashed the league and team records by going 13-0 in the regular season as a starter, guiding the Steelers to the AFC Championship game and winning AP Offensive ROY honors.
Big Ben is a 2x Super Bowl champion, 6x Pro Bowl selection and a sure-fire Hall of Famer. It’s safe to say the Steelers nailed this pick.
Rookie stats: 14 GP, 66.4% Comp, 2,621 Yds, 17 TD, 11 INT, 98.1 QB rating, 144 Rush Yds, 1 Rush TD