Does starting young quarterbacks early ruin them?

Fourth drafted at his position, DeShone Kizer is the first- and only- of the 2017 NFL rookie quarterbacks to be named the Week 1 starter for his team. The supposed patience of the other three franchises who have took a quarterback earlier than the Cleveland Browns has helped bring into question if the team has made the proper choice of naming Kizer the starter so soon.

There is a school of thought that questions if any rookie can be ready to absorb the complexities of an NFL playbook, adjust to the speed of the professional level, and lead a group of men despite being a child in the eyes of many. Others believe a quarterback either has the requisite skillset or not, and that the development needed to fine tune those skills is best served on the field of play rather than watching with a tablet in hand.

So, what do most NFL organizations think? Of the other 31 current starting quarterbacks- and the injured Ryan Tannehill- how did organizations treat those players upon being drafted? Did it matter where they were drafted?

Let’s take a look and explain what it might mean for Kizer.

Blue Chips

  • Carson Palmer (drafted No. 1 overall in 2003 NFL Draft, started 13 games in Year 2)1
  • Eli Manning (drafted No. 1 overall in 2004 NFL Draft, started seven games)2
  • Philip Rivers (drafted No. 4 overall in 2004 NFL Draft, started 16 games in Year 3)
  • Ben Roethlisberger (drafted No. 11 overall in 2004 NFL Draft, started 13 games)
  • Alex Smith (drafted No. 1 overall in 2005 NFL Draft, started seven games)
  • Jay Cutler (drafted No. 11 overall in 2006 NFL Draft, started five games)
  • Matt Ryan (drafted No. 3 overall in 2008 NFL Draft, started 16 games)
  • Matthew Stafford (drafted No. 1 overall in 2009 NFL Draft, started 10 games)3
  • Sam Bradford (drafted No. 1 overall in 2010 NFL Draft, started 16 games)
  • Cam Newton (drafted No. 1 overall in 2011 NFL Draft, started 16 games)
  • Andrew Luck (drafted No. 1 overall in 2012 NFL Draft, started 16 games)
  • Ryan Tannehill (drafted No. 8 overall in 2012 NFL Draft, started 16 games)4
  • Jameis Winston (drafted No. 1 overall in 2015 NFL Draft, started 16 games)
  • Marcus Mariota (drafted No. 2 overall in 2015 NFL Draft, started 12 games)5
  • Jared Goff (drafted No. 1 overall in 2016 NFL Draft, started seven games)
  • Carson Wentz (drafted No. 2 overall in 2016 NFL Draft, started 16 games)

15 of the 32 NFL teams have a quarterback selected within the first 12 picks of the draft; something the Browns have not done since using their first pick upon returning as an expansion franchise to take Tim Couch. One obvious change in philosophy that has occurred is when these players should begin their careers. Before 2007, the players were as likely to sit for most or all of their rookie seasons as they were to play. However, over the last 10 years, Jared Goff is the only current starter-of 10- who did not start in Week 1 of his first year.

The consensus demonstrated is a clear indication that NFL teams believe a quarterback taken high in the draft should be ready to play immediately, which will be interesting to track as Mitchell Trubisky(No. 2), Patrick Mahomes (No. 10), and Deshaun Watson (No. 12) each are expected to deviate from the norm in 2017. How bad is it if a rookie signal-caller cannot beat out Mike Glennon (Trubisky) or Tom Savage (Watson) for a starting role? It is a bit more understandable a NFL head coach would be more confident with the steady Alex Smith (Mahomes) under center, but for how long?

Late-first to early second-round

  • Drew Brees (drafted No. 32 overall in 2001 NFL Draft, started 16 games in Year 2)
  • Josh McCown (drafted No. 81 overall in 2002 NFL Draft, started three games in Year 2, 13 games in Year 3)
  • Aaron Rodgers (drafted No. 24 overall in 2005 NFL Draft, started 16 games in Year 4)
  • Joe Flacco (drafted No. 18 overall in 2008 NFL Draft, started 16 games)
  • Chad Henne (drafted No. 57 overall in 2008 NFL Draft, started 13 games in Year 2)
  • Andy Dalton (drafted No. 35 overall in 2011 NFL Draft, started 16 games)
  • Derek Carr (drafted No. 36 overall in 2014 NFL Draft, started 16 games)

Again, the 2007 shift is obvious above. Drew Brees, Josh McCown, and Aaron Rodgers6 each sat and waited their turn to start for their franchise, but only Chad Henne had to wait his turn of current starters in the last 10 years. Henne was behind the safe, steady veteran Chad Pennington,7 so his situation is most similar to Mahomes and Smith in Kansas City.

Kizer falls in this bucket as he was the No. 52 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. His situation of being a highly-touted quarterback with many of the physical skills of a blue chip prospect but enough concerns with his overall game to drop him into the second round is most closely mirrored above by Derek Carr.

Carr famously lost the first 10 games of his professional career with the Oakland Raiders, but the team does not seem disappointed in their decision to start him his rookie season as he finished with just under 8000 yards in his second and third seasons with a combined 60 touchdowns to only 19 interceptions, while throwing for 7.0 yards per attempt.8

Mid-round Finds

  • Russell Wilson (drafted No. 75 overall in 2012 NFL Draft, started 16 games)
  • Kirk Cousins (drafted No. 102 overall in 2012 NFL Draft, started nine games in first three years, started 16 games in Year 4)
  • Mike Glennon (drafted No. 73 overall in 2013 NFL Draft, started 13 games)
  • Tom Savage (drafted No. 135 overall in 2014 NFL Draft, started two games in Year 2)
  • Dak Prescott (drafted No. 135 overall in 2016 NFL Draft, started 16 games)

Despite the travails of Colt McCoy and Charlie Frye, Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott have proven middle-round quarterbacks who start as rookies can thrive. Both of those players were put into situations where the team around them could allow them time to develop- not unlike a young Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. Overall, mid-round quarterbacks are a mixed bag of whether or not they begin their careers as starters depending upon the team that has drafted them.

Late Round Gems

  • Tom Brady (drafted 199 overall in 2000 NFL Draft, started 14 games in Year 2)
  • Tyrod Taylor (drafted 180 overall in 2011 NFL Draft, started 14 games in Year 5)
  • Trevor Siemian (drafted 250 overall in 2015 NFL Draft, started 14 games in Year 2)
  • Brian Hoyer (undrafted in 209 NFL Draft, started four games his first five years, started 13 games in Year 6)

Quarterbacks drafted in the late rounds tend to flame out or find roles as long-term backups. As such, it is exceedingly rare to find such a player who begins his career as a starter. Even those who eventually are able to secure starting roles begin their careers watching.

What does it mean for DeShone Kizer?

There is no perfect solution. Rodgers might not have developed into a franchise quarterback if he had been thrust into the fray immediately- or he might have. Not listed are the many quarterbacks who have busted even if they were high draft picks such as JaMarcus Russell. It is possible some of the quarterbacks could have been successful in different circumstances or handled differently.

What is known is that starting a rookie quarterback is not a recipe for disaster. Once the player has demonstrated an aptitude for enough of the playbook to form a gameplan and an ability to adapt to the speed of the game, the real lessons on the field can begin. In fact, the outlier of recent methodologies are the Bears, Chiefs, and Texans not starting their high-round picks. These decisions might prove correct or they could be early warning signs for the players taken. Only patience and time will tell.

Patience and time will also be needed with Kizer. He is going to need to work through his issues under the microscope of having every play on Sunday dissected, and every defensive coordinator he faces attempting to expose his every flaw. Such pressure can create diamonds or fissures. What happens from here will be up to Kizer alongside the Browns’ offensive staff to put him into situations to succeed.

Last Word

The other side of the current starting NFL quarterbacks is that the group continues to get older. Should Kizer become a franchise quarterback, his peak should happen just as many of the current teams will be resetting at the most important position in football. As the rest of the roster also matures from young to experienced, the ability for the Browns to develop into a consistent contender is still on the table. That delicious potential is just still on the opposite end of the table with many travails needed to be overcome before the Browns can even reach out for it. Starting Kizer is a good first step though.

Other 2017 Cleveland Browns preview articles at WFNY

  1. Note: started Week 1, missed three games due to injury. []
  2. Kurt Warner started first nine games. []
  3. Note: started Week 1, missed four games rookie year due to injury. []
  4. Note: Tannehill listed even though he will miss the 2017 season due to the fact he would be the starter if he was healthy. []
  5. Note: started Week 1, missed four games rookie year due to injuries. []
  6. Behind Brett Favre []
  7. The Miami Dolphins went 11-5 in 2008. []
  8. Carr had a sound rookie season with 3270 yards and 21 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, but his 5.5 yards per attempt limited the offense. []

  • Chris

    Starting for the Browns ruins young quarterbacks.

  • RGB

    Starting for the Browns ruins quarterbacks.


  • Chris

    Nah. If they’re not young, they’re either a veteran or Brandon Weeden. And if they’re a veteran or Brandon Weeden, they were ruined long before they ever started for the Browns.

  • mgbode

    I would take it a step further and say that the quarterbacks the Browns selected were destined for failure. Quinn isn’t “fixed” elsewhere nor is Manziel.

    Tim Couch (behind that wretched OL w/ no weapons) is the lone exclusion from the list.

  • BenRM

    McCoy has basically been what he would have been here. Not that anyone is losing sleep over a back up.

  • RGB

    But, but, Browns ruined JFF, because they didn’t give him enough support for his issues, errr, special needs.
    Right? 😉

  • mgbode

    There is an argument to be made there as other places like Dallas (Dez Bryant) and Arizona (Tyronn Mathieu) were able to take similar troubled athletes and turn their life/career around.

  • Sam Gold

    In conclusion, we can definitively say that some approaches may or may not work.

    Carry on.

  • RGB

    Well, good thing for those guys that they weren’t drafted by the Browns… 😛

  • mgbode

    Woah, hold on there. That seems awfully conclusive.

  • tigersbrowns2

    good read … each QB & situation is unique. really good college QB’s that get taken in the first 5 picks are usually going to a end up on a bad team … this doesn’t BODE well for them … when guys like Roethlisberger & R.Wilson get dropped-in a on already good team , their situation is better.

    Kizer is mature beyond his years … that doesn’t mean much , but I think he’ll do okay.

  • mgbode

    I would upvote your comment but you used Bode in a negative connotation.

    Also, really good QBs taken by bad teams can still succeed. See: Newton, Both Mannings, Luck, Mariota, Rivers, Winston, Palmer, Ryan, etc.

  • Garry_Owen

    Kizer said that he wants to be the Browns’ starting QB for 10-15 years. That means he’s already planning his exit right in his prime. Smart kid, out HBTing the HBT!

  • Eric G

    Rogers sat for FOUR years? That seems so crazy to me.

    Equally crazy, Kizer was born the year after I graduated high school. Sometimes age just kinda creeps up on you.

  • mgbode

    Rodgers started 16 games in Year 4, which means he sat for three years. Having Brett Favre continue to be Brett Favre will do that to a young QB.

    I try to not look at birthdays for similar reasoning.

  • paulbip

    You are all forgetting that if you look at the tape, Kizer looks Andersonesque.